Fresh from releasing their debut album, Cork noisemakers Time Is A Thief are ready to make their mark. Bassist Michael Murphy talks studio, stage and why nu-metal wasn’t so bad after all.
For most artists, a debut album is as much a statement of intent as a collection of their best and brightest work to date. In the case of Cork foursome Time Is A Thief, their first full-length We’re Not Strangers is all that and more. Its very title is a declaration of defiance, a reminder that this outfit have grafted for years in a bid to break through, playing a million empty shows to only family and friends. Their frustration suits them. We’re Not Strangers is an uncompromising, balls-to-the-wall rock record that grabs the listener from moment one and refuses to let go until the very end. While the band often draw comparisons to the likes of Biffy Clyro and Twin Atlantic, there’s an unmistakable air of – whisper it – nu-metal to their up-tempo style. Fair?
“It’s interesting you mention nu-metal because we’re actually quite fond of it!” laughs bassist and sometime backing vocalist Michael ‘Murf’ Murphy. “Sure, some terrible bands came through during that era, but if you look at the likes of Wes Borland in Limp Bizkit, some of his riffs are absolutely monster. There are great musicians in that band but they’re very under-appreciated because people look back and they just see Fred Durst dancing around with the red hat which is, admittedly, horrible!”
The production on We’re Not Strangers adds to that early-’00s feel, with fellow Cork native Ciaran O’Shea of Cyclefly fame behind the desk lending a clear, crisp sound to proceedings that, while certainly commercial, retain a hard edge. That’s not to suggest that Time Is A Thief are generic noisemakers with a glossy finish. While they’ve had to shake off the ‘metal’ tag in their short career thus far (having a vocalist who enjoys a bit of a screaming session will tend to put you in that bracket), there’s a strong pop sensibility at play across the album’s 35-ish minutes, with melody taking priority over aggression. And, perhaps surprisingly given today’s musical climate, there’s not a synth-related effect to be found.
“That was a conscious decision,” notes Murphy. “We stayed true to ourselves. Before we formed Time Is A Thief, we used to be in a Rage Against The Machine tribute band and what I loved about them was that they printed, ‘All sounds made by guitar, drums, bass and vocals’ on the back of their records. It’s something we really took to heart early on and when it came time to do our own album we felt that there was no point putting synths and crazy stuff in just for the sake of it, even though the temptation was there. We’re four musicians, we play four instruments – let’s just have that on the record. We know our style of music is a little bit out of place in Ireland and we knew that making this was going to be an uphill battle, but we didn’t strip stuff back to make it a little softer so it might get a wider audience.”
Realistic, but not bitter about their lot, Time Is A Thief appreciate that they’re something of a square peg in the round hole that is the current Irish music scene. Is there something of an axe to grind?
“I’ve always said that unless you look like Damien Dempsey or sound like Paddy Casey then you’re not really going anywhere in this country,” nods Murphy. “I hope things are changing. There is so much music in Ireland and the range of styles is incredible, but the problem is that only a certain style rises to the top, a certain niche. To the average listener, once they hear Adam (Carroll, vocals) screaming, they probably think that we’re a dirty metal band, so that’s another thing we have to get over.”
Interestingly, it’s Carroll’s vocals that arguably benefitted the most from the album’s production, with the frontman’s presence intensely front and centre throughout, but never once overbearing. Murphy is quick to praise O’Shea’s influence, the producer working closely with Carroll on every aspect of his voice, perfectly tuning a versatile instrument and reining things in where appropriate. That approach is mirrored in the overall sound, with TIAT keen not to overload things, mindful of recreating as much as possible in a live setting.
“Once people hear you, they expect a certain thing when they come to see you live, so we try to keep things simple, if we can,” says Murphy. “I’ve had the same bass guitar for years now, a Fender Jazz. It’s my trusty go-to instrument and it cost me an arm and a leg, as most things do. I run it through an EBS Fafner head and I use a couple of effects pedals, one for distortion and a Dunlop CryBaby Wah. As you might expect, we use delay and distortion but we don’t like to go effects-mad because you can run sounds through x amount of pedals and they’re still going to end up sucking away the actual tone of your guitar, so we try to keep it as slim as possible. You see bands like And So I Watch You From Afar and Adebisi Shank dancing around on one foot switching pedals while playing, and while they might be damn good at it, it’s not really for us!”
We’re Not Strangers is out now.