Obnox’s Lamont Thomas: “The whole damn world is protesting right now! The whole world is tired of this shit!”

Handmade collage by B.

Cleveland musician Lamont Thomas creates an exciting clash of punk, hip-hop and everything in between, with his ultimately genre-defying experimental musical project, Obnox. Lamont’s been prolific in the underground for decades – Bassholes, Puffy Areolas, This Moment In Black History + more – latest release Savage Raygun, shows he’s still got vision, passion and message, all while making jams for listeners to make memories to. There’s a lot of powerful stuff on this double album. Gimmie chatted with Lamont about the new record, the recent BLM protests worldwide, of racism, Black Excellence and more as he picked up some Thai food and his car from the mechanic.

The new album you’ve recently released Savage Raygun is really, really cool.

LAMONT THOMAS: I really appreciate that, thank you.

Why is music important to you?

LT: [Laughs] That’s a really good question! The rhythm, the rhythm is the rhythm of life. I love to play and the energy, art, creativity, you can tell a story; just dancing, moving, and communicating, it’s all a part of it.

How did you first discover music?

LT: Church, my family’s record collection, these types of things. The neighbourhood and hanging out, hanging out with my cousins. It was always around. My folks had good records, my church kinda rocked.

Is there any records that you remember from your parent’s collection that have really stayed with you?

LT: Yeah, lots of them. Prince, Al Green, Bar-kays. Gospel stuff like The Hawkins Family.

What was the first music that you discovered that was your own, independent of your family?

LT: I got into hip-hop right when it was going down. I loved soul music—Black music. It really soaks into your ribcage.

How did you get into punk rock?

LT: Skateboarding and hanging with my buddies in high school. Watching skate videos you would hear a lot of independent punk that was used for the soundtracks. A couple of guys that I went to high school with would make me mix tapes, they kinda got a kick outta the fact that a Black guy was listening to rock n roll.

There’s a lot of parallels between punk rock and hip-hop; basement shows, flyer culture, vinyl releases.

LT: Yeah for sure. When I was young the idea was to not sell out, whereas now selling out is the goal [laughs]. Monetizing your image on the internet, all the crap you gotta do now. I came around at the right time, a different time. I can still be out here doing stuff and not be some internet phenomenon. People just focus on the music when it comes to me. I do have fun with online, keeping up with people and connecting with people feeling the music, we can talk instantly. But, waking up every day feeling like someone has to give a shit about me today, so I’ gonna take selfies and post tracks… ya’know what I mean? That’s most people’s get down and how they do things, whereas I’ trying to write a song, a riff, play some drums, listening to music, I’m just trying not to rip people off with things.

I feel you. It’s so weird to me what’s popular or what a lot of people pay attention to. I’d rather do good work, work on my craft than put selfies out there. I want the attention for my work not for what I look like etc.

LT: The internet is a great way for discovery of new music and art, but people get tired of the other. Even stuff I used to look at or follow on the internet, I don’t even care so much anymore, even though those people are still out there. Maybe it’s just me, but people tend to fall off after a short period of time, two or three years of that kind of popularity, then you better have something really crackin’ or people will forget about you.

People forgot about me before this record [laughs]. I thought I was over! I hadn’t toured in a couple of years, I hadn’t put anything out. Last year I thought; maybe people are just over me? There’s been such an incredible response for the new record! Shout out to Flash Gordon over at ever/never Records for keeping me in the conversation and for still believing in the music.

Who or what has really helped shape your ideas on creativity?

LT: I started out as a teenager skating and catching mix tapes and then you get to reading fanzines and you become aware of the network, the underground… most things that are underground – things that most people would call failure – those are the artists that I tend to gravitate towards. There are certain records where you just can’t believe that it wasn’t a big hit and more people heard it or were into it. I sympathize and empathize with those kinds of stories… or even records that become huge over time that nobody gave a shit about like Funkadelic, nobody gave a shit and now everyone gives a shit. Funkadelic you know are still pretty underground [laughs]. I think they are the greatest American psychedelic rock band to ever set foot out. It wasn’t like that stuff was flying off the shelves.

That was the same with a band like Black Flag. I’ve spoken with Keith Morris and Henry Rollins and they both say that when they were first around people never cared so much, even hated them, now you see so many Black Flag tattoos etc. out there and they’re really loved.

LT: They had to create the network and that influenced that whole scene basically as far as how and where you can tour… someone’s got a basement space or you’re in some weird strip mall and the locals are about to tear your head off.

As a creative person what are the things that matter to you most?

LT: You go from there to college, where I hung out with a lot of radio station guys, that leads to a lot of local shows. I had a little band in high school. I got used to playing then. In college I would see guys that were early influences, they had their little bands and t-shirts and they were good bands and dudes, which I’m still really good friends with a lot of them.

Eventually, I moved to Columbus and that’s when I started playing with Don Holland and The Bassholes when I was twenty-one. Then I meet Jim Sheppard and Ron House, all the guys, and there’s tons of great bands in town at the time like New Bomb Turks. It was a great scene and I really lucked out. There were a handful or indie labels and they were all doing 7-inches. We were real lucky.

The thing that matters creatively to me is not ripping people off. It’s just what I’ve been doing since I was a kid. I’ve worked a little bit of everywhere, I’ve worked for record stores, I’ve worked for the phone company, I’ve worked for General Motors, I used to build pedals for EarthQuaker Devices… I’ve always got a little hustle but music… let’s just put it this way, I could never go do that 9 to 5 thing very long. I’ve always had great jobs and there’s probably times when I should have quit playing music and focused on a career. I enjoy music that’s just it. I don’t have any money but I don’t feel poor.

I feel the same way. I work part-time in a library which pays the bills and then interviews, writing, music is what I do the rest of the time. Not having to pay the bills with my passions allows me to never have to compromise in what I do creatively. Any time I’ve tried to make a career out of those things I’ve always ended up having to compromise. I mean since I was a kid I wanted to write for Rolling Stone and I finally got there and was writing for them and then the editor told me to make my interviews less deep! I’m happy where I am now doing Gimmie, doing something that’s my own.

LT: Yeah, we need that perspective. I appreciate you. I’m trying to keep my music raw, that’s the basis of my art per say. Everyone these days has a laptop and can make beats or makes a video, but they’re just a motherfucker with a laptop and a video, you’ll be done in three years. To me an artist is someone that is in it, it’s just what they do, they don’t think so hard about artistry per say, they just in it and try to be creative and get that release. It makes them feel good, when it comes to music as far as I’m concerned, if it feels good it probably sounds damn good.

One thing that I’ve always loved with your music is that it’s always surprising me, you fuse so many genres into your music and when I’m listening to it I don’t know where it’s going to go and I keep listening to find out and hear it unfold. It’s never predictable.

LT: Thank you, I appreciate that. People listen to everything, Spotify shuffles and playlists, people listen to three or four different styles of music in a day, four different types of records—I do! I don’t want to do my beat-funk stuff here and then my noise stuff there or write some pop tunes over there. I’m like, fuck it, let’s put it all together and make the best sequence that we can. Find the best art and pack it up for someone to enjoy for a lifetime.

When you started making Savage Raygun did you have a vision for it?

LT: Yeah, I did. I had a bunch of ideas and I wanted to make something over four sides, I wanted to do a double album just in case I was over! Eventually, I tried to record some stuff digitally like what the modern dudes are doing but it didn’t work, I lost some files. I had beats from friends. I had to double back on all of the stuff that I had lost and staring pieces together stuff. My buddies would come by the studio a couple of days. I just kept going until I got a flow.

How do you know you’ve got the right sequence? Intuition? A feeling?

LT: You listen to it. Certain things don’t sound good back to back. Certain things should be left off of a record or redone. I don’t think about a lot of stuff that most dudes do, I just open myself up to creativity. Lyrically, I try to turn good phrases to see what makes it interesting. I’m recording in my friend’s living room for the most part. Here and there you might be running with Steve Albini or Jim Diamond, someone like that but, you go into those situations a little more well-rehearsed and thought out so you don’t blow a bunch of money in the studio. Those dudes aren’t cheap.

90% of my stuff was recorded in my buddy’s house. It gives you time to try things. When we first started a band, he and I used to record from three o’clock in the afternoon until one in the morning, just trying stuff. Things were coming out a lot more frequently and faster then, that wasn’t the point though—just doing what felt good was the point, just making stuff. I do what comes natural. I like to get stuff out faster so I can do more. I just want to do more, I love it. I’m not trying to impress people.

Do you ever impress yourself with what you create?

LT: I like it. It’s right up there with what’s out there. I can’t say I wish it was more popular, I don’t know what that’s like. When you start talking about popular acts, they have a lot more money and stuff to deal with… there’s different types of stuff to consider, I don’t have to worry about that.

I’ve interviewed many bands over their lifetime and if I’m being honest I’ve found that often with success and popularity their music becomes really boring.

LT: [Laughs] Maybe!

Artists on the fringes of things always seem to be more interesting and exciting. They’re not worrying about being liked, getting on the radio, fulfilling whatever obligations and expectations comes with being popular. Not having those things, you just have the freedom to create and you’re not believing your own hype.

LT: There’s no record business like there used to be now, like the old Tin Pan Alley model, with record advances and accounting and stuff like that. Depending on who I’m working with, I have to consider publishing and certain stuff, that’s me sitting around on a Saturday keeping track of things, keeping right with everybody. I’m not employed by anybody though, and neither is anyone else; these cats run through the music business like there’s still this industry standard that they have to live up to, this checklist of things they have to do before they become famous, it’s a giant myth. People spend so much time focusing on that shit that they never do realise their full potential, ya dig?

Totally! Why did you decide to kick your record off with the track “Super Dope”?

LT: That was just a jam session. We were jamming in Texas, I had a little 8-track machine running and I brought those songs from there and finished them up here. “Catbird” comes from that session and “She (Was about That Life)” does too. Just hanging out and having a good time.

How about “Supernatural”?

LT: There’s a lot of girls that are into witchcraft and astrology and energy and chakras and all that shit [laughs]. It’s like, everybody can’t be a witch! Everybody’s not intuitive. Everybody is not wired like that… c’mon, some of y’all are just trending out! [laughs]. It’s cool though… some people collect comic books, some people collect albums and some people collect personalities; ya know what I mean? Every now and again I’ll run into a girl that’s super witchy and I’m like, OK, I get it I understand, it’s wild out here ya know… collectively witching! [laughs]; watching the stars and the moon and you get your power… I understand but, I gotta write a song about it [laughs].

Are you a spiritual person?

LT: If you’re talking about Christianity and that kind of thing, no, not really. I think Jesus was my uncle! [laughs]. Spirituality for me, relates to being a Black man, I’m the original man, directly connected to God. Everything we’ve been through and everything we’re capable of, all of the innovations: traffic lights, heart surgery… I haven’t had a cold in twenty years, these types of things, these are divine qualities and I think a lot of brothers have them. I think there’s a lot of people working hard to make sure that these qualities don’t manifest, God-like qualities within every Black man—that’s my religion. I just got a copy of the Quran from my job the other day, I’m gonna start reading that to try to understand other ideas.

I’m having my own spiritual journey. Spending more time alone meditating, listening to jazz, trying to channel what made my people great from the beginning.

What kind of meditation do you do?

LT: It’s not any organized practice or anything, not like yoga or chanting, it’s more like prayer, just being silent and taking the time to not have to worry about what might be outside my door—really using the silence. It’s loud within itself though. That’s when I can think about other things that don’t worry me like; how do I want to carry myself? How do I want to atone for my walk in life and my path? How am I going to move forward in the future? How am I going to make the music better? To just stay up! Especially when someone tries to tear you down. They’re the things I think of in my own meditative state. I’m not some spiritual guru or expert on anything, I think a lot of people that say they are, are hustlers!

Black Excellence is my religion. When I need guidance I talk to my elders. I read someone like James Baldwin. I just curl up and read one of his books—it’s so strong. That feeds my soul as much as anything like God or whatever. Baldwin was a god. We get to enjoy this stuff and they figure out ways to sell it but, if you really look at the people behind it and take all of the production and administrative shit away, you’re dealing with some divine people with extraordinary talent. What happens when it’s untainted and it’s in its rawest form and you ain’t got to answer to nobody? If your life is improving on top of that and you’re helping others… I work at a church, I try to live in a way that my music will reflect the real person that I am, it ain’t always pretty but, shit, you put it all together, and it’s really powerful!

Your music is very honest. Life isn’t always pretty.

LT: Yeah, I’ve been through a lot in the last year or two. I’ve finally reckoned with everything. In your late forties you hope you’ll have your shit together, I feel like I’m starting to get things back together.

That’s great news!

LT: [Laughs].

Have you had a really life changing moment?

LT: Yeah. I was with my ex for twenty-five years! It takes time to really bounce back from something like that.

Is that what you were talking about when you mentioned you’ve been going through a lot the last couple of years?

LT: Yeah. She’s wonderful and we’re still cool, our daughter is great, that’s all I can ask for. Knowing that and still being able to make an indie record every now and again, I’m fine.

I’ve noticed through speaking with you and through your music, it really does seem like you want to touch people and inspire them. In interviews I notice you’re always encouraging young people, especially young Black people to explore and learn about punk rock and DIY; why is that important to you?

LT: That’s what music is—its communication! If you’re just sitting around only concerned with yourself and not with who the music is reaching… it’s to be shared. The record buying public isn’t just there to pat you on the back, its give and take. You want people to be able to smoke they joints and wiggle they feet and have fun—you want it to be the soundtrack for they life! I hope their life is turning out better because of the music, or I hope my music is what they making their memories to.

Is there a track on Savage Raygun that’s really special to you?

LT: “Return Fire” is an idea that you have a lot of gang members, a lot of shooters in America right now, everybody’s got a pistol and the Black community, brothers don’t hesitate to squeeze the trigger on another brother but, when the cops come down and terrorize the neighbourhood they have no fire power for these cops. The Black Panthers have already showed us that you can protect yourself from the police. Maybe it comes down to illegal weapons, or my stuff isn’t registered, I don’t go to the range or nothin’… if I got a pistol and someone’s choking a man for eight minutes, I’m not reaching for my phone, I’m going to pop his ass right in the shoulder! Just to get him off. “Return Fire” is an imaginary angle on that. You keep this shit up, you keep fucking with our people, we’re going to police you when you come around in our community. Nobody is asking how the Black community got this way? Now it’s all coming out.

You talk about looters, I talk about the Boston Tea Party. You talk about civil rights, and I talk about bringing many nations of people over here to build your country for free and then treating them like shit for centuries after that. That shit is not fair. “Return Fire” that’s basically what that is, the whole damn world is protesting right now! The whole world is tired of this shit! This is what Foundational Black Americans have been dealing with. People are socialised to not care about another Black man. Whether they’re an African guy in Paris or Barbados they’re not feeling me just because I’m an American Black man—it’s insane. They really did a number on our people, it’s global. Everybody knows who “they” are.

People rock with the money. I’m rockin’ with global unity! Everybody all over the damn world has some sort of colour and pigment. Everybody around the world has had they ass kicked to a certain extent. You can’t be out here invading small nations and calling them terrorists and enemies; what the hell can they really do to us? Blow they whole shit up with one missile and all of a sudden you want me to live in fear because somebody that you’re trying to take advantage of, like you took advantage of my people… I can’t rock with this shit! “Return Fire” is about that shit and “Avalanche Grave” is another one. Take your lawyer to the gun range and both of y’all get ready for this shit. What’s the shit? Civil war? I don’t know. Protest? Uprising? I don’t know.

I wanted to ask you about the song “Music Saves”.

LT: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s just like, one of those road songs. It’s a little pop that describes showing up at a venue and ultimately having a great show. There’s a store down the street from a club we play all the time called, Music Saves. The song is a little homage to the girl that used to run that spot. She’s wonderful. She was having a little trouble even before Covid and we wanted to put it out there so she knows we think it’s special.

You’ve been involved in the music community for decades and I know that you’ve never really cared for the industry side of things and you once said that, when you stopped giving a shit about any of that stuff, that’s when things got really fun for you.

LT: That’s right! That’s when the fun happens! The people around me really look after me, when you realise that you’re being treated better than some guy signed to some company, that is redemptive, it’s like, man… I’m doing better than someone that has to be on the internet all day. I can do what I like and I’m having fun with my friends but that guy might have to go rehearse with band members he doesn’t even like! [laughs]. The machine is rolling and they’re popular, its happening! I don’t give a fuck about that shit.

I know you have a beautiful little daughter named Mia; what’s fatherhood mean to you?

LT: She changed everything. She’s wonderful. She’s smart and healthy and happy. I’m just trying to live my life in a way that nothing messes that up. She’s on her way to great things. She’s something to live for! You don’t behave as recklessly as a young man, coming of age and understanding more about women, what they need from us. I falter here and there but I’m trying to get it together so she has everything she needs.

You’ve said that she inspires you when she’s around; how so?

LT: She’s smart and she’s into great music, just like every woman I ever loved! I’m proud of her. I try to match wits with her, she’s incredible. I have to stay up there! [laughs]. It’s a good gauge. She plays a little clarinet and she’s’ in the band now! [laughs].

At this point in your life; what are the things that matter the most to you?

LT: With everything that is going on right now, I hope that people aren’t just trending trying to seem socially conscious, I hope they are really trying to make changes. I hope this isn’t just another one of those things that in a few months people are just onto something else and talking about something else. I hope the election doesn’t supersede this movement and everyone gets… do you know what I mean?

I do.

LT: I wanna see equality. I’d love to see a new trend in music that ain’t even rock n roll. I deal with a lot of different people, white and Black—I’m just hoping for some understanding. I can dig where everyone is coming from. Let’s just level the playing field. Not just all this same political yip yap. I hope somebody does something for the Foundational Black community. I hope that people understand that women’s bodies are their own, ease off of the legislation and control and shit. I hope money and the economy and the Black man’s ability to take care of his family becomes easier. We’ve got 2.6% of the nation’s wealth, in the meantime 15% of white families have a million or more—that’s fucked up! Especially considering we built the nation. Real change! Not “oh, I was at the protest the other day! Did you see my photos?” Get your ass out of there! Put a mask on! You trying to look cute at the protest and take a photo! Get your ass out! We don’t need that. People always say they call out racism but we know that’s not true!

I’ve experienced so much racism in my life and there’s been so many times when I’m the only Black person in the room and no one stuck up for me when shit was going down. I really hope that we see real change and that things change in the everyday for us POC.

LT: People can grow. People need to keep things up. Hopefully we change the music game again too and things can get interesting again! We built it! This is my uncle’s shit! This is my family’s shit! Give me my shit back! [laughs].

Please check out OBNOX’s Savage Raygun via ever/never Records; OBNOX on Facebook; on Instagram; on Soundcloud.

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