Stranded In Stereo: Waves on Waves are Making Waves

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Waves on Waves are Making Waves

How a queer-led retro band can work ... with two straight dudes
by Chris Azzopardi
Originally printed 10/2/2008 (Issue 1640 - Between The Lines News)

Kevin Thornton makes a mad dash across Mack Avenue, through some drizzle, to a pub across the street from the dinky hole-in-the-wall bar he and his band will jam at. Save for what he dug up in the band's cooler - some snacks and sandwiches - he's a hungry fellow. Which makes it hard to believe that when he reaches a corner pub, he's scarfing down two salads. And he's not even a vegetarian.

Thornton, the gay lead singer of retro Nashville-based band Waves on Waves (which also includes drummer Enoch Porch and bassist Luke Aaron Jones), hurriedly downs a glass of wine, chatting in between bites. His voice competes with the blues music overhead as he says, "I guess I'm giving kind of boring answers. You want me to spice it up a little bit?"

Add more "cock" talk, he insists. But who needs that with juice this yummy: "Enoch is a very physical person. He has no problem with jumping on top of you and pretending like he's fucking the shit out of you."

And he's hetero?

"They usually think I'm the straight one," says Thornton, who's 35, doesn't look it and, when he's told that, grabs the recorder sitting on the table, holds it to his mouth and mimics: "He wouldn't have guessed that."

Even though he dons a pink drag-queeny hat made of feathers on the cover of their self-titled album, we can see how people could get confused: Porch is an ueber-friendly straight guy that some might call bi-curious (and, later, he doesn't deny dry-humping his bandmates) and Jones, who rolls his own cigs after sound check, often leans to the side with his hand on his hip. Both of them have been known to stick their penises out the window. Which isn't so gay - but good to know.

Thornton likes to tack "man" to the end of his tres chill statements ("That's all an act; I do drag on the weekends," he jokes). And though gay stereotypes sometimes lead to misjudgment, the Madonna muscle shirt he's wearing during their 40-minute set at The Village Idiot in Detroit is like watching a rainbow come to fruition.

"I like HGTV," he 'fesses. "I love that sorta thing. But I mean, I dunno - I know this is probably an overly-said thing, but my sexuality doesn't define me in any way. It shouldn't for anyone. I mean, I know my mannerisms aren't stereotypical. I don't know. I just like not being stereotypical in everything. With that being said, if someone fits every stereotype, that's fine, too, I guess. Like, whatever. I don't care. But that's just not me."

Not a 'gay' band

Thornton's head is tilted back, a euphoric look paints his face - he's singing with his emotive, elastic-y voice and playing the keyboard on "We Want 2," which boasts a chorus as catchy as gum to the bottom of a shoe. Passersby trickle in. Which surely elates them - but the band is humble whether they're playing for hundreds or one: "Hello Detroit! Are you ready to rock?" Thornton shouted in front of just a few fans before they launched their gig, which is part of a whirlwind tour that'll take them back to Michigan for several upcoming shows.

He moves around on his stool, bringing his leg into his chest and grinding against the seat. But however Thornton positions himself, he looks comfy, like he's been doing this for longer than you'd think. And he has been.

Waves on Waves formed 10 years ago, when the guys used to have house-jams while all attending school in Northern Indiana. To focus on the group, Thornton quit his dinner theater job - "a big cheesefest" - where he made a living as an actor. But it wasn't until 2004, with gay-undertone-heavy "Had a Sword," that the trio received some underground recognition. Now they've got a publicist, a label agreement that gives them creative control - and, still, enough flamboyancy to make Boy George jealous.

"We're not a gay band," Thornton says. And to classify them as such would be like saying that Fall Out Boy is a gay band because they're not the macho dudes of, say, Rolling Stones. Even with a queer lead singer, their retro music doesn't cater specifically to any audience - though "We Want 2" was written with the gay movement in mind - and the lyrics are written to appeal to everyone, and their grandmas.

"I write from a really subconscious place, a lot of times. I don't even know what I'm talking about right away," he says. "I like to speak in universal language. I think, especially with the kind of music we're playing, the more universal I feel like, the better job I'm doing - that people can hear it and kind of apply their own meaning to it, opposed to, 'When I was 10 in Tennessee ...'"

"Had a Sword" addressed growing up in a conservative Christian household and how it clashed with him being gay. But the new wave songs on their chill-out latest exhibit a fond adoration for rock visionaries of the mid-'80s, like Tears for Fears and Morrissey - and, to honor Prince, an obsession with the number "2."

But as much as Thornton can't let go of the '80s, he's still got fond memories of the last decade, when he says he was most boy crazy: "For me, in the '90s, I was like coming of age and figuring out who I was and going to gay bars. All of that music in that time period that I heard, that's not necessarily music that I would like," he admits, breaking into La Bouche's 1995 single "Be My Lover." "But because it was such a part of that time of my life, I like it, because it reminds me of a time in my life when I was figuring it out."

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