The greatest thing about doing a phone interview with an artist while you are sitting in front of a computer is access to information. I picked up this interview after one of my writers cancelled at the last minute and while we had been spinning the Ringside album in the office, I knew very little of them. So you can imagine my surprise when Scott Thomas starts talking about ‘Balt’ I look up Ringside on Google and figure out ‘Balt’ is actually Ralph from Lord of the Flies. Of course in an attempt to save face and not seem like a totally typical unprepared asshole music journalist I just pretended like I knew exactly who he was talking about.
Scott Thomas is an artist, skilled with a guitar, pen and paper, as well as watercolors, crayons, oil, pastels and Photoshop so when musicians talk about ‘vision,’ it’s usually in reference to their ‘sound,’ and not focused on actual visual aspects of what they do while playing. In contradiction to that aesthetic, Scott began his musical journey by combining the mediums of music and art-two things that go together as perfectly as peanut butter and jelly.
The culmination of Thomas’ years as a musician is Ringside, a project started with longtime friend, actor Balthazar Getty without any aspirations for stardom. They may be on the road to stardom, but right now indie credibility is working in their favor. As long time friends, Thomas and Getty eventually ended up in the same neighborhood in the form of a drab, Hollywood apartment complex. Both of them were actively writing music, Thomas playing guitar and writing lyrics, and Getty producing beats and sounds. The two of them were influencing each other by proxy, or osmosis, and it was one of those creative accidents that formed a fantastic partnership.
Thomas got his start in music at a young age and came from a family that happened to be fortunate enough to have a piano on the premises. “I was 5 and I started on guitar, but we had a piano in the house and drum set so I messed around with a bit of everything. But that’s also when I started driving. We had a piano like everyone has a piano in the corner that no one plays. We were in Eureka in Northern California, and my dad was in the reserves, and I remember we went into a toy store and I saw this guitar, and that was it. I knew I had to have it, but of course we left without it. I got one that Christmas from my grandparents-it was a Sears Catalog guitar.
“I always thought that was interesting cause of the Gold/Eureka/I-found-it kind of thing. That was my gold,” he adds.
Though he wasn’t involved in school music growing up, Thomas says, “I wasn’t involved but it was something that I always just sort of did. I had a real love for it. I inherited a record collection from an uncle of mine and clearly he really loved music. It was like a walk-in closet full of albums, and nobody else wanted them. So I ended up with them and a little record player. I was always in trouble and got sent to my room a lot, and my room became my little world. I had wallpaper of these African animals and they became an audience, and I’d play to my little imaginary audience along with the records. I created my own world, and I loved the Maurice Sendak book Where the Wild Things Are because that was kind of how my room was. I would vanish into that world and started writing songs like that.”
Thomas has pretty much been writing songs since he started playing, though, looking back, he says, “I didn’t really understand what it was I was doing. I didn’t inherit the records until a bit later. I draw a lot, and if I hadn’t ended up doing music, I think I would have become an artist or gone on doing graphic design. What I would do is draw pictures and play chords, or make up chords ’cause I didn’t having any music lessons at that point, and I’d just make up stuff to go along with the pictures.”
“Some people have said to me that the music I make is very cinematic and it’d be good for a film, and that doesn’t surprise me ’cause of where it came from. It really did start naturally as a way to just score for an image.”
Though Ringside is not a typical “band” where there are several members playing instruments, the result of their combined efforts is fascinating. Their eponymous debut is 12 songs Thomas and Getty created while Thomas moonlighted as a limo driver and Getty worked an uninspiring job. Getty came with the beats and Thomas created the melodies over poetry and intricate guitar. The collaboration between Thomas and Getty began as a friendly appreciation for each other’s music. Delving further into that partnership, Thomas states, “We didn’t even realize we were making a record when we first started. It ended up becoming a record, and most of the songs were done by the time we signed our record deal. We just thought it’d be a fun thing to do and never thought, ‘Hey, let’s get a record deal.’
“I was going through a really hard time in my life, and Balt would come around and try and give me something else to do. We started out by going over to our friend’s house that had a small makeshift studio, and it was just something fun to do. I’ve always valued Balt’s opinions and his love for music, and we’ve always shared that love of music and tried to outdo each other with our record collection. So making music together came very naturally for us. Balt would make the beats and then just sort of look over my shoulder as I did stuff. He would be out of town, working on a movie and then come back and do some editing and stuff on the things that I had done. It’s a nice partnership and works out well. He probably won’t go out on tour with me, so I’ll go out with a drummer and some others.”
Music isn’t just a career goal for Thomas. In fact, the importance of music in Scott’s life has been his saving grace. “Things were a little different for me as a kid. I was adopted and I had my adopted father who had kids of his own, so I felt very alone at times and felt like the odd man out. Those records my uncle gave to me really gave me a sense of place and of feeling at home. I found a peace in them. I feel obligated to give something back, especially those who might be in a similar situation, or just kids in general who feel alone. Somehow I owe it to them to do this thing. If I can reach one kid, it makes it worth it for me. A few years ago a journalist asked me, ‘What if you aren’t successful?’ and I said, ‘I already am.’ I‘ve gotten a letter too from a couple of kids that have been thankful. I get a lot of letters form kids that are just starting out, and it’s the best feeling. Hopefully they can find inspiration to create their own music.”