By Geoffrey Rowlands
You may be unfamiliar with English alternative rock quintet Nothing But Thieves. But if you are a fan of computer sports games and have played “Madden NFL 16,” “FIFA 16” or “NHL 17” and “NHL 18,” it is probable that you’ve heard some of their music.
The band’s work has also been used on television, in films and to soundtrack adverts. They were only too pleased to have the exposure.
“We’d like to become the biggest band in the world,” smiled lead singer and guitarist Conor Mason. “But we were just five mates from Southend trying to make a living from our music. If someone wanted to use our songs in a game or on TV, there was a good chance they would be heard by people who had never previously heard any of our stuff. If they liked what they heard, we hoped they’d want to hear more.”
Formed in 2012, a packed concert schedule saw Nothing But Thieves garner the kind of critical acclaim which attracted the interest of major labels. They signed with RCA Records in 2014 and embarked on a number of high profile tours supporting artists such as Arcade Fire, George Ezra, Twenty One Pilots and Muse. This was in addition to their own headlining tours.
“That’s why it took so long to record our debut album,” stated guitarist and keyboardist Dominic Craik. “We accepted every offer because we wanted as many people as possible to hear us. It was also amazing to be playing all over the world. We have friends in bands who do okay in Britain, maybe even Europe, but they don’t tour places like America or Asia.”
All their hard work certainly paid off. The band’s 2015 self-titled debut album peaked at number seven in the UK. and achieved solid chart positions across much of the world.
“It was actually number one on the vinyl charts in Britain,” recalled guitarist Joe Langridge-Brown. “We’d previously released some of the songs on three EPs but all the touring did the trick of fans wanting recorded versions of our other songs.”
Nothing But Thieves built on this success with even more touring. They had spent two and a half years almost continuously on the road before the band members realised a break was desperately needed.
“The tours were really successful,” said drummer James Price. “The fan response never even plateaued. We just kept building our fan base. But it began to take a toll. Joe actually thinks it nearly broke us. We’d toured too much and reached a point where we knew we had to stop.”
“We still wanted to play every gig we were offered,” added bassist Phil Blake. “It was really hard to stop. But we thought we might die if we kept touring so we realised we had to take a break.”
They might have called a temporary halt to their touring but the band had a second album to record.
“We wrote the songs on our first album when we were about 18 or 19,” Conor stated. “We were just finding our feet as writers. That’s why the songs sound all over the place.
“The songs on our new album are a real snapshot of nine months to a year of us getting better both as songwriters and as a band. They relate to what we were going through on our tours, what we were experiencing and what we were seeing.”
The resulting album, Broken Machine, has confirmed the band’s growing popularity. Positive reviews have been followed by sales figures which saw the LP debut at number two in Britain.
“Our first album has sold over 250,000 copies and had about 180 million track streams,” Joe remarked. “We hope to pass those numbers with Broken Machine.
The tracks are more structured. We think the new album is like the first album, only better.
“Perhaps the one major difference is in ourselves. The earlier songs were written before we’d have the chance to develop as adults. This time, we’re still the same people as when we started writing the album. The songs still represent us, which is nice.”
It would be easy to walk past Sam Smith without recognising him. The multiple Grammy Award-winning English singer and songwriter is almost a shadow of his former self having shed a good deal of weight. Unlike certain opera stars, the slimline Sam found there has been no adverse effect on his voice. Indeed, he says his vocal ability is the best it has ever been.
This is certainly apparent on his smash hit new single, Too Good At Goodbyes, which shot straight to number one on the UK chart. The song also made strong world-wide debuts topping the charts in Australia and New Zealand and hitting number five on the Billboard Hot 100.
The lead single from Sam’s forthcoming sophomore album, it is a record which was almost never made. The songs on his 2014 debut album, In The Lonely Hour, were inspired by heartbreak. Indeed, at the Grammy Awards ceremony, Sam thanked the person who broke his heart because this experience effectively won him his Grammys.
Sam then announced his intention to take a break from music in a bid to find true love. He believed this objective had been achieved. But he was dumped again and felt so upset that he didn’t want to ever again sing or write.
“Writing songs about this kind of thing is normally like therapy for me. But I couldn’t write for months. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was just too sad. The people around me ended up pretty much forcing me to get back into the studio.”
It was the enormous success of Ed Sheeran which helped to revitalise Sam.
“Seeing him this past year has been inspirational. It made me hungry. I pushed myself to write quality songs.”
Despite the events in his own life, Sam decided to broaden his horizon for the songs on his new album.
“Too Good At Goodbyes is one of only three or four songs which are specifically about me. I’ve challenged myself to write about the issues other people have rather than just my own.”
A title and release date has yet to be announced for Sam’s second album. The video for Too Good At Goodbyes is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_ub7Etch2U.
It was 2014 when English singer and songwriter Jessie J released her third album, Sweet Talker. It was a world-wide hit peaking at number five in Britain and number ten on the Billboard 200. Lead single, Bang Bang, which also featured Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, went top ten in 14 countries and became Jessie’s third UK chart-topper.
Little has been heard from her since then. She spent two years as a judge on Australian television’s version of The Voice but has largely kept out of the spotlight.
Only now, as she begins her comeback to the music scene, has Jessie at least partly explained her reclusiveness. She was grief-stricken after losing her much loved grandparents and has also endured an illness of which Jessie has chosen not to reveal any details.
Whatever her health issue may have been, it is the latest in a lengthy line of afflictions which have struck Jessie. She was in and out of hospital as a child and suffered a stroke at 17 caused by the Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome inherited from her father. She has also undergone surgery for a rare heart condition and had a badly broken ankle.
Yet Jessie does not want anyone to feel sorry for her. Indeed, she says she may not have become Jessie J had it not been for her health problems. It was being ill for so much of the time which prompted her to write songs rather than follow more athletic pursuits.
Her fourth album, R.O.S.E., is named in honour of her mother. Jessie observes that people give roses or a single rose as a gift with so many different feelings. She says the album is a gift to her fans.
The complete bouquet will probably not be issued until early next year. But one rose is available now with the release of official lead single, Think About That. Co-written with songwriter and producer Darhyl Camper, the black and white accompanying
video can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Me72dNRpjcU
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