SALT LAKE CITY — Whether it’s lighting a piano on fire for a music video or traveling all over the world to produce her latest album, Jennifer Thomas doesn’t do anything small.
While filming a music video for her song “The Fire Within,” the first song in an album of the same name, Thomas, who studied piano at Brigham Young University-Idaho and has performed with organizations like the Temple Square Concert Series and the Seattle Symphony, lit a grand piano on fire in the middle of a California desert.
“We thought it would just burn for a little bit, but it completely burned to the ground,” Thomas told the Deseret News. The Yamaha-sponsored composer and award-winning performer wanted to make it clear that she didn’t burn down the expensive Yamaha grand piano that you can see her playing in the video.
“I had this old antique 7-foot Behr Brothers piano that I've actually used for four music videos where we had to film outside. … We've taken it out on the beach and into the forest. It's gotten covered in sand and mud, and I really didn't care about it,” Thomas said. While filming a previous music video for her song “A Beautiful Storm,” the piano got so damaged in the process that Thomas didn’t have much use for it other than storing it in her garage.
“So people were asking me, ‘What are you going to do with your piano? Are you going to turn it into a bookcase? Or put it in your garden as an art piece?’ And I was like, ‘I think I'm going to set it on fire, actually,’" she said.
The fiery stunt is the perfect visual for her sixth album, the critically acclaimed “The Fire Within,” which was released in October 2018 and is all about the pianist's inner fire. Thomas went all over the world, from Nashville to London and Stockholm, to record and produce the album, but it all started with that simple original concept.
“It mostly has to do with the inner drive in all of us to want to overcome challenges and better ourselves. All of the songs that I wrote for that album came from a really personal place in me. I just felt like there was an inner drive and fire within me to conquer the challenging things in my life.”
One of the biggest challenges in her life was actually the inspiration for her song "Girl in the Mirror,” which Thomas considers to be one of the most “raw and personal” songs on the album.
“I struggled for a lot of years with body image and loving myself," she said. "And I went through a lot of years of always comparing myself and feeling like I wasn't enough or that I wasn't good enough or beautiful enough. And it took a lot of years to finally get to a place where I learned to love myself.”
Thomas says that giving birth to her third child helped her confront her struggles and eventually work through them.
“I think he just really healed me. He helped me to see what my body was capable of doing and how beautiful it was," Thomas said. "And I went through a lot of healing with him. I feel like I still always have to work at it, but I am finally at a place now where I do love myself and I love the girl in the mirror.”
Along with learning how to love and accept herself, Thomas says she also had to learn how to balance her time between her family and her music.
“I'm definitely not perfect at it. I feel like it's something that I'm constantly learning about and growing. But the biggest thing that I feel like I've learned is that you can do it all, you just can't do it all at once," she said. "And so I have to really prioritize my time. I can't do everything in one day. So if I'm working on music one day, I want to be able to give 100 percent to my music. Or if we're having a family day, I want to give my family 100 percent of my focus and attention.”
Now she’s taking her husband and three sons along on her first solo tour. The summer tour, which will last three months and stop in nine different states, will have three Utah dates in various locations: Ogden, Orem and Salt Lake City.
“It's like a summer family road trip, but we're also doing concerts,” Thomas said. But, she pointed out, preparing for a tour is much more involved than planning a road trip.
“Of course, I don't ever do anything small. So it's turned into this whole production,” she said. Not only will she be performing on the piano and violin, Thomas has worked hard to produce a combination of audio-visual elements, lighting, and storytelling to create an experience that is “not the typical solo piano concert at all.” Despite small venues, Thomas has, in true character, gone big to give concertgoers an “intimate experience, but hopefully in epic proportions.”
“The biggest thing is I want people to come and feel something. I want them to feel inspired," she said. "When they sit there in the audience, I want them to be able to just feel the music in their chest, like it hits them and they feel it through their whole body. … I want it to be a really epic concert experience.”
If you go …
What: Jennifer Thomas
When: Wednesday, June 26, 7 p.m.
Where: The Piano Gallery Recital Hall, 5270 Freeway Park Drive, Ogden
How much: $30
When: Friday, June 28, 7 p.m.
Where: The Piano Gallery Recital Hall, 650 S. State St., Orem
When: Saturday, June 29, 7 p.m.
Where: Vieve Gore Concert Hall, 1840 S. 1300 East, Salt Lake City