The Secret History Of The Thrills
From Foxrock via Big Sur to Top Of The Pops - The inside story of the boys of summer as told by Eamon Sweeney.
Eamon Sweeney, 25 Aug 2003
Conor Deasy and Daniel Ryan grew up next door to each other in Foxrock, Co. Dublin. The musically-obsessed neighbours started jamming with classical guitars and alarm clocks, before graduating to basic electric guitars. In December 1993, Conor was given a phaser pedal for Christmas.
A few days after Christmas, in Dublin’s Shed Studios, they recorded a track called ‘Bells’ which, according to Daniel, was absolutely dreadful. “The track almost entirely consisted of guitars played through a phaser pedal and you couldn’t hear the vocals,” he remembers. “We asked the guy in the studio what he thought of it and he said it was good. He had to be lying.”
Daniel and Conor jammed with another guitarist and keyboard player and called themselves The Legal Eagles. Conor met Ben Carrigan at school (Gonzaga College in Ranelagh) and on hearing that he was a drummer and the vital missing link, he was immediately invited into the fold. Also at this time Daniel was told by Padraig McMahon’s sister that he really wanted to be in a band, so he was drafted in on bass.
The fledgling band played their first gigs in Slattery’s of Capel Street and the Blue Room. They also managed to score a support slot to Rob Strong (father of Commitments star Andrew strong) in the Kingston Hotel in Dun Laoghaire. Around this time Kevin Horan entered the fray, and the first incarnation of The Thrills you know and love today was born.
When they were around 17, and using the name Freelance they entered a Bank of Ireland Young Band Competition, which ran on several consecutive Saturdays in the Bank of Ireland Arts Centre.
“When it came to the judging at the end, the band we thought were the best were this band Freelance,” Dave Fanning recalls. “There were three prizes – best song, best band and best something else. We gave best song and the other one to Freelance, and because we gave them those two, the best overall prize went to this other band Shallow from Lucan. It’s the same thing with any band who goes on to become big. There is always another band who is at least as good as them.”
After finishing school, the boys played a gig in the now deceased Funnel venue on the quays to five people. After another disastrous gig in Barney Murphy’s, a disillusioned Freelance chose to retreat to the bedroom and try and dream it all up again. They believed that for the time being, playing gigs was a complete waste of time. In hindsight, this can now be perceived as a fairly important turning point for the band, accounting at least in part for their virtual absence from the Dublin live scene in subsequent years. It became about nailing the song, not getting the gig.
The Thrills’ epiphany came in the summer of 1999, when they spent a summer in San Diego. As soon as they came home, the rejuvenated outfit demoed completely new songs as The Cheating Housewives. Just after Christmas 2000, they completed it and sent it Philip Cartin of Supremo Records, who signed them. As Conor and Daniel state in the interview with Olaf, it didn’t quite work out. Only one Cheating Housewives gig ever happened in the Isacc Butt and nothing got released. They were given the option of leaving the label, or as Daniel more bluntly puts it, they were dropped.
A disillusioned and dejected band sat around the Central Hotel on Exchequer Street, asking each other if it was worth it anymore. Close to packing in, they resolved to go for it and launched into five or six days of rehearsing and writing a week. Slowly but surely things began to gather some kind of momentum.
During a trip to San Francisco, they finally decided on the name The Thrills. Back home they went into Sun Studios in Temple Bar to record two tracks, ‘Old Friends, New Lovers’ and ‘Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far)’. In August, they received a call from Alan Culivan who was working for Lakota Records at the time. At the end of October they recorded a Fanning Session which included ‘Plans’ (secret track on So Much for the City), ‘No One Likes to be Upstaged (b-side of ‘One Horse Town’), ‘Car Crash’ (‘Santa Cruz’ EP) and ‘Don’t Play it Cool’. They also played their first gig as The Thrills at the Temple Bar Music Centre supporting Turn. Another support in Whelan’s followed. And around this time, Alan Culivan left Lakota and decided to give it his all as The Thrills’ manager.
A second demo consisting of the by now ubiquitous singles ‘Big Sur’ and ‘One Horse Town’ was recorded by Marc Carolan. “We did it in two overnight sessions in Apollo, which were mad in how well they went,” Marc recalls. “The lads went out for a while for a walk and when they came back I’d got it done and it was smiles all round. It was probably the easiest recording session I’d ever done with a minimum of people killing each other.”
Johnny Davis of Bright Star Recordings and BMG Publishing took a shine to this demo and agreed to get involved with the band. A copy was also sent to James Endeacott, A+R man for Rough Trade Records. Endeacott flew over for a showcase in the Temple Bar Music Centre. Impressed with what he saw, he brought Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis over for the next showcase. Rough Trade agreed to give the band money to record a demo and draft a contract, but by now a virtual A+R feeding frenzy was in full flight.
The next Music Centre showcase was alleged to have been attended by over thirty A+R men and record personnel. Marc Carolan also recorded the Rough Trade demo, which included ‘Old Friends, New Lovers’ and ‘Your Love is Like Las Vegas’, inducing even more Thrills industry fervour. In September 2002, Nick Burgess signed them to Virgin.
It is probably only at this point that most readers first heard of The Thrills. The NME Brats Tour and the release of a limited edition run of ‘Santa Cruz (You’re Not that Far)’ induced a flurry of publicity, especially in the UK. When ‘One Horse Town’ went in at number 18 in the UK Top 40 and they played on Top of the Pops, you could tell that The Thrills would crossover to a certain degree. But nobody could have predicted what was to come.
‘Big Sur’ broke the UK Top 10, leading the charge for the album release. At the time of writing, So Much for the City is enjoying its sixth week on top of the Irish charts, having already gone double platinum and sold in excess of 30,000 copies. No other artist has topped the album charts for longer in 2003 or boasted higher first week sales.
“There are lots sociological things you could read into this,” opines Johnny Davis. “In a way they represent the new breed of Irish youth. It’s almost like someone like Damien Duff – not arrogant, not brash, but aware of their worth and their value in the market place, so they work very hard at it, train very hard at it and are prepared to do whatever needs to be done to make it work. I think The Thrills are a real parallel to that.”