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Thunder Jackson returns home, finds 'God in Oklahoma'

Thunder Jackson
Thunder Jackson

This is Songwriters & Tour Riders, a music podcast from KOSU hosted by Matthew Viriyapah.

Kyle Bradley was raised in Piedmont, Oklahoma. But his alter-ego, Thunder Jackson, was born in Los Angeles, California, after years of playing in smoky bars and busking since he was a teenager.

He released his debut self-titled album in 2020, but after its release he said that music wasn't making sense to him anymore. It wasn't until he moved back to Oklahoma where he found the inspiration to create again.

He released an EP titled Take Me Back last fall and is working on new music while splitting his time between L.A. and Oklahoma.

In this episode, hear Thunder Jackson talk about how his father was an Elvis impersonator and got him a license to play in bars as a teenager, creating the moniker Thunder Jackson, and returning to Oklahoma.

On having an Elvis impersonator as a father

I was probably around, I don't know, 13 years old when I really kind of picked up a guitar and was able to, like, actually play music.

And my dad growing up was he was in bands always. He was also an Elvis impersonator, which was also a super unique thing about my father.

So he had me playing in bars. He got me the special license to play when I was about 14 years old, so I was playing in local bars in Oklahoma City and Yukon and Piedmont since I was about 14.

I always look back on those days when I was obviously not good. And I remember my dad gave me this bit of advice. He was like, 'Kyle, you're not the best. But, you know, the more you do this, the more you're going to be the best, and you got something different, and you can't stop.'

So I never stopped. And I just got better and better and better.

And then, from there, I ended up moving to California. And then I was also a street performer on the 3rd Street Promenade [in Santa Monica, Calif.] for about two years as well. So a lot of a lot of my young musical life was spent playing in outside places, small bars, open mics. You name it. I would try to play it.

On creating Thunder Jackson

Me and my producer, Pete, who we've made the first record together, and we're continuing making another record now. For a year, you know, I was working on his record with him. He was in a band called Until the Ribbon Breaks, and they're still putting out a record this year.

So I was pretty much focused on working on his record with him, and there was always this joke like, 'Kyle's going to have a name because his name is Kyle.'

And so there was one time we were camping, or somewhere, I think I was looking up and there's a bunch of heat lightning. And I was like, 'man, what if my name was Thunder?' and then Pete put Jackson at the end of it. He put it in his voice memo forever. Then two years later comes about, and we're like we should start this record back. We should try to find Thunder Jackson.

Once we said it, it just kind of, like, all made sense to who I was and who the project was going to be. And it sort of created this character that we were able to write from a standpoint of which was very much based off of me. But I think essentially it started to veer off into this sort of anti-hero kind of guy. It was like: what is Thunder Jackson, who is Thunder Jackson, what would Thunder Jackson do in this situation? Which made our writing a lot more fun.

I feel like I had a blast kind of writing that first record where it was very much a character-based album where it was 'what exactly is a Thunder Jackson?' And we sort of were figuring out what exactly was a Thunder Jackson while we were making it.

I think we still are trying to figure out what a Thunder Jackson is. But the first song we pretty much ever made was "Guilty Party."

We have this question in our head of like, what is a Thunder Jackson?

So we just sent it over to my mom, and she just goes, 'What is a Thunder Jackson?' And we were like, yes, this is perfect!

On coming back to Oklahoma

I was just in L.A. and it was just right after that record. And I was through heartbreak. I was going through this sort of like imposter syndrome where I didn't really know what I wanted to do anymore. Music wasn't really making sense to me anymore like it used to.

I was just kind of struggling with a lot of chasing or running or more running away from the things that I needed to not run away from. But I just kept running and running and it just made me really kind of go down this dark hole.

I almost quit music. I almost just decided to live this other life cause I just couldn't figure out who I wanted to be anymore until I moved back to Oklahoma.

And all it did was feed me with inspiration and support. And I just found beauty again. I found beauty in living again. I found beauty in creating again. And it wasn't through the big bright lights of Los Angeles, of New York or London. It was through sitting on the back of a truck smoking a cigarette with my best friends since fourth grade, hanging out with my parents at dinner.

It was sitting and making music for no reason besides why would we do anything else? This is what we love to do.


Music featured in this episode:

  1. Thunder Jackson - Led Astray
  2. Thunder Jackson - Colours
  3. Thunder Jackson - Love Sick Doctor
  4. Until the Ribbon Breaks - Count The Lightning
  5. Thunder Jackson - Guilty Party
  6. Jeff Buckley - Lover, You Should've Come Over
  7. Thunder Jackson - SOS
  8. Thunder Jackson - How Did You Leave
  9. Thunder Jackson - Caroline
  10. Thunder Jackson - Find Yourself
  11. Leif Vollebekk - Hot Tears (Live at KCRW)
  12. Dijon - The Dress
  13. Prince - Sign of the Times
  14. Prince - Sometimes it Snows in April
  15. Thunder Jackson ft. Chet Faker - Take Me Back
  16. Thunder Jackson - God in Oklahoma

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Matthew Viriyapah is KOSU's production assistant and host of the music podcast Songwriters & Tour Riders.
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