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New York-based musician Thehighwaystory on early beginnings, facing fears in quarantine and more

Tobi Adekanmbi, known as "Thehighwaystory"
Photos: Mariah Salter

Rockland County musician Tobi Adekanmbi looks back to his elementary school days as what really sparked his love for performing.

“This had to have been like the second or third grade. I had this music teacher who brought her guitar and had the kids sit around in circles and she just played music for us,” recalled Adekanmbi. “That was a spark for me because then a couple of weeks after that is when I discovered Linkin Park and changed my life.”

Adekanmbi remembers singing a Linkin Park song for his friend’s birthday in front of the class as his first taste of performing for a crowd, and the spark has never left him.

“I still remember the feeling as a kid that was like how amazing that was. Everyone liked it, even the teacher liked it,” said Adekanmbi. “That joy, that rush really stuck with me and that kind of started my path with music.”

Adekanmbi would later go on to explore many avenues of music, including playing the alto saxophone and joining bands all through high school. When he was in tenth grade, Adekanmbi moved to a new high school where he met a new friend named Rodrick, who would later teach him about music-producing software. The two eventually started a duo called “We Are Improv” and would create music on the spot. 

“It started with us doing talent shows at school and coffee houses. As we saw a buzz of traction, Rodrick’s mom saw how much we’d practice and that summer, she would get us in at restaurants and some bars she would know and we’d perform there,” said Adekanmbi. “The general reaction we would get was great. We started really messing around with recording ourselves and we put them on Soundcloud.”

Fast forward to now, Adekanmbi releases music professionally under the name “Thehighwaystory.” Though he would often jot down potential names in his notebooks at school, it was the ride home from his brief stint on “America’s Got Talent” that really solidified the name for him.

“The drive home was very surreal because that was like the first time I had been in something with that many artists, that many really really talented people, it was wild. After all of that, driving home just letting that whole experience sink in and something about the way the sun was setting and in my head, something dinged,” said Adekanmbi. “I was on the highway, going home right now. This is a story that I’m going to tell forever. As I’m thinking about all of these things going on piecing together in my head, this is The Highway Story.”

Adekanmbi was a fan of two different bands in high school: The Story So Far, and Your Highway Home. Though it wasn’t intentional that his stage name would echo the names of his favorite bands, the fact that it did mean even more to Adekanmbi.  

“This is the highway story. It wasn’t supposed to be a name, it was a phrase that I’d say out loud in the car. I was like, woah, this is gonna be my identity and I’ve been using it since,” said Adekanmbi. “It was a mishap, a random mistake of two bands I love and an experience of using those two things in a sentence. It just kinda stuck and it’s been the glue since.”

While he had two singles in 2019, during the COVID-19 quarantine Adekanmbi released his first full album entitled “Days We Waited.” The seven-track album is said to be just about one person in his life, and Adekanmbi admits that he wasn’t in the best place when he produced those songs.

“They have such huge sentimental value for me. I was going through a lot at the time and didn’t realize how down bad I was until all the songs were written, produced, mixed and everything. I myself sat through those songs and thought, holy s–t, they are all about her, or she’s played a lot of parts in influencing these stories. That’s what they were, each song was a story,” said Adekanmbi. 

Though Adekanmbi loves every song he puts out, especially his newer singles, “Days We Waited” will always hold a special place in his heart because it was his beginning.

“All of my new songs mean so much more to me because I love seeing how much I’ve grown as an artist, as a person, as an individual. Just watching the maturity and how my lyrics have been growing has been amazing,” said Adekanmbi. “But the beginning, that’s what I love the most. That really is my baby.”

Adekanmbi noted that with producing your own music comes anxiety, doubt and fear, as well as the feeling of wondering if what you’re making is good enough. With quarantine and “Days We Waited,” Adekanmbi had to face his fears head-on. 

“That was the biggest part of it all, being your biggest critic, being your biggest enemy because I make songs, I have stuff, and I’d be like, this isn’t good enough, it can be better, what if no one likes it, you’re making a fool of yourself. I think that like ironically, quarantine for me, the beginning of quarantine, was the best because that’s where it put me in a place where I had to face all of those fears,” said Adekanmbi. “The biggest challenges were myself and knowing that the art when it comes to music, there will always be critics and most of the time it isn’t constructive criticism, it’s really really mean criticism. You have nothing good to say, you’re just trying to hurt my feelings.”

As of right now, Adekanmbi is planning on releasing more singles as they come to him, and hopes to release another complete album next year.

“It makes it easier, before I would work on a bunch of songs and drop a project every three months or so, like an EP or something. And I felt that it was a little more taxing when I focused on a bundle of stuff vs putting all of me in one song,” said Adekanmbi. “Right now I have a bunch of singles lined up. I do want to drop another album soon, maybe next year. I want to make another album in a way to look back at the first project that started everything and show how much I’ve grown since then.”

You can follow Adekanmbi on social media @thehighwaystory on Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud, as well as on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

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