“I’m calling out bulls**t on all sides…” - Nothing But Thieves’ Joe Langridge-Brown talks their social media inspired new album, Moral Panic
Nothing But Thieves’ success has been a slow burn. There’s been no Eureka moment or sudden hit for the Essex fivesome, they’ve done everything incrementally. Since their formation in 2012, they’ve taken any support slot they could, gigging relentlessly and gradually building their profile.
Now, on the day their third LP Moral Panic drops, they’re one of the biggest bands in Britain. They’re due to headline the O2 Arena at the end of 2021 and they’ve got huge shows booked all across Europe.
Recorded in Los Angeles with The 1975/Wolf Alice knob-twiddler Mike Crossey, Moral Panic moves the band away from the intense introspection of their 2017 second album Broken Machine and into something more outward-looking.
We spoke to guitarist Joe Langridge-Brown about why the band gave themselves an extended break, making this album and their plans for their arena tour, whenever that takes place...
When did the songs start coming together for this record? Was it any of it written on tour?
“We write all the time, but only a couple of ideas really made it back, things that were started in the back of the tour bus. Most of it was done at home and we had time at home. We wanted this to be more of a process, to be more thought out and not just a reaction to Broken Machine, which we’ve just toured to death.”
Is that just because you went straight from touring into recording and didn’t give yourselves a break the first time?
“Exactly. You’re always looking at other bands and what they’re doing. You’re desperate not to be forgotten. You’re aware that other bands take too long and lose momentum. There is so much music out there. We were really conscious of that and so we took no time off. This time, that wasn’t an option. We needed a break. We’d been on tour since 2014.”
Did you always write individually to begin with? Or did you wait until you came back together…
“Three of us write. Dom (guitarist Dominic Craik), myself and Conor (Mason, vocals/guitars). We write together. Obviously, you gather stuff individually, but we don’t tend to take things very far on our own. This time it was quite difficult to get back into a groove. The songs at the start weren’t great. We knew they weren’t going to make the record. Writing is a bit like working a muscle, you’ve got to get warmed up before you can really get going. It took us a while to get there.”
How soon do you know when a song isn’t going to work?
“You feel it in the room. For a song to make the album, the three of us have to love it. And you have to finish the bad ideas off. Sometimes you can turn things around. ‘Impossible’ was like that. We were at that for hours and hours and we nearly gave up multiple times. It can come around. You’ve just got to accept that it’s a process and you’ve got to work your way through it.”
You worked with Mike Crossey again, why did you decide to continue that collaboration?
“We worked with him on Broken Machine and we had a great relationship with him already. His place in Los Angeles is amazing, it’s this little British embassy out there. We had an Air BnB about 20 minutes away, so we’d drive in every day and do nine or 10 hour days. We loved how Broken Machine came out and he’s got such a breadth to what he can do. Our sonic soundscape is quite wide so we need someone who can match it.”
Did you get out and about in LA much? You make it sound quite businesslike…
“A little bit. Mainly on weekends. We’d work Monday to Friday and pretty solidly. Me and Dom didn’t leave the studio much. Our drummer Pricey (James Price) had a bit more free time. He got his parts down quite quickly and was away. It’s expensive to be out there though and we didn’t have an awful lot of time to f**k about. We put everything into the sessions. We went to a few gigs, but nothing crazy.”
What kind of record was it to make? Was it an intense process?
“Recording, for us, is always fun. It’s pure experimentation. We go into the studio with a really detailed blueprint. Dom produces all our demos and they’re done to a high standard, so the game is finding a way to beat the demo. It’s much more enjoyable than the writing process. The subject matter for this album made that difficult to enjoy. We’ve been a band for 10 years and we’ve only made three albums, so recording still feels fresh and like a real experience we go through together.”
What was the subject matter that made things tricky? Is it the world or just people’s lives?
“I had to decide what I wanted this album to be about. Before, the way I’ve done it, it’s just what I’ve been going through on a day to day basis. This time, I was at home, it’s time to write about something new. I basically ended up studying Twitter like a bible and diving deep into what people were saying. Climate change, Brexit, Trump, it’s all in there. It’s mainly about the effect on the people though, it splits you into extremes, social media does it on purpose. I wanted to capture the tribalism and how unpleasant a place it is. It was tough to do, but it’s given us a great album.”
How hard was it to strike a balance? You’ve got a point of view, but you don’t want to be preaching to people?
“You don’t want to preach. I wanted to find an independent point of view. I think it’s summed up really well on 'Can You Afford to Be an Individual?'. Can you exist without taking a side? We spend a lot of our lives picking sides, can you afford not to do it? I’m calling out bulls**t on all sides. But as a voyeur, not getting stuck in.”
Was that research where the title came from?
“It’s from the song title, but it is the same thing. The song was quite early in the process and it’s a weird song for us. It’s pure experimentation and got this big tempo shift. Not a typical song for us. But the title does absolutely sum up the album, all the tension people are feeling.”
Do you find album titles easy as a band? Or are they tricky?
“Easy. We’ve never had a fight over a title. Self-titled first album, it made sense to do it, it’s presenting the band. Broken Machine, came from a lyric we really loved and really stood out. I think, if you’re searching for a title, the album isn’t finished. If the album is cohesive and hangs together well, you should know what to call it.”
You’re a band who love to tour and you currently can’t, how have you spent the time you’ve been given back?
“In the early stages, in the more extreme end of lockdown, we did these isolation sessions. So we’d record our parts individually and then Dom would weave them together. At the moment, it’s a lot of promotion for the album and some writing. We’ve also got these live-streamed shows for the album and working on the production for when we can tour again. My phone is full of setlists. I’ve spent way too much time on that.”
How’s 2021 shaping up?
“We’re taking this as it comes. We should have been out in Russia and Ukraine in February, and that’s gone back to February next year. We're hoping to do that, but we’ve got no idea if we can. We’re booked for quite a few festivals in the summer and we’ve got a big UK tour towards the end of the year. We’re planning for it, you have to be prepared for it. I’ve got no insider knowledge for you. We’re in the dark.”
You’ve got the O2 arena on your schedule, that’ll be pretty special…
“We can’t wait. We’ve done it with Muse and now we get to do it ourselves. We’re from Essex so we’ve grown up going there and to get to headline it will be amazing. I won’t believe it’s happening until I’m on stage there.”
It’ll require a step up in production...
“Exactly. That’s fun. We love that side of things. We’re planning a big show and to go alongside the aesthetic of the album. We’d better bring out something special. We’ll have had enough time to sit and think about it…”