Judd Sather Photography Tommy Howell
It all started with a walk in a cemetery to Tommy Howell.
“It’s weird how cemeteries affect your imagination, your heart and your mind,” Howell, 55, told PEOPLE in a recent interview. “Your soul wanders.”
The actor-turned-songwriter formerly known as C. Thomas Howell traveled to Macon, Georgia last March and ended up on the grounds of Rose Hill Cemetery. The cemetery, which is located on the banks of the Ocmulgee River, lovingly holds the remains of Duane Allman and Gregg Allmann of the iconic Allman Brothers Band, among many other famous ones.
“I remember coming there very open, sort of spiritually and creatively,” says Howell, who is best known for his role as Ponyboy Curtis in the 1983 film. The foreigners. “I meditated on the fragility of life and how it unfolds in the blink of an eye.”
And it’s those exact words that are now among the lyrics to Howell’s debut single “Rose Hill,” whose lyric video is streaming exclusively on PEOPLE.
“[Rose Hill Cemetary] is such a beautiful place,” Howell told PEOPLE. “As I stood there, I couldn’t help but think how bad it wouldn’t be to lay right there, play with the Allmans and to listen to the trains pass down the river. That’s how this song was born.”
Indeed, after his fateful trip, Howell returned home to Nashville and “immersed” himself for a week in the history lessons left in the music of artists such as The Allman Brothers Band and Otis Redding. In total, says Howell, writing “Rose Hill” took a total of only 48 hours.
“The words all came together easily because it was all true and written there before me,” he explains of the song produced by Roger Miller’s son, Dean Miller. “We wanted a feeling of heavenly sound quality, and that’s what I think we created.”
Granted, Howell knows that many fans still only know him for his work in films such as HEY and Red Dawn. In fact, he’s the first to admit that his musical aspirations only began during the pandemic shutdowns, in which Howell says he was “determined to turn a bad thing into a good thing.”
“I got through a lot of the pandemic with my son Dashiell and some guitars,” says Howell, himself the son of a professional cowboy. “I just couldn’t put [my guitar] down. I think we spent 16 months in a row playing music.”
The cutting-edge Southern rock American artist also began writing the words to accompany the music, finding the transition between acting and songwriting somewhat seamless.
“I completely understood the storytelling of songwriting,” he says. “What I doesn’t knowing was musically how to structure a song. I needed someone to teach me what a choir was and what a bridge was and Why they were used and when they were used.”
“There are no rules in songwriting,” Howell continues. “There really isn’t a school to go to. And who’s to say if a song is good. So many people think their music is good and frankly, sometimes it’s not.”
Howell currently finds himself juggling an onslaught of good fortune right now, as he continues to nurture his burgeoning music career with ongoing acting projects such as the upcoming Netflix series. Canceledwhile playing live shows across Nashville and beyond.
“I wrote a song called ‘Eighty-Eight,’ which is basically about the differences between 1988 and now,” remarks Howell, who is currently working on a new EP slated for release in January 2023. “It opens with the way I remember how things were in 1988 when tearing down walls was the most important thing, now we build them with hate.
He takes a deep breath and then continues.
“Look, I’m not 24 trying to sell records,” he concludes. “I’m 55 and just trying to share some of my life through my music. It’s a totally different thing.”