Rock music has had its edge smoothed a bit in recent years. The wild, shit-talking rockstar persona has gone the way of CDs and hair metal. Hotel rooms get trashed with less regularity and bats hardly get their heads bitten off on stage anymore. Axl Rose has been all but reinvented. In fact, when an artist does wild out or hurl barbs at one of their peers, they can usually expect to find their names in blog headlines. Single Mothers frontman Drew Thomson, on the other hand, still carries himself with a massive chip on his shoulder.
A former gold prospector in a town called Swastika, Ontario, the 32-year-old Thomson—dark haired and doe-eyed, sometimes with a scraggly beard and sometimes without a front tooth—comes off like the most miserable person at the party in his lyrics. Single Mothers’ earliest batch of songs, those which comprised their debut EP, were snotty, abrasive, and at times downright mean. Thomson shit-talked everyone around him for their choice of favorite drink, band, and author. He derided the girls who are “into Elliott Smith and getting to know everybody,” sung with the inflection of an eyeroll and the jackoff hand motion. With his rambling, sing-speak style of storytelling and venting, he carried himself like The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, but with all traces of Midwestern charm lit ablaze.
“I think people might think I’m bolder than I really am,” Thomson says of his stage persona. “Like the way Larry David characterizes himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm, it’s just an exaggerated version of an aspect of my personality. I just want to entertain and give myself an outlet for things I don’t want to say to people’s faces all the time. I’d rather say it from the stage and make a bolder point.”
Off the microphone, Thomson is more shy and soft-spoken than his antagonistic stage persona might suggest, though that’s not to say the more venomous sides of his personality aren’t buried just below the surface. Alcohol has often done the job of bringing them out.
“If ever there was the type of guy to have their photo hanging in a bar, it’s Drew,” says Touché Amoré frontman Jeremy Bolm, who has toured with Single Mothers and released their debut EP as the first release on his record label, Secret Voice.
“I was a pretty angry kid growing up and that bled into my 20s,” Thomson says with some embarrassment. “I never looked for trouble but I’d get drunk and get loud and get in fights where I’d get kicked out of bars. I was a self-destructive idiot for a while.”
While recording the band’s most recent album, Our Pleasure, in 2016, Thomson looked around the room and realized he was the only one drinking. Self-consciousness, combined with the realization that he relied heavily on alcohol to write and perform his songs, led him to put his glass down in the studio. He’s been sober since.
“I’ve changed a lot over the last year. I’ve toned down my partying and I think I’ve done a lot of growing up,” says Thomson. “I’ve lost some people close to me and that’s really put a shock to my system. So I think at this point, that characterization of a segment of my personality gets to flourish on stage where it doesn’t in my personal life.”
This is typically the part in the story where the once-reckless rockstar finds a new lease on life through sobriety and churns out their tamest, most saccharine album. But for Thomson, the life change only seems to have thrown gasoline on the fire. Single Mothers’ new album, Through a Wall, is maybe their most vicious yet. While Our Pleasure drifted into poppier and more experimental territories, Through a Wall is a straight-up hardcore record—fast and punky with Thomson sounding more pissed-off than ever. It kicks off with the sound of an audience cheering and applauding before a voice cuts in, shouting, “Shut up!”
But while Thomson has historically directed his vitriol at those around him, particularly those in the college scene of Hamilton, Ontario, where he now lives, he is more prone to looking inward on Through a Wall, an album about breaking through personal barriers. The most emotionally draining track to create, he says, was “24/7,” a song about constantly laying everything on the page as an artist and the resulting false sense of familiarity it induces in listeners. (“I’m open 24/7 / It’s taking its toll on me”)
Part of Through a Wall’s sonic distinction is a result of Single Mothers’ unusual approach to its lineup. It has a revolving door of members, employing the use of over a dozen musicians over the band’s decade-long run, with Thomson as the sole original member. “A lot of my friends in bands don’t understand how it works, but it just works,” he says. “For my specific personality, I’m quite a loner. I don’t hang out with many people. So when I’m in Single Mothers, that’s my social time.”
Through a Wall captures a moment in time for Single Mothers that might never exist again. With the band’s open-invite policy for members, new energy flows in and out, creating a different version of their sound for each record, all anchored by the constant of Thomson and his sneering, knives-out attitude.
“For the most part, I stick to singing and my quote-unquote lyrics and just let the band do its own thing,” he says. “Because I have no control over it at this point.”
Through a Wall is out today. Order it here. Single Mothers are on tour this fall. Dates below.
9/15 Hamilton, ON - Supercrawl Festival
11/2 London, ON - Call The Office
11/3 Windsor, ON - Windsor Beer Exchange
11/6 Chicago, IL - Schubas
11/7 Columbus, OH - The Basement
11/8 Cleveland, OH - Grog Shop
11/9 Brooklyn, NY - Kingsland
11/11 Philadelphia, PA - Milkboy
11/12 Washington, DC - Songbyrd
11/14 Atlanta, GA - Purgatory
11/16 Nashville, TN - The End
11/17 Lexington, KY - Cosmic Charlie's
11/18 Lansing, MI - Macs Bar
11/20 Ottawa, ON - House of TARG
11/21 Quebec City, QC - L'Anti
11/22 Kingston, ON - Mansion/Cellar
11/23 Montreal, QC - Turbohaus
11/24 Toronto, ON - Garrison