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Artist: Thornbills sing like birds — edgy birds

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Benjamin Weatherston, The Ann’s photo chief, recently sat down with Tamara Finlay and Jim Wiegand of The Thornbills at the Leon Loft in Ann Arbor. If you’re interested in their unique blend of American folk with a darker European influence, visit thethornbills.com for more information. Who should Ben interview next? Let him know at ben@benjaminweatherston.com.

Ben: You both come from the same musical family as cousins. What was it like growing up around music?
Tamara: I don’t think I ever really thought about it. I guess because the whole family was musical, I thought that everyone was. I think the real problem to me was the practicality of music. It didn’t pay the bills.

Ben: Did one of you have to work harder at the craft or has it always been pretty natural?
Jim: Singing in harmony never came naturally to me but Tamara can do it in her sleep. I had spent a long time refining my writing style after being in a handful of bands out of high school.

Ben: How did you make the decision to get together as a band?
Jim: I had just started taking voice lessons with my Uncle Gordon (Tamara’s father) at the same time I was working on a solo project. Gordon had been trying to get Tamara and I to start writing music together for a while but we hadn’t taken it seriously.
Tamara: Jim asked me to sing some backing vocals and the results were undeniable. We recognized it immediately and set all other projects aside to work together.

Ben: And how did you come up with Thornbills?
Tamara: We played with a couple of band names, but we wanted to find a name that was organic and sweet, but with an edge. I searched for songbirds that sing in harmony and found “thornbills” they sing together, and the “thorn” added a bit of an edge.

Ben: What were the first few months like?
Jim: The first few months were a lot of open mics. I remember usually being pretty nervous but we were always well received. just out of high school I was in a few different bands but this was the first time doing a stripped down acoustic project as a duo.

Ben: And did you assume you’d be doing that forever? Or at least for years?
Tamara: We were in it for the experience, but we felt deep down like it was special, it made us feel good and we wanted to keep it up.

Ben: So then you get a call.
Tamara: Yeah, we were pretty sure it was a prank. We played one real gig at The Lager House in Detroit and all of a sudden we get this message that Jack White wanted to talk to us! It was pretty surreal.

Ben: When did the reality sink in?
Tamara: I think it didn’t really become real to us until we got to Nashville and we were pulling up to these ominous gates at Third Man. Before that we thought it may have been an elaborate hoax.

Ben: What was the recording process like?
Tamara: It was very free and easy, we were at liberty to be ourselves.
Jim: Jack had a lot of great ideas that really brought the songs to life.

Ben: Are you glad you started with a single instead of plunging into a full length album?
Jim: Definitely. Since then we have grown a great deal , both  as individuals and as a group. As we’ve grown and changed together we’ve learned to trust our instincts more.
Tamara: At the time our sound was still very much in it’s fledgling stage.  I think Jack’s influence helped us to see that our songs could go in any number of directions.

Ben: What was it like coming back to life in Ann Arbor after an experience like that?
Jim: The whole thing was like a dream I used to have as a kid. But then it actually happened.  When I got back to Michigan it was almost as if it happened in another life.

Ben: Then how long till you decided to start recording the EP?
Jim: We didn’t decide to record the EP until about a year later. We spent that time trying out musicians and putting together a band, writing and reworking songs and just playing out as much as we could.

Ben: And now that you’ve gone on to record a full-length album as well, how different were the three processes?
Jim: If anything it keeps getting easier because I am more familiar with the process itself.
Tamara: It’s more like we’ve grown as musicians and people, separately, and as a whole. We’ve been through a lot together and that has a profound impact on the music.

Ben: Are you personally growing in new areas musically?
Tamara: I don’t think there’s any other option. Once you’ve tapped into music as a channel of self expression, every new experience finds it’s way into that form. As long as we’re experiencing things personally, those experiences will find their way into our songs.

Ben: What are your biggest fears or the things you want to make sure you avoid for the future of the Thornbills?
Jim: Early on I used to be really concerned with what people thought we were supposed to sound like . I’ve learned that it’s only worth putting the work in if you do it for yourself . Though it’s easier said than done, now I try to avoid falling into that mindset of trying to please anyone outside of the band.

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