The young singer talks moving to Toronto, authenticity in music, and becoming more confident in himself.
Photo by Laura Jane Petelko
When I call T. Thomason, he’s walking through a park in Toronto, still reeling from the adrenaline rush of being freshly tattooed. “I got a wolf with some writing around it inside my upper right bicep,” he says. “It’s kind of a memorial tattoo for my friend who passed away a couple of years ago. It hurts.” For someone who’s undergone as much as he has in the past year, the pain of a tattoo seems laughable. T. Thomason is 21 years-old, but, ostensibly, his life has just begun.
Born as Molly Thomason to two parents in the filmmaking industry, T. grew up in Antigonish, Nova Scotia — a largely Catholic town with a population of about 5,000 people. He started playing music at a young age and went on to make his first record, Through the Static, in 2009. Following that debut, Thomason put out two more records, Beauty Queen and Columbus Field, the latter of which was produced by a super-group of Canadian musicians: John-Angus MacDonald (The Trews), Nick DeToro (Sloan), and Cone McCaslin (Sum 41). The first time I met T. though, was late last year, while in a hotel lobby in Yarmouth for Nova Scotia Music Week. The next morning, he spoke on a panel about gender in the music industry and highlighted the very real, everyday struggles a trans person can face whether or not they’re in the industry. T. is concerned his experience transitioning and being part of a new community will overshadow his music. “I think it’s important to define myself as somebody who is, first and foremost a musician, and is making music that’s honest and leaves me vulnerable and lets people in. And part of my honesty and my experience is that, yes, I’m a trans person — but that’s not the entire story that’s happening, you know what I mean?”
T.’s earlier work as Molly Thomason, before transitioning, chronicled high school romances and heartache, garnering a Canadian Folk Music Award, Music Nova Scotia nominations, and music spots on Degrassi: The Next Generation, to name a few. It was smart, powerful pop that some fans are still waiting for Molly Thomason’s to come out with again. But it wasn’t music that felt wholly honest to the musician. Today, T. conveys a sense of self-fulfillment and confidence because he is truthful to himself. People are, for the most part, unaware of T.’s transition. Since being out of the limelight, T.’s cultivated a new sound, identity, and inner-dialogue, which will be reflected more and more in his new music. “I think there was a point in time where I wanted to just delete everything off the internet and move to a different place and change my name and have nobody ever know about any of that stuff. And that was kind of before I even knew what was going on with myself.”
T. is ready to release his most honest music yet. “My Kind” is T.’s latest track from Sweet Baby — one of three EPs out in the next few months. It features Chris Isaac-like inflections with muddy, distorted guitar riffs and it feels “a little bit like a psyched-out, chilled-out, [kind of] like you’re-on-mushrooms.” The song is about T.’s struggle with presenting a more authentic version of himself in music. “I think one of the biggest hurdles is knowing how to put yourself out there in an honest way. I’m not prepared to be dishonest again and to live that way because it’s too painful." The track does speak to a relationship T. was in while transitioning but touches more on his uplifting social experiences. “As much as it sounds like there's a specific subject in the song, it’s also about just generally finding a community and being really excited about that, and suddenly feeling free and just wanting to consume as much of this newfound freedom as you can.”
Photo by Ryan Nolan
For T., it’s the cannonball entrance at a pool party that he’s been waiting for his whole life, but like any new artist, he is still trying to carve out his own space in the music scene. “It was sort of intimidating because you get so much praise for being a woman in rock music,” he says. “There’s all these amazing female icons to look up to—like Joan Jett and Bikini Kill—and you get comfortable with that, and identify with that in a way, then it’s, like, there’s a million dudes playing rock music in Toronto—am I just going to get lost in that?” Luckily, T. got a helping hand few do in the form of money and promotion. He recently won the Jack Daniel’s Supporting Act Competition and plans to use the $7,000 grand prize to fund his rebranding initiatives. He hopes this will help will set himself apart in the male-saturated indie rock scene. “I want to get new press photos, a new website—just doing a big overhaul of everything that’s online,” he says. “And that kind of gives me a presence to people who would want to look me up, because everything’s changed so much that there needs to kind of be a different representation of me out there.”
Perhaps a bit serendipitously, T. won the grand prize in March just as he left the Nova Scotia-based agency management company he’d been working with since he was 14. “You just change and grow—and it was just time to change it up. If there [are] people who like the old music, and they like the new music, then that’s great,” he says. “I honestly hope it can pick up how it had been going, and that I can take it as far as I can take it. It would be cool to not work at a pizza place, and just do music.” T.’s summer is stacked: he’ll release a trio of EPs over the next little while, with a kickoff show in Halifax on June 11, followed by a month of musical residency at the Company House in August. Nevertheless, T. is adamant about not letting his previous life pave his new musical path. “You don’t want to be defined by your past. I don't want to walk around forever saying ‘oh, I used to be this person.’”
Hillary Windsor is a writer living in Halifax. Follow her on Twitter.