Fireside: Interview with Lamont “Bim” Thomas conducted by Leila Hamdan of Memphis, TN, May 2012
Lamont is a significant black American artist and musician based in Cleveland, OH, whose character and career reflects Memphis Art Brigade’s urban education project. Lamont is a long time visitor of Memphis, who performs multiple times a year with bands like Obnox and Puffy Areolas and collaborates with lots of Memphis musicians.
LH: Bim- I first met you in Columbus at the Gibson Brothers reunion show. What is your relationship with members of the Gibson Brothers?
LT: The Gibson Brothers music freaked me out before I actually met them- in the form of their cover of “I Had A Dream” by Nathaniel Mayer. I guess I met them through being employed at Used Kids by a founding member Dan Dow. I was always into music and had been in a couple of bands, but working at this store changed my life and still deeply affects me today. I love those muthafuckas you know…all of em! But yeah that lead to a close friendship with Don Howland who was also a member of the Gibson Bros and their neighbor at the time. Howland and I have been making records together for 17 years now. Our last “And Without a Name” came out on Columbus Discount Records a couple of years ago to good reviews and is considered by some as one of our best. We have a new one in the can right now. He’s one of the smartest guys I know and I consider him my brother. I make it a point to cover his songs with Obnox because they’re great tunes and no one else touches em, not even him in some cases. I would meet Jeff Evans and Ellen Hoover not long after that. I never knew them when they were a couple. I’d never known Evans when he was an Ohioan either. But I have great respect for Jeff and all the crazy cats he’s worked with over the years. His father was one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. (Miss ya Mr. Evans!) Howland and I have toured Europe with Country Jeff a couple of times…the first tour for 3 weeks and second for like 7 and a half weeks. We were in gnarly spots like Novi Sad, Serbia on that trip. Not many people play there, but Don and Jeff were not phased. And what can you say about Ellen…she’s simply beautiful through and through. She used to lay out our Bassholes covers and has been so supportive over the years that I don’t know what to say…let’s put it this way, Obnox has played Columbus twice and she’s been right there in the mix. So yeah I know all the Gibson Bros and following them has kinda shaped some of my taste especially when it comes to blues, country, and early rock. A lot of guys have come up through a relationship with one of the Gibbys…Jay Reatard, Rich Lillash Jack and Greg Oblivian, Alecja Trout, Me, Jeff Novak, Richie Violet and Chris Wilson, Bruce Saltmarsh was down and Dan Brown, George Reyes, Jeff Bouck, some of Darrin Lin Wood’s best work was done standing right next to Jeff. Jon Spencer got over the Pussy Galore hangover touring and recording with the Gibson Brothers. Who knows? Maybe someone will do a proper set and put their legacy in perspective. Its worth checking out fa sho!
LH: When did you first start playing music? What instruments do you play? and would you list the bands you’ve played in, chronologically?
LT: I was a late bloomer sort of…I didn’t start playing until I was a junior in high school. Most of my friends at least played an instrument long before that…they maybe didn’t write songs, but they played. I started out singing at church and in school. When it comes to punk, I am a drummer. That’s what I do best and that’s how I generate a lot of ideas. I’ve been playing guitar lately, but not very well. I play good enough to write songs. Recently people have wanted to hear these songs live so I’ve had to get better real quick. Luckily when it comes to Obnox I have one of the best drummers out there…I haven’t been in as many bands as some. The bands I’ve made records with are Flipping Hades, Bassholes, My Uncle Wayne, This Moment in Black History, Deathers, Puffy Areolas, and Obnox…I’ve toured with V-3 once. Pretty soon, like two weeks from now I’m going to play drums on the new Unholy 2 ep.
LH: What was it that drew you to making music? What is one or some of your proudest accomplishments/projects you’ve worked on? And do you have any frustrations with the music industry?
LT: I was drawn to music because when I was a kid my family had great records that I spent a lot of time listening to. Our church had a great band and choir too, and that was crucial for me. They were good and a lot my family were members were in the choir so I wanted to rock with em! I got into making music because I loved records…from my family’s records, to college, to Used Kids and beyond, vinyl records have always knocked me out. There’s always good stuff. People get bitter and swear everything sucks, but they’re usually looking in the wrong places for their entertainment. But yeah, I just wanted to participate…you know, kinda have my own say. Also, Ohio consistently creates great recorded music history and so I wanted to be a part of that as well…like in my community and Ohio as a whole, I felt if I could make good enough records, I’d be reppin my city and state full on. I’m proud of all of groups and records and labels I’ve been a part of. That’s been the best part…meeting all of these wonderful folks within this scene. You know the party is only as good as its music and I’m real thankful that I’m surrounded by people who only dig the best shit. I guess the amount of time that Don and I have worked together still amazes me as well, but I can’t nail down any one thing that I’m most proud of…I’m too old to be frustrated with the music industry. I live in the underground. I’m sure the industry is aware of a guy like me, but that world really doesn’t include me. I don’t have much, but I’m thankful for what I’ve got and grateful to still be doing it. There are some dudes that bite the stuff coming out of the underground and take it to the masses on some Pat Boone shit, and that’s frustrating, but that’s been going on since Tin Pan Alley days so what’s a nigga gon do. All I can do is try not to make any shitty records…hahahaha! Maybe after I’m dead someone will care, probably not! Hahahaha!
LH: I’ve heard you described as ‘punk rock’s Elvin Jones.’ What does that mean to you?
LT: Ah that Punk Rock Elvin Jones thing…yeah people say that sometimes. I am into him and Art Blakey and Zig Modeliste and countless others. I take it as a compliment. I don’t think I’m heavy like a jazz guy because that’s that black classical music ya know…the last great American art form if you will. I do wanna make punk records that are important to people like jazz is important to so many. I do hate to see a drummer doing ordinary shit with no feeling, but making these fuck faces like he or she is gonna bust a nut. It just seems fake to me. I try to remain calm and protect the pocket like a jazz cat so yeah the Elvin thing I take as a compliment.
LH: How do you relate to being a strong, engaged and engaging black artist within the underground scene?
LT: There are a lot of black artists that are Uncle Toms, straight up, but I’m not going to pretend to be anything, but what I am, a strong black man, especially in a scene where there aren’t many brothas involved. Needless to say, the question about race is great because a lot of people tip toe around it like things are super sweet these days, but not much has changed. There are more brothers locked up now than there were during slavery…Trayvon Martin was just gunned down for no reason. Its very easy for a nigga to die or go to jail, so I’m not going to sit around and pretend that because people enjoy the records, they also give a shit about what’s going on with my people or me. If anything, within this underground scene, I want to show people, especially young bruthas and sistas, that we have all types of flavors. If you wanna rock n roll, skateboard, dress a certain way, don’t let anyone, especially our own, hinder you from expressing yourself because we have influenced so many aspects of popular culture and after all we’ve been through, we should be able to enjoy it too! Even with all the stigma and stereotypes regarding black folks, I try to be myself and a good ambassador for my people, but I’m not going to pretend to be white or anything else to make someone comfortable just so that they can say they know a couple of cool black people that are “not like the others” or some such shit. I’m just like the “others”, but unlike most bruhs I enjoy expressing myself in the punk rock community. That’s my lane and I stay in it. I could be a rapper, a jazz cat, or a straight church boy, but God made me a drummer in a punk band and the Blackest Punk Rocker in the country so that’s how I roll and the people that know me and respect me, my real friends, ride with me on that! My friends live with me in the underground and that’s where the heat is…I’ve struggled and been down and made mistakes, but right now, I’m doing what I feel is good for my soul as a representative of the underground scene. Let the brothas rock n roll! Hahahaha!
Memphis Art Brigade: The Blacklist… what do you think about it?
The Blacklist is a great way to turn young heads on to some of the bravest and strongest figures I ever heard of…some of my absolute faves are on the list. And I’m utterly flattered that you can imagine me on a list with such great company. I hope the people of Memphis appreciate this type of outreach because it can really inform people of all ages. It could inspire people you know, to challenge oppression of any sort. These are the type of personalities that influenced me when I was a kid and made me want to do something meaningful with my life…though not as in depth and heady. I was an “Eye’s on the Prize” type of youngen!
Who are some of the artists you relate to the most or whose careers you respect the most?
Most of the artists I relate to the most couldn’t make careers out of their art…as far as music, I tend to champion the best underground stuff from the best music towns like New Orleans, Memphis, Austin, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, San Fran,and LA because its not a good idea to suck in those cities, even if you’re just passing through. I’m sure there are wonderful people all over the map, but I find myself returning to these places again and again, usually because of the artists that live there, and in most cases, those artists occupy the underground.
Tell me about your bands Obnox and Puffy Areolas. Elijah Vazquez, who plays with you in Obnox seems to have a very different disposition than the guys in Puffy Areolas. Having spent a few evenings with you guys over the past couple months, I have to say, you all are enchanting. Everyone has their own magic, intelligence and insanity.
Obnox came to be in order to make a 7″ while the TMIBH guys got their bearings as new fathers, but after playing around the house for a little while, I had more material than I anticipated, so then I thought to make an ep. Hey why not a 12″ ep? How bout some improv and a couple of my favorite Howland tunes. Just little things I’d always wanted to do…and who would argue with me if I tracked everything myself? I could do whatever I want which most drummers have no idea what that’s like. Once people started to dig it a lil, I decided to find a drummer that had a similar style as mine or would be willing to imitate it and that’s when I reached out to Elijah. He’s super talented…he’s always trying to learn more even though he’s a music educator. He’s got his own solo agenda, makes hip hop beats and is way into punk as well, so we get along great. Cleveland is the type of place where a small cache of black artists can function right along side say hardcore bands and metal bands. Its the kind of place that has more brothas at shows than just about anywhere.
I joined Puffy Areolas as a fill in for a couple of gigs and we’ve been rocking ever since…its really Damon’s thing. I just rehearse and record and try to make it hot. I’m only as good as the guys I play with and these dudes are swell. And it feels good to rock with yet another bruh, not unlike hanging with Rafeeq Washington, Larry Caswell, or Elijah. Lots of hip hop cats are parallel to us as well as some new young black rock cats like Chubbs and Retro. What I like about Dame though is he’s interested in putting real raw and wild sounds out in the streets. I wasn’t hearing that distorted abandon that’s a part of my favorite garage and punk records…everyone wanted to sound like they had it all together whereas he fucking lets it all hang out to the point of near absurdity and/or injury which is perfect for a guy like me whose into really gnarly and fucked up music. Not just making noise, but a very rhythmical noise that’s peppered with soul, improvisation, and psychedelia. That’s why he’s right on time and we ride deeper than Atlantis…it also helps that the boy chain smokes weed too, which kinda keeps us locked into the groove, innately, like second nature!
You all were about the only saving graces of South by Southwest. That was my first experience.
SXSW has always been good to me. I have a lot of good friends in Austin, so its just great to see them and sometimes the music is the only way I can get back to them. The size of the conference has gotten to be a bit much. It used to be a lot easier to get around from gig to gig, and there wasn’t so much animosity toward showcases and parties unrelated to SXSW. But yeah, I enjoy playing, and I don’t mind touring. God gave me this gift and I wanna use it as often as possible. Being a father, I can’t tour as much as before, so SXSW is a chance for me to play to hundreds of people from all over that would never see me, and that’s good for the bands I’m in and the records I have out at any given time. Puffies/Nox tour had me doing 18 shows in 10 days, including two shows with Unholy 2. Most people would consider this a hassle, but this is what I do and I have no problem driving far or sacrificing sleep to be a part of it. Most people shouldn’t be in bands either, but that’s another story. I appreciate the fact you enjoyed our performances. There are some bands that are really shitty out there…we don’t have to name them, because they know it. In some cases the nation’s better bands don’t even want to participate because of that fact and the size of the fest. I wish someone would put me on Fun Fun Fun or Chaos in Tejas, but SXSW doesn’t bother me like some. Maybe growing up near the amusement park Cedar Point had something to do with it. South by reminds me of that environment, ya know, surrounded by tourists. That tourism thing is definitely taking its toll on a city that tons of people are destined to live in. Hell, I even thought about moving there back in the early 90’s when one of my friends moved there. Needless to say, he lives in Houston now with a little more room to breath I suppose...
I think being a father may be one of your proudest accomplishments. Do you hope to have more children? What are your thoughts on love?
My daughter Mia is wonderful…smart, healthy, happy, and damn funny, but I don’t see myself having anymore kids. If I could afford it maybe…whatever I did for money would leave no time to play any music. I love my family though…they can tolerate me going off and doing a lil music here and there for a couple of weeks at a time. If it weren’t for them my music wouldn’t be nearly as interesting for sure…see when you leave your family for any given time, whatever your doing is not more important than they are, so if you’re absent because of recording and touring, those better be your best recordings and best shows because you made great sacrifices to get there. Yeah that’s love…I got love for everybody in the game too, not just my family…I even got love for the niggas that don’t like me anymore! Hahahahaha! I’m even trying to articulate that love in song…no one around here sings about love anymore, just these diary entries about themselves and their stupid and ridiculous lives. So yeah the original L-word is pretty important to me. If you don’t have any love in your heart I suppose its hard to sing about it huh? Oh by the way I also love strong reefer as well as strong women! Hahahaha!
Where does ‘Bim’ come from?
My family has called me Bim since I could remember…I don’t ever remember my ma once saying my given name, Lamont!