INTERVIEW: Thomas Wynn – Thomas Wynn and the Believers

'Wade Waist Deep' one of the best albums of 2017 is out now on Mascot

When I’m looking back on 2017 and all the great music we’ve had so far, Thomas Wynn and the Believers new album ‘Wade Waist Deep’ will be high up in the ‘best of’ list,maybe even at the summit. It’s an album that connects, and album that satisfies, and album that is made by someone who understands what music is really all about. We may live in a society that is starting to treat music like fast food,but I’m firmly in the camp of music lovers who like it the way it used to be, with passion and feeling and real soul. 

 

Mark: Hi Thomas, thank you so much for talking to The Rockpit today. I was blown away by the new album when I heard it earlier in the year so it’s great to finally talk. People in Australia might not be immediately familiar with Thomas Wynn and the Believers – can you bring us up to date? Tell us about your journey? How did we get to this wonderful new album ‘Wade Waist Deep’?

Thomas: Well the Believers started in 2009 I think, and shortly thereafter, maybe two years later we recorded a record ‘The Reason’ with a completely different group of musicians, and then three or four years after that we recorded ‘Brothers and Sisters’. In the interim between that album and ‘Wade Waist Deep’ we recorded two records but we didn’t put them out, so they’re as you say ‘in the can’. And it was with one of those unreleased records that we shopped around and we were picked up by Mascot and then we went in and recorded ‘Wade Waist Deep’ last August, it’s been a year now since we recorded it, and it came out in May.

Thomas: Music definitely was all around the house and a large part of my life growing up. My father was with ‘Cowboy’ for a few years and recorded the first two records they put out which I think are just amazing if you haven’t heard them. But growing up, you know, I listened to the stuff my folks would play, which was Paul Simon, Van Morrison, The Beatles, The Stones, Cowboy, and James Taylor. Then I found The Band as a young teenager, I got into ‘…Big Pink’ and then all of their albums, and then I found Pink Floyd when I was maybe 14, 15; listened to all of The Beatles records of course, then there was more contemporary stuff for the time like Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, AC/DC, even though they were a 70’s band I listened to their newer stuff.

Thomas: Then there was the harder stuff that influenced me heavily like Sepultura that my Dad kind of shied away from. He’d say things like “Man, this is really heavy” and I’d shrug “But you can’t even hear what they’re saying” – when you’re 15, 16 you have a lot of young angst, or at least I did and that sort of speaks to that. Then I’d put on Black Sabbath and he’d say “Yeah, this is more like it” (laughs). Interestingly enough he played a show with Sabbath at the Fillmore East in New York, I think it was their first American Tour and the bill was Sabbath, Cowboy, and Jethro Tull, which is a pretty interesting eclectic line-up.

Thomas: So really it’s a conglomeration of a ton of good music, I mean I’ll listen to anything as long as it’s good. But all The Believers have different tastes the drummer’s really into RNB and Pop and Classic Stuff, our Bass Player likes Classic and New Hip-Hop, Kendrick Lamar, and I don’t know how you can’t like Kendrick Lamar he’s pretty remarkable; and so the influences are far and wide in our group itself and I think that definitely adds to the whole. I mean I like things like Portishead and Enya, very ethereal music, and that might not have shown itself in our music yet, but it may at some point.

Mark: That’s an amazing range of influences. So tell me then, what is it that makes a music fan a musician, what was it for you? When did you know that was what you wanted to do with your life?

Thomas: Well we started playing in the Church my brother and I so it was kinda just a natural thing, ten we’d go and see our Dad play so it was an option, it was always an option. And I think in a lot of musical families that option is always there, in families that don’t have that you’ve really got to get out and seek it but it was always a part of my life so it wasn’t too much of a stretch when I said “Hey I want to be a musician”. My folks just said “Yeah that makes sense” Then when I was 15, 16, 17 my brother and I had a Hardcore band called ‘Acacia’ we were so young. Then when I was 17 I saw the stones and I was pretty close to the stage and about half way through the set they’d come out and play on a ‘T’ or at least at this show they did, and I was about ten feet from that stage standing on the seat and Mick is singing ‘Brown Sugar’ and points right at me and I was like “Whoa man!” I felt like this jolt of electricity came out of his finger, it was pretty cool, a pretty wild thing to do and that kind of solidified things for me and shortly thereafter we started a band called the Wynn Brothers Band, my brother and I, and we had the good fortune to have our Dad play drums for us for a few years, it was a great learning curve because at that point he’d been playing for 30 plus years and so his timing and feel was amazing, then our sister joined and my brother wanted to go off and do other things, I wanted to keep on, so Thomas Wynn and The believers was formed.

Mark: Wonderful band, wonderful album with so much going on and never a dull moment. Gospel, Blues, Country, and Rock – how does inspiration find you? Do you work with lyrics, with riffs? How does it all begin?

Thomas: Generally what happens is a melody and a few lines come to me or I’ll get a few lines and the melody will come with it and then I have to sit down and work it out. I’ll play it again and again and see what comes, and traditionally it’s been personal influence and experience that’s brought into the song, whether it be heartache, or a joyous time, you know. Maybe most of all its pain and joy which seem to bring the most out of me creatively. But it’s a craft, and by that I mean it’s something that you have to work at, at least for myself. It’s not something that is like when I was younger when the first draft was the last draft. I’ve come to realise I can make that lyric better or I can change that melody a little to make it more interesting and with time and effort the songs get better.

Mark: You touched on it there when you mentioned joy and pain. To me they are the main themes of the album and you find them in there in almost equal measure – what did you want to achieve by introducing those themes to the listener? Are you looking to really move people with your music?

Thomas: Absolutely, I think for me it’s only worthwhile if it moves me, and I know that statistically I can’t be the only one that feels this way, so hopefully if it moves me it will move other people. And we’ve gotten feedback that it is moving other people and that allows us to keep going and allows us to see the fruit of what we do. That’s the only way to judge the music. I may not be a household name but I hope that those who do know my music I’m a positive influence on them. I hope it can have a positive effect on their spirit ad their heart with these songs, especially if they’re going through something heavy, I hope that the experiences I’ve had can touch folks in a positive way.

Mark: It’s certainly an album that speaks to me. It’s a mark of a great album for me if it stays in the car as I listen to a lot of my music out on the road, and your album’s been in there since the day it arrived.

Thomas: That’s amazing and an honour that someone the exact opposite side of the earth can feel that. I’m just thankful we made a good impression.

Mark: You’d go down great at the Blues and Roots Festival we have over here and so hopefully you’ll get to come and see us one day soon.

Thomas: We’d love to come over and I know some of our label mates have played there so if any of our readers want to hear us let them know!

Mark: You worked on the album with Lance Powell (Jack White, Chris Stapleton, Kings of Leon) who’s managed to get a great sound out of you what was it like working with him?

Thomas: Oh a joy, if I had the opportunity to work with anyone again he’d be at the top of our list. One of the things he said going into the recording of this album was that he wanted to make us sound like the best version of ourselves. And I thought that was a wonderful statement, we did the playing we did the singing and he was just going to make sure he captured the best of what we did. I think he helped us more than he gives himself credit for. He’s very detail orientated musically and sonically, he doesn’t rush past any instrument or part just because it’s “good enough” he wants to make sure that every measure of album, every measure of song is exactly what it should be and it can sometimes be a painstaking process but it never felt like he got tired of getting there and getting that required sound. It never felt like a burden for him, at least from my perspective it appeared that he was enjoying what we were creating as well, and that’s important I think when you’re in such a vulnerable creative state. That’s the place that we wanted to be – vulnerable and I think he really helped us achieve that.

Mark: We sadly lost Gregg Allman back in May this year and I hear a bit of The Allmans in your music and I know that your father played with him back in the day. We seem to be losing a lot of great musicians recently, coming from Florida as you do were the Allmans important to you musically?

Thomas: Absolutely. When I grew up their music was being played in my house as much as anyone’s. And my Dad having that personal relationship years ago was inspirational as well, man.  It had an effect you know. I got to meet Gregg once at a Festival in Live Oak, Florida and I told him who I was and who my Dad was and he gave me a big hug and said that’s awesome man tell your Dad hello and I hope he’s doing it well. And during their set they covered a Cowboy song and I got to call my Dad and put it on speaker phone which was pretty cool. They played “All my Friends” which is my favourite Cowboy song.

Mark: It’s a great song! I just played that before I called you and I remember hearing it as a kid.

Mark: If you wanted to convey the power of music to someone and get across all that it means to you, but you had to do that by playing only one song, what would that song be?

Thomas: Goodness! You know if you ask me this question in ten minutes you might get a different answer but the song that pops into my head right now is Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’

Mark: Great song!

Thomas: I think that’s an excellent song and it evokes honest emotion from anyone who’s had a relationship that’s meant a lot to them. I think it’s the epitome of that.

Mark: What are your plans for the material you recorded on those two unreleased albums before ‘Wade Waist Deep’?

Thomas: You know I don’t know, I doubt we’ll put them out as they are but I’m confident we’ll take some songs from them and rerecord them, but who knows down the road it might be a good look back to show the growth of the band. I think it’s good to have a historical record, but listening to them now I wouldn’t be satisfied with let’s say our performance then other than anything else. But I want to do the best that we can do now, and that wouldn’t be the best we can do now. That’s what I want to focus on, putting out the best. You know I’ve been writing songs for our next album and I don’t know when we’ll be going in to record but I expect sometime next year, we’ll tour around this record first. And maybe we’ll come up with something better.

Mark: ‘Wade Waist Deep’ is one of those rare albums that I’ll play from top to bottom, rather than picking and choosing. To me it sounds like a ‘whole’ rather than single songs. Do you still think of music in those terms? As an album, a collection of songs?

Thomas: I definitely do and what I wanted to achieve… though there were hands in the fire right at the end going back and forth with tracklistsings and where each song would go, but what I wanted to do was take someone on a journey and I think we did achieve that. I don’t know if we could have done any better but I do believe that each song can stand on its own but I wanted to create a landscape for the listener so that they could put it on from the beginning and be taken, you know to some other place. That’s the way I do listen to records but it takes time to give music the attention that it deserves. All the musicians I listen to spend countless hours on these albums, countless hours and I know that at that moment, at the moment it’s being released, all of their being is being put into this and so I want to give it the attention that they deserve. And I hope that happens for our listeners as well, however if they attach themselves to just one song that’s also enough. If that one song touches them that’s enough when we’re living in a world of singles and of steaming. I can’t demand that a listener listens I the way that I’d like them to, but I hope some do and all I can do is listen to records in the way I hope they would.

Mark: I think we’re being pushed into small bites of music and it’s losing its magic like fast food destroys the enjoyment of food, we need to slow down, savour it, let the music wash over you take it slow. Music shouldn’t be just a commodity. There was nothing like picking up a vinyl album, studying the cover, taking off the shrink wrap and all this before the music, it was like a ritual and now it’s all reduced to almost nothing. But it’s in albums like yours that we stand a chance of recapturing that meaningfulness.

Thomas: Well I really appreciate that. We’re not in the limelight yet, and who knows if we will ever get there. But recognition and notoriety, that can’t be my reason for doing these things, it has to mean more than that, it has to be deeper than that for me. You know I have a two year old son now, he’ll be two in a few weeks and when we listen to music we listen to it all, and his attention span we’re allowing it to grow. We’re not feeding into his attention deficit! Take yourself on a journey. Even a small child can understand that and I never thought about that really until I had one. It’s all really in how we’re brought up.

Mark: I prefer home cooking to fast food and I want my food to be made by someone who wants it to be something more than fuel and music’s like that too, I don’t want an instant hit that’s forgotten in a second I want to feel it, I want it to mean something.

Thomas: I think you’re right

Mark: Well thank you so much for taking the time to talk today and thank you for such a wonderful album.

Thomas: Absolutely, thank you that was wonderful to talk. Thank you so much.

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