When the Spill Canvas released Gestalt in 2012, it was the seventh full-length album for frontman Nick Thomas since he’d adopted the moniker a decade earlier. Nine years later, Thomas and the band — featuring two new members — are finally ready to release the follow-up with Conduit, an album title that had been rumored for their 2007 release before they settled on No Really, I’m Fine and rode the success of hits like “All Over You” on to the Billboard 200 for the first time.
But the version of Thomas who wrote Conduit is a far cry from the angry kid who first appeared on the scene in 2001. Although it might be hard to keep that teenage angst at the age of 36, Thomas now has nearly a decade’s worth of new stories to tell and the maturity to process the emotions from the personal battles he’s dealt with over the years.
SPIN spoke with Thomas to talk Conduit, new fans, and what’s next for the veteran band.
SPIN: It’s been almost a decade since the last Spill Canvas album, so what was it that you really wanted to say with Conduit?
Nick Thomas: It’s such an important album for us as a band, and personally for me as well. It’ll be our first new album in nine years. During that time, we took a little break, we had a couple members decide to leave to do the family thing, and I had some personal and health issues I was going through. Every record is your baby as an artist, and you’re always stoked about the newest stuff, but this time it’s not just because it’s new and flashy. It’s more because it’s like a rebirth of the band. For the last five years or so, we’d been doing anniversary tours, request tours, and just all kinds of tailored tours, but when it came time for new music, it was like “Are we just one of these nostalgia acts or are we something more?” This album represents so much growth that I’ve gone through, and it has a new flavor and maturity because we have two new members contributing to it.
And seeing as you’ve been doing this since you were a teenager, how does it feel to create an album these days compared to 15 years ago?
It’s definitely something that is akin to riding a bike as an artist. Particularly songwriting is just something that you definitely don’t forget how to do, but I like to embrace the fact that it will always be an ever-changing and ever-evolving skill set. Aside from working with two new members this time, I think the biggest difference was just the life experience that time provides as you get older. I’ve just been through so many notable things that were worthy of writing about, but I hate to say it’s maturity, because I’m like 36 and a child still for sure. I still just have a dreamer’s mind and my head’s in the clouds all the time, but it does feel more mature in the sense of how we approach things on the writing side and being in the studio. More than anything though, I think it was an excitement that I haven’t felt since probably the third record we did — or possibly even just since like the first full band record we did in 2005. This felt like a totally new chance because I’d wanted to write new Spill Canvas for a long time, but then we left Warner Brothers in 2010 and the band kind of dissolved. This was the most cathartic studio experience I’ve had since the first couple records when I was just 18-20 and like “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m doing this!” Now I’m 35-36 and rolling into the studio with that same feeling of excitement.
What’s it like to look back on those first records where you, as you said, you were just stoked to be there doing it?
It’s so surreal to be honest with you. Maybe you could compare it to if you journaled in high school and your early 20s about everything that’s happening in life and then you look back at those. It’s like an out-of-body experience, because when I listen to the first couple of records or play those songs live, I feel connected to them in a way that’s like “I know that was me, but it doesn’t feel like me.” I have some of the same qualities and characteristics of when I was writing those first couple albums, but like your frontal lobe doesn’t stop growing until you’re 26 or 27. Those songs are so trippy for me, because I’m never able to fully comprehend it. It’s always like something I’m constantly trying to wrap my head around. It’s like “Wow! Look at what you did!” I always just want to write these songs, and hopefully people connect with them. That quality has never changed, but there’s some cringeworthy moments for sure. I know a lot of people connect with our older catalog, and I 1,000% love that because without that, this machine doesn’t work. I mean, I’ve still never found another way of writing other than pulling my heart out of my chest, slapping it down on the table, and being like “Here’s the song.”
How does it feel to see a new generation of fans get into your music alongside the crowd that’s been listening to you for almost two decades?
I would say that is one of the most fulfilling aspects of the band, right there with fulfilling my need to get something out of me through songwriting. Music is just something that spans across every human. It’s a visceral human experience to be moved by music, so when a fan makes that connection with a song, that makes it their own. Maybe they feel like that’s exactly what they wanted to say about a situation going on in their life, and it might be totally different than what I was going through when I wrote it. There’s a lyric or two out there that just hits home with them, and it doesn’t matter who they are. It doesn’t really matter how many kids we’ve played for or if they’re newer fans or older fans, but there is a little bit of excitement when meeting a new fan. At this point, we have such an incredibly loyal fan base that you start to know who they are and become friends with some of them. But with a new fan, it’s like “Oh my gosh, that is so cool!” because my goal was always just to have longevity through real connection — and that connection portion is the biggest plus for me.
As someone who’s been touring since they were a teenager, what was it like to have that taken away from you by the pandemic in the middle of creating this album?
Well I definitely learned to adapt, because touring is my number one source of income. At first, it was like “How am I going to do this? Do I have to get a job working somewhere or can I utilize the band and music still?” Thankfully, we were able to do that with Patreon and the custom song shop thing, but promoting the album is a little bittersweet. We’ve been working on this album for two years — we recorded it independently and funded it ourselves — and it was just like “We have to get this out.” It’s a little surreal, because we would do morning radio and stuff in the past, but that seems a bit outdated and doesn’t really happen as much. It’s all different now, so it’s been a really interesting learning experience. I do constantly have daydreams — or just actual dreams — of playing these songs live and hopefully them being received well, but I don’t think we’ll be able to tour until next year. Actually, I think we’re going to go back into the studio for another album this summer, but that’s a whole different thread to pull.