Niskayuna High grad balances career and music

Bryan Thomas performs at the press conference for First Night 2015 at the Saratoga Arts Council on Broadway. Photo by Marc Schultz/Gazette photographerBryan Thomas performs at the press conference for First Night 2015 at the Saratoga Arts Council on Broadway. Photo by Marc Schultz/Gazette photographer
Bryan Thomas performs at the press conference for First Night 2015 at the Saratoga Arts Council on Broadway. Photo by Marc Schultz/Gazette photographer

Bryan Thomas performs at the press conference for First Night 2015 at the Saratoga Arts Council on Broadway. Photo by Marc Schultz/Gazette photographer

By BILL BUELL
Gazette Reporter

DELMAR — Bryan Thomas is such a likable, easy-going kind of guy, it’s hard for him to remain serious when he’s talking about himself. Even if the subject is music.

“A lot of people want to say that I’m a cross between Prince and Joni Mitchell,” said Thomas, who will be performing at the Saratoga City Center on Dec. 31 as part of First Night Saratoga. “If they had a child I would be that disturbed individual. But I’m OK with that. They’ve both done some fine work.”

Since immersing himself into the music world in 1997, the Niskayuna and Middlebury College grad has gained a solid reputation locally as a soul rocker.

Metroland Magazine called his 2002 work, “Ones and Zeros,” the area’s “Album of the Year,” and Greg Haymes of the Nippertown music website wrote, “Thomas’ uncompromising songs are specifically local, yet gloriously global. He writes smart, and he writes from the heart, balancing intellect, passion and politics.”

Bryan Thomas performs at the press conference for First Night 2015 at the Saratoga Arts Council on Broadway. Photo by Marc Schultz/Gazette photographer

Bryan Thomas performs at the press conference for First Night 2015 at the Saratoga Arts Council on Broadway. Photo by Marc Schultz/Gazette photographer

Thomas grew up in Niskayuna’s Rosendale Estates and graduated from high school in 1987. A fine student, music wasn’t always his first priority.

“I was recruited into the jazz band my senior year at Niskayuna,” said Thomas, who credits former band instructor Melvin Schiff as a major influence in high school. “Mr. Schiff was a real nice guy, and I played the keyboards back then and I couldn’t read music that well. I kind of tag-teamed the keyboards with a friend. If there was a song that required that you actually read the music and play, my friend would do it. I was better at the stuff you could be a little loose with.”

At Middlebury, Thomas started playing the guitar more and played with a couple of bands.

“I played in some bands, off and on, but I was always writing songs,” he said. “They were songs I didn’t want other people to hear or play. At least not until a few years after college. It wasn’t until 1997 that I started poking around and playing out in public a few times. It was intimidating at first. But I started hanging out at the local scene, met some people, made some friends.”

His success, he says, is relative.

“I’m huge, with about five people,” he said, laughing. “This has become more than a hobby but less than … well, I do have to eat and pay the bills. I still work during the day.” So Thomas, now a Delmar resident, married with two young daughters, works full-time in online communications.

Bryan Thomas sings into a looping device during a performance at the press conference for First Night 2015 at the Saratoga Arts Council on Broadway. Photo by Marc Schultz/Gazette photographer

Bryan Thomas sings into a looping device during a performance at the press conference for First Night 2015 at the Saratoga Arts Council on Broadway. Photo by Marc Schultz/Gazette photographer

That said, his website, Bryanthomas.com, gets plenty of traffic. He recently performed at Steamer No. 10 in Albany, he’s playing First Night Saratoga, and he has a January date coming up at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs. While he doesn’t have a problem with the label of soul rocker, he doesn’t like to categorize his music.

“That is really hard,” he says. “I’m a soul rock singer/songwriter, solo electric guy,” said Thomas, who sometimes plays with his own band, Buggy Jive. “I do mostly my own stuff but I will do a cover now and then. I like to mix things up a bit and not stay truly faithful to the original song. I’ll put my own stamp on it and destroy it in that way.”

Thomas also put together a video called “Basement Live,” which includes multiple images of him playing different instruments and singing.

“It’s as if I did a house concert at home without inviting the people,” he said.

“I wanted to play a bunch of different parts so I have multiple versions of myself in the video using green screens and split screens. I am the whole band.”

Both of Thomas’ parents were teachers in the Schenectady City School District, and though they weren’t musically inclined, they certainly fostered a love of the arts in their three sons.

“My two brothers are all writers, poets, photographers, videographers,” he said. “We’ve all dabbled in the arts in our own ways.”

About the Author

Rebecca Isenhart
Rebecca Isenhart is the reporter/writer for Your Niskayuna, presented by the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.