The sound of two car alarms going off simultaneously. Depending on what mood you were already in you’d find that pretty annoying wouldn’t you? You might find it mildly irritating or it might send you into a tailspin of teeth-grinding fury, but what it probably wouldn’t do is provide an Archimedes-in-the-bath eureka moment. For Nothing But Thieves guitarist Joe Langridge-Brown that’s exactly what it did though.
When driving home from a hungover writing session the sound of those two clashing sirens proved to be a surprise source of inspiration. “We’d demoed this song Emergency and written the lyrics for it but we didn’t have the main bit for it,” recalls the guitarist. “I was driving home and heard this siren sound and I was like, ‘Hold on!’ I always have the voice recorder on my phone with me so recorded it.”
“Joe used to deliver pizzas and he would send me voice memos of him singing bits of melody during the delivery, you could hear the car in the background,” adds guitarist/keyboard player Dom Craik. “I’d try and fit chords around it and we’d throw it back and fourth around us to see what would work.”
From bits of graffiti they’ve spotted, scenes witnessed on the walk home from a night out to the oppressive claustrophobia of a packed tube train, Nothing But Thieves take snippets and snapshots of life in 2015 and weave it into the patchwork of their intoxicating, skyscraping hybrid. It’s music that can crunch like a jackhammer, twitch with glitching electronics, leap into an elastic groove or gently shimmer soulfully like the dying embers of a late night camp fire.
Nothing But Thieves story starts at school in Essex when singer Conor Mason spotted Langridge-Brown and knew the budding guitarist was someone who Mason should be making music with. “When I met him he was the typical rock kid,” remembers Mason. “No one else had long hair or a Gibson guitar and it was like, ‘I wanna be in a band with this kid, he’s cool,’. And then I realized he was a bell-end .”
Though the pair had both been playing music and jamming in various other bands, it was the discovery of the spellbinding power of Mason’s voice that made them realize they need to sculpt something suitably unique around the singer’s vocal chords.
Mason’s is a voice that can float angelically, swoop skywards with an emotional weight that belies his young years or let loose in a full-throttle wail. It’s a voice that’s been compared with Jeff Buckley, Thom Yorke and Matt Bellamy but has a soulful intensity that is entirely his own. When Craik met Mason at college a few years later he fell under its spell too, bringing his older cousin Phil Blake into the nascent group on bass. When they poached friend and drummer James Price from one of their early support bands Nothing But Thieves as we know it now came together.
Though they had an idea of the music they wanted to create the group conceded that “they weren’t good enough to put into onto paper yet”. So instead of continuing to gig in and around Essex they hid themselves away, intensely writing and experimenting to try and transform the sound in their heads into a reality. Saving up money from a string of menial jobs they self-funded an inspiration-sourcing trip to America in late 2012 where their managers hooked them up with producers in LA, Nashville and New York. Thought he trip proved to be invaluable it was perhaps for different reasons than the band had intended.
“It was probably a bit too formulaic and we like to experiment,” thinks Langridge-Brown. “In a way it showed us what not to do. It obviously worked because we came back and pretty much immediately wrote the songs that made up our first E.P.”
After the self-release of the spellbinding Graveyard Whistling E.P. in December 2013 the songs just kept coming and coming, the band amassing dozens and dozens of tracks that refused to be pigeonholed.
It’s that irrepressible desire to create with no imposed boundaries which makes Nothing But Thieves an album that's impossible to pin down. From the face off between pummelling Zeppelin-sized riffs and ricocheting grooves on ‘Ban All The Music’, ‘If I Get High’, anguished melancholy to the album's spine-tingling centre piece ‘Lover, Please Stay’ which is built around little more than a tour de force vocal from Mason, it’s a record that defies the play-it-safe formula of so many debuts. Indeed, if most bands wrote a song as good as the high voltage glam stomp of ‘Drawing Pins’ or the shuffling electronic prowl of ‘Hostage’ they'd probably fire off ten versions of the same rather than leap right into something completely different.
“I’d rather fail because we were too adventurous and too eclectic than fail because we were too safe,” reflects Langridge-Brown. “At least now if it all goes to shit we tried to do something and it’s come out how we wanted.”
Given the strength and scope of their debut there isn’t much danger of it “all going to shit” for Nothing But Thieves anytime soon.