If you’ve been in Nashville for any amount of time pre-pandemic, and you enjoy going to live shows or just listening to music – I’m assuming you do – then you’ve likely heard Thom Donovan. He’s produced several artists in town, played on many recordings and most recently has been the lead guitar slinger in Will Hoge’s band. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Thom moved to Nashville in 2010 a couple of years after the break-up of his band Lapush. He also had a brief stint in the early 2000’s with Capitol Records recording artist, STIR. I loved that band in the 90s! Sadly, the album Thom made with them was never released as they were dropped by Capitol in 2003. His collaborations are too numerous to mention, but a couple of note include his work with Ruby Amanfu and in the duo Rossi with Kendall Morgan. He cites Motown and the Beatles as his earliest musical influences, he’s classically trained and likes to put things together that you wouldn’t necessarily think make sense. He’s as comfortable blending classical and electronic music as he is writing on an acoustic guitar. We chatted about his new song, “California”, the video he made for it and working with Will Hoge.
AnaLee: You have had such an interesting career path, Thom. You’ve toured internationally and across the states, fronted your own band, produced bands and you’re currently playing lead guitar in Will Hoge’s band… well not exactly “currently” but hopefully again soon! I know you were about to go out and tour Will’s new record, Tiny Little Movies. I love the current line up in Will’s band with Christopher Griffiths on bass and Allen Jones on drums. This is, I believe, your third record with Will. Tell us a little about what lead to you finally joining Will’s band as lead guitarist.
Thom: Will and I were introduced through a mutual friend in 2008. Lapush had just split up and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. My friend, Richard LaBonte, told me Will was looking for a guitarist. I drove down from St. Louis and auditioned. It went well and we talked about doing a run of shows together. A few months later, Will was in a near-death accident. I didn’t know it at the time - he just stopped communicating and I assumed he changed his mind about working with me. My wife read about the accident online. Fast forward a year or so, Will called about playing again but I was already working on my first solo album. Fast forward another 7 years - Will and I connected on Twitter. I worked on his album, Anchors. That session led to me joining his band.
AnaLee: You’ve released four albums as a solo artist, Canon includes the song, “Shipwreck” which features Ruby Amanfu on vocals and a really beautiful video with dancers from the Nashville Ballet. I listen to that song often, still even though it came it in 2014. What a beautiful piece of work. There’s a lot of variety in your sound and I can hear some of those different influences I mentioned in the intro. Your new song, “California” has sort of an Oasis vibe. What inspired you to sing about California and make a wonderfully nostalgic video about it?
Thom: I’m a huge anglophile so that’s not an accident. “California” was written in 2008. My wife and I had almost moved to San Diego years ago. The song was inspired by a lot of time spent in California. It’s an idealized version of the State. There’s a line in the song: “You don’t know what it’s like to be cold” - which of course isn’t true. But when I think of California I mostly think of my time in Southern California - and there I’m usually warm. I’m enamored with old Hollywood. With the hills. The ocean. The music history in California. I wanted to write a song about it, but ground it in universal truths - love, loss, longing, etc.
The video was made in quarantine in my home studio - which is really just a room in my house. I spliced footage of California that I had taken over the years with home videos of my family. I’m not overly nostalgic, but this song takes me to that place.
AnaLee: You’ve released two songs this summer, “California” and the latest single called, “Fears”. Tell us about “Fears” and if we’ll be treated to more songs this year, an album, EP?
Thom: “Fears” was written and recorded 2 years ago. It’s taken on a new meaning with the pandemic and the world shutting down so it felt like the right time for that song.
I’m currently finishing a new album. It’s mostly acoustic. It was inspired by John Prine. I played John’s festival in the Dominican Republic last November. I was there playing with Ruby Amanfu. I met John and his wife, Fiona. His kids. It was inspiring to be around him. Watching his set moved me. This record is inspired by that experience. It’s not a folk record and sounds nothing like John. You’ll probably hear as much Richard Ashcroft as you will John Prine. I wrote a piece about John that I posted on my website when we returned from the Dominican Republic. (LINK: ) I’ve been working on this album, on and off, over the past 10 months. There’s still a little more work to be done on it.
AnaLee: Thanks, Thom, I appreciate you taking the time to fill us in on what you’ve been up to. Looking forward to seeing you play live again soon.
Thom Donovan, “California”
Thom Donovan “Shipwreck”