We dare you. Just listen to the first seconds of “Leave This Town,” the first track on STEWART LINDSEY’s debut album SPITALLIN’ without feeling goosebumps prickling your arms and your eyes widening in disbelief.
A down-and-dirty delta guitar riff. A thumping drum beat. And a stunning vocal intro, urgent, haunted, earthy and spiritual, with blues-drenched filigrees, a vibrato that shocks like an electric current, a range that defies not just convention but gravity itself.
Is it overkill to suggest nothing like this has come down the pike since Robert Johnson himself?
We don’t think so. And what’s nearly as unbelievable as the power of the DAVE STEWART-produced SPITBALLIN’--which features the haunting first single, “Another Lie”--is the fact that it would never have happened if not for one Twitter message that turned STEWART’s world upside down.
You’d think that after all these years it wouldn’t be that simple. Before getting into why, consider how disconnected their paths were up to the moment THOMAS LINDSEY clicked “Send” on that tweet.
STEWART, of course, has seen and done it all years of superstardom, touring the world with Eurythmics, topping 100 million album sales, scoring films, writing and producing with fellow legends Bono, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin…but none of which prepared him for what he would hear from THOMAS LINDSEY.
While all this was going on, THOMAS LINDSEY was growing up just outside the small town of Deridder, Louisiana. By his own admission, he was a shy kid. “I didn’t hunt or fish,” he remembers, his deep drawl unmistakable. “I didn’t have any friends. I loved music but I never learned to play a musical instrument--I still can’t. And because of that, I didn’t feel like a complete artist. So I just sang at home.”
But those few who were able to hear or bothered to listen sensed there was something very unusual going on inside of LINDSEY. “I had a music teacher back in second grade,” he recalls. “I remember the day she said to me, ‘You sing from a different place, not with your speaking voice.’ So I kept singing, almost as a defense mechanism for when I was stressed or depressed.”
And he listened--not so much to the country music that dominated radio in his area but to a more offbeat selection of artists. “My voice has always been high, so I gravitated toward female singers. I loved Cher--and for a straight guy in junior high school to love Cher, well, that doesn’t work too well for you,” he says, with a laugh.
Much more important, he also loved Eurythmics, featuring the dynamic vocalist Annie Lennox. The more he listened, the more he also connected with the brilliance of her partner, arranger, songwriter and guitarist--DAVE STEWART. So one day, THOMAS decided to send a tweet to his idol, never dreaming that he would actually read it.
“I read it and clicked on the link,” STEWART recalls. “And there he was, singing something on a YouTube video. I don’t remember what it was but there was no music. He was singing a cappella. And I went, ‘Holy crap!’”
Right after that, STEWART got in touch with his young admirer and invited him to send examples of his original material. “Again, it was just Thomas singing, clapping his hands and stomping his feet to the rhythm. But it was really amazing stuff. So I asked if he wanted to come out to Los Angeles and sing three songs unaccompanied before my show at the Troubadour.’”
That trip was epic in more ways than one. For LINDSEY, it was the first time on an airplane. Actually, it was his first venture outside of Deridder. “I was petrified!” he admits. “I mean, I’m OK with traveling now, but that first trip I didn’t leave my hotel room until it was time to go to Dave’s office.”
“He was gripping onto the walls,” STEWART says, looking back on their first meeting. “We felt really bad about that. But that night, when he went onto the stage at the Troubadour all his fears were gone. He sang like an angel, unaccompanied. The audience went silent in about eight seconds. Then they all started talking, like, ‘Who the hell is this kid?’ By the time he’d finished, they loved it. It verified my assumption that Thomas is not a normal singer nor did he sing anything that didn’t sound unique.”
Since then, STEWART and LINDSEY have performed together a few more times, once more at the Troubadour and once at the Roxy in L.A. and in London on the occasion of Stewart receiving Outstanding Contribution to U.K. Music Award from the Music Producers Guild. “We did two songs in front of all these record producers--and Thomas ripped the place apart!” STEWART says. “That’s when I knew.”
Specifically, STEWART knew that it wasn’t just him who recognized LINDSEY’s genius. On their return to the States, they began writing together by sending audio files back and forth between L.A. and Louisiana. “I’d never written like this before,” STEWART says. “Usually I sit in a room with my co-writer. It was very odd and unpredictable when I would open up a file of something he sang in his living room. I would come up with music to send back to him to fit what he sang. It made me think about writing in a completely different way.”
“I loved it!” LINDSEY exclaims. “It gave me the freedom to come home after whatever I’d dealt with that day and just experiment. I could add vocal parts and stay up until 2 in the morning or until I was hoarse, playing around with ideas until I found something kind of cool.”
The more they worked, the more their backgrounds and talents complemented each other. “It meant everything to me to work with someone who always seemed to know what I was hearing in my head,” LINDSEY says. “He could read the emotion I was feeling. I didn’t have to explain anything because he already knew how to do the part I wanted.”
“I heard things in Thomas’s voice that sounded like they came from more than 100 years ago,” STEWART adds. “I’d produced a film down in Mississippi called Deep Blues in the early 90’s where I filmed all these blues players--some of them already in their 70s and 80s. It was incredible to hear that same bluesy/voodoo quality again and to realize it was coming from a white kid from Deridder, mixed in with bits of Nina Simone from the ’50s and ’60s. Plus, his range is nuts; it goes off the charts in his high notes and all the way to the basement as well.”
Working long distance seemed to bring them closer as they built a catalog of songs. Their common ground proved as lush as Delta marshland. Backed by STEWART’s distorted voodoo guitar licks, LINDSEY opens “Leave This Town” in free tempo and then a swampy groove kicks in--just guitar and drums, raw and wild. “Two People” unfolds over a stomping beat that leads to a long vamp over which Lindsey improvises with hair-raising intensity and finesse. Churchy echoes permeate “When Dogs Run,” with a mournful organ providing the backdrop to STEWART’s Pop Staples-style guitar tremolo. “Alcohol” boils down to organ and LINDSEY’s voice recounting a riveting elegy for someone who was “lost to alcohol.”
Some of the stories behind the lyrics on these songs are sad, but true and some more fanciful. To write “Crocodile,” for instance, LINDSEY admits “I tried to write a song that would seem like something from a shoe commercial! I had this image of a woman in bad-ass crocodile boots, walking down the street. That’s how that song formed.”
Regardless of the inspiration, these songs and the others that comprise SPITBALLIN’ are at the very least unlike anything you’ve heard in recent years. Some of it stems from the different histories of these two artists. But even more might be attributed to where their temperaments intersect and ignite each other’s imaginations.
“I know Dave’s music,” LINDSEY says. “And I trust him. I’m not afraid to vocally experiment with him, which is strange. When you play with other people, you can be scared to screw up because you think they’re going to judge you. But with Dave, I’m not afraid of trying anything. He makes it exciting. The harder he plays, the more my vocals will go to places I didn’t even know they could go and I’m just as surprised as anyone else might be.”
“Thomas is the greatest example I know of blues, soul and everything else rolled into one,” STEWART sums up. “His virtuosity and improvisations never go wrong. He would stand up amongst any of the greatest singers I’ve worked with. In fact, he’s already up there amongst the greats--but nobody knows who he is.”
That is about to change, right now. The excitement begins with the disarming first video for “Another Lie” with 13-year-old Indya Love, in an unusual twist, singing the song’s lyrics of love and deceit alongside STEWART and LINDSEY. To mark the album’s release, it is being made available as a double vinyl with four live tracks and a code to download four electro mixes.
Now prepare for the unexpected…