Jacob Thomas Jr. Discusses New Album, Religion + Songwriting
Thomas wrote nine of the 11 tracks on the upcoming release and included two covers — Gary Stewart’s ‘Drinking’ and a re-worked version of Fleetwood Mac‘s ‘Go Your Own Way’ (a duet with Lily Costner).
The Boot caught up with Thomas to discuss ‘Original Sin’ and the personal and musical journey that ultimately led him to create the album.
Where did you find the inspiration for ‘Original Sin?’
I’ve done records before and have never released them. I tend to be a fairly OCD person when it comes to the creative process and if something isn’t exactly how I want it, I just prefer not to let anybody hear it. This is probably the third record that I’ve tracked, but the first record I’ve released.
I often play with a band — a group of guys — and the guy who produced this with me, he came to a show that I just did by myself. He’s somebody I’ve known for a long time and he thought that the songs were communicated much better by me with an acoustic guitar as opposed to having a band play. When he approached me with the idea initially, he said, “That was very captivating, and I think if we could capture that, I think the people you’re looking to play for that appreciate the music, I think they would get it.”
It was kind of a strange thing, because it’s never crossed my mind to do a record that way. I do demos that way, but I’ve never thought about just going in live without edits, no overdubs or anything, and just really playing a song like you believe it. I loved the idea of doing that, and we went in and did it in a few days. [We recorded] at night, after other sessions that I was doing in the day, so I was kind of exhausted and I wouldn’t say drunk, but we were definitely drinking. There’s something magical about not thinking. I put the time and work in in my life to write songs and play and sometimes it’s nice to just shut your brain off and let what is there happen.
I love the cover of ‘Go Your Own Way’ with Lily Costner. Fleetwood Mac is one of my favorite bands of all time.
More than being a musician, I love writing. When I heard that song and thought about doing it as a duet, the idea that you could take a song that so many people know and have listened to one way and try to recreate the actual meaning and interpretation the listener has by making it be a thing that two people sing to each other, it gave it a new spin and I really liked doing that. I like seeing things that I’ve seen for a long time in a different way.
When you hear [the original] it just seems like this arena-rock anthem, but it’s really a sad song.
American Songwriter did a feature on that where they put it online and I saw that they did that, but I didn’t notice there was a section that people could comment on what they thought about it. There were some mixed comments. One person hated it. Hated it. This guy was like, “Fleetwood Mac is the best! Their version is the best!” and I wanted to sit down and talk to the guy and say, “Nobody is debating that fact. The reason I wanted to do it is because I love Fleetwood Mac.”
"There’s something magical about not thinking . . . sometimes it’s nice to just shut your brain off and let what is there happen."
Do you pay attention to your critics?
Do I pay attention? If I see it, yeah, it’s in my mind. But really, no.
I’ve had critics my whole life, growing up. It’s as simple as my physical appearance growing up in Louisiana the way that I did. People just feel the need to shout out things to you because you look different. I’m very tall and thin and I don’t like to cut my hair. People feel threatened by things that they don’t really understand or can’t compartmentalize. You have people yell s— at you, but if I gave credence to the majority of those things I would spend the majority of my life trying to change things that I can’t.
You also cover Gary Stewart’s ‘Drinking’ on the album.
[Gary] was just this amazing under-appreciated country songwriter that was in Nashville in the ‘70s. Growing up I didn’t really listen to country music, but the first time I heard that song, I don’t remember how I old I was, it just did something to me.
This is something weird that I feel like music listeners don’t really think about a lot, but when an artist covers another artist’s song, that could be something that’s potentially beneficial for both artists. If the song does well, both people are going to make money. I know Gary’s dead and his wife is dead, but they have children, and if I was able to do something with his song that was able to generate any revenue, that money would be, in some way, my way of thanking his children for the legacy and the songs that he’s written that have impacted me.
Does playing with other musicians affect your style?
Playing with different musicians, that’s a very difficult thing as a writer. I love playing music, so I’ve taught myself to become a multi-instrumentalist and I can sing background vocals and play organ and piano and guitar, bass and drums. I’m kind of a ‘yes man’ and I have a ton of instruments, so if someone says, “Can someone cover this accordion part on this song?” I’ll say yes.
I love the challenge of it, but the hard part of doing that with another artist is that that’s not what I want to do. I want to write and perform my own music. That is a job, like when I first moved to Nashville working at restaurants was a job to me. I’d rather be out on the road playing music and getting paid than dealing with people who don’t tip well, but that’s not the be all end all for me.
What is your writing style like?
I try to write a little every day. A lot of creative people wait for inspiration to strike, and sometimes it does, and those are the moments when you’re like, “Okay, there is a God because I know I’m not smart enough or cool enough to have put this in my head out of nowhere.” But in between, there’s a lot of s— ideas. If I discipline myself to write, or at least pick up the guitar, for me it’s been helpful.
When I’m in Nashville I wake up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, turn on SportsCenter, smoke weed and just pick up a guitar — just hold it. Really that’s enough. SportsCenter will finish and then I’ll just start practicing. Usually by then, the weed has set in but because I drank coffee I don’t feel lazy. I have an energy boost, but my mind is just thinking creatively. Sometimes I don’t get anything, sometimes I work on ideas that I’ve already started and sometimes I get a great idea, sometimes I get three great ideas.
Being in Nashville has shown me that there’s different types of writers. Some people just write lyrics, they don’t know how to play an instrument. I’m kind of jealous of those people because that would be a really easy way to do it. But I know how to play instruments, so I never just hear lyrics, I’m always trying to put it with a melody and a rhythm.
I derive more pleasure writing music in my living room by myself than I do recording or performing, because you live for that moment that inspiration strikes and you feel something bigger than you.
"I love to write and play music. That’s always there for me, it’s always been there for me. It’s never lied to me or not given me back what I’ve invested in it."
You’re pretty open about the impact that being raised in the church has had on you. Can you expand on that?
Everything I did in life up until 24 years old was for the most part the Bible and the church — modern-day, contemporary, charismatic Christianity. I went to a Christian college and majored in theology and minored in vocal performance. I always wanted to do music, but when I was that young I was trained to believe that really doing anything outside of the church for a career was settling for less than God’s best.
I finally started to get out of that mindset when I got let go from working in the church. I got divorced and all that s— happened. My life, in a wonderful way, fell apart. When I look back on it now, if I had allowed myself to get f—ed any harder in that situation and just stayed there, I would be a miserable human being today. I look back on 24-year-old me and I’m so proud that somewhere deep down I had the balls to say, “I am not doing this anymore. I’ve had it.”
And I moved to Nashville to pursue what my heart was, which was really the only thing that I’ve known consistently and has never changed — that I love to write and play music. That’s always there for me, it’s always been there for me. It’s never lied to me or not given me back what I’ve invested in it.
Did the experience affect your thinking in other aspects of your life?
Some people really enjoy the way that I’m wired and some people hate it, but I just really like to bust balls a lot. I like to joke around with people and when I meet a new person, see how far I can go with them. I don’t want to constantly piss people off or offend people, but I need to know how much of myself I can be around someone. Can I joke about your income? The clothes you’re wearing? Can I joke about race? Religion? Politics?
Losing faith at 24 years old, I thought the world was created by God and I wasn’t sure if I believed that anymore, my marriage was falling apart, I didn’t have a job, my house was being foreclosed on. When you lose as much as I did at a pivotal time in life, you realize that if you don’t see the humor in stuff you’re going to f—ing go crazy. Life doesn’t cease to be funny when serious s— is happening any more that it ceases to be serious when something funny happens. When the s— comes down, you’ve got to focus on the humor.
"I would literally rather live in a vehicle or under a bridge and be free to pursue something I love than live in a mansion and be tied down to a mortgage or bills or whatever."
What happened after you moved to Nashville?
After I got let go from the church and I just told my wife “Hey, I don’t want to live in Louisiana anymore, I want to move to Nashville. My life’s about to change drastically and if you feel this is something that you haven’t signed up for, I understand 110%.” She was still very involved in the church and that was something I just could not have in my life anymore.
I got a job [in Nashville] and just tried to go out as much as I could to network with people, meet players and song writers I like and really immerse myself in the one thing I did know at that point in my life, which was music.
I was lucky enough to meet some guys that were in a band that I saw play and I loved them. I went out for three months, every night, and it took me three months to find a band that I really liked.
There’s an over-saturation of music [here]. You could go out and see bands every night if you wanted to. Not cover bands, original band that are here to try to make a career doing their thing. For three months it was all s— to me and then I saw this one band play and I absolutely loved it. I went up and talked to these guys and they’d actually just had a guy move [and] were looking for someone to sing some songs and play guitar. So I said, “I’m your man, let’s do it.”
We played together for about a year and that group disbanded. Through all of this I was working bulls— jobs, but keeping myself at a place where money couldn’t dictate what I was able to do as far as music went. It’s such a hard place to be in.
You can’t have everyone in the universe just wholeheartedly following their passion, or nobody would be cleaning s—ers in the mall. But some people you see have whatever it is, the talent, gift and ability to do it, but they’re just bound by money and financial constraints and paying bills.
I would literally rather live in a vehicle or under a bridge and be free to pursue something I love than live in a mansion and be tied down to a mortgage or bills or whatever.