Thieves Like Us Q&A
published on February 14, 2017
I chatted with Thieves Like Us front man Andy Grier about politics, the new band gelling and their new self-titled album out 1.27.17. Standout tracks include Shake the Light, Israel, Moon, Broken Mirror.
What have you and the band been up to in the four years since Bleed Bleed Bleed?
We had some solidarity problems during and after Bleed Bleed Bleed. It was our fourth record and it came out in 2012, our first record Play Music was released in 2012. We found ourselved kind of caught up in a wave of things, and we were nor longer able to make pure decisions, nor we were sure what our motivtions were anymore. I think we got a bit caught up in chasing the limelight and the money. When Captured Tracks came along we thought we would be on another level, and we spend a long time making Bleed. We thought CT would elevate us to another level, however, they failed to promote our record and it just kind of came out with a poof. Pontus was out and Björn needed an extended break. I did some small touring with some musicians to fulfill touring obligations for the record in late 2012 and 2013, but those shows all felt kind of off. I was playing songs I had written with my friends, but they weren’t there on stage. I wasn’t sure what to do after. I decided I should force myself to start writing as the touring was over. I took the entire year of 2013 to come up with these 9 songs. So these were actually written right on the back of Bleed Bleed Bleed. Even Shake The Light has parts written during the Bleed writing sessions. So I was sitting on these demos and I needed to find musicians. Symetrical musicians. Quite difficult.
How did Thomas Franklin and Tore Knipping find their way into the fold of Thieves like us?
Berlin is not a musician’s town. It’s made up of electronic “track” producers. It’s not like New York City where there is a scene and you and all of your friends how synch with you or know someone who does.
My friend does sound for Philipp Glass, and I had free tickets to the “Einstein on The Beach” dress rehearsal here in Berlin. I got called into my bar job and couldn ‘t make it, so I gave it to another good friend of mine and his friend. They visited me in my bar later that night and I said I need a drummer, and they happen to know Tore. I met him on a cold street corner in January and he was there shivering in his Dark Side of The Moon shirt and ripped up denim jacket and I knew he was the one. I picked up Thomas as he was a regular at another bar I worked at called Sameheads. I think luckily things just sort of gelled. It isn’t easy to find musicians in Berlin. No no. It’s a very good funky rhythm session. Kind of how we wanted Bleed Bleed Bleed to sound, but were unable to as Pontus had left and we had no drummer at the time. Strangely enough, although Björn isn’t playing on this record, his wife Martine who did backing vocals on Bleed Bleed Bleed is singing again on these tunes. So I would say I spent one year writing songs, more than a year looking for musicans, and one year rehearsing. We even went to play some shows in Lithuania and one in Japan with our friend Chris on guitar and keys. Its the first time we actually played songs before we recorded them.
What was the process of creating the album cover for your new self-titled record? Had you always wanted to use his father’s pilot suit in or was it a recent discovery that seemed too good to pass up?
Um, we always wanted to copy the famous 1961 picture of the East German soldier jumping the barbed wire fence escaping from East to West Berlin. I had already shot another cover for this new record, but, suddenly the image seemed more relevant. With the flood of refugees, the militarization of the police, the increase and security and the possibility of President Trump erecting a wall between the states and Mexico, it kind of made sense. The image is staged. We had built the barbed wire and hung it from the fence ourselves. We didn’t really have a uniform. We thought of getting the same East German uniform, but, I thought, hey, I have my Dad’s flight suit from Vietnam. It’s baby blue and has the American flag on it. Let’s use that. One day before the shoot this really ugly graffiti showed up on the fence. We thought we would have to wash it off because it was so ugly, but we realized it said DIEB which means Thief in German. We tried all kinds of magic tricks and weird things to actually get our soldier-ess higher in the air. I was running out of time and I remember thinking fuck this isn t working. I went deep into some bushes and was sitting on a pile of garbage, and luckily this photo came out.
How do you stay so consistent with the style of the album covers? Have you ever been tempted to break the text over photo style of your releases?
No, I think our covers are a bit like Roxy Music or Belle and Sebastian. They sort of had a consistency. Photos of people. Why bother changing the Marquee and text. I don’t think something better can come along. So it’s easier to stick with this. A branded logo, of a virtual imaginary band.
TLU has a unique perspective being based in Berlin and having international members fronted by an American. How has this continued to affect the lyrics and musical content of the band?
Um, I was always a large Europhile, probably rebelling against the American music around me (minus Latin and African American music of course). So I just crammed all these European new wave films into my head before I moved over here in 2006 and well, this is kind of what came out. I think the initial production style which we cultivated together as the original trio definitely is legitimately European (we were two thirds Swedish) and just kind of stayed that way. Thom is from the UK and Tore is from Berlin. I think the lyrics have been a bit less focused on myself and more focused on the world. I am confused how pop musicians now are failing to comment on the state of affiars ecologically, or politically. It’s our responsibility to report on things and get a few young minds thinking. But, to go back to your question as the lyricist, I guess a lot of the songs to relate to war, or the overall bizareness of the decay of the USA. My father was in the military. I grew up on army bases and somehow war was a very real and normal topic at the dinner table. There are a lot of references to human violence and corruption in these tunes. But you can still shake your ass to them.
A lot of songwriting is persistance and luck. Keep rolling those dice.
What do you think of the current political climate in Europe and America?
Philip K. Dick said the future hasn’t happened yet. But, I mean, we are all kind of living in a false reality. People know it is bad, but they cannot imagine an alternative. The political sphere is seperate from the economic sphere. Finance has taken over politics. There is some hope. Former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis is very optimistic and presents many solutions to the economic inequality we are facing. He has viable answers. I hope he can get enough people thinking/moving.
How fun was it to do the “Doo Doo Doo” breakdown on “Tears”?
Well the Doo doo doo was very fun, just done on the fly. It was sort of ridiculous. That’s why you hear the backing singer, Mia laughing at the end of it. However, we cut that up some and looped it and tried to make a sensible arrangement in the break. It was very difficult for Thom and Tore to keep count during that. Those drums aren’t programmed and well, the clap comes at a very weird part of the bar. We actually had to the most takes of that when we were recording.
What was the inspiration to put dark political musings on the danciest track of the album “Isreal”?
Well that song is actually about Israel Hernandez, a young graffiti artist who was tasered to death by Police in Miami. It actually has nothing to do with the nation of Israel. But, we do like to confuse people.
Was the song “Jennifer” inspired by Jennifer Connelly?
No, although I hope it reaches her. I often write lyrics phonetically. I usually write the vocal melody on a keyboard first and then fill in the lyrics, syllable for syllable. Phonetically something with a y fit well, so it started as You better, then, I changed it to Jupiter, and then it became Jennifer. Someone asked who Jennifer is, and well, i don’t really even know any Jennifers. Many of these texts have multiple meanings, or they have a paradoxical meaning. I deconstructed one text for a friend. And well, every line of the song is about something different. Not many of thes lines on this record even rhyme. Somehow it’s more fun to write this way. The way the words roll off the tongue determine the text.
How did the funky back end of “Shake the Light” evolve?
Um we needed a midddle part for after the main part of the song and Thom came up with this simple chord progression. There is not SNARE in the main part of the song at all. It doesn’t come in until here. We just looped the bass progression and we tried to write an elaborate keyboard solo. Thom came up with most of it. He was just screwing around. Tore and I edited it together and arranged it. A lot of songwriting is persistance and luck. Keep rolling those dice.
Have you ever had an out of body experience?
No. Only in dreams, I think. But I often think this is the dream and the dream is reality.