Music, by its very existence, should never grow stale or stagnant. There are so many instruments, so many genres, and so many different ways of interpreting a scale of notes. Among the myriad musical minds in this world, it’s always nice to find a fresh sound that keeps your head nodding and your toes tapping.
Fortunately, I found one that is absolutely perfect for the upcoming summer season, and their name is Thomas and the Work-Men. The band was founded in 2017 and features singer and guitarist Gino Frederico, guitarist Matt Miely, bassist Matt Luebbers, saxophonist Luke Mullins, and drummer Thomas Workman.
Although, the band says they didn’t initially plan on naming themselves after their soft-spoken drummer.
“Thomas is a quiet guy, and he hated it for a while, but he’s learned to accept it over time,” chuckled Frederico. “It always cracks me up because people always ask him and he has to tell the story.”
“The original four band members, we were trying to come up with band name ideas. It really wasn’t that big of a deal for us at the time – it really wasn’t as urgent as making music together,” explained Workman. “Anyways, one day our original bassist said we should just be ‘Thomas and the Work-men’ as a joke. Apparently everyone was in on the joke but me, because the name stuck.
“My dad, who I was named after, always thanks me for naming the band after him,” laughed Workman while rolling his eyes.
The group was originally a four piece, having all met at Wittenberg University (Springfield, OH) and then moved to Columbus. They started out playing house parties around campus, and built up a little steam behind their name.
“Once we graduated from school, we honestly didn’t know what to do with our time, but we all played instruments,” explained Frederico. “We figured, why not try and play together?”
Mullins, who also plays keyboard for the group, was the final addition.
“We had actually played in a jazz band before TWM, and I knew he was serious about his work,” said Frederico.
“As it happens, we all lived really close to each other at the time, and we connected really well. We just started jamming and everything fell into place,” added Mullins.
“Thomas, Gino and I all live together, so we have a lot of shared musical interests, including horns,” said Miely. “We were listening to our old demos, and realized how cool it might sound with a saxophone on top of it.
“It wasn’t exactly on purpose, but we really like how it turned out,” he finished.
“Here’s the thing about my playing though… other bands who have a saxophone tend to have a more straightforward sound. I’m feel like I’m more akin to the guys in Chicago,” added Mullins.
The group released two EPs last year, “Speak in Vernacular” pt 1 and 2. The albums range between different genres and blend funk, rock and jazz into an catchy, bouncy sound that is unmistakable amongst their peers.
“We initially had 12 songs, but we wanted to have two separate releases, so we split it into two EPs,” explained Mullins. “We figured it would be easier for people to digest, as well as better for us getting our name out there.”
“We had an awesome experience putting together that record,” beamed Frederico. “For most of the band, none of us had ever recorded anything, so a lot of it was just us trying to discover our sound.”
The band did a lot of touring throughout the Midwest, making stops in Chicago, Charlotte, Charleston, Atlanta and Nashville, just to name a few. They say that they gained experience on that tour, and eventually found a kindred spirit in producer Tyler Ripley, of Free Dive Records in Philadelphia.
“After we toured there, we decided that we wanted to record a record with Tyler,” described Frederico. “We honestly started just trying to get good video content of us on the road, but we loved how it sounded so much that we said, why not just record an album here?”
That album, “Live in Philly at Rittenhouse Soundworks” contains nine of the 12 songs from the “Vernacular” EPs, but features a very different sound. The guys say that wasn’t accidental, but more a by-product of how the group had grown.
“Honestly, the songs changed a lot once we started touring. We kept coming up with different nuances and things the more we played, and we wanted to showcase what our sound had become over time,” said Frederico.
“Plus, Luke wasn’t really a part of the initial songwriting effort – he kind of came along after it had already been down and just played his parts. It was really cool to capture what he had done with the songs.”
The group has been working with Ripley on a new EP, due for release this August. They say it was an easy choice to go back to Philly, even if it meant leaving Ohio behind for a while.
“After we did the live album, we knew we had to work with Tyler again. Fortunately, he wanted us to join his label as well!” smiled Frederico.
“Now that we’ve actually recorded a six track EP with him, we know we made the right choice,” added Mullins. “He was so great… he really pushed us to do better things.”
“As a sound engineer with a marketing background, I figured I could mesh the two to help bands,” expounded Ripley. “Free Dive Records is all about growing the artists.
“A lot of record labels are more about getting what they can out of bands, rather than what they can do to help them get there.”
The band says they had an idea for what they wanted to do this time around, and they stuck to their plan while recording.
“With ‘Vernacular’ we were just throwing out ideas to see what worked. But with the new EP, we really wanted to make something cohesive that told a story,” explained Frederico. “It definitely has a mood from beginning to end.”
“The only disadvantage to our plan is that we’re ‘x’ amount of hours away from Philly, but Tyler has been really great about helping us in that regard,” Miely offered. “But we had to make sure we were prepared, because we knew we were only going to actually be out there for a week. We had to have everything ready to roll once we left Columbus.”
“It started out with 11 ideas, and we had already recorded a lot of stuff at our home studios before bringing them here,” recounted Frederico. “But we ended up with six great songs that we’re really happy about.”
“We really like that the songs have good summer energy,” added Mullins, excitedly. “We like the idea of having fun stuff with different moods and tempos all together.”
“The biggest adjustment was working around Tyler’s schedule at that point. We were staying with Gino’s family in New Jersey, so we ended up being out really late a lot of the time,” Workman recalled. “But we really like how things turned out.
“I think only having a week helped as well. When Luebbers and I were laying down the drums and bass, we barely said 20 words to each other the first two days. We kind of had to adopt a ‘get after it’ attitude, and it really helped us get things done.”
“It’s also worth noting that Tyler has a Mortal Kombat arcade, and that really helped pass the time when we weren’t recording. You’ll notice the influences when the record drops,” finished Mullins, to laughter from all of the members.
Before the EP drops, the band is releasing a special single, titled Sunshine, in collaboration with the Chase Life Foundation. The Chase Race is an annual 5k fundraiser ran to honor the memory of Chase Gage, a fraternity brother of the guys from back in their time at Wittenberg University. Gage passed away at the age of 19 in a car accident, and the band has been playing a show for Chase Life every summer alongside the run.
“The Chase Life motto is very close to the band. The thing about Chase is that he was an extremely motivated individual,” explained Frederico. “He had his own house in college, and was always a great host to us. He ran his own lawncare business, had time for athletics, and all of that was interrupted abruptly.
“Right around that time was when we had formed the band. We started chasing the dream of being professional musicians, and Chase’s ambition and motivation has always fueled us.
“Chase was the kind of guy who gave 100 percent all of the time, even if that was something that was miserable for him. He was always 100 percent present and mindful, which was the idea we had when writing Sunshine. Always being present and able to get through the hard times.”
Like most of their songs, Sunshine is positive, upbeat, groovy and airy. It’s a great song to help the world recover from the turmoil it is going through, and you definitely couldn’t ask for a better memorial for their friend.
As for Thomas and the Work-Men, the new EP drops August 21, 2020 from Free Dive Records. The aforementioned Chase Race is being done virtually this year – follow this link for more details.
Sunshine will be released June 26, 2020, the day before the race.
Thomas and the Work-Men – Opaque