Monday, September 23, 2013

Hannah Thomas, the Newest Southern Rocker on the Scene, Takes an Email Interview with Captain Art Walk.

Hannah Thomas's manager reached out to me before her performances at Meijer Garden earlier in September 2013. She opened for the Indigo Girls and then rocked the house as a solo act at Seven Steps Up. We enjoyed an email interview after the two big shows, and the following puts that conversation into a Q and A format. Readers will find no fake reviews and interviews at Captain Art Walk. I am stunned and honored to converse with a young woman who carries on the breakthroughs of Garrison Starr and the Indigo Girls. Have mercy. The interview follows, Hannah Thomas writing comments in lighter text. I hope this sounds right. Hannah Thomas sings like a tigress. She answers questions as politely as Scarlett O'Hara.


I hope these questions are current enough to be helpful promoting Hannah's shows in Grand Rapids and Spring Lake. In this format, I'm hoping for answers in writing. I've read, listened to music and engaged Hannah's presence as much as one can remotely and I am left with a feeling that an essence goes undiscovered. So that is the first question. What do these questions miss?

The Indigo Girls hit the scene at least one year before your birth. For myself, hearing the Indigo Girls for the first time gave me a feeling that the nature of American Music was transforming, taking a new direction, one of liberation. Time has proven that true. It's the feeling I got when I heard Prince's Controversy album for the first time. I once had the Prince of Darkness by the Indigo Girls memorized. Can you share your experience hearing this influential pair for the first time? Which song by the Indigo Girls is a touchstone, a song against which you compare your work and which continues to inspire you?

Q1 - Being from Georgia, Indigo Girls are part of the cultural landscape. As a preteen I checked their CDs out at the library and I immediately fell in love. This was the music that radio was missing and I knew I had to hear more.

Blood and Fire and Prince of Darkness really spoke to what I was feeling at the time. I still love those songs until today, but my favorite song always changes, some days the more power driven Go is my favorite, some days Digging For Your Dreams is on the play list.

It might be said that part of Hannah Thomas's ascendancy pays acknowledgement to Amy Ray's desire to identify and mentor new talent. Now that you are approaching the top rungs of the music business, how are you reaching back to bring new talent up?

Q2 - I've been very lucky to have people that have helped me along the way and am grateful to everyone that has taught me, let me open or inspired me. To that end I try to mentor younger musicians whenever I can. Whether its having up and coming openers at hometown shows or volunteering with groups that mentor younger musicians like Girls Rock Camp Atlanta, I hope that I am doing my best to pay it forward.

It might be said that you are a talent that is arriving early, and maybe even the word precocious can be applied to your career even now. That's time as a theme. Your lyrics have an interest in exploring the theme of time. Church on Friday focuses on an irony, even an absurdity, in scheduling. Goodbye on Wasted Time addresses a need to write off the past. Sleep When I Die expresses a wish to postpone fate so that the present can be fully embraced. How did time become a prominent theme in your music?

Q3 - Time is the one commodity that can't be bought. You only get one chance at life and I always want to make sure that I am using my time right. I think a lot of those lyrics come from reflecting on the past and making sure that I make the best use of my time going forward.

When one searches ones mind for comparisons to the way you and your talent came up, one thinks of Jewel who rose up through the coffee houses and slept in her van. What kept you going during these emergent days leading up to your current recognition. Is the comparison apt? Any words of encouragement to the women taking to the coffeehouses and roadways today?

Q4 - Everything in my career so far has been fan funded. I don't have the support of a record label paying for a tour bus or flights to cities. The road to Michigan was a 14 hour trip in my sedan from Georgia, so in some ways I am still very much at that level. I couldn't get out there and do this every night without the support of the people that come and see me and buy my CDs. The nights where I get to play great venues like Meijer Gardens or Seven Steps Up feel like the reward for the years spent playing open mics and smoky bars and I couldn't be more grateful that I get to do what I love for a living.

As I listen to your hard-driving guitar and your sharp vocal delivery, I find myself making comparisons to an earlier talent, a favorite I heard on tour at the Howmet Theater, Garrison Starr. She epitomizes for me the southern woman as troubadour. Is the comparison apt? Since the Indigo Girls, the southern woman as troubadour has arisen as a symbol as strong in my mind as that of the American cowboy. As the new generation, what does it mean to wear that mantle, so to speak. Keep in mind, Flannery O'Connor, the great southern writer, made her home in Milledgeville, Georgia. As a songwriter, you inherit the southern literary mystique.

Q5 - It seems like we are fond of the same music! I love Garrison Starr and am flattered by the comparison. A lot of what I have learned about songwriting comes from those artists that play regularly around Atlanta, like Indigo Girls, Garrison, Caroline Aiken, Jennifer Nettles and Michelle Malone. The Atlanta area has always had a great music scene, from Atlanta Rhythm Section, to R.E.M. to new artists like Rachel Farley, there is always someone to be inspired by.

I notice you have become a songwriter's songwriter. What thoughts, images or sounds pass through your mind when you know it is time to pick up a guitar or pen to write a song? What is the progression from inception to first performance? When you teach songwriting, how do you bring your students to the practice of songwriting?

Q6 - I general don't sit down to write a song. The idea tells me it's ready to come out and then I write. Sometimes the melody comes first, sometimes the words. I find inspiration in everything. It may be a conversation I have, or one I imagine that other people have, sometimes it's something I see on tv or is happening in the world. I write about my life to some extent, and about how I think other people might feel too.

I am trying to determine what music hall is your spiritual home in Georgia, and Eddie's Attic or the Red Clay Theater stand out as milestones in your route to Frederick Meijer Garden and Seven Steps Up. What is your relationship to these theaters and what does it feel like to return to these stages again?

Q7 - I love both those places. Eddie Owen gave me my first shot at open mic when I was 16 and he was still at Eddie's Attic, so that stands out as the place I started. So many of my favorite artists have performed there, from Indigo Girls to Jennifer Nettles (and later Sugarland) to Michelle Malone and so many more, the place just feels sacred. Now Eddie is at Red Clay Theater and it is an amazing venue! Shalom Aberle, the sound engineer first at the Attic and now at Red Clay, makes everything sound so great there. It is a big stage and a great room to play with my band. It's hard to pick between them since they both feel so magical to me.

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