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Roots/Rock: Catching up with Owen Thomas

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When we most recently saw Owen Thomas, The Elms' singer/songwriter/guitarist was ending the show (and life) for the band during a four-hour farewell concert at Radio Radio last July. Mixing on-the-sleeve emotions, inspired bandplay and a full setlist of Elms music, Thomas told the crowd of his appreciation for their years of support, that the show was being videotaped, the audio digitally recorded, and that he would be back. In what form, neither he nor the crowd seemed to know.

Almost a year removed from that show, the earnest Thomas has put away his live music for the moment (though he says he has been writing songs), and jumped into film; heartland rock replaced by following the creative pull of his heart. He's started to focus his efforts on moving images rather than playing a Telecaster and writing American rock. While former bandmate and guitarist Thom Daugherty jumped back into live performing, touring with rising country group The Band Perry, Thomas has stayed behind-the-scenes so far. We caught up with Thomas to see what the Petty-esque rocker was doing to fill his desire to create.

NUVO: We haven't really seen much of you since the farewell Elms show last July, what have you been up to?
OWEN THOMAS: It turns out there were other artists out there who were fans of The Elms' aesthetic neurosis, which was always one of my obsessive duties for the band. So, I've been working with other bands and artists, both major label and independent, doing creative direction, filmmaking, photography. I'm preparing to launch a new creative house called Absorb. It will primarily endeavor in modern digital films, but will also serve as the outlet for music and other projects I'll be working on, anything that pops into my brain. Absorb will release the DVD of The Elms' final show. My overt contributions to the creative world have been a bit quiet lately, I've been more behind-the-curtain. But I'm interested in changing that soon.

NUVO: Is there a new band in the future for you or did you step completely away from music?
OT: I'll never play in another rock band, I'm not really interested in performing with any other combination of people in that context. I do have about 100 new songs written, mostly from the last year and a half. Last summer, while we were preparing for The Elms' final show, I was very affected the entire time. So, a lot of very honest material emerged. I'll probably start recording it soon, and will let it evolve 'til it's ready to put out. With The Elms, we always played straight from the guts, which is how I think it's meant to be for a rock band. With anything I'll record from here on out, it will be a bit more from the brain. But I'll still ask the boys in the band to play on my recordings.

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NUVO: If not music, what would you like to do?
OT: I'd like to direct a feature film by the time I'm 40, so that gives me eight years to really find an extraordinary story. It'll happen sooner. I've got cool scripts and ideas floating around. I'd also like to write a record that is entirely accompanied by visuals that I'll direct myself. So, it would be like making a film, or a series of short films, that my songs will be the soundtrack for.

NUVO: What about that DVD of the final show? What's it look like in the raw version and do you have a timetable for getting it released?
OT: We're all working on it, slowly. We decided to edit and mix the whole thing ourselves, really interpret our final night exactly how we want it to be perceived. We've still got to shoot some conversational bits with the guys in the band, and we've decided to make it both a concert film and a documentary piece about The Elms' lifetime. It's an enormous undertaking. The raw live footage is really great, and I know it will be a beautiful presentation once it's ready. Timetable? Hopefully it will come out in the next hundred years.

NUVO: You made your best album (The Great American Midrange) as your last. You built a good base of fans in Indianapolis. How do you look back on those days?
OT: We had been a band since 2000, but didn't really find Indianapolis as an adopted hometown until about 2006, when our album "The Chess Hotel" came out. It was our first major-label album, and so there was more interest in it than there was in our first two records. I think the scene in Indianapolis is not particularly different from many midwestern towns, which is to say that you can grow your band with equal parts hustle and restraint. You have to value what you're doing. If you're playing the same cities and venues twice a month, or more, it's too much.

NUVO: What have you been listening to lately?
OT: Music has really taken a bit of a back seat to filmmaking at the moment, if you can't tell. So, I'm more likely to tell you about my affinity for Romanek, Kaye, Akerlund, and Anderson these days. When I listen to music, it's always Bruce or The Kinks or Wilco, like it always has been. I like all the staple popular stuff that's really great too, like Kanye, Strokes, Arcade Fire.

NUVO: So what are the plans for you?
OT: Creating. Still adjusting to life after being in a rock band. Keeping my mind and hands busy. All is good. I'll be around.

THE ELMS, "The Last Band On Earth" (Pre-Trailer 1). from Absorb. on Vimeo.

Find Owen on Twitter (@OwenMThomas) or his blog (HiOwen.com).

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