Posted September 25, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes

On Debut(ish) Album, Bethany Thomas and Tawny Newsome Explore Isolation and Unrest

Bethany Thomas, Tawny Newsome
Bethany Thomas, Tawny Newsome

After 15 years of singing together, Bethany Thomas and Tawny Newsome will release their debut(ish) album, Material Flats, on Oct. 9 on Newsome’s Fine Alpinist Records. 

“It is a now-or-never plunge into the unknown … born out of the pandemic, protests, and a fierce desire to learn to do things for themselves,” reads a press release about the forthcoming LP. 

 “[The Heart-like first single] ‘White Balloon’” is about staking your claim and keeping your head in spaces where the thin veil of racism has long been lifted,” Thomas says of the album opener in a press statement. 

“I listened to the entire White Stripes discography in one long morning,” adds Newsome. “Then, I read a distressing story on Twitter about white supremacist groups gaining traction through increasingly insidious online recruitment tactics. I did my (daily) calculation of how long it would take me to escape up the trail that runs behind my house if a hate group rolled up my road. Classic rock and roll anecdote, huh?” 

Recorded with Nate Urbansky on ​(drums), Patrick Martin (​guitar, bass, vocals on “Carry Something”) and Chicago mixmaster Packy Lundholm (keys, effects, banjo, guitar solo on “Bubbly,” “Dinosaur (Desert Edit)”), who co-produced the album with Thomas and Newsome, the album also features a guest appearance Ted Leo, who performs vocals and guitar solo on “Carry Something.” 

The album’s eight tracks explore themes of “isolation, unrest, self-realization and reassessing one’s surroundings.”

Material Flats is an album that had to happen but couldn’t have worked out in any other timeline — the time, the space, the energy and the inspiration all finally came together the summer of the pandemic,” reads a statement from the duo. “The process was swift, maybe a bit more rudimentary than we’re used to, but I think that served us as we were not able to overthink anything.” 

The duo’s partnership started with a poorly attended musical about sex workers and soon turned into backing-vocalists-for-hire for every cover, tribute and bar band in Chicago. The typical offer: “Do you wanna backup these guys sometime? No pay, but there’s free beer and they’re cute.” They backed up a lot of dudes off and on for three years, but also became formidable arrangers on their own. 

All the while, Thomas pursued a career in musical theater, headlining regional houses like Court Theater, Milwaukee Rep and Chicago Shakespeare. Newsome joined both the Second City doing sketch and improv and Chicago-based UK punk rocker Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers).

Prior to Material Flats, they, along with Langford and producer Norbert Putnam, went down to Muscle Shoals, AL to record his Four Lost Souls. Langford who emailed them, saying, “Let’s be three leads on this one. I don’t like the 20 Feet from Stardom-thing.” They shared the space with Langford and everyday told the 19-year old intern setting up the mics that no, the two Black women in the band were not singing backup.

The duo recorded and engineered Material Flats themselves in Newsome’s home studio in the Mojave desert.

Newsome currently lives in L.A., where she mainly works as an actor in shows like Space Force and Star Trek: Lower Decks. Her original songwriting podcast, The Supergroup lets her bridge the divide between her two loves, comedy and music. Thomas hustles in Chicago where she performs at Steppenwolf, the Second City, and the Green Mill. She has also fronted a David Bowie tribute band, sung with alt-country hero Robbie Fulks and played Billie Holiday at a Midwestern dinner theater. Her solo EP First and debut full-length album BT/She/Her generated some buzz on Chicago’s indie scene.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].