Rob Thomas Interview

(Done for this website, June 2012. All copyright laws apply.)

Rob Thomas is a long-time Reivers fan and was in three Austin bands (Public Bulletin, Hey Zeus, and Black Irish) in the 1980’s and 1990’s, all of which had albums produced by John Croslin. Thomas became a successful writer of young adult novels before moving to California and creating critically acclaimed television shows such as “Cupid“, “Veronica Mars” and co-creating “Party Down“.  He wrote the liner notes for the reissue of The Reivers’ “Saturday” album and has recently become an Austin resident again (so he could see Reivers shows more easily?)
Be sure to check out the Music section of his website (named after his popular novels “Rats Saw God” and “Slave Day”) and the article “Life In A Rock Band” that he wrote back in 1986 on his life in Public Bulletin, which includes references to Zeitgeist. Your band Public Bulletin’s album “Broke From the Sound” (1986) was one of the first non-Zeitgeist albums John Croslin produced.  How did you and your band hook up with him back then and have him produce you?

Rob: We were Zeitgeist fans, and we hung out at a lot of shows. Three of us in the band were road tripping in California at the same time that Zeitgeist was on tour out there, and we made it to a couple of their shows which is when we really got to know the band a bit more. I knew John had produced a cassette from a band called Dig. (It was John Clayton’s band, later of Balloonatic and The Rite Flyers.) Though the memory is a bit fuzzy, I suppose we asked John to produce our record because we were fans, and he was the only person we knew who had produced a record. I think the guys in our band were 19 at the time, and John must’ve been 22 or 23. Croslin went on to produce “Swimming Lessons” and “Screen Door Kind” for bands you were in.  Do you have any specific memories or stories about those recording sessions (or the Public Bulletin one)?

Rob: I remember everyone being assigned really horrifying nicknames while in the studio. We had a Pig Fucker in the band, a Scrot Pull, but, for reasons that escape me, John became Pussyhead. To this day, I’ll get emails from John signed, Pussyhead.
I also remember John suggesting we record this one song of ours, “Anything” off of SWIMMING LESSONS without the use of reverb. I think he’d been listening to, like, Prince’s “Kiss,” and he thought it had a cool sound that would work for that song. I still love how that song sounds, though I don’t think we had Prince shaking in his boots. On an episode of “Veronica Mars”, you used a song by The Fire Marshals of Bethlehem. It was great to hear some Reivers-connected music being exposed to a wide audience.  Can you talk a bit about the process of choosing music for a tv show and if a goal of yours has been to feature music by Austin bands on your tv and film projects (as you’ve featured other bands from Austin as well)?

Rob: I would have a certain budget for music on any given VERONICA MARS episode that would usually afford me a couple of songs from major label acts. After that, I’d have a couple of thousand dollars leftover, and I’d fill out the show with music from unsigned acts. I almost always chose Austin bands that I was a fan of. What’s funny is that I only knew about the original thousand dollars or so the bands would get paid for a song. I didn’t learn for a long time that they would also receive royalties and that sometimes those songs would end up paying out several thousand dollars. One of the members of the Wannabes described their van as the vehicle VERONICA MARS paid for. Though I never got a chance to see your early tv show “Cupid”, I read somewhere that one of the characters was named “Crazy Judge Croslin”. Can you tell us a bit about the character and if there was a connection to John Croslin (or was it just a name you liked)?

Rob: Many, many of my friends have had characters named after them. Some of them, John included, I believe have made it into multiple scripts. What was behind your decision to move back to Austin recently after so long in California? 

Rob: LA was a great place to be single and 30. Austin is a much better place to be a family man in his 40s. I wanted my kids to go to quality public schools. I wanted to live on half the money I needed in Los Angeles. At the time I moved, I thought I’d be producing a show about the Austin music scene, but STARZ brought in a new network president who killed that project. Now that you’re back in Austin, how would you compare the music scene of 1980’s/early 1990’s Austin with Austin’s current music scene?

Rob: In the 80s and 90s, the music scene was what my life revolved around. I was either playing or going to see other bands. I was seeing bands multiple times a week. Now, I rarely am awake past 10 p.m. I feel unqualified to compare the decades. I’m a huge Okkervil River fan, yet I’ve never seen them play live. I’m a big Spoon fan, and I came in from LA and saw them play the ACL Music Fest, but before that, the last place I’d seen them play was The Electric Lounge in 1994, or so. Are you still playing or writing music at all these days?

Rob: Not at all. I recently learned “Puff the Magic Dragon” on guitar to play for my 6-year-old daughter. I was — and this is telling — always more interested in being in a band than being a musician. What tv, film, or book projects are you working on currently?

Rob: I’m writing a project for HBO. I’m partnered with Owen Wilson and Ira Glass. I see that talk of spin-off films from your “Veronica Mars” and “Party Down” tv shows are mentioned from time to time. Are there still possibilities of “Veronica Mars” or “Party Down” films being made?

Rob: Hope is alive on both of these, but they’re each ongoing battles. Last, but not least, what would be your 10 favorite albums – your “desert island discs”?

Rob: Quick stab… (I’m positive I’m leaving stuff out, but these were albums that, when they came out — or rather, when I discovered them — I played into the ground.)

Wilco – Being There
Radiohead – OK Computer
The Cars – The Cars
Elvis Costello – My Aim is True
Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom
The Clash – London Calling
The Kinks – Kink Kronikles (Yes, I know it’s a hits collection, but it’s how I fell in love with the band.)
Pretenders – Pretenders
R.E.M. – Murmur
U2 – Achtung Baby