Q and A with Thomas Wynn and the Believers
By Brian Tucker
Thomas Wynn and the Believers will stop at Satellite Bar & Lounge this weekend, kicking off a tour behind new album Wade Waist Deep that is filled with soulful southern rock music recorded with a 70s mindset.
Did you record the new album live?
Wynn: We do for the bare bones of it – bass, drums, organ, and guitar. So that takes hours and hours until we get into the groove, playing the song, playing the song until (producer) Vance Powell says go to tape. It was the first one we had done together like this. It was a learning curve.
We were in Nashville for a month in August 2016. Half the record I wrote earlier that year (2016) and half we had for a while. We rehearsed as much as possible, two nights a week going in. Months prior we picked fifteen songs we decided to do and practiced them heavily for about three months before. Went in and busted them out. A month is the longest time we’ve ever been in a studio.
You recorded the new album on tape?
Yeah, we did. The offer was there; it was let’s get some two-inch tape and do it. It was an amalgamation of tape and Pro Tools but the underlying tracks were done on tape. Two songs we didn’t use clicks (click tracks) to so we really had to get it. For “I Don’t Regret” and “We Could All Die Screaming” we set a click at the beginning to get our tempo and played it faster than what you hear on the record. There’s a bunch of time changes on it – things slow down and speed up and we try to be together on that. But we played fast and when we dumped it from the tape we slowed the tape down to get it one time slower, so it brought it down to the right key. It gives it this real cool, swampy feel to it.
Recording to tape, there’s a weight to the music, a different feel.
It certainly can. In the digital age today I’m not sure how much it’s noticed but by the musicians and the people who pay attention to that sort of thing. (The tape) is new old stock, there’s a surplus of tape they made in the 80s that’s for sale not been used that’s been sitting on shelves.
I’m always impressed when people record to tape, to not take the easy route.
I think the reason it may be – you have this understanding and desire to get it, instead of just ‘I’ll fix that later.’ No, we want the rhythm tracks to really be it. I overdubbed some guitars and we overdubbed vocals but the core of it was, if I messed up, we got to do it again. You’re right; it brings a weight to the whole system.
You’re from Orlando. What music influences you growing up there – the church, rock and roll?
I really loved The Band, they were my first love as a band I think. The band that I couldn’t break free from. Every day as a kid I was listening to them and trying to understand what they were doing musically and feel the songs. That really shaped me as a songwriter I think. It’s deep in my being of that. And also Bob Dylan, recently in the last ten years I’ve gotten into Springsteen. The Beatles were certainly a huge impact in my childhood, Pink Floyd, believe or not. Classic stuff really.
Consider yourself a storyteller?
It ends up being a story, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that because a lot of time stories use characters other than themselves and I have a hard time doing that. Most of my songs are autobiographical.
Some songs have strong atmosphere, their own world, like “Man Out of Time.”
Influences are influences; you can’t really get away from what’s in you. In my opinion, this is the best record we’ve made, and my favorite. I think it encompasses what we can do as a band. Even though there are a few different genres on the album itself, but what brings us together is Olivia (Wynn) and my vocals and it all threads together.
It has a church feel to it. “My Eyes Won’t Be Open” shares this.
We grew up going to the church and I don’t go to church near as often as I should. But I don’t think going to church makes you more holy than someone who doesn’t. I think it’s about making the right decisions, living a life you can be proud of and brings honor to those around you. I want people to honestly speak highly of me. Hopefully some of that comes through in the music.
There’s a 70s music vibe to some of the album.
I think so. My main influences are from that era. My personal belief if you go to a record shop and pick up a record and it says it was made (during that decade) its going to be good. Everybody back then cared about their craft and made stuff that was worthwhile. Not that every record was a gold mine, but, every record was done with care and love and appreciation for the craft.
The thing I loved about that era, and the 60s, contemporaries would cover other contemporaries. There was no ego to it. Nowadays, it doesn’t seem to be the case. Maybe there’s more people doing it and there’s more access, a pie with more hands grabbing for a piece, but things seem more cutthroat these days.
Looking back on the new record, what do you think it says? Or can you yet?
Honestly, I’ve been trying to kind of let it not get to that point yet. It seems like upon reflection you have to make it be removed from you. It’s not even out yet. We made it in August, finished in September, but I’ve listened to it every week or so and let it stay fresh to me because I’m about to have to tour on it for a year. I want these songs to gain more meaning as I’m playing them this year.
Of the new songs we’ve only done a handful of shows with them. Some of the songs we’ve played for a good long while and we know the different areas we know we can stretch out on. But some of the new songs we’re playing it as close to the leather until we find the space that we can move around in them. Maybe that will never come, maybe they’re always meant to be played like the record. Who knows, give us a year, ask the same question.
Your dad played music for years, what did he impart on you?
It’s cool, a belief my dad always told me was that a band really doesn’t even know a song until they’ve played it out at least a dozen times. And we’re about at that point with the new songs. So we’re just finding our legs with them.
He played for much large audiences than I’ve been blessed to play for yet. Around the 5000 person mark, anything bigger than that, you can’t really tell. Unless you stand up and look, it’s the same people. You take a look and then get to work – you do what you came to do. But he was a drummer, there’s a little bit of difference between being a front man and a drummer. The drummer should be driving the ship. As a front man I’m finding new ways to engage, I used to shut my eyes and get into myself and that’s not the thing to do really, to engage.
Another lesson he told me is to play to the song. You do the work in your bedroom, you do the work in the practice room to get the songs ready, and you do the work in the studio to record them. Then when you play them live, do that, because the song is good enough. As you play them over and over again, you get the chance to stretch your legs but always remember you can default by just playing the song.
Playing live, if the band is having more fun than the audience something is wrong. It’s got to be a symbiotic relationship where we’re feeding off the crowd and the crowd is feeding off of us. We can all leave thinking that was an excellent experience, not, that guy really loves himself. I’ve been to shows where that’s happened. I don’t begrudge anyone for what they do but what I want to do is have a wonderful time onstage engaging with the people who came to have a wonderful time in the crowd.
If we’re not making ourselves available I don’t know why we’re doing it. I don’t want to be driven by ego. After shows I talk to as many people who want to talk to me. The band feels the same way. It’s about creating some life long friends. People we can see grow and they can see us grow.
Working, singing with your sister, has it always been that way?
For the past decade it has, but I had bands before with my brother, except for maybe a two year period where he went to college. Except for those two years I’ve always had band with someone from my family in it, which is weird and awesome.
I was talking with my wife the other day and the band is kind of another wife. We all make sacrifices for our loved ones, sometimes my wife makes sacrifices for the band, and sometimes the band makes sacrifices for all of our families. But being in a band with Olivia at this point has been nothing but wonderful.
There was a time in our lives we were running together we were pretty crazy and it was awesome to have that sister to back me up when I was being a nut and I would back her up when she was being a nut. Now we’re pretty mellow as individuals. None of us get too crazy because it’s too hard to live that lifestyle and maintain a level of excellence we want to maintain. And also it’s not life-giving, it brings no joy to anyone else other than you in the immediate moment to be off the hinges and that’s no way to live. Having her, we both keep each other in check in a certain way.
Is there a short hand musically?
She knows exactly where I’m going and I know where she’s going. But now, having the band I have now, we all feel like family and our cues to each other are a lot more nuanced than they used to be. We’re not turning around going – now! We just know, the rhythm knows when I’m rearing up and when I’m coming back down.
“Wade Waist Deep” is a beautiful song, it has a hymnal quality to it.
I wrote that chorus actually when I was about sixteen, so I’ve had it a long time. I never really had anything to go with it. I was in the studio in Nashville with my buddy Terry Morgan and we had written another song. I said I have this chorus I really think could be something. I love the chorus; it’s so peaceful and brings you into a cool, introspective spot. I showed it to him and he loved it and asked what it’s about. I said it’s about missing someone you love and finding the place, going to the place that you know you can maybe reach them again.
Interestingly enough, my wife and I were in Maggie Valley, N.C. after the record was done, two months after recording, and we were walking down by this river with our boy and our dog. We read this plaque by this river in the Cherokee reservation that read that the Cherokee Nation every morning, and it actually said the phrase – they would wade waist deep in the river and dip their hands in the river water, pour the water over their head, to wash away my hate, wash away my sins from yesterday, my wrongdoing, and live better than yesterday. I had no idea when I wrote it but it’s exactly what I was meaning.