Grand Old Grizzly’s Will Thomas talks about their latest Americana album, Pure Country Pyrite.
Nominated as Houston’s Best New Band and declared Best Country/Americana act by the Houston Press, Grand Old Grizzly shakes the genre up with their high energy, introspective lyrics, and original Americana sounds.
Formed in 2012, the quartet comprises lead vocalist and lyricist Will Thomas, guitarist Paul Beebe, bassist Mark Riddell, and drummer Isaias Gil. The band recently released their third studio album, Pure Country Pyrite, a sensational offering full of wit and irony.
Recently, we talked with Thomas about the new album, the band’s musical inspirations, and his unique songwriting approach.
Cowboys & Indians: You recently released your new album, Pure Country Pyrite. What do you hope your fans will take away from it?
Will Thomas: Merch? Hopefully they pay for it? [Laughs.] Actually, the best-case scenario would be that they are inspired to go out and learn an instrument and write some songs.
C&I: What inspired the album?
Thomas: I don’t know. I rarely write with much urgency of purpose. It’s more like I’m kind of writing songs in my head all day every day. Eventually, with the help of the band, the good ones are distilled down to complete songs. I guess you could say that the album is potentially inspired by anything that I come across throughout any given day. In that sense, it’s like life. We’re shaped a little bit by everything we do, whether it’s super-traumatic or totally mundane and forgettable. It all leaves its mark. For instance: One song is heavily inspired by the 1980s comedy classic Arthur, starring Dudley Moore. I’ll leave it up to the listener to guess. It’s really obvious. Fine, it’s track 10.
C&I: Any memorable stories from during the production process?
Thomas: Paul one day just decided to tell me that he had completely written three instrumental tracks that just needed lyrics. Not only that, but he had recorded demos by himself playing every instrument on the tracks. That was pretty cool — just had to pen some verbiage. Those songs were “Rescind My Amends,” “You Got No One,” and “I’m Gonna Be Coming Home.” It was a lot of fun writing lyrics to basically existing songs. And they all made the album.
C&I: You’ve been nominated for Best New Band and declared Best Country/Americana act by the Houston Press. Did you ever think that your music would be become a big hit?
Thomas: It would be cool if it ever was a big hit. All artists are probably arrogant enough to think that is a possibility. But I can truly say I don’t care — I really just do not care. It would certainly make life easier it GOG was super-successful. But I’ll be writing and recording songs the rest of my life whether anyone listens to them or not. I can’t not do it.”
C&I: What’s your writing style? Do you start with the lyrics or the music first?
Thomas: Always different. Usually it starts as one lyrical line that grows into a full set of lyrics. Might take an hour (such as “Gundowners’), might take six months (such as “Papa Was a Radio”). Lots of times I’ll have a cool melody planned out with all of the music orchestrated; then I try matching a couple sets of lyrics to see which fits best.”
C&I: What do you think helps a song resonate with an audience and create a hit?
Thomas: I think a good way to tell if a song will resonate with an audience is to have a 5-year-old listen to it. I use my own two boys as guinea pigs They are 3 and 5. If they like it, it’s more likely to be universally liked than something they detest. I just have to remember to cough, or hit a pan with a spoon, during any inappropriate lyrics. They have little to no preference of genre at that age and they have an amazing capacity for instantly identifying things they like or don’t like. On the other hand, people my age might eat a cheeseburger and not be sure if they actually liked it for three days — even then they might have to go back and try it again.”
C&I: How do you feel you’ve evolved as an artist since you first came onto the Americana scene in 2012?
Thomas: First off, we recorded the first album in Paul’s wife’s closet. So we evolved into artists who don’t record in women’s closets, which I guess is better. I’m personally a much more confident vocalist. In general, the songs themselves are bigger and rock a little more than they might have early on.
C&I: Are there any tracks that didn’t make it onto Pure Country Pyrite that we can expect later on down the road?
Thomas: Oh, for sure. Probably like 15 or more. Some are ones that I like that nobody else does — I’ll eventually wear everybody down. They are kind of all over the place. Some examples: “Blondie,” a more folky fingerpicking tune; “Problems With the Night Time,” a song that Mark wrote, a real ’70s Rick Derringer/Rusty Weir type thing. The list goes on and on.
C&I: What can we expect from upcoming live shows?
Thomas: We’ll play as long as they let us, and we’ll always do something a little outside the box. We’ve covered Erasure, Soundgarden, Glen Campbell, Tom Petty, Prince, Rick Derringer, the Beatles, and more, all on spur-of-the-moment whims. I think I’m also going to start writing new songs and introducing them to the band on stage and then playing them right then and there. You get some real exciting stuff that way if you are willing to risk it. I saw someone do that once and thought it was cool.
C&I: When you’re back home in Houston, what are some of the places you like to perform and visit?
Thomas: Best venues are White Oak Music Hall, The Continental Club, The Big Top, The Raven, and I’ve always loved Rudyard’s as well. All very different, but equally cool. Best place to visit is the top of The Raven tower — it’s the best view in Houston.
C&I: How do you feel Houston plays a role in your music?
Thomas: Houston is diverse, resilient, hot, mesquite-infested, ugly, beautiful, utilitarian, and very welcoming. It’s really all over the place in terms of aesthetic and vibe. It’s got a disgustingly underrated music scene and the best food in America, hands down. It’s an easy place to write a song. Drive around town, go to a bar, sit alone at a coffee shop, and you can’t help but be inspired by all the weirdos wandering around.
C&I: What’s something fans might not know about you?
Thomas: The most random thing I can think of is that Isaias recently did a fill-in gig drumming for David Lee Roth, skimminy dibbity bop! Paul owns a music studio, Beebe Gunn Studios. Mark likes to take smoke breaks right when the show is about to start. Our band has a “no shorts or ball caps” policy. I’d cancel a gig before I let Paul get on stage with a pair of shorts on.
Speed Round With Will Thomas of Grand Old Grizzly
Favorite place in the West: Ute Park, New Mexico; or Lake City, Colorado.
First song you look for on the jukebox: “Woke Up This Morning” by Alabama 3, The Sopranos intro song.
Favorite western movie: Lone Ranger: The Man in the Mask. Watch it. Merle Haggard theme song, and Merle Haggard narrated. Christopher Lloyd as the bad guy … Perfect movie.
Favorite Western food: Is Tex-Mex Western? I like tamales. That would also be my answer if you asked me my favorite Asian or Greek food, too.
Go-to bar drink: Old Fashioned or cheapest beer on draft.
Wardrobe staple: Boots. Never played a gig without a pair of boots and jeans. I’m getting into hats.
Other artists you’d recommend to your fans: Small Sounds, Mike Stinson, Mind Funk, Bonnie Prince Bill, Doug Sahm.
For more information on Grand Old Grizzly and their upcoming shows, visit their website.