Thornton: queer musicians break the mainstream mold in Nashville

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Who are Thornton? If their Web site is to be believed they are “the sexual ambiguity of Bowie or Morrissey (not glam or maudlin) set over a caberet-esque backdrop of electric piano and vintage guitars (not retro). They create cracked pop in the tradition of (not derivative) Kate Bush, Coldplay, Tori Amos, and Tom Waits echoing with the hymns of a troubled Southern Baptist boy from the Indiana/Kentucky border (not bitter).” Having garnered much attention since the release of their first album “Had a Sword” the Nashville Scene was even prompted to award the band their prestigious Best Rock/Experimental Award. Recently, frontman and co-founder Kevin Thornton sat down with me at Café Coco where he is employed to talk about the project before they hit the road for another tour.

DK: So, what have you been listening to lately?

KT: NPR. Lots of NPR. I’m not really a huge music listener. I don’t own any CD’s. I don’t even own a CD player.

DK: Is there a reason for that?

KT: It’s what I do and I’ve been doing it my whole life. I really love music but I’ve gotten kind of tired of it. There is a lot of older music that I like and will probably like forever, but most modern music bores the Hell out of me including my own.

I’m very passionate about music but trends and pop and MTV are really dull to me.

DK: So, am I hearing you say that you think of your own music as trendy?

KT: I try really hard to avoid things that I think of as trendy. For example, Indie Rock is nothing more than a vibe or a style but rarely do Indie Rock bands have any real songs. It’s almost like being in the band is nothing more than an excuse to put on an Indie Rock outfit and go to a club and feel “Indie”. There’s not a lot of art there. It’s just a style that has a sound that goes along with it, and there is way too much music now that is that way. I’m too old for that. I’m not really interested in doing a style.

DK: Do you feel like you are doing a “style” of music now?

KT: Probably. But what you hear live and what you hear on the record are very different now. The record was recorded two years ago and there is a definite progression into something new as with anything artistic.

DK: So what style or genre of music would you say you are doing?

KT: That’s hard to say. On the album we were trying hard to just to not be Rock & Roll. I hesitate to say singer /songwriter because of how that is usually associated. Maybe kind of a troubador sort of thing. Musical art.

DK: Who are some musical artists that you respect?

KT: There are some definite singer/songwriter types that turn me on like Robyn Hitchcock or Joe Jackson. My influences are definitely old R.E.M., The Smiths, & The Cure but We’re definitely not doing a “Britpop” thing either. Actually, live I tend to find myself trying to rip off Tori Amos.

DK: Are you a big fan of Tori Amos?

KT: I don’t really enjoy listening to her music much but there is a quality…a confidence in her that I admire and when I’m on stage I envision myself trying to move and act like she would onstage though I’m very certain that I look nothing like her. I really admire her presence. I watch her and I think that there is something scary there and something sexy and that to me is way more exciting than her music.

DK: What is the biggest difference between your live music and the music on the album?

KT: Well, the whole thing was an accident really. I was never going to record an album. I was on my way to New York City. I didn’t want to live in Nashville. I was going to go to grad school, but through a long series of events I got stuck here. So I got the idea to make a recording for fun. Enoch [Porch] and I started recording it but there was no band. It took almost a year and a half to finish and we started playing shows after and it kind of morphed into a band. So now, four years later we’re a real band. The album was an experiment in the living room, but now our live show is mostly songs we’ve developed as a band. We’ve been playing live a lot and that adds another layer to the sound that we have. So, it’s very different.

DK: You already have a large following here in Nashville from playing live at many of the better straight clubs and nightspots. Since you are a queer band and much has been made of the sexual ambiguity in your act and music especially on the album, is it a surprise to you that you have received all of this attention from the mainstream Nashville music community but Nashville’s gay community has thus far effectively ignored you thus far?

KT: The thing is we just play our music. The Nashville Scene gave us a big award last year and even wrote a jacked-up article about the lyrics. I mean we are in the Bible Belt. I don’t have an agenda here. I just write about what I want and oddly enough the straight world has taken note of what we’re doing. Maybe to play to a gay audience you have to be really blatant. I don’t know.

DK: Do you have a gay following at all?

KT: If there are any I don’t know them. I definitely wouldn’t think so. It’s really odd to me too because there is no one doing the type of music that we are that’s openly gay. I don’t really know how to market towards a gay audience and even if I did I’m not really into marketing anyway. The cattier side of me says it’s because you can’t really dance to it and there aren’t any drag queens involved. I think a lot of times when a band wants to be “edgy” they will put on a feather boa and some eyeliner but that is so played out now it’s ridiculous.

DK: There are a lot of women who come to your shows. Why do you think that is?

KT: I think that our music just seems to appeal to women more. I’m not really sure why. In an expressionist way we’re at times doing what seems to be very sensitive music but we’re not really sensitive musicians. We’re really very masculine, so it’s a weird juxtoposition. It’s like mellow cock-rock. We’re sweaty and I’m jaded. There’s no glitter or eyeliner in sight. No waxed eyebrows or shaved chests. I think we’re on a long road. There’s not anything particularally trendy about what we do and you can’t really quite put your finger on it or in it…

Thonton will be performing at the Basement on 8th Avenue South below Grimey’s music on Saturday, June 18 at 9 p.m. Their sophomore album will be released in early 2006. For more information on Thornton or to purchase a copy of the album visit www.thorntonmusic.com.