Musician Sandi Thom Talks Dogs with K9 Magazine
You'll know Sandi Thom from her mega hit ‘I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)’. After spending more than five years living in the States she's back with a bang and has a brand new single out (Earthquake) marking the end of a life changing year which saw her adopt her beloved dog, Laddie, and meet her husband, Matt.
She recently moved back to the UK with her family and Kim O'Meara caught up with her to hear all about the future and the important role Laddie has played in helping prepare her for motherhood.
Tell us about your dog - we'd like to know everything about him!
I got Laddie while I lived in LA. I move back to the UK last month but lived there for 5 ½ years. There's a massive stray dog problem in LA so while I lived there I fostered dogs for 'Dogs Without Borders'.
I was signed up to get an email from them, I still get them now actually, and on one Laddie, or Bart as he was then known, was included and they were looking for a foster home.
He had been in rescue for about a month at that point and handed into the shelter with his sister, who had since been rehomed. The rescue had him listed as a 4 ½ year old black Beagle Labrador mix and 'nervous, but nice'. He was the most timid little thing I'd seen. We don't know his story, we don't even know if the person who handed him in with his sister was actually his owner. When I first saw him in the email newsletter I saw he was a special looking little boy. He was so nervous at first, I was surprised in the month he'd been at the shelter no one had seen the spectacular little dog that I saw.
I took him home with me and he was a bit nervous during the car journey. He even went to the toilet, but I just thought 'OK, I'll deal with that in a minute - let's get you in' and as soon as he got home he just found his bed, settled down and went to sleep. He must have been exhausted.
I was supposed to have him for a week and when it came around to the rescue's open adoption day where dogs go along and potential new owners come and meet with a view to adopting, it killed me to think of someone adopting him and I realised I couldn't bear to part with him.
Photo Credit: Martoon Smith
So at that point I changed his paperwork and renamed him Laddie. The vet estimated him to be about a year old instead based on his teeth – he has spectacular teeth, so we think he's now about 22 months old.
Have you ever been tempted to do a DNA test to discover more about about his breed mix?
We will one day I'm sure. I think there's something else in his make up rather than just solely Labrador and Beagle. The vet said Puggle, but I don't think he has the nose for that, so it'd be interesting to see.
Being so close to Mexico there are loads of Chihuahuas in LA and you see some ridiculous cross-breeds, like a Great Dane cross Chihuahua and you're left wondering how that even happened!
You mentioned moving back to the UK recently, that must have been an adventure!
Well, it was interesting. In America the way pets fly is different to here. Here we're quite strict about what a service dog is, for example a blind or deaf assistance dog, but in America a service or assistance dog is much broader. It's definitely open to people who might lean on the truth a bit, shall we say, because your dog could then accompany you to restaurants, for example, as well.
But in America if your dog is classed as a service dog – such as an emotional support service dog - the regulations on how they fly with you changes. You jump through a lot of psych tests before your dog could be classed as a service dog, so it's not easy and in all reality, I really do rely on Laddie for emotional support.
We flew from LA to New York, then New York to London and the whole time I was nervous and worrying about things like would his chip scan okay, would the pre-approved documents all be fine at the airport, and if they weren't what would happen. It was really nail biting stuff, but it was all fine in the end.
So we had a bit of a journey. I'm pregnant as well, so there was me, Laddie, two guitars and four suitcases all travelling. My brother was with me as well. You can imagine the scene at the airport.
Laddie's come on so much since he first came home with me. He's definitely come out of his shell. In fact when we got on the first flight, he just settled down in his bed surrounded by my scarves and went to sleep.
New York was a whole new experience for him. The hotel we stayed at after landing had a park nearby which he was enamoured with. You can imagine we came from LA, with it's sunshine all year round, and we landed at New York where it was cold. It was a whole new experience for him. Now here in the UK he has lots more greenery around, fields with horses to see and parks to explore, it's all new again but he's adapted brilliantly taking it all in his stride.
We're supposedly set for snow this year. How do you think he'll react?
Well he's not too keen on water so I'm not sure really. It will be interesting to see to be honest. I'll be happy to see it though, having seen so much sun in LA I'd like to see some snow.
I'm taking him to Scotland soon to see my mum and her beautiful Boxer, Holly, as well. He loves all dogs, he has no fear but Holly's a bit fearful of other dogs. I'm a bit liberal when Laddie meets other dogs though, he's really perceptive so I think I'll let him judge how far he goes.
There was a dog in Hollywood we met the day before we left. This lady rescued tonnes of dogs and this Boxer girl had a massive scar down her back after being mistreated. I don't even want to think about how it happened, but it's left this poor girl super scared of other dogs.
Anyway, the day before we were leaving we were out walking and we saw this lady walking her dog. We'd seen them a few times before and she'd always said 'she's not very good with other dogs' and we hadn't crossed paths. I'll be honest this time I was pretty scared myself.
But Laddie went bouncing along up to this dog saying 'hi!'. He went as far as he was comfortable. He did a little dance at the side of her. Then, out of nowhere she just lay down on the ground submissively. Her owner said she'd never done that with another dog before, ever. It was quite a powerful moment, but Laddie seemed to have an affect on her. She wasn't fearful of him, it was amazing progress. He seems to have a real talent for knowing and understanding how to communicate with his own kind.
He sounds like a special little man.
He is, I'm actually going to create a website for him called 'Laddie to the Rescue' where he can talk about different causes he (we) support. I think people can often turn a blind eye but they will respond if they see a cute little face behind the message. So it'll be about Laddie's causes and he'll be fighting for the rights of his own kind.
Definitely, and his own back story with you finding each other tells a story itself.
Yes, being a rescue dog and he had a second chance at life. I think he can help by sharing that to help others.
Has he helped prepare you for motherhood do you think?
I think so. Me and Matt, my husband, refer to each other as mummy and daddy when talking to him. Like I'll say 'go and follow daddy outside' that kind of thing (laughs).
In the early days he was really nervous around people and we created a very strong bond so I think he looks at me as his mum, or the person who took him in and away from whatever life he had before.
I think owning a dog is almost like getting used to the idea of parenting by having a life which revolves around someone else.
I think there are similarities between a dog and a young baby, in that neither can communicate what they're thinking with you so you have to work out what they're trying to tell you.
Laddie's very perceptive and has become more protective over the last few months. For example he'll lie with me with his head on my belly. He's really, really good.
You mentioned your mum's dog, Holly, did you grow up around dogs?
Yes, we had a family Golden Retriever named Honey from when I was about 4 years old and she lived until she was 14. She passed away just as I was getting ready to go to university.
As well as Honey we had two cats and a horse. All of them got on really well together. One of our cats, Jet, was incredibly close to Honey and passed away a month after Honey.
For me personally, I owned mostly cats before Laddie. With my lifestyle touring, it didn't seem possible to own a dog but then Laddie came into my life and I thought sod it, I'll work it out.
Your latest single, Earthquake, is out now (get your copy here or via SandiThom.com). It's incredibly catchy but the lyrics when you look beyond the beat seem to have real meaning behind them. For me, when listening to certain parts my immediate thoughts went to the topic of loss and the change that brings about. What was the inspiration behind the song?
If I had to pin it down to one moment it would be when I broke up with my ex last year. He was part of the reason I moved to the States and we had a couple of months left to live in the house. We decided to be friends and agreed to stay. I went away with my family for a few days and when I got back he'd taken his stuff and had left.
If I pinpointed one moment it was when I got back, standing there and he was gone. There was no time to emotionally process it, the life I knew before was gone and starting again after an emotional disaster. So you could say it was about loss followed by the rebuild.
When it comes to recording and producing, you tend to do a lot yourself don't you?
I tend to self-produce and record chronologically, which isn't typically how people record so I like my albums to tell a story from beginning to end and I'm stitching it together.
You were following a career into medicine until you decide to follow your dream as a musician. Who were your main inspirations musically growing up? Have they changed over the years?
Not changed, more so the list has been added to. I've always listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and Stevie Wonder for example, as well as folksy music.
As I've met new people I've been influenced by more bluesy type music, such as Eric Clapton, and you learn from that. So for example I've changed how I play the harmonica after listening to more blues music.
I also really like country music or music with a country tinge to it. I love music with big harmonies which are percussion driven.
Sandi, get ready to anthropomorphise with some of our next questions :)
Do you have a motto that you live your life by? What would you say Laddie's motto might be?
Mine would be 'live the life you love, love the life you live.' Laddie's would be something about happiness. He always has a spring in his step. We have a quote on the wall actually which I think fits him, it says 'life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.'
If you were to swap roles with Laddie for a day, how do you think he'd cope being you and what would you love most about being him?
(Laughs) Well I think he'd find pregnancy very odd that's for sure. I think he'd take to being me pretty well to be honest.
I'd love to experience having his heightened sense of smell and hearing for a day. I think it'd be amazing to step into his world.
If you were choosing a theme tune for Laddie based on his personality, what song most fits his outlook on life?
Well he's a little boy with a Napoleonic syndrome I think. He has a big personality and he's a little dog. I think he'd have a fighter tune like 'Eye of the Tiger.'
He walks around like he's a giant lion, bouncing wherever he goes loving life.
For this question, we ask our celebs to match up the following people’s personality to a breed of dog, for example, Winston Churchill = Bulldog or J.Lo = Afghan Hound, Frank Bruno = Boxer etc.
If the following celebrities were breeds of dogs, based on their personalities alone, what type of breed do you think they'd be...
Beth Hart (singer and animal advocate) – I would say Great Dane.
Duff McKagan (from Guns N' Roses) – I think English Cocker Spaniel.
Christine McVie (from Fleetwood Mac) – I'd say Golden Retriever.
Dave Grohl (from Nirvana and The Foo Fighters) – I think he'd be a Bernese Mountain Dog.
Here are some of our quick fire questions, are you ready?
Which do you prefer and why?
Big dogs or little dogs – I've experienced both but if I had to choose just one I'd have to say big dogs, just because there's more of them to cuddle.
Pedigree dogs, cross-breeds or no preference – No preference at all.
Days off or days at work – Lately, I'd say days off but that's due to being pregnant. I'm loving my home life right now.
Describe the last time you laughed out loud because of something you saw Laddie or another dog do.
Laddie makes me laugh every day, he's such a character. Right now for example he's run off with one of my slippers. He's so funny with shoes, and socks actually. You can go out and when you come back he'll be sitting on the sofa with a heap of shoes around him like a fort. It's so funny to see, I've no idea how he gets the shoes on there actually.
What is your current or all time favourite…?
TV show – I love 'Come Dine With Me', it's the one show I made sure to catch up with in the States.
Book – I'll always be a Lord of the Rings fan, so it has to be something from the trilogy by Tolkien.
Film – I've seen so many films lately but one which stands out is 'Birdman' with Michael Keaton and Emma Stone.
Tell us something no one else knows about you.
I get asked this a lot so let me think of something which isn't boring for you. I'm a huge J.R.R. Tolkien geek, like I know everything (and I mean everything) about the world he created.
You've collaborated with some amazing musicians on albums over the years but if you were putting an all-star band together who would you team up and collaborate with, and why?
Remember, you can invite anyone from any era.
Well, beginning with experiences of who I've been on stage with I'd say Brian May (Queen), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Dave Grohl (Nirvana and The Foo Fighters) because he's awesome and also, McCartney on bass.
In terms of the vocals, I'd have Joni Mitchell because she's cool and I'd bring Stevie Wonder and Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac) in because you have to, don't you.
If I can invite anyone from any era I'd have to have the late great Jon Lord on keyboards as well.
If you could sum it up, what do you think is the best thing about being a dog owner?
The best thing is the relationship and that bond that you have with your dog. As they grow you see more of their character and they're always loving, loyal and love unconditionally. As people I think we could learn a lot from dogs.
Finish the following sentence, my dog is...the funniest little bundle of joy I've ever had.
And finally, this is always a tough question and often requires a fair degree of thinking time but…if Laddie had the ability to speak and answer one question and one question only, what would you ask him and what do you think that he would say?
I think I'd ask him 'do you understand me?', and he'd say 'Yes. I understand you. But I don't understand mankind. I don't understand why some humans hurt one another and hurt my kind too. I love animals and humans equally. I hope to see the day when you can too.'
Many Thanks Sandi!