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Spencer Thomas Stands Up with The Joke of Life

Spencer Thomas. Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Athens musician Spencer Thomas will be celebrating the release of his album The Joke of Life with a tour kicking off on May 17 at the Georgia Theatre. 

The Joke of Life began in the nebulous way albums tend to, with a move from Thomas’ hometown of Jackson, MS to Athens in the summer of 2020. In an apartment in Normaltown, Thomas used his music to process a period of difficult change in his life, spending the pandemic days walking the tree-lined sidewalks and workshopping or listening to recordings of his demos. During that time, he was also listening passionately to artists like Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon, two musicians who influenced his work. 

Thomas was quickly brought into the fold of the Athens music world, forming a close business and personal relationship with local manager Drew Beskin, as well as local label Strolling Bones. With a strong cast of musical talent, Thomas set out to record his 10-track album while still maintaining a consistent touring schedule. 

Thomas, a natural frontman, quickly blossomed from the drummer and keyboardist of well-known bands to an arresting and sophisticated solo performer. Drawing from his time in Athens, as well as his life on the road playing with bands like Futurebirds, Thomas spent the last three years writing, recording and performing songs for The Joke of Life, a mature album from a seasoned and worldly songwriter. 

Garrett Cardoso [photo] and Cody Rogers [art design]

Thomas has a marvelous eye for the theatrical and the nostalgic, frequently harkening back to the artists that he draws inspiration from without making explicit references that might come off as unoriginal. Instead, Thomas creates his own story out of timeless material: good music and hard times. Unrequited or misunderstood love, personal struggles, losing the sense of oneself, regaining it, redefining it. It’s all laid bare on this record for the world. 

American Songwriter debuted the album’s standout track “How Come Heartbreak” in early March, an infectious, late-night ballad featuring a transcendent sax solo by My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel. Thomas’ plaintive, earnest songwriting underscores the track’s crescendo as it builds from only his keys to a full band effort. 

“It’s the dead of night,” Thomas said about the song, “Where our worst thoughts come to life. They mix with our dreams to create confusion and often insufferable anxiety. ‘How Come Heartbreak’ represents that one last look back of uncertainty late in The Joke of Life storyline. Where the panic of losing someone you love snaps into place and distorts the already skewed reality of the dark.”

Garden and Gun likewise debuted “Little Gold,” a sparkling gem of a song with a steady drip of country inflections over Thomas’ lyrics of a mysterious wandering woman and her “ship in the night” meetings with the narrator as she makes her way across the United States. 

It’s little narrative hints like that that make the album so enjoyable, that make it seem not quite conceptual, but like a short story anthology, with each song’s themes weaving together into a yarn that not only makes you feel, but makes you move. There is never a sense of a single narrator throughout the album, but in some ways it is Thomas with many faces, each experiencing the random drawing of a card by the dealer of fate. 

Honest songwriting, above all else, is what gives Thomas’ music a timeless feel. He imbues every song on the record with his true thoughts, his true feelings and yearnings. With true pain. 

“I want to write songs that I’ll be able to play in 50 years and still identify with,” Thomas said. 

That’s no small task, but Thomas takes as honest a shot as possible. Instead of hiding behind his music, Thomas stands beside it and in turn stands up for himself, something he’s said his songs give him the courage to do.

It is important, however, to heed the song’s title track, “The Joke of Life,” in which Thomas muses, “For once I wish we’d stop/ Smile through our strife/ And laugh about the joke of life.”

Despite the undesirable cards life can sometimes deal to us as unwitting participants in its game, there’s always room for reflection on its absurdity, obscurity and, ultimately, humor. 

Following the album’s May 17 release show at the Georgia Theatre, Thomas will embark on a Southeastern tour with Rose Hotel, as well as occasional shows with artists Brave Baby and Holler Choir. For a full list of future tours, head over to 

WHO: Spencer Thomas
WHEN: Friday, May 17, 7 p.m. (doors), 8 p.m. (show)
WHERE: The Georgia Theatre 
HOW MUCH: $17 (adv.), $20