Brad Thomas wants the members of his community, the collective mass of current and former Special Operators, to know that beyond the darkness, there is light. And it is through the music that he creates with his band Silence and Light, a band which is wholly comprised of Operators, that he is trying to bring that message to his community.
Thomas is an experienced Operator, having spent twenty years -- twelve in Delta Force after eight as a Ranger -- in some of the most volatile combat situations on Earth. Having been through that, Thomas's focus today is on his band and the charitable force they can become. Since starting Silence and Light in 2018, Thomas and his cohort have committed to using their band as both a conduit for a positive message and an entity in which they can give back financially to their community.
Recently, the band decamped to Los Angeles where they spent two weeks in the studio with Grammy-winning producer (and Marine Corps veteran) Josh Gudwin cutting their first album, the royalties from which they've pledged to donate to the Special Operations and first responder community.
Tell me a bit about the band.
The band is called Silence and Light. Tyson Stahl is our bass player, Jason Everman is one of the guitar players, I'm the other. Fred Cowell is the singer and Brandon L is the drummer.
Give me the history of the band. How'd you all get together? What's the backstory?
Originally, it started as a mechanism for me to figure out a way to give back to the Special Operations community and ultimately.
Really, it was my way of showing my fellow veterans that, if I can do this -- having dealt with the dark days that I've lived through, from Mogadishu to one battle after another all over the place to suicides and all kinds of other shit that I've been surrounded by throughout my entire career -- that anyone can do this.
I was inspired by my wife, who was looking at a roomful of musical equipment in my house and was like, "It's a shame you're not doing anything with this stuff."
So I was driving to work the next day, was getting ready to go see a concert with my buddy Jason Everman. And the lightbulb went off. I realized that I figured out that I wanted to sell music and take the proceeds and give them to Special Operations and first responder charitable organizations.
Since that day, it's grown into being this almost full-time thing.
We had to set up a corporation to support it, to figure out financially how that all works, and all of the time that goes into something like that. You know. But originally, it came from that idea of wanting to do something that contributed to our community. And it's a healthy and creative outlet that combats a lot of the negativity that I've seen and dealt with throughout my career.
You started the band with Jason Everman. Was it just the two of you at first?
Yeah, it was just the two of us. But at that point, I put up a social media thing to get the message out there. From that, every other piece and part came through that. People saw what we were doing and started reaching out, asking if they could help out, how and if they could contribute.
That led to include our producer Josh Gudwin, who is a veteran but also a Grammy-winning, A-list record producer. He did four years in the Marine Corps and wanted to figure in more special things there but got injured. So he got out and just absolutely started kicking ass in the music industry. He's worked with everyone.
Justin Bieber. Celine Dion. Maroon 5. Will.I.Am. You name it.
Wow. That's big shit.
Yeah. He's just been kicking ass.
So where is the band based out of?
We're in five different states, so the way that works is that I create all the music and share it with the other guys electronically so that they can listen, understand it, you know, give it a thumbs up or thumbs down. And then we get together, once a month, sometimes more. We have a studio in North Carolina where we all meet up. And that's when we write and create everything.
Five different states? Where is everyone located?
Yeah. Jason's in Washington state, Fred is in Texas, Tyson is in North Carolina, Brandon is in Virginia, and I live in Long Island.
Most bands, unless they're touring, they're not all together. Most people don't hang out, live in the same house with their bandmates. I think that's something don't realize about the music industry. But it's very common.
After the band crystallized, did you start making the record right away? Or was their more of a gestational period? It couldn't have been easy to get a band off the ground when that band is all over the country. Did you know these guys before starting this band?
There was a little bit of trial and error with the singer. But everything else fit like a glove right off the bat. The meat and potatoes of the band -- everyone but a singer -- met up in Vegas. We hung out for a few days and felt each other out. It was a little awkward at first only because we'd never met. But we understood the goal of the band, we all got on the same page and there was an immediate chemistry there.
There has to be an interesting dichotomy with you guys, because people who play in bands are too often passive-aggressive types, too often afraid to talk about the hard stuff. Whereas the guys in your band have ostensibly made a living talking about and living through the hard stuff.
Absolutely. Some of the tension and inner turmoil amongst bands is what makes their music great. Van Halen is a good example of that. But with our band, we don't need to add that because A: we've already lived the dark days. I don't need to hit my rock bottom to see what that looks like. We've all been there. And B: because we're very direct about stuff, I can send these guys a song I wrote and they can be like, "Dude, this sucks," and my feelings aren't hurt and I know how to deal with things.
Take me through the band's timeline.
Just the discussion between Jason and I happened in May of 2017. All of the members didn't get together and meet until January 2018. We played together for the first time in February of 2018 and in January of 2019, we went to LA and recorded the album.
And how did you get linked up with Josh Gudwin?
Much the same way the band got together. He saw my social media, saw the message, saw what I was trying to put together and he DM'd me. He said, "Hey man, I don't ever offer this but I'm down to help out. Let me know what I can do."
And I took him up on his offer and he followed through.
What was it like going from trying to get this thing off the ground to flying out to LA to work with a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with some of the biggest artists in the world?
It was exactly what I thought it would be. We went into the studio having barely known Josh. But we did a lot of talking on the phone, just kind of understanding what we wanted it to sound like, references for production, what our favorite albums sounded like. And he's done a great job making our vision a reality.
We went into the studio with songs that were 85-90% completed but knowing that he was going to be there to make them better. Because of that, I was never 100% married to any one thing in the song. If Josh said I needed to change something, usually I'd change it. Some things I'd fall on my sword for. But in the end, Josh's ear wins Grammys and I had to be willing to accept that feedback.
What was the actual process like? How long were you in the studio? How many songs were you cutting a day?
So we recorded everything live. Got in a room and just recorded everything as a band playing together. Once that was all recorded, we'd go back and clean up everything we needed to clean up. So the drummer's the first one in because you start with drum sound. So we spent about four days redoing all the drum tracks with a ton of input from Josh. Then bass, then guitar. Then at the very end, we put the vocal icing on the cake. All in all, that was a two-week process.
But beforehand, we did a lot of preproduction. A lot of rehearsals so that you're not fucking around wasting anyone's time. So our November and December of 2018 were busy getting everything polished and dialed in. And we went in there just like we would accomplish a mission, a military task, took some criticism, adjusted and, I think, knocked it out of the park.
What was Josh's take on working with you guys?
He was very open about our work ethic, was very impressed with how seriously we took the process. There was no screwing around. It was twenty-to-twenty-two-hour days for two weeks. And he worked just as hard as we did.
Where did you cut the album?
Stagg Street Studio in Van Nuys. The engineer was a guy named Bill Lane. He's worked with The Eagles, Jackson Browne. He's worked with some huge, huge names.
What's the status of the album?
I wrote about seventy songs and from that, we pulled ten that we recorded in LA with Josh. We're gonna start rolling songs out soon in support of the album. We don't really need a label to do what we want to do, especially considering how all of the proceeds are going to go back into the community. We don't want to deal with someone or some label taking a cut from money that's really meant to support a cause.
We may just drop six songs as an EP. We need to see what kind of feedback we're getting on what we get out there. Josh is knocking out a couple at a time so we've got a bit of a loose timeline to play with.
Does the record have a name that we can share?
It's called Silence and Light, which is an homage to Van Halen. Their first album was self-titled, so that's just us paying our respects to them.
What's the plan as it stands today?
We've got video stuff with audio teasers that we'll start rolling out soon to let people know that it's coming. We'll do three songs with three separate videos to keep people engaged. We're flexible but we have a loose plan going forward.
And hopefully, people will see that if we can get out there and do this in a way that is creative and healthy, in a way that helps me deal with stuff positively, that anybody can do it.