The ever-evolving genres and influences of Rich Boy Junkie’s music are indicative of the journey Collin Thomas has taken since forming the band in his college bedroom five years ago. Vents chatted with Collin about Rich Boy Junkie’s fourth-full length album “Have Fun in the Sky”, (out today), the influence living in LA had on the songs, and what’s next for the band.
Hi Collin, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Doing well! Super stoked to be doing this, thanks for chatting with me.
Can you talk to us more about the album’s first single “Saddle Ridge (Topanga Is Burning)”?
“Saddle Ridge” is a cool one for me for sure. This was the first song I wrote after I moved to LA and it really sort of dictated the angle of the record as a whole. My last full length was VERY electronic, a lot of synthesizers and drum machines and all that. I had been interested in doing something more guitar-focused for what became Have Fun in the Sky, and this song started as a chord progression that I have noodled with for years when I was just sitting and playing guitar. One night I sort of zoned in to writing the lyrics as this stream-of-conscious story kind of deal, and it was a happy accident that worked out with that progression. I finished the song up and thought it was pretty decent, tried it out at an open mic night, and by the end of the song the people there were singing the hook. It was a super cool response to get from a handful of friends and strangers, and that made me feel like there was something significant in the tune. My first composition in LA, the first song I wrote for the record…it made sense to me to make it the first single almost two years later.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
Yes and no, which is a pretty lame non-answer. I have a lot of trouble writing things that are completely removed from my experiences, so everything I write is inherently connected to something I saw or did. As a general note, it was about being newly single in this brand new city and trying to regain the confidence to navigate that. Dating is tough, especially when you don’t know a ton about the place you’re living yet. I remember in particular one night that we were out for a friend’s birthday (which I do directly reference in the song), and I was dealing with a lot of anxiety about going up to people and talking to them in the classic “met her at a bar” nightlife kind of sense. This song sort of became a way for me to reject those anxieties because it’s much easier to play a song and scream “I want to take you home” than it is to look someone in the eye and tell them how you honestly feel, in a vulnerable and emotional sense.
What’s the story behind the song’s title?
I moved to Los Angeles in August 2019 and was living up north in the valley at the time. That October was my first LA “fire season”, and the Saddleridge Fire was the first big one I remember. It lasted three weeks or something like that. Whenever I would drive from the valley to where my friends were living I would drive through the Topanga Canyon, and I remember how eerie it was seeing the canyon fill with smoke for the three weeks the fire was burning. “Saddle Ridge (Topanga is Burning)” mentions those fires in the first line, so I think it was the type of deal where a placeholder title kind of stuck. I think a lot of it was also that a name like “Saddle Ridge” fit the sort of Americana vibe to the tune – internally the band has called this the “yeehaw” song.
How was the recording and writing process for Have Fun in the Sky?
It was so different. Like so so weird and different. God bless Jazz Gaudet, who produced the record and rode out the majority of the process with me. I realize now that back in (I think) December 2019, when I asked him to come on board and help me with this, it probably sounded like the most unorganized and unfocused project ever. I was coming in with half finished demos, even some songs with no lyrics at all, and was just like “do you think we can make something real from this?” Luckily, the dude is a wizard. I had recorded drums before, but never live drums specifically for a Rich Boy Junkie record. Usually it’s a lot of weird syncopated sequenced drums, so that was a change. Never any harmonies or additional vocalists…I think harmony writing is really my achilles heel as a songwriter. But Jazz just gets that stuff, he’s got a wonderful voice, and he is a wildly talented drummer. He elevated this stuff, hands down. I also handed most of the lead guitar stuff to Brian Berger, who brought a really cool indie and punk aesthetic to a lot of these songs that I can’t touch. It was a lot of me turning to friends and saying “I trust you, go with your gut, and let’s make something cool”. That writing process worked great for us, and made this the first super collaborative RBJ release. So much of it was recorded separately because of Covid, but when it came together it gelled so well. Somehow I think despite that limitation, there is a real chemistry among everyone that played on it.
What role does LA play in your music?
There’s a stereotype that exists out there that people from the Midwest always move out to LA so they can hang out with all of their friends from the Midwest. I’ve always gotten a laugh out of that because it explains my life out here almost exactly. Almost everyone I know out here is a transplant. I grew up in Chicago, but always wanted to come out here because LA has always been portrayed as this sparkly, golden, sort of psychedelic wonderland. I knew when I got here that I wanted to write my “LA” record, so I feel like the musicality of it is 100% taken from the climate. I wanted to write something that ‘felt’ like LA, so I was listening to a lot of the classic music that came from Laurel Canyon back in the day. What was kind of funny was, as I wrote this record, I transitioned from being a doe-eyed LA newbie to seeing some of the ugliness that existed in this city underneath the glamour. Not to mention seeing what came during the pandemic and everything surrounding the protests…it just kind of gave this city an edge that made me feel more jaded about it all. I think that reflects lyrically for sure, especially with songs like “Longmire? The Outsiders?”. A record that was thematically based around this city sort of morphed over time, so I wanted to take the end product and present it as something that is still a love letter to LA without declaring it a perfect, wartless utopia.
What themes did you explore on this record?
A lot of it is love and aging, which I think is a common theme in songs for a good reason. I started a new relationship at the end of 2019/start of 2020, and usually the inclination is to write some “la la la I’m in love” type songs. This time I tried to be more thoughtful about the approach than that, mostly because myself and my partner tried to be more mindful about this relationship than we had been with our respective pasts. That’s where songs like “Go Quietly” come from – it sounds like a moody sad song on first listen. But actually that song is me telling my partner that we want to be honest and upfront with each other about all aspects, and if this isn’t something that serves us it’s ok to amicably call it without a fight. Luckily for me, that hasn’t been the case. She’s been great, and I tip my hat to the partner of any artist because we all definitely require a lot of patience.
Aging is hard for me, like it is for a lot of people. 25/26 is a weird age, and not just because of health insurance. My priorities are changing and some stuff is slipping to make way for other things. I’m more conscious of things about myself and my friends who drink and do drugs and stuff like that, because that stuff looks a lot different in your late 20s than it does when you’re in college. Some of the ‘funny stories’ from when you were 19 can carry different weights if you’re doing the same things at 25. I’m at an age where that stuff gets scarier. But I’m also at an age where people are married and having babies. It’s a wild transition where the differences in lifestyles become clear. I know as many people that own homes as I do people who still go to college parties. So I tried to reflect on that as soberly as possible, and reflect on my past as well. It’s hard to stay impartial when you’re entrenched in it.
Where else do you find the inspiration for songs and lyrics?
I’ve always been a firm believer in the concept of “art imitates art”. I am constantly trying to listen to new things and pick apart how things get done to apply it as best as I can to my own practice. I’m an audio engineer by trade, so diving into things like vocal effects and snare sounds could be a great Saturday night in my book. But, as I said before, it’s hard for me to really write anything that feels honest and genuine if it’s not about my experiences. I try to use music as my own sort of storybook. Brian, the guitarist from this record and a very good friend of mine, keyed me into this outlook on creating art – even if you are the only one that will ever consume it, you get to use it as a photo album of sorts. These songs get to be a stamp of what my life was at a given moment. Have Fun in the Sky will always be the first record I wrote in LA. It’s my Covid record, for whatever that’s worth! So I think telling my own story, as uninteresting as that may be to some, is always going to be the most fruitful piece of inspiration for me.
What else is happening next in Rich Boy Junkie’s world?
Hopefully, shows very very soon. I’m still trying to figure out my comfort with that, as I’m sure a lot of other folks are. I do feel very fortunate, though, because this album got a crowdfunding backing to get pressed on vinyl. That’s a crazy feeling because, as a record collector that also makes music, it’s always been a dream to hold my own music in a physical sense like that. So those will become available sometime this summer after the record comes out digitally on 6/25. Past that, I really want to start working with other people more. This record was the most collaborative by far to this point. But I have so many talented friends that are doing cool things, and I’ve started to step into a producer role on some projects over the last few years. There is a great feeling with the folks playing in this band with me, so working with them to tighten up live and hopefully write some new stuff is on the horizon. I’m also trying to build my own guitar right now. As long as I can keep my mind on music right now, I’m happy to go wherever the world steers me at that point.