Jonny Payne’s sun-kissed Americana is redolent of warm nights in the Deep South, shady days in the Appalachian backwoods and soulful neon-lit sojourns through the streets of New York and Toronto.

In faded denim shirt, clipped beard and guitar over his shoulder he exudes the dust of the open road and the epic sweep of long rail rides through empty Western states, his emotionally-drenched songs hinting at chance meetings, strange encounters and drunken bar room sessions.

So it may come as a surprise to learn that this devilishly handsome singer-songwriter, with sparkling eyes and trademark trilby, is a local lad – hailing originally from Brize Norton though now living in the heart of East Oxford.

With his band The Thunder, he is going great guns with a strong local following. And on Saturday a show at the Tap Social Movement – a social enterprise on the Curtis Industrial Estate off Botley Road.

So what can we expect? “That’s the golden question!” he laughs. “It’s always hard trying to define your own music. I’d like to think it’s rooted in Pacific Northwest-style guitar music but there’s always a story in there lyrically, which I guess could be down to listening to a lot of Americana.

“I do try and say something with a song. There are big influences of music that makes you dance and I hope there’s a lean towards some of the great neo-soul stuff that seems pretty present at the moment.”

No stranger to the Oxford music scene, Jonny first dipped his toe in the gigging world with his first band Optimus Prime, followed by She Set Sail and Deer Chicago. He also provided guitar for Loud Mountains, My Crooked Teeth and even provided what he calls “a fleeting spot” on banjo and glockenspiel on the album by fellow west Oxfordshire artist Willie J Healey.

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“I am very much led by influences,” he says. “I was big into folk and American stuff for a while and got really hooked onto this band called Mandolin Orange.

“I guess that was the direction when I started Jonny Payne and The Thunder, but it has been since pulled away a bit in some other directions. I love music that has a lot of energy such as Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, but then I always go back to wanting to be like Sonic Youth.

“It’s kind of all over the place.

“I’m just stuck on a trip of trying to work out lots of different music no matter what. Why certain music is nostalgic, emotive or pulls you in a certain way.

“Cuban bolero music I feel really puts you in a certain place. Some of the Ibrahim Ferrer stuff transports you to a high-ceilinged bar with ceiling fans, paint falling off the walls and old men in fedoras and half-buttoned short sleeve shirts. How do you try and get that atmosphere? I have this mad idea of trying to get a New Orleans Jazz band for a song where there is no guitar, just brass, bass, drums and vocals. And the song would fade in like the musicians are approaching towards you.”

The music is informed by his extensive travels on the other side of the Atlantic; trips which have taken him from Massachusetts to Tennessee and Canada to Colorado; of finding himself in a hurricane in Virginia, in a basement party in the Rockies, and almost without clothes in San Francisco – having had his washing stolen from a laundrette.

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But it’s also inspired by trips to Spanish jazz festivals and homegrown delights – crazy nights in London and, of course, at home in Oxford.

“ I try to go to lots of gigs when I travel and a lot of inspiration comes from that, as well as the stories in the lyrics,” he says. “I’m very factual and every story is pretty much exact.

“There’s a song about a mad night driving the amazing band Della Mae around London in my old Skoda to try and find a karaoke bar. There’s another about San Sebastian and the atmosphere of that place, and another about how much it sucks when a very close friend moves very far away, like Australia. One minute you’re driving around South Wales in a Ford Capri trying to find the slightest wisp of surf, the next they move to Australia and you Facetime each other when making pasta as some sort of live cooking show. What’s that about?”

He goes on: “After Deer Chicago I wanted to be a lot more led by music that would invoke a connection, rather than trying to be an ‘indie band from Oxford’. I didn’t expect to keep writing stuff, but I couldn’t stop. It just happened. I started going to San Sebastian Jazz Festival yearly which was an eye-opener. I also listened to a lot of Cuban music for a while. I went through a period of soaking up so many different styles. I usually have a notebook or scrap of paper to jot things down so I don’t forget anything amusing that happens.”I don’t know whether it’s having a little more space, or feeling like the outsider, but I never struggle to get stories out of being away from home. I guess I stopped worrying so much about what it should be, or sound like. I just really enjoy writing music and playing live. I have a podcast which is essentially asking musicians ‘why do you really write music?’ It seems that there is a common seam of ‘I dunno, I guess I just can’t stop’. It’s a very therapeutic venture to selfishly sing songs about your own life though.”

So who are The Thunder – and how do they come in?

“The main Thunder members are Mark Franklin and Ian Budd who play in an array of bands but mainly Black Hats,” he says. “I had a couple of songs, including Toronto that didn’t quite fit with the post-rock sound of Deer Chicago but I wanted to work on. Budd and I started working on it and a few songs seemed to flow out. When it got to playing live, Budd suggested Mark as they play so well as a unit – and they really do!

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“There’s something special about the way they play together and I’m incredibly lucky for them to be so involved. As sound legend Jimmy Hetherington once said, they’re Witney’s answer to Sly & Robbie. They are very much a part of the writing process and we just have fun with it.

“I’m not particularly precious about any song and Budd and Mark are so talented at their instruments as well as song-writing that it’s a pleasure to take a song that I’ve started and seeing where all three of us can take it.”

“The stock phrase of Budd at the moment is when I take a new song to him he’ll remark ‘Jonny, I know you think this sounds like a cool alternative surf song, but actually it sounds like Brimful of Asha’!”

And the name? “It started off as a joke when I played a solo show and mentioned my guitar, a 1957 Hofner with OX4 pickup, was The Thunder. Once we played a few louder 3-piece shows, it seemed that the band were bringing ‘The Thunder’ and it stuck.

So what can we expect from the gig? “It’ll be a real fun one,” he says. “The setlist we’re working on will include nearly all the songs on the album. Some to move your feet to and also a few reflective numbers thrown in for good measure.

“We’re very lucky to have great support from Premium Leisure and Limpet Space Race too. We love the Tap Social and are supporters. I can’t wait!”

Jonny Payne and the Thunder plays the Tap Social Movement

Curtis Industrial Estate, Oxford, on Saturday.

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