The Fred Thomas Interview: Punk, Self-Acceptance, & "Changer"

The Album "Changer": And A Bit More about Fred Thomas


Fred Thomas is a really prolific musician and vocalist from Michigan who now resides in Canada. He came up in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti music scene (where I now live). He has been in many bands (or projects):

Saturday Looks Good To Me City Center, Swimsuit, and Hydropark (and I probably missed some). 

He has also released quite a few solo albums (I believe there have been 8).

Anyway, yesterday his most recent album "Changer" was released on Polyvinyl Records. I really enjoyed Changer and found it interesting particularly from a lyrical perspective. I have already recommended it several times on the site over the last few weeks. You should 100% give it a listen. 

Here it is:

You can also listen to it on Spotify:

An Interview With Fred Thomas


JBH: Your new album "Changer" just came out, congratulations!

Fred: Thank you!! I'm so happy it's out to the world finally.

JBH:  I really enjoyed it, the songs "Voiceover" "Mallwalkers" and "August Rats, Young Sociopaths" are early favorites.

Anyway, I read that you said that your last album, "All Are Saved" was written after a period of "insane isolation" and "severe loneliness" and that you came up with a much darker title while sitting in a car wash and just thinking how terrible everything was, but somehow still found hope. 

Fred: Yeah, I was having a hard day, going through the car wash in a clean car for no reason, just to feel a little bit outside of the world for a minute. I took a photo of the blue cloth/rubber/whatever they are tendrils for Instagram and initially captioned it "All Are Fucked". But that felt so negative and false, so I changed it to "All Are Saved", trying to remember that every difficult feeling takes us somewhere better, and the worst times can save us if we choose to save ourselves.

JBH: Some really ugly things have been transpiring around here (from what's been going on in Flint to what happened in Michigan in November) but I also know you recently got married and moved to Canada, so, where were you coming from emotionally on Changer? Do you still think that we can just "stop and talk on a slow street?"

Fred: I think that's the only thing that's going to actually get the world through. If we're going to elevate every last person to a place where fear, abuse, and hatred don't destroy us, it will be through a huge shift in communication and understanding.

I don't know if it will happen, and probably not soon, but in the wake of these horrible times and events, people who have never had to listen to or think about anyone outside of their race, class, neighborhood etc. are starting to. My music is about attempts at communication. 

JBH: I read something you said about tours beginning to feel like you are playing a character in a punk rock play entering the same venues with the same stickers on the same walls from the many years of previous visits. You also say on Brickwall that someone is just "someone wearing the same costume that you once wore."

What costume would you say that you wore in that play ten years ago and what costume do you feel that you wear when you get up to play in those same clubs today?

Fred: Ten years ago, or 15 or even 20 if you want to get technical--- I was playing some clubs in Ann Arbor when I was underage and certainly by the time I was 24 I had toured internationally and been around the states a few times.

I guess that quote was as much about the clubs being stuck in some suspended state of being as I have been. In a lot of ways I'm doing the same things now I was when I was 18, much like the rock club in any given college town is having a rock show same as always or the punk basement, floating as it may be, is gonna be the backdrop for the punk show forever.

I guess that mindset is a costume in and of itself, though--- that anyone is resigned to a single, given role. That song you referenced "Brickwall" is about getting wasted and belligerently challenging that very idea, that people have to fit into given roles. That if you don't follow a prescribed path or stick to a dictated role you're somehow failing at life.

JBH: One of my favorite lyrics of yours was from "Bedbugs" on All Are Saved, 

"...but tomorrow, the punks and the cops will both have to eat" 

Which seems hopeful, but on "Open Letter to Forever" you seem frustrated by the erosion of credibility age and position brings ("and if you look again closely, this outfit is amazing"). 

I know you were talking about aging from the inside of the Punk scene, but on a larger level, how do you think Cops and protesters, old punks and new punks, get past the silos of our "psychic dress-coded" language?

Fred: In a way, both songs are saying something similar.

I feel like the line in "Bedbugs" is saying even the person you see as diametrically opposed to you, even your worst enemy is still a person just like you. We all want to feel special and loved, we all think we're doing the right thing, we all have to eat.

The line in "Open Letter" is less general and more anecdotal. I actually got yelled at, unprovoked, by some crust punks because of how I looked. I kinda wanted to be like--- do I need to show you my Crass tattoos or somehow prove to you how fucked by the capitalist system I've been to let you not pass judgment on me because of what I'm wearing? 

JBH: You used to live in Ypsilanti (where I currently live), I think we both love Protomartyr and Tyvek, but what are some more Michigan bands (or artists) that you think (more) people should hear? 

Fred: There is an endless well of talented Michigan musicians happening right now. There always are, but right now it seems to be at an interesting strong point that might be remembered as a high spot if things dip again.

I love them all like sisters and brothers, but some of my favorite artists and bands making music right now other than the two you mentioned are:

Shells, Best Exes, Mountains & Rainbows, Anna Burch, The Vitas, Gloria Rabbit, NO DATA, Shigeto, Kelly Caldwell and her band, Craig Brown and his band, Bonny Doon, K9 Sniffies and the recently disbanded Pity Sex.

JBH: I read an interview from when you were promoting a "Saturday Looks Good to Me" album where you were suggesting that Motown is kind of a place people go to escape the narrow confines of punk. 

Fred: Sort of but not quite.

I started Saturday Looks Good To Me as a recording project when I was 21 and playing almost exclusively punk and hardcore shows. I loved the political push of a lot of the bands, but even when I was deeply immersed in it, I didn't like or understand a lot of the music somehow.

I would play shows with these aggressive, angry, dissonant bands and then go home and listen to Motown, the Beach Boys and early 80's R&B. Those styles of music were fun, melodic and happy, everything that hardcore wasn't sonically. 

Saturday started as an escape for me from the harshness of the scene I was in and a way to make fun, happy, melodic music that housed political, anti-capitalist lyrics.

JBH: I have always felt that "punk" was always a borrower culture (about more than form). 

I mean The Clash were lifting Ska and Reggae classics, Ramones were lifting Phil Specter girl-group harmonies, and it is hard to argue that Bad Brains were coloring entirely inside the lines. I would go as far as to argue that punk is as much about intentionality as anything else (PE is punk to me).

What is punk to you (It is something that you frequently mention but often in what seem to be wildly different contexts)?

Fred: All my references to punk are sort of couched in some of the sentiments from the answers to questions in this interview.

Doing your own thing, doing things your own way regardless of how your scene of friends feel, living outside of whatever preconceived notions of happiness or wholeness, which can be anything from plotting a revolution to farming to being in a band too, even more radically-- not being in a band but being a poet, performance artist, freestyle walker... etc. Punk and self-acceptance are synonymous to me.

JBH: Thanks so much for doing this!

Fred: Thanks again!! Have a great day!

Wrapping Up

Music really started for me when someone in a band I was playing with in my first year of high school let me borrow his copy of the first Clash album. From that point on, music was all about digging and sharing. 

Now that music is so omnipresent and available to all, we seem to settle more and share less. Meanwhile, the labels, the streaming services, the radio stations, and the media could really care less if local bands make it because they don't care about the long tail as much as they care about the ten artists who make the lion's share of the profits.

I am trying to build a new community of people who share and engage in the music that we all find and care about.

Join in! If you like any of the music above, share it liberally...Write about it on your blogs and send links across your social media. 

Explore, Enjoy, and Share Music!