How Warren Thomas of The Abigails Came Back From the Brink of Self-Destruction
Warren Thomas always looks like he’s in control of the way he’s falling apart. During his set, the lead singer of The Abigails manages to stay on beat and in the pocket, while almost simultaneously slipping out. Yet somehow, the stylistic digressions don’t detract from the songs. Instead, Thomas’ puzzling behavior lends the most accurate mood for what The Abigails’ music is all about—being on the brink of unraveling and attempting to keep it together during the highs and lows of life.
The sound isn’t exactly surf, psych, or punk. Their tunes carry a country twang, proving that Thomas sticks to his natural tendency of going as far opposite the trends as possible. Still, there are hints of his predecessors’ influences, like Modest Mouse and The Make-Up, which he explains are “bands that are ultimately punk at their core, but they’re not like your standard sounding punk.” These are the roots of Thomas’ music career that has spanned from his beginnings with defunct Long Beach band The Grand Elegance, into influencing and then playing percussion with the Growlers, and his eventual reemergence as lead singer of The Abigails.
A transplant to LA from his native Dana Point, his current neighborhood is a worn out cityscape covered in graffiti and grit. From the outside of the industrial building set directly beside a set of train tracks, Thomas’ place is really more of a compound. Once inside the fortress, up the stairs and through the front door of the large studio, the disturbing essence of this rough part of LA disappears and the inside of the space was surprisingly welcoming. Thomas had just woken up at 1:00 in the afternoon. His room is made of makeshift walls with no windows to let in light. His good friend, Brooks Nielsen, lead singer of the Growlers, moved out of this loft style artist flat because he and his wife are about to have a baby, and Thomas has taken a room. Nielsen's hoarded decorations leftover from the band’s old studios are artistically organized on the walls.
This eclectic style of living is completely normal to Thomas, who has shared homes and toured side-by-side with Nielsen and the rest of the Growlers for many years. “When you’re with five guys in a weird psychedelic bus together everyday, and then you go home and then you live together and see each other everyday—we would see our personalities like morph into everyone having the same jokes, same mannerisms, just same stupid whatever.” On a recent afternoon,Thomas sports a blue-collared, button-up shirt labeled with patches indicating that his name is "Bobby" and he works for Vulcan Oil. Simple face tattoos adorn his skin. His colorful striped socks match—but almost don’t match—with the rest of his outfit.
Most fans and friends who were around to see Thomas start The Grand Elegance in his early 20s are aware of the band’s importance, even after the band broke up. The legend was that Thomas, being a few years older than the fledgling Growler guys, directly influenced the band’s sound, jokingly dubbed “Beach Goth”—a name that stuck—and was surprisingly accurate considering the band’s mix of dark psychedelic rock, ‘70s reggae and country western music.
“They grew up down in the same town that we did [Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano], and we were a little bit older, so their older siblings were in our grade growing up. That’s the connection,” Thomas explains. “ When you’re 12 and 15, it seems like a big difference, but later when you’re 29 and 26, it’s pretty much the same.” When asked during a recent interview what his relationship is with Thomas, Nielsen replies, “That’s probably like the most influential person I ever knew, and Warren was always pushing weird [music] since I first met him.”
As for Thomas’ habits, if you can imbibe it, he has most probably done so, and in prolific quantities. During an interview with the Weekly, however, the singer’s demeanor is calm and clear since he is six months clean from alcohol, pills, and heroin.
“When I got out of jail [in April of 2011 for drug possession], my girlfriend broke up with me, I wasn’t doing the Growlers, but I was still living with them and kind of just cruising,” Thomas says as he lights up a cigarette. “I felt really lost right then, ‘cause I was like 30 and all of a sudden I didn’t even know where to go or what to do.”
Long before Thomas fell on hard times, he was at the forefront of the Long Beach underground, with The Grand Elegance as his platform. Nielsen recalls the origin of Thomas' reign starting at his house in Long Beach, cleverly called The Boobytrap. “That was the first experience where I was like seeing this guy who left our small town, started a band, and found a fucking cool old house where you could make music,” Nielsen says. Despite the local success, The Grand Elegance started to fade after almost a decade. “It was almost like, I think that we all knew we missed our calling, you know?” Thomas says. “There was this window, and I don’t know when it was exactly, but we were really tight and really good and doing something different, and if something was going to happen for the band, it was going to be then, and it didn’t.”
However, Thomas’ place in the scene would start anew with his most current project, The Abigails, which stemmed from a reincarnation of The Grand Elegance.
“All the while, [bandmate] Kyle Mullarky is one of my best friends,” Thomas explains, “and we’ve got these songs that we’ve been working on, just assuming that it’s Grand Elegance stuff. I met up with him and was like, I want to do something different, I don’t want to do The Grand Elegance anymore.”
From there sprang the idea of The Abigails, and the project was working until Thomas let his budding heroin addiction take over. After a few tries at rehab in August 2014 (and again in July of 2015), followed by relapse, he finally hit the end of the line. When their album Tundra was released in 2014, Thomas was still stuck in rehab, and touring was out of the question due to his condition. While divulging the gritty details of his decline, the frontman doesn’t appear to carry that darkness that has been setting him back the last few years. He ends on a pleasant note, saying, “We’re going to Europe from May to June and our last record Tundra is going to be released there to coincide with the tour. Right now I’ve been working on songs for the next album, and that’s been going really good.”
After years trapped in his addictions, the prospect of staying clean has given him a philosophy on his art and what it takes to make it great...or in this case what it doesn’t take. “In today’s society, it’s so accessible to be weird, that it’s almost weirder to not have to use drugs or alcohol as this creative stimulant.”
The Abigails perform with Vinnie and the Hooligans and Dano Forte's Juke Joint Freak Show at The Wayfarer, April 2, 9 p.m. $5. For more info, click here.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.