A Conversation With John Thayer
I just interviewed John Thayer, my favorite new indie pop artist. His first EP, Laurel Street, is an excellent collection of music that everyone should check out, and the follow-up, Take It Back, is coming out in February. If the last name Thayer sounds familiar, it’s probably because John’s brother, Tommy, is the lead guitarist of KISS, my all-time favorite rock band.
Below is my interview with John Thayer. I hope you enjoy it!
What music influenced you the most over the years?
Of course, The Beatles were a big influence. There was a progressive rock band out of England that I also liked called Yes. I’m a big Yes fan. I love the harmony vocals of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. They were a little bit before my time, but I always enjoyed that band. Steely Dan, they were doing more pop music back then, so they were an influence. Band like the Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin were also influences for me. I was a big fan of all of those English bands. I really enjoy Coldplay and Keane…still a lot of English bands (laughs). But I like all types of music, jazz, soul, everything. I appreciate all good music.
Did you start playing music as a child?
I’ve always been interested in music. I took piano lessons as a kid, so that provided me with a good foundation, learning chord structure and scales. I sung in school choirs. But it wasn’t until 15 years ago that I really started to pursue music as far as picking up the guitar and singing in a band. I had a cover band with some friends, a classic rock band where we played the Stones, The Beatles, that kind of stuff, around Portland. Then I started to write my own songs, play the guitar more and kept plugging away at it. The early songs weren’t great but they gave me something to build off of. I’ve had fits and starts over the years, but a couple years ago I decided to focus on it more and bring my game up to a new level.
Your first EP, Laurel Street, is terrific. While every song is excellent, my two favorites are “Time Waiting For You” and “Breathe.” What are the stories behind these two songs?
While I love my parents and they did a terrific job raising me, “Breathe” is about the concept of getting out, breathing on your own and not being limited by your parent’s belief system. Cutting the umbilical cord, if you will. We’re conditioned by our parents and it can be hard to break away from that, so “Breathe” is along those lines.
“Time Waiting For You” is a song of hope and the concept of time healing heartbreak and sadness. As time goes on, you see the future and see the light and get beyond that. So, that’s the theme behind that song. It’s also about overcoming adversity and getting a new start, a new vision.
What was it like going into the studio and recording your first EP? I imagine it was a fantastic experience.
It was and what made it even better was working with two singer-songwriter musicians who were co-producers on the album: my second cousin Bobby Krier and Micah Tawlks. Micah and Bobby had a lot of influence on the record and the production, including the way it was recorded, the instrumentation and the texturing – the way the music was crafted on the record. I wrote the songs but they had a huge influence on it stylistically.
When you go into a studio, you can go in so many different directions when recording a song. You can go one way or another way. You can make it heavy, you can make it soft. It can be guitar-oriented or synth-oriented. But they helped craft that modern sound I was looking for.
And you have a new EP coming out in February, correct?
Yes, it’s going to be called Take It Back. It’s six songs, and it’s both a continuation and evolution of what was on Laurel Street. The songs are still pop songs, but I think they’re a little more sophisticated lyrically and they have a little bit of a darker vibe. But it’s still very much part of the indie pop genre, and it’s going to be good. I like it just as much as the first one. I don’t know if I like it better, but I definitely don’t like it any worse (laughs). We also have two new videos that will accompany the two singles on the record.
Most of the material was off Laurel Street but I think we did at least three songs off of the second record.
What was it like performing at such a legendary venue?
It was great. I saw my brother perform there years ago with his band at the time called Black ‘N Blue, so it was fun to come back and actually play there myself. Having previously been there in the audience rooting on my brother, it was special to be on stage performing. It was fun. We had a good show and a big crowd.
Do you and your brother, Tommy, have similar tastes in music?
While we do like similar bands, I think he prefers more hard rock than I do. In addition to the classic rock bands I mentioned, he would probably bring up Montrose, KISS, Aerosmith – those would definitely be on his list. Of course, now I’m a huge KISS fan but growing up that wasn’t really my niche. I was into the English rock scene.
When did you first see Tommy in KISS and what was it like?
It was in 2003 at the Palms Casino in Vegas, after they had come back from Australia from the KISS Symphony performance. It was great. The second time I saw them was at Jones Beach in Long Island, in the summer of 2003, when they toured with Aerosmith.
What have your experiences been like meeting Tommy’s bandmates? Paul, Gene and Eric.
It’s been terrific. Paul, Gene and Eric are all great guys. They take their jobs and roles very seriously. They’ve always been nice to me and they’re good to Tommy, and Tommy’s done a great job for KISS. He’s brought a lot to the table. They’ve always respected me like they respect Tommy. I don’t know Paul and Gene real well, but I’ve spent some time with them in Europe and other places over the years. I’ve gone out and seen the band perform many times over the years. They’re great guys. Real focused and committed to the band and to their fanbase. They’re definitely professionals.