On their debut self-titled EP, Michigan contemporary rockers Foundry Town Survivors showcase their catchy, earworm melodies, thoughtful songwriting, and their cunning ability to combine elements of Americana, southern rock, and folk.
The first single from their EP, “Mississippi Rising,” is an blue collar southern rock ballad, and explores themes of loss, struggle, and overcoming hardships. As a testament to the song’s impact, it’s music video quickly gained popularity, receiving over 70k views on YouTube in only a few months.
The band is the creative brainchild of friends and musicians Mark Tomorsky and Tommy Johnsmiller. Both hailing from the suburbs of the Motor City, the band’s name is an homage to their working-class upbringings, growing up around the rough and tough atmosphere of factories and foundries.
They originally met while playing in the jazz-rock group Vantage Point! in the late 70s, touring together throughout the U.S. and Europe. After the group parted ways, Johnsmiller worked as management executive with a notable audio electronics company. Meanwhile, Tomorsky worked and toured as a performer, producer, writer, and engineer, working with musicians such as Little Richard, Billy Preston, Mark Lindsay (The Raiders), Allee Willis, Timothy B. Schmit (Eagles), Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), and Wayne Kramer (The MC5).
This dynamic duo pushes and challenges each other musically, as Johnsmiller, who Tomorsky refers to as “Iceman,” is generally calm and collected, while Tomorsky describes himself as the “guy with his pants on fire.” This duality is what fuels this creative powerhouse and allows them to expertly capture the grittiness of the surroundings in which they live and were raised.
We got the chance to discuss the new EP, their creative process, and much more with the guys.
So how did FTS come together and start writing music?
Tommy: Mark and I have known each other since high school and we’ve worked together musically ever since.
Mark: Yeah, back when you could buy a gallon of gas for 35 cents…
Mark: But seriously folks, we were in competing bands back then, and Tom eventually made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and I joined his band. From there, we learned to write songs together, albeit very slowly and painfully, but we figured it out. Writing together these days is a cakewalk compared to then…
Tommy: It’s interesting to look back and realize what an evolution this has been…I feel like time has worked in our favor.
How does the songwriting process work within the band?
Mark: Both of us are always writing. Sometimes we can get along with a song and it comes together without a lot of input from the other guy. Then there are songs that keep you up at night and you know its worth finishing but you can’t figure out how and that’s when we’ll bounce it off each other.
Tommy: Mark is a great writing partner because whether it’s lyrics, arrangement or something else – he’s always full of ideas to make the song better.
Mark: How come you always say I’m full of something else?
Tommy: Here we go…
Mark: When one of us brings in a new tune, it doesn’t always have an immediate impact. Some are slow burners, some knock you on your butt. We’ve learned to give them some space and let us get to know them. We like the song to stand on it’s own two feet and tell us what it is and what it needs.
Tommy: We work together at getting it to a point where it just feels right to both of us. When the song is done, we both know it.
And is it more loose and sporadic, or more structured and regimented?
Mark: Not too loose. I’d say it’s comfortable. Structure? Yeah, but not regimented. I personally don’t get up every morning before dawn and after writing down my dreams, head to the piano to begin two hours of composing before I run four miles before breakfast and blah blah, you get the idea. Writing is a pursuit that I pursue on my own terms…I enjoy it. I don’t have to do it. I want to do it. So, I do it.
Tommy: As a team, we’re definitely not regimented. As a writer I get ideas for songs every day and the ones that stick with me get demoed. To me that’s a good indicator that the song has something going for it. It’s my personal organic song lottery.
So you’ve just released your new self-titled EP. Are there any underlying themes or messages that you hope listeners take away from it?
Mark: We are ecstatic to have made it this far! It is a labor of love. We do this because we love it and we can. We’ve had so much fun! The EP allows us to share that feeling and that joy with everyone who comes into contact with us.
Tommy: I agree.
Mark: Music was once universal. Maybe it still is. We’ll let you know when we find out.
While it may be like picking a favorite child, is there one or two tracks that mean the most to you, or that you’re most excited for the public to hear?
Tommy: We chose these first six songs to display a few of the different aspects of what FTS is all about musically and we hope they’ll resonate with listeners. We wanted to introduce ourselves if you will, to the world, a little bit at a time.
Mark: I think the sleeper on the EP is “Hopes and Dreams”. There is something inherently spooky and “Twilight Zone”-y about that one. It sets a tone for things to come…
The video for your single“Mississippi Rising” gained quite a bit of traction on YouTube. What was the vision behind it?
Mark: Yeah, It feels like it’s starting to take off thanks to the video.
Tommy: The vision behind Mississippi was my Grandpa Lester. He used to tell me stories about a long trip he took down the Mississippi River on a riverboat when he was young. The stories were full of adventure and sparked a sense of wonder in me about how powerful the river was. I came up with a storyline that Mark and I both really liked and we built the song around a life changing flood from a child’s perspective.
And how did you get hooked up with Paul Crowder?
Mark: I’ve know Paul since he first landed on our shores. I was one of the first people Paul worked with after first coming to the U.S. from England. He played drums on my first collection of songs that I recorded in a studio. We’ve been dear friends ever since and have shared a lot of different musical and artistic projects over the years. In fact, he’s still a fantastic drummer in addition to being a gifted director and editor. I recently played on a track for his first solo album. He’s such a creative force.
Where was the EP recorded and who else helped it come to life?
Mark: The majority of it was recorded in Las Vegas at my home studio. We also did some overdubs at Tommy’s home studio in Michigan. As far as help is concerned, our secret weapon these days is producer/engineer Jeff Peters, who’s worked with The Beach Boys, Brian Setzer, and Timothy B. Schmit. Jeff has great ears and mastered our mixes.
Tommy: He made the EP sound like a record!
Mark: We thought our mixes were good, but Jeff really brought them to life.
Other than pandemic reasons, what was the most challenging part of writing/recording this EP?
Tommy: The fact that we are 2,000 miles apart and get to such an intimate level when we write. Gotta thank Skype and Zoom for being able to do that. Recording this way has been a unique experience, but we were ahead of the curve because we began writing in 2019, before the pandemic.
Mark: We had our process pretty much in place by the time everything was shut down. Because we weren’t in the same room when it came to recording, we had to build up a level of trust that our partner would deliver what was best for the particular song we were working on.
Any plans for touring in the coming months?
Mark: It’s a case of supply and demand. If the audience is there and they demand it, we will play!
Tommy: Actually, we hope that there will be some demand. We have an amazing band in the wings, sort of chomping at the bit to play these songs live.
Mark: We want to play them live, too. That’s a whole different ballgame than a studio recording. Tommy and I grew up playing live, and we can actually play! Put us on a stage, I dare ya!
What does success as a band or an artist mean to you?
Mark: That my family doesn’t laugh when I say I’m a musician. That my wife and kids are proud of me.
Tommy: The fact that Mark and I still enjoy working together – and that we have an open road in front of us…
Mark: We’ve been doing this a long time. Successfully writing and recording and having wonderful musical adventures all along the way. It’s not so different than some of my big time friends, we’re all still playing and singing songs and we will until we can’t. Money has nothing to do with that kind of real success.
What might fans expect from Foundry Town Survivors in 2022?
Mark: 2022 is gonna be a good year. We’re teaming up with Mr. Crowder again to deliver some cool videos for some new songs. We also plan on releasing another EP, at least. We’re looking to do some shows, even if it’s not a full tour, we’ll cherry pick some nice gigs and play somewhere…
Tommy: Oh yeah, it’s gonna be a good year…stay tuned…