Bryan Thomas knows where the funk is

Bryan Thomas closeup

Portrait of a soul rocker.

Bryan Thomas has been making the Capital Region a cooler place to live going on ten years now, through his work with the Hidden City collective and a string of soul rock albums. And this week he's releasing a new album, 1369 Lights.

We recently bounced a few questions Bryan's way (that would be toward Delmar). He emailed answers back about finding the funk at pre-school soccer games, why he name-checks local places in his songs so often, and what he thinks is the best-kept secret about the Capital Region.

Exactly how funky is Delmar?

The funk is there, you just have to know where to look for it. And, er, extrapolate. For instance: "Sticky," is arguably the funkiest song on the new album, but it was conceived at a decidedly unfunky soccer game for pre-schoolers. Change a 4-year-old girl to Lady Macbeth, change a messy, sticky melting popsicle into the blood of King Duncan, give it a beat and voila - it's on its way to funky.

I'll add that there are more Albany-music-scene-types in Delmar than you'd think. I won't name names. They know who they are.

What's with the band on the new album? They all bear a striking resemblance to each other.

The ladies DO bear a bit of a resemblance to each other, don't they? Weird.

You've been making albums for 10 years now -- what keeps you going?

Every time I finish a record I say it's the last one. And then the next one sneaks up on me. I think it works for me because I don't force it. A series of rough demos recorded casually over time, with the occasional posting to the web site, will start to make sense sonically and thematically as something bigger. Then suddenly it's on me to go back to these quick-and-dirty recordings, clean them up and turn them into an album.

The only pressures are finding the time with the day job and family (lots of 3 a.m. sessions in the basement studio) and keeping it cheap as a matter of principle (do-it-yourself recording and short run CDs). I keep gigs few and far between, and I try not to drive myself crazy with the promotional end of things. Simple.

A lot of your songs include references to the Capital Region. What about this place inspires you?

I'm really impressed by the arts community, which gets stronger every year. I feel more on the periphery of it now than ever before, but I try to venture out when I can (usually with a camera in hand).

Sometimes I think it's hokey to mention the names of towns and cities in lyrics, since it can come off as just a cheap applause line for the hometown crowd. But referencing a Niskayuna or a Schenectady or a Delmar or a Troy for me is always more than just a shout out. Each place brings to a song certain connotations, and history, to reinforce whatever issues I'm working out in the lyrics - class, race, community, etc. It's shorthand.

What do you think is the best kept secret about the Capital Region?

Mars Hill.

If you could change one thing about this place, what would it be?

National recognition/juice/buzz/props/love for the geniuses: Mitch Elrod, George Muscatello, MotherJudge, and the list goes on and on and on...

Complete this sentence for us: Albany is...

"All Over."

Sure, I'm trying to be cute, but I like the dual meaning: Is Albany "all done" or is Albany "everywhere"?

Answer: "Yes."

Bryan is playing this Thursday at WAMC's Linda Norris Auditorium as part of this month's "CRUMBS Night Out." The show starts at 7 pm. It's free. He's also playing Friday night at Lark Tavern as part of the "Why Can't I Be You" show, a collection of local artists covering other local artists' songs.


photo: Bryan Thomas

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