Thom Bowers is profiled by Bob Fenster of Theme Music, the collaborative collective of musicians in which they both have been participating the past several years, in a wide-ranging conversation that touches on origins and influences, working habits and philosophies, the past and future of SoN, inspiration, desperation, and explanations for his sometimes wacky solo videos.
On choosing his instrument:
The rock ’n roll bug bit when I was a teenager, and I decided I wanted to play drums. That lasted for a year or two. Then the neighborhood lads with whom I was playing decided to recruit a better, more experienced drummer, while at the same time the bass player switched to guitar. Valuing time with the group more than the instrument I was playing, I picked up the bass to fill the gap, and it’s been my primary instrument ever since.
On playing style:
I recently heard that Bruce Gary of The Knack describes his drumming style as “tasteful overplaying,” and that’s kinda what I’m aiming for as well. I prefer to record my part as late in the process as possible, so as to not step on any toes. That may seem counterintuitive, since the bass guitar is usually seen as a foundational instrument, but it’s so much easier to play strategically and resist my instinct to fill All The Space that way.
On solo bass performances:
I guess I was still clinging to the belief that a bass is not that interesting without a band around it, but when I started doing solo videos for Theme Music I had no other instruments, so using the bass was a matter of necessity. Learning that not only could those arrangements be pulled off, but that other folks actually enjoyed hearing them, was a major revelation. It has done so much to open up my perception of the instrument, and expand my own musicianship.
I have been collaborating with Matt [Meldrum] for a little over 15 years. It’s funny the way Sons Of Nothing has sort of come full circle. It started in 2001 as a studio-based solo project: a collection of songs I had built up over years in bands, and I invited various friends to just come in and play a bit here and there. I didn’t expect it to go any further than that, but eventually it also became a “real” band that made two albums together and toured regionally with a semi-stable lineup for a number of years. These days Matt and I are a largely studio-based duo project, working long distance and recruiting various friends to play a bit here and there. Not unlike Theme Music collabs, but with slightly longer gestation periods.
On mugging for the camera:
I enjoy hamming it up and I’m not afraid to get goofy. David Lee Roth once said: “The goal is to delight. Whether you use darkness and horror, or smiles and celebration, to delight is your obligation as an artist.” The list of live performers who I consider my role models includes Roth, Henry Rollins, and “Weird” Al Yankovic, so I’m all about swinging for the fences.
On the transformative power of Theme Music:
I’ve noticed a recurring pattern of Theme Music providing inspiration and opportunity for people to unlock creative impulses that they never knew they had, and provide them with experiences that they never knew they wanted…when you consider just how toxic the cocktail of social media validation and artistic temperament can be, the success of TM is even more remarkable and touching. So many stories of improved self-esteem and creative fulfillment and even found family have grown from this project, and to think it all started as a novel way for Matt Brown to organize his record collection. Just extraordinary.