Stu Thomas Paradox
The title of the new Stu Thomas Paradox album, Escape From Algebra , provides a cryptic insight into the band’s philosophical underpinning. For Thomas, it’s important to deviate from the prepared path of formulaic music. “Algebra is a series of formulas, so if you’re trying to escape from algebra, then you’re trying to be free,” explains Thomas. “A lot of music I heard these days is overcooked, and doesn’t have that sense of freedom. So Escape From Algebra is a call to freedom – we’ve got enough formulas around in music at the moment.”
Thomas grew up in Perth, a couple of years behind the ‘70s Perth punk generation that gave the world James Baker, Roddy Radalj, Kim Salmon, Dave Faulkner and Dom Mariani. “I did go and see some of those guys, although I wasn’t always old enough to get in. I used to sneak in to see them at places like The Old Melbourne,” Thomas says. His first instrument was also the trumpet. “I started playing trumpet in school,” Thomas recalls. “You could do music or media… so I did music. Later on I learnt guitar by myself, and then bass.”
Thomas played in various bands in Perth throughout the 1980s, before jumping in the car with his then-bandmates and moving to Melbourne. “We drove over to Melbourne in 1990, and the band broke-up after we’d been living together for a while.”
Thomas’s first reaction to losing his own band was “deciding to join everyone else’s band.” He answered a raft of advertisements looking for guitarists, bass players and trumpet players. It was through his willingness to play that Thomas developed strong ties with the local independent music industry. “I was in four or five different bands, all of which were playing different styles of music – cabaret, blues, lots of different stuff,” he explains, “which was great, because I like all different types of music.”
Thomas eventually got a call from Kim Salmon, at that time looking for a bass player to replace Brian Hooper in The Surrealists. Some years later, with The Surrealists in hibernation, Thomas was enlisted by Dave Graney to play bass in the Lurid Yellow Mist.
Despite being a highly-valued member of The Surrealists and the Lurid Yellow Mist, Thomas is happy to take the front spot in his own band. “I really dig being up front because you can engage with people a lot more,” he says. “You really have to be in the moment when you’re in front – you have to be there. And I can tell more stories when I’m up front – you can’t really tell stories when you’re the bass player in a band,” he laughs
Thomas describes the sound of the Stu Thomas Paradox as ‘voodoo surf’. At first glance the juxtaposition of terms seems odd – what is the relationship between voodoo and surf? “The voodoo in the description is because of the darkness and because it’s edgy,” he explains. “Surf music, to some people, is predictable. But we’re appropriating the sound of surf music, but we’re not strictly a surf band. We are a bit dark, but we’re marrying to that an umbrella surf sound.”
As for the paradox in the band’s name, Thomas suggests it’s because of the band’s ability to capture the same sonic aesthetic, regardless of band membership. “We can play in any one form from one to four people, and apparently we don’t lose anything,” Thomas says. “I enjoy playing solo shows, because you have more freedom, and the timing is more malleable. But the band itself is a really tight unit – I can really trust those guys,” he says.
To the extent Thomas assumes a dictatorial role in the band, it’s only to instruct his fellow band mates to embrace freedom and improvisation. “I’m the opposite of a dictator, especially for this record,” he figures. “There’s a lot of improvisation on the record – I really wanted to inject some freedom into it.”
Consistent with this ethos, Thomas says the band went into the studio knowing what they were playing with, but without any strict riding instructions. “The band were aware of the songs, but we hadn’t rehearsed the songs to death,” he says. “I wanted to have the songs in a skeletal form – that’s what I prefer.” Thomas’ preference is to talk about the atmosphere he’s striving for in an album, rather than the music per se.
With Escape From Algebra Thomas aimed for something up-tempo, and with a bit of mystery. “I wanted something reverby and mysterious,” he explains. “I also wanted it to have an up-tempo vibe – which is why there’s only one ballad on the record. I wanted to have it forward moving – a song like Shake Your Derriere is obviously an invitation to get up and dance,” he says. Despite the groove-alicious styling of Escape From Algebra, making Melbourne audiences dance remains a difficult proposition. “I like to get people moving around when we’re playing, but in Melbourne it can be a bit difficult – there’s so much good music on offer people need to be impressed – but I know that they’re listening,” Thomas laughs.
He also continues to split his time between music and visual arts. “These days I’m doing more as a graphic artist,” Thomas says. “More of the stuff I do is on my computer – that’s how I did the album cover.” He has also made the odd film… when time allows. “I’ve done a lot of weird films that I eventually make into videos.” For his next album, Thomas says he hopes to indulge his trumpeting skills. “I still play the trumpet a bit – I play trumpet on the new record,” he admits. “And other people are also asking me to play. On the next record I think I might have a bit more trumpet featured.”
THE STU THOMAS PARADOX launch Escape From Algebra at The Grace Darling Hotel this Saturday October 16, with guests The Exotics. Escape From Algebra is out now through Bar Hum Bug.