From the title of their 2003 debut LP, So Much for the City, to their obvious obsession with American (specifically Californian) pop of the '60s and '70s (as embodied by Burt Bacharach, the Beach Boys and Phil Spector), to the way the names of cities that find their way into songs ("Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)," "Big Sur," "Hollywood Kids," "Your Love Is Like Las Vegas"), the Thrills are a band with a deeply attuned sense of place and context.
While other bands might be content to slog it out in whatever local club scene they call home, the Thrills realized that to make what is quintessentially American music, a group must find some way into the heart of American experience.
Initially, rather than focusing on playing live as a means to relevance, the Thrills instead focused on songwriting and creation of the very specific feel they sought to achieve in their music, something that could be described as "authenticism" if such a word existed. This led to perhaps the most relevant move the Thrills made toward their current threshold of international success--they picked up as a group and moved to San Diego for four months to live on the beach, work shitty jobs and attempt to grok the broad sprawl of Californian pop, writing material all the while. Some 500,000 units of So Much for the City later, this bold gesture is vindicated.
The Thrills were created out of the lifelong friendship between singer Conor Deasy and guitarist Daniel Ryan; keyboard player Kevin Horan and drummer Ben Corrigan were aboard from late adolescence forward (the Thrills are all in their 20s), and bassist Padraic McMahon rounded out the quintet in time for their ambitious early recordings.
"What makes us different is that we've come up as friends. When we have day off, we all go to the cinema together. We don't all get home and then not see each other 'til we're at the airport," says Ryan, when asked on the band's Web site about distinctions between the Thrills and other groups.
Upon their return from the SoCal adventure, the Thrills were signed to an Irish label which put out their first EP, and nearly a year later, a label bidding "competition" led to a Virgin Records deal, whereupon these shaggy sons of Erin returned to California to record So Much for the City with producer Tony Hoffer, known for working with Beck on Midnite Vultures and Air's 10,000 Hz Legend.
A warm critical reception--particularly in the UK--followed, although many seemed flabbergasted that an attention-getting Irish band sounded nothing like U2. Drawing frequent comparisons to nearly every band or performer in the California pop diaspora, the Thrills were at first hard-pressed to establish their identity against the double-edged sword of influence-on-the-sleeve.
In order to prove to the world that they weren't some amalgam of easily-spotted reference points, touring became a priority of the highest order. Each show made them more confident, more themselves and less easily pigeonholed as Beach Boys wannabes. In Ireland and the U.K., where the band has twice appeared on Top of the Pops and has been frequently drafted to open for heavy hitters like the Rolling Stones and even Dylan, this proved to be a simpler process than in the homeland of all their inspirations. Only now are the Thrills starting to command the respect stateside that seemed to come quite naturally at home.
What would perhaps have been their biggest domestic breakout yet (aside from appearances on The Late Show and Carson Daly)--a main stage slot on the now-cancelled Lollapalooza tour--will perhaps turn out to be a blessing in disguise. While several Lollapaloozers aborted all engagements they had built around the traveling festival, the Thrills observed a bit of the "show must go on" spirit and scheduled an ambitious club tour to replace the Lollapalooza dates, bringing them to Plush this Saturday.
This will give them a chance to yet again hone their chops prior to the rumpus sure to be created upon the scheduled release of their sophomore effort, Let's Bottle Bohemia, in September. (Apparently the Thrills are unaware that "Bohemia" has already been bottled by Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma in Mexico.) Festivals have a way of making bands sloppy since the audience's focus is scattered in many directions, whereas a headlining tour ensures a certain level of scrutiny-based tightness.
The new album, with shortly forthcoming single (and live staple) "Whatever Happened to Corey Haim?," furthers the band's obsession with American music and locales, only this affection is now transferred to New York, where most of Bohemia was recorded. Produced by former Barkmarket frontman Dave Sardy (best known, until recently, for work with heavy bands like Slayer and System of a Down), Let's Bottle Bohemia promises to be grittier than So Much for the City, with an emphasis on recording tracks as close to live as possible.
"I think being on the road for the previous year-and-a-half leading up to the new record, and playing more than 200 shows, meant that there was going to be much more of a live feel within the songs, and there was going to be a lot more energy," Daniel Ryan says, in an interview on Rockfeedback.com. "We have developed a lot as a band and as a group of musicians; we wanted to capture the spirit of this on the new record. I think the new record is more realized, there is a bolder sound, and overall, it's a lot bigger."
On a somewhat sad note, though, as the Thrills continue to establish themselves as their own band and not some composite of influences, comic moments like the one described in the following Spin excerpt will likely be lost forever: "We turned up to a gig in Dublin, and the sound guy shouted, 'What's the lineup?'" Ryan says. "And we shouted back, 'Four vocals, four keyboards, banjo, two guitars, bass, drums, accordion and harmonica.'"
"There was a pause," keyboardist Kevin Horan continues, "then we heard, 'Which one of you fuckers thinks you're Brian Wilson?'"