Any day that you get an opportunity to sit with one of Macon’s most creative musical minds is a good one– but on this day, I was given the opportunity to sit with two! On the eve of an alt-rock takeover of the Hummingbird Stage & Taproom, Brent Thomason and Mark Griffith of Choir of Babble and One Horse Parade stopped by to discuss the show, the creative process behind both groups’ music, and what 2019 releases made an impression upon them. In this deep dive, we also explored how members of both bands have seamlessly integrated into one another’s camps with Brent’s invitation into One Horse Parade and Mark Griffith’s involvement in Choir of Babble’s incendiary Bragg Jam 2019 set.
ML- Brent at what point in the songwriting process for One Horse Parade do you get involved?
BT- First, I was a fan of the band before this even kind of came along but for me… You know, they had song titles for all the music as it’s just instrumental. I would just kind of get with the guys and [ask], “Where was your head at when you guys wrote this song, what does it mean to you?” And I would take elements of what they gave me and then just kind of create in my own space, in my head with their descriptions. Honestly, it’s hard to explain. It was really intimidating for me because these are songs I’ve heard them perform for quite some time without any other melodies or lyrics, so I just wanted to make sure that I represented what they intended when it was first written. I think it kind of happened naturally…
MG- Yeah, it was pretty fluid really.
BT- Yes, so it’s been quite an experience. I’ve enjoyed it and am really looking forward to performing these songs live too.
You’re writing songs for three separate projects because you have Choir of Babble, One Horse Parade, and now you’re venturing into solo territory. Do you immediately know when you write a song which project it’s for, or does it take some refining and playing with?
BT- So I write– that’s pretty much all I do in my spare time– and so sometimes I go in with an idea for Choir of Babble. Most of the time with One Horse Parade, you know those guys are workhorses– no pun intended. They’re always coming up with cool stuff, they’ll just shoot me an email or ideas. I’m kind of involved in the post-music process right now. For me, when I’m writing a song, I do have intentions to do certain things alone but then it might bloom into something completely different where it feels like Choir of Babble could take it. A lot of the stuff I write for my solo [project] is a little bit more about telling a story and keeping it simple.
Speaking of Choir of Babble, you have new music on the horizon. Do you have a timetable for when that will see the light of day?
BT- We are currently working on new songs right now. I don’t really know when it will be out but sometime this year more than likely.
Are you already in the recording phase?
BT- We’re toying with ideas in the studio. Probably towards the latter part of this year for sure.
You guys are playing a show this Friday at The Hummingbird Stage and Taproom. Does the show have a title like your shows in the past?
MG- Not that I’m aware of. It started out to be one thing and then they decided to not to do that, so they asked Brent if all three bands wanted to play.
BT- Yeah, and we’re excited about it. We’re all really good friends, all friends, the three bands…
MG- There’s a lot of crossover.
BT- A lot of that cross-pollination you were referring to earlier.
MG- So I’m playing with Choir of Babble, he’s, of course, singing with us and Wes Cook our drummer (One Horse Parade) is playing with Justin Cutway and the Open Seas.
You gentlemen have both been considered rising stars in the area since you started. Mark, you’ve been around here in different bands, how has the music scene changed and in what aspects has it gotten easier for bands to be able to get out and showcase?
MG- God. I’m gonna show my age a little bit. Back before, we had Liz Reed’s down here and The Rookery. I think there was the Downtown Tavern over there… There wasn’t a whole lot. You would come down on a Saturday night and have your choice of parking spots. The vibrancy of downtown now [with] all the restaurants, more little venues, with JBA and Hummingbird, and obviously, the [Capitol Theatre], it’s cool. There’s more variety, and you’ve got places to hop to instead of everything being in one spot. Everyone I know is a musician, I think. Between our three bands, Justin Cutway included. and then all the other people I know doing everything from solo acoustic to metal to Americana to whatever, it’s really nice that there’s a wide collection and variety of music going on in town. I think as musicians, we always want there to be more venues. More places to play is always a good thing, but it’s really cool. All the bands get along, everybody’s friends. It’s a good environment, definitely.
What are you both listening to these days?
MG- I defer to Brent.
BT- Oh, man, that’s a tough one. As I was talking about earlier, I have been so caught up in songwriting, playing a lot of piano this year, a lot of synth stuff… I’m just kind of listening to a lot of things I’m working on honestly. I feel like I haven’t had time to dive into anything really new. (Laughs) I’ve been listening to a lot of One Horse Parade, learning the catalog and writing lyrics… But I don’t know, I’m kind of stumped on that one. I just listen to old records, honestly.
MG- I’m always listening to music at home and in the car. I’m a big vinyl collector so anything I like I end up going to buy. The latest record by Thom Yorke is really good. It’s a really weird electronic record. The newest National record was really good. Foals put out two records last year that were really good. The Angel Olsen was good and the Sturgill Simpson record, I like it a lot. That’s a fun record.
Did you get a chance to check out the Ed O’Brien stuff?
MG- I have. I’ve heard the one song and saw the crazy video he put out. I can’t wait for the whole thing to come out to see what it is as a whole cohesive piece of art.
Getting back to your bands, Mark you’re playing synth with Choir of Babble, and there’s also a saxophone player…
BT- Chris Walker. He used to play with Floco [Torres]. When they had the big band with Travis [Reeves], he was part of the ensemble.
MG- He’s awesome!
This lineup is the lineup from Bragg Jam 2019 that played at Bearfoot? That was a great show! It’s so interesting to see a band whose bassist plays the lead guitar role within the band. It sounded so cool. Is this expanded lineup a permanent thing or a special time to time…
MG- Whenever we all can.
BT- Whenever it makes sense. We like to play a lot. We like to go out of town a lot. It’s hard to get a lot of people that are down to do it. There’s people that can, but you have to make it a priority. We’ve got stuff going on in our lives too, but we like to go on tour and stay away from home at times. We want to do it more. So that’s the first thing, and number two, we’re a three-piece band. Between me, Johnny, and Travis, it’s like we don’t really have a genre. Obviously, we’re a rock band that’s influenced by stuff you can hear here and there, but our next slew of songs we’re doing… Dude, I can’t even tell you! Like it’s weird, it’s fun, it sounds cool. It’s hard to get people to come in for that and on top of that, we want to experiment more with different instruments. The way we write songs, I feel like it necessitates, it needs more instrumentation or people involved.
MG- We felt that way when we were a three-piece for a while. It was fun, it forced us to be economical and get the most out of the least.
MG- But after a while, it was like, “Okay, we need another guitar player.”
Do you feel like what’s on record has to be recreated faithfully live or is there room for other elements to take the place of missing bits from the record?
MG- Yeah. For us, we’re getting as close as we can. For the most part, the core of the song is there but there’s some extra guitar overdubs– or because we don’t have a live synth player because I’m playing bass. On record, the synth’s going live the whole time, you know? So stuff like that but nothing that stands out as not being true to the song. We try to sound like we sound on record, but it is different.
BT- I’d say yes and no. Like he said, the core of the song is there, but I also enjoy when a band does something else live. For us, we’re a three-piece, so it’s hard to replicate what we do on our records live with only three guys.
Anybody that’s followed Choir of Babble from the beginning knows that the number of official members has deviated over time and with those changes your bass player, Johnny [Davis] has assumed the role of a soloist in the absence of a second guitar player. Is that something you see carrying forth into the future?
BT- It could change. The way we first started writing music… I can play solos and licks but in this band, I wanted to experiment with chords more. So I think with Johnny being a guitarist playing bass, it created an interesting dynamic where he can kind of be a little more free. I’m not one of those guitar players that likes to sit back and just shred. It’s cool and I’ve done it but in this band, I wanted it to be different. Going forward, these new songs are really grooving between him and Travis, so I’m sure it’s gonna come off very different. They’re playing a lot more together, and I’m also a guitar player that’s way more into modulation and noises with my guitar, and I want to play more keyboards. There’s really no telling where it’s going.
Are keyboards something you’re going to explore more in-depth with your solo music?
BT- Yeah, yeah. It’s weird because right now, I’ve got about ten songs I plan on recording soon, and there’s definitely gonna be keys on everything– but I’m doing like all of it. I would also like to do more keys with Choir like even where it’s the main component of the melody.
My last question before you guys get out of here. Is there any chance in the future for a Choir of Babble/One Horse Parade split EP?
MG- That would be fun.
BT- That’s interesting. It would be a lot of fun. We’ve always toyed with the idea, and we’re already kind of doing it now. We’re all really good friends. We’re all into the same stuff, and I think we’re all in the same creative space, keeping it interesting, keeping it evolving. I know I never want to be too comfortable. I like to go a little deeper in the water.
MG- Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BT- But that would be a lot of fun, I think. We’ve talked about even writing songs together for fun.
MG- I know we’ve talked about you all having done a Tiny Desk deal, and we did an in-house, kind of seven-song in-studio kind of deal. I know we talked about doing one of those with both bands where we set up in one location. We talked about each band doing three or four songs and then a couple together. I would still be down for doing that.
Maybe a Choir of Horses?
BT- That sounds beautiful.
MG- A Babbling Parade.