Mythology is the basis for vocalist and bassist Kamara Thomas’ look and sound as a member of Earl Greyhound and a number of other successful New York bands. But the love she has for her daughter, 1-year-old Cherokee Moon, is all real. Thomas, 39, spoke with mater mea about her new solo album and how she stays balanced.
Last of summer light streams in through the sheer curtains and onto the bed where bassist and vocalist Kamara Thomas sits, her legs unfolded underneath her. Serene and soft spoken, Thomas appears light years away from her onstage persona as a member of rock trio Earl Greyhound or the country group Ghost Gamblers.
“It’s me, but it’s like a mythological me,” the 38-year-old says of the caterwauling version of herself who is known to get down on her knees and shred away at her bass during live performances. “They’re larger powers than just me. I always think of being on stage as channeling a larger power.”
But here in her bedroom cast yellow with magic hour light, Kamara Thomas is channeling someone other than the mythological goddesses that fascinate and inspire her: she’s being herself—Kamara Thomas, proud momma.
“Cherokee?” she coos to her 1-year-old daughter who is preoccupied at the moment with nailing a downward dog position on her parents’ bed. “Cherokee Moon?”
Becoming a mother hasn’t slowed Kamara Thomas down, or taken the rocker out of her. While Earl Greyhound is on hiatus, Thomas is using the time to work on her own album.
While Earl Greyhound is on hiatus, Thomas is using the time to work on her own album, Earth Hero, under the name Kamara Thomas & The Ghost Gamblers. “The Ghost Gamblers is my posse of friends that I’ve been playing with as long as I’ve been in Earl Greyhound, including my husband, Gordon Hartin,” Thomas said. “[Now] I’m more officially the leader of the band.” The album is scheduled for a late fall release.
“The whole time I’ve been in Earl Greyhound, I was sitting on my own solo stuff,” Kamara Thomas said. “I have about a decade of material that I’m working on. We went on hiatus right when I had the baby. It was weird—it kind of coincided with us needing to do that, but it was also good for me because I was able to just take the time off and focus on her and also focus on my solo career.”
This will be Thomas’ first solo album after years of songwriting and performing for a number of successful bands in New York and Los Angeles. “This stuff is more country-soul-Americana-cosmic-jam, and storytelling is in the forefront,” Thomas explained. “This record specifically is more personal — we focused everything around my vocal-acoustic guitar performance.” As someone who used to suffer from a long-running bout of “over inspiration,” Kamara Thomas is looking forward to finally having the time and focus to “manifest the things I really wanted to manifest.
“This solo album is kind of the first thing I’ve manifested as an artist that I led as a band leader, as a solo artist,” she said. “I’ve been trying to manifest it for a decade. But it wasn’t until I had less time, less energy — where all of a sudden this can happen in this allotted time — that I was like, ‘OK, I guess this is all I can get done in my spare time.’ And it got done. But literally I started the album two months before she was born, and it’s been getting done slowly but surely the whole time.”
“This solo album is kind of the first thing I’ve manifested as an artist that I led as a band leader, as a solo artist,” she continued. “I’ve been trying to manifest it for a decade. But it wasn’t until I had less time, less energy—where all of a sudden this can happen in this allotted time—that I was like, ‘OK, I guess this is all I can get done in my spare time.’ And it got done. But literally I started the album two months before she was born, and it’s been getting done slowly but surely the whole time.”
But how does Kamara Thomas find those pockets of time to work when she has an active (and adorable) 1-year-old to look after?
“[Being a mom] is such a time organizer because she takes up so much time that it’s basically cut out all the bullsh*t in my life,” Kamara Thomas said. “So I show up more fully to the things that are actually important to me because I don’t have the time to do things that were kind of sucking my energy before. All of your time is built up in nurturing and taking care of this person, so those moments of solitude, those moments of being able to do anything, is really precious. It’s like, ‘What do I want to do in the world? Let me go do that now even if it’s just for half an hour. It’s like, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Cherokee toddles out of her parent’s room and into the living room; Kamara Thomas follows with her guitar in hand. She strums a few chords as her daughter blows out some mournful notes—not unlike the world weary sentiment behind some of her mom’s Ghost Gambler’s songs—on her harmonica
“MOTHERHOOD IS VERY CREATIVE. IT GIVES ME ACCESS TO A WHOLE NEW INTERNAL PLACE OF CREATIVITY.”
“I’m trying to conjure my Cherokee Moon song… but I don’t just want it to be a song like ‘I love my daughter, isn’t she great?’ For me, I want to draw power down for her so that when she hears her song, she can engage with the mythology around [it] and engage these powers for herself.”
Thomas looks over at her daughter who is bopping along.
“Are we dancing?” she asks, smiling. “You’re powerful. Mighty.”
With a goddess for a mom, we’re pretty sure Cherokee Moon will have access to powers beyond our imagination.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING A MOM?
I just love watching every moment. It’s awesome. The thing I like most about it is how much more open my heart is to life. How much easier it is to be in the present moment. It’s such a gift.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR DAUGHTER’S PERSONALITY?
She’s got such a sweetness. When she was even a little baby, we would be on the subway and a few times she would look at someone sitting next to me and she would reach out to them and just touch them on the shoulder. Like (makes there-there pat).
But then she’s also fierce. When she’s ready to do something that she wants to do, she’s like “Ahhh!” She’s got a real warrior cry.
She’s very mischievous. And curious. Very curious.
WHAT’S THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A MOM?
You know, the hardest thing is not being perfect, because you mess up so much. So when I get impatient with her I just feel so bad. And it’s hard to let it go and to just be like, “Alright, I’m not going to give her some perfect experience. I’m not going to shield her from all the negativity in the world.” That’s hard. To know that I can’t do everything right for her.
[Also] the sleep deprivation… it’s not so bad as it was before, but I know it was hard. I guess after that first year, after you clock in the year, every minute over the sleep deprivation that you get, you feel like, “Oh OK, this is so much better.”
WHAT INSPIRES YOUR HOME DECOR?
Magic, mythology… I like magical storytelling. I’m also a big fan of 70s kitsch. That yarn, flower stuff and weird orange and brown and yellow. I like it for some reason, it’s so home-y to me. It makes me think of a casserole or marshmallow salad.
I [also] really like color. I’m not the biggest fan of New York black. Lots of flowers and birds—I love nature.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO MYTHOLOGY?
I’ve always been into mythology. In college I got into shamanism. Then I discovered Joseph Campbell—he’s like a seminal comparative mythlologist [from] the 60s and 70s. He kind of invented comparative mythology, discovering all the things that mythologies of different cultures have in common: Every mythology has a goddess cult, and every mythology has a death and resurrection story, every mythology has a creation story. He’s brilliant.
Right after college I really got into him and that kind of set me on my path as an artist. It took me awhile to sort of discover what I wanted to do as an artist. I thought I was going to be an actress for awhile, but once I started songwriting, it started coming together.
WHAT ABOUT COUNTRY MUSIC APPEALS TO YOU AND YOUR SONGWRITING SENSIBILITIES?
I was raised on country music, the real country music, that is. Storytelling, honesty, evocative images are all front and center: a good country song always evokes a mythological truth from an everyday experience or a story of regular people living very human lives with very human frailties.
DOES THAT INSPIRE YOUR PERSONAL STYLE?
Yeah. I like to wear cotton. Green’s my favorite color. Green, turquoise. I love feathers… house plants. Seventies hausfrau is my guilty pleasure. But it gets played out in the home, not everyone gets to see it. It’s like, “Yeah, I put on a muumuu and my little apron. I put something in the crockpot… let it stay…” (Laughs)
WHAT’S YOUR PARENTING PHILOSOPHY?
I used to work in early childhood Montessori schools as a day job, so I derived a bunch from that. The first step in my parenting approach is the moral equality of children. So we’re here to guide them and we’re here to give them structure, but the whole “You do this because I told you so” or stuff like that [isn’t for me].
I start from the premise that this soul chose me. And I started speaking to her soul before [she was here]. When I wanted to get pregnant, I said: “I know that there are children there who are waiting for us and want us to be a their parents because of our specific abilities. Whoever you are, I want you to know we want to have fun, we want to have joy… This is what we’re going to be providing. So if you’re interested, come on down and let’s get together.”
I work from that spiritual premise for sure, first and foremost: That this soul came because it knew it was going to get something it knew it couldn’t get anywhere else, that they came to our family specifically for something that they’re trying to do.
So I feel like I’m here to help her do something that she really wants to do in the world. I’m here to help her become that, and do that, and be as prepared as she can to fulfill her purpose in the world.
There’s this idea of control in American parenting that I’m trying to stay away from, the idea that I control everything. I feel like a lot of the conversation around American parenting is about controlling the situation instead of just nurturing and providing structure. It’s all about “Get this kid on board with my plan for how it’s all going to go down!” instead of it being a conversation and a collaboration. It’s a collaboration. This is a new person here in the world, trying to learn and grow. They’re not to be controlled; they’re to be collaborated with in life.
Not that I don’t do it too. [But] I think that’s what ends up giving us trouble because they have more perseverance than we do, they have stronger wills than we do. It gets nobody anywhere and … it sets them up for unhealthy dynamics where they feel they’re fighting the world.
I feel like if there’s anything I can give her as she goes into the world is that the universe is a loving universe and that it’s set up to help her succeed. … The biggest gift you can give them is [letting them know] you can trust yourself, you can trust your own experiences and your own input and the information that’s coming in from your own senses.
Which is easier said than done. But that’s the parenting [philosophy] that I’m trying to manifest. (Laughs)
HAS SHE CHANGED YOUR WORK?
I’ve always been pretty focused when it’s time to create, but now it’s hyperfocused. My husband has helped me to learn that planning goes a long way. So sometimes just making a really kind of fool-proof plan—or at least a plan you’re going to execute before you start doing something—kind of keeps things on track and on focus.
I’m more of a planner now. It’s nice—[planning] provide this structure. And if the structure is there to support the things you really want to do, then it’s great. It’s really nice to have a whole day where like “Oh, I got to create a little bit today, I took care of my kid, I got to cook (I love cooking), I got to do a lot of the things that I love to do today.” So even if it’s only 15 minutes or half an hour or an hour of getting to create, it still feels great to go to bed knowing I did it. Whereas before I had a really hard time structuring my creative life.
WHAT KIND OF WOMAN DO YOU ULTIMATELY HOPE SHE WILL BECOME?
I hope she’s someone who trusts herself, her own instincts, and her visions. That she’s confident and trusts herself to make great choices. Because it’s weird, these are things I’ve struggled with, these are the things that I feel like I wasn’t prepared for, [to] trust my own instincts and feelings. I feel like the feminist problems of our generation are very nebulous, so they are more emotional and kind of hidden than overt [things] like “We deserve the same job!” [or] these very external trappings of power. They were different for us.
I don’t think girls of her generation are going to have a problem seeing that they deserve the same treatment as everyone else. It’s going to be more about mastering our emotions, like “Can I trust myself? What can I do? How can I make my emotions work for me? How do I let them be there but also master them?”
I was talking to someone today about neighbors. In a city environment you want to teach your kid to be nice to your neighbors, “Say hi to neighbor Joe” and so on and so forth.
But you don’t want neighbor Joe to come up to your kid and say, “Mommy and Daddy said come with me into my apartment.” You want them to be able to trust the energy that’s happening there and know that just because you can say “hi” to neighbor Joe on the street every day doesn’t mean he has any right to tell you anything to do. You gotta have your instincts intact for that. Those decision-making capacities only come from trusting your own instincts [and] being able to do an energy read on someone.
Those seem to be the things that I can impart to her. How do I take what I know and translate it into a vision that I can manifest into the world? I feel like she’s going to be in a world where she can really make a huge adventure out of it, so what does an adventurer need to know? (Laughs) How can I prepare her for a big adventure where she can make good decisions and know which way to go in the forks in the road?