Local Musician Check-in: Thomas Dean

Posted on May 5, 2014 by

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Even if you have never met Thomas Dean, it would be hard to find any music lover in this town who has not been touched by his art, be it of the visual or aural persuasion. In fact, Thomas is the man behind much of the artwork most thought of when thinking of many local bands. He has created album artwork for Borrowed Beams of Light’s On the Wings of a Bug and Big Air’s debut cassette Buds to name a few, and his highly coveted screen prints can be found for sale at many Jefferson and Southern shows.

As if that weren’t impressive enough, Thomas is also a very skilled musician, acting as the long-time (dancing) bassist for Charlottesville’s Invisible Hand. Now, he has turned his attention to a new project, a loose reincarnation of his long dormant, oft missed pop-noir band, Order. The new group is calling themselves New Boss, an apt epithet, and they mean business. Already taking Charlottesville by storm, New Boss has its sights set on the East Coast this summer.

10307071_10152453779216018_491194263_n (1)This week I caught up with the Boss himself, Thomas Dean, to talk a little bit of art, a little bit of life, and a whole lot of music.

Thomas Dean

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? If not Cville, what brought you here?

I am a 37-year-old artist and musician. I grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia and moved to this area in 2003. After spending a little time in Harrisonburg playing music, I moved back home to Lynchburg. There wasn’t really a scene for art and music, but I didn’t want to leave Virginia, so I moved to Charlottesville with some friends and one of my bandmates at the time.

What are some of your favorite local spots: to catch live music? to grab a drink? to eat?

I go to shows at Tea Bazaar, the Southern, and the Jefferson mostly. I liked the summer shows Pigeon Hole was doing for the past couple years, and I’m looking forward to  shows at Crozet Pizza on Elliewood this summer. New Boss is playing there with Borrowed Beams of Light in May.

My favorite place to play in town is the Southern. The size of the room, the sound, and the stage height are perfect–you are not too far from the audience. I’ve always felt like The Southern is very comfortable.

What local musician(s) you are most excited about?

So many great bands in town right now! I’m sure I’ll forget one, but right off:
Borrowed Beams of Light, Y’all, Big Air, Klauss, Weird Mob, The Ha-RAng!#, Corsair, Sharkopath, and NU Depth.

What local projects are you/have you been involved in?

When I moved here, I was in a band called Order of the Dying Orchid. Soon after, we changed the name to simply Order. For a while, I played and toured with some friends from DC/NYC who were called Donny Hue and the Colors. Then, around 2009 I joined the Invisible Hand. Currently, I have a new band called New Boss.

Oh yeah! I play in a Squeeze cover band sometimes, too, with members of Borrowed Beams of Light and Weird Mob.

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When and why did you start playing music/singing? What instruments do you play?

I started at around 16 or so. I saw a band called Stigma from my hometown play a show on a skateboard ramp, and I thought if they could do it, so could I. So I got a guitar, but in my first band, I actually played bass because it seemed like there was less to do to get by. I met a kid at school who had an acoustic duo and told them if they let me play bass, I would get us a drummer.

Most influential artist as a child? Teen? Adult?

My parents listened to top 40 country radio when I was a kid. I remember my dad having Ray Stevens, some Motown, and ABBA tapes in the car. But I grew up watching MTV. My older sister would watch it when I was younger, then in high school it was on pretty much from the time I got home from school until my dad came home and changed the channel.

I liked mostly the rock music that was on at the time, but I liked some of the pop stuff, too. Then Nirvana hit. At just the right time in my life. I bought most of the bands Kurt Cobain talked about in interviews, or things I saw on 120 Minutes, and I was friends with kids who knew a lot of music from skate videos and showed me bands. In a small town in the 90’s, you kind of had to dig.

Aside from Nirvana, I was also into Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, Sebadoh, Superchunk, Polvo, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Swirlies, and Lilys. Guided By Voices got me into 60s stuff….The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Zombies. The Kinks are my favorite. And Bowie was big for me. Still is.

When did you write your first song? What was it about?

I don’t really right songs about anything to be honest. I don’t write lyrics, I write music and put sounds together.

The first band I was in was called True Romans. Our first song was called “Pretzel Man.” I’m not sure what it was about… You’d have to ask the singer.

What influences your writing?

I’m influenced by lots of things around me. I’m a visual artist, too, so I’m influenced by most creative things and that feeds all the creative outlets in my life.

Going to shows. Walking around. Seeing art. Just about anything that is created or produced by someone has something you can pull from it. Coffee.

What aspects of life excite you and stir your affections, fuel your passions?

Art and music from friends. I have a lot of inspiring friends.

When did you play your first gig? What emotions and thoughts ran through your head after finishing?

I don’t remember much about early gigs, but I do remember it was back in high school and I didn’t face the crowd. I had my back to them for like the first five shows or so. I was pretty nervous and not very comfortable with my instrument so it took a lot of concentration. But I have always loved playing in front of people.

Do you get pumped or nervous pre-show?

Most shows I’m pretty pumped. Most of the time, once you get up there, you can just lose yourself in what you’re playing if you have a good command of what you’re doing.

It’s been a little crazy lately getting a new project together and off the ground. You play shows where there are lots of friends in the audience, and that makes me pretty nervous. When you are presenting something new, the confidence isn’t always there. It’s definitely something you have to work up to. I think we are still feeling it out, but sometimes the nervous energy brings out things that are strong.

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What does a day in the life of a modern-day songwriter look like from your perspective?

It’s a great time for writing. Society is very open. People are consuming so many different styles of music so fast, and you can take so many of the different styles and mix them up to make new things.

Since New Boss is just starting out, it’s been fun to write for–No rules! It feels wide open. I’ve had the opportunity to revisit some ideas for songs and directions in style and sound that I’ve had for years. One of the songs we are playing I put together musically ten or more years ago.

What do you want people to take from hearing your music? As a fan, what do you also want people to take from experiencing your live show?

At this point we are still figuring out what we are doing as a band, but in general I want the show to be fun, simple, have some energy. Even if it’s just in small bursts for now. We will evolve, I’m sure. All bands do.

What does the not-so-distant future hold for you and New Boss?

We are going to work on some demos this month, get ideas down, groom them, and play some shows this summer on the East Coast. I hope.

I want us to play out and record as much as we can.

Lastly, describe yourself in 10 words.

Impatient, strong, positive, restless, sensitive, productive, active, friendly, resourceful, creative.

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