Creative Quarantine: Singer / Actor / Songwriter Bethany Thomas

Singer, actor and songwriter Bethany Thomas

1. How are you holding up?

Right now I’m ok. After a few months of having gigs canceled, watching venues close, figuring out unemployment, protests and curfews and arguments on social media, and basically wanting to scream myself to sleep every night- I drove clear across the country to visit friends in the high California desert… where there are no people and barely any internet. We did, however, bring instruments. 

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way? 

Absolutely. I‘m primarily a singer and played almost no guitar before the pandemic. I knew some chords and occasionally used it as a writing tool- but couldn’t accompany myself or really even play a whole song. When quarantine started, I got all these requests to make solo videos from home and I tried a few different ways- singing a capella, singing to a recording, or karaoke track- but I just hated it. I felt like a hack. So I finally sat down and learned some complete tunes on guitar- simple (mostly Neil Young) covers- and then only consented to virtual gigs where I could play one of the few, random songs I’d been practicing. I haven’t been super disciplined about it, but I am definitely better at the instrument and have since started experimenting with pedals and effects. The next project I work on will incorporate a lot of the noise I’ve finally pushed myself to make. 

We’d just started mixing the LP my band’s been recording the past year when everything shut down in March. As my co-producer and I then proceeded to email new mixes and notes to each other, I was forced to sit with the piece in some new contexts- first through the lens of our mandatory isolation, and then again with the ears of a bi-racial black artist striving to be counted and heard while witnessing many of her white family, friends and fans stay completely silent on matters of racial injustice, police brutality, and ultimately- a black person’s right to live. It has been enlightening, to say the least. 

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

I know this question is about Covid- which will hopefully actually be over someday- but I won’t be able to recall the spring/summer of 2020 without the Black Lives Matter movement being at the forefront of my emotions. 

Now more than ever (OH how I love/hate/love to hate that phrase!) I think a lot of artists are oscillating between “gotta get some content out there“ and “what can I contribute that won’t just add to the noise?”… 

Besides the aforementioned guitar element, I feel I’ve gained some vital perspective, courage, and vocabulary to help write the things I actually want to express. I’m thinking about lyrics I wrote or stories I told and then softened because I was afraid they’d be too political or divisive or too specific to my own experience… and I’m kinda done with that shit. This is my new practice, this is my contribution. 

4. Of the artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?

Jovan Landry and Jess Godwin– both captivating and innovative musicians with mad videography/filmmaking skills who rolled out super creative quarantine content that managed to bring people together despite us all being at home.

Bethany Thomas is an award-winning Chicago-based singer, actor, and songwriter who’s been seen at Second City, Chicago Shakespeare, The Lyric Opera, Steppenwolf, The Green Mill, and The Hideout. As one quarter of the alt-country band Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls, she’s toured the US and UK opening for a wide array of middle-aged white men, including Robert Plant. Bethany released an EP of her own music called First- available everywhere- and her full album BT/SHE/HER is on the way. Check out her website for more.