Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: electronic dream pop and rootsy blues and folk make for an odd-couple tour

  • Pizza cooked in the waffle iron. Photo by Catriona Sturton

  • G.T. Thomas at an in-store performance at Princeton Record Exchange, New Jersey. Photo by Catriona Sturton

  • G.T. Thomas and Catriona Sturton outside the car. Photo by Berend Dubbe

  • Catriona Sturton performing at Radio Kingston, New York. Photo by G.T. Thomas

  • G.T. Thomas and Catriona Sturton take a selfie in the car at the start of the tour. Photo by G.T. Thomas

For the Gazette
Published: 11/21/2019 8:42:44 AM

G.T. Thomas and Catriona Sturton are musicians from different countries who met through an online clutter-clearing course. Their coach paired them up as “accountability buddies,” giving each other someone to check in with — which they did, a couple times a day, for several years, discussing tasks small and large.

Eventually the now-friends decided to together tackle something huge and exciting: how could Thomas (based in Amsterdam) and Sturton (based in Ottawa) do a tour together in a third country (the U.S.)?

Step by step they figured it out and made it happen. They met in Northampton (where Thomas once lived) on November 2, and then played 12 shows, from upstate New York down to Virginia, including multiple appearances in the Valley, before parting ways yesterday.

Both Thomas and Sturton are one-woman bands with very different styles. Thomas creates largely electronic “progressive dream pop,” singing while playing bass with her left hand and synthesizer and drum machine with her right. Sturton has a more rootsy sound, inspired by blues and folk, and might play violin and harmonica together, or sing while playing guitar, harmonica, bass drum and tambourine all at the same time.

“Our musical styles are pretty different, but everywhere we went people said the bill worked very well together,” Sturton said.

“One guy said we were musical sisters,” Thomas said.

Thomas hadn’t toured before, but Sturton has toured a ton since her mid-‘90s days as the bassist in Canadian indie band Plumtree. Living in a land where it takes almost as long to drive from one side of Ontario to the other as it does to get from Ottawa to Florida, the nine-hour drives on the U.S. tour with Thomas didn’t faze Sturton in the least.

Sturton is a definite “road warrior” musician, with untold thousands of highway miles under her belt from her touring days, solo trips to the midwest to study harmonica with unique mentors, and also her six years as the sole Canadian representative of Dolly Parton’s nonprofit literacy foundation, Imagination Library, which in the pre-Skype days was a job that involved much traversing of the provinces.

For their two-week U.S. tour, Thomas jumped into Sturton’s trusty Toyota Matrix compact hatchback, packed full to the ceiling and windows with: a PA system, bass guitar, synthesizer, violin, drum machine, two cases of harmonicas, a Cricut die-cutter for making stickers, an easel, luggage, and a customized bass drum that you can stand on while playing it (built by Sturton’s friend who once worked with Cirque du Soleil), its beater festooned with a pink pom-pom at the end, like something from Dr. Seuss.

Also in the car was the all-important waffle iron, which Sturton experimented with as the main cooking appliance on the road, using it to make quesadillas, pizza, apples with cinnamon, cornbread, chocolate chip cookies and more.

Thomas, originally from Washington state, booked all the tour dates — concerts in clubs, houses, bookstores, record stores and coffee shops, plus radio appearances — and based it around the Northeast because of her positive experience living here ten years ago.

“A lot of the musicians I want to be in the same pool with are all generally between the Hudson Valley and western Mass., so I wanted to reestablish some roots out here,” she said. “I was really happy we made it to the Northampton area four times on this trip, because I love it here.”

Sturton, who while on tour continued teaching harmonica lessons to her students via Skype, said that for her the trip was “a good reminder about aesthetics and beauty and music; it refreshed my enthusiasm to be creative. We stayed with a film director, a writer, an agriculturist… a lot of people who are creating things; it inspired us to see how people are forging their own paths to make interesting things happen.”

The two musical friends agreed that one of the tour’s early highlights was a spontaneous visit to the open mic at The 413 in Easthampton, where local songwriter BJ Korona was the featured guest. “He had a personal song about Easthampton that made me cry. It was really touching,” Thomas said.

“There was a thread through the whole tour of deep and poignant songwriting. Everywhere we went we were surprised by people making songs that were deeply moving.”

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gazettenet.com.




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