Hella Juiced: Hudson Thames

November 28, 2018

Read the full interview on YoungCalifornia.com!

Hudson Thames is all about authenticity in his music, bringing back those days of playing the piano and writing songs from his heart. Newly signed to Republic Records, the Los Angeles native describes himself as an “old school piano driven singer-songwriter, with a Billy Joel kind of vibe.” What started as fun for him and his Hounds collective soon became his day job, which who wouldn’t want to make art with their best friends? Read more…

With the release of “How I Want Ya” featuring Hailee Steinfeld, which has amassed over 33M streams on Spotify alone, Hudson proves he could hang in the mainstream light. In addition to the live instrumentation, the 24-year-old is keen on real-life storytelling and honestly in his lyrics — something that is not always guaranteed in this day in age. Now, fans wait patiently as he readies his forthcoming debut album.

Why do you prefer being called a “storyteller” vs. genre label?
There’s something I really like to do when I write a song, which is set a scene. That’s something I learned from Billy and those guys I grew up listening to. Growing up, my influences were less concerned with traditional songs, but just really kind of outlandish lyrics at times. Things that almost helped make a tiny little movie within 3 minutes. And I just like the term storyteller over singer-songwriter. [laughs]

How would describe your sound?
I like to describe it as someone narrating your night from the corner of a bar. Suddenly, you turn around and you realize that someone has been playing in the corner. You don’t realize it, but it’s become the score to your evening.

You’re from Los Angeles, how does that play into your life and career?
Quite a bit. My dad is a really talented piano player. He’s from Mississippi and having that in the house was the reason why I got into music to begin with. I just remember seeing that at a very young age and saying “whatever that is, I want to do that.” That was always kind of the end goal for me. Childhood was definitely pretty crazy for me. I come from a family of a lot of creatives and people who have had success in that industry.

I definitely was thrown into very crazy situations early on. I grew up sneaking into bars, parties, and a bunch of shenanigans. It’s funny, because you get to a certain point where it gets old. That happens for most people where you’re 21 or 22, but we had that starting at 14. By that point, I was just like “alright, I’m ready to just make music.”

How important is it to come to LA as an up and coming artist?
I feel like it’s important to be wherever is going to cater to your art. Cut and dry, I am very lucky to have grown up here. If I wanted to be in the auto industry and I grew up in Detroit, that’s just the trade of that city. Here, luckily that’s music. That’s what I wanted to do, so it lined up well. But if you can make an incredible album in New York, Kansas, wherever that is, then do it. Just be aware the tools are to make what you need to make.

At what point did you realize this music thing was forreal?
The first moment that I really had that thought, I was making a 70’s record with some friends in Orange County. I grew up playing with a bunch of different bands. My manager at the time was like, “This one song’s really good, I’m gonna send it to the head of Universal Republic.” I got a call the next day, he was like, “I don’t know what we’re gonna do together, but I wanna bring you out to New York tomorrow. We’re gonna have a very serious talk and we’re gonna make something special.” That was first moment I was like “alright, I guess this is working.”

What was the inspiration behind your name?
None really. I like my name. It’s a cool name, just keeping it honest and authentic.

“How I Want Ya” w/ Hailee Steinfeld has over 2.1M views on Youtube off a lyric video alone. Did you foresee it blowing up like this?
Nope, that song is a pretty funny thing. My first meeting I ever had after I started working with Universal, we sat down and they were like, “Hey, would you do this writing session with this producer?” I was like, “What’s a writing session?” Because I grew up on the piano, writing songs and if I like it, then I record it. There were like, “You go into the studio, you write a song. If it works, then maybe it’s for you, maybe it’s for someone else, but it’s a bit open ended.” I was like “alright, that sounds like fun.” That was the first song I did. We finished the session being like “that’s a cool song. It’s not gonna be for my project, but it’ll work for someone.

Then Hailee heard the song. She really liked it and she was gonna release it, but Universal wanted to keep it as a duet. I was like, “I think the song is great but I haven’t released anything yet, and I’m making it a piano record. I don’t know if that really makes sense.” They were like “well Grey’s Anatomy wants to use it on an episode of their show. There’s a lot of really cool music fans in that show, so we should just throw it on there. It’ll be just a fun little thing and it’ll go away.” It got a bunch heat online, and it started popping off all night. That was super interesting because then I had to reverse engineer. I was playing live like “how do I play this on piano?” It definitely was very exciting but it threw me for a loop a little bit, just in terms of how I approach making music going forward.

What was it like working with her?
It was awesome. We’re actually family friends. Her and her family are really sweet, really good people. They also grew up out here. I have nothing but good things to say about her.

You just released “Last Call.” Talk about the mind state in creating this one.
After “How I Want Ya,” I had a little bit of an identity crisis. I was dating this girl, we were talking about getting married and a whole bunch of crazy stuff. Before I dove into the album, I decided I really needed to travel. I ended up parting ways with this girl I was seeing for a long time and went a little crazy. I shaved all my hair off and went to Antarctica. [laughs] It was a really, really crazy time in my life.

I was like “I need to go figure out how to be super comfortable being alone before I can start sharing these stories with people.” I’ve been building them up for quite a while. That ended up taking me through Italy, Japan, South America, and all over the world with a good friend of mine.

My whole life, people spend all this time saying they want to go to LA. But more than that, people want to go somewhere new. Every kid wants to go see the world to an extent. It was the first time where I traveled for the better part of the whole year, and it was the first time I was homesick. I was excited to come home for the first time. When I came home, I had this whole different perspective on how I wanted to tell these stories. Really bringing it back to what started me off to begin with: at the piano, doing my thing, telling these stories. “Last Call” is an appreciation song for all of my friends and family who helped make this stuff possible for me.

Talk about working with composer Stephan Moccio, who’s worked with so many greats (The Weeknd, Miley Cyrus).
He’s incredible. He’s the other half of why this album is happening. He and I hit it off right away. He’s a brilliant piano player as well. I got paired up with him through Monte Lipman at Republic. Monte was like, “I feel like you guys are really gonna love each other, and make something cool.” I spent about 6 months just hanging out with Stephan, not making any music. Which was incredible for me because we’re just in this age now where you’re just meeting up with someone and making a song on a laptop.

We really got to know each other very deeply before we decided to dive in. He really took a chance on me, I’ve essentially been living in his studio for past year now. We went to London and recorded with an orchestra. We’ve gone on this crazy journey and we’re just starting to roll stuff out. He is an incredibly talented person.

What can we expect from your forthcoming debut album?
It’s extremely personal. Musically, it’s all piano driven or full band. When I play live, I play with a 5 piece band and a horn section. It’s a little bit of a production, which is nice. For the first time sifting through some stories that I was not ready to tell for a long time, it’s like me opening up my journal and putting a microphone to it.

What is it you want fans to get from your story?
We listen to music or watch a movie, and I think it only resonates when we see complete honesty. It’s not really easy to do. It’s not easy to say something that’s completely truthful and have it be good, because there’s balance and the structure of a song. Also just keeping it really brutally authentic. I hope that people really commit to not compromising what they have to say, and a lot of people kind of get that confused. You can present something in a package where it be received by a lot of people. There’s certain things in production and the way that you release music can be accessible, but as long as the sentiment of what you want to say, it has to be super fucking real. Or I don’t think anyone will care.

Talk about the Hounds collective you started and grew up with it.
We’re just this little group misfit toys. My parents and a few of their parents… it’s like a little mafia. The family ties run super deep. Everyone has this role where we started off as kids just shooting little movies together, making songs in the garage, and just having fun and creating together. In the past couple years, we put in enough time and energy where it became a real thing. For the “Last Call” music video, I met with Republic and said, “Listen, I need you guys to take a chance on these guys because on the other side of the lens. They are keeping me accountable and making stuff that feels real.”

Very quickly, this went from just a fun little art collective, to these are now my business partners. [chuckle] They’re my best friends and also, this is who I create art with. 2 of my best friends, Dan and Mcabe, directed the video. A bunch of the Hounds are in there. They make what I do possible. Whether it’s photos or directing, it’s kind of like Odd Future meet the Rattpack.

Talk about signing to Republic & your journey.
My journey with Republic has been awesome, they’ve given me a bunch of opportunities. I had to go a little nuts and put my career in perspective to get this album to a place where I really felt like it was ready.

What is your take on music industry?
The music industry definitely feels like the Wild West. It’s super crazy. I think hip-hop has accelerated the appetite for which people consume music. There’s so much music at all times, which is something that I struggle with a little bit. Because I grew up, and my goal was always to make an album. Whenever I’m talking to someone, I’m like “what’s your favorite album?” Not what’s your favorite song. I think everyone is trying to figure it out. Record labels are trying to figure it out. There’s a big more is more mentality, but I also think that we live in the age of the shiny object.

Where if you put something out and it’s bad, you’re not really defined by it, because people forget about it the next day. I think that can be a little bit dangerous, but it’s exciting you can continue to create rapidly and move forward a little bit faster. But it does feel like the Wild West, which is cool because you can find your niche and take advantage of it.

What are some goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
I feel like I fall into this storytelling lane. It would be really exciting to align myself touring wise, with some of the folks that do that as well. I know I will probably end up touring with some younger people, but I would love to see myself on the road with some older folks too, like Elton John. I was able to collaborate with this guy named Jamie Cullum, who is one of my all time musicians recently. Just being able to stay of the lane of that incredible old school vibe.

What did you do with your first advance?
[laughs] I bought studio gear. A piano and a bunch of synths.

How important is social media for your career?
It’s super important. For me, I kind of went full circle. At first, it was this fun thing. I could just post whenever I want. Then I was like “shit, now it’s such an important part of my business,” which took some of the fun out of it But then I came back around to the point where I was like, “It’s just something that everyone has to do,” so it shouldn’t really stress you out. If you’re inspired something, let people feel like they can get to know you. Bring people in.

3 things you need in the studio?
Water, for sure. Lots and lots of water. Lighting has to be on point. Piano obviously, but incense or Patchouli is also a nice one for me. [laughs]

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
That’s a good question. I do acting as well, which I stopped when I was able to pursue music full time. But if I wasn’t able to do anything artistically whatsoever, I would probably do something with English literature or history. I almost went to school for a double major in those departments. A historian or a traditional writer.

What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
Before I signed with Republic, I had just put some songs up on YouTube. There was a song that I ended up taking down, called “Wait For You.” It was a ballad I had written when I was about 17. This girl came up to me and said she heard the song and downloaded it. Her best friend recently passed away from cancer and that song helped her move through that. That is so wild to me. If I wasn’t in Texas or wherever I was, I never would have known that. I never would’ve known I had that effect on someone, so I really encourage fans that if they ever have an experience with a song, to please let me know.

What’s a normal day in the life? Walk us through.
I like to work out first thing in the morning, it gets my head going. At some point of the day, I’ll write for a few hours. I have this little setup. Then I’ll probably meet up with the Hounds. We’ll either go take photos, go to the skate park, or go shoot a little short film. I try to balance it between enough work and play where it’s fun. Whenever we go on a trip, we always usually set an objective for the day. The other day, my buddy Dan was like “dude I just finished this job, I have a roll of Super 8 film.” I was like “alright dope, come over and let’s see what we can shoot in an hour.” We always set these little almost games, but it always ends up coming out dope.

Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
Probably Kings of Leon. During my formative years, when the Hounds and I were trying to figure out everything, we would listen to so much Kings of Leon. That had a pretty heavy impact on my childhood. But I listen to so much stuff in a given day, I’m in a very heavy french jazz phase right now.

Dream collab?
Right now, it would either be Jack White or Frank Ocean.

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