From the moment he burst onto our TV screens as a contestant on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ six long years ago, we’ve known Nigerian-born star Tim Omaji by his stage name, Timomatic.
It’s a moniker that’s served him incredibly well, seeing him through to the top eight on the dance show, third place on the 2011 edition of ‘Australia’s Got Talent’ and through a succession of chart smashes, including his quadruple platinum debut single ‘Set It Off’.
But, before embarking on the next exciting chapter of his career, the time had come for change. And it’s a change, he tells us, that has been coming for a while.
“I felt like over the last 12 months, it really kind of came to a head that everything I was doing creatively was just evolving,” he explains. “The music I was writing, the way I wanted to express myself on a live stage with a band… all these different things were just evolving naturally. Technically, I’d been Timomatic with me and my mates for ten years, so I felt like it was the right time to represent the new phase with my birth name.”
We mention to Tim that it felt to us like his previous single ‘Delilah’ was the beginning of that new phase, even though it was originally released in Timomatic guise (it’s since been changed to Tim Omaji). He tells us that was part of the plan.
“To kind of trickle out publically, definitely. But it was a 12 month process and it was only at the latter part of that process that the name change happened. It was simple. And because I think the music had already been created, it was easy for everyone to realize – including my team – that, okay, this is right. As opposed to selling a quite different product with the same name.”
“I was lucky, because they heard the music first and they acknowledged that it was definitely a departure from what I’d been known for. So they agreed that it was the right decision to evolve it,” he tells us.
Though the evolution is still ongoing and there has been plenty of debate on both sides of the argument regarding the name change, Tim tells us that recording and performing under his birth name feels “a lot more comfortable”.
“It’s a weird thing. I feel like generally sound wise, the only thing that’s really changed is that it’s just coming from a more soulful place,” he says. “I’ve still got party jams and feel-good music, but it’s just more soulful. And I think for me, especially live using a band now, has been a really freeing experience and something that I feel is a lot more aligned with my soul, where I’m at right now, who I am and who I feel like I’m going to be representing in the next phase of my career.”
And he’s determined to ensure that his fans are kept fully up to speed.
“I just feel like I’m talking to my fans a lot more online about what I’m doing and making sure that any questions they have are answered, because when you’re a fan of someone, change isn’t always taken in the best way,” Tim explains. “But I feel like through the film clip and through the music, the latest stuff I’ve been doing shows the transition without showing the transition, if you know what I mean.
“You get the knockers, especially online. But that’s a given. For me I take that as a compliment in the fact that they feel anything that I do would be of value. That’s a really special thing. So I guess what I stress to people is that this isn’t a throwing away of something that’s old… that Timomatic energy and passion for dance and for music is always going to be there… but this is just part two. Me taking a further step into what I feel I’m supposed to do.”
The first official chapter in the Tim Omaji campaign is the recently-released ‘Something Bout You’. It’s a soulful, organic, more R&B-focused number that sees the singer tapping into his falsetto range. He tells us how the song came about.
“I wrote it last year in the States with a few great songwriters that I got linked up with through Sony,” he tells us. “I went into that session wanting to make something instantly classic. Wanting something that sounded almost like a Motown sort of vibe, with that nostalgic, soulful feel, but that could obviously translate into the now. And it just came so quickly.
“We had two sessions just jamming out this really cool vibe of a song. And I think it’s one of the first writing sessions where I’ve really wanted to preserve the vibe above everything else. It just had to feel organically cool. And I really feel like we made something special. On a vocal note, I hadn’t really used falsetto too much before either, so experimenting with all of those sounds has been really cool.”
And, Tim tells us, the musical stylings of ‘Something Bout You’ are indicative of what we can expect from the Tim Omaji catalogue in the months and years ahead.
“There are definitely more songs like this that I’ve written, but if anything I think what’s changed is the way I’m singing. It’s like I’ve found that voice that I’m really comfortable in. And I feel like through my music now, whatever it is, I want it to be more of a conversation as opposed to selling and oversinging.
“I think if anything, this phase is not worrying about being in a box. But experimenting and enjoying the freedom outside of the box, while still obviously making music I hope connects with my fans and potentially wins new fans.”
“No, I think that the chart and everything to do with that is so out of an artist’s control that if they put their minds on worrying about it, it’s just going to bring you grief,” Tim tells us. “We have to acknowledge it. You can’t be oblivious to it and think you’re the bee’s knees when you’re not really charting, but it doesn’t take away from the decision I’ve made.
“Two years ago I wouldn’t have said that. I would have been freaking out. We may not have been able to do the interview. But I’ve been in this industry just long enough to have the maturity to understand that there’s going to be ebb and flow. It’s art. Not everything can hit, you know what I mean? But I think if you’re true to what you’re doing, it’s going to hit the right people and it’s going to hit when it needs to hit.”
Of course, what might help Tim (and other Aussie artists like him) hit more often would be a vast increase in support from Australian media, particularly radio, without which local artists struggle to be heard.
“I think it just comes down to the media really needing to understand the strength of being able to educate the public that what we have in this country is really strong. I think when the media decides to do that and to put Aussie artists first in our own country, I figure it will just give this place more culture.
“I feel like artistically, it just always seems like we’re trying to follow what the States or the UK are doing. I get that, but we really have talent here. It’s going to take a while, but now more so than ever, the way music is at the moment… pop music doesn’t really have a specific style right now. It’s quite rootsy on one side, but then the dance thing is still happening… I think it’s an exciting time for music. So I think if media would embrace what Australian acts are doing, it can only be good for us.”
Beyond the lack of support from radio, however, Tim’s campaign took a different kind of hit, when Jessie J cancelled her concert appearances in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. He was the support act for the entire tour and the last-minute cancellation prevented him from having his new material seen by thousands of potential new fans.
“Yeah. That was tough. But again, I’m one of the most optimistic people that you’ll meet – and I’ve had to be. So you can talk to me about the chart, but I can talk to you about the time I broke my back, where I couldn’t even get up and move. Or the time when people didn’t take my music seriously and they thought I was just a dancer. So all these things become part of your story and as long as my eyes are fixed on what I believe I’m supposed to do, on with the punches…”
It’s been almost three years since the release of Tim’s last album, ‘Timomatic’, also his major label debut. But a new one is on the horizon and it’s been crafted with the help of songwriters and producers from both here and overseas.
“In terms of the people I’ve been working with, there are no crazy names,” he admits. “I feel like everyone I’ve worked with has been the upcoming; the next. Which has meant that everyone has been really hungry. The majority of people I’ve worked with have been from the States.
“Then I’ve worked with a few people locally… Ilan from The Potbelleez, Stuart Crichton, DNA I got to work with again, which was great because we took it somewhere completely different. And a cool array of American artists. I think from this album, you can expect the spectrum being soulful, commercial music to quite urban.
“I feel like it’s just got to tell the next story musically from my point of view. I’ve just got to hope and pray that people will want to invest in hearing what is next from me. But for me, it’s also about making music that I hope will translate into an amazing live show, because I actually haven’t done many full length live shows before. I’ve never worked with a band before, so this is the first album that will lend itself to that.”
Tim tells us that, at this stage, fans should expect to see the (as yet untitled) new album sometime in the “latter part of the year” and with it, the announcement for his first round of live shows. He promises they’ll be pretty electric, combining his live vocal and his trademark dance moves. Not to mention his addictive and positive personality.
Tim Omaji is the complete package. Charismatic, cool and possessing an extraordinary level of performance skill and talent, it’d take a brave person to bet against him doing everything within his power to take it all the way to the top.
Tim’s singles ‘Delilah’ and ‘Something Bout You’ are available now.