Tommie Vaughn’s ‘This Rock n’ Roll Dream’

Musician/Author’s Final Book in Frankie Spencer Trilogy

Photo: Courtesy Tommie Vaughn

Author, veteran rock band front person, mother of two, Santa Barbaran transplant: Tommie Vaughn is all of those things, and she’s hitting stages and book outlets near you. In early April, Vaughn’s Frankie Spencer trilogy reaches its finale with the release of her new book This Rock n’ Roll Dream.

After years spent in Los Angeles, pursuing her musical life as leader of the alt-rock band Wall of Tom, founded in 2001, she and her husband, guitarist Tony Grimes, began to consider following a dream of moving to Santa Barbara. With a son and daughter in tow, the family-rearing impulse was pulling them away from the big city. “I loved living in Hollywood for myself,” said Vaughn, “but for my children, I wanted them to grow up away from all the industry hubbub.” A move here a few years ago, she asserted, was “one of the best decisions we ever made for our little family.”

The family rock ’n’ roll flame still burns, and Wall of Tom is performing a string of California dates, including at Pearl Social on April 10. Meanwhile, Vaughn’s literary life continues through strands of rock stories both imagined and lived, bled and sweated and riffed through.

You are publishing the third — and last — part of your Frankie Spencer trilogy. Did you always envision this is as a trilogy?  Yes, absolutely. When I was encapsulated within the music industry with my band Wall of Tom, I had the idea for the books. I was living the dream, with all my friends around me who were awake inside their own dream as well. There were times that I would look around myself and think, “This is gonna be a book, or a series!” But I was too darn busy to do anything about that idea because, well, I was in it. 

When I became pregnant with my son, I had no choice but to slow down, and finally the time presented itself that I could write the story that I always knew I would tell. I began to shop the book idea and found Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, which signed me to a three-book series. The first two came relatively easy, but the third eluded me for years. 

When my daughter turned three, I lost my father and became very depressed. It was then, like a smile from the heavens, that the music came back to me, and I got my band back together and began to write music again. It was in that act of getting back up onstage that I remembered who I used to be, and the third book came to me as well. The story was alive again, and I knew exactly how it should be told and how it would end.

Musicians have occasionally written fiction, but it’s still a rare dual identity. How did you transition into your own double life?  It really is a double life, isn’t it? For me, it was pretty fluid because I have always been a songwriter first, and my songs have always told a story. Some of the stories have come from my own experiences, of course, but I have always kept my eyes open to the inspiration of others. I think my books are very much the same. They are just extensions of poetry or music, and whether that is fact or fiction is up to the reader.

The main character, Frankie Spencer, bleeds for her art, and her passion is something I witnessed daily living in Los Angeles. The books are each like an epic album that carries you through a period in time. You almost hear the chord changes as the characters are pulled through it. It’s also very visual, and I see it becoming a bingeworthy television series, not just for people who are musical but also for those who want to take the ride and not have to pay the price.

You have also directed music videos. Is creative/artistic multitasking just something that comes naturally for you?  Truthfully, it has. The music itself creates a clear vision, and I have a very creative, if not overactive, imagination. My guitarist and husband, Tony Grimes, has always been a part of the art direction too, and we have loved creating fun music videos together over the years. We love so many aspects of performance art that the music videos are such a wonderful extension of the two. 

Do you have an ideal sense of balance in your life, between music, writing, family, and other aspects of life?  Balance is a daily struggle and one that I have not truly mastered, no matter how hard I try. But what I have gotten pretty good at is time management, so I can do it all, in small doses. It has gotten easier now that my children are older, and they appreciate that their mom and dad are musical and live an artistic life. But when they were babies, you are pretty wrapped up in keeping them alive, so that I — like a lot of wonderful mothers I know — tend to forget about your own needs. 

You need to fill your own cup with what inspires you. That way, you truly can give your best self to your partner and family. Staying true to that inner voice inside you that wants to sing, that wants to paint or whatever it is that brings you joy, is where true balance can begin to happen.

I feel like my kids are such happy extensions of what living that joy has been to me. I see who they are, the dreamer souls that they have, and I smile and say to myself that as long as I am being present and loving, it’s all going to be okay.

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