Anyone who’s been involved with the Denver music scene over the past decade has probably met, worked with, or at least heard of musician and writer Andy Thomas, associate director of Levitt Pavilion, a Westword contributor, and an integral member of the bands the Knew, Tin Horn Prayer and Lost Walks. He has toured the U.S. and Europe extensively, but perhaps never created music as earnestly and with as much immediacy as he has on the new two-song EP his band Dust Heart is dropping this month.
The new release, a seven-inch called The Last Gap + Plastic Walls on the Snappy Little Numbers label, will first be available at the fourth-annual Punk Is Dad benefit concert on Friday, June 21, at the Oriental Theater.
Westword caught up with Thomas recently to discuss his jack-of-all-trades existence and the musical evolution that’s helped him embrace himself more fully than ever.
Westword: What helped guide you in this musical direction?
Andy Thomas: Whether it’s a hard left turn or a slow veer, the songs that have come out of the Dust Heart project, in my mind, are a lot different than when the project started as basically an acoustic project, strictly solo. 2009 is when I came out with my first solo record, and I was still figuring it out back then, for sure. There was no real thought around how I wanted it to sound. It was all over the place genre-wise, and [I was] just getting into the guitar after being the drummer in all these bands. I didn’t really think about a genre for a long time, and just wanted to write music and lyrics that were important to me, as an extension of what’s going on in my life.
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The genre kind of switched on me based off other bands I was playing in, like Tin Horn Prayer. I got into Lucero and Drive-By Truckers and Wilco — all these bands like that. I definitely liked the spirit of that and the sincerity in those types of people, especially in response to a lot of the things that I didn’t like in music — the overproduction and bombast that I didn’t relate to. I tagged myself as an Americana artist, and as Tin Horn Prayer folded, I continued down that path, but I was also still really drawn to, like, Bob Mould and Sugar and Matthew Sweet, guys like that. They still had the same ethos as those Americana guys, but maybe I identified with the style a little more. I was feeling less and less a part of the Americana scene; I started feeling like, “I don’t know if I associate as much with these guys as much as the guys playing power pop and pop punk”v— the music I grew up on. Maybe it’s a hard left turn, but really it’s a path I’ve been wanting to go down for a while.
As a part of the Denver scene, do you feel any anxiety embracing your emo side? It’s definitely “heart on your sleeve” music — not just lyrically, but also just in the way you sing.
I’ve definitely never had a problem with that. The honest and earnest part of writing lyrics and being a musician has always made the most sense to me. Not doing that — I guess I never really understood the point of it. So I’ve never been afraid of wearing my heart on my sleeve, and that’s probably just musically, because I’m not super-public when it comes to being on social media or talking a lot about my feelings with my friends. I’m pretty closed off in that regard. With music, I feel like that’s what every artist should strive to be — at least honest with the people listening to the song.
How do you balance promoting local music for Levitt with writing music criticism and making music?
I don’t know. I always joke that I haven’t found a way to tie them all together. I always kinda look at them in separate ways. I try not to mention my artist side if I’m working on [music journalism], and it’s the same with Levitt. I try to keep them as separate as I can, but one of these days I’ll figure out how to make them all work for each other.
When do you sleep?
I actually feel guilty for the downtime that I do have. Downtime makes me antsy, but as I’m getting older I’ve kind of appreciated that more, when I have a moment to sit and be with my wife or walk my dog or watch Game of Thrones. I really like it, but I also kinda feel guilty about it. I still feel like I’m less active than some of the people I know and some of the people I look up to — people who always feel like they need to be creating something.
Have you learned things from each of these musical roles, whether playing music or working for venues or writing about music, that you’ve brought to the others?
I definitely have. Being an artist makes it easier from a journalism side, because you know how to relate to artists when you’re talking to them. I’ve been interviewed by people [as a musician] where it’s just clear they haven’t been in bands and they don’t quite have the understanding of being an artist. And it’s the same [working] at Levitt. I think anyone who’s in any sort of position needs a depth of field. I still have an understanding that if you’re gonna work in music, you should have played music at some point, and that doesn’t translate to a lot of people. That’s fine, but I think it does give you a step up, and I think the music industry would be a lot better off if it was artists dealing with artists as opposed to artists dealing with people who have no understanding or context for what it really means to be an artist. I know about all that, and I’m happy at the end of the day that I’m an artist when I relate to people. I write very anecdotally, and that’s how I write music, and that’s how I write fiction, and that’s how I write journalism. I wanna know the story behind everything and the roots of it, but I’m less interested in the superficial stuff.
If you could pick just one of these roles — musician, journalist, fiction writer, associate director at one Denver’s great new venues — which would it be?
I played drums in bands for the longest time before I ever picked up a guitar. I have the thought now: “I wish I’d been playing guitar that whole time.” Not that I don’t relish the experience of drumming and getting into how to be in a band, but I do think, “If I’d been playing guitar instead of drumming that whole time, I’d be so much better now.” I like the fact that I focus on a lot of things, and I like that about myself, but there’s a part of me that wonders that if I focused on one thing fully, what that would look like. I guess the answer is that I wouldn’t focus on any of these things, and I’d probably try to be a doctor or something like that [laughs].
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I think I chose music, but it just comes in a lot of different forms. I’d rather be in the position I am now than be in a position where I’m the guy who’s a doctor and kind of tries to fold in music where it fits.
What are your feelings about the Punk Is Dad shows and how the Dorian DeLong foundation is giving scholarships to kids who might otherwise not be able to pursue music?
I’ve been aware of those guys for a while, because my friends have played it before. As far as what they’re trying to do to get younger kids involved in music, I was very lucky to grow up with parents who thought it was the coolest thing ever that I was in a metal band at thirteen. That was always a good thing with me and my family; they were super-supportive and loved the fact that I played rock and roll, and believe in the power of it.
There was always a stigma around playing in bands — like if you were playing Metallica tablature in your room, you were wasting your time, and if you were playing classical music, it was a good thing. I’ve never really quite understood the difference. Music at any level is something worth pursuing, and it means that you have an interest in things, and that’s important, to connect with a kid when they’re that young and say that you get what they’re doing and you’re gonna be supportive of that decision to pursue music. Allowing kids to experience that when they want to is really important.
Punk Is Dad Benefit Concert, with Gasoline Lollipops, Dust Heart and Grayson County Burn Ban. 8 p.m. Friday, June 21. Oriental Theater. 4335 West 44th Avenue, $18 to $20.