Already a full-fledged member of Ugly Brothers, an occasional supporting player with Caley Conway And The Lucy Cukes and Holy Sheboygan (among other outfits), the co-organizer/co-founder of Bandsketball, in the midst of learning Russian (his fourth language!), and being just days from wrapping up year one of five en route to getting a Ph.D in Physics, Alex Heaton probably doesn’t need to take on another project right now. However, he’d beg to differ.

Gleaning perspective from a year spent teaching in a Denver public school, a stint in Palestine on scholarship, formerly working at a homeless shelter in Oakland, and simply observing the current state of the world around him, Heaton felt compelled to write material for a new project with the overarching theme of imprisonment. Be Honest, the seven-track debut EP by Thurman Merman—named after the kid in Bad Santa because Heaton “just really liked the movie and that character”—addresses a few forms of captivity.

“It’s about imprisonment in school system, literal imprisonment of walls and military occupation, and also the corresponding imprisonment people are made to feel by the threat of terrorism,” Heaton says. “It’s all really wonderful, fluffy stuff.”

Though the lyrics certainty take on some tough topics, the difficult song subjects are smoothed out by delicate, deconstructed instrumentation and soothing multi-part harmonies. Heaton wrote and arranged the songs, and engineered the homespun recording of Be Honest. Though the Thurman Merman brainchild sang and played guitar, bass, upright bass, glockenspiel, djembe, and egg shaker on the record, Heaton called upon some familiar talents to expand upon his vision on the recording. Jenna Pepitone (cello) and Anna Zaleski (violin) assisted their Ugly Brothers bandmate, as did Ernest Brusubardis IV of Calamity Janes (mandolin) and De La Buena guitarist Bryan Rogers.

Tonight, Heaton and his collaborators will adapt Thurman Merman material into a live performance for the first time. “If it goes well,” Heaton says he’d like to keep playing out and releasing more music. At the moment, he says he has about 40 additional songs written for the project, ranging from more imprisonment hymns to even a few “sappy, cliché love songs” thrown in the mix.

See Thurman Merman‘s debut show Thursday, April 9 at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn with King Courteen, Caley Conway (solo), Myles Coyne, and Ash. The show begins at 9 p.m. and costs $6 at the door. Listen to Be Honest below.