When introducing her the other day to an audience gathered to enjoy one more session of the San Carlos Community Garden summer concert series, I said her songs were “angsty.” Mind you, I’ve heard Thea the Band perform many times and that was always the feeling I got. However, while listening to her lyrics that day, I realized the words didn’t always say that, but somehow, I felt it. So, what’s that about?
Thea the Band can be one woman, Thea Tochihara, who writes songs, plays keys and guitar sometimes seated, sometimes standing, and sings with a crooked little sideways tough-girl expression across her lips. Or, it can be her with husband Jeff Litzmann on bass; or the two of them plus Erik Frank on bass and Litzmann switching to drums; or all three of them plus Chico Medina on guitar. How’s that for complicated? One never knows, but she is who she needs to be at any given moment.
Dressed up or dressed down, in cowboy boots or heels, Thea adopts a chosen persona. For Halloween she attended the costume open mic at Smoking Cannon Brewery as Amy Winehouse; she spoke in a British accent and never broke character. It was gritty and raw.
Well I got 3 cigarettes in my pocket,
home alone and nobody’s knockin’,
wonder is this as good as it gets.
Almost went a day without drinking,
came to find it’s a whole lot a thinking.
I think it’s time for something real.
So I light it up and put pen to paper,
write it down, it won’t be here later.
When I see her perform, not only do I listen but I lean in to listen. I’m drawn into her stories and her honest and open way of telling them. Nothing seems to be off limits. As a musician myself, I want to know why she does it, what her purpose in music is. She says, “It’s therapeutic.” I can certainly understand that. She continues, “I think I would kill myself if I didn’t because I don’t know how to deal with my emotions, no one taught me how to deal with my emotions and how to love myself and turn ugly things into beautiful things.” Oh, my goodness, yes. See, this is what I lean into. Is that the angst I’ve felt?
At 41, she admits to drinking heavily in her mid to late 20s, covering things up and hiding them from herself and others, and trying to hold in the secret of sexual molestation at an early age by a priest, which was the most troubling burden. She still has a love-hate relationship with alcohol yet recognizes that in some ways it has helped her to feel free enough to bring these things out in the open. Mornings is when the other side of that relationship shows up, and she serves herself a good talking to about how to do better next time.
When she writes songs though, she is almost always sober. She believes her songs come from her center of truth, and to be a hundred percent truthful, she needs to be sober. She accepted being pushed around as part of growing up. She was used to people telling her what to do and not having her own opinion or a voice to say it with. She finds her voice in song. Of her past and all she’s been through, Thea says, “Life is this crazy, weird, fucked up, beautiful thing though, you know, and we can choose how we’re going to look at it and almost shape what it’s going to be. And as much as some of the things that we all experience are really fucked up; it’s also made me who I am. I don’t know if I’d be writing songs, if that didn’t happen. I don’t know if I’d be battling it the same way.” Her intention is to love herself as she is in the moment as much as she can, and to come to a place of acceptance and forgiveness. She says, “I think if we could do that a lot more in the world, then it’d be a better place.”
Accepting herself bleeds over into close relationships with others. When she fears losing her healing, getting better, loving life and doing music feelings, she channels it into writing and figures out what it’s really about. But she doesn’t give up or give in to her old ways of blaming others or thinking she has to change to make them happy. She is in control of her happiness. And she now knows that even though the little details can change, the depth of love doesn’t have to, that in this “hopeless romantic concept of love if that feeling is still there, then you just have to figure out how to work through all the other things. It’s still there.” It may be hard for her to explain, “That’s why I write songs, it’s chipping away at it.”
Writing starts for Thea as a thought she gets stuck on, which in the past has often been something unhealthy that led her to self destruction or being not nice to other people. Now, she recognizes it as a signal that there is something she needs to figure out and express her emotions about. While in this mode, she’ll begin to notice things happening around her that seem to be related, and knows it’s time to pay close attention. Sometimes it just takes sitting down and actually asking herself, “What the fuck?” Then trying to find the words, the chords, finally crying out, “Oh, that’s what’s going on with me! And then it’s awesome when that happens, it’ll just click in your head, the word or some sort of hook, I like that.” She feels inspiration isn’t something that she can really control, so she takes it when it comes.
She also knows that bitter feelings toward others are really about herself. There was a time when she was so depressed and heading to a gig and thinking, “God, I feel like a hollow vessel of nothing who has nothing to give anybody. But, I’m hollow. So can you, please, just whatever you want to do with that, can you just let me at least be open enough to just let it happen?” She did remain open and began connecting with people, feeling that she could be herself, and love people and be grateful for every single second she’s alive.
Writing and music has taught her that there are no longer undesirable emotions, even though she knows there really are. They’ve become part of her learning experiences and have challenged her to question honestly her motives and beliefs. She’s come to wonder that if she really trusts the world and her journey, or the creation she’s part of and trying to be plugged into, maybe it’s all a trigger to write something, or to lean into it more, to really “stick my foot in the stream and say okay then.” Okay then.
There is a strength of will and a vulnerable child-like quality about her, and she is ever the philosopher. When asked what success in music looks like to her, Thea says, “Man, I wish I just got to write songs and sing them.” And even though she loves writing, she wonders if it’s the day job that gives her the right amount of struggle for balance between work and music, and if without it, she may not be as driven. Even so, she has no doubt that music is what she’s meant to be doing and she’s wistful about touring and playing shows where people know and like her music. She would love to be on the road and go to hole-in-the-wall spots and form connections and bonds with people she typically wouldn’t, and then go home and write more songs. She’s grateful to have a job where they are flexible with her in each new phase of her career, allowing her to work fewer hours or be gone on short tours and to work remotely. Even this, she feels is part of the successes along the way.
As a woman in the industry though, she hates that she feels her chances of succeeding in the way she’d like are decreasing as she’s getting older. Or that if she were to have children, it could also hinder her success. She doesn’t like to admit that she has bought in, just a bit, to what society says about her viability as a woman as she ages. But at the same time, she almost stomps her foot in defiance of those with money, those in charge, and declares that we have to be making our own rules, and says, “I don’t want to believe it, so I’m not going to believe it. Maybe if I keep not believing it, everything will happen in the time that it’s supposed to.” She just wants to keep looking honestly at those negatives and limits and keep knocking them down as much as she can. “I think the shift is already happening.” Let’s hope so.
Go listen to Thea the Band on Spotify and then visit theatheband.com for videos, music, and their calendar of shows. You’re definitely going to want to go out and see them now right away.