Tawny Newsome and Bethany Thomas have been singing buddies and artistic associates for some time now. Their musical talents have evolved together just like their friendship.
This summer they decided to capture this shared vocal energy and collaborate on the album Material Flats. The vocals are kept fresh and intricate, hitting notes only professionals can, but the music is kept edgy and DIY—making it a well-rounded and catchy album for anybody to enjoy.
The duo says the recording process was fast, with the day starting with a quick coffee in the morning, songs going straight from the notebook to the studio, and ending with a couple of whiskeys. “Definitely the quickest process I’ve been a part of, with most stuff going notebook to mastering in three months,” Thomas says. “We wanted to put it out before the season changed and that time constraint helped define the sound—urgent, fuzzier, rougher.”
Listen to Material Flats below and read the entire interview with Tawny Newsome and Bethany Thomas below.
BTRtoday (BTR): You guys have been singing together for a mighty long time, how do you think your sound or style of music has evolved?
Bethany Thomas (BT): We kinda learned about each others’ ranges and instincts by singing back-up together—so I feel like our sound has always been evolving depending on what we were asked to sing or who we were supporting. This album let us put all those vocal tools to use and explore our own specific musical influences in service of ourselves.
Tawny Newsome (TN): Yep to all this. We did extreme genre gymnastics for years, which led to us being extreme genre kings. We can do lots of stuff, is what I’m saying.
BTR: Has this chaotic year inspired you or influenced you creatively in any way?
BT: Absolutely. The chaos of this year is what made this collaboration possible and inspired the tone of the album. It couldn’t have been any other time.
TN: I concur.
BTR: Tell me a little about this new album Material Flats, what was the creative process like?
BT: I put out a solo album in August that took a year to make. It’s beautiful and everything I dreamed of, but also very produced. This creative process [for Material Flats] was the opposite. Definitely the quickest process I’ve been a part of, with most stuff going notebook to mastering in three months. We wanted to put it out before the season changed and that time constraint helped define the sound—urgent, fuzzier, rougher. Definitely not as produced.
TN: Yeah the limitations imposed on us were actually super exciting to me. I had built a home studio at my compound/ranch way out in the Mojave Desert, with a mile of hilly terrain separating me from my nearest neighbor. So, yeah, like I had to learn to track and engineer everything myself, instead of going to some slick downtown LA studio. It also meant that studio time was free and we could play at literally all hours of the night or morning. We had so much to do, a lot of our sessions started with pre-breakfast coffees and ended with fuzzy-heads and 2 am whiskey. I think both vibes come through in the sound.
BTR: If listeners could come away with only one line from one of your songs, what would you hope that would be?
BT: “How can I make the day better for you?”
TN: HA! Hard agree. When BT divided up the lyrics on “Carry Something,” she expertly gave that one to our friend and guest musician Ted Leo [and] never has a line sounded more suited for a person.
Tawny Newsome & Bethany Thomas, “White Balloon”
BTR: If your music had a life motto or one-liner slogan kinda thing, what do you think it would be?
BT: For this album “gather materials” certainly became a theme… but I’ll say, “I’m the most American motherfucker you’ve ever seen.”
TN: Yes to those and also would like to add, “Hand me that cold can of bubbly,” because we tracked this in late June in the high desert and shit was hot.
BTR: Do you have any other sort of creative outlet?
BT: Sure. I’ve been cooking more thoughtfully, been doing more home/crafting projects, gardening, etc. I’m mainly a theater actor so I’ve kinda had to reassess my whole career and try to lean into the off-stage parts like writing, recording, design, etc.
TN: Yeah, I mean, I’m also an actor and have been fortunate enough to still have series and movies that are able to safely work during this pandemic. But my real outlet lately has been creating my own podcast co-op. My co-host and I (of the podcast ‘Yo, Is This Racist?’), left our network in November and created Sub-Optimal Pods. A place where we can market our stuff directly to subscribers with zero middlemen and where we own all our own shit. Making this album and seeing folks have such a positive response to the self-release, DIY model, made me want to do that in other areas of my creative life, and thus suboptimalpods.com was born. It’s already been very freeing.
BTR: What else should we be keeping an eye out for in the future of your music?
BT: It’d be fun to get in a physical space together again so we can do a lil concert program.
TN: Yes to the concert! Noodling on ideas of a streamed live show/concert film type thing. You can follow us on social media for info about that. But yeah, I’ve been playing a lot of bass, so look for our next album to have a much more, let’s say, opinionated bass line.