“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.”
“Everybody was saying the heyday of selling recorded music was over, at least as the hub of a career; now we were all gonna give our music away for free and people would love us for that and throw money at us for playing live and selling T-shirts or something. These were, of course, all the people who aren’t out there doing this for a living. I said ‘bullshit’, but I already had a pretty busy live schedule anyway, so I saw the writing on the wall and decided I’d better make the live show the focal point if I was going to go from surviving to thriving. The joke now, of course, is that people actually do buy music at live shows. Even the CD isn’t as dead as people think it is."
"And the summer residency thing is the perfect vehicle for that. First of all, you won’t even get a summer residency if the venue isn’t behind you, and the venue won’t be behind you if you’re not building an audience. And with a residency, you’re not on cruise control. It’s quite the opposite; what worked with last week’s audience isn’t necessarily going to work this week. You start resting on your laurels, and you’re dead. I’ve never been more conscious of the relationship between performer and audience. If we’re evolving beyond recorded music, and connecting with an audience in “real time” is the new frontier, maybe that’s not so bad. Hey, maybe there’ll be a whole new generation of people who’ll actually be able to sing and play.”
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 and singing on R&B gigs and recording sessions which landed him a brief stint as touring guitarist for a reunion tour by seminal R&B legends, The Impressions. “People talk about ‘old-school R&B’ - well, it doesn’t get more old-school than that. I was the only white dude in the whole Savannah Civic Center, playing the intro to People Get Ready. It was awesome.” He’d also make the four-hour drive up to Nashville for country gigs and sessions as well. Spending his formative years on both sides of the tracks of American roots music irrevocably blurred his musical lines; an R&B backbeat is woven into the twang that Jefferson has never quite been able to exorcise from his sound. “A friend of mine joked that I’m on the two and four AND on the one and three. He said, ‘Add it all up and you're e perfect ten - or it all cancels out and you’re a zero.’ Um, I THINK he's a friend…”
“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, and work started in June on new tracks for a 2016 release. Stay tuned!