PLAYING SEATTLE: Drummer Heather Thomas Opens Up on Gritty New EP

Seattle-based singer, songwriter, and drummer Heather Thomas has held it down on the kit since she was a kid in Puyallup, WA, playing in her church youth group band and learning percussion parts from her dad. Steadily, through writing and performing her own songs, teaching music, and touring with notable Seattle-bred artists like Mary Lambert, Thomas has found a voice entirely her own and garnered a reputation as one of the most infectiously kind and formidably talented musicians in the area.

Her sophomore EP, Open Up, which drops August 16th, showcases a decidedly fiercer Heather Thomas than ever before. As a songwriter, she’s comfortable in her skin, confident in her voice, and her songs have a grittier edge than those on her 2017 solo debut, People in Places. And the strength isn’t a put-on; it’s complemented with Thomas’ natural positivity and sense of fun. As she sings the opening lines to the title track, “Open up, love, can’t you see? There’s a hole in you and me. At the bottom we can meet and find the light!” it’s easy to lean in to see the glass half-full through her eyes.

On August 16th, Open Up will be officially released into the world at Clock-Out Lounge with a banger show—featuring Thomas and her band, of course, as well Holidae House, Big Tooth, and Olivia De La Cruz. Thomas spoke with Audiofemme about the making of the new EP, healing as a call-to-action, and her goal to grace a Super Bowl stage someday.

AF: Tell me a little about your place in the Seattle scene. Who and what are you inspired by in Seattle?

HT: I have played in so many bands in Seattle as an on-call drummer, so I feel very supportive of and supported by others in the scene. I get to record on lots of albums, I get to help other songwriters bring their music to life on stage and I get to tour and bring our music to other places. I feel like my place in the scene is to support and inspire others and to push for change and innovation in the circles I run in. In Seattle I’m inspired most by the other womxn I see fronting bands and defying stereotypes. There’s a lot of interesting new music being made right now that doesn’t sound like the music coming from other US cities and where I see the most challenging and unique material is in the powerful defiance of empowered womxn. (I say womxn to include trans, non-binary, or femme-identifying people who may not have been born or raised as females).

AF: How about the new release, Open Up, you’re putting out? What was the process of making it like?

HT: The title track, “Open Up,” was recorded by George Wiederkehr at Mosaic Studios in LA at the California College of Music. The second track, “I Am the Desert,” was recorded by Kenny Moran at Blue Microphones Studio in LA, and “When I Was Young” was recorded by Eric Lilavois at London Bridge. We flew down to LA to record the first two songs and to play a show at The Mint last February, and then we recorded the third song at London Bridge as an in-studio music video. George was the engineer on my first album so it was fun to work with him again. Kenny is a friend of mine from working with Mary Lambert and it was great to get to see the Blue Microphones Studio, where they’ve got some really cool gear like the Moog used on Michael Jackson’s records or the piano that used to belong to David Bowie’s pianist. Eric is a dear friend of mine and after recording drums and background vocals on his album, we decided to work together again on a video for one of my songs. All three studios were really great and I love working with each of the engineers.

AF: Is opening up something that’s easy or hard for you? Why did you choose that name for the title of the EP – is it a call to action for others to open up?

HT: Open Up was written after I read a Joseph Campbell book about the power of myth. I don’t know if opening up is easy for me but it’s definitely something I value in myself and others. You know, the artists that inspire me the most seem incredibly honest and in-touch with their own faults and struggles and I want to be able to be truthful about my experience. The title is a bit of a call-to-action because I feel like healing is one of the most important aspects of moving forward and evolving as a species and a society and you can’t heal until you face your fears and your trauma. 

AF: I know you were a relatively newer songwriter when we last spoke around your first release, People in Places. How have you grown as a songwriter since, in your own eyes?

HT: I think my music is getting a little harder-hitting and grittier. I’m taking more chances with arrangements and becoming more sure of myself and what I have to say. I’m not shying away from key changes or metric modulations or saying things about myself that are less-than-flattering.

AF: What was the most rewarding thing and the most challenging thing about the process of making Open Up?

HT: The most rewarding thing is people connecting to the music. I love when someone tells me they have one of my songs stuck in their head or that a lyric made them think or feel something new. The most challenging thing is doing all the non-musical work that goes into a release, like formatting photos and sending press releases and booking/promoting shows. I’m getting better at buckling down and doing the work but it’s really not what I like to do. I just want to play music! But I also want people to get a chance to hear it, so all that other stuff has to get done. 

AF: Tell me about personnel on the EP, and briefly about your relationships with them.

HT: The band is myself, Dune Butler and Oliver Franklin. Dune and I have been playing together for years in General Mojo’s and as the rhythm section for other bands. Oliver and Dune are roommates, and Oliver and I have gotten to play together in his band The Senate as well as in his own original project. We all play and write lots of music together so we have a really strong sense of trust and support musically.

AF: The single that you use for the music video, “When I was Young,” has a very reflective quality. Do you feel like you look back a lot? Are you in a nostalgic moment in your life?

HT: I think for me it’s important to look back and realize where habits or patterns come from so that I can move forward in a self-aware and accountable way. I want to grow and change and be better for myself and everyone around me, and that means looking honestly at where things are broken or immature and doing the work of healing and improving. I’m not too nostalgic; I’m grateful for the journey I’m on but I don’t look back and wish I was in a different place or long for earlier times. I strive to stay present and enjoy things the way they are while continuing to set myself up for better things to come.

AF: What are your goals with this EP? Will you tour?

HT: My goals are to start a conversation, to put something completely original and inspiring into the world from where I’m at now. I will continue to write, record, and release music my whole life, so this is a snapshot of what things are like right now and sort of a foundation and reference point for the future. I am going on a West Coast tour starting the day after the EP releases. 

AF: What are your goals overall? What’s next for you? Is the sort of career you want as a musician crystallizing for you? 

HT: I have this goal of being “drummer famous,” like not necessarily a famous drummer but well-known among drummers. I aim to win a Grammy someday. I will tour internationally. I will license music for TV/film. Someday I hope to play the Super Bowl. I have a goal of getting more girls and women to play the drums. I want to play drums on the moon. I have lots of goals! I think the most important is to continue to play and write music and never stop. I don’t see my career as one thing – more like an artistic pursuit that will change and grow in many directions as I progress. What’s next for me is yet to be seen. I’ve got songs to record, ideas to write about, and all kinds of interesting opportunities are always opening up, so there’s no certainty, only possibilities! 

AF: Lastly, give me a little idea what the release show for Open Up will be like?

HT: The release show is August 16th at the Clock-Out Lounge, which is a great venue for music (with really good pizza too!). The show opens with local songwriter Olivia De La Cruz, who writes and sings gorgeous songs. Then Holidae House from Portland, who have a really tight psychedelic sound and really beautiful music, followed by local ripping musicians Big Tooth who are going to bring a killer show. Our set will include some brand new songs and some re-arrangements of old ones, and we’re going to be rocking out as well as getting really open and intimate. We’ll have the EP for sale as a poster printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper with a download-code printed on compostable flower-seed paper. 

Follow Heather Thomas on Instagram or check out her website. 

8/16 – Seattle, WA @ Clock-Out Lounge
8/17 – Portland, OR @ Bunk Bar, Portland
8/19 – Eugene, OR @ Old Nick’s Pub
8/20 – San Fransisco, CA @ Hotel Utah
8/21 – Los Angeles, CA @ Silverlake Lounge
8/22 – Joshua Tree @ Landers Brew Co.

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