Interview: Nothing But Thieves on Moral Panic, politics and touring the world

Nothing But Thieves are the English five-piece keeping the early 2010s rock sound alive and adaptive. In a cohort including We The Kings, All Time Low, Mayday Parade, Fall Out Boy, The All-American Rejects, and My Chemical Romance, heavy-weights Nothing But Thieves stand out to exemplify their ability to reinvent the genre with every release.

Their latest offering, MORAL PANIC, is no different. Thematically, the album holds a mirror to the dystopian 2020 we find ourselves living in, despite being penned last year. Sonically, it powers through peaks and troughs, led by the affecting vocals of Connor Mason. The only grievance is it’s simply an album you’d wish to head-thrash to in a sorely missed mosh-pit.

We caught up with guitarist Joe Langridge-Brown earlier in the month to discuss the band’s tumultuous year, and more excitingly, where they are planning to be in a year’s time.

How are you, Joe? Where are you right now?

I’m in my lounge. I’m trying to be quiet, so I don’t wake my girlfriend up.

Oh no, yeah it’s quite early! Congrats on MORAL PANIC. I had listen to the album and it’s phenomenal. And arguably, never a better time to release this exact album, I would say.

Yeah. I mean, depends the way you look at it. It’s either fortunate or unfortunate timing. I don’t know. Yeah. I mean, I guess it’s not written about this coronavirus and stuff. But, I think releasing it at this time, this all has a bit more like a relevancy to it. It feels a bit different. Yeah, I don’t know if it was a good thing or not, really.

When did you write it? Because obviously it was all before 2020 – it would have been on your break last year, right?

Exactly, yeah. So we finished up touring of Broken Machine the end of 2018, and after that we had our first break since 2014 basically. We’d never really had that much time off since we started the band. But it was a new experience for us being at home and then deciding what we wanted our next record to be about. That hadn’t really happened before. Broken Machine was more like a reaction to our first album.

But yeah, I think it was just a case of get home, get some rest, but then actually figuring out what we wanted to write about. I think the album MORAL PANIC came from just going through Twitter, going through the news. There’s so much information going on right now, living in the information age, exploded. So I think it’s really hard to not write about that, so I think that was just what came naturally.

I was going to ask whether you guys are naturally political? Whether talking politics and social movements and the rise of the internet and the influence of celebrity and all that sort of stuff, whether that’s a run of a mill conversation within Nothing But Thieves?

Yeah. I mean, especially between more of us than others. But yeah, it is a fairly difficult conversation. We all try to keep informed as best we can. Trying to be as socially conscious as you can. So I think yeah, again, that’s just something that naturally happens. That’s the sort of thing we talk about in a band setting, or your experiences in a conversation, and I think it naturally leads to the music.

And I think art is naturally political, whichever way it’s read.

Well, I mean even if it’s apolitical, it’s political in a sense.

Exactly. No answer is an answer, as I always like to say.

How long has it been since you guys have actually performed then? Because you would have had a longer hiatus than expected.

So we did one show this year for War Child in February. So that was meant to be the start of the whole campaign. We went with “Is Everybody Going Crazy?,” one of the first things from the new album, that was meant to be the launch of Nothing But Thieves comeback. And then that was it. That’s all we played. So, we’d played there, last year we did a few festivals. I think our last show was actually in Thailand maybe. And then we started recording the album. So yeah, we played basically one show this year.

Yeah, wow. Okay. Well in exactly a year’s time from today, on October 8th 2021, do you know where you’ll be performing?

Well, hopefully in Russia.

Really? I believe it’s the O2 Arena.

Oh, sorry. Sorry, I thought you meant from a year from the February show. Is it today?

Yeah!

Bloody hell. No, I didn’t know that.

Huge. That’s going to be mind-blowing.

Yes, that will be… I mean, we don’t live too far from the O2. It’ll be one of the biggest shows we’ve ever done and also I can just get the tube there, which we’d quite like. But yeah, as excited as I am for it, it’s really hard to imagine playing it right now. Any show just seems so… we’re so out of the loop and nobody knows what’s happening. I’m trying not trying not to think about it too much until I’m actually on stage playing.

That’s fair. You can’t lock anything in until it’s actually happening in this day and age. I want to ask you about your period of lockdown, because your girlfriend contracted COVID, didn’t she?

She did.

What was that time like for you?

It was kind of odd in the fact that she got it really early. Basically, I think at the beginning of the year, in January, there were rumblings of it and people had heard about it, and then as February rolled on, it started getting a little bit more well-known. And then by the time… She had it basically before we went into lockdown, it was really, really early. So it was kind of like a steep learning curve, which I guess in some ways, you kind of understand how serious it can be for some people.

She didn’t get it quite badly at the end, she didn’t have to go to hospital, but it was touch and go. We had it on speed dial for a little bit. So it was not the nicest time, but also I’m hoping now at least we’ve got a few antibodies. I think it was weird, because I didn’t get any symptoms at all. So we had both ends of the spectrum. I’m sure I must’ve had it, I was quarantined in the flat with her for a couple of weeks. So yeah, very strange.

Do you feel like you’ve gone through a period of re-evaluation, along with the rest of the world? Do you feel like anything’s changed for you over this year, personally?

In a sense. I don’t know. I know for a lot of people, they’ve had time to take stock and maybe re-evaluate some things in their life and what they would change. For me, it’s just not been the nicest experience. I haven’t enjoyed lockdown at all. I’d much rather that I just get back to what we were doing and I can’t wait to get back on tour again. And I’m eager to tour this album. Although, it has been nice to have some time at home. I’d kind of done that the year before. At the end of us having a bit of time off. So I’m just ready to get back to it really.

You were probably already hungry to get back on the road and I imagine performing in front of live audiences is very important for your mental health.

Well, yeah. I mean, it’s a massive part of the job… Well, job. It’s hardly a job. It’s a massive part of my life. Yeah, it’s something we all miss. We still rehearse every now and again, when we can, just to keep ourself playing and just to do it, otherwise we’re just not doing it at all.

But there are always nice moments when we can just go back and start planning what the set will be, when we do get back to touring. I mean, I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve sat staring at my phone, putting different set lists together. It’s actually quite pathetic.

There’s something romantic about that.

Yeah, just wistfully dreaming of what will happen.

Literally. I want to ask you about your live sets, because with this album, visually you’ve gone for a more brighter colour scheme and you’re selling multiple colours of cassette tapes and this sexy orange vinyl. You’re breaking out of the formulaic rock band, dark vibe. It’s a bit more urban, bit more experimental. Are we going to see that translate into the live shows visually? Do you know already?

Yeah, I think so. We have been thinking about it. We’ve been in talks with our tour manager and stuff, what we want the production to be, and I’ve spoken to a few lighting engineers and that sort of thing about it. That’s just something that is easy to translate live, I think.

Creating a holistic project like that is quite important to us. I feel like when you go through our albums and career in stages like that, you can kind of picture what we were doing at the time, which I like. But the Broken Machine era of Nothing But Thieves, I think is quite defined. I think that was one thing I really liked about that project. Yeah, I agree, we will try and do the same for the new album.

I think as far as the colours and just the design and stuff like that, it was the approach we have to everything. We didn’t just want it to be standard indie or standard rock, it’s just been done so many times. And the album itself is quite genre-bending anyway, there are a lot of different things going on there. So it was to reflect that I think, trying to push rock music forward a bit and making it a little bit more modern and inventive. That’s just something that excites us. So yeah, that’s where it came from.

Is there a song off of the album that you’re most excited to share with your fans?

“Free If We Want It”, I think maybe is one of the best songs we’ve ever written, in terms of a songwriting point of view. There’s a really nice flow to that song. Another one, which I think a lot of people… Well, I can’t tell the reaction to “Individual”, because inherently by its nature, a lot of people are going to be playing that, so I think it’s going to… Actually, that song’s going to piss a lot of people off, but that’s kind of what I’m excited about.

Hey, art’s meant to elicit an emotion, as well. Divisive songs are a good thing. You don’t want to be a three-star band, you want to be either a five-star or a one-star. You want hot or cold. No lukewarm.

No, I agree! I agree.

All right. Last question before I let you go. Is there one artist that you’ve discovered this year that you reckon needs a bit more air time? Who do we not know about that needs knowing?

Actually, yes. When we did that show, the only show we’ve done this year, we had a band called Spyres support us and they’ve only got two songs on Spotify. They’re amazing. They’re a four piece in Scotland. I think they have a dual singer thing, two women singers. And they’re really good. So as I say, only two songs on Spotify, but they’re clearly going to write more great songs. The standard already is amazing. So yeah, I really rate them.

Excellent! Joe, thank you so much for chatting with me and congrats again on MORAL PANIC. Fingers crossed everything rolls out next year for you guys.

We’ll be trying to get to Australia as soon as possible. I think we’re already talking about it, so as soon as we can, we’ll be there.

We’d love to see you.

Nothing But Thieves’ MORAL PANIC is out now. Stream the album HERE.

Catch Nothing But Thieves performing their latest album via livestream:

AUSTRALIA, OCEANIA & ASIA SHOW | 28 October 2020 | 10pm AEDT

UK & EUROPE SHOW | 29 October 2020 | 8pm GMT

NORTH & SOUTH AMERICA SHOW | 29 October 2020 | 9pm EDT

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