Chris Thomas is a Kansas City-born and-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and creative mastermind behind Bolinas, a bedroom pop-turned heavy solo recording project. Back in 2012, Thomas, in search of greener pastures packed the entirety of his belongings into his Volkswagen and hit the road for Seattle. But while traveling through the upper Midwest and Mountain states, his catastrophically burst into flames. Thomas, escaping with only a camera, documented a raging inferno fueled by all of his possessions, right before being stranded in South Dakota’s Badlands. Shaken, he continued on Seattle with a persisting resolve.
Since then, the Kansas City-born singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has been busy: He has worked as a both a tour manager and guitar tech for bands like Youth Lagoon, Hunny, and Wallows. He also spent several years in Los Angeles, bartending and using side gigs as a way to replace his lost gear and establish himself in the music industry.
When the pandemic put everything on pause, Thomas returned to Kansas City, where he began tracking the material that became his forthcoming Bolinas debut Heavy Easy Listening with his friends and former bandmates from the Kansas City metropolitan area. “I’ve been a guitar tech, carpenter, cabinet maker, bartender, retail sales associate, liquor store clerk… Blue collar to the core. . . ,” Thomas says in press notes. “I think that spirit is embedded in Bolinas. I’ve spent a lot of years handing people guitars to go out and live my dream while I’m off stage in the shadows. We play music because we love it and these people, after all we’ve been through, are my family.”
Naturally, Thomas’ formative years in Kansas has helped to bring a mix of influences to Bolinas. “We were so close to Lawrence, KS and Omaha, so their influence on me was massive. 90’s alt rock of Shiner, post rock/space rock of The Appleseed Cast and HUM, quintessential emo of The Get Up Kids, raw post punk of Cursive, and psych folk of Bright Eyes really taught me about music and helped me craft a style. While I was sort of a fan of the screamo of the early 2000’s, it never really influenced my music in a big way. All of my former bands were usually the “softest” on the bill and relied on post rock crescendos rather that hardcore breakdowns. I never really felt like I had a place in the music scene in those years.”
Sonically, the album features guitar tones with the heaviness and distortion of bands like Nothing, DIIV and Greet Death but with dynamic rhythms and emo pop melodies from bands like Jimmy Eat World, Swirlies, and Cursive. Interestingly, for a while Thomas felt like his sound was “not quite ’emo’,” “too wordy for shoegaze, too heavy to be pop,” but the album reportedly sees him settling into a sweet spot that should win over fans of heavy shoegaze, dream pop and indie rock.
Discussing the themes of the record, Thomas says “Obviously writing about heartbreak isn’t a groundbreaking concept, but I wrote most of this record while in various stages of the grieving process from heartbreak, monetary struggles, to the recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse. The hurt you feel, the denial, the acceptance or dismissal of failures, the anger toward yourself and others, the indifference you can sometimes have towards new romantic interests because you’re not ready to move on, jealousy, loneliness, and searing pain of having to watch someone you love so desperately move on from you.”
While it has been a long and winding road from 2012 to finally recording and releasing his debut album as Bolinas, the album’s cover, Thomas’ photo of his Volkswagen on fire has gradually become a personal symbol of strength and resilience for him. “It may be a grainy photo, but I think it’s a perfect metaphor for how I’ve felt about my choices in life sometimes” Thomas says. “It really marked the start of this adventure that’s been the decade from 25th to my 35th year on this earth, and the constant struggle to be better… I hope that people can listen to these musical anecdotes of how much of a fuck up I can be, uneasy to be around, and lonely I have been; and realize that you can always come back from it. A monument to accepting and forgiving yourself and others for being human.”
Heavy Easy Listening‘s latest single, the woozy “Ge” derives its name for the abbreviation for the element Germanium on the periodic table. Interestingly enough, Germanium is a hard-brittle metalloid that is found in the components of many fuzz pedals — including the one that Thomas used to record the song. Centered around painterly textured layers of fuzz pedaled guitars, thunderous drumming, Thomas’ achingly tender and plaintive delivery and an enormous and rousingly anthemic hooks “Ge” will bring back memories of 120 Minutes-era MTV alt rock.
Thomas admits that he chose to name the song after Germanium because “I really like reading ‘hard-brittle’ because I know I can have a hard exterior, but I can also be brittle emotionally.” It’s a good fit for the lyrics of the song, which depict a forlorn lover who knows that they’ve screwed things up and are now powerless to fix it.”
“Sometimes I lay awake recounting things I’ve said to people that I regret…” Thomas continues. “I find myself talking in circles, getting frustrated, and then resorting to incoherent insults that confuse both parties. They’re definitely not something I mean, I struggle to understand why I even said them, and I always regret them. All of this contributes to the line ‘My knack for ruining the only good things I have going’. I’ve found myself in this situation so many times… It’s so hard to watch someone, you still love so deeply, move on and find happiness with someone else. Though you are truly happy for them, it’s still so hard to wish so dearly that you could have been ‘the one’. However, this song displays my willingness to change for the better and maybe that’s the takeaway.”
The accompanying video shot by BK Peking and Tracy Nelson is a slickly edited visual featuring countless takes of Thomas breaking out into a sprint in down the tree-lined suburban streets of his childhood. In each take, we see Thomas’ outfits change ever so subtly throughout. Symbolically, the small things change — but the larger, overarching things never seem to change.
Heavy Easy Listening is slated for an October 7, 2022 release though Sub Rosa Selects/Rose Garden Recordings.