Episode 1: Jonathan Thomas
I heard of Jonathan Thomas for the first time all thanks to his brother Frank. I was scrolling through Instagram and came across Frank's post about his brother Jonathan's album release. I listened to the whole piece in one night and fell in love with his music. From then on, I was a fan of his music and writing. I knew I had to meet him and feature him on Acoustic Motel.
PP: How are you feeling?
JT: I feel good. A little nervous but, I mean, it's been a while since I've done a gig or performance, because of life, but it's exciting to get back.
PP: What do you mean "with life"? What's going on?
JT: I used to play gigs a lot in Kingman when I was in High School, then moved here for school. I played in church for about 4 years; did some recordings. Then they had some financial issues and I got let go from work. Everything kind of changed last year. Now I'm getting my masters in counseling and doing social work. Things I thought I would never do before. So I've been really busy and I kind of left music on the backburner. I released an EP of the album with eight songs when I was at the church, but I wanted to re-release it with more stuff; make it more me. It was a redeeming thing for me to re-release it, because it was tough losing my job and trying to find a new one; so it was a redeeming thing for me to re-release it my way.
PP: Is that why it is called Rambler's Redemption?
JT: Well it was originally called that at first. Which is kind of ironic, but, yeah.
PP: It kind of worked out then. For me is sounds like your album is more personal. I like when an artist uses that to show more of them and who they are by doing that. It shows more soul.
JT: Yeah, That was the idea. On the first one I picked and choosed what I was going to put on it, depending who was going to listen. On this one, I decided to put wherever I wanted to put on it.
PP: (laugh) You mention you come from a background where you sang at church. How did that come about?
JT: Well I've always grown up around church and you’ll hear some of that in my music. When I was fifteen that’s how I started playing music. It was an easy platform to start learning how to perform in front of people and playing with a band so I owe a lot of that experience to playing in church. My faith is a big influence for me. The old hymns that you sing; there is some mystical overtones to them. There is something real and raw about the old hymns that influence my music.
PP: Speaking of folk; why folk and not rock, country or other type of genre?
JT: I've always been the kind of person that authenticity is so important to me - honesty in art. My grandma was a painter and her paintings could be considered folk art and there are things about her childhood she painted - her stories basically. They weren’t the kind of paintings that someone would purchase just to put in a hotel room or something. It was more of an expression of her soul. That authenticity has always been really important to me. When I was in high school I started playing music. All there was in Kingman was hardcore bands and I really liked the hardcore scene and was cool with the bands but I never wanted to play in them. But that’s all there was; hardcore and punk bands. But I was looking for something that could be a better platform for expressing who I am, and for some reason bluegrass got me. I remember seeing a documentary about Bob Dylan and that specific documentary didn’t just talk about Bob Dylan, but talked more about folk music in general and how it kind of started in the sixties, and all that revolution of folk music and that was when I realized what I wanted to do.
PP: It hit you?
JT: Yeah, for sure. Bob Dylan definitely has been a big influence. Even his influences like The Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, all those guys. Folk was the music that would most satisfy me. Folk would be the style of music that would better express who I am. That is important to me, a way to express my art and who I am. I love Folk because is so raw and a lot of the singers aren’t even that great (laugh) sometimes they are not tuned together, but something about that real and authenticity about it is what makes all the difference, you can feel what they sing about. Most of the songs are about all the crappy things that are happening in their lives.
PP: How did your passion for music come about?
JT: Well my family has always been a really artistic family. My dad plays piano, he is great. He was definitely an influence in why I picked music. Frank, my older brother, was also a big influence, he was in a band in High School and like his little brother I wanted to be just like him. So everything he did; like he was in a band and of course I wanted to get a guitar and start playing… Originally his band played ska, reggae, so that was what I wanted to play. So at first it was just that, but then it became like a good way for me to cope, express my self, and a good way to de-stress and I started to play just for fun and then when our grandpa died it was kind of a big thing for me. I was fifteen at the time. He was a big influence in our lives and for me that was like a big environment shift in our family. That was when I first wrote my first song and it was such a good way for me to deal with what was going on… and from then most of the songs I write are vulnerable; have to deal with what happens to me. Since my grandpa passed it changed from playing music just as a hobby to a part of who I am. At first it was just having fun playing guitar as a hobby and then it became an important part of my life. A way for me to express my feelings and to start writing more and more. The passion for performing happened because of a friend who was playing - actually the guy playing drums - they put on a house show and there was going to be an acoustic band playing, and I just went to just support my friend and then the band chickened out…It was two guys that decided they wouldn’t do it, so I told Mark “Hey, I got an acoustic guitar and I wrote a song, I could open” and he was like “yeah” so I played it all cool, but booked-it home, grabbed my guitar, I got back. It wasn’t a good performance… it was pretty rough, but I had so much fun. That was one of the things I loved about the shows in Kingman was that I would open for punk shows or hard core shows… like this acoustic folk guy doing it by myself - so out of place. (laughs) But the crowd that showed up had so much fun and didn’t care. I loved that community coming together having a good time and using music as a great equalizer.
PP: I see that passion and the love you have for music and performing. Whats next for you?
JT: (laughs) I don’t know… And I’m kind of ok with that actually. I have a good job and a great career that supports me and my wife. Music will always be more than a hobby to me and is something that I would never give up or anything. Even with dropping the album, I was like… “ Is anybody going to listen to this?” and I didn’t care. I just released it for me so its kind of the same thing.. just playing it one day at a time with my music career. I’ve been working on some new stuff that I put up in Soundcloud once in a while. A new album for sure, other than that… I’m just kind of waiting to see how things unfold, so…
PP: Just going with the flow.
JT: (laughs) Yeah…
PP: Thats good man, I kinda find that more admirable that you’re doing it for yourself… I mean is a good thing to have a fan base but I think all those things come later.
JT: I did focus on that for a while… I wanted a fan base so I can perform all the time and I think I focus on that a lot, and that losing my job had given me a better perspective that even when I record a song and maybe some friends and family would hear it..I’d rather have those five or ten people who I love…love it and be authentic and real than sell-out and have thousands of people hear it and write music just to get popular. So thats where I am with it.
PP: Well thats great man. I mean you have acoustic motel happening right now. You excited?
JT: I am… because it was something I didn’t expect when I dropped the album.
PP: See what happens when you don’t expect things?
JT: (laughs) Yeah, I know exactly.
PP: Thats one of the beauties of life. Things just happen. With me has always been like that, I don’t really look for it, stuff just happens. Thankfully I have people to back me up on this project to help you out, your brother been one of them and all of this great guys. So is going to be fun.
JT: Yeah, I’m gratefull and really excited.
PP: You ready?
PP: Thanks man.
JT: Thank you.