Taylor Swift and Unicorn Heart Attacks - MMS Interview with Drew Thomson of Single Mothers

On the heels of the debut album release, London, Ontario's Single Mothers are kicking off an American tour in style. Negative Qualities, their long-awaited debut, is a bruisingly cathartic burst of emotion, 10 songs and 25 minutes of lust, longing and self-loathing. I had the opportunity to chat with Drew Thomson, the band's frontman, vocalist, and sometime lyricist, just a couple of hours before they kicked off their tour at Brooklyn Vegan's CMJ day party (and a day after they were detained for 9 hours at the US-Canada border). Check out our preview of Negative Qualities for a more in-depth primer on the record and band.

MMS: How has the songwriting process changed in the band, given your absence from the band and solo work? Do you write songs individually or collectively?
DT: It's changed throughout the timeline of the band. I used to play guitar, so I used to write the songs. Then when I dropped guitar, Mike picked it up. It's like most bands; someone comes in with a guitar riff and you build from there. Once the music's done, I stroll in and ruin it by yelling over the top of it for a while and write the lyrics. Most of the time, the songs are never finished until we're in the studio. We get the idea together, and mess around with it until we're ready to record it. Whatever comes out in the recording is what turns out to be the song. 

MMS: Your solo work is tonally very different from what you've done with Single Mothers. How do you reconcile those two very different approaches?
DT: I've always been a singer-songwriter in my downtime. When we started Single Mothers, it was more of a folk-punk band than whatever it is now. Whenever I'm stressed out or bored, I'll pick up a guitar - and I'm a shitty guitar player - so I can only play slow folk songs. That's just what I do. I don't try very hard; it's more of a relaxation exercise for me. It's different, but everyone in Single Mothers - Evan and Mike - played on my solo EP. It's just another side to our songwriting.

MMS: You've talked about your love from The Replacements. If you had to write an "Alex Chilton" style song in homage to an artist, who would you write about?
DT: Oh my God. Taylor Swift, for sure. I think Taylor Swift is a very punk popstar right now. She gets away with calling out ex-lovers and naming names. She wrote that song about John Mayer and called it "Dear John". It's a very interesting way of putting yourself out there, and not taking any crap from anybody about it. Taylor Swift is not an Alex Chilton-type child star, but if I had to write a song about a pop star it would be her.

It sounds like a joke, but when we started touring we had my minivan, which only had a CD player. We have five guys in the band, and nobody could agree on a CD. We had Speak Now and we had her first album. Red had just come out, and we had just purchased that. For seven weeks in that van, we all bonded over Taylor Swift. 

MMS: Might we see a Taylor Swift cover?
DT: We used to cover "Love Story", but we don't do that anymore.

MMS: We know how much you dislike Dave Eggers and McSweeney’s, and the preening English major types who love them. “Hell Is My Backup Plan” features the lyric, "I'm getting Bukowski drunk". Who are some of your literary influences?
DT: I went through a Bukowski phase, like every other brooding, mid-20s, hipster-wannabe guy does. I really like Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut. I just finished reading Cannery Row by Steinbeck. Raymond Chandler, Raymond Carver, as well. I try to stay in the Miller-esque genre, those early and mid-1900s works of Americana.

MMS: Your producer, Joby Ford, plays in The Bronx and their alter ego, Mariachi El Bronx. Any chance we'll see some kind of similar musical exploration from The Single Mothers?
DT: I don't know. Probably....not. We can hardly keep this band together and going functionally, so I don't know if we could handle any side projects without completely imploding. If we could, we'd probably do like a country band or something.

MMS: How many lineup changes has the band gone through at this point?
DT: Today we just met up with old guitar player, Justis Krar, who decided to come back. So I think this is the 17th incarnation of the band.

MMS: Are there any plans to abandon London, Ontario for the "bright lights, big city", or are you planning on staying in what you once termed "the armpit of Ontario"?
DT: We're pretty much all spread out; I'm the only one that lives in London right now. Mike and Evan live in Toronto, and Brandon our drummer and our new-old guitar player, Justis, both live in St. Catherine's, Ontario. The band itself will always be from London, even if none of us are living there. We're all on the road anyways, but the entity, the spirit, the heart of Single Mothers lives and dies in London, Ontario.

MMS: If Conor Oberst "sounds like a donkey fart half the time", how would you characterize your singing?
DT: I guess I would be a unicorn heart attack, beautiful and devastating.

Catch Single Mothers at the Black Cat tonight. Doors open at 8pm, and tickets are $12.