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.”