Thom Kunz is a songwriter, musician, and educator who lives in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina.
Born in Teaneck, New Jersey in 1976, much of his childhood was spent curled up on the floor in front of a turntable and wearing earphones much larger than his head.
By the age of five, his father’s vinyl and 8-track collection grew more appealing than episodes of Sesame Street. In the dimly lit living room, lingering in the space between two towering Pioneer speakers, Thom’s earliest influences were revealed – ranging from iconic giants like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Bruce Springsteen to singer / songwriters Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, and Neil Diamond, to some of the more obscure acts in his father’s collection like Renaissance, Ten Years After, and Poco.
Around nine years of age, he started playing in his first band with his cousin and childhood friend from the not-so-mean streets of Hazlet, NJ – banging on drums comprised of kitchen appliances, pots and pans, and misshapen plastic buckets.
He attended Beers Street Middle School where a passion for heavy metal emerged – acts like Metallica, King Diamond, and Slayer were on constant rotation in the late 80s and early 90s. He continued playing drums in bands, held up in garages and basements, often passing out demo cassettes with photocopied jackets at school. On the weekends, Thom often mowed his father’s lawn for a modest allowance and then immediately dropped the money at a music specialty store in Brick, New Jersey called Rainbow Rock, where he acquired bootleg VHS concerts from bands like Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Motley Crue.
During the Christmas holiday of his junior year in high school, Thom’s mother bought him a Takamine acoustic guitar. He sat beside the Christmas tree one evening, trying to hide that he’d drank a few beers with friends earlier, and pulled the shiny, wooden body from its case – it was the foundation for a new creative energy.
He quickly started writing and recording music on 4-track recorders, a sort of ‘cutting room floor greatest hits’ resulted – safe to say, he was demoing, discovering—searching for his own craft. That search stretched through high school and into college, but never completely solidified.
In the winter of 1998—bored-to-death in various sales jobs after a four-year run at a two-year community college—Kunz threw a dart at a map of the United States, landing on the North Carolina Coast. Six months later, with little knowledge of Wilmington, he picked up and moved out of New Jersey just like a character in the Springsteen songs he adored as a child.
He received his BA in English in 2001 after two years of scraping by and playing a few gigs at downtown Wilmington establishments that no longer exist – The Icehouse, Water Street Restaurant, and Bull McCabes, to name a few. He realized the singer / songwriter gigging atmosphere at bars was not a fulfilling medium and found more pleasure behind the scenes.
Creating and playing music took more of a backseat as Thom pursued an MFA in Creative Writing. A few modest publications happened thereafter, but nothing serious. He wrote two unpublished novels; the second one landing him in a literary agent bidding war one Sunday afternoon a year after completing graduate school, but ultimately, the book never found a publisher, and it would be nearly a decade until he considered writing anything else. There wasn’t a creative outlet anymore, and most of his early thirties were uninspired. Fair to say - he simply gave up on a life filled with aspects of creativity.
Fast forward through another decade of mundane routines, a collapsed marriage, overpriced therapy, and an array of both wonderful and horrific life choices - he eventually found a stable, comforting balance in new friendships, love, community, and multiple careers in higher education.
He began to discover new avenues for all of his creative passions, and after a decade of infrequent noodling on the guitar, he sat down without an agenda and penned a song called “Far Away”. The creative process felt familiar, appropriate, and from a wiser lens; it was a sort of homecoming, or perhaps an exorcism of the last two decades finally coming into focus from a much healthier place.
More songs followed. Thom heard different voices, styles, moods – all of it morphing into an organized chaos and discourse. It was the first time his passion for storytelling and songwriting arrived at the same creative space. Paper Brain was born from these sessions – examining the entire spectrum of emotional fingerprints one can never truly escape or erase from memory.
Six months later his debut album Paper Brain was released – and it was a statement waiting to happen for roughly forty years. With the advances in technology and the inventions of social media – making a record and reaching an audience without a reputation as a live performer was now possible.
Kunz would be the last to describe himself as a lead singer or frontman – because he simply isn’t. A somewhat schizophrenic concept album like Paper Brain required a number of voices and tones. Most of Thom’s vocal contributions linger in the background over the 45 minute piece, reminding the audience of the narrator at war with his own thoughts. But Thom is more interested in stepping back from the microphone and finding the right voice for these thematically autobiographical stories, much like an author at work on his characters.
Thom continues to work, write, and record in downtown Wilmington. Several collaborative projects are on deck. The most recent is an album of songs with Whitney Pearsall called Stars in the Black and Blue due out on vinyl, Cd, and digital this July. He also co-wrote and produced music with Joan Childress Wilkerson (last night’s makeup) for her upcoming indie-acoustic EP: iBreak iPhones. Other ongoing projects include a variety of electronic material (Bye Bye Skylight) with Addie Wuensch.