Sound Check: Rhonda Thomas

This has certainly been the year for feel-good music, from the soulful jam sessions of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah to the cinematic-like sociopolitical conversation in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Rhonda Thomas’s latest release, Vinyl Daze, is continuing the positive growth of black music, especially within the realms of a musicianship collective. SoulTrain.com got a chance to sit down with her and go in-depth of the creation of her feel-good album.

SoulTrain.com: The first thing I want to ask you is, why the title Vinyl Daze?

Rhonda Thomas: It speaks to the style of music and the time of music. I grew up listening to albums on a 45”. I still have a turntable and vinyl albums, and all of my Christmas music is on vinyl. I still have DeBarge albums and hip-hop albums. It’s a part of who I am. My father was a manager of the group New York Soul Syndicate, who did a lot of cover tunes. They rehearsed in our basement, which I’m sure is why my parents divorced because he was so passionate about that band! But, that is what molded me into the artist I am because I would hear them come in at about 3 in the morning with their equipment, and I would see all of their rehearsals and hear them sing covers of bands like The Commodores.

SoulTrain.com: Now, were you allowed to be down there, or was it one of those moments where you had to sneak to see a “grown folks” moment?

rhonda2thomasRhonda Thomas: I was allowed and it definitely formed who I am today. My mom played a lot of Nancy Wilson, Al Jarreaux, and my dad played a lot of funk. This is true to who I am, and because this style has a lot of 80s music vibes and Natalie Cole’s “La Costa” vibes that we really had to give it that sort of name.

SoulTrain.com: How was the creation of this album, especially when you are known for vibrant vocal performances?

Rhonda Thomas: With this being my fifth CD I’d like to say that it’s easier to write, but when melodies come to my head I just go with it. I don’t really write every day like I should. Khari Simmons of Edgewood Agents first came to me about Vinyl Daze and brought on Daz-i-Kue of Bugz in the Attic and pianist Julius Speed. They already had a few tracks for me, and some I created with my musical partner, Tyrone Gregg. I came up with ideas of songs I wanted melodies for. We wrote the music then I wrote the lyrics. The guys over at Edgewood Agents presented tracks and I then wrote lyrics. Kipper Jones helped me write a couple of songs, as well as Tasha LaRae from Arrested Development.

SoulTrain.com: I bet those sessions were flames!

Rhonda Thomas: My favorite part of creating this album was that it felt like I was making this with family. There was one particular song that Kipper Jones wrote called “Speak Life,” which we wrote in the studio. I was able to have a Motown moment because so many friends happened to be in the studio. Avery*Sunshine’s studio was right next to mine, so she was able to come over with her manager Dana and both of them sang on the end of the song. My friend and fellow vocalist, Fred Sawyer, from the days we sang background for Isaac Hayes, was able to sing on it. There were others who came too to sing on this one song and chant “Speak life!”

SoulTrain.com: What was your first reaction when you heard it all put together?

Rhonda Thomas: I loved that it sounded like so much fun. I think I was just so into getting the parts right and making the notes and nuances were correct in the studio that by the time everyone comes in on the vamp it becomes a party. It’s a boogie tune like from the 80s, and it hit me that it is in fact a party. At the end of the session, I made sure I enjoyed being around my friends.

SoulTrain.com: I do want to ask you this since you pretty much carry weight in the jazz world vocally. Where are some good jazz clubs or places to listen to jazz in Atlanta?

Rhonda Thomas: I do find that there aren’t as many clubs as when I used to be here, so I can only name the ones that are still around. You have Churchill Grounds and The Velvet Note for straight-ahead jazz, and Suite Lounge for contemporary jazz. Center Stage/Vinyl/The Loft venue building is good for jazz concerts too.

SoulTrain.com: So with all of this talk about vinyl, where are your favorite places to get vinyl?

Rhonda Thomas: I don’t have a lot of current vinyl, but when I buy CDs I go to Moods Music. I was just in Urban Outfitters and saw the turntables with albums of current music, and it’s interesting that vinyl is coming back because the shift was once smaller, compact and digital.

Keep up with Rhonda Thomas on Facebook and on Twitter and Instagram @Rhonvocals!

—Starletta Watson

Starletta Watson has been a freelance multimedia journalist for several years, with work from Vice, Frank 151 and AOL. She currently runs her own radio show and podcast The NAPPturallY Progressive with I Am Classic Hip Hop’s Raw Radio. It airs every Tuesday at 6pm EST, and Saturdays and Sundays at noon EST, with new podcasts available every Wednesday on their PodOmatic page.

One Comment

  1. Jon goode says:

    I love the Vinyl Daze album and I think that Rhonda Thomas is a gem and a rare talent! Kudos to you for shining a light on such a wonderful and deserving talent. Cheers!
    -Jon Goode

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