Exposure: Chris and Thomas
Chris and Thomas - Take These Thoughts
Arriving in L.A via Munich, Memphis, the islands of Greece and Liverpool, Chris and Thomas create a delicate folk pop scented by an English rose and dusted by a mid-western desert. It was a journey of experiences too – from studying film composition at the same school as John Lennon, to cooking for the man who burned a million pounds, they've developed the skills and lived the life to write songs to rank alongside Nick Drake, The Shins and the rest of the Garden State soundtrack. Thomas Hien spoke to The List.
You grew up in Germany – how big a part did music play in your life during that time?
I always liked songs and coming up with music. I started on the piano first - my mum was an opera singer, and was adamant I learnt piano. And though I liked playing, I didn't like reading notes. I had to memorise everything by ear, and it'd take a long time. It was little painful that first experience, though I had fun making things on my own. Then I discovered rock and roll and I that was the coolest thing - I thought "Why didn't anyone ever tell me this music existed!"
And how did that become Chris and Thomas?
Well, that's a long story. I had a friend who was in Greece, and just travelling around the islands there, and he kept bumping into this guy - Chris. So eventually, they thought it was kind of funny how they kept on recognising each other on these different islands, so they started talking. And they talked about how Chris had just got accepted into the Liverpool College of Art. Then my friend came back and told me all about this meeting and this school, and thought maybe I was interested in checking the place out.
So I got Chris' number in Memphis, where he's from, and I called him out the blue from Munich. And we right away had a good chat on the phone and got along really well – I think he even played me some music. He said how it was so funny how he met so many people travelling, but no-one really called him back. And then this guy he never met just calls from Germany. I ended up meeting him in Liverpool to check out the school in 1995, and I enrolled a year later – a year behind Chris. And there, we became friends and lived in a house with a bunch of other musicians, and we'd make music and get drunk and do what you do in Liverpool.
And that's when Cook Au Van happened?
Yeah, that was a fun, random thing to do. It was the idea of this guy called Julian Gillespie - he's a fine artist - and he was really involved in the Liverpool arts scene at the time. One time, I drove some paintings to Brussels in Belgium with him his old gasworks van which already had a bit of kitchen. And as we travelled down, we'd just make these three course meals along the way.
Then one night some point on this trip, we just thought the inevitable was to do a cooking show. And at that point I thought "Oh, of course it's not really going to happen", but Julian can be quite obsessed, and he went back and started building the van. Then I came back and I was amazed, so we transformed it completely and started doing live events. You could call a number and we'd set up the van anywhere you'd like and do a four course meal for anyone. It was a lot fun, and we made meals for Jarvis Cocker, the mayor of Liverpool and the director of the Tate. We even made a pilot for a TV show with Bill Drummond from the KLF.
Were you playing music at this time as well?
We were writing a few instrumental pieces, and always played around. But writing properly didn't all happen until we moved to LA in 2003. I was the one who went there first. I got a job offer, which was good as I needed a visa. And then Chris called once I was there, and came over from Memphis. He put all his stuff on his Harley and just drove. Then one winter evening it came to us to do this thing together – Chris and Thomas.
With your German background, as well as Chris being from Memphis and both going to school in England, there's a wealth of culture and background to draw from. Is that an important part of your work?
It's not a conscious thing, and we didn't think about it until people pointed it out. But we do draw a lot from different backgrounds - probably more than we realise – and it makes for a good mix. We're making our new record right now and that's all cool new stuff, and a bit different from our last record. At its heart it's similar, but it's maybe more upbeat. And we just did the soundtrack for a German film, from the same producers behind The Lives of Others. The director just liked our music so he asked us if he wanted to do this. And that has put us into whole new direction. When you have a film as reference point, it brings out new things maybe we'd never have done.
How have you found living in L.A?
When I first came here to visit – I didn't really think it was the sort of place I could live in. I loved New York and San Francisco, and it all seemed superficial. But I talked to friend who was always down there and told me to check it out as there were just so many people involved in music, and the industry was really taking up. Then a lot of my other friends happened to move to LA, and I got this offer of a job – it was like the stars lining up. So I came and checked it out. And there are so many different sides to L.A when you really experience it. There are all these little microcosms. There's lot of Europeans, lots of film people, and then there's China Town, Thai Town and Little Tokyo and it's like you're in a different city. And there are nice thing all over California as well - such great nature, oceans, parks, mountains, and deserts. It's a really huge city though, and sometimes I do feel I'm ready for the countryside.
Is that where you'd like to retire?
I'd love to be back in Europe eventually. It's where my roots are, and I feel more at home in that mentality. And I'm looking forward to coming to Scotland.
You are covering it quite extensively – you're going right from Inverness to Kelso.
It was a good friend of ours, who hooked us up with the booking agency, and they're from Edinburgh. And our friend Euan, who'll be opening for us on a few nights, he's been living in Scotland for a long while. We just talked with him and thought we'd like to do the scenic tour for a change this time. I just hope the weather holds up.
Chris and Thomas play Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline on 13 Jun; Leith Folk Club, Edinburgh on 16 Jun; Fiddle Tree, Birnham on 17 Jun; Eden Court Theatre, Inverness on 18 Jun; Oran Mor, Glasgow on 19 Jun and Penicuik Arts Association, Penicuik on 20 Jun.