“I know how it’s supposed to go,” says Jefferson Thomas. “You write a bunch of songs, you make a record, then you hit the road and play those songs for everybody.”
Well, not this time. COME ALIVE is the new offering from Jefferson Thomas for 2015, and the songs that made it on there were largely decided by the past year’s audiences. Thomas’ live shows are three or four hour servings of his volatile mix of indie rock and alt-country with a hangover, served up hot over a din of unruly guitars and blue-eyed-soul vocals. They're high energy, jammy, interactive affairs, with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in; solo acoustic segments, some choice cover tunes, maybe a short burst of stand-up comedy, and even on-the-spot songwriting.
A perfect example would be “Transmission,” an over-the-top psycho-billy rant that careens dangerously towards punk, born of equal parts necessity and serendipity on the way to a show. “I had just had the transmission in my van replaced, and the new transmission gave out on the way to a show. We made arrangements for alternate vehicles to come and take the gear, and everything was gonna work out fine, but while I was sitting there waiting for the tow-truck, I called the auto shop who did the installation and was reaming them out. I screamed into the phone, ‘Fix my f----in’ transmission’ - and the cadence and rhythm was so perfect that I hung up and wrote the whole song right there on the side of the highway. We worked it up right there and played it in front of people three hours later.”
The song has been a staple of Jefferson’s live show ever since, and along with some other crowd favorites, has easily earned its way onto the new record. “The whole thing is gonna be like that,” says Thomas. “It has to be. How many times have you slaved away in the studio on something you can’t stand hearing by the time it’s done? Not this time. I’m gonna be able to enjoy listening to this one myself.”
Which is why a Nashville-style scheduled writing session is one place you won’t find Jefferson Thomas. “Nothing against people who do that – more power to them if they’re able to just turn it on like a faucet like that, but if I’ve got nothing to say, then so be it. There won’t be any new songs. I’d rather just play the old ones. Or break down on the highway and squeeze out a new one.”
When both your parents are musicians, you might end up doing something else with your life, but by his eleventh birthday, Jefferson Thomas had already surrendered, sitting in on bass for the old man's gigs. Within a year the kid had switched to guitar and was writing his own songs and playing clubs, fairs, and festivals all over the northeastern US.
Next came a move to Atlanta, where he broadened his musical palette playing on country and R&B recording sessions, as well as a brief stint as touring guitarist for a reunion tour by seminal R&B legends, The Impressions. That same year, a chance encounter with Ray Charles in Las Vegas was an epiphany. “I got to see Ray rehearse, and it taught me everything I needed to know about how to prepare musicians, as well as how to treat people and how to conduct yourself.”
“Glory Bound” - the first single from 2008’s Western Front - garnered airplay on over 400 Adult Album Alternative and Adult Contemporary radio stations across the US, and was the most-added song at secondary-market AC stations its first week out, and rose to the top twenty in only its fifth week. Still another single, “Thursday’s Girl”, appeared in the Matthew Broderick/Brittany Snow film Finding Amanda.
Now further exposed to a new national audience, Jefferson spent the next two years touring to support Western Front before taking 2011 off to produce several New York City-based artists. His live video of "Jacksonville" from an NPR show in New York City went viral and introduced him to audiences worldwide. Coincidentally, the Finding Amanda film found a second life at cable outlets and international distribution, broadening Jefferson’s audience even further. As a result, Jefferson did his first European tours in the spring and fall of 2013, taking him to the UK, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria, and Denmark.
Jefferson spent 2014 back home in the US, touring domestically and recording The Yale Sessions, a solo acoustic record released in late September. And he won't be slowing down anytime soon; 2015 will again feature US and European tours. Stay tuned!