Teddy Thompson, Embracing Modern Music The son of folk-rockers Richard and Linda Thompson says he didn't listen to any music made after 1959 until he was 16. But his new album furthers his folk and country roots with some of the contemporary sounds he's grown to like.
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Teddy Thompson, Embracing Modern Music

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Teddy Thompson, Embracing Modern Music

Teddy Thompson, Embracing Modern Music

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Teddy Thompson has done classic country on his album "Up Front and Down Low." Recording with his parents, Richard and Linda Thompson, he's paid homage to his folk roots. But his latest album takes folk sounds one step further and mixes them with a little pop. This is "One of These Days."

(Soundbite of song "One of These Days")

Mr. TEDDY THOMPSON (Country Singer): (Singing) No one's ever gonna to hurt you. Ooh, don't I wish that could be true. No one's every gonna love you like I do. Woh, ooh, like I do.

WERTHEIMER: Teddy Thompson's latest album is "A Piece of What You Need." And he joins us from the BBC studios in London. Teddy Thompson, you were born on a commune in London in 1976. And you've said that you didn't listen to any music made after 1959 until you were about 16 years old. What were you listening to?

Mr. TEDDY THOMPSON (Country Singer): Yeah, I was listening to rock and roll and country music exclusively. And to a kid that had grown up being exposed to real '50s rock and roll music from a very young age...


Mr. THOMPSON: Like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers and Hank Williams and the Countryside and...

WERTHEIMER: That's my music.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah, all the good stuff. I mean, that's - you know. And then I started becoming aware of modern music, and kids your age at school start getting interested in music. And what I heard that was contemporary music just sounded so much worse than the '50s music. And it was, for the most part, you know. So to the ears of a kid - of a child that didn't know any better, I equated, you know, '50s music, good, modern music, bad. And it took me a good few years to figure out that there was good contemporary music. But for the most part it wasn't in the charts. It wasn't in the mainstream anymore.

WERTHEIMER: Let's try one of the tracks that has more of a produced sound. It's called "What's This?"

(Soundbite of song "What's This?")

Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) I smile the way she moves her stuff in my arms. Although and I'm calling her muffin. Is it you? Is it me? Is it us? Is it we? Uh, oh. Oh, rise and shine, she's right there with me. On my mind be it clean or filthy. Is it you? Is it me? Is it us? Is it we? Uh, oh.

WERTHEIMER: Well, since you are immersed in the music of that era, heroes of that era weren't rockabilly. That's what I thought when I listened to this album.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, it depends where you're from. Because, you know, music does come around. So people of my parents' generation would certainly hear this record and probably hear the rockabilly or country or rock and roll influences and think, oh, that sort of reminds me a bit of, you know, of my youth. But people of my age and younger that hear it don't have those reference point so much. So to them it sounds positively modern.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THOMPSON: But that's the way music goes.

(Soundbite of song "What's This?")

Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) And the voices in my head come down. Saying this will never work it out. And the voices in my head are loud. Saying this will never work it out. I don't wanna hear it.

WERTHEIMER: So what are people telling you about this different sound, the way it takes a, you know, a little more liberty in the studio, sort of pushes things with the big driving track behind it. Is this something you think you're going to keep doing?

Mr. THOMPSON: As long as I can afford it. But - well, it's just, you know, a lot of it has to do with, you know, this is my job and I make records. And you do it a bit, and then you want to expand your ideas and have a bit more fun in trying to push the envelope. Hopefully, we haven't taken away anything from the songs. We've just expanded.

WERTHEIMER: For you music is a family affair. Your parents are the British folk rockers, Richard and Linda Thompson. Your sister is a singer, Camilla Thompson. Was there ever a time in your life when you planned to be something else besides a musician?

Mr. THOMPSON: Ah, I did want to be a fireman for a while. But I was five. So, nothing in the adult realm. I never had any other discernible skills.

WERTHEIMER: Well, you brought your guitar with you today, so we can check you out on your discernible skills.

Mr. THOMPSON: So you can check out my skills, yeah!

WERTHEIMER: Could you play something from your new album? "Where To Go From Here." How's that?

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah, sure.

(Soundbite of song "Where To Go From Here")

Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) (unintelligible) I wait at the edge of life. I want to miss what might surprise. It's hard to know where to go from here. Hard to know where to go.

Time is a waste of me. I'm up at noon for nothing real that I know. All that I'm wasting. It comes on once there's no real peace. It's hard to know where to go from here. Hard to know where to go.

Turn away is what I choose today. Turn away is not the same as I give in. It's hard to know where to go from here. Hard to know where to go from here. It's hard to know where to go.

WERTHEIMER: Time is a waste of me? There's a little bit of a mournful sound to that one. Where does that come from? Is that folk music or country music, or do you just have a dark side?

Mr. THOMPSON: I think if you have a sort of a default position, if you like. Some people are sort of naturally lean towards the melancholy, and some people are naturally more positive and upbeat. And I suppose that I certainly do lean towards the melancholy, but not that I'm walking around morbidly depressed all day. It's just if I was going to fall one way or the other...

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that makes for better music?

Mr. THOMPSON: From my point of view as a songwriter, you know, I think that writing a truly happy, joyous song is the hardest thing in the world. I do love sad music. I'm naturally drawn into it, you know. And it is a folk and country thing that it's very dour stuff. But it's also because that's sort of easier to pour that out of yourself.

(Soundbite of song "Turning The Gun On Myself")

Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) New York is loud. It's wonderfully loud. I wouldn't live anywhere else. But I need my rest to be at my best. Away from the highest above(ph). Losing my will, shooting to kill. And turning the gun on myself...

Mr. THOMPSON: People that tend to sit down and write songs or write poetry or something, it's usually when you're down. It's - usually if you're in a good mood, you don't sit down and write about it. You'd go out and enjoy the sunshine or something, you know. I can think of very few examples of really wonderful, happy songs that have just hit the nail on the head. Whereas, I think there's a wealth of wonderful sad songs that really tap into the heartache.

WERTHEIMER: Teddy Thompson, thank you very much.

Mr. THOMPSON: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Could we try one more song? Would "Can't Sing Straight" go with what we've just been talking about?

Mr. THOMPSON: Ah, well, this is a little different. This is a song more about self abuse which is a slightly different area. But self destructive, country, blues, rhythm, how's that?


Mr. THOMPSON: That's the genre that this song fits into.

(Soundbite of song "Can't Sing Straight")

Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) I've been drinking so much, I can't sing straight. God, I hope that it's not too late...

WERTHEIMER: You can hear Teddy Thompson play exclusive live versions of his new songs online at the special music site of npr.org.

(Soundbite of song "Can't Sing Straight")

Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) Maybe it's cool, maybe it's fine. Maybe I'll learn to walk the line. It's been a very short run I must object. You're not really gonna take it away just yet. I need 10 more years to get to good. I just did what I thought I could get away with. Baby, it's good. Baby, it's fine. Baby, I don't...

WERTHEIMER: This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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