The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The graduates: meet the boys of local band ‘Tommy Boys’

What does one do after getting their college degree? Sit back, start a band and record an album, of course.


After graduating from SF State this past year, alumni Tyler Johnson and Robbie Donovan are holding off on their careers to make music.

The band, Tommy Boys, has been weaving their way through the San Francisco local music scene since 2011 after their guitarist answered Johnson’s Craigslist post looking for someone to experiment in a new music project.

After one year of writing and another year of playing shows, Tommy Boys continues to be part of what Johnson calls the “pioneers of math rock in the Bay.”

(From left) Daren Hasenkamp, Robbie Donovan, and Tyler Johnson of Tommy Boys on Apr. 29 at The Panda Studios in Fremont, where they are recording their first full length album. Photo by Lorisa Salvatin / Xpress

“We have played a lot in the city, but honestly not that many people come to our shows, but when you’re starting out as a band it’s tough to expect,” said Donovan, who sings and plays bass.

Math rock hasn’t really been trending amongst the surf rock, or sixties revival music streaming through the city’s indie scene, Johnson said.

“We almost felt it was too much at times, kind of hard to listen to,” Johnson said about starting off strictly composing math rock songs, “Our style kind of evolved to something a little more sensible to the everyday listener.”

Tommy Boys now writes their songs with a more basic musical structure, sprinkling more intricate beats and guitar melodies throughout the song to maintain their “mathy” vibe.

“They’re a more polished pop punk band,” said Donovan’s friend, Marissa Cruz. With a refined sound, it’s just a matter making their mark in San Francisco.

A band’s option can be quite limiting when booking in the DIY music scene, said Taylor Bortner, guitarist of Bread Club, a band Tommy Boys have played a handful of shows with. Troubles can arise when booking shows through agents or trying to play 21 and up venues when a band is underage, Bortner said.

“From our perspective there are not many other bands that play our style, so sometimes it can be hard to get on a show that’s the best match for us,” said Johnson.

Though the Bay Area isn’t a mecca for math rock, Tommy Boy’s pop punk sound gets them shows with many post-rock bands and emo revival acts. They’ve played a number of shows in the East Bay and in the city, with their favorites being in smaller venues or at house shows. While the crowds may be sparse, Donovan said, the community is tight-knit and supportive.

“There are a lot of passionate music fans here, a lot of people who care a lot about their local scene,” said Bortner, “I think the scene is only getting more cohesive and positive.”

“We don’t have an official release out yet. We’ve been playing for awhile, but I think the reason we started playing shows was because we just had been working so hard getting all these songs together,” said Donovan.

Now that they are out of school have more free time on their hands, Johnson and Donovan said the opportunity to pursue music couldn’t be greater. With their first full-length album in the works and recording at Fremont’s Panda Studios in the next week, a musical career seems inevitable for Tommy Boys.

As Donovan said, it is only the beginning.

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The graduates: meet the boys of local band ‘Tommy Boys’