Meet Tom Derickx, The AFL Ruckman Who Pivoted To Music After He Hung Up The Boots

tom derickx music interview

Music has always been a part of Tom Derickx‘s life, even when he put it on the backburner for his burgeoning AFL career a decade ago. The Western Australian-born ruckman grew up with some kind of instrument in his hand. In the years since his retirement he’s been getting more serious about his craft than ever before, especially now he feels like he doesn’t have to hide it anymore.

After Tom quit the footy world back in 2016, he kicked up an electronic project called Kayex with lifelong friend Palassi Kailis. Four years, a canned national tour and a pandemic later and he’s now decided to go out and produce music under his own name.

He got on the phone with PEDESTRIAN.TV to talk about managing his love for music while playing top-level footy, and how writing songs helps him process his thoughts and check in on his mental health.

“I started this solo project as a uni project,” Tom said.

“I just enjoyed it so much more than making weird dance music. It’s the music that I listen to, like The War On Drugs and Sam Fender. Kayex sorta started as a piss-take joke — just us hanging out. Palassi’s always made funny hip hop rap and we just started hanging out when he moved to Sydney.

“We made a few songs and released one and it went pretty well so we started taking it a bit more seriously. But it was like a fun project became a bit too serious, I think.”

Tom said he was nervous to tell Palassi about his desire to explore music away from Kayex, but once he showed his old friend the stuff he was working on, he supported Tom wholeheartedly.

“That was a bit of a hard conversation,” he said.

“It was like a weird break up. Now he’s doing this project called Sumo Candy and it feels like we’ve both landed on our feet genre-wise doing what we’re doing.”

The other space he felt anxiety around his love for creating music was in his footy career. Tom said he felt like he had to hide his creative passions while working as a professional footballer in fear he would face scrutiny from coaches that he wasn’t 100 per cent committed to footy.

He also worried that his teammates would hang shit on him if they found out about his music — which eventually became a slight reality.

“I put music completely on the backburner because [footy] is such a consuming job,” he said.

“I got delisted by Richmond and came to the Swans, and that was when I really started making music with Kayex. Coming to a club like the Swans, that sort of thing wasn’t accepted that well I don’t think, because of the culture. Which is funny because it’s shifted now, it’s okay to be doing stuff off-field and you should be expressing yourself and being yourself.

“Back then I had to sort of hide it a little bit because it looked like I wasn’t putting everything into football. Even though every time I went to the club I was training — I didn’t miss a session and I was training hard.”

When their music got leaked — no thanks to an excited Palassi who “talks… a lot” — Tom said he walked into the club one day to hear his own music playing with his singing ringing out across the rooms. After the initial embarrassment wore off, it became a rewarding moment because it dissolved a heap of anxiety he had about living a strange double life.

“It was still a bit of a joke around the club until we released that song that went well,” he said.

“That was probably the best part about me retiring was that I had something to transition into. I was lucky in that sense, I think the whole transition hit me four years later at the start of COVID when I was like ‘what the hell am I doing?’”

Songwriting for Tom is a way for him to articulate his thoughts and weave storytelling into his creative process. As someone who’s been open about his struggles with depression and his journey with mental health, his music is a way for him to express things he otherwise struggles to get into words.

“I still struggle to articulate myself. I’m good at giving advice that I’ve learned,” he said.

“I’m great with all the messaging but when someone asks me, I’m not really good at answering that. I’m open to saying I’m not well, but I’m not sure why. So I think songwriting kind of reflects that a little bit.”

Now he’s finding his feet as a solo artist, he’s working on pulling together a band and getting some shows under his belt. He told me he’s been planning to do something with fellow former Swan-turned-muso Brandon Jack for a few years, so I’ll be keeping my eyes firmly on that dream collab.

Tom Derickx’s next show is supporting Kyle Lionhart at the Lansdowne Hotel on June 17 and tickets are on sale now.