I carefully weigh up my words when considering the incredible journey the chief of Northampton's indie scene Thane Thomsen has taken. Join Third Outing and ponder what could be one of the greatest songwriters and musicians of the 90/00's. Chieftain Thane O' Northampton.
I'm sat in the Third Outing office after hours researching Thane Thomsen and The Figments, their past interviews, early performances, their incredibly 90's hairstyles. As a big fan of both Pavement and Silver Jews I was shocked I didn't know of The Figments prior to this. The tone, the essence, the cool is very similar, but it hadn't found its way to my ears yet. In fact, I stumbled acrossThe Figments when writing about another artist; the new Rub Wrongways Records release Turkey Andersen. As I searched through the other bands signed to the label, one name kept repeating and repeating itself. Thane Thomsen; Rehab Massachusetts. Thane Thomsen; Goldwater. Thane Thomsen; Gold Water The Second. Each band stood out from the last, it seemed that I was the only yet to discover the Thane Of Northampton, at least for the time being.
The story begins in 1995 Northampton, MA, when Thane Thomsen together with guitarist Matthew Zapruder, bassist Trace Meek and drummer Brian Marchese form The Figments. The new band soon released their debut EP Won't Hurt You in 1997 but a further 4 years followed before the debut album All The Gone Days released in 2001. Imagine an early Pavement album sung by Bill Callahan with lyrics inspired by Silver Jew's American Water. This is the foundation of The Figments. By the end of 2001, the band's hopes of becoming the next big thing faded away. However Thane’s interest in making great music had not.
'Although fame was never my ambition, I won't deny that I wish that my music reached a broader audience'.
In 2006 Thane started working on a one off project called Rehab Massachusetts, collaborating with Terry Flood and Scott Hall from The Drunk Stuntmen and Kevin O'Rourke and Bruce Tull from Lo Fine, as well as trusty drummer Brian Marchese. This was my first introduction to the genius of Thane Thomsen. The new project was a concept album about the twelve step recovery program, showcasing Thane's song writing at its best. The record entitled Twelve Steps was released with great success.
I found it strange that despite the success of Rehab Massachusetts it was only ever 'intended to be a one off project from the start'. Soon after the Twelve steps release, The Figments returned with their stand out 2007 record Blood On The Clouds. In a record which largely relates to the band's discontent with certain lifestyles, as well as the Bush/Cheney political climate, the sheer optimism throughout Thane's song writing give the record real drive and sense of clarity. Take Never Tomorrow, a reflection of life emphasised by hope;
Both Rehab Massachusetts and The Figments share a definite musical style characterised by Thane's warm and sensitive approach to music, in fact it seems as though the Rehab Massachusetts had simply taken up where The Figments had left off, and then back again. Thane recognised it would have been difficult to receive recognition or commercial success without a label, but he carried on recording his music regardless. It's clear to see that despite a strive for success, the music is really the driving force behind both projects, and therein lies the beauty of The Figments, Rehab Massachusetts, in fact the entire Northampton music scene. y 2010 Thane fronted The Figments fourth release Twelve Belles as well as a new project, this time Goldwater. Surrounded by his friends from Rehab Massachusetts, Goldwater recorded an EP entitled I’m A Pessimist Because Of Intelligence But I'm An Optimist Because Of Will. Political desperation and frustration themed once again. But The Figments new release is the one which inspired Thane the most; 2013 followed a similar path. The Figments released their latest album Where You Go and once again Thane began working on another project, this time Goldwater The Second, a reinvented Goldwater with the inclusion of partner and cellist Melissa Nelson. Goldwater The Second is a different prospect altogether, however. It's creativity stands out from the original project;
'If I had a gun to my head and was forced to choose, I'd say that Twelve Belles is the strongest [record] start to finish'.
This perfectly embodies who Thane Thomsen is, a man of many talents. Besides being the leader of The Figments, Rehab Massachusetts, Goldwater,Goldwater The Second, he has also played in other bands such as Niceface, Haunt and The Supreme Dicks. However, it also portrays the reason why The Figments, the band I was intending to research, didn't sign in 2001.
Third Outing call it the "Turner-Kane conundrum". A great singer songwriter can only be in one great band at a time. Few have successfully accomplished it; perhaps in recent times arguably Damon Albarn with Blur and Gorillaz. Alex Turner tried it with the Arctic Monkeys and The Last Shadow Puppets, as did Miles Kane with The Rascals and The Last Shadow puppets. Ultimately both artists found their successes from their original prioritised projects. Thane's priorities over the past 20 years have been to make great music, but not necessarily great bands. I use "great" in terms of commercial success, as each band mentioned within Thane's musical career have been rather spectacular. Each on a par with contemporaries Pavement and Silver Jews, and some, notably The Figments, who surpass these bands. It's not that a man in four different bands at once lacks ambition, in fact the opposite; Thane has simply been in too many successful bands at once. One genius across four bands does not work, even over a 20 year period.
Thane has recently been honoured by his friend Brian Marchese with Thane Songs; a CD collection of artists throughout the music community who have covered his songs. It's a clear sign of his influence and moreover great recognition from his local community who truly appreciate his song writing talent. In the late 90's, Thane joked thatThe Figments supreme goal was to be signed on Chunk Records, the indie Northampton-based label which went bankrupt a few years later. Who knows what would have been if they did sign, perhaps we would have been discussing The Figments amongst other US indie groups which made it at that time. But sat in the Third Outing office after hours, researching The Figments, their past interviews, early performances, their incredibly 90's hairstyles; selfishly, part of me is thankful they never signed.