PHOTOGRAPHY Taylor Bonin
WORDS Julian de la Celle
In a multiplying sea of various local LA bands, one of them stands out amongst the others: The Abigails. This is a band with grit and soul. A band, fronted by Warren Thomas, that catches you in your tracks both musically and lyrically. Warren himself is someone who's been through hell, but has found his way back and is now set to take The Abigails on their first ever tour of Europe. I met up with Warren at his artsy, commune-like loft space in East LA shared with his friend and photographer Taylor Bonin among others. The moment he lets me in I feel a wave of creative, positive energy along with the feeling that I can do anything I set my mind to. After the interview he played me a few songs of his in the living room and I took a few polaroids which you can see here. In the meantime, read our conversation below.
Are you from LA?
Warren: I didn't grow up in LA, I grew up in Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano. Then I moved to Long Beach in 2002 and lived in a four-story Victorian house. There were no neighbors, we had a 20-car parking lot and we could do whatever we wanted. It was before there had been a lot of modern development; there wasn't a Wal-Mart or any kind of corporate place and it was still dangerous. We had a lot of cool bands come through there and hosted a lot of cool shows. It was similar to this place in the regard that you were free to do what you want.
Like a place for people to hang out together and make music or be creative in some other way.
Warren: Yeah, right. Definitely an artistic environment, you know? I think that's always been good for me. I've lived in different situations where it wasn't like that and it's easy for me to get discouraged. If you're a creative person and you don't surround yourself with creative people, a lot of people can see creativity when it's right in their face as something that's really uncomfortable. It's really good here. Will and I are musicians, Taylor [Bonin] is a photographer so there's always something coming along.
Constant creative energy flowing.
Warren: Exactly and nothing is forced. We could just be hanging out and all of a sudden someone will be creating something, it's really cool.
It's very Almost Famous!
Warren: [laughs] Yes! None of us have the 9-5 jobs; other guys that Will and I play music with do, but with the band I pretty much write all the songs and the band helps me take these little songs and make them into something more magical. It's cool living with Will because we can do that on our own accord.
When was the first time you really felt that music was important to you?
Warren: I think it was when I discovered punk music in junior high. Even prior to that in elementary school, I can remember being into Guns & Roses, or whatever. I don't know, I know specifically when I discovered punk at 13 or something that that was exciting to me and it felt like what I wanted to hear, like, I had stumbled upon this thing and it was so underground - I didn't even know what that was. Then my taste in music evolved and I started going to shows at a young age and in high school you start to meet different kinds of people so there's people who are into different kinds of punk music. Different shows were happening and in the mid 90s I went from being into Black Flag and The Misfits, everything from The Subhumans to Minor Threat, and then getting into, like, Modest Mouse and The Make-Up and small labels like K Records and Sub Pop. Then getting into Depeche Mode - your taste can just change. With that said, music has always even exciting to me. I feel like if you don't put limitations on yourself, it's limitless. There's always something new to delve into.
Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
Warren: Let's see...I can remember having stuff when I was in elementary school, but once I was a young teenager and I could do things on my own...I think the first album I got was The Misfits Walk Among Us. There was a little spot by my house where you could listen to records and that was really cool. This was pre-internet so as opposed to now where you can go, "I want to check out this band" and you could go through all of their albums in a day or a week, this was kinda different. It's funny how things in life can have sort of a subconscious influence on you. I guess I've been drawn to darker music.
Well, on my way over here I was listening to your song "Black Hell" and it gives off this Johnny Cash / Nick Cave / The Velvet Underground vibe - three very different people, but all connected with this song. Where do you feel like you draw the most influence from musically?
Warren: I feel like there's this sort of unspoken bond or a weird telepathic connection, but you can feel that with certain bands and musicians, like Johnny Cash or Nick Cave or The Velvet Underground or Tom Waits, The Cramps, you know what I mean? When you think of those bands it's easy to get an idea of what the people that like those bands look like and you imagine they're into all of that, but music is so much bigger than that. Maybe it's a trend for some people, but it's not for me. So, in regards to what you're asking, yeah, that darkness or this specific vibe you get from those bands, I feel like there's a connection to what I'm doing with that - and I'm not trying to put myself on a pedestal or say I'm anywhere near any of those musicians--
No, but I do feel like their is a real truth to the way you write music as well.
Warren: It's something that's not forced. It's genuine and true from the heart and sometimes that can be a scary thing to put yourself out there like that. One thing I've struggled with is I love writing slow songs, but to go do that live in a setting, at least in LA, where people are out to party and have fun can be difficult. So with live shows I tend to keep them upbeat, but it is something I'm working on. I'm excited to go to Europe because I feel like over there music might be more appreciated in the sense that you are appreciated for the art that you are creating and that people want to embrace that. Right now I'm focusing on putting together a few different live sets and incorporating songs that are on the albums I put out but I usually shy away from.
Do you remember the first concert you ever went to?
Warren: I can't remember what the bands were, but it was like a hardcore punk show in Anaheim. It's the home of, like, Disneyland and stuff but at the same time there's this dark, underbelly to it. This was like '94 and I took a train with a friend from San Juan Capistrano to Anaheim and a guy got stabbed at the show. So that was my first experience.
What was the first band you were a part of?
Warren: The first band that I was in and continued to do up until about 5 years ago was called The Grand Elegance. I started that band with a few friends in high school - we were 16 or 17. One of the guys was Kyle Mullarky, he's done a lot with The Growlers and a lot of other musicians. We would go on hiatus from time to time and we were doing something neat. It evolved into this dark psychedelia and we were fortunate to put out on LP which we recorded in 2003 or 2004 that finally saw a proper release in 2005/2006 and we also recorded a 2nd album that didn't have a proper release but Burger Records just did a cassette release of that. That band was a very big part in my life and there were a lot of different people in the band - one guy went to jail for a couple years, one guy went to grad school, another guy got married. Everyone kind of continued living their life, but we still had this bond. Then in 2009 I started playing with The Growlers.
Oh, what did you play?
Warren: I played percussion - so like conga drums and stuff. I got to travel around with them for the better part of about a year and a half and all the while I still had the Grand Elegance going on but it was kind of on the back burner. I had a great time with The Growlers and they're all genuinely good people. When I stopped doing that it was time for me to start something new and take on a different project. I feel like there's always a time for someone to reinvent themselves and you never know when you'll have a shift of consciousness. It can come from something good or something bad - for me it was a combination of both. I had gone to jail in 2011 and I went through a really difficult break-up and just prior to that I had stopped playing with The Growlers. I needed to find a way to have some kind of personal outlet. I wrote and recorded an albums worth of stuff and it became The Abigails. It allowed me to make my own choices for the band and I was doing it with Kyle, but it felt like my baby and I got to dress it and I got to take it out and show it off.
When did that first album come out?
Warren: Burger did a cassette of it which came out at the end of 2011 and I recorded it in May/June of that year. Then the LP came out the following year. Then Tundra, the 2nd album, came out in 2014. I'm working on a new album which will hopefully come out later in the year. I went through quite a bit from 2013 to 2015 - I struggled really hard with drug dependency and I wasn't really able to tour the album properly. I went up to Seattle and back a few times and Texas and back, but it was just so hard. When you struggle with addiction it's not something you can just put down to go on tour, it's something that you have to take with you and it affects you in every way possible. It didn't even make touring fun. At least at home you have more control, but then it became having to find drugs on tour and it's mandatory. I've been fortunate to put that behind me and I've been sober for almost 9 months now.
"When you struggle with addiction it's not something you can just put down to go on tour, it's something that you have to take with you and it affects you in every way possible."
That's great to hear, congratulations!
Warren: Thank you. I'm fortunate enough to have not burnt down too many bridges and that I have people that care about me and are interested in what I'm doing. My friend Luka who works at Zuma Bookings, he's the one taking us to Europe and he's had so much faith in me. He's also reissuing our album in Europe. I've been blessed to have great friends and great family. For right now I feel like I've gained a lot of clarity and I feel very conscious of my actions. I feel much more aware. I'm continuously working on myself and I'm fortunate to be able to do what I love and share it with people.
Do you have a spirit animal?
Warren: You know, I thought I had one and I haven't thought about this for a long time, but when I was younger I had done a bunch of Special K which is like a cat tranquilizer that you can get in Mexico. It takes you into a K hole which is a weird blackout, you go into this other dimension. I could've sworn I turned into a praying mantis, like, I saw myself turn into one. I used to joke that that was my spirt animal. My old friend swears that I'm her spirit animal, so I guess there's still a lot of things I'm searching for. [laughs]
GO SEE THEM IN EUROPE! To see their tour schedule, click here.