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. While in college he interned in the music school’s recording studio and practically lived there while recording his first CD. “I was nineteen when I put out my first CD”, says Thomas. “It's probably still out there somewhere, which makes me feel queasy. I don't think I even still own a copy."
Next came a move to Atlanta, where he broadened his musical palette playing and singing on gigs and recording sessions in both R&B and country. Spending his formative years on both sides of the tracks of American roots music irrevocably blurred his musical lines; an R&B back-beat is woven into the twang that Jefferson has never quite been able to exorcise from his sound.
Jefferson’s live video of his song "Jacksonville" from an NPR broadcast in New York City went viral and introduced him to audiences worldwide. As a result, he embarked on his first European tour, and has subsequently toured overseas every year since, constantly breaking new ground and growing his fan base.
Fresh off another romp through the US, UK, Germany, The Netherlands, and Denmark in 2017, he took fourteen of the new songs he’d been playing every night and molded them into his new release, PLAY HURT. Says Thomas, "I’ve been trying to get the recipe right for a few years now. I wouldn’t want to serve anyone anything I wouldn’t eat myself, and this one is tasting pretty good to me!"
PLAY HURT might be just a fun mix of alt-pop and indie rock with a dash of classic elements like retro soul and jangly guitars. Or at least that’s what Jefferson would like you to believe. For him, what lies beneath the surface can remain personal and private. You don’t have to worry about what’s underneath, unless you want to go there.
“I had committed completely to music and totally cleared my life of everything else,” Thomas explains. “I had put the time and the work in, and everything was finally taking off and then my folks got into a car accident and life turned upside down in an instant. I suddenly found myself doing 100+ dates a year, but having to ‘squeeze in’ a three-hour drive to help them on off days, every week, and I was coming apart at the seams. Before long, my dad was gone, and my mom was just overwhelmed.
Thomas had always been a big football fan, and recalled that pro football players always say that if you want to last, the most important thing you can do is learn to "play hurt."
"I couldn't stop playing because I had to eat, but I became a bag of conflicting emotions; sad about losing my dad, angry about my career being interrupted, then guilty that I could be that selfish. That’s a precarious place to be personally, but - ironically - a GREAT place to be as a songwriter."
Having always done his best writing while traveling and now constantly on the run, Thomas had no choice. He penned "Might Be Leaving" in his van in the parking lot of a venue after the soundcheck and went right out and played it in the show before it was really even finished. "Hometown Hotel" came to him while parked in a vacant lot by the old abandoned house he grew up in, where he'd first grabbed one of his father's guitars at the tender age of nine, and much of the song's video ended up being shot there as well. Still another - "Pay For it" - came together on the way home after a particularly raucous show in front of "a thousand drunken college kids."
Ultimately, what was chosen for inclusion on PLAY HURT came together in front of live audiences, a fact of which Thomas is particularly proud. Anything that didn't cut it live didn't make it onto the record. "I call it research-and-development," says Thomas. "If you're gonna write songs, there's nothing better than test-driving them in front of people before you record them. You end up heading into the studio with your strongest stuff, and you save a hell of a lot of time when you get there."
Jefferson Thomas will embark on another round of tour dates in Europe this spring and in the US over the summer, and then back to Europe again in the the fall. Stay tuned!