Pere Ubu | David Thomas | Interview

Over the next 34 years they defined the art of cult; refined the voice of the outsider; and inspired the likes of Joy Division, Pixies, Hüsker Dü, Henry Rollins, REM, Sisters of Mercy, Thomas Dolby, Bauhaus, Julian Cope and countless others.

David Thomas is one of the founding members of the short-lived Rocket from the Tombs (1974–1975), in which he played under the moniker “Crocus Behemoth”. From 1975 he has been very busy with Pere Ubu and his solo releases. Though primarily a singer, he sometimes plays melodeon, trombone, musette, guitar or other instruments.

‘Pennsylvania’ and ‘St Arkansas’ are two classic Pere Ubu records that are newly remixed by David Thomas. Fire Records issued them on vinyl, along with many other Pere Ubu records.

Where and when did you grow up? Would you like to talk a bit about your background?

David Thomas: I was born in 1953 in Miami. I grew up in Cleveland Heights, an eastern suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. My father was a first-generation American with French and Welsh parents. He grew up in NYC and taught American Literature. He was passionate about Walt Whitman and Vachel Lindsay. My mother was an artist with a passion for flowering roadside weeds, Renaissance art and Middle Eastern ancient history. Her family came to America just after the Mayflower. She worked for the Natural History Museum drawing fossils and painting birds. I have a younger brother who is a chemical engineer troubleshooting chemical plants in China, Indonesia and Malaya. I have a younger sister who worked for the US Department of Geology specializing in water tables. I am a High School graduate who was taking special college-level courses in micro-biology. That was my future until I became disillusioned and declined college.

When did you begin playing music? Who were your major influences? 

I began playing in 1974. I was working as copy editor and writer / columnist for a weekly tabloid called The Scene. A friend on the distribution side had the idea of doing a band that would tie in and promote the magazine. He had some buddies who played and we put it together. We did a couple shows and decided to pursue it more directly. That band became Rocket From The Tombs. I have absolutely no major influences. Rocket From The Tombs had some heavy MC5, Stooges and Alice Cooper connections in the beginning but they didn’t come from me.

Was there a special moment when you knew that you wanted to be a musician for the rest of your life?

No. I never had any such realization or intention or desire. Pere Ubu was meant to be the end. I scoured used record bins at the Salvation Army. I loved to find forgotten self-produced singles of local bands which I then researched – artifacts of lost culture, unknown folk art history. My ambition for Pere Ubu was to be discovered in a used record bin in 30 years.