Concerts

Jay Thomas Puts His Hopes and Anxieties to Work on Butterfly Parade

Jay Thomas
Jay Thomas Photo by Viviana Garcia
Jay Thomas comes from a long line of performers.

"My grandfather was a comedian and actor in England. My mom played piano; she was once on The Benny Hill Show. My dad is a Rod Stewart impersonator, or a tribute act as he would prefer to say," Thomas tells New Times with a laugh.

Thomas first burst onto the Miami music scene as part of folk-pop trio Bluejay, which got its start in Tallahassee in 2010 before the band moved south. (The band disbanded in 2016.) Lately, Thomas has been focusing on making music as a solo artist.

So whether it was nature or nurture, the obvious thing for him to do was make music amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.

First, he and his sister, Zjolie, released Concierta Quarantina in 2020, a trio of songs about their immediate reactions to lockdown. Now, Thomas is preparing to release Butterfly Parade, a new album that channels the pain and anxiety everyone's felt the last two years.

"Butterfly Parade
is about grieving with each other about what we just lost — and we've all lost so much," Thomas explains. "I'd written before about grief and death for other songs which prepared me for this. This is a salve, I hope, for everything and everyone we just lost."

The ten-track album will be released sporadically over the next year, with the first two tracks, "Scream, Butterfly" and "Dream of the Underworld," dropping today. Though audiences have the opportunity to hear the album in its entirety when Thomas performs the record from start to finish at the North Beach Bandshell on Thursday, March 17.

"It'll be the biggest band I ever played with," Thomas says.

About nine musicians will join him on stage, including a pair of cellists, a violinist, a dancer, and his sister, who will help with the vocals. A Knight New Work grant funded the project.

"Creating a sound that needs a large band during a pandemic seemed like a wild idea," Thomas says. "At one point, we thought we'd do a musical with zombies that represent the pandemic. But then I anticipated we wouldn't want COVID-style entertainment when we come out of this. So my partner, Oscar, suggested [we] do a concept album, and we dreamed big."

Thomas also hopes the music helps foster unity.

"It's in opposition to the divisive culture we live in now," he adds. "I know what it's like to be different, but coming out of COVID, we should realize we're all the same now. I would never have expected topics like masks and vaccines would become so divisive."
The album's lead single, "Scream, Butterfly," has a decidedly upbeat nature. The video was filmed in the off hours of a coffee shop, allowing Thomas and his entourage to go wild, breathing a sigh of relief after trauma.

"It's the most people I ever worked on a video with at once," he says. "We're seeking to provide levity even while talking about life and death. I wanted high energy, and when I sat down at the guitar to write it, it just burst out. I'm singing to the first person I ever loved romantically. I identify as gay now, but I was in love with a girl. She died very young, in a car crash."

The heavy themes laced within playful music continue with the other single, "Dream of the Underworld."

"It's a reaction to our culture. The song is what it sounds like in my head when navigating polarizing issues," Thomas explains. "The song's my mantra to my loved ones that if you dare to think outside the box, I'll have your back. I love drum n bass, that's the music that always makes me dance, so there's a dubstep part to the song. On guitar, it sounded like folk-pop, but all dressed up, it has become something else."

This year, Thomas looks forward to sharing more of Butterfly Parade with listeners.

"I'm an album person in a singles market. I had to write them as a whole album together, otherwise, the songs would be all over the place. I want people to love it as an album, and the best way to do that these days is to release each song singularly."

Jay Thomas. 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 17, at North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-453-2897; northbeachbandshell.com. Admission is free with RSVP.
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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novels, The End of the Century and Yo-Yo, are available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland