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"The Whole Damn Country is About to Burn Down": A Conversation with Obnox's Lamont Thomas

"People think they know what is inside a brother. They think they know black people. I’m about to show you guys something so much different that you are going to be proud to know me."

24 January 2015, 7:12pm

Photo by Josh Miller

I first met Lamont Thomas about a decade ago, when he was playing drums with This Moment in Black History and The Puffy Areolas. He was—and still is—the kind of guy you wanted to be around. Funny and sharp as he is, it was more than just making you laugh. It was that he was passionate, a real musician. You couldn't get out of a conversation without having him drag you to the nearest stereo show to show you his latest musical output—which was, at his rate of production, a constant. Cut to ten years and over a dozen records later, and Thomas is ready to unveil his fourth LP, Boogalou Reed, with his solo outfit, Obnox.

While each of the record's fifteen tracks strongly represents Obnox, perhaps none do so better than "Too Punk Shakur." Simple and catchy, the track showcases the hybrid nature of Obnox. As the title suggests, there is a blending of punk and hip-hop but it is more than that, there are also echoes of psychedelic rock and soul.

Noisey: In Cleveland, Obnox straddles the line between the different scenes. Is this something that follows you on tour, or do you find your shows outside of Cleveland to be less diverse?
Lamont Thomas:
My beginnings kind of go back to the 90s; just the garage punk scene, or whatever, so there is always like a little underlying affiliation with that. The American rock underground, that's my tribe. That is a scene in itself to me: cats all the way from California to New Orleans and Texas to all the way out East; the labels that we run with; the frequency with which we see each other, passing through each others towns and such. You know, it's a bond. It used to be a lot smaller, closer-knit, but now it's kind of vast. You know, I am older, but I try to link up with those people as much as possible. The Cleveland scene is a varied thing, but I hang with the American rock underground: punk rock, rock of the punk persuasion. I feel like right now I am writing stuff that will connect with even more folks, but still at the end of the day I am still representing that. And, of course, any black rocker out there, hell yeah, get with me.

The whole communal aspect really comes into play.
I'm only as good as the people I'm playing with. Whether it be a packed show bill, or a couple of guys jamming around in a basement, you can get great shit out of me if you show up. If the people are there, if the energy is there, if the bands are good, then hell yeah, I wanna bring my best stuff out too. There are a lot of people factored into to what's going on with me. It ain't just me sitting around with my ego and my bag of weed like, 'I'm the man.' There are a lot of guys that come over and help me with overdubs. There's Paul Maccarrone on the board, Adam Smith on the board and in the studio, building the effects and shit like that. All the women, Roseanna Safos, Salina Hernandez, Christa Ebert Uno Lady, they're all on my next record. All the girls involved with my shit are really adding a new quality to it. I'm as good as the people I'm playing with. That's my scene, musicians.

You mentioned that the new record is expanding stylistically to engage with broader audiences. Is that something that you are doing intentionally, or has it just become the natural progression?
It's basically anything going on in my surroundings at the time. It's not necessarily some kind of biographical thing, but it is just the way the streets are treating me at any given time. You know what I mean? I hear things out in the streets, I see certain stuff going down and it'll inspire me. I'm just talking about life. You know, I hear some records when I have no idea what a dude is talking about. I just try and keep my shit a little more human. I'm not censoring or pigeonholing myself into any subject matter to sing about. A lot of it is just me trying to represent as young, black, and gifted. What that is like being surrounded by, you know, white punks. Everybody's like, "Why's everything gotta be black and white?" but look on the fucking TV. Look at all the clickbait you're reading right now. The whole damn country is about to burn down, and I've been trying to get you on to this shit for twenty years. They're talking about the police, I'm talking about, "We need to get together and try to understand one another." So here's the soundtrack for your life. White cats can get into it. Hip-hop niggas can get into it. Punks can get into it. Indie rock dude, he's already in. Noiseheads. It's all in there: stand up, stand tall, hold your head up. Self-worth, at a time where people will tell you, "You ain't shit."

There is that line of thinking that people can transcend seeing and talking about race; the whole, "I'm color blind" myth. Ignoring the problems, however, aren't going to make them go away. Coming off last year, and coming from Cleveland, it is more obvious then ever that we have some serious race issues that need addressing.
You know, I ain't afraid of politics and I ain't afraid to speak on that type of stuff, but I try to stay in my lane musically. I've got a lot of friends that are activists and are right out on the front lines for the Tamir Rice thing, and that is their lane. They've been doing that stuff, and they've been in and out of it with the police for a long time. Me, my sheet is clean. I am trying to represent this music. My brothers are out there on the front line. I've got brothers that are educating the youth, teaching at charter schools, and they're dealing with that lane. I'm dealing with the rock and roll underground and any like minds, any sympathetic minds. This is what is going on in our city; it's going on all around the country. Everybody is all active and outraged and all this shit…well, at least right now, when shit is sensational. But, you've gotta hold your head up when the headlines aren't ringing out. You've still gotta stay focused, guided, and community oriented. To participate. To give a shit. I try to do the same thing with my records. I'm not just out here trying to make products, sell records, and get rich. I mean, I'd love to have a little bit of bread, I ain't going to lie. But, if that is not going to keep me from being myself and expressing myself regarding stuff like this that has been going on for-fucking-ever.

How much does the new LP, Boogalou Reed, reflect this?
There is a certain political anger on Boogalou Reed. It used to be directed at the record business—what a brother could do with his catalog, his song writing, and publishing, historically. I used to be pissed off, like, "If I was white and I was making this many records, I'd be fucking well known, there'd be less headaches, and I'd have a gang of money in my pocket and I'd be able to do even more." Or, maybe I'd be a drugged out asshole, who knows? That was my political angle before, but I can't even speak on how shady the record business is right now. Everybody knows that. The playing field is leveled because the Internet. So, hell yeah, let me speak as an elder right now in the rock underground regarding a Tamir Rice, a Ferguson, or a Trayvon.

Besides how great a title it is, tell us a little about "Too Punk Shakur."
"Too Punk" is kind of like what I am talking about. I mean, hell, Tupac was the son of the Black Panthers. I'm not heavy and I'm not deep like that. I can't generate a hundred million dollars with my music. But, I'm still black, and they will still cut your ass down around here if you start to stand for something. I can understand that, but I ain't afraid. So be it. I wish that I meant enough where someone would want to snipe me out. I wish my shit meant to American rock history what Tupac means to hip-hop history. I wish that my shit was that heavy.

Knowing the rate of your output, I can only assume that you have a slate full of records on the horizon following the release of Boogalou Reed?
Two of the guys from OBN III, Orville and Tom Triplett, and I have a 12" coming out in a couple of months called Blacks. The album is called For No Apparent Reason because it just came out of thin air in the middle of Texas one night. I got a record on Ever/Never Records coming out called No America. It's a punk rock concept album, in which we take over a radio station that is not playing our records remotely and basically converge on the station, jump in the booth, and start playing our friends' records. I got a new record that I am going to finish today called Wiglet, Ever/Never is going to put that out too. It is my best record. It is about real shit. It's dark and angry but it is still somehow catchy and jubilant too. So, I got a bunch of shit coming. I'm going to go to Texas later this year and make more of a hip-hop based rock record. I've got a bunch of Cleveland beat makers putting together and chopping beats right now. I'm going to take that down to Texas and get with Adam Smith, put it up on tape and I'm going to swell it up so strong that it is going to be something that nobody has ever fucking heard before. You wanna write about something you tell them that there is an onslaught of music about to come out. It's coming out of Cleveland, it's coming from a nigga, and it's real rock'n'roll. I'm not fucking around right now. People think they know what is inside a brother. They think they know black people. I'm about to show you guys something so much different that you are going to be proud. You are going to be proud to know me.