The Thrills Biography
Produced by Dave Sardy (Johnny Cash, The Walkmen), and featuring guest appearances by REM’s Peter Buck and the legendary Van Dyke Parks, the album is darker and edgier– both sonically and lyrically – than its youthfully sanguine predecessor, while still fit to burst with the band’s trademark harmonies and melodic splendor. Bittersweet but still buoyant, “LET’S BOTTLE BOHEMIA” marks The Thrills’ passage from irresistible sunshine-pop classicists to one of today’s most inventive and important young bands.
“It’s the story of The Thrills since our first record,” says guitarist Daniel Ryan. “When a band makes their second album, the way to look at it is, ‘Could you put those songs on the first album?’ If you can’t, then you know you’ve made a good album. It should always be a step forward.”
“The first record has a naïve charm,” notes singer Conor Deasy. “We didn’t mind wearing our influences, we were just happy to be a band. Whereas on this record, there was never a song where we wanted to make a nod to something or ape something or reference something. As a result, it’s a more ambiguous record. It’s the sound of a band coming into its own, finding its feet, and being as unselfconscious as possible.”
Driven by soulful West Coast pop sensations such as “Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far)” and “Big Sur,” “SO MUCH FOR THE CITY” was a worldwide triumph, reaping extensive critical acclaim – including being declared the Second Best Album of 2003 by the New York Times – as well as platinum and gold sales in a number of countries. Having only fully formed in 2001, The Thrills now found themselves the recipients of a bounty of honors, taking home a Q Magazine Award for “Best New Act,” plus nominations for the prestigious Panasonic Mercury Music Prize, NME’s “Best New Band” and the Brit Awards’ “International Breakthrough Artist.” Some bands might have found such success to be a hard act to follow, but The Thrills barely took the time to assess their achievements.
“We were so fortunate,” Deasy says. “We were on such a roll, I don’t think we really took stock of what was going on. We just presumed everything was going to work out. Which it did, obviously.”
“We were so busy, we never really got a chance to think about the things we’ve done,” Ryan says. “We’re not the kind of band that gets carried away with things. Everyone’s pretty level-headed.”
While a lesser combo would’ve hit the beach for a well-deserved vacation, The Thrills had no interest in hitting the pause button. With a clutch of new songs penned over the previous year, the band chose to channel their built-up energy into making a new album. “Most bands finish touring, go home and write songs, then go back into the studio,” Deasy says. “Not many bands really tour and tour then go straight in. But we didn’t want to lose that sense of excitement.”
Having made the decision to record, The Thrills weighed their options as far as which producer might best assist them in the studio. The band had a wide range of choices in, but ultimately opted to team with L.A.-based producer Dave Sardy, known mainly for his work with such hardcore rockers as Marilyn Manson.
“We wanted someone who could come at us from a different angle,” Deasy says. “I liked the fact that he works in this crazy area I don’t know anything about. We have a strong sense of vision about what we want to do, so we were totally confident about going into the studio with someone who comes from a different world.”
In February 2004, band and producer entered Los Angeles’ Sunset Sound to begin sessions, followed by further recording at North Hollywood’s famed Larrabee Studios East. The band decided to skip the process of demos in order to capture the magic of their vigorous live performances, an intensity that was still coursing through their veins after playing close to 200 shows all over the globe (including headline gigs, support slots alongside such heroes as the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, and countless international festival appearances).
“When we recorded the first album, we hadn’t toured very much,” Ryan notes. “We wanted that to come through on this record. We’ve toured a lot and kind of gelled together, so we wanted to capture more of our live sound. The last album, it’s great, but in comparison, it sounds very soft. It sounds like a different band. Not in a bad way – it’s just that on this new record, it sounds like we’ve grown up. The sound is much bolder. It really jumps out at you.”
Indeed, “LET’S BOTTLE BOHEMIA” captures a more intense, more fervent band in action, with Deasy’s vocals having gained a muscular, confident heft seasoned by night after night of on-stage exercise.
“When we recorded the first record, I had no experience,” the singer says. “I was just making it up, fumbling around. Doing 170 shows, that does something for you. It’s something you can’t put your finger on. It’s just a natural occurrence. My voice got a little deeper, I got more comfortable. I feel I’ve just gotten a bit more in control of it.”
To keep things interesting, the band considered adding strings to flesh out their already lush sound. Sardy agreed and to the band’s pleased surprise, suggested giving the great songwriter and arranger Van Dyke Parks a call. “We wouldn’t have had the audacity to think about having Van Dyke Parks on our record,” Deasy says. “That’s totally down to Sardy. He’s the one who said, ‘I’ll make that happen.’
Parks, who’s perhaps best known for his work with The Thrills’ heroes, the Beach Boys, crafted complex, unconventional charts for one of the album’s clear highlights, “The Irish Keep Gate Crashing.” The band found themselves surprised and moved by the veteran artist’s contribution.
“There are all these intertwining winding melodies,” Deasy says, “really strange sophisticated stuff. How he squeezed it all in, I don’t know. His attitude was, ‘I’m going to throw it all in, you can leave some bits in and take some out.’ He left us in such a perfect position, with this abundance of choices and opportunities. It was a real privilege.”
Also making an appearance on the album is Thrills fan Peter Buck, who plays the mandolin on “Faded Beauty Queens” and guitar on “The Curse of Comfort.” The band connected with the REM guitarist at Glastonbury ’03, after Ryan got into a conversation with REM sideman/Minus 5 mainman Scott McCaughey. He passed along copies of “SO MUCH FOR THE CITY,” which McCaughey in turn shared with his compadres. When The Thrills hit Seattle for a gig at the Emerald City’s Crocodile Café – the nightspot co-owned by Buck – the guitarist came down to check out the show.
“Scott and Peter came to the dressing room afterwards,” Ryan recalls. “We were chatting and I was saying how Peter should play guitar on our new album and he said, ‘Yeah, definitely, give me a call.’ I didn’t really think anything of it. Well, I rang and left a message while Peter and his wife were away. We only had two days left in the studio, but his wife called back and said, ‘Peter will be there tomorrow.’”
“Daniel is very good at asking people things that most people aren’t shameless enough to come out with,” Deasy grins.
“LET’S BOTTLE BOHEMIA” also featured string arrangements by Michel Colombier (Serge Gainsbourg, Air, Neil Diamond). The renowned French arranger penned charts for the album’s first U.S. single – the poignant “Not For All The Love In The World,” and the provocative pop of “Whatever Happened To Corey Haim?” The latter song stands as the album’s thematic touchstone, a euphoric yet scathing commentary on the vapidity of today’s culture of celebrity.
“It really summed up one of the things I’d been thinking about,” Deasy says, “the vacant, voyeuristic times that we live in. The song’s not even about the guy. I just feel that we live in a time where popular culture has reached an all time low. It’s a culture of good fortune and gloating, where really vacant people with nothing to say are idolized and blown up to such a scale.”
Throughout the record, The Thrills demonstrate a fearlessness and reach that may well surprise those expecting the band to follow their successful first outing with more of the same.
“There were probably a lot of people that would’ve been happy to see us do the same thing again,” Deasy says, “but we didn’t want to have a cozy situation.”
“You can’t be fooled into thinking you should go this way or you should go that way,” Ryan says. “You’ve got to do what comes out naturally.”
The sessions were put on hold for seven weeks while The Thrills honored previously arranged American touring commitments (including a widely hailed set at the 2004 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival). In June, they hooked up with Sardy at New York City’s Magic Shop to finish recording and mixing the album.
Upon its conclusion, it became clear to the band that they had indeed crafted something special. “LET’S BOTTLE BOHEMIA” is a marvel – a powerfully emotional work that confirms The Thrills as a force to be reckoned with. As one would expect from this most restless of rock bands, the group is already figuring out its next leap forward, determined not to rest on its laurels.
“We’d actually like to do another one next year,” Ryan says. “We love what we do so much. We want to be one of those bands that are not really part of any scene – like Blur or REM – that just keeps releasing good records.”
“Most modern bands work at such a slow pace,” Deasy says. “You look back and so many of the great bands just made record after record after record. There’s nothing worse than when a band is in their prime and they do a ‘Stone Roses.’ What I’d love is if we could get three records out in three years. Maybe then, we’ll take a break. But probably not for very long…”
Conor Deasy: Vocals
Daniel Ryan: Guitar / Vocals/ Bass
Padraic McMahon: Bass / Vocals / Guitars
Ben Carrigan: Drums
Kevin Horan: Keys