Bolinas - Heavy Easy Listening

Rose Garden Recordings / Sub Rosa Selects

Bolinas is the bedroom pop turned heavy project of singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Chris Thomas. In 2012, in search of greener pastures on the US Western Coast, the Kansas City native packed the entirety of his belongings into his Volkswagen and departed for Seattle, WA. While making his way across the northern states, his vehicle catastrophically burst into flames – the same Volkswagen seen burning on the side of the road in the Heavy Easy LIstening album artwork. Thomas, escaping with only a camera, documented an raging inferno fueled by his possessions, before being stranded in the Badlands of South Dakota. Nevertheless, he continued on to the Pacific NW with a shaken, but persisting resolve.

Since then, Thomas had worked as both a tour manager and guitar tech for bands like Youth LagoonHunny, and currently Wallows. He spent several years in Los Angeles bartending and using those side gigs as a way to both replace his lost gear and establish a foothold in the music industry – but when covid struck in 2020, Thomas headed back home to Kansas City, where he began tracking the songs that became Heavy Easy Listening with his friends and former bandmates from the area. “I’ve been a Guitar Tech, Carpenter, Cabinet maker, Bartender, Retail sales associate, liquor store clerk… Blue collar to the core. All of us.”, Chris says, “I think that spirit is embedded in Bolinas. I’ve spent a lot of years handing people guitars to go out and live my dream while I’m off stage in the shadows. We play music because we love it and these people, after all we’ve been through, are my family.”

Describing the mix of sonic influences of Bolinas and his background in Kansas City, Chris writes: “We were so close to Lawrence KS & Omaha, so their influence on me was massive. 90’s alt rock of Shiner, post rock/space rock of The Appleseed Cast & HUM, quintessential emo of The Get Up Kids, Raw post punk of Cursive, & psych folk of Bright Eyes; really taught me about music and helped me craft a style. While I was sort of a fan of the screamo of the early 2000’s, it never really influenced my music in a big way. All of my former bands were usually the “softest” on the bill and relied on post rock crecendos rather that hardcore breakdowns. I never really felt like I had a place in the music scene in those years.”

That unique blend of influences reflects itself in the sound of Heavy Easy Listening, with guitar tones that crash with the heaviness and distortion of bands like Nothing, DIIV, and Greet Death, while undergirding those textures with dynamic rhythms and emo-pop melodies that pull influence from artists like Jimmy Eat World, Swirlies, and Cursive. For a while Chris felt like his sound was “not quite “emo”, too wordy for shoegaze, too heavy to be pop”, but the new album shows him settling into a sweet spot that should appeal to fans of heavier shoegaze as much as it appeals to fans of lighter indie rock and dream pop.

The lineup of musicians on Heavy Easy Listening includes a number of musicians from the Kansas City area, including Ian Dobyns of Dreamgirl (drums, additional guitars / vox), Joey Anderson of Hunny (drums), Mark Penechar (Guitars, vox) Shaun Penchar (bass), and Chris Thomas on lead vocals, guitar, and synths.

Discussing the themes of the record, Chris writes: “Obviously writing about heartbreak isn’t a groundbreaking concept, but I wrote most of this record while in various stages of the grieving process from heartbreak, monetary struggles, to the recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse. The hurt you feel, the denial, the acceptance or dismissal of failures, the anger toward yourself & others, the indifference you can sometimes have towards new romantic interests because you’re not ready to move on, jealousy, loneliness, and searing pain of having to watch someone you love so desperately move on from you.”

It has been a long and winding road from that horrible setback in 2012 to finally releasing his first full album as Bolinas, with plenty more personal struggles along the way, but that burning car on the album cover has become a symbol of strength and resilience for Chris over time. “It may be a grainy photo, but I think it’s a perfect metaphor for how I’ve felt about my choices in life sometimes” Chris says, “It really marked the start of this adventure that’s been the decade from 25th to my 35th year on this earth, and the constant struggle to be better… I hope that people can listen to these musical anecdotes of how much of a fuck up I can be, uneasy to be around, and lonely I have been; and realize that you can always come back from it. A monument to accepting & forgiving yourself and others for being human.”

The album cover, is a real photo of songwriter Chris Thomas’s ‘87 Volkswagen that broke down as he was moving across the country, burning up with nearly all his possessions inside and Chris able to escape with only the camera that took the photo. This photo has now become the symbol of an album that provides an over the shoulder view of songwriter Chris’ migration from the midwest to the US west coast and back; a fitting metaphor for the 8 years that followed. Heavy Easy Listening is a blistering yet melodic soundtrack for the highs and lows of adolescence, the weightless feeling of love, heartbreak & the seemingly unending hours of loneliness within it, the ebb and flow of addiction, and reality’s relentless gravitational pull. Recorded throughout 2020 & 2021 in his hometown of Kansas City – across rehearsal spaces, between neighboring death metal band practices, bedrooms, and collaborator Ian Dobyns’ home studio – the album paints a cathartic portrait of feeling better, and yet, somehow worse off.