Song Premiere: Spencer Thomas’s “Little Gold”

The Futurebirds sideman takes center stage with help from members of My Morning Jacket and Drive-By Truckers

A portrait of a man in purple light surrounded by hanging disco balls

Photo: New West Records

Spencer Thomas.

The storied Athens, Georgia, music scene has spawned some of the greatest American rock and roll bands over the past half-century, with a résumé boasting R.E.M., Widespread Panic, and the B-52s among a gaggle of jangly songwriters and indie-rock visionaries.

Not much was happening when the Mississippi-bred singer-songwriter Spencer Thomas moved to town, though. Eager to immerse himself in the scene, he arrived in August 2020 at the height of the COVID pandemic, when venues like the Georgia Theatre and 40 Watt Club were shut down with everything else. 

Well, almost everything. Thomas took a job stocking beer coolers at a local liquor store, taking advantage of the downtime to begin stacking up songs. “More than anything, that was a huge incubation period for me,” he says. “Whatever I could do, I was sneaking creative opportunities.” 

It may have taken a bit longer than he expected to get established, but his chariot eventually arrived in the form of a plum gig playing keys with adventurous Athens group Futurebirds. “I showed up thinking it’d be really great to play in a band where I didn’t have to think about the day-to-day process,” says Thomas, a multi-instrumentalist who previously played and wrote tunes for Jackson, Mississippi-based Young Valley, which actually opened for his new band a few times. “Not only are they brothers to me, and I’m so thankful for the opportunity they’ve given me, but also I’ve been able to cross off some bucket-list places and really lean into being a keys player. It’s so fun.”

On his second solo album, The Joke of Life, out May 17, Thomas dipped into the Classic City’s deep well of talent. Recording between tours with the ’Birds, he corralled members of My Morning Jacket, Drive-By Truckers, and other locals into Chase Park Transduction Studios—hallowed ground for Southern indie-rockers, akin to L.A.’s Sunset Sound or New York’s Electric Lady—and conjured Warren Zevon vibes on songs like the swinging, easygoing “Little Gold,” which G&G is proud to premiere today.

“Little Gold” is a pretty laid-back, almost whimsical tune about a missed connection. What inspired you to write it?

I met a girl, and we had gone on a few dates, and she was talking about how she was about to have an opportunity that was going to take her to L.A., and she was already looking at apartments. And so it was a bit of a bummer, because we were just getting to know each other, and I realized, “Oh, this has a timeline on it.” She’s very much a go-getter, very headstrong, and I wrote “Little Gold” as a wish-you-well. But it turned into something a little greater than that, which I think is how we do in general with storytelling. We tend to exaggerate or fudge the details to make the story more fun and exciting to tell. 

photo: New West Records

How did the idea hit you?

It almost came to me like a movie plot. I scribbled down the idea in the middle of the night, just typed in a note on my phone, and when I woke up in the morning, I realized it would be a lot easier and more aligned with my abilities to make it a song instead. I originally started with the strumming pattern of [Warren Zevon’s] “Carmelita,” with a little more of an L.A. influence—you know, some Zevon, a little bit of Jackson Browne. And there’s obviously a lot of L.A. references, so it only made sense for me to lean into it.

You’ve been opening Futurebirds shows with a solo set lately. How has that gone over for you?

People ask if that’s exhausting, but I kinda like it. Every once in a while, we’ll even do a song within the Futurebirds set, like “Hangin’ Tough,” or “Desperate Man” from this new record. I had pretty specific goals in mind when I moved to Athens, and it’s not lost on me to look back and go, “We did it.” I wanted to be busy and travel and play, and now I’m having to find the silence amid the chaos. I’m turning a leaf into the phase of trying to find the quieter moments.

Listen to “Little Gold” here, and pre-order The Joke of Life, out May 17.