The Bros Fresh duo on going from back-up act to centre stage
The Louisiana-born musicians chat to writer Lola Adesioye about when they found their voices and what it means to be Black in music
By Lola Adesioye
An interview with Torrence and Thurman Thomas – the twin brothers who form the Alt R&B musical duo The Bros Fresh – was always going to be fun. The New Orleans born and raised pair are high-energy personalities with bright smiles; their thoughts and ideas – even when serious – are punctuated with laughter. And they weave joyfully in and out of conversation: one starts a sentence, the other finishes it.
Although they’re serious musicians and instrumentalists – both sing, play the guitar, write their own songs and produce – they bring a stereotype-defying ethos to their work, creating content and providing creative and artistic direction to brands. They’re also the founders of Tank Proof, a well-respected and fast-growing non-profit organisation that teaches inner-city youth how to swim.
Creativity and community are at the heart of everything they do, born not only out of a desire to give back, but also for their own holistic self-expression. ‘We’re always chopping it up and coming up with how to build a narrative that helps people understand the fullness of who we are,’ explains Thurman.
Growing up on a naval base in Louisiana with their mother, a naval officer, was their first introduction to difference. Then came soccer, a sport that they both played to a high level. It was falling in love with the beautiful game that also gave them their first introduction to global Blackness. That was where they saw other Black people who looked like them, who were as passionate about the sport as they were, but came from different countries and spoke other languages.
A run-in with the law in their late teens – they were caught shoplifting – soon put an end to soccer when, as part of their punishment, their mother said they could no longer play. As luck would have it, a neighbour decided that their talent could be channelled in a different direction – a musical one. Handing them a guitar, the neighbour taught them both how to play.
Although initially sceptical, The Bros Fresh quickly took to the guitar, transferring the discipline they’d gained from soccer to music. Their gift for guitar soon led to them becoming serious back-up musicians for other artists. But after a while that was no longer fulfilling. ‘It was getting kinda monotonous,’ explains Torrence. ‘And we had to make a decision: we could continue echoing other people’s music and playing behind them, but that really wasn’t for us. It was time for us to use our voice.’ And so The Bros Fresh was born.
‘Our superpower is that there are two of us and we move singularly’
Their sound is sweet and melodic, their lyrics pensive and thought-provoking, with hints of classic artists from the past, as well as influences from today. ‘I remember these long car rides with my mom and stepdad to Florida or Alabama. Thankfully, he had good taste in music,’ Thurman reminisces. ‘I’m a guitar guy. I played it first, so my musical inspirations are guitar oriented. I love Prince and Carlos Santana; those two guys are my idols.’
‘In terms of more modern production, we’re big fans of Timbaland and Pharrell,’ chimes in Torrence. ‘Sonically, though, we learnt a lot from Stevie Wonder, The Gap Band, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Eagles, Frankie Beverly & Maze; R&B in general from the 1970s. Then you have your Michael Jacksons – your greats, of course.’
‘You know who I’ve really been on lately?’ adds Thurman, excitedly. ‘Bob Marley. I really like some Bob Marley. He was such an icon. I have a lot of rock influences too, so [we’re] trying to create something that strikes that balance between making music for other people and making music for yourself.’
The brothers also count John Mayer as a big influence, have been listening to Haim on repeat, and are into Thundercat and some of their peers in the Alt R&B space. This mixture of influences can be heard in The Bros Fresh’s music, in which they aim to expand the idea of what Black music can be and sound like. They’re also keen on expanding people’s understanding and imaginations around not just what Black music can sound like, but how a creative life can look.
‘Our superpower is that there are two of us and we move singularly,’ muses Thurman. ‘We’re also natural collaborators, because we were forced to work with someone else from day one,’ adds Torrence. ‘So, our ethos is that we’re better together. And that’s not just me and him, that’s me and [whoever we’re working with]. The biggest deception that’s ever existed is that we’re separate from each other when, in fact, we’re all interconnected.'
Interconnection is a huge part of The Bros Fresh’s world and life. Torrence’s belief is that if you fuse influences together well enough and for long enough, ‘you essentially start to make your own feel, your own sound, [and] your own aesthetic.’
Two other major influences in their lives have been church – where they played for years, and learnt crowd management and what moves an audience – and going to Southern University, an HBCU. As Thurman recalls: ‘The high school we went to was around 60% white, 40% Black. But after my first day at Southern, I went home and said to my mom, “I’ve never seen so many [Black people] in my life. I’m thankful for the whole experience of just full-on Blackness”.’
‘[Going to an HBCU] was beautiful to witness. The experience was special, and it was very influential to us, as artists, as humans in general,’ adds Torrence.
With so much going on in the world, The Bros Fresh have much to say on being Black men in America today. They’re both hopeful, while acknowledging the challenges: ‘I feel like progress is a process,’ says Torrence. ‘And there are just times when we’re unrealistic with what we want… Things don’t change overnight. So, it takes patience. We’re from Louisiana, from the South. I’ve been called [the N word] so many times. But things are shifting, things are changing, minds are changing, and people are having a different perspective.’
Part of that change has been in their relationship with brands, which they previously feared could be seen as tokenism. However, when their mentor told them to ‘strike while the iron is hot, because it may not always be like this’, ‘that’s when we started leaning in,’ says Torrence. Now they’re embracing it all: music, brand partnerships, community service, and anything else that comes their way in service of blurring those lines for the greater good.
The official recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is something that they’re both pleased about. ‘Finally, something we can agree on politically in this country,’ exclaims Thurman. ‘It’s lit! I’m happy to be alive for a time like this. I think it’s a landmark thing.’
On Black Music Month, they wax lyrical. ‘Black music is everything to us, because we’re Black and we’re musicians,’ Torrence explains. Laughing in agreement with his brother, Thurman says, ‘If we took away Black music in the world, man, there damn near wouldn’t be any music. This is our thing. We own this.’