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This 'Complete Roadblock' Resulted In Nothing But Thieves' Most Creative Work Yet

17 August 2021 | 10:40 am | Tiana Speter

From high school bands to stadium arenas; Nothing But Thieves set the stage for the unexpected from day one.

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As any band or artist in the entire world can attest to right now: it's a tough time to be a muso

With a diminished smattering of live events, domestic and international touring constantly being ripped off the table and a fatiguing daily news cycle primed to chip away at even the staunchest creative, the challenge is all too real for many to continue to write music or maintain small shreds of passion as the industry crumbles around us all nearly a year and a half on since the pandemic erupted.

Just yesterday, Melbourne artist Alex Lahey put out an open letter calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Australian Federal Government to provide better financial support for the Australian entertainment sectors, showcasing the world-class industry and artists we have in our own backyard, while also highlighting the disparity of support. And, sadly, beyond our own shores, the global industry has careened beyond crisis point, with many artists and organisations left in the dark as we collectively grapple with the reality of creativity as an industry in the stubborn grip of a pandemic. 

But while the surrounding factors of no tours, thin hope and prevailing uncertainty certainly doesn't add up to, on paper, a perfect recipe for conjuring creative material, it was this exact series of events that resulted in English rockers Nothing But Thieves releasing a brand new EP Moral Panic II at the end of July, signalling not only a continuation of their third full length, 2020's Moral Panic - but also a continuation of their evolutionary sonic spirit that saturates the Essex quintet's every move with each passing release. 

Appearing on last week's episode of The Green Room podcast with host Tiana Speter, Nothing But Thieves guitarist Dom Craik delved deep into some of the specific production techniques present on the latest EP alongside some colourful live music memories, while also sharing some insight into how the pandemic shaped and moulded the end product in ways never previously expected. 

"Do you know what: 'It's great to be releasing music' is the fundamental thread here," Craik told host Speter in last week's episode. 

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"But I would say it's been very strange for us because normally we would put out a record, like Moral Panic, which we did [in] the latter half of last year. And we would normally hit the road, do tours all round the world and not see our families for a couple of years - and then start writing again, record and then repeat.

"This just put a complete roadblock in how we do things and all of our plans. But what that did do was, kind of like, shake us up and loosen us up a bit. So, when we were sat there going: 'Well, we should be on the road now', we kind of used that time to start writing.

"And we weren't too bothered about it... you're not going anywhere, you have nothing better to do, so - just relax and write some music! And that's how the birth of Moral Panic started."

With the recent unveiling of Moral Panic II so soon after its 2020 older brother Moral Panic jumped into the world, it would seemingly go without saying that the follow-up EP was a direct continuation rather than a standalone entity. But despite sharing a namesake, the two were dreamt up entirely separately, with the EP planned well after the release of Moral Panic last October.

"We've definitely had it before where we've finished the record and there were some songs we felt weren't quite right for the main body of work - but as deluxe tracks, they could be their own thing. Whereas for Moral Panic II, these were all brand new, fresh songs with developed ideas from the Moral Panic theme," Craik explained. 

"And we had, kind of, learnt a lot from that process of recording Moral Panic. So, we were using a load of new techniques that we'd used in terms of production.

"It kind of trailed on from the recording process of the album, so that's why it feels like there's a cohesiveness between them, despite the fact that they were recorded over a year apart from each other."

For any casual or not-so-casual Nothing But Thieves fans, the stylistic gang's all here when it comes to Moral Panic II; but the real secret weapon behind the Thieves arsenal, outside of the band's razor-sharp instrumentals and the ballistic might of frontman Conor Mason, lies in the group's ability to effortlessly cleave conflicting genres - and the fact that they established this back at the beginning of this entire adventure, just as the group burgeoned from high school bandmates into genuine contenders.

"You can do hip hop and rock really wrong I think sometimes," Craik said, ruminating on the recent influences on lead single Futureproof on the new EP. "And I think we've got it wrong before when we've done demos, and I listen back and I'm like: 'That's on the wrong side of the line'.

"We have to spend a lot of time on our balancing act, walking the tightrope of rock versus hip hop. Hopefully we've got it right.

"That's the benefit I think of having written our first record with quite a diverse sound, of having the slow ballad like Lover, Please Stay that's kind of in the vein of Jeff Buckley or Radiohead and things like that; and then you have songs on the other side of the spectrum on that album like Ban All The Music that has touches of, like, Zeppelin riffs.

"So, we gave ourselves this kind of wide breadth of: 'Where are they gonna go next?'. I think if you have one sound and it's pigeonholed there on your first record; you can kind of scare people by going: 'Actually, we're gonna mix it up for record two!'.

"Whereas, because we started like that, we could kind of branch off and it wasn't freaking anyone out, and we could bring in influences of synths and electronic drums and different genres - and it didn't seem like a weird move from us.

"It keeps stuff so interesting 'cos we're not locked into: 'Oh! It's gotta be two guitars, a bass and drums every time!'. We can just do what we want now. And the freedom there is fantastic, we wouldn't have it any other way."

You can watch the full episode of The Green Room with Dom Craik and Tiana Speter below or here as they dive deeper into the Nothing But Thieves psyche.

Alternatively, you can also listen to full The Green Room podcast episodes on Spotify, Apple Podcasts - or wherever you usually get your podcasts from!

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Need more music, film, TV and comedy in your life? Check out all previous episodes of The Green Room here - and did you know you can also watch episodes of The Green Room too? Head here to check out some of the recent videos, and if you're still hunting for content to feed your ears, be sure to check out some of the other exciting Handshake Agency podcasts below!