The frontman for Nicholas James & The Bandwagon is wrapping up work on a new solo EP while crafting a fresh full-band album. He plays One Trick Pony on Thursday night. (Video, podcast)
If Nicholas James Thomasma could have picked the year he was born, it would have been 1950.
That way, the singer-songwriter says, he would have been 19 in 1969, smack dab in the middle of rock ’n’ roll’s renaissance and hippie-hued heyday.
That’s just one example of the Grand Rapids native’s unabashed, long-standing fascination with the music of “the generation ahead of me” – the influential songs of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, The Band, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Jim Croce, Harry Chapin.
“That ’70s singer-songwriter acoustic rock is really the heart and soul of my music,” says Thomasma, a Kenowa Hills High School graduate whose dad gave him his first guitar on his 19th birthday.
“When you look at my core influences, essentially, it’s my parents’ music. When I look around at my audiences and people who are enjoying my music, it’s more like people that are my dad’s age and older rather than people my age and younger. A lot of bands when they first get started, they really put an emphasis on playing for young people and they want to get into the hot clubs.
REGALING AN OLDER GENERATION AND ENTICING A NEW ONE
“What I realized is that the generation that was ahead of me enjoys the same music as me. So I end up playing to a room full of people who are more like my dad’s age than my age, and it’s perfect because we all like the same kind of music.”
On the flip side, Thomasma – an acoustic guitarist and singer who performs regularly as a solo artist, with a duo and as frontman for the country-hued Nicholas James and the Bandwagon – has tapped into the fast-emerging, acoustic/folk revival trend that’s swept the nation and captivated plenty of younger fans, too.
“It’s cool to see all these modern folk bands,” he notes. “Folk is a really loose term. I feel like if you have an acoustic guitar in your band, people are going to call you folk. I don’t necessarily think that’s such a bad thing. There are some really great modern folk bands around right now. It’s really nice to see acoustic music in a live … setting that’s more than just a singer-songwriter, a full band. I enjoy it.”
This week, Thomasma emphasized his solo singer-songwriter side by performing a new song, “It Is What It Is” on Local Spins Live on News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW). Listen to a podcast of the entire show here and watch a video of his performance below.
Despite his early acoustic rock influences, Thomasma’s voice brims with a Southern, country twang, a pleasing sort of drawl that he says comes naturally, though he did spend some time in Arkansas and North Carolina.
“It’s a total natural thing,” he insists. “People ask me why I sing with a Southern accent … but it’s just the way that my voice … goes to that place and I like it.
Thomasma is in the midst of mixing his third solo album at Justin VanHaven’s JVH Audio in Grand Rapids, with hopes of releasing the EP later this year.
In addition, Thomasma and his band – Pete Weatherhead (pedal steel, fiddle, harmony vocals), Greg Baxter (guitar), Clouds (fiddle, harmony vocals), Joe VanAcker (bass) and Christopher Sloan (drums) – are at work on their second album, the follow-up to 2011’s “Saturday Night.”
JUGGLING SOLO AND BAND PROJECTS ‘OUT OF NECESSITY’
He’s taking a different tack for that project: Rather than having other band members develop and add their parts to his acoustic guitar playing and vocals in the studio, they’ve been working out full-band versions of the songs during rehearsals ahead of time.
Still, Thomasma — who raves about Grand Rapids’ supportive music scene and who’s “thanked Michigan” on every one of his albums — concedes it can be difficult to balance his solo career with band projects.
“It’s basically out of necessity. I would like to bring my six-piece band with me everywhere I go, but financially that’s not really realistic,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’m the singer-songwriter, so I can play the songs without the band. So, I do play a lot more as a solo artist (or as a duo, often with fiddler and singer Clouds). … It’s kind of hard to walk that line, but that’s what I’m doing.”
At 8 p.m. Thursday, Thomasma will perform with Clouds at One Trick Pony, one of the singer-songwriter’s favorite spots. Admission is free; call 235-7669 for reservations.
“Every time I play at One Trick Pony, I feel like I’m in my living room and I’m surrounded by family and friends there,” he says. “It’s a really great environment.”
On Feb. 22, Thomasma plays Odd Side Ales in Grand Haven. For more about Thomasma and his upcoming performances, visit his official, recently revamped website.
Email John Sinkevics at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2014, Spins on Music