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Bethany Thomas

2021: Virtual Cruise lineup.

Billed as “Tawny Newsome and Bethany Thomas”

MATERIAL FLATS - a debut-ish album from Tawny Newsome and Bethany Thomas Bethany and Tawny have been singing together for 15 years. It started with a poorly attended musical about sex workers (it wasn't great), and soon turned the two of them into backing-vocalists-for-hire for every cover, tribute and bar band in Chicago. The email from Bethany to Tawny about a new gig would usually read “Do you wanna backup these guys sometime? No pay, but there’s free beer and they're cute.”

They backed up a lot of dudes off and on for 3 years. Covering every ooh and ahh of all the Gimme Shelters, Delta Lady’s and My Father’s Guns, but also becoming formidable arrangers and honing an impossibly seamless vocal blend. Meanwhile, Bethany pursued a legit career in musical theater, headlining regional houses like Court Theater, Milwaukee Rep and Chicago Shakespeare. Tawny simultaneously joined The Second City–touring the country doing sketch and improv–and UK punk rocker Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers)–touring the country singing strange Welsh sea ballads and Viv Albertine covers)

Their first shot at not-being-backing-singers came when they, along with Langford, and producer Norbert Putnam went down to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. This time, it was Langford who emailed them, saying, “Let’s be 3 leads on this one. I don’t like the ’ 20 Feet from Stardom’ thing.” So they made this big, eerie record in the shadow of legends, every day having to insist to some 19 year old intern setting up the mics that no, the two Black women in the band were not singing backup. ’Four Lost Souls’ is a weird record. David Hood played bass. Trump had just been elected 3 days before. They hung out in Fame studios until after midnight, looking up at signed pictures of Aretha, Bobby Gentry, and Wilson Pickett. It was a weird time.

Now, four years later, it’s even weirder.

MATERIAL FLATS is a now-or-never plunge into the unknown with two performers who’ve been everywhere else. Born out of the pandemic, protests, and a fierce desire to learn to do things for themselves, Material Flats i s a chance to lead- together.

Blending garage-punk, soulfully sung folk, and influences as diverse as The Talking Heads, The Pixies, Bonnie Raitt and Billy Preston, they finally made something entirely their own. They even recorded and engineered it themselves in Tawny’s home studio in the Mojave desert (with pals/musicians Patrick Martin and Nate Urbansky) and co-produced it with Chicago mixmaster Packy Lundholm.

The album’s eight tracks explore themes of isolation, unrest, self-discovery and reliance, and making the best out of one’s surroundings. Bombastic opener “White Balloon” keeps an eye out for the danger that hides in clear sight when you’re up in the middle of nowhere, while deadass thirsty rocker “You’re Still Up” just keeps an eye out.

The reflective “Time To Rewrite” and relentless “Juneteenth 2020” follow Tawny and Bethany on journeys of self-realization, and “Dinosaur (Desert Edit)” (originally commissioned for Bloodshot Records’ 25th anniversary compilation—now re-imagined with glorious strings by Jean Cook) pushes and pulls with those stubbornly stuck in the past.

Lush but prickly, “Pincushion” walks us thru the desert flowers before the sun gets too hot, and certified bop “Bubbly” brings us back inside for an ambivalent disco dance break before we’re tucked in by the closer “Carry Something” (featuring indie pop punk OG Ted Leo on vocals and lead guitar) which i s both the lullaby and the nightmare.

Making Material Flats was a longtime dream immediately turned clear and attainable goal once Tawny and Bethany said fuck it and seized the opportunity to set it up for themselves. They wrote the songs, they bought the beer, and they know how to work the mixer. Time to stand in front.

Material Flats comes out Oct 9, 2020
music and lyrics by Tawny Newsome and Bethany Thomas
produced by Tawny Newsome, Bethany Thomas and Packy Lundholm
Tawny Newsome: vocals, keys
Bethany Thomas: vocals
Nate Urbansky: drums
Patrick Martin: guitar, bass, vocals on “Carry Something”
Packy Lundholm: keys, effects, banjo, guitar solo on “Bubbly”, “Dinosaur (Desert Edit)” track
Jean Cook: strings on “Dinosaur (Desert Edit)”
Alex Kliner: synth on “Bubbly”
Ted Leo: vocals and guitar solo on “Carry Something”
engineered by Tawny Newsome at Fine Alpinist Ranch in Southern CA
mixed by Packy Lundholm at Sound Vault Studios in Chicago, IL
mastered by Blaise Barton at Joyride Studios in Chicago, IL

Tawny Newsome lives in LA, where she mainly works as an actor in comedies like Space Force (Netflix), and Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access) as well as appearing in Season 2 of TheTwilight Zone. Her original songwriting podcast, The Supergroup (Earwolf/Stitcher) let her bridge the divide between her two loves, comedy and music. In it, she documented the process of writing and producing original tracks with musicians like Open Mike Eagle, Erick Slick (Dr. Dog), Katelyn Tarver, and comedians like Marc Evan Jackson and Sasheer Zamata.

Bethany Thomas hustles in Chicago where she’s been seen at Steppenwolf, The Second City, and the legendary Green Mill, or somewhere fronting a David Bowie tribute band, doing a Gershwin opera, dueting with alt-country gem Robbie Fulks, or playing Billie Holiday at a midwestern dinner theater. Her solo EP - ' First' and debut full-length album ' BT/She/Her', are varied, genre shifting works that have captivated the Chicago indie scene.

artists/bethany_thomas.txt · Last modified: 2021/04/15 20:40 by nessa

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