Nothing But Thieves have always had a thing about timing.
The band's self-titled debut album arrived just as fans wanted something more, while 2017 follow up 'Broken Machine' struck a chord on both sides of the Atlantic.
But their new single taps into something much deeper, and far darker. Intended as a swipe against the rising political dystopia rising across the globe, 'Is Everybody Going Crazy?' was prompted by Right Wing nationalism and a growing climate of fear.
Now, though, it's taken on a radical new meaning. With lyrics about isolation arriving amid social media driven scenes of panic-buying amid the spread of coronavirus, it's become remarkably prescient for these strange, strange times. Joe Langridge-Brown spoke to Clash about Nothing But Thieves' accidental telepathy...
So: the single...
Ha! Obviously we’ve known we were going to release this for a little while, and as it was coming up closer and closer to release day, we were like: oh wow… this is really taking on a whole new relevancy! It was very strange.
The connotations are remarkable. In many ways, you’ve willed this into being haven’t you? It’s the darkest publicity stunt of all time!
(laughs) Can you imagine? We’re not psychic, we didn’t predict coronavirus, but I think if you were watching closely then you could probably see that something like this was going to happen at some point.
Although the song is lyrically more about this general dystopia we’re living in… we actually released a lyric video for the song, the first time I had seen the lyrics written down fully since we made the album, and I thought: wow… this is so strange!
Some of them are quite funny, though. There’s a lyric that says “while I was feeling lonely...” and that’s just perfect for right now!
Nick Cave recently wrote very eloquently about the telepathic identity songs can have, so perhaps you have looped into a different time-frame?
I have no idea! It’s something that I try to do anyway, when I’m writing lyrics. You sit down and you’re like right, I’m going to write a song!
If I’m at home and inspiration takes me, you’ve got to make decisions about whether you’re going to write about what you’re witnessing, how you’re feeling… or are you going to rebel against that and write something more escapist? For me, I don’t really have that choice. I have to write about what I’m feeling or seeing. That’s the only thing that is still authentic to me, I guess.
Produced by Mike Crossey, this time round. Was it an easy track to get right?
Actually, I think this is one of the earlier tracks we recorded. We were out in Los Angeles with Mike at his studio. We like to do that in general, we like to get away from our homes to record, I feel like we get a better result.
Our heads are constantly in the album, that’s a good thing for us. Actually, recording this song was quite odd because we’d been experimenting. The guitar tones you’re hearing, when we played them we really messed with the timing of the track – we sped the track up by double, and then we’d play the guitars, and then we’d vari-speed the guitars down, to meet the actual tempo of the track. It gives a really weird feeling to the guitars.
When I listen to it, I can hear there’s something strange going on there. That was an experiment that luckily worked out, really.
Does this song act as a suitable transition for what’s going to come next?
Yeah. I mean, we released the EP in 2018, and that was just an exercise in proving we could do a rock EP. We were coming up to some massive shows, and we just went in with all this nervous energy. It was really good to make the EP, we wrote and recorded it really, really quickly. We wrote most of those songs in a month – like, super quick! And that was definitely different to the process of writing this song in particular.
There’s a correlation there, though, a thread. In general, though, when we do end up releasing another album, it’s definitely going to be eclectic. It always is from us. We get bored too easily for it not to be like that.
Live has always been key to Nothing But Thieves – it’s been an incredible journey. Does that energy feed back into your studio work?
I think to some degree it must do. Even sub-consciously. I wouldn’t say it happened too consciously, though. I think we’ve been lucky in that right from the first album it kind of translated live straight off the bat. It’s not like we felt that we needed certain songs for the live set, or we need another ballad, we’ve been in a position where we can write what the hell we want, what we’re into at the time, and we’ve already got a solid foundation.
We’re lucky in that our fans are really cool, and we can choose whatever kind of set list we want. We’re not a proper singles band, and when fans come along they want to hear that one song. We’ve been going for such a long time now, and it’s been building slowly and slowly and slowly, so we’ve got a really strong foundation. The fans really seem to react to what we’re into, as opposed to seeking out the big single.
You debuted new material at a tiny North London show recently, as part of the BRITs Week x Warchild project.
That was cool. It’s just a completely different vibe. Not just for the audience, but for us. When things grow, and you’re doing arena level stuff, the machine gets so big that it can feel a little bit disconnected.
From the tour, the people around you, to the crowd – you’re so far away, it’s a totally different feeling. It’s always something we’ll want to do, no matter how big we would get, I think we’ll try and do some small shows every now and again. Just to mix it up for us and everyone else!
You’ve been forced to pull a number of live shows due to coronavirus, that must be enormously frustrating?
It’s agonising. It really is. We did a week of rehearsal, and we knew things were getting worse and worse, but we’d been keeping tabs on what the government was saying, and it actually got to the very last day of rehearsals when our agent had to break the news to us. It’s crushing. Especially after we’d put all the work into getting the tour ready.
It is gutting, but to be honest the saving grace of it is that normally you have to cancel shows for illness – or some other reason – it’s so hard to let people down in that way, as you feel personally responsible. I suppose in this way, everyone is in it together. Everyone really understands the reason. It’s not out of our control.
As heartbreaking as it is to not be out there on tour, it’s nice to have that level of understanding. People get why it happened.
What are the band going to do with this free time, then?
Luckily for me, I live literally a minute’s walk from Dom. We’re OK. We can still meet up and do stuff. We’ve been messing around with stuff this week. We’ve got an unexpected period of downtime where we can just experiment.
I guess it’s freeing, in that way. When you don’t expect to have that time there’s less pressure to write something. We’re just treating this time as a really, really free experimental period. It’s been quite fun. I just hope that the rest of the band will be able to tune in to it!
You could even WhatsApp it over to people…
We do that, yeah. There are times when we’ll build up a track, and someone will have a chorus idea. We’ve even put the recording from an iPhone on the track sometimes. Maybe some more of that – who knows?
There must be times, too, where a track has worked in theory, but falls apart when you play it together for the first time in a rehearsal room…
That does happen. As great as it is to be able to work remotely – thanks to technology – you can’t really recreate the magic of being in the same room. Ideas bounce off people. It’s hard to translate that when you’re doing it over the phone. But we’ve got to try and fill our time somehow!
It’s about turning a negative situation into something positive, isn’t it?
It's the Blitz spirit!
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'Is Everybody Going Crazy?' is out now.
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