They say to pick your moments, but nobody could have quite predicted this coming. Earlier this week, Nothing But Thieves returned with the aptly titled Is Everybody Going Crazy?, their first new music in eighteen months. The song centres on the current uncertainty we all face as citizens of this planet, as well as all of the lunacy and fury we’re confronted with on a daily basis. And although written quite a while back, the band couldn’t have picked a more fitting week to unleash the riff-heavy song; a week in which the world is in the midst of a true health crisis. Every cloud has its silver lining, though: 2020 is the year in which Nothing But Thieves will put out their hotly anticipated third studio album, the follow-up to 2017’s Broken Machine. Jack Parker called up frontman Conor Mason to talk about new music, the current state of the world, mental health on the road and what we can expect from the band’s new record.
Hey Conor. How are you?
I’m alright. It’s all a bit ambiguous at the moment, I’m getting lost in the clouds a little.
Right now is somewhat of an unfortunate time to be releasing music, but how does it feel to be back?
It does feel good, I have to admit. A couple of days before we released the new song on the radio it was all a bit flat in the camp. Like, “oh great, a new song” while everything feels so flat and unimportant in this difficult time. When it premiered on the radio, though, it felt really good, great to do something fun and positive at this time. I was absolutely buzzing to get back.
Is Everybody Going Crazy? is the new single, and the title is very apt. Tell me a little more about how that track came to fruition.
The funny thing about this song is that it sounds like we wrote it last week, while it’s actually been one of those songs which built up over a year and a half of absolute lunacy on this planet. We had all these conversations within the band about escapism and feeling serenity with one person while everything breaks down around you. It’s ironic that we released it this week, as we always planned to have it be the first single even six months ago.
There’s a new album due this year. Is the new single at all an indicator of what can we expect?
No, not at all. The album is a real experiment, but it’s cohesive and I do think that – like with any band – what carries it is the voice. It really helps that my voice ties our music together. I wouldn’t say the new single reflects the rest of the album, but that’s also the case with the following single. Music is so eclectic and holistic these days; genres are so marbled and we love it. We listen to so much music, and when we bring that together it creates something new each time. The new album is us doing what we do best, and that’s never doing the same thing twice. Every single song we make pushes us further away from what came before; we don’t like to ground ourselves and feel too settled in one sound. It’s very exciting.
Escapism and loneliness are prevalent themes in your music. How did you use the time between Broken Machine and this new album to unwind?
Personally I’ve always been good at that. For me and my mental health I felt it was best if I could do something on the road which helped me maintain the same routines I had at home. The difference is obviously the live shows, but it does all help me cope better with coming home. I’m not putting this in the band at all, but it’s common on the road that there’s high levels of endorphins and adrenaline, going from one thing to the next. It’s not me being boring, but I always feel like I needed to keep myself level and grounded so that I could maintain that normality at home. One thing I’ve noticed with this whole crisis, though, is that I miss playing so much. This is actually an issue for me now, as I’ve realised how much singing and playing make up what I love. I sound like I’m in Annie or something, but I just need to sing. It’s grounded in my DNA and I do miss it. Obviously you do write a lot, and I’m always writing at home, but I’ve done so much of that recently that I’m so ready to play and tour the new album.
With Broken Machine, people’s expectations were high, as they always are with the so-called ‘second album syndrome’. Did you feel less pressure this time round knowing that your first two records did so well?
I don’t know, it almost felt like we had even more pressure on the first record. This time the pressure didn’t ease, but we’ve become such an established band that we always want to present the best thing we have. It’s not like, “oh, we’ve done two great records, now we can do what we want”. It’s more that we want to progress each time and make the best album we can, and there’s no pressure from a label or from fans to do so. We write for us. If we can listen back to the songs and go “fuck yeah, that’s great” then that’s all that matters. The albums always sort themselves out in the end, and each song is our little baby that needs love and attention.
Joe [Langridge-Brown, guitar] has always been the primary lyricist in the band. Did that change much this time round?
Nope, Joe is still the lyrics man. He’s very good at it, he’s very smart. I say what I want to talk about with him, and we’re like brothers. All the songs are pretty much served to me, Joe and Dom [Craik, guitar]; it’s all our little child so we all share the same views on each aspect. You feel comfortable knowing your strengths. Because we’re all such different writers, we can bring different things to the table each time. This new single really showcases that, with Dom’s heavy, jaunty riffs and some R’n’B melodies I wanted to bring in. We have this weird melting pot which works, and we try not to funk with it too much.
I just want to talk about the visual direction on the new single. The press shot has an old school vibe to it, and the artwork is very neon and glitchy. What direction do you want to take the band in visually this time around?
This time around it’s so much more about colour and that kind of brighter side. The record is a lot like a colour palette which you feel as you listen to it, and visually we want to reflect that. We wanted the art direction to be less like standardized rock bands, which we hate. The video coming out soon is also something like we’ve never done before. There’s a little more of a hip hop and urban vibe to it, and those are things which currently appeal to us. I’m bored of bands, I’m bored of rock and I’m bored of how they do things over and over again. It’s like you have a stamp, a formula which everyone does in the same way, just like skinny jeans, leather jackets and dark visuals; all the boring stuff. Music is so genre bending and eclectic. Fans have only seen one picture, one tiny part of it. Even just the way we’re dressed – I don’t look like a typical rock frontman and I never have. No black leather jackets and all that. The peachy colour in the press picture feels so real and natural. There are heavy songs on the record, but some are also softer and a bit more electronic. More genre bending, that’s the key word. Genre bending visuals and genre bending music.
The barriers surrounding male mental health have really been kicked down in the last two years. You yourself have also been very vocal about it in the past, but how have you been able to cope with your mental health as an artist constantly on and off the road?
It’s always been an ongoing thing for me, and it’s all based around environment and stress. It’s not something I was born with, just something I’ve had over the years and which is born out of things like lifestyle choices and who you are as a person. That’s something I’m constantly working on. There are months where it’s really difficult, and months where it’s great. It’s an ongoing process for me, but I can live with it and I can work with it.
What would you say to any emerging artists right now struggling to find that balance?
The only thing I can say is from my own personal experience. I’m friends with some up and coming singers and bands, and they’re very candid about mental health. For me, as a singer, a lot of it focussed on my voice and keeping in good health. If I’m not on point every day it pisses me off, but I’ve now allowed myself to have a little more fun on the side and let my hair down a bit more. If you can do something simple like read a book every night, or anything else which keeps you grounded in a routine, that helps. Anything you can do naturally at home helps make tours feel so distancing.
We’re still a long way off, but how do you see this upcoming record work as a springboard for your future music?
There are so many bands out there who want to be the biggest band in the world, but that’s now how I see it. I’m proud of what we’ve written and I just want to keep on going. We’ve always had an upwards arc, ever since we started six or seven years ago. That arc has never plateaued, and it doesn’t seem to be going down either. If it keeps going up then I’m happy, but we don’t care. We’ve always worked from the ground up to build things up, and I reckon that will keep on happening. Is Everybody Going Crazy? is out now. Nothing But Thieves’ 3rd album is out this year.