St. Louis Musician Tom Pini Goes From Emo Rock To Electronic Funk With Drangus
When Tom Pini returned to the stage at the Kranzberg Open Air concert series last month to a sold-out audience, he was ready to play the music he and his band Drangus had been making for the past few years.
The 28-year-old musician was joined by guitarist, bassist and vocalist Anthony Patten and drummer Keith Bowman, both of whom are in the band. Saxophonist David Gomez, singer Ashley Byrne and rapper Darryl Virginia joined them onstage. It was the group’s first show since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and they were ready to play the crowd their old music and some new tracks.
For Pini, the show and the group's next show Friday, June 4, is a reminder of the road he’s traveled over the past decade, one that started with punk rock and emo music. His latest music draws on 1970s funk and disco.
“I just wanted to explore some different areas musically, and I think one of those areas that I found to really love was just groove centric music,” Pini said.
The groove is clear on the band’s 2019 album “Love, Dust to Dust.” It’s full of funky rhythms, electronic production, strong bass lines and Pini’s distinct falsetto.
Pini started Drangus in 2016 as a way for him to depart from the sounds that he built his reputation on.
Pini dreamed of being a punk rocker. He co-founded the group Family Might while attending St. Dominic High School in O'Fallon, Mo., and released several projects, including the 2012 track “Nothing Matters, Smile,” a brash and exhilarating punk song with loud guitars and drums.
But Pini gained notoriety years later for his work in the popular St. Louis-based indie band Foxing, which specialized in Midwest emo music. He left the group in 2013.
“[I] ended up leaving that project, you know, creative differences, and started Drangus after that,” Pini said. “ I just kind of wanted to switch it up, you know, coming out of the Midwest emo rock saying, I was like, I'm tired of guitars.”
After he left, Pini learned how to play piano and was inspired by jazz greats Bill Evans, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Pini was also influenced by the music of '70s disco icon Nile Rogers from the band Chic as well as the electronic duo Daft Punk. He also started DJing parties and weddings and gauged what styles of music got crowd members dancing. Pini started producing his own music but faced a challenge, how to capture the emotion and passion of his old music into the kind of groovy music he wanted to make.
“How do you keep things groove centric, incorporate technology, but still keep the emotion?” Pini asked. “Emo music, it’s emotional, it makes you feel something, so you don't want to lose that.”
He found the answer in musicianship. He found the groove in songs like “Tokyo Tuesdays,” “Make Right” and “Mokabe’s” — all of which feature production and instrumentation from Bowman and Patten. The two also help write the songs.
The three add textures and layers to the songs by adding live instrumentation to electronic production. Patten and Bowman joined the group in 2018 to record “Love, Dust to Dust.” The song “Walks” highlights the drumming of Bowman, who spent years studying jazz and playing for other jazz ensembles.
“I was able to experiment and I think that our music shows that at least like with my drumming, like I'm able to do more extreme stuff, you know, with Drangus.”
The three bandmates plan to draw on the talents of other St. Louis musicians, among them jazz trumpeter Khamali Cuffie-Moore and saxophonist Matthew Leininger.
Patten said the group plans to continue experimenting with the help of other artists in the group’s new music.
“I think we have more friends involved to a certain degree, more features and just more elements where we're just more fearless,” Patten said.
Drangus will release new tracks over the next few weeks. Pini said he’s focusing on songs that make people feel good by giving audiences all he’s got.
“I just always am trying to raise the bar, whether it's on someone else's record or on my own record, because you're always willing to give something to the listener,” Pini said. “I really like to go the extra mile and make sure it's something special for someone who's listening at home alone and headphones, or someone that's at the club, and is listening with all their friends and family. I want it to be something that everyone can connect to and doesn't leave anybody out.”
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