Andy Thomas isn’t going anywhere. One of the more prolific musicians in the Denver music universe, he’s been in more bands than most people have had hot lunches, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
But while he plots new moves and works to build and promote his various projects, Thomas (a Westword contributor) is simultaneously nosediving Dust Heart, one of the best known of his projects. On November 20, Thomas will release The Pasture, a retrospective of Dust Heart songs designed to be a goodbye of sorts.
“I'm definitely very much still involved in music and wanting to continue to be involved in music,” says Thomas. “I'm not doing Dust Heart anymore, which is like my band I fronted and kind of what used to be my solo project, really to focus more on the reasons why I like playing music, to kind of create with people that I care about.”
Why Thomas decided to end Dust Heart is complicated, and not entirely based on issues with the band. Another of his music projects, Tin Horn Prayer, suffered the deaths of two of its members — singer Mike Herrera in 2015 and drummer Camden Trendler in late 2014. The deaths, in such rapid succession, took a toll on Thomas.
“I kept going with Dust Heart, and I think some of that bad ending with Tin Horn Prayer kind of got boxed into what was going on with Dust Heart,” he says. “ A lot of my expectations with where I wanted to be in music started with Tin Horn Prayer, because we were a popular band locally and we toured and everything. To have that unceremoniously halt like it did, I still think about that a lot, and it seemed to seep its way into Dust Heart. Dust Heart wasn't as successful as it could have been or should have been or whatever.”
Some of the negative feelings Thomas says he had with Dust Heart came from the nature of the band.
“Dust Heart just became a thing that had a lot of unrealistic expectations,” he says. “Because it was my solo project, all the things around it seemed to be a little harder to deal with, like the disappointment of where you're supposed to be at with music. All that stuff, when it's your solo project, seems to be harder to take. No matter how many people you bring in, you’re still alone with it. I still like the music that people in that band were helping me write, but something was kind of not pure about it anymore.”
Despite the feelings he has about playing in Dust Heart, Thomas says he still has positive feelings about the band’s music. Planning the retrospective album, he says, gave him a new perspective on the songs.
“The music was still really fun,” he says. “I look back at all the songs — and I've been doing this for ten years or whatever — but I feel really proud of the music. I really like the songs that are on there now. I think already it's kind of starting to change my perceptions of that band and that music. It's good to kind of just back away from it while I still have some good feelings attached to it.”
Choosing songs for The Pasture took a good amount of thought, according to Thomas, who had four records from which to pull.
“There's always songs on any Dust Heart record that I really like, and then there's songs that I just couldn't stand to listen to,” says Thomas with a laugh. “There have always been songs that I've been more attached to than others, so I just went back through and, starting from now back to 2009, when I released the first record, I just went back in kind of reverse order and picked the ones I've always liked.”
Some of the tracks on The Pasture never made it onto a record, but Thomas felt they needed to be in the retrospective, in part to give a more complete picture of the band.
“There are a few unreleased songs on there, the first three,” he says. “Two of those were supposed to be fleshed out into what was going to be the next Dust Heart record. I wanted at least two of those songs to be out there so I can at least remember that I had written them.”
Looking back on the band’s career, Thomas says he’s happy with what Dust Heart has created, as well as all the great memories he made along the way. He doesn’t take them for granted.
“I had a lot of highlights,” says Thomas. “I played in more places with this band than any other project. I think I went to eleven different countries. We had this really nice moment. We went on a European tour, just me and Tyler [Breuer, guitar] and Jen [GaNun, vocals, Thomas’s wife], and played this really small town. We sat in the car at the end of the night and just kind of realized we're in this super-small town in another part of the world and were there because of music. We were there with each other. There's a lot of moments like that with Dust Heart that I will never, ever forget.”
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And while the retrospective album heralds the end of this stage in Thomas’s musical journey, it also signals the beginning of another and leaves the door open for things to come.
“Calling this selection of songs The Pasture is, in one way, saying ‘putting it out to pasture,’” says Thomas. “But there's also a poem called 'The Pasture' by Robert Frost. It says, ‘I shan't be gone long.’ That was kind of a hint at me saying, ‘Yeah, it's totally dead, and I'm never going to do this again, but I also might.’”
The Pasture comes out November 20 on Snappy Little Numbers.
Hear Wilco and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.