The Next Chapter


Last year I released a record called BRING FORTH, a collection of reimagined, obscure hymns. Though I’m quite proud of how the whole thing turned out, as I approach the one year anniversary of the album’s release I think the biggest gain I’ve received from it has less to do with WHAT was made and more to do with HOW it was made.

For me, BRING FORTH was a crash course in the concepts of creation and re-creation… this idea that NO art is truly original, but that a fundamental part of our role as humans is to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, link arms with those around us, and breathe new life into the fragments and artistic artifacts we encounter every day. Because each of us brings to the world a different combination of experiences, predispositions and wirings, the art we each have the potential of bringing to the world is uniquely valid and meaningful.

All that is fancy language to say this: the act of creating is both good and necessary for us and good and necessary for our world. I am discovering that this basic truth is at the core of what makes me alive and gives me reason to get up in the morning. Its a rhythm of life that makes me fully alive and fully human.

Though it seems obvious, all of this was a fitting lesson to learn while in the middle of a creative project that involved re-working others’ art, funded by the generosity of a community (through Kickstarter) that believed in the unique voice I bring to my own art. In turn, the opening of my eyes to these deep truths over the past year became the seeds that would inform the next steps for my art, my career and even my family.

It was during this season about a year ago that I began dreaming of exactly what those next steps could look like. A lot of these dreams revolved around the idea of creating a space that could serve as a creative hub for a community of musicians and other artists. A space that would be more focused on the process and journey of creating than the end product. A space that would put creative tools in the hands of people who otherwise would never have the resources nor platform to create.  A space that would foster mentoring relationships, giving a new generation of artists the confidence to create. A space that would teach people to tap into their unique creative potential… into this creative rhythm of life that makes us fully alive and fully human.

As these dreams and ideas began fermenting within me, conversations began.

Some of those conversations were with my friends running an organization called Triple Threat, a non-for-profit mentoring organization focused on bringing hope to under-resourced communities through mentoring-focused relationships. Their model is simple: get a bunch of passionate adults together and give them opportunities to live out that passion and their life's purpose in context of relationships. The adults benefit. The kids benefit. Communities benefit. Bridges are built and walls are broken down. And best of all: it works. They've been doing this in the Chicago area for the past decade or so and have some INCREDIBLE stories to tell.  (Check out what they’re up to here and while you're at it, learn how to get involved here.)

Recently, Triple Threat has expanded their work to the West Coast by beginning work in Santa Ana, California. Santa Ana is a diverse and evolving city of roughly 330,000 people. It's home to one of the most interesting and eclectic art, food and music scenes in America. It's also home to a lot of poverty, gangs, violence and some profound inequality between those who have and those who don't. By living out their model of passion, purpose and relationships, Triple Threat is adding to the beauty of this city and bringing hope one story at a time.

Given all of these circumstances the conversation then became "what if we could build a space in Santa Ana that could serve the artist community, tapping into its raw, creative energy, and leverage it to make a direct impact in the lives of under-resourced families? What would it look like to teach young people in Santa Ana to tap into their unique creative potential? What would it look like to empower creatives in Santa Ana to create their unique art while also giving resources and a platform and a voice to those without resources, platform and voice?"

Holy shit. This gets me excited.

So... After a couple decades of making my art, establishing a family and doing ministry in the Chicago area I was given the opportunity to join the Triple Threat team, move to Southern California and create THE STUDIO in Santa Ana.

Four weeks ago my family and I moved out of our house, said goodbye to our deep network of family and friends in Illinois, packed up our little black Subaru and hit the road. We'll be spending the first several months here assimilating and networking within Triple Threat and Santa Ana as well as diving into new adventures as a family. Every day feels both terrifying and exhilarating, like a new relationship or like downhill skiing with no pants (don't try to visualize that one).

Since there's a good chance you are reading this because you've connected with my music somewhere along the line, I'll answer this question: What does this mean for my own music? Will I continue to make Ben Thomas records? Will this move be a complete shift into focusing exclusively on the music of others?

The answers to those questions, in order are: I have NO IDEA, YES, and heck-to-the-NO. I am seeing this next step as the next evolution of my own music and as a continuation of my artistic projects. In fact, I believe that the act of developing other artists (even when their work may look or sound radically different than my own) will provide a new depth to my own art in ways that I can't even name right now. Just the journey of this transition ITSELF has given me a huge amount of experience and stories from which to be inspired by and I look forward to seeing what kind of unexpected places these steps take me as an artist.

All of this said, THANK YOU for your encouragement over the years. THANK YOU for believing in me and getting behind my art. THANK YOU for giving me the confidence as a creator to create and dream and take bold steps forward. You go with me into this next chapter. Any impact I make, and any art I make, will be made because of you... my community of friends, family and fans…  who have given me spirit to make it.

We do this together.

Top 10 Songs of 2015 (Through the Ears of a 9-Year-Old)

 Photo credit: Joe Santana

Photo credit: Joe Santana

This past week as I put together my Favorite Albums of 2015 list, our 4th grade daughter, Lucy, worked away diligently at a list of her own and I'd like to share that with you.  

Also... In case you missed some of these, check out this video of Lucy performing a song by The Brilliance at our Christmas Eve gathering, and Lucy performing Rachel Platten's Fight Song in this video for my wife's blog. #prouddad

Lucy's Top 10 Songs of 2015

1. On My Mind - Ellie Goulding 

2. Fight Song - Rachel Platten

3. Geronimo - Sheppard

4. I Really Like You - Carly Rae Jepsen

5. Break A Sweat - Becky G

6. This is How We Roll - Fifth Harmony

7. Stand By You - Rachel Platten

8. Better When I'm Dancin' - Meghan Trainor

9. All About That Bass - Meghan Trainor

10. Can't Feel My Face - The Weeknd

If you're an Apple Music / iTunes user, you can listen to her playlist here!




Favorite Albums of 2015

For the past 8 years or so I've made it a habit to take part in the annual tradition of list-making. It's this odd, therapeutic activity that for some reason helps me find my place in life and orients me in the new year.

This year I attempted to limit my list to 25 albums. I failed.

What follows is my Top 30 albums of 2015, as well as a bunch of other albums that may have made it onto that list had I woke up on the other side of the bed or possibly if the moon at a different point in its cycle when I made the list.

Stay tuned for another similar post later this week by a special guest!

Top 30 Albums of 2015


1. Tame Impala - Currents

2. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

3. Jamie XX - In Colour

4. Father John Misty - I Love You Honey Bear

5. Will Butler - Policy

6. Ryan Adams - 1989

7. Wilco - Star Wars

8. Grimes - Art Angels

9. Patrick Watson - Love songs for Robots

10. Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon

11. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

12. Lord Huron - Strange Trails

13. EL VY - EL VY

14. Baio - The Names

15. Punch Brothers - Phosphorescent Blues


17. Alabama Shakes - Color & Sound

18. Purity Ring - Another Eternity

19. JD McPherson - Let the Good Times Roll

20. Beach House - Depression Cherry

21. Kurt Vile - believe i’m going down

22. Night Beds - Ivywild

23. On An On - And the Wave Has Two Sides

24. Beach House - Thank Your Lucky Stars

25. Bob Moses - Days Gone By

26. Of Monsters and Men - Beneath the Skin

27. Coldplay - A Head Full of Dreams

28. Dawes - All Your Favorite Bands

29. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment - Surf

30. My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall

Other Amazing 2015 Albums (including a handful of albums my friends made, of which I am a bit too biased about to put onto the other list but impacted me JUST AS MUCH, if not more that the previous 30)

Beirut - No No No
Ben Folds - So There
Best Coast - California Nights
CHURCHES - Every Open Eye
Camp Dogzz - Riders in the Hills of Dying Heaven
Courtney Bartnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Dave Rawlings Machine - Nashville Obsolete
Death Cab for Cutie - Kintsugi
Deer hunter - Fading Frontier
Florence + The Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Four Tet - Morning / Evening
Ghastly Menace - Songs of Ghastly Menace
Glen Hansard - Didn’t He Ramble
Great Lake Swimmers - A Forest of Arms
Gungor - One Wild Life: Soul
Jon Foreman - The Wonderlands EPs
Jose Gonzalez - Vestiges & Claws
Josh Garrels - Home
Joy Williams - Venus
Laura Marling - Short Movie
Lauryn Peacock - Euphonia
Leanne Las Havas - Blood
Leon Bridges - Coming Home
Lone Bellow - Then Came The Morning
Low - Ones and Sixes
Lower Dens - Escape from Evil
Lowland Hum - Lowland Hum
Mandy Hughes - The Whole Earth Moves
Matthew E. White - Fresh Blood
Milk Carton Kids - Monterey
Modest Mouse - Strangers to Ourselves
Nate Ruess - Grand Romantic
Noah Gundersen - Carry the Ghost
Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Passion Pit - Kindred
Patty Griffin - Servant of Love
S. Carey - Supermoon
Sleeping At Last: Life - EP
Son Lux - Bones
Tanlines - Highlights
The Brilliance - Brother
The Decemberists - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
The Helio Sequence - The Helio Sequence
The Oh Hellos - Dear Wormwood
The Weekend - Beauty Behind the Madness
The Weepies - Sirens
Torres - Sprinter
Wild Ones - Heatwave - EP
William Fitzsimmons - Pittsburgh (EP) 

Previous Years
f you're interested, check out my posts from the past few years...

2014 // 2013  //  2012  //  2011