The story of the Essex-based group Nothing But Thieves is one that has threaded itself through the fabric of society throughout the past ten years. And within that time, the band has slowly but surely morphed into one of the brightest shining stars in the world’s indie-rock sky, even after living through two years of turmoil and isolation. Taking that uncertainty and translating the external and internal chaos into stunning music, the group of young rockers has managed to celebrate one milestone after the other and is now assembling their powers for a year of global touring, festival hangouts and one or the other musical outing that may even surprise the bandmembers themselves.
Nothing But Thieves have been through some really rough months. From releasing their third album within the midst of a pandemic to having to wait for almost a year to finally play it in front of a crowd of excited faces, the five-piece has been on a rollercoaster ride that held a few more downs than ups. But with normality slowly coming back to us step by step, the band has gained back their liveliness and eagerness to create and inspire, which may or may not also stem from them getting to live out one of their biggest dreams – a sold-out headline slot at the most famous O2 Arena in London. “We‘re Essex boys, so that‘s the venue everyone goes to. I think before we played there, it felt like such a massive occasion that it became overwhelming, but I think this time everything felt right. The tour was running well, we as a band were playing really well too, so it just felt right,”, remembers Joe Langridge-Brown, guitarist and songwriter of the enthralling quintet with a proud smile on his face, while thinking back to the biggest milestone in the group’s career yet. “We took a moment to breathe it all in and soak it in as much as we could. It felt like we were a bit of an oiled machine at that point.”
It all began back in October 2020 with the release of their chart-topping third record ‘Moral Panic’, an accumulation of gut-wrenching and uber-addictive indie-hits, right in the midst of a global pandemic. And while the album saw the light of day at a rather strange point in time for humanity, it quickly evolved into the frontline embodiment of people’s feelings all around the world. Discussing themes like uncertainty, destruction, the flaws in modern society and all things relationships, it was yet another fitting mark in the band’s career and felt like a flawlessly executed continuation of a story the Southend-On-Sea-based rockers had already been gearing towards with their previously released records. But while the excitement about the LP was sky high on the sides of both the group and their fanbase, it wasn’t until the warm summer months of last year that they finally had the chance to perform all their newest creations in front of a live audience – something that was long overdue, as Langridge-Brown states: “It was a weird situation, because you can try and get a sense of how an album has been received and gone down with your fanbase and people in general from social media and reviews and stuff. But when we played it live, that was the first time we actually got to see what was working well and what wasn‘t. That was a steep learning curve for us on this tour, seeing what people were liking.”
To hardly anyone’s surprise, the learning curve was a rather positive, upwards facing one, with fans celebrating the band’s final comeback to the stages all over the country with wild dancing parties, screamed-out lungs and even the one or other surprise, which this time came in the form of bags full of plastic chickens, inspired by one of the album’s most loved tracks. “The chickens, yeah, that‘s become a little running theme with some of our fans. There‘s a speech in our song ‘This Feels Like The End’ that features the mention of chlorinated chicken and they’ve taken that and run with it. I think they are trying to get us to play the song, but we use it as part of an intro for another song, so it doesn‘t really make sense to play it again. So in some way, the chickens are already part of the set,”, laughs Langridge-Brown, fondly remembering bunches of fake birds flying past him every other night during their UK tour. “I like things like that. We have a really good relationship with our fans, they‘re really cool, funny people. So I like the fact that I can have a bit of a laugh and joke with them. And that they throw chickens at me.”
But while ‘Moral Panic’ earned a name for itself as a defining record during a time where heavenly, loose-yourself-type of music was needed more than ever, Nothing But Thieves did not put their feet up and chose to rest on their laurels – quite the opposite. With their third record out in the world and all the stacked-up pressure of that release taken off their shoulders, the indie-rockers found themselves in a place of free-flowing creativity and pure inspiration. And in typical NBT fashion, that was something they decided worthy to be moulded into what would later become their latest EP ‘Moral Panic II’, a collection of songs the band refers to as a natural extension of their previously released full-length journey rather than offcuts. “It‘s very rare that you actually get to revisit projects or an album. So with the EP, it felt a bit like having a painting and then just sort of being able to retouch the palette,”, the guitarist explains, while further taking us behind the scenes of why the EP revolutionised the band’s production process and paved the way for their upcoming projects. “Because we had already released the album, there was no pressure at all, we could literally do whatever we wanted, which I think is a really healthy way to work. I kind of wish I had that mentality a bit more. Obviously, the bigger the band gets and the longer we do this, the more people rely on the band and the more the pressure grows with it, that just comes with the territory. So having no pressure and thinking “whatever we end up writing is what comes out” really benefited the EP. I‘d love to carry that ethos and those habits into the future. Half of the next album is written already, that‘s what we‘re trying to do now.”
And the changes didn’t just end there. With more creative freedom and an improved mental approach to their releases and the build-up to them came an increased personal involvement, some of it by choice, some of it pushed onto the group by the still raging pandemic and its restrictions. “For the album, we went out to LA with our producer Mike Crossey, who did ‘Broken Machine’ as well. So we already had a functioning working relationship with him and it clicked right away,”, explains Langridge-Brown, while discussing the positive and negative aspects of producing and creating a body of music over Zoom in the same way the common folk now has work meetings and hangouts with friends and family. “It was very different to what happened with the EP, where we couldn‘t get who we wanted to come over to work with us. So we actually did it all over video calls, while we worked with Rich Costey, who produced the EP with Dom. We recorded at Decoy Studios in Ipswich and had a system so that when we played, he could hear it in real-time through his desk, so he had an actual live experience of what we were doing. But the problem was that we found that it‘s very, very difficult to get a vibe with your producer when working over Zoom. It‘s not the same at all. The way it normally works is that you bounce ideas off of each other, but doing it over video call was an absolute nightmare. So Dom actually ended up producing a lot of the EP.”
WE HAVE A REALLY GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR FANS. I LIKE THE FACT THAT I CAN HAVE A BIT OF A LAUGH AND JOKE WITH THEM. AND THAT THEY THROW CHICKENS AT ME.
It’s a move the band has long been preparing for, with guitarist Dominic Craik co-producing the EP’s name-giving full-length counterpart and slowly but surely turning himself into the in-house producer of the riveting five-piece. And it’s that relentless urge to always be as hands-on as possible and to be as involved as there is space for them to move that has moved the talented bunch of 20-and-30-something- year-olds to the highest ranks of today’s alt-rock-heaven and pushed their musical outings to new heights. Ultimately, it’s what gives their music its special spark and the feeling that its stories will always carry a special meaning and be relatable, no matter the time, location or listener. “I‘ve always tried to have some sort of interpretation in our records. Not only do I prefer it just as a personal taste, I actually think that gives the songs more longevity. You get the right lyric and obviously you make it slightly universal, but if you leave it a bit open-ended, you can always come back to it and feel a bit differently about the track. Even for me, I‘ve had cases where I thought differently about some songs in the past compared to now,”, songwriter Langridge-Brown illustrates, while also moving the spotlight to the two words that have ruled the quintet’s past two years – “Moral Panic”. “I don‘t like to put a label on our albums too early into the process, because I feel it can stop the creativity of songs if you pigeonhole yourself too early. So, at the start, I was just kind of writing to see what themes came to me. And about halfway through the process of writing the album, I went, “okay, topics are lining up in a certain way, I‘m creating something here that has more of a story to it”. So moral panic was actually a couple of words that I thought were made up and sounded cool, like an interesting dynamic. I didn‘t know moral panic was actually a thing at the time. So once I found that it formed the rest of the album.”
From start to finish of the group’s eclectic discography – whether it is the heart-wrenching ‘Impossible’, the absolute fan-favourite ‘Real Love Song’ or the utterly surprising, almost screamo-induced ‘Ce n’est Rien’ – it has always been apparent that Nothing But Thieves would do well priding themselves on the endless work and effort that goes into their musical endeavours. In a world that is moving at the speed of light and where music has never been this easily accessible in such big quantities and various shapes and forms, many artists all around the world have chosen to pull the plug for a bit and take a step back. But not so the Essex-descendant band: “If you think of Nothing But Thieves, consider we are always having an album in the making, we don‘t stop. I don‘t switch off anymore. It‘s like a daily occurrence now, I‘m always writing something down, it‘s just kind of how I live now. I hate the thought of switching off to it and not writing something down, even if it‘s at 4am and me just whispering into a voicemail. I hate the thought of not doing it, forgetting the idea and thinking that that could have been the next Nothing But Thieves song. So I‘m never switched off.”
And while others might see it as a rather intense way of looking at one’s work, it is thanks to that exact level of self-awareness, relatability, and utter strive to become the best band they can possibly be that has led Nothing But Thieves to reach new spheres of originality and innovation. They know that the world around them is moving constantly and thus they have chosen to move in sync with it when needed to never stop them from ultimately finding themselves and their sound. Because at the end of the day that is what has made it possible for them to get to a place of ease, where they feel like they can just be themselves and not have to adhere to society’s rules or the guidelines of today’s music industry. A place that can come with its own surprises, as guitarist Langridge- Brown teases the future of the dazzling group: “Our sound has completely morphed into something else again. It‘s as much of a surprise to me as it is to you. There is this kind of 80s vibe to it, some of it is a little bit Prince-like as well. I know, I know. Nothing But Thieves going Prince, who would have thought it.”
Written by Laura Weingrill // Photography by Jack Bridgland and Frank Fieber