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Broad & High Presents: Paisha Thomas

Paisha Thomas is a singer-songwriter based in Columbus, Ohio, who was joined by Stan Smith (guitar), Tony McClung (drums), and Will Strickler (bass) for this performance.

She grew up with music both at home and church which fueled her passion for music as an adult. Torn between making music a hobby or a career, she decided enough was enough and fully embraced her career as a musician.

The Chicken or The Rent
“The Chicken or The Rent” was originally written for the New Black Eastside Songbook commissioned by Scott Woods, author and poet from Columbus, Ohio. Paisha received a list of titles from Scott and chose “The Chicken or The Rent” because she knew she could easily write a song based on her own personal life.

Paisha notes that, “The first verse is about my daughter who is always working hard to create a better life for her kids, and the second is about my son who has special needs.”

All My Pieces
“All My Pieces” is a story about Paisha’s ancestors, John Randolph’s Freedpeople, who were denied claim to their land after being emancipated (full story in the link below). She is determined to spread the story to as many people as she can to bring justice to their story. Patrick McLaughlin was one of those people, and after being inspired by their story, Paisha and Patrick quickly co-wrote this song in 2014.

Tip the Balance
“Tip the Balance” is a satirical perspective on Paisha’s personal love life. She says that it’s “an ongoing cycle where I ask myself ‘why?’” The song also explores the power of words and how one person’s words can set another person into motion.

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Meet The Musicians

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From left: Stan Smith, Tony McClung, Paisha Thomas, Will Strickler

Interview with Paisha Thomas

Paisha answers some questions regarding the quote on her website, an unforgettable performance and her favorite Columbus coffee spot.

The Origin Story
I know that most people say things like [music] actually chose them, but that’s kind of how it is. I have always been attracted to music. When my grandmother would take us over to visit Gran Gran (Ms. Taylor who lived on our block) for Sunday dinner, my brother and I would go directly to Gran Gran’s organ and try to play it.

I was maybe 4 years old when we were at church one time, and I saw Nicole Burton singing a solo with the choir. I urged my grandma to put me in the choir so that I could sing solos, too. I just always saw myself as a singer and eventually, in 1997, I realized that I could also write songs and began to get into that.

One New Year’s Eve night, circa 2008, I was hanging out with my family and pretending that I could play guitar. I said jokingly, “What if I just started playing this guitar and singing?” And my cousin Manida said immediately, “What if you stopped saying ‘what if’ and just did it?” I think that’s around the time that I started really believing that I could do this, not just as a hobby but as my life work. It’s been a journey of one step at a time.

Give Us The Lowdown On Your Sound
I think with deep roots in gospel and being from Piqua, Ohio, my sound is of the Americana variety. I’ve been compared to Mavis Staples and I also saw a comment from a viewer once [which] called me and the band “Ohio Shakes” – referencing Brittany Howard. Maybe because of my deep voice and social justice bend. I love both of those women’s work and definitely am inspired by them.

What is your relationship with music and how does it influence the music you make today?
Ooof! The question about my relationship with music is one that I’ve been asking myself lately. Music is so infused into who I am as a person. It’s always been [a] part of my life. Growing up in a black church [and] having a mother who had every album you can think of—I cannot imagine separating myself from music. But I have lived my life torn between making music and making rent.

A man once told me when I was 18 years old that “singers are a dime a dozen”…when I told him that I wanted to be a singer. I was shook, but there remained this underlying rebellion that wanted to prove him wrong.

That message of “you can’t do this” has come from many people that I have looked up to, and I’ve often let it convince me that music had to be a hobby while I work a soul-crushing 9-5 cubicle job (soul-crushing because I’d rather be making music). So, I haven’t always applied myself in every way that I should because of that duality.

I’m learning to respect music as a force to be respected. If I respect it, I can continue to interact with it. If I keep it honest and put in the work, I can keep a healthy relationship with it. I’m always looking for a way to stay true to who I am as an artist while pushing against a comfort zone and trying out new concepts. It’s a challenge to find a niche while avoiding boxing myself in.

What advice would you give to others wishing to pursue their interests in music?
Ignore that guy that I told you about earlier—who cares about “a dime a dozen”? You are unique and you have a voice. It is important to hold on to what you know is your calling. Just because you fail, [it] doesn’t mean it’s not meant to be.

Bettye LaVette once said that if people are paying money to hear your music, then it probably means you’re good at it. Bettye is also an example of someone who didn’t give up. A person who lived in the shadows of many Motown greats until she was close to 60 years old. So, it’s not too late.

I also recently picked up from Stan Smith (guitarist) the concept of keeping the bullshit out of your music. Try to create a new habit free from comparing yourself to other people so that you can bring your own gifts to the world. It takes all kinds!