That time I was interviewed* by Esquire Magazine

Have you ever read an Esquire magazine feature interview? They always read a little like this. “He glides into the bar. A black jacket falls from his shoulders like the waters of Niagra Falls. He shuffles in his seat. Uncomfortable. There’s wonder in his eye. Is he keeping the world’s secrets to himself?”

No. He’s not. He’s an actor who doesn’t have a fucking clue about what’s going on in the world. But the interview makes you feel that way. Surely if Esquire were to interview anyone, the end result would be the same. So, to test out my theory I contacted Esquire to interview me. Their responses were all really positive.

“Who are you?”… “How did you get my home number?”… “Was that you outside our office again?”

With Esquire busy trying to find a time to fit me in. I couldn’t wait. I wanted the world to see how mysterious and intriguing I was. So, I took matters into my own hands.


Tom Davies on his six years in America, and why he’s just getting started.

Our latest cover star is more Hugh Jackman than Steve Irwin, but hey, that’s alright with us.

Tom wears a suit his parents bought him for his birthday last year.
For the last few months at Esquire, we’ve had one burning question on our lips. Well, two questions. How the hell do we stay logged into both our work and personal emails at the same time, and – who is the real Tom Davies? We hired a guy to solve question one, and sat down with the man himself to tackle question two.

We met at a dive bar in downtown San Francisco. It was the kind of bar that is too small for a pool table but has one anyway. The lighting was like something you’d expect at a 1920’s Speakeasy. Hell, this might even be one. He wore a pair of tapered jeans with white Havaianas and a simple t-shirt. Straight from the beaches of Sydney, I’d have guessed. You get the impression that if we hadn’t scheduled this interview, he’d have been here anyway.

His bright smile and Australian accent lit up the room immediately. He’s the loudest in the room, right where he wants to be. He hands me a Tecate to go with the one I’d already ordered. Something tells me we’ll have a few more before we’re done. He sits cross-legged opposite from me, staring me down with his green, wait, no, hazel eyes. He’s reading me. Not cynically. Inquisitively. He breaks the silence.

“G’day mate.” I reach for a handshake, but he goes in for a hug. Not just a ‘Nice to meet you hug’ but a ‘You make me feel like home’ kind of hug. We’re already mates. “Let’s get this started. I’ve got a couple errands to run later and I hate being late.”

It’s true. He’s always on time. “When I was younger, I played all my sport in the surrounding cities.” He’s an athlete, you can tell. His broad shoulders are part design, part hard work, and he looks like he could run a marathon tomorrow. “If training finished early, my parents would be late. The coach hated having to wait with me until they arrived, so I developed this strong value for being on time.”

He continues to chatter on about his parents. How they would drive him to and from Canberra, Australia’s capital city, an hour and a half from their hometown. All for his dream of becoming a professional soccer player. He whips out his iPhone and begins swiping through photos of the Davies family. “That’s my Dad, Floyd. I got my nose from him. They say that if we were to follow our noses, we’d go in circles. There’s Mum. She was my teacher and was always so full of energy and excited to teach.” He continues on to point out his siblings. His brother, Jack, lives in England. His sister, Claerwen, is a nursing student in Australia.

The waitress lowered two Tecates onto our table. Tom looked up and caught her eye. With a cheeky smile and a “Thanks, mate”, she walked away. He’s been in the United States for six years, his accent as strong as the day he left. “I need it. I’d never get girls without it.” He says it with a smile. I can’t read him. We move on.

I decided to press him on current affairs. “I’m not sure where it came from, my interest in human rights. It seems to have popped up a few years ago and is something I’m conscious of every day.” He doesn’t just talk the talk. Tom spent two years working for Not For Sale, an NGO supporting victims of human trafficking. “There was a moment when I realized, ‘Wait a second. Why shouldn’t we have marriage equality? Or a greater willingness to open borders to migrants and refugees in Australia? How is that fair?'”

Tom wears the same suit from the picture above.
I want to go deeper. And we do. “What are my dreams?” He feeds back to me. “I want to live a life full of great stories. Whenever I’m faced with a tough decision, I’ll ask myself ‘what will make the best story?’ and go with that. I adopted that from my Dad, and it serves me well every day. My parents worked hard to take us overseas as kids. We travelled throughout North America, Europe and Africa. It left a lasting impression on me. I want to build a life that lets me do the same for my family.”

Tom’s journey that led him to this barstool from Australia is certainly one of those great stories. Leaving Australia before finishing high school, Tom took up a soccer scholarship in Kentucky (you read that right, Kentucky). After winning a national championship, he moved to San Francisco. “I loved Kentucky. But I was living in a small university town and I wanted to see more of America. One day my friend Chris Williams called me up and said ‘Tommy, you want to go to California? Say the word and I’ll sort it out.’ I told him to look into it for me and within minutes calls me back ‘Mate, you’re all set’. So, I moved to San Francisco.”

It seems that Tom and I have far more in common that I had first imagined. He, too, is a writer with a steady following online at a blog he built himself, aptly named Tom’s Blogs. “I’ve been writing on and off for the last few years.” His eyes brighten and he sits forward in his chair. “I once wrote an Esquire magazine interview of myself. It was what really launched all of my success.” How creative.

He finishes another Tecate, like its water. Compared to Australian beer, it probably is. There’s more to him. I can tell. And I think he wants to tell me.

“Do you believe in God?” Before I can answer, he goes on. “Religion fascinates me. I love what it means to different people.” I did my homework before arriving today, and religion is a common theme in the family. Tom’s grandparents were missionaries in Tanzania, where his Mum was born. His sister, Claerwen, has been involved in the Anglican church for many years. “I consider myself a humanist. I love people. I love how we interact. Relationships with friends and family are important to me.”

esquire 4-01

It seems odd that someone so close to his family would spend most of his time so far away. “Australia will always be there. My family will always be there. So I’m in no hurry to go home.” Of all the cities and countries, why here? “My Dad is a businessman. My brother is in business. I’ve wanted to learn all I can about how companies grow and develop. San Francisco is ten years ahead of Australia.”

So, with that, it seems we’ll have Tom here a little longer. With his charismatic smile and youthful exuberance, I think I speak for most Americans in saying that that is quite alright with us.

Photographs by Kevin Meynell. Styling by Tom’s Mum.

A Week At Burning Man

“You’re driving nine hours into the middle of the desert?!” This call wasn’t going well. “Where there are violent sandstorms and no food or water aside from what you pack yourself?!” Mum was a little skeptical. “I’ll be fine,” reassuring myself as much as I was her. We’d come a long way in a short period of time, but I was a virgin burner and was bracing for a rough first time.

I’d always known about Burning Man. And by ‘known’ I mean I knew it existed, in some shape or another. It was that music festival in the middle of nowhere, no, wait, it was some kind of rave in the desert. Then it was an art exhibition or something. Whatever it was, it was an insignificant blip on my radar of things to do. I’d say somewhere between running the bulls and trying that new burrito place down the street. I knew plenty of people who had been, and who wouldn’t shut up about how life changing it was.

How life changing can a festival or event like Burning Man really be? I mean, I’ve seen a couple good shows here and there, and I’ve done my fair share of camping, the two things I imagined made up most of what is Burning Man, but for it to have such a drastic impact on your life so much so that you’re willing to spend the next two hours annoying the shit out of me with all your stories seems a little much. I smell bullshit. Or maybe LSD.

Putting aside my cynicism and general lack of understanding for what the hell it was, I’d made the call early in the year that I would go. As is custom when I commit to something I have absolutely no contextual information on, I started to do my research and very quickly learned that there are a thousand logistical nightmares between my flimsy commitment to attending and what would be my first burn. I started by applying for a low-income ticket, a special offer for people who work for non-profits and those who can’t afford general admission tickets. To my surprise, I’d been granted entry. Fuck. Now I have to go. But with who? How would I get there? Where is the Nevadan desert? Where the fuck is Nevada?

With only weeks left until the event, I’d pretty much given up hope. Since getting my ticket, I’d torn my ACL, been back to Australia for surgery, and returned to a mountain of work. Then I got this text, “Mate, just got my ticket. We’re doing this, yeah?” I couldn’t reply quick enough. “Why yes, that sounds wonderful, friend,” is the safe-for-work version of my response. Text sent. Panic ensued. We were weeks out from the opening of Black Rock City, the city built solely by burners in the middle of the Nevadan desert for Burning Man, with no idea what to do next.

We launched ourselves into the planning process, with another mate picking up a ticket along the way. Now we pack. ‘This should be easy,’ I remember thinking. A tent, something to wear, enough water, and food. I’ve camped before. I travel. Then a friend sent me this list of essentials. More panic. Maybe I don’t need to go.

Against all odds, we got our shit together. Even at this stage, we were still unsure of what to expect. “Oh you’re going to Burning Man,” people would say when I told them my plans for Labor Day weekend, “what is that exactly?”

Good question.

Friends told us to be wary of seasoned burners who sometimes harbored a great deal of cynicism for idiots like us – three kids from the city who got lucky and planned their trip at the eleventh hour. Great. We haven’t even arrived yet and already everyone hates us. I bumped into an old friend who eased my worries with one piece of advice, “Say yes to it all. Check your ego at the door and open your mind to everything that comes your way. Burning Man is all about what you make it.” And with that, we left.

Black Rock City

We arrived Wednesday afternoon, a few days after Burning Man had begun, to one of the biggest sandstorms the city had experienced in years. Great start. They weren’t lying about the dust. It had already found it’s way into holes in my body I didn’t know existed. We drove around looking for a place to set up camp. The city was big. I mean, half the size of San Francisco big. To help people navigate, it’s divided up by letters, and hours, separated by fifteen-minute intervals. We were located at 6:15 and J, where that red dot is below.

Black Rock City
Black Rock City

We set up camp and hopped on our bikes to explore. ‘We’ll just ride through all the streets and get our bearings before dark’. No, Tom, you won’t. The city is home to over 70,000 people and can take half an hour to ride from one side to the other. There are hundreds of streets, with thousands of camps. Holy shit. What have I got myself into?

Acts of Giving

It’s true that there is no place for money at Burning Man. But often it’s misconceived that in lieu of cash, burners barter with each other for the things they need – I give you eggs, you give me water. I give you a back rub, and you give me dinner. It’s not. Burning Man is devoted to acts of giving. That is, giving without expecting anything in return. Sound suspicious? I thought so, too. But it works. And it’s not just someone here or there offering you a peanut as you roll by, it’s everyone, giving, all the time.

And it makes you want to give, too. I couldn’t give enough. We couldn’t cook enough for our friends, we couldn’t spray enough sunscreen on those who needed it, we couldn’t share our drinks with as many strangers as we wanted. Every time we gave something, we were adding some form of value, however small, to the community we were part of. Maybe you’re sitting at home wondering whether it’s actually that rewarding. I’m not an idiot. I’ve studied economics enough to know that this won’t work in the real world, but it doesn’t even matter. For this moment in time, we were giving everything we could to our new friends in Black Rock City. We had no money, and the world kept turning.

The People

There’s something about my week at Burning Man that I couldn’t quite put my finger on while I was there. Something that made the city so magical. Yes, the art is unbelievable. Yes, the majesty of the desert is something that no amount of adjectives could ever adequately convey, but it was more than that. It was the secret pinch of sugar in the tomato paste that makes the pasta so good. And the more I thought about it, the more I parsed through each individual experience, analyzing what it is that made each moment so special, the clearer it became.

Burning Man is what it is, because of the people. Aside from the fashion bloggers who posed on everything and the one clown who was there to STEAL MY BIKE, the people of Burning Man are nothing short of breathtaking. The energy and excitement and compassion that seemingly everyone felt for one another was electric. I didn’t meet a single person there who wasn’t absolutely over the moon to have met me. We weren’t greeted with handshakes, but with big, long and warmhearted hugs. From everyone. All the time. I never felt the animosity I had been warned about. Burners, old and young, welcomed me ‘home’ with open arms. They shared with me their stories, their food, and their homes. Strangers waved frantically as you rode by. Everyone was my best mate. And I was theirs.

The Art

The days were long. Sleep was an afterthought. There was just too much to see and do. You haven’t experienced FOMO until you’ve had a half hour nap at Burning Man. Exploring the city and the open playa, the portion of the desert that is within the pentagonal event space used exclusively for art installations rather than camping, was absolutely the highlight for me. The city is huge, with hundreds of art installations scattered across the city. The playa is literally a living and breathing piece of art. And we were all part of it.

I won’t even bother trying to describe some of the artwork on display in the city. It’s pointless, so I’d recommend checking out this feature on the Burning Man website, and a couple of my photos below. Even then, the images do very little justice to the true scale and magnitude of some of these works. Maybe you’re like me, someone who struggles to think inside the box let alone outside of it, but that doesn’t matter. It’s impossible to not appreciate the level of creativity and effort that goes into each and every piece of art. Imagine a full-scale pirate ship, on wheels, zipping around the playa. Or a 5oft dragon fish that lights up with a million colors at night. Or an octopus that shoots fire out of it’s tentacles. IT’S TENTACLES.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 4.16.30 PM

So how do I go from ‘Oh that looks fun’ to packing my shit and going?

I asked someone while I was there how I could ever explain what it is that I was seeing to average non-burners that would surround me when I was home. “Imagine a week-long summer camp for adults, then mix in the biggest party you’ve ever been to, then times it by a thousand.” And if that doesn’t sound like fun, or maybe you think you’re too old for Burning Man, here’s Susan Sarandon absolutely killing it on the playa. Oh, now you’re interested. Good. Here are a few things to consider when you’re planning to burn in 2016:

  1. Buy your ticket – this one sounds a little obvious, but with ticket sales scattered throughout the year, it’s very easy to back out if you don’t have a ticket yet. Buy a ticket as soon as you can, and commit to it early.
  2. Speak to as many burners as possible – when I finally committed, I reached out to everyone I knew who had been or might know someone who had attended. I wanted to know all the hacks, tips, and shortcuts. Grab drinks and take a pen and paper.
  3. Take a couple of close mates – I went with two mates who were both up for whatever came at us. We all shared a similar open mindset in approaching our week at Burning Man. It made trying new things, like showering naked with fifty people in a foam container, much easier.
  4. Don’t stress too much about the gifting economy your first time – I took a few bottles of sunscreen and rode around spraying naked people in the sunshine. When you compare that with camps who cook for hundreds of people, or those who build extravagant stages for live shows, it doesn’t really compare. Just make a conscious effort to contribute and be involved in the community.
  5. When you’re there, expect everything to get ruined – don’t bother taking valuable or sentimental items that will ruin in the dust or heat. Sandstorms are no joke there, and everything in your tent and car will get lathered with a thick coat of gray dirt. Accept that you will be picking it out of your nose, sleeping in a tent full of dust, and unable to brush your hair for the week.

Summary

Go. Just go. Yes, it’s hot and cold and windy and dry and a multitude of other climatic extremes. Yes, the toilets are a cocktailed-mountain of feces and other bodily excretions. But a week at Burning Man will change your life. I’ve become the very thing I promised I wouldn’t: a burner who won’t shut up about Burning Man. And now I know why. Now I know why old burners draw tears when they tell stories of the playa, why tickets are sold out within minutes of going on sale, why people put thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into building camps for reasons none other than creative expression in a city in the desert. Burning Man is a social experiment that pisses on capitalism, cynicism, and status. And, you know what, it works. It works because deep down people yearn for unlimited creative freedom. Deep down people want to give everything they can to help other people. And for one crazy, hot, windy, dusty, dry week out in the middle of the Nevadan desert, these ideals thrive.

It’s not a festival, or a show, or anything remotely like anything you’ve seen before. It’s a city in the desert, made up of people just like us who want to share, create, learn, dance, party, give, ride and build in the middle of nowhere. A fully functioning oasis of people and ideas and creativity all co-existing in one community.

Now enjoy a short video I put together of all our shenanigans over the week. You’ll get a good idea of what it’s like to cruise around and explore the city, and just what craziness to expect if you ever make your way over there. Only have fifteen seconds left to see more? Try this instead.