PM: I saw a beautiful video of yours on Youtube yesterday morning for the song "Red Rover," off your record from 2003, Only With Laughter Can You Win. That was really something.
RT: Was it the one that showed my whole family?
PM: Yep. [see it here]
RT: Yeah. I love that one. My parents have filmed pretty much everything from the time we were born; our entire lives, we've just always camcordered, always had Super 8s of everything. And he had just made that--just put that onto a VHS.
PM: So he must have been amazed that it turned into a video.
RT: Yeah, how awesome it was that they were able to use it, which I thought was really great.
PM: Blew your dad away, I'm sure. Well tell us, please, about the family and the home you grew up in, and when music first began to take a hold of you, and at least in part, direct your life?
RT: Ah, let's see, the family I grew up in...
My parents are both musicians. My parents met in L.A. My dad was a full-time musician there. And at some point my brother was born. And my dad decided that being a good father and playing music until 2:00 in the morning and trying to be up early with your son wasn't going to work for him anymore. So he made a good conscious decision to move back to Michigan, which is where he was from, and get a regular job so he could have more financial support and just an emotional investment, really, in the family.
PM: So do you know what kind of musician he was in L.A. before he made the move?
RT: It was like surf rock, in the '60s.
PM: He was a surf rocker.
RT: Yeah, kind of. I mean, I'm trying to classify it.
PM: Like instrumental rock, and stuff like that?
RT: Yeah. I wish he were sitting next to me, because he'd have such a better description--but it's just contemporary rock, really, what was really big in those days. They all wore suits and--
PM: Early '60s rock, kind of pre-British Invasion.
RT: Yeah, yes, exactly. Pretty boy, clean, the whole--it's endearing. I have a lot of his records.
PM: Oh, sure, great stuff.
RT: Oh, for sure. He was in a band called the J.D.'s, and that was the big band that he played and toured in. But then once he moved to Michigan, he and my mother, who is also a singer, decided that in order to carry on doing music, they would do it on the weekends, together. So they just became sort of a cover band--what was it, David and Dee Dee--or David and Delores Thomas. And they got gigs at restaurants every Friday and Saturday night.
PM: Weekend warriors.
RT: Uh-huh, it was awesome. We had babysitters every Friday and Saturday night. My brothers were older than me; of course we had raging parties every weekend, and it was really great. I remember the biggest one they had; my parents left, and they seemed very anxious. I remember, they'd always leave the driveway, and we'd do this thing where we'd flick the lights, and then they'd flick their headlights as their goodbye. They'd go to work--it was about 6:00 o'clock they would leave every Friday and Saturday night. They wouldn't get back until about 2:00 in the morning. So one day, right after they left, I noticed the whole entire house was just completely empty. And I was like, "What is hell is going on?" And my parents bedroom was just filled with all the picture frames from the walls, all the mirrors, anything that could be broken--I was probably eight years old--you know, "What's going on?" Well, then all of a sudden, like 300 people were at our house. It was awesome.
PM: [laughs] Wow, professional partiers, they took all the breakables down.
RT: They had it down. That was the flyer party. [laughs] And the neighbors came over, my brother was passed out drunk in the bathroom. And his buddy, who wasn't old enough to drink, of course, was drunk--I think he was eating cereal with beer in it, I don't know. And then I was in the back room yelling "Chug, chug, chug!" to some kid. And then we had to go to the neighbors'. And my parents had to come home early--that was an awesome party.
RT: My parents are very laid back, they're incredible human beings. They always taught us to do what we loved. That's the way I would describe it. I never second guessed that there was any other way to live my life, really. And we always performed together. We did family shows together quite often. They started us all on instruments when we were very young.
PM: So your brothers play, too.
RT: Exactly, yeah. My older brother Brian played piano tremendously. And then my oldest brother John just became a musician, really; he's a singer and a guitarist and, gosh, everything, and he did that for years, probably up until about three years ago. He got married and had children, and his life has kind of changed quite significantly. But any time we get together we always play music together. We always have little jam sessions at Christmas. But it was also something--they started me on violin when I was three. And then I started playing piano after that. And it was just always something that was encouraged, but it was never pushed. It seemed very up to us, and it just seemed the pattern--or the place in which we followed was to pursue music.
I don't know, there's a great period in my life where I'm not sure I ever thought I'd be a singer songwriter, but I knew my ambitions were going to be around entertainment. I always knew that. I didn't know what that would be. I didn't know if I would move to New York and study theater, musical theater and audition for Broadway, or if I would be into comedy, or what realm that would take, but I just knew from a very early age that there was a way in which I could not consider I would have a 9 to 5 job. I knew that my job would be impacting others; I just knew that.
PM: Through the entertainment conduit, right.
RT: Yeah, exactly. I just knew that that was the route I was to take. And when I discovered that, it became a very serious endeavor for me at such a young age, that I didn't feel like I could be a normal kid. I always felt like I had to write, I had to always be in pursuit of being prepared for that time when I could leave the house and really begin doing this. And it made me a very serious child, which is funny, because I think most people think I'm such a clown and silly. And I certainly am. But there's a serious side to me that's always been there, about this pursuit of how am I going to change or impact people, how am I going to be vulnerable enough to share my heart with others in the hope that I help people see themselves or get them through something. I really wanted my life to be that vessel for someone else.
And I'm very thankful, of course. I really can't believe some days--we all have high expectations for ourselves, but there are moments when I allow myself to sit still and realize that I'm very proud of myself, and I'm very proud of my bravery, because I think there are times when there's that road less traveled that you take, and you have no clue what it's going to look like. You have no clue if it's really going to lead you to anything but chaos, and just let-downs, and you're going to get so far into it that you're not going to be able to turn around in time to actually get on the road you need to be on.
I was in Germany one time, I was backpacking and I was by myself, I was walking around--this was years ago, I decided I was going to go to Europe by myself for a month, and really seek myself out. Brought a journal, and three T-shirts, and whatever. I was backpacking. I found out some friends were going to be playing a show there. When I got off the train where they told me to, I had no clue how to get to where I was going. And I was only on foot. I got off the train. I didn't have a cell phone or anything. And I was like, okay, here I go. And I just started walking, and it took me probably about four hours to find this place where they were. And you know that moment when you've walked so far, and you're so confused, you've no clue where you are, every sign is written in a different language, nobody speaks English, anybody I tried to talk to couldn't really tell me--couldn't even understand what I was saying, couldn't really direct me. And at that moment, I thought, I could turn around now and walk back, but that'll take a good hour, too. I can keep just going in this chaotic mess that I'm in, and hope that it leads me to where I'm going.
RT: And it finally did. But I feel that way about life sometimes: there are those crossroads where you think, shit, do I need to turn around, or do I just keep moving forward and plunge through all this garbage to get beyond this, there's got to be something good beyond this. And I think when Sub Pop came along, that was the first time I really felt that sense of relief. continue