Everything that defines religion is interesting to me," declares Chris Thomas, who just finished work on his solo debut, Messiah Complex, which is being issued under the name Omniism. "I think people should think about it — basically, read the sacred texts that were written by these people as the most important thing they could accomplish in their lifetime. Maybe it was then when they figured out they weren't really immortal. When we're kids, we don't really care. Once we figure out we're actually mortal, we change focus on what we're going to leave behind and make it matter the most."
Music and spirituality have converged since the beginning for Thomas. Although the Spools of Dark Thread frontman, who grew up in Aurora, picked up the guitar around the age of fourteen and taught himself to play, a proclivity for music was instilled in him long before that — as was an interest in religion, evidently. "My mom sang to me in the womb," Thomas reveals. "I grew up in church environments and stuff where everybody sang. In fourth grade, I had a teacher, Jim Daum, who was good at bringing out energy in the voice. He was like, 'None of you guys have hit puberty yet, so don't try to sound like a boy. Just hit the soprano.'"
Given Thomas's background, it's reasonable to assume that Messiah Complex somehow refers to his upbringing. However, the title is actually a nod to a certain local DJ who once ribbed Thomas in a review he wrote about one of the singer's other side projects. "Uncle Nasty accused me of having one a few years back, when he was reviewing some Random Friend Generator songs, which I thought was brilliant," Thomas says.
Omniism, with Something Underground and A Vast Eclipse, 7 p.m. Friday, November 18, Herman's Hideaway, 1578 South Broadway, $7-$10, 303-777-5840.
After finishing high school at Overland, Thomas attended the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, where he studied graphic design — a skill he put to good use on the cover art for Messiah Complex — and sometime after that, he joined Intherium, a hard-rock band he found through an ad in the paper. "The drummer came up with the name," Thomas points out. "It was a band I could definitely be green in." After ripening for some time in that band, Thomas found himself wanting to move on to something different, and that's when he came across Spools of Dark Thread, a band that subsequently turned out to be an ideal fit.
Aside from a brief stint with Random Friend Generator, Spools has been Thomas's primary musical focus since then. And while he's perfectly content with the music he's been making with that outfit, the songs he's been working on with Omniism are entirely his own. The sound is a bit of a departure from Spools, even if it shares many of the same aesthetic antecedents. Even though he plays all the instruments on Messiah Complex — with some help from friends — Thomas downplays his abilities.
"I knew I could write a good song," says Thomas. "I love what Spools does, because multiple members contribute and the sum is greater than the whole. But I've always had this curiosity about what it would sound like if I did most of it myself. I had specific ideas for all of the parts. I didn't know what it was going to be until about halfway through. That was a cool point, figuring that out, and I had something to show for myself."
In fact, Messiah Complex's twelve tracks show a different side of Thomas's songwriting. "Mechanical" features the type of bass line you're more likely to hear in a moody post-punk song than in something written by a songwriter known more for hard rock. And both "Down Tonight" and "Segue," which wouldn't sound out of place on an active rock playlist, have a bit of a soulful inflection tastefully integrated into them, partly because of the presence of well-known blues luminary Erica Brown, a versatile vocalist who has also lent her voice to songs by acts like the Warlock Pinchers and Cherry Bomb Club.
"Herman's has been a great tool to meet people," says Thomas, who met Brown through time spent working with the longstanding South Broadway club. "I've met some of my best friends in the business from coming through there. We hit it off personally. Style-wise, it was what I was looking for on those songs, specifically. I see people, and some of us make tentative plans and some of us make those plans go by the wayside. So I said, 'I need this done, and you're cool, we're having fun, so why don't we do this?' I booked it, and she showed up."
"She expresses herself," Thomas adds, "with no reservation at all."
Thomas himself is a performer who seems to have little in the way of reservations, but his lively stage persona seems different from his impeccably polite and humble demeanor. As a guy directly involved in a popular rock club, Thomas could suffer from delusions of grandeur, but his view of the unspoken divide in the underground scene in Denver between bands that play clubs like the one where he works and those that play some of the other small clubs is refreshingly objective.
"The bands always have a club they're more loyal to," Thomas observes. "They're going to go to wherever treats them well and where they've had the best experiences. Working for Herman's, I've kept that in mind. When bands come in, it's all about people. I don't see that as an obstacle."
With such a sanguine perspective and a penchant for well-rounded, inventive music where more jaded types might not expect to hear it, the thoughtful Thomas definitely stands out as a musician coming at things from a different angle.
"The edge of our imagination is what we confirm, even when we turn on the TV," says Thomas. "If we're accepting what we are, we also have the choice to be what we say we are, too. There's a power in that."
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