INTERVIEW: Single Mothers Talk College Towns & Yelling At Yourself

Single Mothers

Courtesy of Single Mothers

The music of Single Mothers has earned comparisons to pub-centric rock like The Hold Steady and The Replacements. Shaped by the heavy drinking culture of London, Ontario — a college town in the greater Toronto area — their music, and the lyrics of frontman Drew Thomson, show a sharp eye for detail, setting and character, balanced with a self-critical wit. Touring on the heels of the band’s most recent album, Our Pleasure –– released back in June via Dine Alone Records — Thomson took the time to speak to Allston Pudding. 

Allston Pudding: Hi Drew, thanks for taking the time to talk. How’s the tour been so far?

Drew Thomson: It’s been good. We’re about two and a half weeks into it now. 

AP: Congratulations on the new album. What was on your mind while making this record?

Thomson: At the time, I wasn’t sure if there was going to be another Single Mothers album at all. I got a moment of motivation and checked out this studio that a friend of mine told me about. I went and booked the time and hoped it would come together, and it did.

AP: This is your second full-length album. You’ve managed to avoid that dreaded “sophomore slump.” The album’s got great lyrics and a lot of energy. But since you were in this place of uncertainty about the band’s future, how did you combat those issues to still manage to make a great record? 

Thomson: The band has always been kind of volatile. It’s broken up a few times. It’s never been a big break-up, we’ve just taken breaks here and there. I had been doing other projects, other things, and I just wasn’t sure if Single Mothers would still work, if I wanted to keep going. But then I got a little taste of it, and it just takes one little taste. Just talking about it with Brandon, our drummer, was enough to relight that fire. We decided, fuck it, might as well. Nothing in a band is ever very well-planned or sorted. It just sort of fell into tempo. We didn’t have any songs written, we didn’t have a guitar player. We just figured it out on the way, and it turned out okay. 

AP: A very day-by-day mindset. The band’s featured something like 16 different members at different times? 

Thomson: Probably more like 20. But most of those guys are still guys that we call up and are like, “Hey, do you want to play a show?” I’ve got five guitar players I like to write with. “Hey, Justis [Krar], do you want to write any songs?” Or somebody else that’s still in the band. So most of those are still good terms, we still plays shows with them. We just have a big pool.

AP: During the songwriting process, then, do you write songs on your own and take them to band members, or do you work with the other members and kind of jam it out? 

Thomson: There’s definitely no template. Some of the songs, I’ll come in and I’ll just have most of it ready. Other times, it’ll be a collaborative process. I’ll have been jamming with one or two guys. We’ll throw stuff together. And other times, one of the other members will have something written and bring it in like, “Hey, I want people to work on this.” It could be a hundred different options, and that’s what I like about the band. That’s what I think keeps it fresh and interesting. We’ve never tried to stick to a template. I try to keep an open mind and just kind of go with the flow of things and hope it works out. Generally it does. I like being collaborative. I like working with a bunch of different people. That’s one of the main reasons I think the band works really well.

AP: Lyrically, in your delivery, you’re kind of a shouter. Who’s that directed towards, and how’d you develop that style? 

Thomson: I think lyrically, most of the songs are kind of just about one side of me yelling at the other side. I don’t really have an audience in mind when I write lyrics. I write whatever comes. I try not to edit anything, since I’m working with so many musicians. We get a lot of ideas. If I feel it, I’ll just write the lyrics right there on the spot. I won’t generally look back. A lot of the stuff gets written in the studio. I feel like if you have to work too hard on a song, you’re not doing it right and it’s not going to work out. So I try not to overthink it. 

AP: Your lyrics are very descriptive in terms of setting and character. Where do those descriptions come from? Do you sort of take in your environment and turn it back out with your own words? 

Thomson: Yeah, most of the time. It’s easy to write when you’re young and go out a lot. I try and write what my friends would relate to. 

AP: You’re playing in Boston on 10/1. How have your past experiences in the area been? When was the last time you played around here? 

Thomson: I love Boston a lot. I don’t remember the last time we played. It was probably in 2014. I don’t remember the place, but I just remember it being a really good time. I used to drink a lot. I don’t anymore, but Boston’s a really good place to get drunk in. 

AP: Like London, Ontario, where you’re from, Boston has a large college population. Have you noticed similarities between here and there? Do you meet similar character types?

Thomson: On tour, you only get to stop over in a city for the time you play, so I haven’t hung out a ton in Boston. But I think all university areas are going to have a big influx of music with a population that never gets any older. And there’s always a market that caters to those student populations a lot of the time, bars and food, and it’s always a real party culture. I think it keeps the city vibrant and contained, but it also is a way to kind of push out the people who live there year-round and grow up around it. So I think that’s definitely the way to entrap a certain type of youth culture. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad, it’s just…different. 

AP: So what were your experiences growing up in a place like that? 

Thomson: In London, downtown is completely dictated by the school population. The city’s population drops by almost half after the school year. So you kind of feel like an outsider in your own town if you’re not in school at that point. I think the biggest thing is just the drinking culture. I didn’t realize that not all cities are so driven by downtown nightlife and don’t have these big universities. We just grew up in it. We thought getting blackout drunk and going out five nights a week was normal. That’s just what everybody did. Every year, you have 80,000 new first-year students who are just going out and getting wasted. That was normalized for me and a lot of my friends. It wasn’t until I moved out of London that I found out that not all places are like that. The downtown area is like a huge dorm. 

AP: Anywhere else you enjoy playing a lot? 

Thomson: On this tour, we played in Austin. It was great, it sold out. A couple shows have sold out. I hope Boston sell out. There are a few places we haven’t been in a few years, so it’s always a treat to go back. 

Catch Single Mothers at The Sinclair tonight for $15, tickets here. The show is all ages, doors are at 7 pm.