If Southern Rock and the Blues are your cup of tea, then Thomas Wynn and the Believers are the steaming pot on the stove. The melodic range of this Orlando-based six piece from blues to folk to heavy guitar riffs, backed by flowing keys and a burning harmonica, is everything live music is meant to me. Lead singer and guitarist, Thomas Wynn, without doubt exudes that Ronnie Van Zant presence – low brim hat, flowing hair, heavy voice – as he pours his soul into his deeply crafted lyrics and Gibson SG. Co-lead singer and sister to Thomas, Olivia, adds an incredible dynamic and can hit all the power ranges, which on some songs remind me of Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, and on other songs, Evanescence’s Amy Lee.
I had the chance to catch up with Thomas Wynn to discuss his new album, Wade Waist Deep, which was released this month and are currently touring in support of. Wynn recorded this album with four-time Grammy winner, Vance Powell (Jack White, Chris Stapleton, Kings of Leon) at Sputnik Sound, and shared some studio stories of what it’s like to work with Powell. We also talked about the meaning behind his pain-soaked lyrics, his father who reached fame with his 70s southern rock band, Cowboy, recording two albums at Muscle Shoals and a track with Gregg Allman, and Wynn’s upcoming, 5/28/17 early evening performance at the Charleston Pourhouse (free show on the deck alert!).
Looking at the track list for the new album, I paused for a second since there’s clearly a lot of pain and death on it with song titles: I Don’t Regret, My Eyes Won’t Be Open, and We Could All Die Screaming. What was the feeling behind the making of this album?
Wynn: “Yea, there’s definitely pain all through life. There’s no escaping it. There’s ways of escaping it, but if you do, you just find yourself in maybe deeper pain. Personally, I don’t want to run from things anymore. When feelings or emotions come up I like to dig deeper into them and give them the attention that they’re due, which may mean paying no attention at all or may mean writing a song about it.
All of the three songs you mentioned were written at different times in my life. I Don’t Regret – I was going through a divorce at the time when I wrote that. We Can All Die Screaming – I was not in a relationship and I had heard an interview. Kevin Smith, the director, was talking about the death of his father and that brought out that song. And My Eyes Won’t be Open, I’m now happily married with a child, living in such a way that you leave a legacy that your children can look up towards. I want to be a source of wisdom and truth for him. It’s weird to look at those three songs in particular and realize the timeline of them. I hadn’t done that I guess. It’s kind of cool. Even though they’re completely different times there’s an undercurrent of reflection, which is kind of cool.”
[Editor’s tidbit: It’s rumored that people who die with their eyes closed had no regrets in life.]
It’s been five years since your last album release. Are things in your personal life what contributed to such a long break or something else?
Wynn: “Actually, we recorded two albums since then. Wade Waist Deep will be our third album since we last put a record out. We just haven’t put them out (laughing) for one reason or another. I hope one day those may see the light of day. We have them. Like I said, for one reason another we held off, we decided to hold off, and I think it’s good that we did.”
So, like Prince, you have a vault going!
Wynn: “Yea! A lot of fun. A lot of songs to choose from for the next album and I’m writing more all the time. So, you don’t want to forget about the old songs that are waiting for their time to get exposed.”
Where did you record this new album?
Wynn: “We went to Nashville for this one…the whole month of August. Vance Powell produced it. He was excellent to work with. Really great ideas. Really a pro. Worked hard every day. We were there to be about it and not wasting time. And it was so important to him, too, and that’s awesome. It wasn’t just, “I’m here, you paid me, I’m gonna twist some knobs and make things sound decent.” He became a member of the band during that period and that was really awesome to work with and experience.”
Anyone that’s good enough for Jack White, right?
Wynn: “Vance is really, really good. A great thing about Vance that he told us was, “I’m going to make you sound like the best version of yourselves but no better.” Nothing is fake. We played and sang everything. We played it until we got it right and felt something with it. There are things on the record that may not be perfect, and that is perfect. It has emotion.”
Have you ever had the desire to record at Muscle Shoals? I thought it was really cool that your Dad shared studio time there with Leon Russell back in the day.
Wynn: “Yea man, I’d love to record at Muscle Shoals. If we continue to be blessed the way that we are, we’ll make that happen. My Dad recorded two albums there. There’s just a feel that you get from every record that’s been put out there. There’s a presence there and I’d love to experience it.”
I noticed the Gibson SG is your electric guitar of choice. I’m a huge AC/DC fan myself, what drew you to that style guitar?
Wynn: “Definitely Angus was an inspiration. But Dwayne Allman, Derek Trucks, Bob Marley. I just really liked the look of it when I was a kid. I got one when I was in my mid 20s and I just fell in love with the neck. I had played a Strat for a while, but the neck on the SG is thin and wider and I feel like my hands can fit pretty well and it draws something out of me.”
The Allman Brothers played a lot with your Dad back in the day … have you met Gregg and Dickey?
Wynn: “I met Gregg at Wannee, which is a festival down here in Florida. Dickey I’ve never met. Well, I did when I was young but I don’t remember it. Gregg is a really nice guy. He remembered my Father, so that was cool.”
Would it to be too forward or have you considered asking Gregg Allman to collaborate on one of your songs?
Wynn: “I don’t think it would be forward at all. It would be pretty awesome. If he was available I’d think he do it. The lesson I’ve learned in life is if you don’t ask the answer is always ‘No.’. Next time I see him maybe I’ll ask him. It’s a good idea, Kevin, I should ask him. If you know him go ahead and make the call. ”
I will ask him during our badminton match later today. So, you’ve played the Charleston Pourhouse before…what can you tell me about playing there?
Wynn: “I love it, man. We’ve played there a few times. The last time we played with Shooter Jennings and that was a lot of fun. The time before that we played with Bloodkin. I think this is our first headline show. I think we’re playing on the deck, which might be a first time too. It’s to going to be fun either way and we’ll be bringing the good ole’ fashion rock n roll stuff.”
Any covers I can tease?
Wynn: “Hmm. We do Atlantic City by the Boss and we do The Shape I’m In by The Band. We do a bunch of covers and will probably do those two.”
I came across an old interview with your Dad…his band one night was on the same bill where Black Sabbath opened for him and then they opened for Jethro Tull. Amazing.
Wynn: “I know! Isn’t it crazy?! I asked him about that show. I said, what did you think of Black Sabbath? And he’d be like, “They played way too hard. Way too hard.” Then growing up I’d put on Black Sabbath and he’d be like, “This is great!” And I’d be like, “Dad, this is Black Sabbath.” And he’d reply, “But yea, this isn’t nearly as hard as what’s coming out today.” And that is very true. At the time, they were way harder than what was happening but now you could argue they’re adult contemporary.”
For more on the band, here are some links:
> Stream their new album