I met husband and wife duo, Tim and Laurie Thornton of The Blackthorn Project, on a recent trip to Colorado. They helped to host a gathering of artists a couple thousand feet above sea level in Woodland Park, not far from the picturesque Pike’s Peak.
The duo is soon to release its latest album Reckless. What I’ve heard so far delights. Laurie’s vocals on “Mud Song” soar on a track (you can sample here) that is lyrical and sing-out-loud fun.
I caught up with Tim via email to learn more about the group’s album and approach to music as they near the album’s release and gear up for Worship @ 8500, an annual worship-gathering-meets-music-festival near Colorado’s Great Divide that characterizes the Thorntons and sets them and their people apart.
Andrew Kooman: Your name is loaded with symbolism – can you unpack its meaning?
Tim Thornton: Our last name means blackthorn in Irish. It’s a thick little heavy tree branch used to fend off dogs and robbers and whatever may lurk when you’re walking on a lonely road in West Ireland. More to the point, its a symbol of the struggle against oppression and adversity.
AK: How does your music engage what you call the “struggle against oppression and adversity?”
TT: Sometimes the best way to win is to start throwing the victory party and dance on the head of injustice.
AK: How do you describe what The Blackthorn Project is to people (because it seems to be much more than “just a band selling records” )?
TT: It’s a structure that helps us do what we’re meant to do on earth–express the love of Jesus that frees people to live from who they truly are, instead of trying to become someone. A lot of that happens through music–live and in recordings. It also happens through some mission trips, some teaching/speaking, some retreats and gatherings, and most of all relationships. About everything God does He does through people. It’s a nonprofit that allows us some advantages like thanking the people who choose to share in our work with tax deductions.
AK: What symbols or themes are sustained in your music?
TT: Healing, rest. The return of the prodigal. The good intentions of God for us and finding ourselves in how He sees us. Moving from religion, which makes people smaller, to relationship and favor, which allows people to agree with the great value that our Creator ascribes to us.
AK: How do you describe your sound?
TT: American music–so Americana I guess. New Folk maybe. The lyrics are gospel. The new album has more indie clamor than before. We’re enjoying some dissonances and letting ourselves play. That’s right, not everyone lets themselves play when they play music.
AK: What are your musical influences?
TT: I will put words in Laurie’s mouth: classical, teeny bopper pop, divas, and then some acoustic stuff and newgrass. Closer to our genre, she loves Rita Springer. Laurie’s very much about feel and melody. I was born and bred on Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot, Johnny Horton. So I’m very oriented toward lyric. I really like American rock–Springsteen is great. He inspired me on this album not to think too hard, but to yell it across the valley. “Love Don’t Leave Me Alone” embodies some of that. More vulnerability and heart is where I’m going. Van Morrison is someone I love for that. And like in life, just being comfortable with myself instead of trying to emulate someone else. I sang “Be Thou My Vision” in one take, which was a breakthrough for me. Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago is probably my current favorite album. Aaron Strumpel, who produced the new CD is great at helping us find our greatness and has been a big influence too as a friend, collaborator and co-writer.
I love hearing about the creative approach of different people.
AK: Is there a typical way or ways that ideas for lyrics find their way from your mind or heart into song?
TT: Laurie just writes a lot. I write altars–milestones.
AK: How collaborative is your song-writing process?
TT: Usually one person writes a semi-complete song, then the other one tears it up and helps rewrite it. On about every song.
AK: What are the seeds or prompts for your songs; do you have a song-writing “method”?
TT: Lots of times we start with a psalm or another scripture. We started doing that when we were writing for Enter The Worship Circle: Fourth Circle and just never stopped.
AK: How do you grow a song from the original idea into it’s full form?
TT: Pain. And playing it for people–you can tell easier what helps and what doesn’t after playing it a few times for people.
AK: Your latest album “Reckless” features some Enter the Worship Circle staples like Ben and Robin Pasley, Aaron Strumpel, and Karla Adolphe. What was it like to work with these artists?
TT: Fun–our relationships go so far beyond music. There’s so much trust there it’s a hoot.
AK: What surprised you, if anything, about your work on the album when you were in the studio?
TT: Oh, the studio is so great. You can try so much and be so out-there, and if it doesn’t work it might lead to something that does. If I may brag a little I was surprised I actually pulled off learning the weissenborn (a slide guitar) well enough to play on a few songs.
AK: How important is artistic community to you in your life and for your music?
TT: Not all the people who have effected our art the most are artists. And art doesn’t really dominate our interactions even when we are with other songwriters and musicians. Our people are very important to us, but I guess artistic community isn’t huge. I know that’s not a very artistic answer. To be fair, our close working relationships with Aaron, and Ben and Robin have influenced us a lot and have been very helpful artistically and toward the defining and accomplishing of our mission, which is trajectory our art takes.
AK: Place your latest album, “Reckless,” in your body of work: why this album at this time?
TT: Until was our first EP. The first songs we wrote together, or somewhat together. As the name implies, it was almost a prelude.
The Bluing of the Sky really represents the clarifying of our vision and a real stepping out together in faith.
Enter The Worship Circle: Fourth Circle was an amazing experience writing and recording with our friends, and really helped us make a change toward primarily realizing that we are worship songwriters. We started doing worship stuff everywhere after that, and I think that’s what people want the most from us.
You’ll hear on Reckless that we are now quite comfortable with ourselves and the sounds that come out of us. It is the least careful thing we’ve done, and has a lot more party on it than some of our other work. The heart of it is very clearly worship and the lyrics are cohesive in that way. Thematically, we know what we’re about and where we’re going in a way that we did not in our earlier Blackthorn Project releases. Why get all reckless now? One reason is that we have realized that the Kingdom of God is a party and that we are invited, not better versions of us. God’s love is not cautious, it’s reckless and we have freedom to make a reckless response.
Learn about all things Blackthorn on their website.
Pre-order Reckless today and get a free download of “Mud Song.”