INTERVIEW: Conor Mason, Joe Langridge-Brown & Dom Craik (NOTHING BUT THIEVES)
Hold onto your hats Nothing But Thieves fans: it's Dead Club City season, and hot damn has album #4 been worth the wait.
An album whose individual narratives are formed and connected through various characters and arcs in and around the titular City, Dead Club City is an exuberant explosion of radiant rock; think everything you know and love about British five-piece and their bewitching brand of rock hurled through a prism of pop, hip hop, electronica, startling beauty and dance-soaked euphoria.
Recently returning to Australia, a territory that continuously sees the group drastically expand their venues with each visit, fans were treated to some new gems off Dead Club City, as well as plenty of fan favourites taken from 2020's Moral Panic and its accompanying 2021 EP Moral Panic II, 2017's Broken Machine and brief nods to their self-titled 2015 debut album. And it was while the group were still here in Australia back in late April and May that The Soundcheck's Tiana Speter caught up with vocalist Conor Mason, as well as NBT guitarists Dom Craik and Joe Langridge-Brown; and it was very clear the love emanating from the down under crowds was not lost on the band.
"It's been a pleasure to be back," shares Mason. "The fans are absolutely wild here! It's a joy.
"It's been fun to have a mix of festivals, to try and win new people over. And then we get to play to our diehards too. The shows sold out so quick! People were pretty rabid in the audience."
"They were loving it!" adds Craik.
"Yeah, it was really good," agrees Mason.
And the fervour evident with the Australian crowds also seemed to extend itself onstage, with Mason ever-so-coyly stitching up bandmate and NBT bassist Phil Blake at Brisbane's Fortitute Music Hall on Wednesday 26 April, declaring in the midst of the set that "Phil wants to do a shoey". Despite the look of sheer angst on Blake's face at the prospect, he begrudgingly obliged to down a beer-filled boot before seeming to experience a momentary existential crisis.
"He said the following day that he smelled the boot and it smelled fine," Craik says, grinning. "And then he realised that he was smelling the wrong boot. When he did smell the correct boot - I think he was quite shocked.
"I think he might have slightly regretted doing it in his own boot that he then had to wear and play the rest of the show in. But I'm just glad it wasn't me."
"I don't know if you've seen it, but there's a very funny video of him doing it," Langridge-Brown chimes in, "and then taking the boot and being like: what do I do with this now?! You can see the cogs going in his brain, like: I can't leave it off?!"
"Yeah: I can't play in my socks!" Craik adds, dissolving in laughter. "It's the power of peer pressure, that's what it was."
Amongst the fun and games onstage, the recent Australian tour also offered fans a chance to witness some brand new Nothing But Thieves material live in action, including the bouncy goodness of 'Welcome to the DCC' and another unexpected treat: the unreleased swagger of 'City Haunts' also taken from the then-impending Dead Club City. And as the group have unveiled additional singles 'Overcome' and 'Keeping You Around' since they've been on our shores, one thing has remained increasingly clear: Dead Club City is Nothing But Thieves at their most ambitious and potent yet, with the band truly thriving in unbridled creativity.
"It's been a long writing and recording period for us," Mason shares of the Dead Club City journey, "and it's been different, we produced it ourselves...well, Dom produced the record and it's very much us leading the creative as well. So, it's been a very different, strange experience for us to kind of say: okay, it's finished now and we can release it and be happy with it. But you have to do that otherwise you could just chip away it for another year.
"But I think we think it's our favourite record collectively. Like genuinely, I'm not just saying that. I think we've worked really hard on it, I think songs are banging and it sounds ridiculous. I'm personally very excited too."
"I do agree. Although no one says: yeah, this is probably our worst record," Langridge-Brown laughs.
"I think I've definitely been more nervous about records in the past," adds Craik. "I'm maybe a little bit more confident than I have been in the past. But so far the reaction to DCC has been so, so good, and it seems to have won over a lot of new fans for us, which is always quite an exciting prospect.
"And I couldn't believe this when we played 'Welcome To The DCC' live in Brisbane, the applause that we got afterwards, and I think it happened in Melbourne too - it was unbelievable. They just wouldn't stop clapping. It got the best reaction, and that's not a bad thing for your latest single. So, hopefully it's a sign of things to come. But if it isn't, at least we've got one song they like!"
As a band who continue to lure in fans from every corner and demographic of the musical universe with each new release and live performance, Nothing But Thieves consistently and effortlessly strike a balance between clever craftsmanship, sweltering execution and lashings of balanced guitar-driven rock that can break your heart one minute then incite a frenzied headbang the next. And while they have always been a band destined for stadiums, the innate Nothing But Thieves ability to morph between rock god territory, vulnerability and tongue-in-cheek banter is an intoxicating factor to their ongoing longevity - as is their ever-evolving sonic identity.
Start to finish, Dead Club City is a genuine, chameleonic joy. From the 80s and funk trappings on 'Welcome to the DCC' and 'Do You Love Me Yet?', to the goosebump-inducing 'Tomorrow Is Closed' and 'Green Eyes', the proclaimed "new era" of Nothing But Thieves promised in their early press material also offers keen-eared fans a few Easter eggs along the way, including a nod to 2017's Broken Machine on the hip hop-hued Keep You Around. And while the new album marks a significant glow up alongside eclectic endeavours, there's an unmistakable thread throughout which itself grew from an overarching concept established very early on.
"It was a conscious decision to make a concept record," Langridge-Brown reveals. "We didn't really know what the concept was gonna be for a while and then it kind of presented itself halfway through. But because Moral Panic had lasted so long, we did two, we did part one and part two and we couldn't really tour a lot of it for a long time. It felt like the campaign went forever.
"Doing something conceptual really forces you to come out of writing like that. Initially, I was really struggling to write lyrics that didn't feel like Moral Panic lyrics to me. It was like giving yourself a task, and the concept really helped with that."
"I think just broadly with everything that we do, we don't like to repeat ourselves," says Craik, "and I think you do kind of find yourself being restricted when you're just using guitars and bass. I'm not saying it can't be done, and I'm sure at some point we'll lean through a record that is maybe more like that. But I think in terms of really finding new avenues and new ways to present the band and the songs - different gear and synthesizers, drum machines, programming, whatever it might be, is always gonna heavily increase that breadth of what you can achieve."
"I think we're really good with each other at listening to what each other's individual influences are," adds Mason, "and what kind of ticks our own boxes. And then presenting that sort of thing to the table. Like: oh I really fancy doing a song that's like this. Or maybe we can try a verse that has a bit more of a hip hoppy thing, or an R&B thing, or a classic writing thing.
"We're just really open and we talk to each other about it, and listen to it. And then it comes into being part of Nothing But Thieves. That's why all the songs have so many different influences and why this album is so eclectic, it's because we have so many different tastes."
"There's a great example of that with 'Welcome To The DCC'," Craik reveals. "With the original version of the song, Conor didn't like the main riff when it sort of dropped in. The guitar riff was a different thing before, he really didn't like it. And I was like: oh, it reminds me of X, Y and Z. And he was like: it doesn't remind me of that. It reminds me of terrible things. I mean, it wasn't that extreme. But, that's just a sort of taste of the process because then we would revisit it and we would rewrite it and make sure that everyone was like: yeah, this is not only different and everyone likes it - but it's better.
"That was a really, really good move to do in hindsight. You know, you'd probably find situations where people would put their foot down or you'd end up in a weird compromise where some people were happy and some aren't, and it just didn't feel like that, we were all shooting for the same thing."
"Yes, always," Mason agrees.
"And that example I think is...well you hear it in the song," Craik adds. "We're really proud of where it ended up and it seems to have worked!"
Armed with the otherworldly vocals of Mason, who can bust out shimmering falsetto, earth-shattering croons and rap-adjacent flow without seemingly breaking a sweat, Nothing But Thieves also ferociously wield their talent across the board, with Craik, Langridge-Brown, Craik's cousin Phil Blake and drum lord James Price all imparting their unique magic into the broader NBT juggernaut both instrumentally and into the galvanised songwriting and production prowess. And while the band are self-described as "making passionate guitar-based rock that balances indie rock artfulness with a pop sensibility", it doesn't mean they don't know their way around some heavier terrain; case in point, the somewhat unexpected gnarly industrial stylings of 'Pop The Balloon' lying in wait on Dead Club City, which partly recalls the "comically heavy" 'Ce n'est Rien' from Moral Panic II while also closing out the new album with towering soundscapes - and a mildly ominous note.
"That was definitely thought about," Langridge-Brown reveals of ending Dead Club City with a bang via 'Pop The Balloon'.
"I think all of our previous records have ended with a softer song. I guess partly with this album...well actually mostly with this album, the concept kind of dictates the track listing a lot of the time, which is, you know, quite annoying sometimes," Langridge-Brown laughs. "But it kind of is what it is, and that song just really seemed to finish that part off really well I think."
Rounding out the nuanced light and shade and bringing Dead Club City proceedings to a memorable close, 'Pop The Balloon' also leaves a tantalising door wide open for wherever Nothing But Thieves choose to turn their gaze to next. But for now, they have plenty of stunning new material to add to their ever-growing repertoire and setlists, including a few new personal standouts.
"It's changing for me quite a lot," says Craik of his personal favourite song(s) on Dead Club City. "But I think at the moment I'm gravitating to 'Keeping You Around' just because I think it's a well-written song and it's quite simple. And I think we strive to do that with a lot of our music and don't always get there - but I think that one kind of demonstrates that quite nicely."
"'Keeping You Around' has been a favourite since demo form for me," adds Mason. "And one that really grew on me was 'Do You Love Me Yet?'. It was one of those where the recording process made this magic, and the sounds of all the gear that everyone was using. It sounds super vintage-y but modern. I really like everyone's performance on it, and I think that song is one that I go back to quite a lot."
"I love that song," agrees Craik.
"I think same for me, 'Do You Love Me Yet?'," adds Langridge-Brown. "It was actually the last song that we wrote, and we wrote that in the studio pretty much. We were kind of figuring out: oh maybe we can use one more song, have we got anything left in the tank just before we start recording?
"I basically had the chorus, lyrics and a little bit of melody - and it was written within basically a day. Then we just recorded it straight the way we'd written it. And we've never actually done that before! And it feels more fresh to me as well."
With rumours that bassist Blake is once again planning to pay homage to yet another new Nothing But Thieves album in tattoo form confirmed, Craik is holding out potentially dwindling hope to potentially one day do the actual tattoo to add to his cousin's growing collection: "I don't think he'll trust me, I'll probably spell it wrong or something."
But for now, there is a lot more Nothing But Thieves goodness to come, both in the form of the brand new album - and imminent plans to return down under and celebrate Dead Club City in person.
"We're gonna come back soon," Craik confirms. "We wanna come back hopefully early next year. But we will be back soon for sure because we're still technically playing the Moral Panic songs because we couldn't get here for that record."
"We've been shouting it out on festivals and stages," adds Mason, "we'll definitely come back next year."
"We love it there, and we can't wait to be back!" says Craik.
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BY TIANA SPETER