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Fred Thomas: 2011 Looks Good to Me!

6 December 2010

“I’ve gotten some kinda hater-ish criticism from people assuming I just record and release anything and everything I do. This isn’t my process. For every song that gets released there are two that remain unfinished and endless sketches that lead up to them. I guess it’s just a matter of being constantly fascinated by new sounds.”

So says Fred Thomas, a man for whom the adjective “prolific” seems limiting. Best known for his band Saturday Looks Good to Me, he has, in the last year, released music as City Center (a band that has a much more experimental tone), Swimsuit (instrumental surf-rock), Mighty Clouds (1960s Bacharach-style baroque pop), as well as quiet, introspective folk under his own name. It’s easy to see why some might criticize him as simply releasing everything he records; Thomas releases a ton of music!

Thomas, however, sees it differently. “These three bands are just three different collaborations I play some part in. Swimsuit is the most traditionally band-like because there’s four players all specifically contributing to the songwriting and arrangements, where the other two are duos and more open-ended. I wouldn’t be able to really sum up or describe the sounds, but they’re all somewhat different. Mighty Clouds is spare songs that focus on vocal harmonies and Betty’s voice. City Center unintentionally sounds different every record and show, but it’s me and Ryan trying to make full sounds out of the smallest available equipment and stretching out the sounds. Swimsuit is a really exciting sound, some instrumentals that lean towards a surfy vibe, some jangly songs, songs about rats and vacation scenes. I guess these three bands are all extremely different!”

His most recent project, however, is Mighty Clouds, which finds him working again with Betty Marie Barnes, one of his more consistent vocalists with Saturday Looks Good to Me. That he is working with her using a different moniker raises the question: why take a different name?“The thought behind Mighty Clouds being a totally new thing really included leaving all the positive and negative attributes of the old band behind. We wanted to operate outside of that experience so we could make something more than just a continuation. To have a new thing, you need a new name.”

Saturday Looks Good to Me was as known for its rotational, collective nature, and while that may create a cool vibe for the listening experience, that doesn’t always make life easy for the creators. “There wasn’t a lot of thought put into it, but it seems like the rotational nature was one of the things about the band that was always a problem. Musically, and in regards to personnel, just really in all ways, it was a really confusing band! I liked that about it, and reveled in people’s annoyance when they didn’t get what they expected or wanted, but when you think like that, you get really limited artistically.”

That may not be a problem, as Thomas seems to feel that Saturday’s mission is complete. “Presently I don’t have any plans to record new music, but there’s been talk of reissuing the early limited run records from like 2000, 2001. Records that were solid, but were only released in extremely small quantities.”

Still, as said before, fans need not fret, as 2011 is already looking to be a solidly-packed year. “The City Center record comes out in March or April, Swimsuit is gonna be recording soon for a full-length and I’m really, really excited about that. The songs we’ve worked out in our first 9 months as a band feel really strong and important in some weird way. Mighty Clouds will be doing a European tour in the spring and hopefully playing more shows in the states at some point. It’s hard cause Betty lives in Sweden and we all work and play in lots of different projects.”

Thomas’s busy schedule, though, reflects something greater. “Making lots of music and constantly working on new ideas isn’t even a question, it just kind of needs to happen because there’s so much to say and so many people with great ideas to collaborate on. I’m really lucky to be surrounded by talented and inspiring friends and community.”