Kwantlen's got talent: Tommy Alto

By Chris Yee

Tom Vander Kam of local act Tommy Alto (Photo courtesy

For first-year Kwantlen student Tom Vander Kam, 17, choosing physics was a definite career move – but not in the way you’d expect, for Tom Vander Kam is a musician.

“When I started recording music, I decided to take a really DIY-approach to it and do it by myself in my basement, and I built a home studio,” Vander Kam said. “I had to learn a lot about sound physics and soundproofing the room and the way sound works and micing the instruments, all that nerdy stuff, and in doing that I ended being really interested in physics. Then I took Physics 11 and 12 in high school and I was, like, ‘Wow, you know, even physics that don’t have to do with sound really interest me’.”

Physics was one of several fruitful diversions in Vander Kam’s career as an aspiring pop star. “I want to go out and conquer the music world, and that’s my goal right now. I’m givin’ ‘er,” he told the Surrey Now in August.

Vander Kam started playing guitar in Grade 6, impressed by the guitar skills of a friend. Honing his chops for a few years, he started performing as Tommy Alto two years ago. Originally a solo act, Tommy Alto is now a four-piece, with Vander Kam and Brett McCrady on guitar, Greg Summers on drums and Paul Engels on bass.

Tommy Alto’s sound has changed drastically during their short run. “When I started playing music, people said I have a really deep voice, so I started playing country music, Johnny Cash type of stuff,” he said.

Recently, Vander Kam has taken to describing Tommy Alto’s sound as “indie pop” — but the sound of the group’s latest album, I’m Coming Home, seems calculated for a far more mainstream audience.

Musically speaking, I’m Coming Home comes off as a slickly produced take on the breezy yet highly orchestrated indie-pop made by such Vancouver artists as Said The Whale and Dan Mangan. However, the lyrics belie these influences, with songs like “Highschool Heartbreaker” and “In Love”.

“It’s about falling in love with the popular girl at school and the idea of the classic high school love story,” Vander Kam said of the former.

So where does Tommy Alto go to from here? The band has wrapped up production on a video for “Highschool Heartbreaker,” shot on Kwantlen’s Surrey campus for release this month, and are planning a Western Canadian tour next year. One thing’s for certain: it’s going to be a busy first year.

Tommy Alto’s music can be heard at

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