Thomas had about 16 songs he considered for Reassure Me..., ultimately settling on the final 10 for his album. "I think my influences have always just been songwriters," he explains. "Even if they were rock bands, they were song-first rock bands like R.E.M. and whatnot. Even in Wild Sun the songs were usually at the front more than my guitar playing. So this feels more like a stripped-down evolution than a departure." That is until you get an earful of Lehning's string arrangements on tracks such as "She is Leaving" or the lush, Mersey-like harmonics of "Oriole," the shuffling joy of "Give a Damn" and the country lope of "Shy Hinges," the album's oldest song.
"It was huge to go from the limitations of being in a three-piece band and then doing a record where nothing's off the table," Thomas says. "Letting the natural drama of the song be enhanced by live strings, pedal steel...It really opens it up a lot, in a lot of different ways."
The approach also gave Thomas more space for his lyrics, whether it was "asking a bird some questions" in "Oriole" ("You may lose the subtleties of that in more of a rock setting," he notes) or catching up with a first love 10 years later in "There's Not a Thing." In "Catherine Ames" he takes on the evil antagonist from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
"Because the songs were a little quieter than the band, I was able to dig into the words a lot more and take more conversational approaches to some of the songs," Thomas says. "It definitely allowed me to dive into these perspective, personal truths a lot more freely and more sort of descriptively."
With Reassure Me... due out May 15, Thomas will be making a number of online appearances in lieu of in-person performances. And in quarantine he's hunkering down on new solo material, with no plan to for Wild Sun to rise again soon. "I think I am in this post for awhile," Thomas says. "It's really been satisfying in a really new way that I love right now. Being on your own is a lot easier than three people and the arc of their lives. So I'm definitely going to see this through for as long as I can."