Inflammatory shitposts, doomsday predicting tomes, and an adoration for LCD Soundsystem are no doubt the makings of an unhealthy cocktail. Yet, when muddled together with a profoundly DIY determination, what comes out is the highly addictive, acerbic horror of Thoughtless Cruelty. A challenging collection of nine tracks, and the first full-length offering from Leeds noise-rock band Thank, the album truly is the band at their boldest.
A product of corrosive societal alienation and over-stimulating internet-era connectivity, their music finds itself at the crossroads of not only dance-inducing synths and ear-shattering noise, but also barbed social commentary and self-reflective musings. Almost like passing a motorway car crash, the intersection that Thank sit on may be horrific and scarring but it sure will force you to slow down and take in as much as you can.
As squelching synths rose from a quiet abyss on debut EP Sexghost Hellscape, it became apparent that the Leeds five-piece weren’t just your everyday noise-rock outfit hanging about the peripheries of rundown venues. Setting up punchline after punchline against the backdrop of a grooving pandemonium, Thank shared with enraptured audiences a necessary outlet for dealing with the cosmic horrors of life. While seemingly pulling from familiar legends like Xiu Xiu and Tears For Fears, the suffering and humour that the band saw in everyday living clearly set them apart from their ilk.
With their first two EPs exploring a hook-oriented and synth-heavy approach to experimental punk, the formula that sat at the heart of the genre became flipped. As the guitars of Thank avoided their traditional role of full blast grit, instead opting to support the tight rhythms of the bass and drums and the unpredictable noise of the electronics, the group were able to create truly unforgettable blasts of cacophony. Somehow melding the traditional distress of noise-rock with a clear adoration for pop music, Sexghost Hellscape and its equally compelling follow up Please found themselves laden with choruses worthy of constant recitation and breakdowns perfect for a guttural mosh.
Now, though, choosing to venture into even grander territories, pushing at both extremes of the accessibility spectrum, Thank are ready for the most defining moment of their existence yet. Recording with their former drummer, Rob Slater (Yard Act, Crake), Thoughtless Cruelty sees the band decimate, reconstruct, and refine what Thank means. Bringing in ideas from techno, musique concrete, the failings of DIY spaces, and the seeming end of times we find ourselves in, the debut LP from the band is a disorienting experience. Luckily, ahead of the album release and accompanying national tour, I was able to get my bearings with singer Freddy Vinehill-Cliffe as he prepared what he specified as a Chicago Town Vegan Tomato Stuffed Crust Takeaway Smokey Bac’n and Mushroom Pizza.
As we speak, we are near the release of Thank’s first full length album. It’s quite a defining moment for the band so can you define in your own words what Thank is?
I guess, very broadly speaking, Thank is a noise-rock band. At this point, we’ve been playing together for about 6 years, and the reference points in terms of what we’re interested in and what we’re influenced by have shifted so much in that time. I feel like what we do has remained relatively consistent, but the sources of inspiration for that have changed quite a lot. So it’s funny for me now to think of us as a noise-rock band because I don’t really listen to much of that music anymore, although I still have a lot of love for it.
Your album is, in many ways, a gargantuan record exploring a lot of ground. How did you get from the inception of the project to where you are now?
At the point we started Thank, three of us were playing in a straight-up Jesus Lizard rip-off band. When that fell apart, we wanted to do something a bit more ambitious that had its own identity, rather than just trying to emulate.
It’s strange because when we started Thank I was dead set on a full-length album being our first release, but nothing works out how you expect. It’s funny to me that it’s actually taken six years for us to get to our first full-length album, but I’m glad we’ve gotten to this point. The scope of what we’re doing is much broader than what we were doing in the beginning.
Even though you said you don’t really listen to noise-rock I’d say compared to your first two EPs, Thoughtless Cruelty seems even further removed from the realm of conventional pop writing. Was that a deliberate step you took or simply a reflection of where the world is right now?
I think I definitely became conscious of the fact that the majority of Thank songs have been verse-chorus-verse-chorus. There’s an element of wanting to play with the formula, and honestly, the biggest influence on the way we’ve changed up our structures has probably been Mitski, which is perhaps unexpected.
I got really into that album Be The Cowboy, probably a year after everyone else was obsessed with it. I would describe the songwriting on that album as sort of “Spartan”? All the songs go on for exactly as long as they need to, and no longer. It’s got all the bits it needs and all the fat has been trimmed. None of the songs on that album go beyond three minutes. I was really into the idea of boiling down songs to their most essential parts, for example, ‘Good Boy’ was much longer originally. As it is now, it doesn’t even really have a chorus. Taking things away rather than adding is always a good approach when you’re struggling with a song, and Be The Cowboy really cemented that mindset for me. Mitski was a surprisingly big influence on the album, like half the songs were heavily influenced by Mitski.
Lyrically and musically the album is a lot to take in and digest. From the sparse post-punk of ‘Paris Syndrome’ to the all-out beatdown of ‘A Social Contract’ you really flex your creative muscles. Was there a unifying vision with this project? How did you end up with the final product that you did?
There is a through-line, but it’s more lyrical and conceptual than musical. When we were leading up to the recording I had a document that had all the lyrics for the album and I was going through and editing the lyrics as one piece of work rather than ‘here’s this song’. They all have their own identity but I was seeing them as one entity and trying to find ways of linking them.
As for the differences, though, I think we’ve always been scared of doing anything that’s too “rock”. I think on our second EP, Please, you can really hear that we’re reluctant to rock out too hard. I think you can tell we’re being a bit sheepish, so to me, all four songs ended up serving the same purpose. I think going back to our first EP, Sexghost Hellscape, we thought we had a coherent sound at the time, but it was actually all over the place. I really wanted to go back to that chaotic approach.
We’ve lost that fear of being a rock band; songs like ‘A Social Contract’ and ‘Paris Syndrome’ are absolutely rock songs, but we’ve written enough weird songs at this point that I don’t think we need to prove our experimental credentials. There’s a lot of weird stuff in there, but it’s buried.
It’s interesting that you mention the lyrical cohesion because, for me, the most fascinating part of Thank is the contrast between absurdist and gritty lyrical content. Can you walk us through the headspace in which you write? Are you playing a character or is Thank a true reflection of you?
It’s an exaggerated version of me, a profoundly depressed character suffering from chronic Twitter-brain. It’s music that’s very internet-poisoned. This band has the most personal lyrics I’ve written for any project. When we were recording the first EP I had a bit of a panic that it was too direct, and people would know too much about my life. The rest of the band were like “what are you on about, we do not know what this means”. To me, it has always been clear and direct, but I’ve come to realise that from an outside perspective it’s not. Although there’s nothing in there that’s pure fiction.
Your lyrics also tread the line between blatant shitposting and existential dread. Is there a balance you try to strike between humour and horror?
I think the two go hand in hand for me. When I’m feeling very depressed, the way I deal with that is humour. That’s just a very natural thing for me. The cosmic horror of the cruelty of the universe combined with absurd toilet humour is just my natural mode of operation. I try to keep in mind that the opening line of a song should be really funny even if it is a bleak song. It’s good to come out of the gate with a punchline.
Many of your lyrics on this album take broad shots at the state of British politics, but interestingly you speak too about how those political cultures intersect with DIY spaces. Can you speak a bit on the relationship between Thank and DIY spaces?
The original Thank lineup was formed via CHUNK, a former DIY rehearsal space in Leeds. The connections we’ve made subsequently have come about through similar DIY spaces, although not necessarily completely divorced from larger institutions. When I met Theo, (Thank’s resident noise and synth player) I was doing my Masters degree, and he was on the committee for the record library in the University of Leeds Student Union. The library is obviously a part of the university, but the way it’s run is very in line with DIY principles. He was just making harsh noise in his own time, not really showing it to anyone and I got chatting to him about it. He sent me a Bandcamp link that already had about 40 albums on there that he was just making for his own amusement.
Steve, our current drummer, was also a really integral part of CHUNK. So many of our gigs have been there. So much of the existence of this band has been rehearsing in CHUNK, and then dragging our gear into the next room and gigging in CHUNK.
A lot of what informed this album was actually the loss of CHUNK as a space, and reconfiguring from that as a band. A lot of this album was written in the studio rather than the practice space, because for a long while we didn’t really have a place to practice. Some of the sequenced, programmed elements are there by necessity rather than by choice. That space was a big part of who we were, and now even the loss of that space has become a big part of who we are.
On this album, you allude to the open secret that DIY spaces are often not nearly as progressive as they appear to be. What do you think needs to change before DIY spaces truly reflect the values they claim to be based around?
I don’t often like being a mouthpiece for these sorts of things, because although I’m not necessarily Mr Vanilla Privilege, I am still a lot more privileged than a lot of people in those spaces. I have actively taken on that role as a spokesperson in the past, and I don’t know how I feel about it in retrospect. In general, I would like to think I have had a positive impact on Leeds DIY, in terms of encouraging people to book lineups that aren’t just bands of white men, for example. But there’s still work to be done in order to foster a more inclusive, less intimidating environment for a wider variety of people at DIY shows.
I’m almost thirty and I’ve been involved in the DIY scene since I was 14, and in Leeds specifically since I was 19 or 20, so it’s nice to see that there’s new people carrying the torch now that me and my contemporaries have other bits of life keeping us from being as active as we’d like. There’s a lot of enthusiastic people coming up in the DIY scene who are maybe five or more years younger than me. I am wary, though, that younger bands are having to learn the same lessons we learned, and are having to have the same conversations we had to have. I’m not saying Leeds has become an unwelcoming scene now, but there’s a risk of people thinking “We won, we succeeded, we’re past all that now”.
There’s a risk of complacency.
My concern is that it’s easy to think those battles have already been fought, and don’t need to be fought anymore. Plus there’s always that persistent thing of people trying to make DIY punk spaces apolitical; people saying it shouldn’t be political, it should just be fun. But DIY spaces are inherently a political space for so many different reasons. You’re operating outside the typical structures live music might operate in, and even in the room there’s political dynamics playing out. Even where people feel comfortable standing at a gig has a political dimension to it. It’s stuff worth keeping in mind. Let’s not rest on our laurels, those battles are still going on and we need to be vigilant in keeping punk welcoming.
Something you touched on is what makes the Leeds music scene what it is. How would you introduce the Leeds DIY scene to someone new to it? Does it feel distinct from other scenes?
Covid has thrown it all into flux, but I think the Leeds music scene has always had more of a sense of community than a lot of other cities I’ve visited within the UK. In some cities, from an outside perspective, it feels like there’s a scene but the bands aren’t mates with each other! They’re in competition with each other. That’s not what I’m in it for, I want to make connections with good, friendly people who are interested in similar things to what I’m interested in.
Just bringing the questions back to you and the band, can you tell us what’s next for Thank? Have you started on your sophomore release or is this a chance for a bit of a breather?
I would have liked to have been a bit further with writing album two, but we had to slow down a bit because we changed drummers. We’ve been spending time getting Steve up to speed. That said, I think I’ve written four songs for it, and it’s going to be good.
To close, is there anything you’d like to shout out? Any sagely advice or new interests worth sharing?
I don’t have any words of wisdom but there’s two things I’ve been enjoying lately. The first is The Mountain Goats album Goths. I’m not into The Mountain Goats in general, but that album is really good. In particular ‘Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back To Leeds’ is a notably good bit of music. I think I’ve been listening to that album at least once a day for the past two weeks. I’ve also been watching lots of Seinfeld. I know that’s not very interesting, everyone knows Seinfeld but, turns out, it’s very funny. Not a fan of Jerry Seinfeld as a guy, and he’s arguably the worst character on it, but George Costanza has some incredible drip. Particularly in the first season, he’s a very well-dressed man. That’s all really, I don’t have anything smart to share.
Words: Varun Govil // Photos: Sam Joyce
‘Thoughtless Cruelty’ is out now via Box Records/Exploding In Sound. You can stream and purchase the album via Bandcamp.