Music Critic James West chats to Thunder’s Danny Bowes about their career as a band and the release of their new album
A double album barely a year after your last album is quite impressive. Were all the songs for this album written fresh, or were some of these leftovers from the previous album that you didn’t get round to recording or including on the album?
No, they were all written after we’d finished recording All the Right Noises. That album was finished right at the end of 2019. The plan was that we were going to release it in September 2020, but because of the pandemic that went out the window. As a result of that, we ended up sitting on an album for a year. So over the course of that year, we were just sitting on our hands waiting for the pandemic to do its thing. Obviously, not having a crystal ball, we had absolutely no idea it was going to drag on for over two years.
It dawned on us after a little while that we weren’t going to be able to play live, which meant that the album probably would have to come out. So that was released in March 2021. But by that time, Luke [Morley] had already started writing, because he was just bored, I think more than anything else. He likes to play golf, he likes to socialise, he likes to drink, he likes to travel – he couldn’t do any of those things. So all that’s left is writing songs. He told us he was going to because once All the Right Noises had been released, there was nothing to do. It’s very strange when you release an album and there’s nowhere to go and nowhere to play. It’s never like that normally, but because it was within two months, we were back in the studio, which was unprecedented.
A lot of this album has quite a focus on social media. Was social media a topic that came up in previous albums? Or is this something that’s been bought more sharply into focus with lockdown and isolation?
I think very much the latter. I think social media has been there. There’s a song on the previous album called ‘Young Men,’ which is aimed at the way that people live, especially young people. There is also a song on that album called ‘Don’t Forget to Live Before You Die,’ which was inspired by a conversation that Luke had with a young barman in a hotel, about how the guy never did anything, he seemed to be kind of terrified of everything. So that theme, I think was probably thrown into slightly sharper relief by being in lockdown, and by being isolated.
Luke has a tendency to write about whatever he sees and whatever he feels. So you’ve got all kinds of subject matters, but there’s a kind of an inherent sadness and darkness. There’s an introspection on the record, which is dealing with isolation, and the inevitable kind of self-examination as a result. You know, it’s like human beings left to their own devices get a chance to kind of obsess about themselves a bit too much, and I think that’s there on the record. There’s also songs about it’s rubbish, but it’s gonna be great when, you know, so you’ve got some of that going on. There’s a conspiracy theory song, which particularly makes me laugh because it could have been written about our bass player [Chris Childs]. It’s written from the standpoint of somebody who believes all that rubbish they read on social media of everything being part of a huge conspiracy.
There’s a lot on there, but I think there’s a lot of hopeful stuff on there. There’s a lovely, really poignant, direct jab at Boris Johnson being such a chancer. There’s a whole range of stuff on there, but there is a sort of a theme that runs through it, and I think social media is part of it. I mean, certainly the album cover and the title is very much us and our dark humour, having a little go at that generation that springs out of bed in the morning to check their likes. I like social media, I think it’s a great tool, a great way to communicate directly with the people who care about what you do. But, you know, my first thought in the morning is, I can’t see anything, I need to get a cup of tea in me quick. My first thought is not to check my phone.
How did COVID factor in, because the record can be quite gloomy on the topic of social media on its own. So was COVID something that you tried to not talk about at all, because it would make it more gloomy, or was it something that sort of just found its way in given the last couple of years?
I think it did. I mean, like I said, Luke writes about what’s in his mind, what he sees, what he reads, and what he feels. I think where he’s really clever, is that he’s able to put tunes together in a way where he may have a slightly gloomy lyric or underlying message, but he seems to always be able to put it together in a way which makes it entertaining. So if it’s miserable, he can make it feel like it’s uplifting. I don’t know how he does that. I think that’s just a skill. I mean, he’s been doing it a long time, and the fact that he can still surprise me after all these years, is a revelation to me.
This is very apparent on ‘One day we’ll be free again’ isn’t it?
Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of doom [in the song], but then there’s a lot of hope. The fact that, and this happened while we were recording, he decided to inject what can only be described as almost like Motown sounding female backing vocals, suddenly kind of turned it from one kind of a song into another one, it’s got this kind of almost sort of emancipation type feel about it now. That’s happened on a couple of the tunes on the record where he’s done the same thing.
I remember listening to the track ‘Big Pink Supermoon,’ it was very, very different from how I imagined it. And it was very different from anything that I’d heard previously from Thunder.
Yeah, well, I think that and other songs like it basically forced our hand and turned it into a double album. Because we had no intention, we didn’t set out to make a double album, there was no plan. He just wrote loads of songs and we thought the songs are all pretty good. So we thought, well, let’s just get them into the studio, record them all, see how they turn out and then make a decision as to which ones need to be kind of culled from the album.
The problem was that as we went along, we probably got about 75% of the way through the process before realising that there were some tunes that weren’t what you generally considered to be standard Thunder fayre, they were kind of pushing the envelope creatively slightly kind of left and right, widening the appeal out very slightly, and they had their elbows out and were nudging their way into prime position. So once you get into that kind of situation, you think you can’t leave this song off of the record and I can’t leave that one off for the record – but we’ve got 20 songs. So we’re either going to have a very difficult conversation about eight songs, maybe nine songs, or we go the other way, and we say why don’t we call it a double album, we only got to leave four off. You know, so it’s almost like laziness on our part in the long run [laughs.] Not really, I don’t mean that it was, it just felt like a double album kind of crept up on us, and we’d never done one before. So it gives us it gave us the ability to tick that box along the way.
Was it that you had all the songs so Dopamine became a double album? Or did the fact that it was a double album allow you to experiment with different styles more than you would have done if it was a single album?
That’s a very good question and I don’t know the answer. I think, almost as if it’s like chicken and egg or is it egg and chicken? I would be lying if I told you that it was all part of a grand plan. Like I said, it kind of crept up on us that it ended up being a double album. It’s almost like he just wrote a load of tunes because he could. We liked them and decided to record them, and as a result of recording them all we suddenly realised that we had a lot of diverse material that we couldn’t put on a single album. So it kind of had to be a double album. So I genuinely don’t know how it came about.
I mean when it came to the final analysis, we just realised that if we only had to leave four off of it, it will be a hell of a lot easier than then leaving eight or nine off, and it would have been such a shame to leave off tunes like ‘Big Pink Supermoon.’ Or even ‘Just a Grifter,’ you know, which we wouldn’t normally put on a record, there would be other songs that would go on in place of something like ‘Just a Grifter,’ but because we had it and it kind of fitted in with the rest of the musical journey on that side of that album, it just made sense to put it on there. You know, it’s very hard to actually sit and justify any kind of plan because there wasn’t one.
It’s more of a case where it’s easier to work out what not to put on a record than what to put on one.
I think certainly this time, yeah. I’ve listened to the four songs we left off recently, and I’m so glad that we choose not to include them. It’s interesting, because at the time, when we just finished the record, and when we made the decision about which songs to leave off, there was a lot of kind of backwards and forwards in terms of band members having discussions about which songs to pick. However in the end, we are a democracy, it’s a majority rule every time and we voted for those four in the end, and I think we made the right choice.
Finally, looking at the past with it being 30 years since Laughing on Judgement Day this year, how do you feel the band has changed most since then? Also given your current success of the UK charts, do you think you’ll hit number one?
How have we changed? I think we’ve probably got better at what we do. I think the fact that we got older and we weren’t capable of drinking as much as we used to, has probably helped in a way as it’s helped us concentrate on the work a bit more than the fun. There’s no doubt about it, we did have a hell of a lot of fun. Benny [Ben Matthews], our guitar player has the best quote about our first album. He said ‘it was like a party where an album broke out,’ which sums it up completely. Every album after that was a bit like that. You know?
I mean, we used to down tools every Friday night and people just used to descend upon the studio and it would be absolute carnage for the whole weekend. It was great, but you know, there comes a point as you get older when you realise you know that the work isn’t as good as it should be and maybe you spent a lot of money you didn’t need to spend, you know. I think that’s the first part, I think we’ve learned a little bit more how to do what we do. We’ve matured, we certainly got better as players and singers for sure. I mean, there are songs that we’ve recorded on this album we could never have recorded thirty years ago, we weren’t good enough. Which is a good sign. I think.
In terms of chart success, would we get to number one. I’ll be honest with you though, record labels care about charts, promo people care about charts. I don’t care about a chart position, it doesn’t bother me. All I care about is that enough people buy the record to enable us to make another one. It’s as simple as that.
Thunders new album ‘Dopamine’ is out April 29th. They are on then on tour throughout the UK in May.
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