Tennessee Thomas has boundless energy.
The British-born drummer, DJ, activist and creator of the clothing line, The Deep End Club, first made a name for herself as the drummer for the LA-based girl band, The Like. After recording with Mark Ronson and touring with everyone from The Strokes to Arctic Monkeys, she moved to New York City, where she became a DJ specializing in rare Sixties soul, girl groups and rock n’ roll records.
During that time, Thomas became heavily involved in the Occupy movement, which spurred her passion for activism. She started a group called The Awareness Experiment to host teach-in events and, with The Department of Peace, created PSA viral videos about issues from women’s reproductive rights to fracking. Ultimately, she opened up a creatively charged clubhouse in the East Village as a center for activism, eclectic books, fashion, and music. There, she started designing a range of t-shirts modeled by Alexa Chung, the most popular of which commands, “Give A Damn.”
Starting in the window of that shop, she and musician friends Jenny Lewis and Erika Spring formed a new band, Nice As Fuck and released a corresponding album.
Here, Thomas explains why it’s so important for us all to “Give A Damn”:
Live The Process: Have you always had intersecting interests in music, art, and activism?
Tennessee Thomas: Yes! Art and music have a community element that I associate with activism. The arts bring people together to experience emotions, provoke ideas, play and celebrate collectively. Artists and musicians have so much to offer to make activism, learning and politics fun! I grew up obsessed with the extraordinarily colorful and explosively creative music of the Sixties, which had a political element—and politically charged punk of the seventies. A few years ago, I asked myself, “Where is the protest music? Where is the outrage?” There is so much injustice and destruction in the world today; why aren’t art and music reflecting that? The commercial art and music worlds are in a total corporate bubble.
“The arts bring people together to experience emotions, provoke ideas, play and celebrate collectively.”
LTP: How and why should we work to inspire others to become activists who “Give A Damn”?
TT: I think if everyone applied a little bit of “Give A Damn” to his or her job and daily routine, we’d see a huge shift instantly. Everyone would feel encouraged to do more! “Do I need to take this plastic cup? Do I need another piece of sweatshop-made clothing? Should I compost this? I should volunteer somewhere! I should have a charity bake sale! I should support a small local business instead of a giant monopoly that has way too much money and doesn’t pay taxes!” I think we could all afford to do a lot more.
It’s interesting to realize that society/corporate media is basically just encouraging us to buy, buy, buy and be greedy! There’s no attention paid to the true cost of our actions, like the horrifying amount of single-use plastic in the oceans etc. I think, as artists and creatives, we need to combat that as much as we can! Resist corporate interests! Also, peer pressure works! The more you “Give A Damn,” the more your friends and family will “Give A Damn” too.
LTP: In your career, you’ve played many roles—musician, designer, activist, and shop owner. What have been your most amazing experiences throughout all of that and what are you up to now?
TT: I did a lot of grassroots organizing for the Bernie Sanders campaign last year and was a guest on the BBC Newsnight program. That was surreal! Also, last year, my friends Jenny Lewis, Erika Spring and I started playing music in the window of my shop, The Deep End Club, which somehow resulted in an album of songs heavily inspired by the energy of the Bernie campaign and activism that was occurring in the shop!
The band and record were called, Nice As Fuck. We got to perform an anti-gun song on Colbert during the Republican National Convention! That was also surreal.
Right now, I am working on a TV show idea, intersecting activism and the arts in a playful and informative way. Still making t-shirts and clothes on thedeependclub.com and the Nice As Fuck album is available now!
LTP: What personal wellness rituals keep you feeling balanced and healthy?
TT: I learned to do transcendental meditation (or TM) through the incredible David Lynch Foundation! Having the skill of meditation helps me when I'm feeling overwhelmed. I have also been vegetarian for 17 years. And I love swimming.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
TT: A big community gathering with all my friends working together on a creative political project!
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
TT: When it comes to activism and politics, I don't claim to “know it all” by any means. I am on a journey, learning and uncovering more and more every day. Is that living the process? Processing life daily.