Go Deeper

Sex, Dreams, & Self Control: Kevin Thornton Q&A

Posted July 28th, 2009

Kevin Thornton launched his performance career on the largesse of college financial aid. At Ball State University, he squeaked by in classes so he could keep getting refund checks that financed equipment purchases for his band. Kevin moved to Nashville in 2001, where he would found the band Waves on Waves, which released their first album last September. With the band on hiatus (although Kevin assured me that there are some songs in the pipeline), he’s been touring what he bills as the “stand up spoken word music show” Sex, Dreams, & Self Control.

Kevin’s bringing it to Philly Fringe for nine performances in September, at the William Way Community Center and Walking Fish Theatre. Home in Nashville after his successful (and well-reviewed) run of shows at the Goethe-Institut in Washington, D.C. as part of the Capital Fringe, and between recording songs from the show and prepping a book of stories, he squeezed out a few minutes to talk with me.

Where did the title Sex, Dreams, & Self Control come from?
In the format of the show there are all these dream sequences. A recurring dream happens to forward the plot. So much of it is based on sexual discovery as well, so [the title] tells what the show’s about, a little bit. I want to present this as this racy, fun, wild ride. And it’s a play on “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”

A huge part of the story is growing up in Evansville, Indiana, which was very conservative Christian, and being a gay man discovering my sexuality in my super-oppressive setting. The story of the show is me discovering something that everybody around me is telling me that I can’t be.

After the jump, loving a mannequin, being gay in Nashville, and why Kevin’s found a home in fringe festivals nationwide.

Tell me about the intersection of storytelling and music in Sex, Dreams, & Self-Control.
It was kind of an accident. My band was touring full time, and I had just started writing some short stories as we were driving from place to place. I wasn’t working, and I don’t have a day job. I just kind of had the inspiration to jot down some interesting memories.

On a whim one day there was a stand up comedy open mic here in town. I’m pretty sure the first story I told there was my lurid love affair with a mannequin. My dad had a whole bunch of Styrofoam mannequins, and I put one in my room, and we had quite the romance. I read it, and the room just blew up. They loved it! It was such positive reinforcement, and so fun to hear people laughing so much. I went back every week with a new story, and get such positive reinforcement that I’d spend all week writing a new story to go back.

Why did you move to Nashville?
I just kind of came down, with no intention to stay. But I made friends, started recording, playing in a band and never left. It’s surprisingly cool. Everybody automatically assumes it’s all rednecks and country music, but there are a lot of transplants from New York and L.A., and tons of clubs with all kinds of music.

What’s it like to be gay there?
The stereotype is that it’s backward, suppressed, scary. Again, the redneck element is there, but in downtown Nashville, around the universities, it’s a progressive little community. Our weekly entertainment paper is a Village Voice sister publication, with lots of forward-thinking commentary. In my little three-square-mile radius, it’s pretty great. But in the outlying communities, it might be a little scary.

What have been the best types of venues so far for Sex, Dreams & Self Control?
In a rock band, I come from trying to get the attention of the young hipster crowd. Initially, that was my mindset. But the people who are loving this show are slightly older, NPR-listening, David Sedaris-reading types. We found that out pretty quickly. That slightly older, smarter person seems to frequent the fringe festivals and they’ve been the best audience so far for sure.

Why have you brought this show to Fringe festivals?
[Until recently] I didn’t even know what a Fringe Festival was. I had some connections in L.A. and Chicago, so outside of Nashville, the first run was in L.A. I did it in L.A. for three weeks, and Chicago for three weeks. At some point, someone suggested I do Fringe Festivals. I just applied for a couple. I think I’m doing 5 different festivals this year.

It’s really cool because, for instance, in D.C. I don’t have much of a following. But I was able to go there and have a built-in crowd to draw on. I had full houses in D.C. all week long. It’s a cool way to go to a city where nobody knows me, and have a way to draw an audience. I’m looking into doing Canadian festivals next summer, and taking it overseas and to other festivals I haven’t been to yet like Minneapolis and San Francisco. I think I’m just getting started with the show, and it has a lot of life in it.

–Nicholas Gilewicz