During the Georgia Lottery All-Access Music Search, producer—and Zac Brown Band member—Clay Cook described Hannah Thomas as “three-quarters badass.”
“It means almost totally a badass,” Thomas says, “but not quite because there’s a sweet side to my songs, too. The tag just kind of stuck.”
Whipping her dark-red ringlets with each lyric, Thomas is a belter with a cannonade of a voice, and favors smoky makeup, black clothes and minor chords. She describes her sound as “rockin’ Americana with a soulful heart.” Her influences include Janis Joplin and Johnny Cash—Amy Ray has dubbed Thomas an “outlaw songwriter”—but she also gets a kick from Ella Fitzgerald. So the 23-year-old songstress tempers her noirish persona with the sensitivity expected of an up-and-comer in Decatur’s hyper-expressive music scene.
Thomas just released Goodbye on Wasted Time, a collection of seven originals recorded by Rob Gal (Sugarland, Shawn Mullins) at Living Room Studios and released on Thomas’ indie label named—what else?—3Quarters Records. Thomas initially had aimed for a more commercial country market with her third full-length but instead decided to take a more DIY approach, using Kickstarter to underwrite her studio sessions and develop her rock and cowpunk material. “There’s definitely more of an edge to this album compared to my previous releases. I think the songs come from a more honest, authentic place,” she says, explaining how they draw from universal subjects such as personal growth and relationships.
The new album’s title song refers to “that point everyone reaches in life when you know you’ve wasted your time on someone and you are ready to move on.” “Pacifier,” an ode to individuality, features guest vocals by Amy Ray.
“Hannah is the real thing,” says Ray, one half of Grammy-winning duo The Indigo Girls. “Every time I see her, she’s upped her ante. Her singing, guitar playing and songwriting are becoming more and more dynamic and totally engaging. She’s got the soul of old country, and that will always be there, but she’s [also] a diehard rocker with some punk thrown in the mix.”
Thomas, who grew up in Covington, was always cheeky and precocious. At age eight, she believed she was “the missing Spice Girl,” and her repertoire still includes songs she penned at 11. She started hanging around open-mic nights long before the law said it was ok. “When I was 12 or 13, I used to walk around downtown Decatur and go by Eddie’s Attic and dream of performing there,” she says.
She got her chance when she was 16.
“I remember she had to be brought by her parents,” says the club’s founder Eddie Owen, who currently runs Eddie Owen Presents at The Red Clay Theater, where Thomas performs regularly. “From the beginning, I could tell a couple of things: She had absolutely no stage fright, and she had good writing potential.”
And, says Shawn Mullins, “No Auto-Tune needed for that voice.”
Thomas studied marketing at Ashworth College and then began paying her artistic dues. She has toured on both coasts; performed at the 30A Songwriters Festival; played a round at the Bluebird Café in Nashville; and shared the stage with Sonia Leigh, Beautiful Small Machines, Antigone Rising, Michelle Malone, Don Dixon & Marti Jones, Marshall Chapman, Jen Foster and Mother’s Finest. She also has appeared on various Atlanta morning shows, along with Time-Warner Charlotte’s Naked Truth songwriter series and Dirty South TV, and has played halftime shows at the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena. Still, she is not above rocking the house at smaller joints like Shenanigans in Dahlonega, where locals love her covers of Hank Jr. (much singing along with “Family Tradition”).
“I don’t sleep very much,” says Thomas, who typically plays at least four nights a week, “but you learn a lot about yourself out on the road. I think if you can be proud of what you’re doing and make a living at it at the same time, you’re doing something right. I just want to get as much music out to as many people as possible and see some places I’ve never seen before.”
Thomas was selected from a field of thousands to win The Georgia Lottery’s All Access Music Search, which awarded her a recording session at Capitol Records Tower in Los Angeles and anointed her as an artist to watch.
“For any performing songwriter to advance through the levels,” Owen says, “several common variables are required—talent, an unending discipline and work ethic, no hesitancy in self-assurance and self-promotion, and an unending desire to learn and become better. If one has all that, there is still the ‘being in the right place at the right time’ factor. Hannah has the first four factors, so when that opportunity comes, she’ll be ready.”
Thomas already has established a reputation in the industry as a modest professional. “She does good business in the sense that she’s very respectful of everyone involved in her projects,” says Jaron Pearlman, Goodbye on Wasted Time’s drummer and audio engineer. “She is quick to give others credit, and she pays on time, unlike so many in this business who get caught up in their own game. She’s also just a very kind person and a ton of fun to hang with, too. I look forward to watching her grow as an artist.”
Adds Amy Ray, “Hannah is the sweetest outlaw you’ll ever meet.”