Tomato/Tomato’s John McLaggan wants to be invisible. It’s an unexpected sentiment to find in a showman, certainly from one of the forerunners in the 2014 Galaxie Rising Star competition; but it’s something that his love of music has inevitably overcome. “I’m a bit of an introvert. I guess I should have prefaced it with that. See, any other super power and people are going to want stuff from you; if you’re super-strong it’s like people are, ‘Hey, come pick up this thing for me’. If you’re super-fast it’s like ‘Hey, can you run over here and get this?’ Now invisibility…” But that was the Old John, and I’m told he has improved significantly with age, even if invisibility still has its appeal.
Prior to interviewing Tomato/Tomato I had been warned, severely warned, that they were ‘adorable’, ‘the cutest’, ‘the nicest’, ‘the sweetest’ by literally everyone I spoke to. Perhaps people thought we would clash. The amount of love generated for and by Tomatoes John and Lisa McLaggan is palpable; it can be heard in their voices, it can be felt in their music, and it was very recently evident at the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival in Fredericton where, of the four Galaxie Rising Star finalists, they garnered a full 50% of the online vote.
The two were foisted together in the midst of Jazz College at the New England Conservatory in Boston. They seem like nice people, so I am willing to believe that Jazz College is a real thing.
“We were actually in the same program, and we were friends for about a year before we started dating, and then we started dating, and we just never stopped, so we got married. We met at this new graduate student welcoming event, and there were five or six of us standing around in a circle and I said ‘We’re all going to be grad buddies!’ And that was the first thing I think I said to him, he probably thought I was a weirdo, and then I called him Josh for the first two weeks.”
Lisa studied voice,
Josh John played saxophone, and, as is often the nature of music, over the course of a decade things evolved. Sometimes it can be hard to play just one instrument.
“Saxophone is just limiting genre-wise,” say John, “and one day I picked up a guitar and started working on it, and it was great; there were all these styles of music I loved that I could now participate in, and it just went from there.”
“There aren’t a lot of bluegrass saxophone players.”
“I was actually really pregnant with our daughter and we just started playing tunes that we liked. All we were listening to is this kind of old folky music, so those were the tunes we were singing around the house. He started playing, and I busted out some percussion stuff, and we were like, ‘This is fun!’” says Lisa.
Today their live performances consist of John on guitar, while Lisa simultaneously sings, plays washboard, kick-drum/tambourine, a tiny cymbal, and the occasional melodica, which, amazingly enough, she manages to get through with a smile and the grace of a tap-dancer. The result is a two-person Grand Ole Opry show; a mash-up of Annette Hanshaw, Earl Scruggs, and an octopus with an uncanny sense of rhythm.
“By the way, for my super power I think I would like to be a time traveler, able to travel through time, or have telekinesis. No, not telekinesis. Mind reader, maybe? I kind of already am a mind reader.”
In the end, Tomato/Tomato placed second in the Rising Star competition when Earthbound Trio eked out a win from the judges with their live performance. Still, they didn’t go home empty-handed or discouraged, “Maybe once we sell a million albums we’ll look into fime criting. Fime criting? I mean crime fighting.”, “#fimecriting.”
Everything people had warned me about is unmistakeably true.
“It seems that CBC are fans of yours.”
“Yeah, we’re big fans of theirs too. They’ve been big supporters; we love them too. Shout-out!”
“Like CBC needs a shout out.”
“I will transcribe that directly.”
“#SaintJohnCBC. We love you Hance Colburne!”