In an era where tracks are produced by committee and honed by focus groups, Nothing But Thieves are a rare beast indeed – a band with the talent, integrity and vision to create heartbreakingly beautiful music entirely on their own terms.
Their origins lie in schoolmates Conor (vocals), Joe (guitar) and Dave’s (drums) efforts in a variety of bands in their hometown of Southend, Essex.
Inspired by artists as diverse as Ray Charles and Led Zeppelin, Foo Fighters and Arcade Fire, they gained valuable experience on the local live circuit, even if they weren’t going to change the world.
Then Dom joined their school in the sixth form and everything went up a notch. A classically trained guitarist from the age of six, Dom brought a musicality and learning to the table which made everyone sit up and take notice.
Not that this puts him on a pedestal with his bandmates. They all agree that it’s the mix of his formal training with Joe’s self-taught chops which lies at the heart of the their sound.
As Dom puts it, “Joe knows shit-all about theory and that’s the best thing about him… if it sounds good, it sounds good”. Knowing the ‘right’ way to play is all very well but, Dom continues, “You want a million different options for the next chord”.
It’s a sentiment you feel sure would have been shared by the band’s foremost influence, Jeff Buckley, whose rip-up-the-rulebook approach Conor describes simply as “effortless genius”.
Buckley’s legacy has loomed large over the last 20 years of alternative music and there’s no point denying his influence on NOTHING BUT THIEVES. It’s there in Dom and Joe’s intricate guitar lines and unusual chord progressions, and most obviously in Conor’s soaring, angelic vocals.
Yet although the band readily acknowledge their debt to the late singer-songwriter, they have spent the three years since their formation developing their craft to the point where their sound and style is very much their own.Like all the best things, however, it took time and effort to perfect.
Crucial to this process was a six-week trip to the States in 2012. Feeling they were stagnating in familiar surroundings, the band embarked on a journey which took in LA, New York and Nashville to work with songwriters and producers of the highest calibre.
Joe refers to this simply as “the best decision we’ve ever made as a band”. They returned energised, inspired and, most important of all, accomplished songwriters in their own right. From this point on, the songs came tumbling out; each seemingly better than the last. The rate of progress was such that they’d find themselves embarrassed by tunes they’d written just two weeks previously.
Once the proverbial tap had been turned on, it seemed there was no stopping the flow of creativity.
It’s a flow which continues unabated even now. Days before they were due to record their self-financed debut EP, a new song, Emergency, came together in the studio which everyone felt was too good not to include. No less an authority than Radio 1’s Zane Lowe agreed, insisting it be played on his show on the strength of one listen.
That these boys are writing material of such maturity and sophistication while barely out of their teens is astonishing. That they’re doing it all outside the traditional music business framework is even more impressive still.
If they continue to grow at the current rate, and there’s nothing to suggest otherwise, the album should be very special indeed.