When you’re young and you feel like you don’t belong, life can look very different from the football player on one side of you or the gamer on the other side. So you dream more than most and that bright shining talent that might have been hidden away for years is unleashed to it’s glorious potential, sometimes before puberty ever hits.
For Thomas Lindsey, growing up in a small farming community in Louisiana near the Texas border, he was that kid. “I didn’t hunt or fish. I didn’t have any friends,” Lindsey explained when his album with Dave Stewart, Spitballin’, was released in September. “I loved music but I never learned to play a musical instrument. I still can’t. And because of that, I didn’t feel like a complete artist. So I just sang at home.”
And that’s the first thing you notice upon hearing any of the twelve tracks off Spitballin: that voice. Lindsey can go from delta blues to torch singer in a heartbeat and amaze you each time. For a kid who was quite shy and preferred locking himself away in his room to sing along to his favorite records, releasing an album, singing on Jimmy Fallon and performing at the legendary Hollywood club The Roxy with his idol, Eurythmics mastermind Dave Stewart, well, it was a dream come true.
For Stewart, hearing Lindsey for the first time caused an immediate reaction: “I went, Holy crap!” It wasn’t long before Stewart and Lindsey were collaborating on the music that would become Spitballin, but in a more unusual way than Stewart was used to doing. “I’d never written like this before,” Stewart said. “Usually I sit in a room with my co-writer. It was a very odd and unpredictable experience to open up a file of something he recorded in his living room. I would then come up with music to fit with what he sang. It made me think about writing in a completely different way.”
Obviously, they did something right for the album debuted at #1 on both iTunes and the Amazon Blues Charts and the first single, “Another Lie,” in which it’s accompanying video featured Stewart’s daughter kicking up dirt in an old shack, premiered at #2 on the iTunes Blues Songs Chart. And it’s still garnering attention. Not too bad for a couple of former unpopular kids.
Speaking with both Lindsey and Stewart recently, Glide got the lowdown on growing up the misfits in their communities, how singing gave them wings and why Lindsey’s vocals were always going to be the main focal point.
Whose idea was it to keep that bluesy vibe so much the focus on Spitballin?
Dave: I think it was both of ours, right Thomas? I mean, he started singing and I started playing. I had already made a film called Deep Blues about delta blues music so I’ve always been obsessed with the blues. But we didn’t actually talk about it, like, “Oh, let’s make a delta blues, kind of swampy thing.” When we started making music, he would send me some vocals or I would send him a piece of music and it always just came out that way naturally.
What were you singing, Thomas, in those early days back in DeRidder?
Thomas: Like Dave said, it was blues music. That’s what I gravitated towards. It was always that and I would listen to other things, to some pop music, but there was no way I could write that way. I didn’t feel that. It wasn’t until I started listening to Nina Simone and that style that I thought, hey, I can write like this. But I don’t know, it kind of falls the way it does. You listen to music and it kind of finds you. You don’t really find it. It’s whatever speaks to you.
So we just set out to make music. We didn’t set out with any style in mind. It was, let’s just make music. And so we did. There are really many kinds of styles on there. There’re touches of rock and blues and then deep blues and then almost like blues you hear out in the field, things like that. It’s all those different things. And I knew that he knew that music and he liked it and he could play it cause I’ve seen him play it and I knew that he instinctively felt it too. So it wasn’t work. You had two people that get that vibe and like it a lot and it just kind of connects.
Dave: It’s really funny for Thomas and I doing this kind of recording, like him at his place and me here and we’d send it back and forth. And the first thing we do is Jimmy Fallon (laughs). And it’s like, “Well Thomas, good introduction to it.” (laughs)
Thomas: People keep asking me, “Are you excited?” I think that’s the biggest fear, that I won’t be good enough. That’s the thing that you always come off of the stage with, hoping that you feel that you gave the best you could, because you know in yourself what your best is. Otherwise, you go home beating yourself up. Artists are just that way. We’re just very detrimental, I guess (laughs).
The album definitely flows and as it gets closer to the end of the record, you can hear the changes, how it starts out with blues and how it opens up into much more.
Thomas: That was Dave. Dave pushed me in directions like that but I was kind of scared to go. He was playing some things that were kind of rocking and I was like, Oh God, can I do this? (laughs). But it was so much fun because I liked it, I liked that stretching, because he knew. He could see potential in me cause he’s been doing it for so many years. He can pull things out of people they didn’t know were in there. That’s why you’ve got to find people like that in your life. You have to.
Dave: I think that’s my role in life is basically pushing people off a cliff (laughs). You can do it, here you go! And then boom.
Thomas, I was wondering how much gospel was in your background because DeRidder has lots of churches.
Thomas: It does and I often gravitated towards that because it’s kind of rooted in the blues. Gospel was kind of like the root and then you have blues and Jazz and all these things that kind of blossomed out of it. So if you like blues and Jazz, chances are you like gospel, real gospel music. I sing from my spirit so it’s natural, a natural part of it. Anytime I’m singing a song it’s to pull out the spirit in myself. And Dave gets that. His music is the same way. I feel it in his music.
Dave, I understand you started off belting out show tunes.
Dave: Well, when I was about six or five, marching up the street, yeah (laughs). I didn’t know they were show tunes. My dad, he sort of put together some speakers and wires and created a sound system. We didn’t even know what it was back then and we switched it on and it was blasting out Rodgers & Hammerstein and I was like marching up the street singing, “I Enjoy Being A Girl,” much to people’s surprise. The melody was infectious though.
You said in your book that you didn’t feel like you fit in.
Dave: No, I didn’t really. Obviously, I’m from a northeastern industrial town and there I am with my hair dyed purple wandering around with a guitar on my back. It was an odd sight for the people around and obviously for me it was having to fend off the sort of offended locals. “What the hell are you doing, boy?” I managed to get myself to London and it was tricky business but yeah.
Thomas, what it was like growing up in DeRidder?
Thomas: Oh God, I didn’t fit in here either. My story is quite similar and I think that’s probably why we all connect so easy. We share that similar story where you don’t fit in as a kid and most of the other kids that you are around decide to be enforcers of normalcy and they’re going to put you in your place and it ends up, you know, people react to that kind of pressure in different ways. I walled off so I kind of just put myself in a box for many, many years until I got older, in my twenties, and realized that, okay, you can be yourself.
I don’t feel like I started living probably until I hit eighteen. Not to be depressing (laughs). Before kids go through puberty, they’re free, they don’t focus on all this other stuff so when you go through puberty and you’re chasing the girls and the girls are after the guys, it becomes a different reality. You can’t do that, that’s not grown up. You can’t come over here, you can’t play this kind of music, it’s not popular. It becomes very claustrophobic. So it isn’t until you get older that you decide who you can be in those kinds of situations. Not a lot of fun.
How many people knew you could sing back then?
Thomas: People knew but it wasn’t a focus. The focus was, who’s party are we going to or are you going hunting this weekend? If you’re not doing those things, if you’re not on the football team, it doesn’t matter. You could be twirling flaming batons above your head, they don’t care cause you’re not in the in-crowd. So I kept to myself. I would just go home and I would sing. Then I found Eurythmics albums of course and I got my first one and then got another one and I thought, I wonder what this one is like, and each one I thought was really great. So I got obsessed with it and was like, these are the coolest people in the world. I started wearing camo because they were wearing camo in 1999 (laughs).
Music does that though. You find people through their music. I didn’t know Dave and Annie. I didn’t have any idea of anything, what kind of conversations they would have over coffee or anything. They could have been the craziest people in the world who would scare the death out of me. But through their music I felt like I knew them. Through their music I connected. You need that and I think that’s a problem for a lot of kids these days. There is not a lot of music out there that they can connect with at a deeper level and they feel really disjointed.
Do you feel that way, Dave, as well? That people are not connecting to music like they used to?
Dave: I think that there are artists out there that kids can connect with in a deep way. It’s just often a bit buried underneath the pile of stuff that’s in there. Everybody can upload stuff and tune their vocals and make videos with their cell phones. So it’s a very crowded space out there. But among it, up pops Tyler The Creator or thousands of artists waiting in the wings to be discovered if they could just get above the noise. And I think kids will seek them out and find them. But it’s true that they’re often bombarded with corporate world things that will sell. So whether that’s TV companies or MTV or VH1 or the BMAs or the record labels or whatever, if they think something is going to bring in advertisers or bring in the market in order to get advertisers, they will always go for that above something that might be unique cause that’s scary to them, you know. But the funny thing is, any artist that’s lasted the test of time has been unique.
After you guys connected, how did this record get to be? You sent files back and forth to each other?
Dave: Yes. At first, Thomas was singing stuff through some kind of microphone set up through his laptop and it sounded great but I was thinking if we’re going to make a record, the quality was sort of distorted or whatever, so we sent him a tiny bit of equipment, hardly anything really, just to make sure that the vocal was always clean when we got it. And sometimes I would send him music with no vocal on it. But when he sent his vocal, there would be no music. So we had to build music around it so when Thomas got it back there was always a surprise.
Thomas: I loved it, though. It was so cool.
Dave: Imagine a kid, you know, and it’s like you’re opening up your Christmas present. You kind of know a little bit of what it is cause you’ve poked a hole in the corner of it. So Thomas knew, like, I found this so it’s definitely going to have my voice singing these notes but then he would get the track and it was like, whoa! It’s gone in a completely different mode (laughs).
Thomas: And you have to be working with someone you trust to do that too. If you would be working with someone you don’t trust you could get back some crazy things. So I had to completely hand this over and not be scared.
Thomas, how many of the songs did you have already written before you sent them to Dave?
Thomas: We did the entire album really, but halfway through I said, alright, I have this chorus for “When Dogs Run Away.” I had the rest of the song but I wanted to see if he liked it and if he had an idea around it. If he had an idea, then I was going to rewrite verses to it. I just wanted to see what would happen because usually I don’t share a lot of the ones I’ve written cause I’m scared to. But he sent it back and it was exactly the way that the verses would fit in. It was like he could read my mind.
Then “Alcohol” was the only other one and I was in my bathroom and I sang that vocal and I sent it to him and he liked it and he told me, “Oh by the way, here’s ‘Alcohol’” and it had this beautiful organ instrumentation behind it and I was like, oh my God. The song was so cool. But the rest, we wrote back and forth like that. He would send music and say, “This sounds like a Ray Charles kind of thing” and kind of put that germ in there; or a rock infused one, kind of like ”Confidence.” “Confidence” is really rocking.
Dave: A really interesting one musically where he surprised me, cause I sent him this music for “Friend Zone,” where I’m playing this slide guitar and it’s a bit Stones-y. And I’m playing this melody and the last thing I expected was for him to sing the chorus the same melody as the guitar. But actually it sounds great. So we never really knew what each other was going to get when we woke up and opened up mail. It was like, what? (laughs).
Some of these songs sound very, very personal. How do you let go of the self-consciousness to allow the song to be truthful?
Thomas: You just can’t think about it. Obviously you’re not naming people by names and stuff but there’s truth in them and they’re paired with some creative writing as well. Some of them are stories that I have been told, things that people have went through, friends and stuff; and some of them are my own experiences. And they are slammed together in there. So I would ask Dave and I would ask my friends, “Can you tell too much from this?” But they are still very personal because the emotions are there and I think it has to be that way. If you write songs and they’re not, then if you don’t feel it then nobody else is going to. If you don’t feel the song, how can you expect anybody else to feel it, if you don’t believe it yourself.
Dave, what can you tell us about the production side, especially with instrumentation? Did you let his vocals lead the way?
Dave: Yeah, I didn’t want to fill it up with loads and loads of instruments. So it’s basically guitar and vocals. It was me playing a dobro guitar, an old dobro guitar, and very sort of organic through amplifier. And then finding an organ sound that could be from a church in England or just putting the juxtaposition with it. And then we had the drummer, who was in his place actually, and he would drum and send us the drum pattern that we would chop up and move about. So as a production, it was like making a collage.
You played slide on this. When did you first learn to play slide?
Dave: That was one of the first things I started to learn when I was about fourteen because my cousin had sent some records from Memphis and my brother had bought some old blues records and there was this weird sound. I found out that if you’ve got an old wine bottle and you pulled a string around the neck of it fast back and forth, like strangling it, then you tapped it under cold water, then the bottle neck came off and it was an actual bottle neck and maybe you could slide it around on the strings and make that sound I’d heard on those records. And then I heard the Rolling Stones making that sound too and I was like, oh, hang on a minute, they must be listening to this blues music as well (laughs).
Was it hard for you to master it?
Dave: I had nobody to compare it to (laughs). Nobody else was really doing that up there. The people were sort of doing other things and I was sitting staring at this record player trying to work out how to make those sounds. I think I picked it up relatively quickly and I had an actual sort of feel for it so it wasn’t like an awkward thing to do like putting a square peg in a round hole. It was like, ah, this seems like it fits my world and then once I knew how to do stuff like that I was literally learning all sort of blues, fingerpicking from Mississippi John Hurt, you know, just going into obscure blues albums and trying to understand like Robert Johnson and how he was playing like that. I’m a good friend of Bob Dylan and he would be doing the same thing when he discovered these records years earlier. He was like, “How the hell did he do that?” (laughs). But yeah, it’s still a quest.
Thomas, when you were younger, how did you learn how to control your voice and not tear it up when you were singing different things?
Thomas: I don’t think I have control of it (laughs). I don’t know, I just always sang. In second grade I remember I had a wonderful music teacher and every time we’d get in the class, she would start off with “Jeremiah was a bullfrog,” you know, “Joy To The World,” and she would start with that cause there was a kid in the class named Jeremiah and she’d bang on the piano. It was because she had soul, you know, she was one of those people. And we would sing every day and when you would get it, when you weren’t singing with your talking voice and were singing from a different place, she would point to you and say, “Now you’ve got it.” And I remember the day that she did that to me. It comes from almost under the gut or something, from your spirit I suppose. And it is a spiritual connection.
As I got older, I would listen to different artists. I would listen to Cher, cause I loved her voice, and I would try to imitate it. Then Annie Lennox, I gravitated to that. And Aretha Franklin, all these people, and you pick up on things and you try to sing like them when you’re young because you love their voices and it all kind of smashes together when you get a certain age or at a certain time and then it becomes your own thing and you can pull from that vault of people and go, oh, I remember Patti LaBelle did this, let’s see if I can do something similar to that here. So you have that box, that treasure box, of all your teachers and they are your teachers.
Dave: It’s similar with the guitar, you know, when we’re taught that Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and then Keith Richards and Eric Clapton and you kind of go through all of these stages and then you start adapting your own, put your own personality and your own spirit into it and then it becomes you. Hopefully you create your own unique identity. I always like collaborating. I think the marriage of the way I feel about music and the way I play and Thomas’s voice, calling the project Stewart Lindsey as opposed to Dave Stewart and Thomas Lindsey was because it was a complete sort of marriage of the two worlds colliding. And also to confuse people (laughs).
Are you worried about being a professional musician out there in the world? You said were a shy kid and now you have to get out there in front of thousands of people.
Thomas: I just don’t think about it. I always say every time I do a show, I say, alright, if you want this to happen, and I know it will, or if you don’t that’s fine. I’ll pack it in and I’ll go back to work on Monday and I’ll be just fine, because you’ve given me enough as it is. My dream was to make an album with the only person I wanted to make an album with and I got that dream. So everything that comes after that is kind of like bonus blessings. If we never sell one album, it doesn’t matter. I just wanted to make it. I know money doesn’t buy happiness. That was never my driving goal behind it. I just love to do it. It’s a part of me and I have to do it. If it didn’t work out or if it doesn’t, you know, I will continue to sing. It may be in the backyard, it may be in the kitchen. I’m not going to stop. It’s part of who I am.
Dave Stewart live photos by Leslie Michele Derrough & L Paul Mann