Interview: Jacob Thomas, Jr.

JTjrSinger/songwriter Jacob Thomas, Jr. cherishes his hard-fought freedom- freedom to make his own music in his own way, freedom to be who he wants to be, and freedom to believe what he wants to believe. He’s also experienced first-hand that freedom doesn’t come without a price.  “Nothing worth anything ever came easy,” he says.

The Louisiana-born literal son of a preacher man began playing music at age 6; his mother enrolled him in piano lessons, and after a few years, he moved on to conquer bass guitar as a teenager.  In the grand tradition of teenagers who play guitars, he started a band and focused on writing music that fit into that weird space between post-punk and pre-indie.  “It was definitely about the spectacle of the live show, not the musicianship, or even really the songwriting.  It was mostly ‘we’re angry’ stuff,” Thomas recalls.

At 20, he moved to Nashville and was a guitar tech for a Christian band, but moved back to Louisiana shortly thereafter, getting married at 21 and   settling into a job at his father’s church as an associate music pastor.  “I was doing Sunday morning worship, and at that time, the congregation was pretty large.  I would play my solo stuff around town on Friday or Saturday nights, and they were worried that people from church would come to see me in bars and it would be detrimental in some way. They asked me not to play music in bars-I said I wouldn’t, but I kept doing it.  I got fired because someone saw an advertisement in the paper for a show I was playing.  I kept wondering, ‘Who would do that? Who would go around tattling on people?’ It’s such a horseshit thing to do.  My dad and I don’t really talk about it anymore; he thinks it was my decision to quit when I chose to keep playing in bars,” the singer says.

Thomas was forced to make decision about his future; “My wife came home from work and I told her I wanted to move back to Nashville.  I was unhappy in my life there, I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do,” he says, adding, “Moving was wonderful, but it was the beginning of the end of my marriage.”  It was also the end of his belief system as he’d always known it. “I used to think that the world was a certain way, that I knew what was going to happen,” he states matter-of-factly.  “Now I have no clue, and I think people who tell you they do know are full of shit.”

Thomas had the opportunity to do sideman work for other artists and bands in Nashville, and soon he was touring the world playing music.  Eventually, playing for others wasn’t enough, and he decided it was time to strike out on his own, and recorded his album, Original Sin.

Now he is working on his next record, which may or may not be calledjacob_thomas_album_cover_final.jpg Electric Sex, after a track on the album.  “There’s a progression to what I’m doing.  The way I think about it is this: ‘Original sin’ was where music started in my mind–the Garden of Eden, the apple, it introduced country music, drama, that’s where it started happening. I thought as a solo artist, that would be a good place to start, the simplicity of it, the man and the woman, it’s the aesthetic reflected in the album artwork.  When it’s all done and out there, it will make sense…at least to me.  Maybe to no one else,” he says with a laugh. “This next record is a full band one.  Touring for Original Sin was mostly just me on guitar, and sometimes I would take a pedal steel player with me.  Having a full band on this one was the next logical step for me.  I’m a control freak, and I’m really nervous about this record, more nervous than I have been about anything else.  Original Sin was easy because it was just me, no auto-tuning, no overdubs, no edits. I was in complete control of what the listener heard.  I know how I want things to sound.  I know that sounds terrible, but it’s my baby.  Fortunately, everyone I’m working with is on the same page.  It’s exciting.”

His music is very influenced by traditional country in the songwriting and storytelling aspect.  While Original Sin had a country feel, the next one will be a bit different: “It’s going to sound like, in my head, Electric Light Orchestra, mixed with Fleetwood Mac, mixed with Leonard Cohen, mixed with something slightly sinister,” says Thomas with a twinkle in his eye.  I suggested “dark desert”. “Dark desert.  I like that,” he chuckles.

And what happened to the person who told the church he was playing in bars? “He actually called me 5 or 6 years later and apologized.  I told him he had nothing to apologize for, because me getting getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me.  He lives in Nashville now, and we hang out.  Things come full circle.”

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Susan Hubbard

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