What happens after your opinion-dividing indie band fades away and you find yourself back where you started? For Thrills’ sticksman Ben Carrigan the answer is clear: you reinvent yourself as a sensitive songwriter with aspirations to write for the screen.
“It’s like a past life now, the whole Thrills thing, to be honest,” admits Ben Carrigan, with a relaxed shrug. “Which is kind of nice because it’s good to always feel like you’re moving forward as opposed to looking back and wondering what might have been.”
Now aged 32, the Dublin-born percussionist – also an accomplished jazz musician and orchestral composer – has been playing with The Thrills since the tender age of 15. Although the band haven’t officially disbanded, they’ve been on hiatus for the last three years.
“We haven’t done anything since a tour of Australia in May 2008,” he explains. “We all came back from that completely tired because we’d just been on the road for so long. When we got home, certainly from my own perspective, so many lives had changed – you know, people had started getting married and having kids, stuff like that – it felt like we’d been off in Never Never Land or something. So we needed some time to ground ourselves.”
He attributes The Thrills’ massive initial success with their 2003 debut, So Much For The City, to the fact that they were the very first signing of a new Virgin A&R team.
“We were their first signing so we got all the support that any band could have wanted for the first album.”
Swings and roundabouts. By the time their third record, 2007’s Teenager, was released, that A&R team had changed again and the band fell victim to the new crew’s utter disinterest in promoting their predecessor’s signings (“I think they were more interested in The Kooks!”).
Carrigan had been writing his own material for many years, but it’s only in recent times that he’s been able to record anything. The eight songs on his just-released debut solo album, The Greatest Narrators, were written between 2007 and 2010. With influences ranging from Brad Mehldau and Carole King to Yann Tiersen and Scott Walker, it’s light years away from the sundrenched pop of The Thrills. Instead, with strong melodies and soaring string and brass arrangements, a strong classical cinematic influence shines through.
“The songs are very reflective, but a lot of them were written during the time I was playing with The Thrills. So I just sort of had them sitting on the back-burner. In many ways, I didn’t write the album as an album. It’s like having loads of papers on your desk. You clear them up because you want to move on. I wanted to finish these songs and arrange them and just kind of get them off the back-burner so I could start afresh.
“So I finished the songs and I didn’t really want to do an album,” he continues. “It’s not my comfort zone being the leader of a group. I was going to use them as a calling card to help me get work in film and TV. But when it was all recorded, I realised it worked quite nicely in sequence. So releasing it was an afterthought.”
Having self-released The Greatest Narrators on his own Small Town label, Carrigan’s now gearing up for a short promotional tour. While fully confident in his songs, he admits that being a frontman isn’t something that comes naturally to him.
“I actually enjoyed being the drummer because I could sit back and enjoy the moment rather than being in the firing line at the front,” he laughs. “It was nice to be a part of it and play the songs and get the feedback or whatever, but I think the front three guys certainly felt the pressure more, whereas myself and the keyboardist just kept our heads down. The bigger gigs we did, I’d just get more cymbals to hide behind.
“Which is kind of funny now that I’ve decided to do my own record. I didn’t ever think I’d do that. But it’s really more a thing of standing up behind the record. I’m trying to help the record have its little life rather than fulfilling my own ambitions to be a solo artist, if that makes sense. It’s like doing a favour for an old family friend.”
The Greatest Narrators is out now on Small Town Records. Visit www.bencarriagn.com.