Listen to Thurmon Green's "B R E E Z Y L I F E"
Some songs stick in your head through gradual osmosis, flitting around the corners of your attention like a feral cat. Others jump into the passenger seat with a knife and hold you hostage. Within a minute of my first time hearing "The Grind," the debut single from NYC-via-LA singer Thurmon Green, I knew I was dealing with the latter. Thurmon has an incredible voice, commanding and sultry in lower registers with a distant, haunting falsetto—sorry Robin Thicke, but "The Grind" was my sensual summer anthem by a mile. I met up with Thurmon a few weeks to talk about where this spectacular voice comes from, along with his thoughts on pop music, fantasy and crying in the club. While you're reading, check out our premiere of his latest—"Breezy Life" is a light, playful track, ideal for your final beach excursion of the season.
Noisey: What's your musical background?
Thurmon Green: Good question. I have no musical background as far as growing up. My parents didn't make music. I appreciated music as much as the next kid, not in any abnormal way. I started to focus on film and went to film school, and I ended up gravitated towards people in college who were studying music and making music. It segued from hanging out to jamming and then like, "You seem like you can carry a tune." I realized it was something I needed to do and I lost complete interest in film. I went to film school at NYU, so it was an intense realization midway through.
What was your process for making these first few tracks?
I really value the bedroom musician. The Ariel Pinks and Arthur Russells are very dear to my heart. But I also like D'Angelo and big, artful music for a lot of people. The tracks that are going to be on my upcoming EP came out of just having graduated and being really depressed and not having a job and looking everyday, and having so much time that what I was making didn't feel substantial. Out of that four-to-five month period of darkness the four songscame about. They were all just made on Garageband in my bedroom.
You produced them yourself?
I'd say I've arranged them and worked with producers that actually understand music to flesh it out. For a while I avoided taking it seriously because I felt like I was instilled with the idea that you practice something and learn to do it, so I never wanted to say I was a producer or anything. I still don't. But if you get hung up on thinking "this is not a real song"... a lot of the projects I worked on before were with people who knew music almost too well. When you have such a knowledge of something you can hinder the creative aspect. And I really am committed, within some reason, to not knowing too much about music theory. I don't even know notes and keys or anything like that.
Your music certainly contains elements of R&B, but with a non-traditional approach. How would you describe your relationship with the genre?
I'm trying to approach R&B, although I never called it R&B to start. The idea was that it didn't have a genre, but I like calling it R&B now, after the fact, now that it's almost done. Calling it R&B brings to mind a lot of specific things for people, a lot of specific sounds. To work within that frame, I like slipping in things that are experimental, which has always been a lot of what R&B is. It can get really complicated as to why people consider it to be this one thing. You have people like D'angelo and Erykah Badu and people now, like Miguel, who are slipping in things that are just so innovative in my opinion. So, while I'm calling it R&B as my general umbrella term, to me it's very much in the spirit of bedroom musicians, non-professional musicians, and the experimental spirit.
Let's talk about "The Grind". Where did that song come from? What does it mean to you?
"The Grind" is simply about wanting to go home with someone at a party. It's set in a party and it became "The Grind" because when I made the initial demo it felt like a slow, physical grind in a party. I liked the idea of it having a double meaning, with putting so much into this one other person where if it doesn't work like your fantasy you have to go back to daily life. Sometimes I know I use a crush or something as an escape from daily life, it's like a little vacation. When life crashes down on you and that person's not interested, you have to go back home alone at night, back to the grind the next morning. I wanted it to sound like a club song that was very sinister, but also had kind of a sense of humor in it's drama. It's giving a huge sweeping dramatic quality to something as small as a glance across a room.
You tagged it on soundcloud as "crying in the club". Do you think that there's not enough crying in the club?
Well, I don't promote crying in the club. I'll start by saying that.
It's something my friends and I have thought about with DJs like Kingdom and Total Freedom and others starting to bring vocals into the club. R&B songs, emotive lyrics, it's not just about the beat. It's bringing emotion and a human element to what many people would write off as pure cold electronica. To me the image of someone crying in the club is just so human. You go to these places to stand around with people and move your body and to be moved on the inside. To brought to tears by something that's experienced in that space and in that specific kind of environment is something that intrigues me. Crying in the club is calling attention to the profound significance that going out at night brings to our life, and how your fantasy of yourself comes out with you. It's like who you want yourself to be seen as, who you are, and how you're feeling that day, all colliding in this space that's all about fantasy.
If the fantasy can't intersect with the reality you might cry.
I want to see crying in the club. I like that it's ambiguous, I don't wanna say it's crying in a bad way. It's both. You can be moved to tears. Simple as that.
What's your favorite club experience ever?
I was in Berlin, I was studying abroad for school and I was with a bunch of friends. I'll never know the name of the house track, but this one house track, me and my friends can all cite the specific moment when it just transcended. This one beat that I can only describe as [sings house music sounds], which is what most Berlin house sounds like. But something lifted, something just transformed into space and I'll never forget that. I mean, that's what church is, that's what worship is.
Do you use music as a form of worship?
You know, I do believe that dancing and just really feeling a connection to a song is my personal religion. I think everyone has their own personal religion and for a lot of people, especially young people today, music serves that role in 2013. Thinking my way makes one very tolerant of religion, because you can just say "Oh, that's what they feel when they hear those notes on that organ," you know? To see music as my religion is a positive thing.
If you could ignore the rules of time and space, what would your dream performance setting be?
Hmm… I would love to play an outdoor show in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. It's at the heart of Los Angeles, an area that is now predominantly Hispanic, working class. I just think to do a really amazing, free outdoor show there would be so awesome. And it's my home, so there would be all these full circle moments, and I could just imagine my family being there—my mom is claustrophobic, so even she could jam out.