“Music for outsiders. Or I should say pop music for outsiders.”, is the way that Andy Grier of Thieves Like Us succinctly describes the group’s musical universe, a sound which refuses to slot neatly into any particular style.
Hailing from the US, Andy (vocals) met Swedes Björn Berglund (keyboards) and Pontus Berghe (drums) while living in Berlin. As a counter to the ubiquitous electro / techno scene, they started deejaying together, spinning a cross-over mix of tracks (to the befuddlement of Berliners) from Krautrock, Italo Disco to French filter house. They then formed Thieves Like Us and released their critically successful debut Play Music. This unconventional electro-pop soundtrack is often glacial and minimal, but tracks nonetheless resonate with a certain empathetic intimacy, side stepping becoming uninviting or aloof. With their latest EP Really Like to See You Again and work underway on their next long player, Thieves Like Us continue to develop their modern sound.
Andy talks to us about working together across cities, dissatisfaction with cultural harmonization, the group’s sour relationship with the Kitsuné label, musical innovators and what we can expect the group to deliver next.
All three of you subsequently moved to Paris -- what was behind the move? What do you make of Paris in terms of sparking / fostering creativity, particularly as compared to Berlin and NYC? I think Paris is pretty bad for actually creating something. The atmosphere was inspiring -- the buildings and streets -- the Parisian people and such. But, to find time and space to actually make music there was pretty difficult. It is too expensive. New York and London are equally bad.
With ‘Globalism’ and all, cities and youth culture are becoming the same everywhere. Same clothes. Same parties (thank you very much Vice Magazine and American Apparel). I think some slower rustic town like Porto or Val Paraiso in Chile would be better for us to record in. I want to make a record in Antarctica, but I think the two Swedes would freeze to death. So, Berlin is better somehow, for slowing down and taking time to make something.
You have all since moved to separate spots. How does this affect working on new material? We recorded our new record, Again and Again in Paris. So with that being finished, we can live in different cities again (for a little while). We try to record new ideas independently and then work them out into songs when we meet up.
How did you come together with the label Kitsuné? Kitsuné . . . mmm. They suck actually. They have some say for hyping bands. But then they are incapable of releasing full lengths. They f**ked around a lot with us . . . promised us a lot. [They] [m]ade us wait one year and didn’t release our record . . . Gildas [Kitsuné co-founder] . . . makes the label for fashion purposes. Not music. C'mon, they sell blue jeans for 300 euros and sweaters for 800 euros . . . think about it. In December, when we released our record Play Music on a small independent (Sea You Records), he tried to sue us and block its release, claiming that he owned the masters. . . No, we do not share their beliefs or aesthetics. We would like to expose the company as being -- soulless!
The debut album Play Music received a lot of (well-deserved) critical attention, and particularly the brilliant track "Drugs In My Body". Could you tell us how the latest EP Really Like to See You Again follows from and departs from the debut release? Well. We were still learning how to produce when we made Play Music. “Drugs In My Body” was recorded in our living room in one evening. There is kind of a dislocation in Play Music. Some songs we began in 2005 but did not finish until 2007. Really Like To See You Again is kind of a preview to our next album. I think it is more solid.
When can we expect the next long player? Any surprises in store? It has lots of backing vocals. And it is more organic. Lots of guitar. I think it is more catchy than the last record. It is still pretty psychedelic in that space rock kind of way.
Could you tell us a bit about the imagery you gravitate to for you videos (for example, the video for "Program Of The First Part" features clips from the classic (TRON)? Well, I saw a lot of these films late at night on television when I was a child. The film stock and lighting maybe reminds me of my childhood. There is a purity to these films that is missing in new cinema I think. The characters are mostly outsiders / people running away. We are going to try to produce some videos for the new record. Hopefully they will turn out good too.
Who do you see as being particularly innovative in music right now? Mikey Bones. He has got a story to tell. Nobody is really telling stories anymore.
If you close your eyes, where do you imagine your tracks being played? I think it is played in a variety of settings to a variety of people. Morning, day and night. At home or in the car. Probably by some confused people.
What's on your hi-fi at the moment? Scott Walker, “Best Of Both Worlds” (from Scott 2, 1968) Sade, “Why Can't We Live Together” (from Diamond Life, 1984) Sam Cooke, “Feel It” (from Live At The Harlem Club, 1963) Pat Metheny “Phase Dance” (from The White Album, 1978) Michael Nyman, “Fish Beach” (from Drowning By Numbers, 1988)