Words by Amiyah Golden
With the emergence of new sounds being birthed from the inspiration of musical innovators every day, it would be a disservice to not pay homage to the artists who have paved the way by experimenting with and tinkering the sounds we appreciate today.
Jacksonville is the birthplace of so many reputable names in the music industry but one band in particular has escaped much of the mainstream recognition they deserve. So I decided to “throw-it-back” for this month’s Local Artist Spotlight and feature the ’90s band, Common Thread, who originally hail from Orange Park.
Common Thread was formed by two friends, Joe Parker and Travis Taylor. The two skateboarders found an interest in guitar — on their own, originally — but one day, Taylor suggested the two come together to form a band.
“It seemed far-fetched to me that anyone would be willing to play with us as neither of us demonstrated a tremendous facility for the instrument,” said Parker, “We had enthusiasm and tastes, though, that proved to be enough to get the ball rolling.”
Although doubt factored into Parker’s mind initially it didn’t stop the duo from expanding to a full-fledged group by Christmas of 1989. The pair recruited bass guitarist Joey Zimmerman and drummer Donald Kilpatrick.
Now a solidified band, the group was determined to break through into the world of music.
By the following year, Common Thread had enough music to record, and with the help of aspiring engineer Scott Whitter, the band made it happen resulting in the birth of their album, “Six Marbles and a Bowl of Mud.” Whitter is also credited for engineering and helping produce their praised project, “Fountain,” which will soon be available on vinyl and all streaming platforms.
I inquired about the song-making process for the band and Parker shared that much of it sparked from the organic jam sessions between himself and Taylor. With one of the two usually sharing a new guitar riff that may be accompanied with cool lyrics, it served as the first layer to the final production of a song. Parker shared with me some of the inspiration for his writing in particular: “If I liked a turn of phrase. If I wanted to relay a shred of a dream. If I wanted to take a shot at someone, If I wanted to seduce a love, I did it there as well as I could.”
With the two perfecting their songs by sorting out the structure and arrangement, it was a necessary process that resulted in the stellar songs they created.
The band prioritized their practice sessions with the group practicing two to three times a week to allow their songs to feel like “second nature” They wanted to be well-equipped to share their original music.
I was curious about how their new band got along with more established groups at the time, but Parker assured me that so many other local bands like Lysergic Garage Party, Crowsdell, Rein Sanction shared their support. Common Thread played beside many fellow bands at venues such as Einstein A Go-Go, Metropolis and Dockside.
“The music scene was small but vital,” said Parker, “And wildly varied. None of the bands sounded alike.”
With music from the ’90s still having so much influence today, many bands bridged into their very own sound with the subgenre of “shoegaze” music rising at the time and now having its full circle moment today with its new found popularity, many people credit Common Thread for contributing a big part to the sound.
While Common Thread serves as inspiration today, they also credit bands such as,The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Screaming Trees, as examples of inspiration. The band reside in their own unique sound, but the variances of musical tastes and inspiration served as a “weird blend that we reflected weirdly,” as Parker put it.
James Tritten of Fort Lowell Records — an online forum documenting music — serves as a great example of the impact that Common Thread has had on listeners.
With Tritten knowing Parker and Taylor personally before they embarked on a music career, he can speak to them as people, as well as musicians.
A musician himself, Tritten was a part of the band Sella, recalling their very first show being with Common Thread at the Doctors Inlet Civic Center in Orange Park.
Tritten recognizes Common Thread as being an inspiration in the past, as well as in the present for him as well as his wife, Tracy, who is also a part of Fort Lowell Records.
“They introduced me to new sounds and textures I had never experienced before, which led me down a path to learn about the musicians and bands who were influencing Common Thread,” Tritten said. They also helped me discover new instruments, effects or musical techniques to use myself as a musician. They pushed boundaries and opened doors I was unaware of.”
With Lowell being a huge supporter of the band, as well as the 30th anniversary of Common Thread’s album,”‘Fountain,” it became his mission to make the project available for everyone to hear.
“To hear people who were not even born in 1993 have the same reaction to them that we had ourselves 30 years ago is beyond awesome, and it’s why we are doing this,” he added.
With apps like TikTok and Instagram being a great way to share music, Tritten beams at the ability to use Common Thread’s songs like “Lydia Elle” and “Smoldering Black” on these platforms that did not even exist 30 years ago. It feels very full circle and is the perfect way to carry on the memory of former bandmates Zimmerman and Kilpatrick, who unfortunately passed away.
Tritten reflects on the memories he had with the two:
“I loved going to watch [Joey] race his car up at Jax Raceways, or just talk about cars in general. I remember his laid-back style and approach to skateboarding, always with a cigarette hanging off his lips barely holding on, and with his blond hair always covering his face just like when he played bass guitar; how the heck could he see the ramp?” recalled Tritten. “Unfortunately for me, I never had the opportunity to get to know Donald to the same degree. I always thought Donald was an excellent drummer, and glad his contributions were documented on ‘Six Marbles and a Bowl of Mud.’ [But] Donald and Joey will always hold a very special place in our hearts.”
While we might not be able to see Common Thread in person, we now have the ability to listen to the band on various subscription-based streaming sites. And if you’re like me and love collecting vinyl, you have the ability to do so as well. So go check out “Fountain” and become transported into the soundwaves or grab inspiration for your next project. Whatever you choose to do, enjoy the legacy of Common Thread.