Single Mothers' Drew Thomson Speaks On the Appeal of Being an Asshole

Drew Thomson is who he is. For better or worse.
December 9, 2015, 6:50pm

Photo By Sima Sahar Zarehi

Drew Thomson, frontman for the post-hardcore act Single Mothers, is the most talented writer I know. For a while I was also convinced that Thomson was a bit of an asshole, but after getting to know the singer I’m wondering if I read too much into his work. Based on Thomson’s lyrics it is easy to make assumptions about his personality, and after seeing him perform a dozen or so times I thought I had him figured out. Thomson’s gift was taking dirty laundry from his day-to-day life and distilling that chaos into art. The appeal was his brutal sense of honesty and self-awareness. He was a likable scumbag. Something like Bukowski by way of Iggy Pop.

I’ve interviewed Thomson a couple of times, and on each occasion I keep expecting to speak with the gruff character from his songs. I think it’s something that a lot of journalists and fans expect, but whether or not this has anything to do with his day-to-day life is up for debate. My conversations with the singer have always been quiet and sober, even when talking about the grittier themes in his music, which plays in opposition to his manic on-stage antics. Thomson, for his part, is well aware that people have certain opinions about who he is and what he does. During our last chat he seemed a bit tired of talking about it, but this may have also had something to do with the fact that he was on three hours sleep after playing a series of shows with his band. “People like to build you up through your work. I sometimes wonder if some of my lyrics are taken too seriously. They’re tiny snippets of how I’m feeling at a certain point, which may or may not stand up to their reflection over time.

At some point you can’t puppeteer fans expectations that they’ve gained from an inflated reputation. People just want a good story and will tell whatever version satisfies that need. I’ve had people come and give me pills and drinks. I’ve heard stories about myself that have never happened. People will just say what they want about you and I’ve got other better things to do than let it bug me. Some of the misinterpretations make me sound more interesting, anyways.”

Any artist drawing on personal history for their work runs the risk of having their private life scrutinized, but for Thomson everything happened at an accelerated pace. Single Mothers’ first full-length, Negative Qualities, came out late last year to positive reviews from critics, but even before the record was released websites like Pitchfork and The AV Club had touted Thomson’s songwriting skills with comparisons to Craig Finn of The Hold Steady and Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus.

Thomson’s songs had obviously struck a chord, but there was also the fact that the story had a hook. Before settling on their current lineup Single Mothers went through a rotating series of musicians, and at one point the front man quit the band in order to focus on a career in gold prospecting. Thomson uprooted his life and moved from the Southern Ontario college town of London to the Northern Ontario mining town of Swastika, where for months he labored looking for his fortune, before giving up and returning to music. Journalists ate it up. The press surrounding the band meant that all of the sudden Single Mothers, as well as Thomson’s solo work, had a lot more people listening. It also meant that his personal material was a lot more public.

“I never thought the scope of our audience would ever reach anyone outside of my little friend circle, who I felt were going through the same things. Now that the audience is a bit wider, we’ve been touring, and say, my extended family are looking the band up, I sometimes wonder what they think. I was at a funeral a few weeks ago and for the first time felt like, 'ok, I’ve been found out.' I’ve always tried to keep the band directed at an audience I wanted to dictate but once you’ve put yourself out there, you can’t choose who listens, or get mad about it.”

The first time I saw Single Mothers they were opening up for hardcore legends American Nightmare. The band played their thirty-minute set with a relentless energy, seemingly hell bent on destroying themselves and anyone else in the venue. On stage Thomson performed the songs like I perform songs in my bedroom, with over the top gestures and unabashed showmanship. Their live show won me over and when I dug into the band’s self-titled EP I became a fan. The next time I saw Single Mothers play the singer kicked a beer bottle at my head and I ended up with spit on my shirt. When I brought up this show, Thomson didn’t know what I was talking about. There is something undeniably punk rock about these things, both the action and the denial, but reckoning them with the singers self-described introverted personality was a bit of a trip.

What drew me to Single Mothers is the same reason I made so many assumptions about Thomson’s character. His performances have a fuck off/fuck everything quality about them. His writing accurately depicts themes like depression, alienation, and drug use. Thinking about it, there’s definitely vulnerability in that, even if the presentation has a lot of bravado. During this last interview with Thomson, I wondered whether or not I had judged his character too harshly. After all, I wouldn’t be conducting the interview in the first place if I didn’t find his work relatable. I also considered how difficult it must be to make art based on your own demons, but when I asked about it, Thomson seemed unfazed.

“The two most natural and easy things for me to do are write songs and pick myself apart. It’s just what I’ve been doing the longest. It’s my neutral gear. I try and curb the latter, now that I’m more aware of what I’m doing and when - but one side of me just naturally weaves itself into the other. It’s never been planned... it’s just who I am.”

Drew Thomson is who he is. For better or worse.

Graham Isador is a writer living in Toronto. Follow him on twitter.