Music Features

THUMPERS (Interview)

It's been a busy few weeks for indie pop band THUMPERS.  Whilst putting the finishing touches on their debut album, the band have been in session for BBC Radio 6Music, been featured in The Guardian and The Sunday Times Culture magazine, performed at a host of festivals, and released The Unkinder EP.  They've also recently been announced as the support act for a number of Everything Everything, MS MR and CHVRCHES gigs later on in the year.

It's the kind of dream start that many bands would envy.  But it's also a start that's resulted from hard work and a considered approach, as John Hamson Jr explained to Craig Stevens when he talked to him recently...

So we were originally supposed to have this interview a few days ago but it got postponed because you were in the studio.  I’m going to go straight in for the kill – does this mean an album’s on the way?

Yeah, it does. We actually made the majority of the record last year before we even worked out how we were going to play it live.  And that’s pretty typical of how we work.  When we write songs, Marcus will come up with the genesis of an idea and then we’ll record it straight away.  So although we’re adding bits and pieces to it still, most of it was done last year.  We’re in the process of mixing it at the moment and hopefully we’ll master it in a week’s time.  We’re currently going backwards and forwards between the studio and checking mixes at home; listening to them on our stereos and in the car and sending notes back to the producer.

So it’s nearing completion by the sound of it.  Does that mean you have a release date in mind?

We originally wanted it out this summer but we release now that was fairly optimistic.  We thought the more we talked about it coming out in the summer, the more likely it would be to happen.  We were so ready with the record and so we anticipated and hoped that everyone else would be.  But these things take longer than you might expect.  We’ve signed a deal in America but we still need to get an album deal for the UK and the rest of the world worked out.  There’s talk of a US release in the autumn and the UK release in January [2014].  But they might both be in January, it’s still up in the air.

Your new EP, Unkinder, is out today – happy EP day!  Could you tell me a little about what features on the EP?

Well, there’s obviously Unkinder, the lead track.  And then in March of this year, we got together with this girl choir called GAGGLE.  We wanted to do a cover of Bjork’s track Innocence because Marcus and I are both really into her album Volta.  Particularly the production, which is Timbaland, who we’re really big fans of.  We wanted to do something that told people what we were into but did it in a really out-there way.  So we did an a capella version working with GAGGLE, who I’d been a fan of for 18 months - their record is really remarkable; different and exciting.  THUMPERS was never supposed to be an indie band, it’s a project that can do lots of different things. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to being two guys in a band.  Which is why everything so far has been very much unconventional.

There’s also a song called Marazion Bay which is almost like a hymn - atmospheric and emotional.  And it features a bloodcurdling scream at the end.  We wanted to showcase a different side to us.

And then there are two remixes.  I’ve played in Friendly Fires for the past couple of years as a live member and touring, you become close to people.  So when the EP was coming about, I asked Jack Savidge [drummer in Friendly Fires] if he wanted to do a remix.  Seeing his DJ sets as we travel all over the world, I knew he was a great DJ.  It’s a really cool thing for him to do for us.

The other remix is by Eagles For Hands, who I don’t know that much about.  Whilst Jack’s remix is quite heavy and in the style of the music he plays, the Eagles For Hands remix is perhaps more in keeping with the tone of the song – celebratory and 2am: pretty hardcore.

And all of the artwork at the moment is made up of pictures of me and my sister from when we were growing up.  The record was recorded where we grew up and it all links in to firsts and naivety and being young.

You mentioned playing with Friendly Fires on tour.  Was that useful, to give you an indication of how the big boys do it?

Yeah, it was a great lesson in how to do it, really inspiring.  The singer Ed, he dances with such passion every fucking night.  No matter where you are, how many people you’re playing to, he puts in that much every single time he plays.  And that dedication is pretty special and pretty rare.  He lives it.

Also, in terms of production, Friendly Fires made their first record using one microphone.  And that gave me the confidence to try that out and that’s when we started making THUMPERS’ music.  It worked and we could produce it ourselves and it sounded different and interesting.  I also learned how to put a live show together.  It was really exciting to see how the show went down in different places around the world.  It was a brilliant, brilliant experience and I will be eternally grateful to them for letting me come along for the ride.

You also mentioned in answer to the previous question about the remix sounding like it was the sort of sound that might be banged out at 2am.  When I saw you play Dot to Dot festival a few weeks back, your set didn't start until 1am.  Do you have to change your approach when gigs start that late, do the gigs have a different feel?

I think you have to get in a different headspace and deliver a different level of intensity, but we tend not to change the set too much.  Dot to Dot is a weird one because on all three days, we played at different times, ranging from 5:30pm to 1am.  I think it’s levelling; it’s fair to everyone.  I think if you’re a good enough band, you should be able to play at any time.  We’re not a fast-paced party band but there’s room to make our set more euphoric.  We strive to write good songs and I think that probably comes across easier at 1am when people may be a bit drunker!

What I've noticed about THUMPERS is that the songs still encapsulate the energy and positivity you had in your previous band, Pull Tiger Tail, but the sound is much more mature.  Is that the balance you were hoping to achieve when you started THUMPERS?

It’s so funny, this whole Pull Tiger Tail thing.  That band was relatively short-lived.  And the number of people talking about it now, I swear it far outweighs the number of people that were talking about it back then!  So it’s really funny that it keeps coming up.  It really didn’t feel like a big deal back then.  Everyone has a musical past and when you start a new venture, there is an element of wanting to ditch your past.  But anyway…

We always wanted to make uplifting, big music.  In terms of the energy, it’s good that we’ve maintained that in THUMPERS.  Because of our process and the way we do things, it’s not like we’re sitting in a room with three people, playing the music and it just happens.  It was a much more considered approach.  I’m not saying it was any less spontaneous but I’m glad it still retains the energy that we had before even though we’re playing at a third of the bpm.

We were really young in Pull Tiger Tail and our tastes have matured.  We know much more now about what we want out of being in a band.  When we did Pull Tiger Tail, we were at art school and we just threw the thing together.  And it was a case of “right, let’s start a band” and we’ll release a single and then start a new one.  The first single we released, we got signed.  It was a time when lots of bands were getting signed so it was pretty easy.  And then the latter part of Pull Tiger Tail, we were trying to kick against the thoughtlessness we had at the beginning.  And then it got a bit confused.  On the record, there’s some stuff that was trying to be more serious and it felt hard to do that because of the way the band started. 

This time, it’s much more like “let’s make a record and then we’ll work out how to do it live”.  We didn’t want to get railroaded by labels, any other bullshit.  We wanted to make music without worrying about how to do it live.

You’ve already played a few festivals this year.  Have you had chance to check out anyone else that’s been playing, have you seen anyone you’ve liked?

Yes, we've seen Skaters, that was cool.  And - I really liked , and Marcus did, but the other guys really hated it.  We've also seen a bit of Dutch Uncles and Theme Park, both of which were cool.  I really want to see Solange and we’re on the same bill as her at a festival in August, I think.

Have you got any big festivals lined up and waiting to be announced?

I think it’s too early for us to do the really big festivals.  When we started this band, we chose to work with the people we chose because they weren’t going to hype us up, and make us a twenty-second thing.  And that’s why things are going slower than normal.  But that totally suits us.  We want to make a second record.  We want to stay around.

And what about live dates?

We’ve got a really big support tour confirmed for Europe and the UK for October but that’s not getting announced until July...  And then we’re doing a few dates supporting Everything Everything and MS MR.  We’re really excited about all of those dates, each band seems a really good fit for us.  They’re all in the alt-pop genre we would associate ourselves with. 

The Unkinder EP is available to download now.  For information on where to see THUMPERS live over the next few months, go to THUMPERS' Facebook page.

This article was amended on 20th June 2013.