Thompson Springs is an up-and-coming, indie band from Madison, Wisconsin, founded and fronted by talented singer-songwriter Matt Smith. The band recently released their impressive debut EP Artifacts, which was recorded in Brooklyn and Milwaukee with Rob Laakso of Kurt Vile and the Violators.
What first hit me when listening to the tracks on Artifacts was how professional and polished these songs sound - especially for a new artist on their first EP. Equally obvious to me was noticing how well-written the songs themselves are - both musically and lyrically. Matt's voice is smooth and relaxed, but exudes the strength, confidence and genuine emotion to complement and glide above the musical landscape that flows underneath. With all songs written by Matt, this is straightforward, honest and unpretentious songwriting.
The band name has its origin from some of Matt's past travels through the Southwest. He explains: "Thompson Springs is a ghost town in Utah that I backpacked through when I was about 19. It was the age when I first started writing my own songs, so the name stuck with me."
Thompson Springs' overall sound is a mix of indie folk-rock with a southern/western feel. On their Facebook page, the band describes its sound as "cloak and dagger", and notes influences that include Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kurt Vile, Matthew E. White and Jeff Lynne. Each of the four tracks have a different feel - from the slower and relaxed "Have You Looked at Me" to the catchy, singalong "Small Talk" - but nicely fit together and flow well on the EP. In a few words, Artifacts is an impressive, pleasant and memorable listening experience.
"Have You Looked At Me" is the opening track on Artifacts, and showcases the slower, more melancholy side of the band with lyrics like: "You are so respectable, have you looked at me?" It is also the song featured in the band's first official video. Matt tells us about heading back to Thompson Springs, Utah to shoot the video: "I decided to contact some friends that make music videos, Loose Films, and see if they wanted to return to the roots of my songwriting. So we drove all the way out there, stayed in a cabin, and filmed a sweet video!"
THOMPSON SPRINGS "Have You Looked At Me" (Official Video)
"Arrows" follows next and is a mix of melodic, southern rock with lyrics that hint at impending personal doom: "An arrow is pointing down on me" and "better make your last amends". The band recently debuted a new acoustic session video for the track that conveys that song at its roots, simply performed by Matt with acoustic guitar.
THOMPSON SPRINGS "Arrow (Acoustic)" (Official Video)
The remaining two tracks on the EP are the catchy, up-tempo, pop-oriented "Small Talk," a song you'll want to sing along with after a few listens, and the more contemplative "Blow Over," which sounds almost Western, with songwriting and musical style that's reminiscent of bands like Paula Frazer and Tarnation.
SoundThread recently met up with Matt Smith before the band's first Chicago performance at Schuba's Tavern, where they opened for Lilly Hiatt.
Prior to Thompson Springs, Matt was a member of The Sharrows, another Madison-based band. He had been writing his own songs and decided to venture out and record a few of them. Matt talks about how the project started and how the Artifacts EP came about: "In the winter I was listening to a lot Kurt Vile, and had all these songs back logged that I wanted to record. I figured out that Rob Laakso did a lot of the engineering on the new Kurt Vile record as well as playing in his band and co-writing. I hit him up, sent him some demos. He dug them, so we set up a couple days of recording in Brooklyn." Matt traveled to Brooklyn with Madison buddy Andy Goitia for the recordings. "Along with a couple buddies from NY, we cut the basic tracks and flew back home," Matt says.
Fast forward a bit, and circling back to the Kurt Vile inspiration, Matt tells us: "A couple months later, Kurt Vile and the Violators were playing the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. They had a day off beforehand so I set up another session with Rob to finish it all up. That day he called me and said their tour bus broke down and asked if I was in Chicago to pick him up. It just happened that I was in town, and went to pick him up from a roadside McDonald's. I thought it would just be him but it was the whole group! Pretty exciting to hang with Kurt and the guys. We talked about a J J Cale record I had. Anyway, we did the session and the next night they played in Milwaukee."
Matt says there are plans to shoot and release one more video from Artifacts ("Blow Over"), and there is more Thompson Springs music in the works.
Find out more about Thompson Springs on their Facebook and Bandcamp pages. You can listen to Artifacts on Spotify, and they've also got a pretty interesting three-part documentary/travelogue about the making of the "Have You Looked At Me" video from Loose Films, on YouTube.