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Rosie Thomas: Laughter and Tears

<I>When We Were Small</I> CD cover.
When We Were Small CD cover.

Rosie Thomas loves music but she also loves to make people laugh. She's found a way to do both, but not necessarily at the same time.

Thomas is a serious singer-songwriter whose songs are often sad but hopeful. But she occasionally takes to the stage as Sheila, a neck brace-wearing pizza delivery driver who is her comic alter-ego.

"I feel more of an entertainer rather than a musician," Thomas tells NPR's Bob Edwards in a Morning Edition interview. "I love theater, I love acting, I love all those wonderful parts of entertainment and rather than come on stage and just be a musician, it gives me an opportunity to do both because I love making (audiences) laugh."

"There's nothing more gratifying than hearing people's laughter," she says. "When you're playing music, you're not waiting for anybody's response. I don't play '2 Dollar Shoes' (a song from her debut album) and when I'm done, say, 'Did that move you, person in the front row?'... You don't get a response but you hope that it does."

Thomas' first full-length CD, When We Were Small, is dedicated to her parents, who were professional musicians themselves. Her father bought Thomas a guitar and taught her how to play it when she was in her teens. Thomas' first public performances were with her father.

Her parents divorced when Thomas was 14 and the album deals with their breakup and other emotional events of her childhood. The songs feature "my point of view of what my mother would have said to my father," Thomas says. She even included audio samples from old home movies on the CD.

"I wanted my parents to hear their voices and sort of put us back in that time in our lives that was just really wonderful."

While some of her songs are on the gloomy side, Thomas says she doesn't think of them as sad. "I always try to have a message, I suppose, at the end of a song that allows for some hope," she says.

And her "Sheila" act offers a comic counterpoint. Making people laugh is "thrilling... because I don't have to be me when I'm doing it," she says.

"(But) when I write music, when I perform, I really completely try to give exactly who I am and it just really comes from a very sincere place. I can't really write any other way."

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