Arts Desk

Set Your Summer to Chill With Thomas Collins

Take one D.C. hardcore punk screamer, one Brooklyn hip-hop producer and sound engineer, a spoonful of summer spirit, a bottled-up idea of what chillwave should sound like, a dash of a potent gin drink, shake well, strain, and press play. That's the precise mix of ingredients that went into making Thomas Collins, a part-local "chillwave" act that dropped its self-titled EP a couple days ago.

Thomas Collins is a summery departure from the music that singer Andrew Nichols is best known for: He also happens to howl his lungs out in the humorously named hardcore group Shat Shorts. Despite the hilarious idea that started his punk project, Nichols has taken a decidedly different approach with this new musical outlet. "We kind of had this lighthearted approach to it, but it definitely wasn't a joke," Nichols says.

Nichols and his partner-in-crime, producer Abe Quezada, tried to start a band a couple years ago, but besides putting together one hip-hop beat, nothing came together. Quezada eventually moved to New York to pursue a career as a sound engineer; he's since started an ambiguous hip-hop collective and label dubbed MSHRMCHSBRGS and produces electronica tracks as Goodnightmares (Quezada did a dubstep remix of Shat Shorts' "Quarterlife Crisis" that closes the band's Seersucker and Sundresses EP). An idea for a new project came to life when Quezada visited D.C. this past winter: He, Nichols, and a friend named Doug Ticker ended up sitting in a basement at a party in the District. They tossed around ideas of how chillwave and summer are the perfect match, what chillwave should sound like, and starting a chillwave band.

"It's not something we listen to a lot, but we definitely agree it's best suited for summer," Nichols says. "Chillwave to me is lazy, kind of summery."

Things really came together when the three drove down to the Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference in Harrisonburg, Va., at the beginning of April: Nichols put together a mix for the drive, and whenever a chillwave tune cropped up, the conversation inevitably turned to the future project. Soon enough, Quezada put together the basic instrumental framework for what would become Thomas Collins' first song, "Neverending." (Ticker dropped out of the mix sometime before that, but his stamp is still in the band as he took the photos that became the EP's cover and the band's promo shot.)

Quezada and Nichols cooked up the six songs on Thomas Collins through email, with Quezada starting things off by composing a skeletal instrumental and finding a sample for each tune. (The pair tried to sample The Whispers' "And the Beat Goes On," and instead opted to cover Will Smith's "Miami," which samples the Whispers' song quite liberally.) From there, Nichols wrote lyrics and recorded the vocals at the home studio of his Shat Shorts bandmate and Monument member Anton Kropp (Monument guitarist and vocalist Gabe Marquez manned the boards). Quezada came to town for a couple of the sessions, but mostly he worked from New York, matching the vocals to the shimmery instrumentals.

The end results don't quite match the fuzzed-out, nostalgia-on-a-bender sound that's identified as chillwave. Instead, Thomas Collins matches the spirit of that idea Nichols, Quezada, and Ticker first came up with: arelaxed aesthetic to soundtrack a laid-back, breezy summer evening. Yes, there's a good bit of '80s-inspired synths, muddied vocals, and drone-like instrumentation, but there's a clarity and liveliness to these summer jams that doesn't quite come through in most chillwave songs. It's about summer, not style.

Next on the agenda for the band is a live show sometime at the end of August in New York. It may seem far away, but Nichols wants to practice as much as possible and figure out a way to make his set exciting. Coming from a punk background and having witnessed a "terrible" live performance by Washed Out, Nichols wants to do everything in his power to put on an exciting performance. And, at all costs, avoid the live disaster known as Salem. "That's my biggest fear. It's us going up there and being like that," he says of Salem's legendarily bad live performances. "I want a lot of time to practice it." (Fine, Salem is a witch house act not a chillwave one, but Nichols still has a point.)

There's no D.C. show scheduled just yet, but Nichols hopes to get something set up. In the meantime, you can download Thomas Collins for free from bandcamp, SoundCloud, or MediaFire, set your speakers up on the porch next to your hammock, pour a Tom Collins (or whatever summer beverage you prefer), and press play.

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