foreverinmotion – A Life on the Road

Chester native Brendon Thomas chose the right name for his one-man musical endeavor – foreverinmotion – the words squeezed together to convey speed and distance. 

For many local bands, “road trip” means a drive from the practice space to the Royal Flush or Electra for a weekend show.  But at the ripe age of 22, Thomas has taken his lush, aching songs to the bars, coffee houses and clubs of America no fewer than five times.

“Maybe a dozen if you count the bands I’ve been in,” he said recently.

He’s traveled west to California and south to Florida, over 50 cities at last count.

With the release of the second foreverinmotion album, “The Beautiful Unknown,” Thomas plans to spend the next year touring, returning only for the occasional local appearance.  Tomorrow night, he plays a two-hour warm-up show at Sophie & Zeke’s in downtown Claremont.

Next Friday, the tour kicks off at Chester’s Town Hall with a CD release party that also features Home Now, the Cameo and Joe Wilson, a Brooklyn songwriter who’ll join Thomas’s zigzag across the country.

 “The Beautiful Unknown” is filled with dense, gorgeous music and production flourishes that recall the softer elements of Todd Rundgren’s early 70’s gem “A Wizard, A True Star.”   Like Rundgren, Thomas managed every aspect of the record. 

But it’s most influenced by a more recent work – Jimmy Eat World’s “Clarity,” a record Thomas says showed him that “power and emotion can come from the quietest forms of music.”  “The Rain,” a delicately structured track from “Beautiful Unknown,” wraps spare guitar work around carefully chosen piano notes and swirling, phased vocals peppered with loops and chirping effects.  It begins hushed, almost breathless, yet finishes in a crescendo of soaring chords and cloudbursts.

The words, full of hopeful affirmations like “don’t you realize … how beautiful you are?” and “I wish you were strong enough to set yourself free,” bob on the surface of this majestic music.  Thomas’s surprising engineering skills – he’s entirely self-taught – save the project from collapsing under its own weight.

It’s important to achieve what he terms a “vision fully realized.”

“Recording for me is kind of like therapy,” says Thomas.  “You go in there and do your songs.  I like to do everything, it’s just fun. It’s hard to explain, it’s kind of like working out the daily stresses of your life.”

Performing live, however, he eschews the multi-tracking tricks commonly employed by compatriots Howie Day, Bright Eyes and Dashboard Confessional, preferring instead to “let the songs undress to their most raw form.  I have a keyboard that I’ll occasionally use to get ambient chords,” he says, “and sometimes I’ll use sound bites.”

With a soaring, powerful low alto voice, he usually doesn’t need more than his six-string guitar and winning personality to get through to crowds.  He has an uncanny ability to bring a room to hushed silence, even when many of them might not be there for music in the first place.

“My music is pretty heady,” he says, without false modesty.  “You gotta listen to really get it.”

It’s difficult to describe just what that is, says Thomas. “I write about he subtleties of life… I don’t enjoy writing straight up love songs; I put myself in different situations and try to see what [people] are going through.  Even things that don’t make sense to me, if I can sit down and write music that gets that feeling, situation or idea it helps me make sense of it more.”

“I’m not trying to be pretentious,” he continues.  “That’s what I’m trying to do – that’s what music did for me.”

Thomas provides more than inspiration to his hometown of Chester.  A while back he helped open the Underground, a local performing space below the music store where he teaches guitar. “There’s a pretty well established scene with a lot of the local kids.  I taught guitar to half of them,” says Thomas.  “I don’t’ know if I can take credit for the fact that they all started bands.”

On any given Thursday, when the Underground host teen nights, there can be up to 100 young music fans on hand to hear the performers.  Most of them, like Thomas in his earlier days, are influenced by the energized, punk-styled sounds of bands like Taking Back Sunday, Fall Out Boy and Blink-182. 

The club and his status as a local favorite son are among the factors that keep Thomas tied to Chester.  His family still lives there and he barters music performances for sandwiches and smoothies from the local health food store.   “Over at the Moondog Café, anytime of the day they’ve got one of my CDs playing,” he says.

But for the near future, at least, he’s destined for a life on the road. 

“I love it here,” says Thomas, “but it’s also the kind of place you need to escape a lot to love it.”

Local Rhythms – Venue Blues

Local music fans endured a frustrating night last Saturday, as a 4-band show at Claremont’s Knights Hall was cut short by police.  Power trio Stonewall had just com-pleted their third song when bandleader Josh Parker announced, “we either have to quit playing or pay a fine, and we can’t afford 100 dollars for that.”  Someone in the crowd urged the band to get a decibel meter, claiming the sound level wasn’t over the legal limit.  But it was too little, too late, and disgruntled fans filed peacefully out the door.

At least we got to play our new song,” said Parker, looking for some consolation.
There were plenty of problems with the show.  Slow equipment changes and bands exceeding the allotted time forced headliners (and show organizers) Stonewall to take the stage at well past 11 o’clock.

But the notion that there’s a “legal sound level” is flat wrong, according to Captain Colby Casey of the Claremont Police Department, who was there Saturday night.  The relevant municipal ordinance governs sound “more than 50 feet from one private location to another,” he says.  “If the sound is disturbing or offensive to someone of average sensibility, it violates.”

The issue, then, isn’t local police out to ruin a good time.  And, in case anyone who’s never been to a Knights Hall show was wondering, they’re not using the noise ordi-nance as an excuse to stop some other kind of bad behavior. 

The kids are alright.

“Unruly people have never been a problem,” says Capt. Casey.  “Lawbreaking has never been a problem.  The noise is the problem.”

Why wouldn’t it be?  The Knights Hall sits in the middle of a working class neighbor-hood.  The real issue here is the lack of an appropriate local venue for this kind of mu-sic.  Stonewall, Broken Mindz, Xelement and Hexerei all play intense, in-your-face hard rock.  Original rock. 

The bands have a significant audience, but precious few places to congregate.  In an-other story in today’s paper, you can read about the Underground, a Chester perform-ance space begun by foreverinmotion’s Brendon Thomas to help boost the local music scene.  Certainly there’s an underutilized space somewhere in Claremont that could be put to the same purpose.

Because there’s something that wasn’t talked about much as things broke up Saturday night – the fact that the Knights Hall isn’t very well suited for live music.  Even if noise wasn’t a factor, there’s no stage for a band, as well as past concerns about fire safety and overloaded circuits.  It’s fine for bingo and family reunion suppers, but the Opera House it isn’t.

Come to think of it, what about the Opera House?

No matter – here’s the top picks for the coming days –

Thursday:  New Faces Night, Roots on the River – Bands seem to break out at this show and move on greater heights.  Tonight it’s Crooked Still, with their unique take on old-time bluegrass.  Cellist Rushad Eggleston colors familiar standards like “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’” and “Come On In My Kitchen” with a low moan that makes them fresh and accessible for contemporary audiences.  Opener Anäis Mitchell is another of my new favorites, with a childlike voice and sweetly subversive songs.

Friday: Standstill, For Another Day & Sarvela, Electra – A three band show featuring For Another Day, a hot young Chester group who play frequently at the Underground.  Standstill is local boy Matt Cross’s project when he’s not on the radio, and Sarvela is an up and coming Springfield combo.  Lots of rock is on the slate at Electra, with Stonewall and Broken Mindz next week, and Hexerei in early July.

Saturday: About Gladys, Salt hill Pub – An Upper Valley supergroup of sorts, includ-ing Frydaddy’s Wally Wysk, Jimmy Goodwin and others.  Expect a healthy dose of the classics – blues, rock and soul – that are guaranteed to give most boomers a good aerobic workout.  Some may even resemble YouTube hit man Judson Laipply.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you must.

Sunday: Survivor, Paramount Theatre (Rutland) – To quote Bowling for Soup, there are plenty of folks still “preoccupied with 1985,” and this band is definitely one the era’s best guilty pleasures.  Who hasn’t imagined themselves triumphing over peril to the pulsing opening strains of “Eye of the Tiger”?   It’s my belief that without those killer soundtracks (remember James Brown’s “Living in America”?) most of the Rocky sequels wouldn’t have been made.

Wednesday:  Fairport Convention, Iron Horse – It’s impossible to gauge this band’s importance, even if some key members, like Sandy Denny (who died in the mid-70’s) and Richard Thompson are gone.  Simon Nicol is the only one left from the original lineup, but that’s not such a big deal. The first foursome played exactly one gig together before replacing the drummer.  Few bands have influenced as many diverse performers as this one.