Over the past couple of years, Providence-based songwriter, musician, and film composer Buck St. Thomas has recorded a smattering of singles, a music video, a full-length album, and the score to an animated feature that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. His music has a vibe that falls into the lane of bands like The Shins or Built to Spill, in the way he creates compositions that don’t rely on set guitar/bass/drums. Instead, his songs seem to form organically with various, suitable instruments taking the lead over prominent double-tracked vocals.
“I very much allow the song to figure itself out,” St. Thomas says. “Most of the time, I start on guitar or piano and work my way around until the right combination and arrangement of instruments comes out. For ‘It Isn’t Too Complicated,’ it was actually the chorus vocals that came to me first and I ran to a guitar. Working entirely by myself as a songwriter is a new experience. I’ve been in bands my entire adult life, where figuring out songs happens during band practice. Now it happens during the recording process.”
“Weird” was released as a single and music video in 2021, and stands apart as mostly a piano ballad with some guitar and electronic synth accents on the chorus, resulting in a sparse and brooding listen. The accompanying video by Nate Milton portrays the NASA satellite Cassini exploring the solar system. While the lyrics don’t explicitly reference satellites and Voyager-esque explorations, the tone personifies the robotic/mechanical nature of the video and brings the whole piece to an emotional place despite being devoid of anything remotely humanoid.
“‘Weird’ is the result of meandering around on my piano for about a half hour until that song worked its way out, melody and all,” St. Thomas recounts. “The chorus synth accents are a bass synth manually tuned up a few octaves as an eerie homage to the singing saws that I love so much in Neutral Milk Hotel’s work. The brilliant animation is a short film by Nate Milton.”
“Weird” is just one of numerous scoring projects St. Thomas, along with his wife, songwriter Alexandra Rose, and producer Kyle Joseph, has contributed to Milton’s animation work, including the score for Milton’s short animated film Eli that was a featured selection at Sundance.
“Nate and I have been very close since I was 10; we were on the same baseball team. We immediately clicked and started creating stuff together,” St. Thomas reminisces. “We workshopped the story of Eli over about two years. Nate wrote the script and started pulling my demos to lay in. Once he started finding the music that worked, I began fleshing it out. I really wanted to use strings so I hired Armand Aromin (violin) and Piera Leone (cello) and just figured out how to record them. This process really gave me the confidence that I could just find my way to where I want to go through trial and error and it directly translated to my approach to my solo music.”
St. Thomas plans to play his latest releases live on acoustic and in true fashion to his creative process, slowly working in pieces of a band to suit his needs. Currently, St. Thomas and Milton are working on another film. St. Thomas also scored a different animation project that Nate co-created for This American Life, which will air on CBS Sunday Morning “in the not-so-distant future.”
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