The wonderful world of Tommy Cash
Rapping, knitting, kidding around: Tommy Cash can do a bit of everything, and he does it very well. We met the man of many talents for an exclusive interview.
Walking a brown bear, knitting at a fashion show, aerial acrobatics on an excavator shovel: anything is possible in the world of Tommy Cash. Born in Tallinn in 1991, Tomas Tammemets first rose to prominence ten years ago, mainly through rap and sensationalist music videos. The neo-surrealistic clips were teeming with clones, mutants and sexual innuendos, staged in glossy aesthetics with a sense of humour to die for. It's no wonder that the Estonian prodigy quickly caught the attention of the fashion world, with early fans including avant-garde designer Rick Owens and Margiela creative director John Galliano.
Then followed joint mini-collections (Rick Owens, Margiela and currently Kappa), model bookings at Paris Fashion Week and a new chapter in Tommy Cash's work. Suddenly he became a popular celebrity guest at the Paris fashion shows - and what does someone like Tommy Cash do then? Certainly not sitting around and filming the models with his iPhone.
When we met Tommy Cash for an interview and photo shoot before his Berlin concert, we experienced a tidy and mild-mannered genius who we would like to declare an unofficial honorary citizen of Berlin.
Tommy Cash, what comes to mind when you think of Berlin?
I haven’t been here much yet. It’s the first time after a few years that I am here. But I remember some good moments. When I wrote the track “Who”, I was living here for a week or so while recording with Modeselektor. It was sweet, they were picking me up everyday, with this old Range Rover and we were driving to the studio. I also had sessions with Boys Noize at his house and I worked with Amnesia Scanner for my album “Yes” here. Tracks that have been written here always were influenced by the Berlin vibe. But it’s hard to remember every single thing, everything is moving so fast for me.
You live in Tallinn, how would you describe the Tallinn vibe?
Tallinn is super small and very quiet. It’s a village compared to every city. Tallinn is my cave.
Does everybody know you in Tallinn?
Yes. But it’s not just because of my work. A lot of people know the name of our family. They know me from a very young age. The age gap of the people who recognize me is very big. Besides the people my age, I can basically be approached by an 55 year old taxi driver too.
And what do your parents think about your work? Does your mother ever say, son, this is a bit too much?
No, not anymore. My parents are very, very proud. And my mother never said too much. She wasn't sure in my first years, but, no actually, she never said anything really critical.
Nice to have supportive parents who didn’t lecture you about morals…
Yes, I never thought about this. That's pretty cool. Yes!
Are people in Estonia generally very open-minded?
No, not in general. Also, my family is not typical Estonian. I'm a mixed person. My mom is Ukrainian. My dad is Russian and my grandpa is Estonian. So it's like a proper mixed pool of blood. But if you see my brand, if you see who I am as an artist, as a person – it doesn't matter where I'm from. I would be the same everywhere else.
What does your Tallinn apartment look like?
I'm living in this old building with a ceiling, six meters high. My home is very clean and with a lot of air, you know. I think, to be so fruitful in your work, you need to have a normal life because you need to balance it out. I think life is all about balance, right? All the best fighters, they have great families, when they go back home they don’t want to argue or act crazy. Me personally, I need to have a very healthy home.
You are famous for your performances at Paris Fashion Week, which have also been filmed. You’ve published these videos on Instagram and TikTok. Is there any bigger plan for the footage, maybe an exhibition?
Well, actually I just had a little exhibition at Paris Internationale (alternative art fair; editors note). I have a great gallerist, Olga Temnikova. It all started in 2019, when I had my first art show with Rick Owens at Kumu, the biggest museum in Estonia. The show was on the top floor on around 500 square meters. So yes, I am moving in the art direction. Every time I go to a fashion show, I see it as a performance, as a statement piece. So it's all tied together. A lot of people know me, but some people love my music. Others, like the people in Korea love me, because of my Margiela sweater, right? This went very big by the way, and there are a lot of fakes! Yes, and some people know me from Instagram. John Galliano found out about me on Instagram. In the end it’s about fusion all those different things together. My plan is not to be touring with music anymore when I'm like 45 or 50. Then I see myself as a great conceptual artist, in this moment all ties in. Until then I want to break this barrier, because it’s like the hardest to get into the art world.
Is it true your moustache is inspired by Galliano?
Well, I had it before I knew Galliano, but the look is similar, yes. I saw him at this Kanye fashion show in Paris where Kanye West wore the “White Lives Matter” T-Shirt. I saw Galliano for the first time in real life. We were only me messaging online before. He had his moustache and I was like, ah, yours has no colour! And he said, yeah, I'm old, it's white already.
What do you think about the whole Kanye West thing?
It's so crazy to even think about it. I don't know what's in his mind. I don't understand the point of many things. Sometimes I think the point is simply to make people to talk about him. But you know, the structure of Kanye’s statements is very interesting. Let’s say, he says two sentences. One makes a lot of sense and you can connect to it. But the second one is bogus. For instance he says something like: people of the industry should be paid more or hairstylists should be paid more or teachers should be paid more, right? And the second sentence is: The earth is flat. You know, that’s how he works.
It was foreseeable that he would be cancelled at some point. Galliano was also cancelled in the past.
Yes, but Galliano stayed low key since then.
So back to your performances at Paris Fashion Week, which are extremely funny. You were knitting in the first row of Loewe, you were disguised as a press photographer at Balenciaga show, you came as a guest to Rick Owens carrying a girl as a human backpack… when and how did this all began?
This year in spring. We got many invitations to fashion shows and I did not want to do it like everyone else. It quickly got boring for me just to go to there as a guest watching the show. For me and my team these performances are like anti-fashion, you know? We are not embracing being dressed like brand pros. It’s like a Dali approach.
I also remember you sitting in a buggy, a dummy in your mouth, pretending to be a baby at Marine Serre show in Paris.
Yes, the baby. This was one of the first things we did. It was a bit problematic, because I didn't know that this abortion thing was going on. Do you remember, when they wanted to ban abortion in the USA? It was at the same time. We did Rick Owens, when I came with the super long hair. And I was pushing weights at Amiri’s first row and so on …
But the brands obviously like it…
I haven't asked, haha.
Did they know about your performances before?
No, no. I get normally invited like a guest. At Balenciaga for instance I came as a photographer. I stood there in the crowd and no one recognized me. They asked for my invitation, I had it in my backpack. The normal procedure. My team was with me, Yulya and my stylist Charlotte, they were standing beside me. And then I was chasing the celebrities, to take good pictures. Also, when I was sitting down with all my cameras, I had like seven cameras, I impressed everybody. Tick, tick, tick. That was actually Yulya’s idea. Yulya (photographer Yulya Shadrinsky, editor’s note) is my partner in crime who goes to all shows with me and films me. She also draws me ideas. I think, this was the most genius idea she had ever had. Because this was actually her, when she came to Paris, five years ago and she had to do this paparazzi thing. So she kind of mirrored this through me, you know?
Nobody recognised you in the crowd?
It was funny, I was standing there beside a guy, I think his name is Pierre Snaps. He is the main photographer of Kim Kardashian. And he sensed something, he asked me: What’s your name? I said: Marc. He said: Marc Who? Marc Cannon, I said, haha. And he was like, okay … Later when I was taking pictures, this Eurphora-Girl went through and while she kept going, she looked back in like this big corridor, remember? She figured it out and called me by my name. Tommy Cash!
That’s brilliant. OK, that was the fashion part, now let’s talk about the music part. When I saw your first music videos, it reminded me of the director Chris Cunningham. Are you inspired by his work?
We love Chris Cunningham! Definitely the video for “Little Molly” is a reference. There is no other artist like Chris Cunningham. His work for Aphex Twin is legendary. I also love the film “Rubber Johnny”. Regarding my work I probably should think about Chris Cunningham way more than I do.
So it’s something that’s always in your mind and you incorporate this into your own ideas subconsciously anyway.
Yes, yes, yes!
Your music is a contemporary mixture of rap, trap and also rave. But the lyrics are actually quite traditional, conventional rap lyrics. Is it meant to be ironic?
Yes, a lot of it is irony. I started doing it because I thought rap is ironic! With Little Molly we were making fun of rap music. But there are so many layers. We live in a micro culture. Let’s take TikTok, where 80 percent or even 95 percent is ironic. So the grain of my work is irony. But I have a lot of respect for serious artists like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or Janes Joplin. How serious they were! So let’s say, my work is very ironic, but not unconditionally. Aphex Twin had a good balance, the video Windowlicker was very ironic at some point. Or Rammstein, they're acting like this die hard German brand, but they are also making fun of all this. And yet there is always something serious in everything.
Would you agree that the more you love something, the more you actually can make fun of it?
It’s hard to keep a mindset like this, it can change drastically. Like Balenciaga, when Demna was at Vetements, he was making fun of of fashion world, but now he became part of this, you know what I mean? You become what you hate and it’s natural to grow, to evolve, to keep moving.
Yes, I understand. But on the other hand, if you hate or dislike something, you would neither be interested in it nor making fun of it.
Yes, yes, yes! Absolutely!
Are you working on new music right now?
Yes and I am very bitchy regarding this, because I’m really chasing the people to get on a higher level each time. You know, it's the same principle I have with fashion shows. Everyone can go on a fashion show, but they won't do what we do. I have the same approach with music. We are really building something. So that you can go back later and see it all, and be like, oh my God, that's a run! I don’t want want to be mediocre, I want a high level of artistic work, you know?
Did you ever consider moving away from Tallinn?
Well, actually yes, but I don't know where and when. I think it should be logical. We are thinking about another big art exhibition in Paris, for something like this I would definitely move to Paris for some time. But moving without a valid reason is not an option. You know, I travel so much, I get a lot of energy from other cities. I don't talk that much, you know. “Hey, I'm blah, blah, blah …” Today everyone can get connections online. Right now I can go back to Tallinn, all is quiet and I just can work on my craft. But when a footballer is brought to another team, he has to go. So if I really need to go, then I go.
Maybe you’ll move to Berlin one day.
Berlin is so nice. I mean really! I have to see more of Berlin.