One word can be used to describe Jefferson Thomas' music: American. It is quite literally a “melting pot” – of the places he’s been and the things he’s seen, heard, and felt.
Jefferson started out in his father’s footsteps as a guitarist in his teens, playing professionally all around the US, doing country, blues, and rock, yet always keeping his mind and his ear open to any music he hadn’t yet encountered.
He discovered vintage R&B and soul as the lead vocalist in a nine-piece horn band in college, and a thousand gigs later had refined the “blue-eyed soul” vocal style that sits atop his rich amalgam of retro fingerstyle-guitar, alt-pop, and indie rock.
While in college he also interned in the music school’s recording studio and practically lived there while recording his first release. “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."
Jefferson’s live video of his song "Jacksonville" from an NPR broadcast 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.
Today Jefferson lives in New York City, where the culturally variegated environment further informs and affects his music. That music has always been more about what’s going on around him than the lyrics he might be working on, or which guitar he might decide to pick up. It will never lose its rootsy, American origins, but with the constant onslaught of so many different sounds, sights, smells, and languages, Jefferson’s music is constantly evolving and reinventing itself.
Fresh off another romp through the US, UK, Germany, The Netherlands, and Denmark in 2017, Jefferson 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!