By Curtis Mutter
CALGARY – There are no dirt roads stretching from Calgary to Nashville, but Calgary’s country music duo, Leaving Thomas, have made the trek between the two cultural hubs of banjo-infused acoustic music many times. Maybe all those luxurious paved roads are the reason you won’t hear much about tractors and farms on their debut, self-titled EP. Sure, the duo comprised of Annika Odegard and Bryton Udy make reference to jukeboxes that one assumes are filled with Shania Twain and Dolly Parton records, but they’re also more likely to sing about sharing a box of wine at home than downing a cold beer at the local watering-hole.
“I was raised on Garth Brookes, Rascal Flatts, and the kind of stuff where a lot of those country motifs were very present,” says a bearded Bryton Udy. “For Annika, there was some country in there, but her go to was Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, stuff like that. And honestly, we’re both city kids, born and raised in Calgary. We try to make sure that authenticity is transferred over to the songs.”
Take a cursory glance at the duo’s YouTube channel and you’ll know to expect some playfulness from Leaving Thomas’ lyrics… “If you want to take a back road, take it straight off the track,” Udy and Odegard croon together with a wink on the song “Best Adventure.”
But they aren’t afraid to pull at the heart strings while fingerpicking the guitar strings, either. “You can second guess forever, but second chances run out,” they cry, shout and repeat, just enough to drive home the weight of the sentiment, on “If This Is Love”. Udy reveals that’s particularly true of Odegard. “She is not afraid to shy away from the heartbreak and the heartache.”
The country singers first met as children as part of a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Udy laughs, “Yes, we stole the show. I was nine, she was eleven and we were singing in the chorus.” Fast-forward ten years and take the train to the Calgary Stampede in 2012 where Odegard won the Talent Search Grand Prize, and Udy was crowned the Most Promising Performer. “Hey, remember me from ten years ago?” he whispered to her as they posed for photos, oversized cheques in hand. It was a short reunion, but fate would insist that the two meet again.
“Two years later we were back at the community theatre where we did Joseph,” Udy explains. “They were holding a volunteer barbeque and it ended up getting rained out, so we moved it inside and no one really came. Annika was supposed to play a set, so was I, and there were all these bands who cancelled and weren’t there. So we just decided to jam and play some ’90s’ country like Jo Dee Messina and it was just a lot of fun to play with somebody else. We said, ‘Let’s get together and let’s write.’ It was a very organic progression of turning two solo acts into a duo.”
Jumping back to the present, with Leaving Thomas’ EP release on the horizon, a Stampede City Sessions episode due to air in 2018 on PBS, and one can’t help but marvel at the whirlwind year the two have had.
“We’ll be at Big Valley Jamboree on the mainstage this year. Last summer BVJ was our first festival ever, and we played in the beer garden. Now, 365 days later, to make the skip over to the main stage, it’s going to be crazy to be able to play on the same stage as Paul Brandt and Thomas Rhett. It’ll be a different experience.”
Leaving Thomas will debut their self-titled EP Thurdsay, Jan. 25 at the Palace Theatre (Calgary).Annika Odegard, Big Valley Jamboree, Bryton Udy, Leaving Thomas, Palace Theatre, Paul Brandt, PBS, Thomas Rhett