Count Kamara Thomas as one of the many ex-New Yorkers who couldn’t take the crampedness of the Big Apple and fled to North Carolina.
“We were really feeling the lack of space,” says Thomas, 39, referring to her husband and 3-year-old daughter. (Thomas has another girl on the way in August.) “The minute our daughter turned 2 and we realized how much room a kid really needs to be free, we realized that we really needed to pick up and move somewhere.”
When a job opportunity at Research Triangle Park opened up for her husband, Thomas set her sights on living in Durham. After all, Thomas is no stranger to the Triangle area. Not only has she done shows here with her multiracial rock band Earl Greyhound, but guitarist Matt Whyte’s parents live in Chapel Hill.
“I knew I liked the area, but I did a little more research and it became obvious pretty quickly that this was probably gonna be a good place for us.”
Thomas and the family have been Durham residents for a year now. After living in Brooklyn for 13 years, the native Chicagoan says she was having what could be best described as creative constipation.
“In New York, I was really starting to get really blocked up,” she says. “But the minute I got down here and was able to relax a little bit, it’s been a godsend for my creativity, and I’m writing every day. You know, just back in the flow – the creative flow.”
A little bit country
Thomas says she’s been penning material more in the country vein, which may throw her Earl Greyhound fans for a loop. “First of all, I’ve always been playing this music,” she says. “Even before I was in Earl Greyhound, this was the music I was playing. And I grew up on country, and that was predominantly what I was listening to just growing up. And as I started to become a songwriter, it was just kind of the genre that appealed the most to me.”
As someone who cites Kenny Rogers’ “Coward of the County” as one of her favorite tunes growing up, Thomas knows how much substance can be packed into one country song. “I just always loved the way that country songs are structured,” she says. “I’ve loved the poetry that’s kind of inherent in country songs and the cleverness that’s required to write a country song… Those are allowed in other genres, but they’re really expected in country music.”
Last year, Thomas released “Earth Hero,” another EP she did with her alt-country side project, Kamara Thomas and the Ghost Gamblers – a project she later found to be quite the hassle.
“Up in New York, your project is one of many projects people are doing,” she says. “And so it’s really hard to just get six people together to rehearse and commit to making music together. And down here, I feel like I’ve really been able to find a crew of people who really want to be there, who want to be playing music and have the energy to show up for it as well.”
Thomas continues to perform around the Triangle – this Sunday, she’ll open up for Spirit Family Reunion at Local 506 in Chapel Hill. While Thomas says she wouldn’t rule out doing more music with either Earl Greyhound or the Ghost Gamblers in the future, at the moment, she’s finding that Southern living suits her, her family and her music quite well.
“Honestly, for me, it’s about the peacefulness, you know, and getting to really be in contact with nature day in and day out,” she says. “For me, nature is where I end up feeling the most inspired and the most kind of – my creative juices flow the most easily when I’m just surrounded by nature and able to connect that way.”