Fred Thomas tends to disappear easily. You would think a man as tall as Thomas
would encounter problems with that, but he still does it effortlessly
nonetheless. Being the principal songwriter for an acclaimed band would usually
limit your abilities to hide, but Thomas does it anyway, blending into his music
as if his ringleader role were a mere afterthought. Thomas' band Saturday Looks
Good To Me released their second LP for Polyvinyl, Every Night, this
fall. The LP is a true return to form for Thomas and cohorts as it once again
provides a consistent, thoroughly engaging stroll through enormously catch pop
ditties and heart-achingly beautiful balladry. Thomas, a renowned hell-of-a-guy,
spoke with me over e-mail as the band geared up for the second leg of its U.S.
tour with pals Bill Doss (The Sunshine Fix), Greg Olson (Olivia Tremor Control),
and Terror At The Opera.
Give me a short, condensed history of the band and Ypsilanti Records.
The band began as a recording project back in 1999,
put out a weird collection of songs on a record and slowly became a band that
toured and made other weird records starting in 2001. We started working with
Polyvinyl Records in 2003, and they've put two albums and an EP with us.
Ypsilanti Records is a very small record label that I run out of Ypsilanti, MI,
where I was born. The label started in 2000 and it exists to showcase the work
of a community of friends and artists in the Detroit and Ann Arbor area. Our
active bands include Kelly Jean Caldwell, NOMO, Saturday Looks Good To Me,
Jessica Bailiff, and Terror At The Opera.
Do you see yourself as the principal songwriter or does everyone share ideas?
I write all the lyrics and basic song ideas for SLGTM, but everyone in the
band brings their own personality and whatnot to the songs.
Why the revolving door policy with the band, who do you think you are, Bob
I think I am Johnny Ramone. Who's Bob Pollard exactly?
Really? There have been a lot of people in the band over time but our current
line-up is pretty solid. Most of the changes and revolving doorery have been due
to logistical issues like someone has a job or a school commitment so they can't
come on tour. The band right now is me, Betty Barnes, Elliot Bergman, Scott
DeRoche, Scott Sellwood, Steve Middlekauff and sometimes Justin Walter plays
trumpet with us.
What's your perfect writing atmosphere? Can you write on the road?
I always sing and play guitar in the bathroom. Maybe I have to hear what a
song will sound like once we get a bunch of reverb on it, but maybe I just like
to look at myself in the mirror. The songs for this band just come out of old
discarded radio waves, so sometimes songs transmit through while they're
touring, but it depends on how clear everything is.
Described how you get that muddy, highly-recognizable SLGTM sound.
I can't give away the secret, but I will say it's not
even barely muddy enough. I have always produced with help from Warn DeFever
(His Name Is Alive) who knows a lot more about technical stuff than I do.
What bands/producers/songwriters have inspired your music?
So many, way too many to list. At first we were just
doing a direct ape of Crispy's Band Teach Me Tiger. Teach Me Tiger was a
one-man-band four-track album of Crispy re-interpolating Joe Meek and Phil
Spector jams with his own vibe on it, really crumbly and weird sounding. That
was the gateway to listening to old '60s pop music and developing a love of
weird, old production, recording set-ups and lost feelings. This has changed a
lot and I think there's a whole lot of difference between those basement 4-track
recordings and Every Night but it's all really just heart-broken pop music
whatever name is on it, whoever made it, mostly right now we just listen to The
Do you enjoy touring?
It's either the best time of your life or the worst,
and both every day. I enjoy it very much and we try to tour as much as we can.
You started a tour diary at the official site this tour, why now?
This is the first time we've had laptops with us on
tour, so rather then sleeping all day, sometimes I've been typing while we
drive. My dad read one of the entries and called me up to say how funny and
ridiculous he thought it was, so I'm happy with the results.
If you could tour with any band (besides The Ramones) throughout history who
would it be?
Besides The Ramones is a mean and filthy trick, but
since you've stooped to such a level, I will stoop right back. If we could tour
with Albert Ayler's 1966 band, that would rule, if only to see that kind of
energy and spirit up close. Or Bob Dylan from the same time due to the utter
sheer cool which emanated from his fingertips at that time.
SLGTM is continually mentioned in the same sentences as "Motown" and "Detroit
scene", do you agree with the being aligned with these words or does it tend to
pigeon-hole the music?
We are a band from the Detroit area. A lot of our
songs take inspiration from the Motown Records label. So those things are
appropriate. I don't feel that we have much of a place in the "Detroit scene" as
it were, though. If there is one. We play shows in Detroit with bands that sound
nothing like us, and that's cool. We have a bunch of friends and acquaintances
that all make music together support each other's bands, but I don't feel like
when they make the "Detroit 2004" movie there'll be much attention paid to any
of these bands, and we don't aspire to having anything to do with it.
Give your impression of the state of independent music, do you believe it's
become stagnant or does new stuff impress you?
It's an amazing time in music right now. There are
always a ton of shitty bands, but that's an endless inevitability. The new wave
of fucked up folk like Joanna Newsome, Coco Rosie, Devendra Banhart, Little
Wings, Jason Anderson, etc. is all really exciting just because its so good and
nice to hear, as is some of the more intense noise stuff like Wolf Eyes,
Piranhas, Human Eye, Lightning Bolt, and their ilk. The real test of if it's a
good time in music is if people are making actualized records or just glorified
singles, like a few good and thoughtful songs and much filler. I think a lot of
really solid albums are coming out right now.
If given the choice would you stay with Polyvinyl or join a major?
Of any major labels we would only sign with Sire. One
word – the fucking Ramones.
You've released a couple solo records, any thoughts on releasing anything else
by your lonesome?
I'm working on this record right now which is gonna be
on Ypsilanti Records under my name. It'll be a bunch of songs and then a
silk-screened book with a ton of weird collage art and Xerox stuff I've been
working on. The cover rules, it's a drawing of a unicorn barfing on another
unicorn who's barfing on a rainbow. Imagine it.