Thom Hoskins writes music of exceptional melodic beauty. Working out of his Lenexa, KS, home studio, Hoskins's unique brand of chamber pop is cut from the same musical cloth as Grandaddy, Elliott Smith and Brian Wilson, as evidenced by his new single "The Bird in the Cage Vanishes Again." Hoskins has contributed to several acclaimed bands and projects over the years, including Blackpool Lights, The Belles, Hidden Pictures and Buffalo Saints, and has toured extensively throughout the U.S., Canada and Japan. Hoskins took time away from his creative endeavors to shed some light on his songwriting and recording processes, his advice for younger songwriters and his recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog.
Introduce yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
Hello, I am Thom Hoskins. I write, record and perform my own music. I have been a music lover/musician since I was 13. I play several different instruments and I work out of my home studio in a quiet neighborhood in Lenexa, Kansas. My days usually begin very early making coffee out of my French press, which is the only way to brew coffee as far as I am concerned. After a night of rest or something like it I occasionally try to make sense out of the dreams I’ve had the night before. For me there is a point in which I cannot remember what I have dreamt the night before. So If I believe a dream has some meaning or truth to it I write down my thoughts before they are forgotten. I have even used some of my dream journal writings and turned them into lyrics before. When my wife goes to work and my children have gone to school I begin to rehearse and compose. My rehearsals largely consist of me rehearsing in my home studio, which can usually turn into a recording session very quickly.
While many of your lyrics are introspective, your music is very melodic and hook-driven in a way that recalls classic pop. What do you find most fulfilling and challenging about working
within this musical model?
I enjoy aspects of pop music but I try not to think about a specific genre when I write.
I find if I were to label the music I write in terms of genre it would force the song to take on more recognizable patterns. I believe the challenge in writing music is how to make music fresh for listeners. Having a distinct style while maintaining elements of familiarity is something I continually strive for in my writing.
Describe your creative process. What tools do you use? How do you break through creative blocks?
Lyrically I try to continue to take new approaches to my writing. I enjoy using methods like character studies; automatic writing, world history and my own personal life as a way to write. I have a smartphone tape recorder app so that if I get a good idea for a chord progression or a melody I quickly record the idea. I always keep a pen and paper because even single phrase can turn into an entire song. The idea of creative blocks in writing for me is a way to describe a writer who is forcing his or her own process. I see inspiration as an ongoing natural progression that can only be harnessed by the unconscious mind. The pursuit of writing a good song takes time.
What advice do you have for younger songwriters?
My advice for young songwriters is to find a process that works for you and be patience with your process. Actively listening to a lot of music, reading for pleasure and looking at art is also important, as this will broaden your mind. Also practice playing your instrument in unconventional ways is a way to become a more accomplished performer. For instance, if you are a guitar player who plays with a pick instead play the guitar with your fingers. Finding a rhythm to writing music can be difficult. But sometimes the way to finish a song means changing your perspective on how to write it. Speaking of writing, write as much as you can. Any genre any mood that will challenge you will help you improve how you write.
Who or what inspires you?
The list of things and people that inspire my writing continues to grow but if I had to list a few ways that I become inspired, I would tell you; I enjoy painting, meditating, riding my vintage French road bike. Also my children’s curiosity helps me continue to be ever inquisitive and my wife’s work in interpersonal communication at KU can be thought provoking enough to spark a great dialogue. So you see even conversation can be inspiring to songwriters.
Thom's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
1. Here, there and everywhere: My Life recording the Beatles by Geoff Emerick.
Everyone in the world knows about the Beatles. But it was their cutting edge production and engineering which made them unique. This is the story one of The Beatles Head Engineers.
2. 100 Selected Poems by E.E. Cummings
This was a book that a friend recommend that I read. I now own more of E.E. Cummings innovating writings because of this book.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is the first book I read in which I could visualize every character. Harper Lee writing really has the ability of transporting the reader inside the book.
4. Being There Directed by Hal Ashby
Watch this movie to the end. The movie seems slow but upon further watching hidden meanings reveal themselves.
5. Way to Blue an Introduction to Nick Drake by Nick Drake
This record from being to end has a energy and concentration to it that most modern songwriters have not been able to match since.