Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans, where we meet some of the people behind the local music scene -- those who aren't necessarily members of local bands, but more the people who make the scene move.
Kyle Thomas has been the drummer for Reverend Horton Heat, Shallow Reign, The Daylights and, briefly, for Course of Empire. He was also a member of Austin outfit Flowerhead, who made enough of a mark on music society in the mid-'90s to be immortalized in the Foo Fighter's song "Watershed."
Nowadays, though? Kyle still keeps at it with music. He has a full-time job behind the scenes now -- one he's almost as good at as playing music. He's the lighting director for the Kessler Theater, and as his Kessler colleague, Jeffery Liles, so eloquently puts it, he's a "great light guy [with a] very different approach than other venues. Very minimalist, stark, no flashy or gimmicky stuff." Indeed.
It's all about mood and taste over at the Kessler, where Thomas adds little touches like burning incense from a neighborhood shop before every show. After the jump, we'll dig deeper into his artistic psyche.
You've played with tons of local bands. What are some of your greatest memories of playing live with these local outfits?
Well, going way back, The Daylights' weekly gigs at the old Prophet Bar were always crazy and fun. Completely letting it all hang out every time. Our band had something... but it was the wonderful weird people that showed up every Tuesday that made those shows great. We were also lucky to get to open for quite a lot of road shows that came through. Jane's Addiction at the Theatre Gallery was just a great night. Somehow, after the Daylights opened for the Ramones at the Longhorn Ballroom, Chris Wheat and I wound up on top of the old grain silo near the Mitchell Building. That was a Trip. I was so lucky to happen into so many cool gigs, like Horton, Shallow Reign, Course Of Empire, Lithium Xmas. In Horton, we opened for Stray Cats just a few days after I joined up. You know, 1-2-3-4, rock! When Horton played Seattle for the first time, Jimbo broke a bass string and cut his hand. Jimbo took the blood and wiped his face and chest and kept rockin' and the good people of Seattle were sure we were insane Texas psychobilly dudes on mushrooms. Fun! Of course, there was the New Year's Eve gig with C.O.E where I landed in jail between soundcheck and the show. Not my best moment. Or the time after C.O.E. opened for Pigface in Austin and I gave a drunk female patron a ride home in the band van, but forgot how to get back to the club. Eventually, around 3:30 a.m., I found it. The band was pretty upset. Really, I could go on and then some, with old Deep Ellum gig stories.
At what point did you decide to transition to concentrating your creative energy into lighting/technical work?
I got into working with the technical side of things because of interest, and to make ends meet between gigs, beginning with loading equipment years ago, and then learning more about sound and light operation.
Tell us how the opportunity at the Kessler came about. It sounds like they were very supportive of needing talents like yours that might not go as recognized at other places.
My old friend Paul Quigg, technical director of the Kessler, had told me about this theater in Oak Cliff that he was involved with restoring and making into a new venue for live music. I also heard Jeff [Liles] was involved, and I expressed interest in doing anything really that I could. And, against his better judgement, Paul let me start showing up and doing whatever was needed. And, as far as being supportive, Jeff, Paul, and Edwin [Cabaniss] have all been super. I feel as fortunate to be in this gig as any that I have had playing music.
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Surely, you've seen some amazing live music at the Kessler. Can you share one or two nights that really stand out in your mind?
One fantastic night was the Marc Ribot show. His set was amazing and out and challenging. Then he scored, live in the moment, the Chaplin film The Kid. Got to see our own Paul Quigg play that night also. That's what it's all about, really. Also, the Black Angels were rockin' and weird. Just great. Jaco Pastorius' son Felix blew every mind in the place when Jeff Coffin played a few weeks ago. Wanda Jackson and the King Bucks. The O's. Dan Dyer. Wow. And seeing Mikey Dillon and Earl Harvin was fantastic.
Are there other venues you've done this kind of work in, too?
Well, starting years ago working road shows, I've worked in most of the rooms around town, but not on a permanent basis.
Is the door still open for you to play music again in the future, or are you sort of on to another chapter?
Oh yeah, I still play. I've been playing with a band called Kelvin with John, Ron, and Chad from Cathouse and Jeff Christian. Also, Paul Quigg and I have a super secret project going. Can't talk about it, though. And I pick up gigs when I can -- it's what I do. By the way, the guys here are very supportive of me doing outside gigs. Very lucky, really.
We all know the Deep Ellum story pretty well. Please, wax ecstatic about the local element in the neighborhood the Kessler is in.
I tell you, I love the neighborhood the Kessler is in. At the moment, I don't live around the neighborhood, but my plans are to get here as soon as I can. Our place here feels very relaxed with that sense of energy when new things happen. Of course, our block has a delicious Latino flavor, literally. And with the old homes and families all around the theater, it's just a great vibe. I buy incense at Chango's down the street and burn a little bit before every show. The life-size statues inside the store kind of freak me out, but not too much. Oh yeah, and there is the Cliff Notes book store right outside our theater. Carlos and Opal have done cool job. I tell you, I feel fortunate to have this gig, and I hope people come out to the Kessler to check it out and have special experience.