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Monroeville musician trying to carve out his own niche

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Like most 20-year-olds with a microphone and a dream, Gateway graduate Landon Thomas has the voice. But more importantly, he is willing to work.

After clocking out at his day job, with a few hours to kill before a midnight performance in East Liberty, Thomas arrived by bus at the Monroeville Mall on Friday to discuss the hectic lifestyle of an up and coming R&B artist.

“I'm only doing one song, and then I'm trying to head home,” said Thomas of Monroeville.

“I work tomorrow morning at 9:45 to about 6, so that's gonna be a long day.”

When Thomas isn't working, or sitting in class at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, he's hitching a ride to a live showcase somewhere in Pittsburgh or Ohio.

His most recent album, “Heartbreaker,” debuted March 28.

The vocal melodies and phrasing are at times reminiscent of early 1990s R&B, set atop contemporary beats by Pittsburgh native Melvin Plowden Jr., also known as MelleMelJR.

The two met through a mutual friend and songwriter.

“(Thomas) started singing, and it blew my mind because I hadn't heard (an R&B singer) locally who sounds like a major artist,” Plowden said.

“The short-term goal for me and him, we want to take over the Pittsburgh music scene.”

Thomas said the goal for any songwriter and performer is finding a niche.

“I learned somewhere that when you take bits and pieces of other artists and you have constant influences but you're not directly copying off anybody, you actually find your own sound.”

He said his personal goal as a musician is to provide fans with the total package and referred to pop icons Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake.

“They try to make masterpieces out of their CDs and then have a great stage performance,” Thomas said.

He said his mother was an R&B performer in the 1980s and always encouraged him to push the envelope, especially when it comes to fashion.

“Sometimes I'll shrug it off and then sometimes I'm like, ‘Yeah, that's a great idea,' ” he said.

His friends laughed at him when he wore a jean jacket to school in 2010, “and then the next year, everybody was wearing a jean jacket,” he said.

When the look and the sound are complete, the next step for an underage performer is finding the right venues to perform.

It can be tricky, said Thomas' manager, Heather Sykes, who also manages a local group and a solo act in Baltimore.

“Depending on how young they are, you have to check with their parents, work around school schedules, make sure they have time to focus on school and still make music,” Sykes said.

“But I have found that despite small challenges, the younger groups of artists are much more appreciative and easy to work with.”

The highlight of Thomas' 2012 performances was a slot at the “Pittsburgh Black Family Reunion” in Mellon Park.

He shared the stage with national recording artists Raheem Devaughn and the Chi-Lites.

Sykes said her goal for all of her artists is to “help them make a career doing what they love.”

To hear tracks from the EP, “Heartbreaker,” or for more details about Landon Thomas, see

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or

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