New project from True Groove Records puts unique spin on protest album with collaborative video element

True Groove Records
Video still courtesy of Carly O’Neil

A new album by New York City’s Tomás Doncker puts an autobiographical spin on a protest album.

“Born To Be” was conceptualized by Doncker, CEO of True Groove Records, after reflecting on the singles that he had released during the pandemic. 

“This record crept up on me,” said Doncker. “I wasn’t really thinking I was going to make an album, but being an old school record nerd I just think songs should live somewhere in real life. I had an array of songs, some I’d recorded over the past year, some brand new. I had been looking at them all as individual singles, and then I realized there was a common thread that ran through them — they’re all protest songs; they all belonged together as an album, they needed to be on vinyl. And, on top of that, the inside joke is that with acoustic and electric versions of songs, I’ve covered myself, along with The Specials, Patti Smith and Bob Dylan.”

Through its 10 tracks, “Born To Be” achieves the unique feat of having multiple versions of songs on the same album complement each other, making each more impactful on their own and together. “Born To Be” is in part a cover album, with multiple versions of three songs (both acoustic and electric) that evoke different moods, and is bookended by the title track “Born To Be,” starting with an electric version and rounding out the album with an acoustic version.

“I was thinking about how the hopeful groundswell of early 2020 had just died,” Doncker notes about the song. “Black Lives Matter was gone, and it looked like we were right around the corner from Trump2 or someone like that, and I was just pissed. I’m having this conversation with myself in my head… ‘you’re a middle-aged guy and you still have the thoughts of an angry young man.’ And then – boom! – it was like a lightning bolt, it was almost complete. It’s a very clear protest song against the powers that be. We recorded both versions the next day. Quite often, the original versions of my songs are acoustic. I’m a guitar player at heart, my acoustic is rarely more than an arm’s length away.”

Another thing that sets “Born To Be” apart from other projects from True Groove Records is that this new album is also functioning as a video collaboration project. Each song on the album will get its own reimagined music video edited by local artists. New York City’s own Carly O’Neil took charge of editing the video for the track entitled “All About You,” written by Doncker.

“I had already done a music video for the classic rock band Ten Years After for 50th anniversary for their song ‘I’d Love to Change the World.’ I made that and make a rap music video for another artist,” said O’Neil. “Tomás had seen that work and was like, this is totally different than what I’ve seen from other people.”

O’Neil says that “All About You” is more of a lighter, airier song than she would normally work with. 

“I don’t think it would have been a song I chose because it took me awhile to get into the meat of the song. But this album is very different from other stuff Tomás does,” said O’Neil. “It really pushed me creatively. It was a pleasant surprise and at the same time very poignant. It affected me in a way that I’m not able to express.”

After listening to the song, O’Neil knew there was a special story to be told. She ultimately settled on telling the story between a Black man and his daughter throughout the years, showing how they bond and love each other despite any disagreements along the way.

“I was really excited to tell a story about a Black dad. There’s a lot of talk amongst the Black community that Black dads don’t get enough credit. They’re doing their best to beat the system,” said O’Neil. “[The music video is] such a sweet story that was absent of any of what white America hasn’t had.”

O’Neil found a footage set that tells that exact story, and she admits that telling this as a narrative story was something that was very new to her. However, O’Neil felt very strongly that this story needed to be told.

“It felt like a very timeless narrative of what a Black father and daughter is like. I really liked that it didn’t show poverty or any real strife beyond her getting pissed off at him like kids do,” said O’Neil. “As much as visual on her, it’s a story about him. The song is essentially his internal monologue all about setting her up for success and various values, musicianship, and spending quality time together. I got ensconced in this story.”

For O’Neil, she hopes that those who watch the music video for “All About You” not only see a story told about a Black father and daughter, but also see the magic that can occur in father/daughter relationships.

“I want people who had that experience to feel all of the love that they have felt in a timestream up until this point and really wash over them. And for the people that didn’t experience that, I wanted to give them a moment to live vicariously in that space, at least 3 minutes to have that. I wanted to remind people that that can exist,” said O’Neil. “I want to create stuff that heals me bc it will heal others.”

The full “Born To Be” album will release to the public on May 5. Check out O’Neil’s edit of “All About You” below: