Tom Colontonio’s story reads like a Hollywood script. Coming out of the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Tom Colontonio rose through the ranks with hard work and resiliency–overcoming thyroid cancer in the process–to become one of the most consistent trance producers in the world. Tom picked up his first pair of turntables in 1996, and in 1998 he was introduced to the world of trance. Starting out as an amateur producer in the Philadelphia area, Tom eventually got his productions noticed by legends like Paul van Dyk, Sean Tyas, and Tiesto. Not content to merely work within one genre, Tom has produced plenty of house tracks as well, including one of Your EDM’s 2012 Tracks of the Year (link): his collaboration with Sean Tyas, “Champagne Room” (Reset Records, 2012). Tom’s work has been featured on such labels as Streamlined Recordings, Armada Music, and A State of Trance. Now the trance veteran has an ambitious year planned for 2013, including an upcoming EP off of Future Focus Recordings–and if anyone can pull it off, it’s Tom Colontonio. I got the chance to talk with Tom about his early exposure to EDM, the rise of his career, his take on the differences between trance and house, and his plans for the upcoming year. Read on for the full interview.
Your EDM: For those who don’t know you, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Tom Colontonio: I was born in New Jersey. I started playing guitar at age 12, and I love sushi. I hate waiting for the check and usually am ready to snap when the waitress pulls the disappearing act (as I like to call it). I had thyroid cancer in 2010. (Ed. Tom was treated in 2010 and has since made a full recovery.)
Your EDM: Describe your early musical background. What were some of your early musical influences, and what turned you onto the world of EDM?
Tom: I started playing guitar at age 12 because a good friend played piano and we wanted to start a rock band. My earliest influence was Eddie van Halen and Steve Vai. I played guitar for up to 10 hours a day and studied classical and jazz guitar.
I was turned onto dance music when I started hitting clubs a lot in the mid 90s. It was repetitive craziness to me when I first heard it, but I fell in love with it! Me and a friend started going to all the Philadelphia clubs on a weekly basis and checking out DJs. We had a huge scene then and the clubs were always thriving four nights a week! Back then I was playing all house music on vinyl.
Tom Colontonio – Underboss (Original Mix)
Your EDM: How were your early forays into producing, and when did you create your first track?
Tom: I started producing in March of 2005. I basically had reached my limits being a local DJ in Philadelphia/Atlantic City and had to make the decision to produce music to move forward. I went to the guitar center and bought Logic, speakers and a keyboard. A friend kind of steered me in the direction of what I needed. I brought it all home and thought “Great, now I’m going to make some tracks.” But it wasn’t that easy…not even close. I guess I made my first song within a month. It was horrible. I used to send it to (fellow trance producer) Sean Tyas and tell him “Dude, check this out.” We still laugh about it. It’s horrendous!
Your EDM: Your collaboration with Sean Tyas was one of our site’s Tracks of the Year for 2012. What was it like working together on that track?
Tom: “Champagne Room” was a challenge as it was the first in a new style I had been going for. We were laughing about the name because sometimes people go into that “room” for lap dances, etc. We knew it was the perfect name when I dropped the idea to Tyas! Tyas is one of the most talented producers alive and working with him is always a joy.
Tyas & Colontonio – Champagne Room (Original Mix)
Your EDM: You’ve made some forays into house (most recently your remix of Jedi Jeri’s “Domino Effect”), yet your most noticeable work has been done in the world of trance. In your mind, what are some philosophical differences between trance and house, and how do you tailor your technique to each genre?
Tom: I think the major difference is the groove of things. The trance stuff that I did was always driving fast hats, big mid basses and arpeggios. House is a lot different. It’s very drum-based and the slower tempo gives you a lot of freedom to create “space” in your mix for big fat sounds etc. I have heard the arguments about how either genre “doesn’t have any soul,” but I disagree. I think BOTH genres have soul and it’s all a matter of taste in what you love. Music is very subjective and it’s up to the listener to like it or not. I just can’t stand f***ing criers who are always bashing one or the other. It gets really annoying and hurts the music in the end.
Your EDM: How did your recent escapade into the Dreamland Festival in Mexico go? Any interesting stories?
Tom: Mexico was an amazing gig. It’s always good to stand in front of 5000 plus people and play music you love. I guess there were a few funny stories. One time, we were driving like 200+ kilometers an hour and the van breaks down. I remember looking at Orjan Neilson and Ummet Ozcan and saying “Man, we’re so f***ed.” Eventually it just starts working again and we’re cruising along–and another DJ decides to hurl in a cup and throw it out the window…which kinda flew back in and got on me.
Your EDM: Your career is a classic underdog story. How does it feel being from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and getting signed to the big names in Europe like Armada Music, Spinnin’ Records, and Discover Records?
Tom: It has been an incredible ride for me! I remember saying “One day I’m gonna do this,” and I just tried and tried until it happened for me. In a nutshell: I was discovered by a few artists such as John O’Callaghan, Sean Tyas, John Askew, and Paul Van Dyk, all within a few months. Two tracks made that happen, which were passed around, and the rest is history. Once Paul van Dyk started playing my tracks it happened very fast. I was signed to Discover Records alongside the best talents in trance at the time. Soon Armin and Tiesto were supporting my music too. I knew I made an impact when I signed an autograph in the Cherry Hill Mall (Ed. great mall) because this girl recognized my name on my credit card. It’s definitely been a great feeling accomplishing what I have, and I’m very thankful for it all! Touring the world is an amazing feeling. (And booze is FREE in 1st class!)
Your EDM: What is the main style of music you play for your live sets? Do you ever switch it up?
Tom: I have played trance for a long time but recently I have been mixing it up (with house). I feel you can build a great set by combining both so that’s where I’m headed to.
Tom Colontonio feat. CiBon – The Sun (Original Mix)
Your EDM: You manage to respond to many fans on Twitter while other producers completely ignore them. How important do you think it is for artists to keep in contact with their fan base?
Tom: I thinks it’s one of the most important things about music. I hate when DJs think they’re too cool to talk to fellow DJs or fans. I took 1.5 hours in Argentina signing stuff for my first tour there. Without fans you’re nothing as a DJ/Producer. I’ve seen some DJs just flat out be rude to fans which blows my mind! But it happens I guess. That’s just not what I’m about. I’m too thankful to not take time for the people who helped make me what I am today.
Your EDM: Who, in your mind, are the top producers on the horizon?
Tom: There are so many talented young kids coming along and destroying it this year (2012). The computer generation has made it much easier and accessible for people to have access to the tools needed to make music. It’s up to the producer to hone the craft of doing it in order to produce top notch stuff. Andrew & Jeremiah from Philadelphia/Delaware, Ryan Mendoza from San Francisco, and Des McMahon from Philly–all are some of my favorites who I think will make an impact in EDM in 2013. They have great skills and the drive to make it happen!
Your EDM: You’ve witnessed the incredible rise that EDM has been on for the past year or so, and it’s really seemed to infiltrate the popular spectrum of this country. Yet from a layman’s standpoint, the EDM market–at least in the U.S.–has recently seemed to be dominated by house and the various sub-genres of bass music (dubstep, glitch-hop, etc). All this while trance has been, and continues to be immensely popular in Europe and elsewhere overseas. Do you think that trance has the capability to carve out a place for itself here in this new era of EDM fans? As a trance veteran, what has your experience been when touring through the U.S.?
Tom: America seemed to look at trance as a “dirty” word for many years here. I myself struggled for American gigs at times because it isn’t mainstream enough–and that’s not a bad thing. Trance is and always will be bigger in Europe/South America in my opinion. The people seem to simply have more passion for it. Of course there are also places where trance is huge in America: LA has a great trance scene, so does NYC. Oddly it’s like on both ends of America where they love it most. As for it becoming huge here, I have to say it’s unlikely. Trance uses complex melody textures and higher energy BPM’s that don’t translate as well to some people like house music does.
House attracts females and men follow the women, let’s be real here. And it’s always been like that here (in America). Sure there are places where you can drop trance bombs and people will freak out to it, but house has always been bigger in the USA. House was born here so why not? How are you gonna be playing epic trance breakdowns at a pool party in Vegas? As for fans catching on, I definitely think that many will. I see it happening already, but there also is the phenomena of people thinking that house tracks are trance, and vice versa. Although the genres are somewhat melting together, there still is a difference in my opinion.
Your EDM: Speaking of which, what are your touring plans for 2013?
Tom: I have been working on a new sound and a side project called FloPan at the moment, so I’ve been happy sitting on the couch and studio haha. We are working on some USA and international stuff in March going forward. News is always revealed on my Facebook or website so stay tuned!
Jedi Jeri – Domino Effect (Tom Colontonio Remix)
Your EDM: What can we expect from Tom Colontonio in 2013?
Tom: Tracks and more tracks! I will continue releasing some house-type stuff on my Universal Music deal with Nocturnal Music Group. Also, look out for my new trance EP on the Dutch label Future Focus Recordings called “Hopewell” and “I Dream of Guitars” which has me ripping some live guitar in the song. I will continue to tour and also work on the EDM live act “FloPan,” so stay tuned for it!
Your EDM: Lastly, feel free to make any plugs/announcements to our viewers.
Tom: I would just like to say thanks to all the people who have supported me from the start. I couldn’t be happier that this sound has found a place in America, so we should all love it and respect it because it’s a great thing!
Check me out on twitter: @tomcolontonio
Thanks again to Tom for talking with us, and a big thank you to Andrew Quigley for helping to put the interview together. Make sure to check out the above links to stay up to date on all things Tom Colontonio. And as always, for the latest in news, tracks, previews, and commentary, keep it locked on Your EDM.