Interview with Tennessee Thomas from the band, The Like
By: Dennis M. Kelly
DK: Hello this is Dennis
TT: Hello, this is Tennessee from The Like
DK: Hey, how’s it going?
TT: How are you?
DK: Oh, pretty good. Thank you! Let’s get started, shall we? Where were each of you born?
TT: Z lived here her whole life and Charlotte was born here and then moved to Northern California when she was about 7 and then moved back here 6 years ago about the same time that I moved here from England. We met each other a bit when we were little but became good friends we both moved here and didn’t have any other friends
DK: Where in England were you originally from?
TT: West London, it’s like 7 miles outside the city
DK: not a bad place
TT: No, very nice
DK: It’s a beautiful city
TT: It is! Ah, the timing moving to America was very good because I was just about to have to do these horrible exams and my dads like “Hey, want to move to L.A.?” and I was like “Yes” (laughs) no thought really went into it and then there I was in a completely new and strange country. I like it… I like it now.
DK: How old were you at the time?
TT: 14 Right before High School and then I did High School here.
DK: Ok, so you had the best of both worlds
DK: How long have you been playing drums total? And in school?
TT: I started playing the drums in the school band in sophomore year probably five years ago now and then I had this school band; I was a sophomore and all the other people were seniors and we were like, ya know “This is great!” But then they all graduated, so I was like “Come on Charlotte ya know, learn the bass.” So she learned the bass and then we had some pathetic jam sessions and then decided to look for a singer/guitarist and stumbled upon Z who actually had songs, which was more than we were expecting and we’ve been together for four years.
DK: Excellent. Now is Z pretty much the chief songwriter or do you also…
TT: Pretty much, she started writing songs about 2 years before we met her so by the time we met her she got pretty good and is getting better and better so me and Charlotte don’t really stand a chance. We’ll suggest something and it’s like “What are we even doing this for; we should just leave it to her” but, who knows, when the next album comes and we desperately need loads of songs then we’ll probably have to start writing
DK: I’m sure you both can get lyrically inspired with all your new experiences
TT: Yeah, it’s pretty intimidating cause she’s pretty good
DK: Yeah, I have to say, I’m pretty impressed as well
TT: It’s more than we were expecting
DK: Do any of you play any other instruments as well?
TT: Yeah we all play piano and a touch of guitar, not that well.
DK: Everything has to start somewhere though
TT: Yeah and we seem to be pretty busy at the moment playing the instrument we are playing so there hasn’t been much time for anything else.
DK: That’s for sure, you’ve been going pretty much full force just getting off the Tori Amos Summer of Sin tour and gearing up for the Kings of Leon tour
TT: Yeah, we’ve got one day off, which is tomorrow
DK: Oh my God
TT: and I think I’m just going to stay in bed all day
DK: I don’t blame you
TT: Except my Grandparents are going to be in town so I’ll probably be forced into doing something family orientated, that’s alright
DK: Yeah, it’s good to have time with family
TT: Stressful in a different way
DK: During the school years, do you think you’d ever find yourself in the position you are now like one or two years
TT: No, no, not in our wildest dreams. Its all very surprising, this whole thing. But it’s great and we’ve been taking it slowly. We started playing shows in about 2001 and then just in L.A. and then after a year did our first trip to N.Y. it was pretty much just weekends cause we were all in school and then we sort of had it built up so that by the time Charlotte and Z graduated (they’re a year younger than me) we were ready to go. We got a record deal, pretty much right when they graduated and then we went on a couple tours and it takes time making the record, finding the producer, doing all that so that’s taken the last year and now were ready to tour for a couple years, I think.
DK: Definitely very cool. Did you find it hard finding gigs since you’re all under 21?
TT: Yeah we’re still under 21, I turn 21 in December but L.A.’s pretty good because there’s a lot of all ages clubs here and then the over 21 clubs let you play, and they just don’t let you hand around which has been awkward cause we did a residency at Spaceland (which is over 21) and we booked all the bands and had this whole thing and then we weren’t allowed to watch the other bands we had to sit in this little room and be escorted to the bathroom. It wasn’t too hard, we were lucky, we sort of got adopted into their little scene of Phantom Planet and Rooney and Maroon 5 back in the day and they gave us a great shot at it, they let us open for them when we were absolutely terrible (laughs) and then slowly sort of continued to give us shows. Then we got to the point when we could headline our own little shows and it’s been very good, it’s been fun.
DK: So did Maroon 5 see you play? Is that how it happened?
TT: Yeah, our first show was a Phantom Planet’s fan club show which we played one song because we all sort of knew them for a while, I don’t know how we all met them through different people. They let us do that and then from that all the Maroon 5 guys were there cause they were all really good friends. Then we played some little shows with them and then of course last year they took off on tour in England and we were playing for 6,000 people versus 100 the previous year!
DK: That was really more your eye opening year then, I was thinking it was your tour with Tori Amos where everything changed for you.
TT: The English shows were… it was a different thing than the Tori thing I guess because most of the Maroon 5 fans are kids and they saved up all their money to go to the show and they were all there. We went on before, we actually went on, there was this guy Jonathan Rice who played first and then us and then Maroon 5 and by the time we went on, the whole place was packed and like they were mostly standing show and the energy was crazy. There were people like moshing and fainting and being pulled out of the crowd during our set which was really funny. With the show with Tori show it was more like, we went on first and people were slowly coming in but the places were pretty massive. The Chicago show was actually on my list of the best because there were more people in there when we went on than there were in most of the other places.
DK: Yeah, I had the pleasure of doing the review for that show and photographed it and totally enjoyed the show.
TT: It was a fun place. All the places we played with Tori were amazing, they were either in a forest or by the lake or by a river or on the ocean. We saw some very nice spots.
DK: Excellent! Back to the school subject… what kind of courses were you going for at the time
TT: Well I went to University for a year while the other two were still in High School and I was an art major. So that was probably what I’d be doing if I weren’t doing this.
DK: So, that was what you were planning? A career in art?
TT: Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve always loved music and I don’t know. I might have found myself in another band or who knows. I don’t know. I’ve got a leave of absence from school so if I want to go back if it all fails miserably then I can, but who knows?
DK: No, I don’t think so, I think the fuse has been lit and you’re skyrocketing right now.
TT: Well it’s a really fun experience and we’re just making the most of it
DK: So did anyone in the band ever serve any detentions in school?
TT: We were all pretty good, I don’t know. None of us really were, we were all pretty good at school. Unfortunately. I don’t know, we were all a bit scared of being punished I think, live in fear. There wasn’t much of that.
DK: Nothing wrong with that
TT: What are you going to do? We’re not a proper Rock and Roll band
DK: No anarchy for you
TT: No, unfortunately not. Well, I also went to a Catholic all girls High School so I can tell didn’t need to feel terribly guilty if I hadn’t already just been thrown out which is what happened to a lot of my friends. It’s like “you look like you’re going to cause a lot of trouble, so you’re expelled”
DK: They don’t still have rulers do they?
TT: No, no (laughs and mumbles something under her breath)
DK: Now during your school years, how many shows did you average during the weekend concerts
TT: It was pretty crazy cuz we got a manager about a year after we started and then she was like, “I need a list of all the shows you’ve played” and I think it added up to something like 60, which is quite a lot to play in L.A. over two years. There was at least one a month or every two weeks. Now we’re playing like two every day!!
DK: Tell me more about your manager…
TT: Our manager is amazing. She’s just, from the second we met her everything just became a lot more organized and we sort of had an idea on where we were going she sort of made us pull ourselves together and be more of a real band cuz none of us still really believes that we’re a real band. I just went to a record store and our album was in it and it was pretty weird. So I guess, we’re kind of a real band but I don’t know. But she helped get us a lot of shows and we, I don’t know… the EP’s all came out like one a year for the three years that we’ve been with her. It just sort of happened all by itself all pretty naturally. Nothing was really forced, it’s all fallen into place really nicely. We seem to be heading in the right direction.
DK: Were there any ever any problems with your parents threatening to keep you from a gig if you didn’t do your homework
TT: OH YEAH!… oh yeah. That’s why it kept pretty much to weekends, actually it was weekends and it’s not easy High Schools, there’s a lot of homework and I lived on the other side of town to Z and Charlotte so it would be like an hour of driving every day to do it. It was pretty difficult. Towards the end of senior year, we were getting pretty busy and it was hard to keep everything in line, but somehow we managed it. But yeah it was pretty much just weekends, there was no chance of any of us getting out of High School or anything, that’s for sure. We all finished and we got alright grades. Otherwise our parents would have killed us or broken up the band
DK: Do you ever see yourselves becoming inspirations to other young girls throughout the world as far as what can be accomplished?
TT: Yeah, that’s pretty much the goal. Pretty early on we had some girls come up to us and say, “Oh we never really thought we could be in a band and now we are in one” it just sort of, more and more people are coming up to us saying that. It’s pretty great, when we started, we didn’t think anything of it, we were like “Oh whatever, ya know, we’re just a band and then we’re like “oh well, I guess that’s kinda weird because there aren’t that many girl bands.”
DK: Actually, there are a bunch, but not certainly at your age range
TT: Not, sort of, all girls. There are lots of girls in bands, but there are not a lot of all girl bands
DK: And then how did your parents feel when Geffen came along with that contract?
TT: Everyone was very happy, we sort of had a few different ideas and offers and the people at Geffen that signed us we just loved immediately. They’re the nicest, funniest people that you could possibly hope to meet and we really all felt that we were in great hands and it’s felt right and it’s been amazing so far. Hopefully we’ll sell some records until they decide that they hate us.
DK: I think it’s selling quite well from what I’m hearing
TT: Well, we have to start somewhere, but hopefully someday we’ll be Coldplay (laughs)
DK: and then how did your friends react also when all the news came about
TT: I don’t know it’s been funny, I think everyone’s been ignoring it. Everyone’s pleased but it’s all a bit strange. Nothing’s really changed
DK: They had to get used to, I guess?
TT: Yeah,. It’s nothing compared to our friends in Maroon 5 who’ve sold like 10 million records or something like that. That’s weird, now their all buying these fancy houses and everyone else is living in squats.
DK: Did any of you leave any boyfriends behind when you went on tour?
TT: The other two have boyfriends, I don’t have a boyfriend, which is probably a good thing cause it seems like a lot of work when you’re on the road, a lot of arguing and things on the phone.
DK: It would definitely be challenging for sure
TT: Yeah, yeah… I just had to say goodbye to my parents and that’s fine. Somebody in the band has to be single otherwise nobody cares. I think, didn’t John Lennon have to lie about not being married, it’s funny
DK: I know there are sometimes different reasons for altering the correct information for public life and it’s understandable given the millions of people out there.
TT: Yeah, there are some weirdos
DK: So now onto a more typical question for you, where did the name “The Like” come from?
TT: Um, my mom actually came up with it. When you’re trying to name a band, there are all these horrible suggestions thrown around like everything becomes a name for a band “Oh that’s a good name for a band; The Telephones”, “I know, what about The Keyboards”, “What about the record players” blah, blah, blah… and you just start listing all these stupid things and you never get anything serious. My mom is just the worst “I know, how about the blah, blah, blah…” and we went for such a long time without the name and then finally she’s like “Why don’t you just call yourselves “The Like” because you say “LIKE” so much. Everyone’s like, it’s like… The Like! I like it, that sounds good to us. It just stuck, we just had to get it over with, we’re like, “ugh, that’ll do”.
DK: And you definitely did a nice just tying the name in with your EP names as well
TT: Yeah, there are plenty of good puns involving the word like.
DK: Now the one question comes to mind, why didn’t you call your full length album (Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking” something like that?
TT: The trouble is I think with the EP’s we sort of exhausted that, I don’t know Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking is a similar play on words we all, a friend of ours suggested it when we were coming up with ideas for album covers and we had all these silly ideas that were sort of surreal and I don’t know. And then somebody said “Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking” and we all thought that was an interesting question to ask and I don’t know, in some interviews it gets shortened to “Are You Thinking?”(laughs) Which I think is quite funny
DK: It does have a new twist to it
TT: It’s a good question and who knows if anybodies thinking the same thing these days
DK: That’s for sure
DK: Now I haven’t had the opportunity to hear your EP’s, how…
TT: I WOULDN”T BOTHER… (laughs) We only ever spent one day on them. They’re not that good. It was pretty exciting recording a record and having the time to get in the best tone and working everything out. But they’re demos of the album really and then there are some other songs that we didn’t put on the album because they weren’t as good as the new ones… on the whole though most of ones on the EP’s are on the record
DK: Oh, ok. Was there a gradual notice of audience sizes when you were performing?
TT: It’s been gradual. We’ve been, well we’ve only headlined shows in L.A. I think we’re gonna do a west coast tour in December which will be really fun with this band called “Giant Drag” who are also really good.
DK: Yeah, I’m familiar with them
TT: Yeah, so that should be fun. And then we’re doing a show in L.A. at the El Rey which will be our biggest headlining show. I think it’s like 750 people or something. Who knows if ANYONE will come (laughs) Let’s hope so
DK: You’re too hard on yourself
TT: I don’t know
DK: You have an excellent product and I think you’re doing really well with it.
TT: Well thank you, thank you very much
DK: You’re welcome! Do we have more time to talk yet?
TT: a few more minutes
DK: Are there any songs off the new album that best represents the band as a whole?
TT: Well, I don’t know, I think there is quite a nice range of different things going on with the record and I think, I like all the songs and I like them for different reasons. I think the range is good and represents us. It’s exciting that we have different sounding things yet they all kind of sound like one band and one record. I think it represents us well; we did our best.
DK: It definitely shows. Certainly mixing in London and having Wendy Melvoin (formerly of Prince) and John Goodmanson producing it; definitely did an excellent job
TT: Yeah, they really brought the best out of us and then it was like a dream going to England and working with Alan who had mixed so many of our favorite records Elastica, My Bloody Valentine, The Sundays, Jesus and the Mary Chain; he had some good stories.
DK: Now was it your choice to mix in London?
TT: Yes, it was really fun for me being back in London for three weeks and had a good time all staying in one little hotel room, the Columbia which is quite a renowned rock n roll hotel. There’s an Oasis song called the Columbia and it was a bit of a pit but it was funny, but we had a good time, we had a good bonding experience.
DK: So now you had just done the Carson Daily show recently, right?
DK: How did that go?
TT: It was pretty nerve racking, but I think we pulled it off everyone said it was alright, watching on the monitors and it airs next week.
DK: Yeah, I am looking forward to seeing it. And I also just saw your video for “What I Say and What I Mean” and I thought that was pretty cool too.
TT: Yeah, that was a really fun day. We sent out the song to all these different directors and then our friend ended up coming up with the best idea and it was like oh yeah, synchronized swimmers and then showed us some clips of old Berkley films. We were like “Yeah, in our dreams but where are the swimmers; how are we going to do it”? and then managed somehow to pull it all together, it was pretty amazing. We had one day and they were in the water for like 10 hours and it was pretty funny turning around and there being all these people splashing around in the water. It was funny.
DK: And they were all doing it for you
TT: They were so excited, I think they were the first synchronized swimming video. But they hadn’t been in a video before; they were all excited. So it was good. And who knows if young girls see the video and they might say “Yeah, it’s alright to be in a band, but I’d also like to take up synchronized swimming!! Looks like fun!”
DK: Well, I guess I’d better let you go as I think my time is up right?
TT: Yeah, sorry
DK: I do appreciate your time today and you have yourself a great day off tomorrow!
TT: Thank you also!
Z Berg – Guitar and Vocals
Tennessee Thomas – Drums
Laena Geronimo – Bass
Annie Monroe – Organ
The Like formed in 2001 in Los Angeles, when best friends Charlotte Froom (a bassist of two weeks at the time) and Tennessee Jane Bunny Thomas (a drummer in her all-girls-school band) met Z Berg and found the voice and songs they had been looking for. Almost immediately, the ladies began to garner local praise and attention, surprising their audiences with a complexity belying their very young years (two 15 year olds and a 16 year old at the time).
Over the next three years, the ladies independently released three EPs (i like the like,
… and the like and like it or not) that they sold at shows and on their website. Soon a diverse fan base developed and magazines from around the world began to take notice. Following their high school graduations in 2004, The Like signed to Geffen Records and toured with Phantom Planet and Maroon 5.
At the foundation of the band is the drumming of Tennessee Thomas, whose parts are simple and classic while totally unique and idiosyncratic. Charlotte Froom’s bass playing carries a melodic counterpoint to the vocals, moving constantly and pushing the momentum of the songs forward. Z Berg’s guitar playing is a wash of atmosphere, providing a ringing wall of sound.
Berg’s vocals, meanwhile, are thick and rich, leaping from wounded to resentful to coy to yearning to angry in a matter of a phrase. Her voice has a unique and heartbreaking balance of innocence and world-weariness. Her lyrics run the gamut from tales of heartbreak and longing, to complex literary references and rallying cries from the Paris riots of 1968. In total, the songs are stunning, emotionally complex, thoroughly arranged pop songs, in the tradition of The Pretenders, The Sundays, Ride, and countless other guitar rock bands that The Like touch upon but never mimic.
The Like recorded their debut album Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? during the rainy Los Angeles winter of 2005 with Producer Wendy Melvoin (an original member of Prince and the Revolution), and co-producer John Goodmanson (Blonde Redhead, Bikini Kill, Deathcab for Cutie). The mixing was handled in London by Alan Moulder, famous for his work at the boards for such Like favorites as the Jesus and Mary Chain, Elastica and My Bloody Valentine.
Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? opens with the energetic backbeat and hard-driving guitar hook of “June Gloom,” an ironically upbeat song about an emotionally dark time for the band. “What I Say And What I Mean” is a hook-driven pop tune super-powered by Thomas’s fast-tempo beat, which Berg handles with effortless vocal strength and agility. The record is filled with surprises and interesting turns. In “Bridge To Nowhere,” the title is a literal reference to the unconventional structure defined by the bridge at the end of the song.
“(So I’ll Sit Here) Waiting” is an infectious melody showcasing Berg’s abundant vocal power and Froom’s deft ability to anchor a song with a tunefully satisfying bass line. The lethargic tempo, languid guitar and ethereal vocals of “Waves That Never Break” ends the record on a different note. A true ballad, the song is spare in its construction, but features sophisticated chord changes and melodies that seem to be an inkling of The Like’s next evolution.
The Like transcend all the easy labels that one may be inclined to attach to them: all girl band, teenage band, LA band, etc. They simply write beautiful music, and possess an irresistible collective personality.