- 24 Mar 22
Finally set to release their hotly awaited debut Delusions Of Grandeur, Dublin noise-rock merchants THUMPER talk chaotic live shows, overcoming adversity, and their dream bands to support. Oh, and hailing ABBA. Photography: Miguel Ruiz.
I meet THUMPER at Yellow Door Music Studios in Dublin’s Ossory Industrial Estate, where a no-frills photoshoot is taking place for Hot Press. A maze of corridors, the recording space has albums from the likes of Pillow Queens, Gilla Band and Fontaines D.C. on the hallowed walls.
This afternoon, the THUMPER crew are notably laidback. The noise-rock sextet have earned their place in the spotlight, but they don’t seem to feel the need to make a fuss about it. It speaks to their overall philosophy as a band who’ve been rising steadily for a number of years.
There are instruments everywhere you look. After a quick few clicks of photographer Miguel Ruiz’s camera, frontman Oisín Leahy-Furlong and guitarist Alan Dooley hang around for a chat. It’s been a busy week building up towards the release of their long-awaited debut album, Delusions Of Grandeur.
“We’ve been making this record for years,” Oisín tells me honestly. “Delusions Of Grandeur was written and conceived as a whole project, even though we mightn’t have been conscious of that at the time. There was sort of a thread starting to form through the tracks. The first one to be recorded was just under three years ago, but the writing process happened in the three years leading up to that.
That’s six years in the making.
“Some of them are even older. We ended up recording way more songs than we needed, so we had to stop and assess what to keep for this record.”
Given the long gestation period, does Oisín still identify with the meaning behind songs like ‘Ad Nauseum’, ‘Topher Grace’ and ‘The Loser’?
“Of course, but that’s the case for most songs,” he nods. “They’re only ever an artefact of what you felt at that time, whether that’s the day, week or year. It is funny talking about them after the fact, because more often than not, you’re a different person by the time someone else is listening.”
‘Ad Nauseam’ is a cautionary tale about getting too close to forces that could eat you alive. ‘Overbite’, meanwhile, ebbs and flows in the band’s signature style, shifting from fuzzed-up soundscapes to mellower vibes. Full of nightmarish imagery alluding to the failure of a relationship, the track is the first part of a sprawling, 20-minute psych trilogy that concludes the LP, with ‘The Ghost’ and ‘Down In Heaven’ completing the final act.
“My favourite track is ‘Fear Of Art’, which is coming out soon as a single,” Alan says. “Technically, it’s the oldest song: we’ve had a very emotional journey with it. It’s one of our hardest tracks to play live, but also the most fun experience if you get it right. That being said, I love the lyrics Oisín wrote for ‘Overbite’. They’re just really pretty.”
“That was an interesting one,” Leahy-Furlong interjects, “because Alan sent me the music, and then I had to decipher the words, which is the first time we’ve tried that.”
“But I can’t write lyrics!” Alan concedes with a smile.
“He was just mumbling shit into a microphone, like a vague melody,” Oisín continues. “Some of the finished lyrics are what I thought he was saying. It was kind of automatic writing. Is that what they call it? You just write and don’t think about it that much.”
AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS
According to the press release, Delusions Of Grandeur refers to “a struggle of self image, internal and external, and the existential maintenance that all of this implies”.
“We came up with the title in the middle of it all,” explains Oisín. “It’s in reference to some of the miracle themes, but it’s also about the fact that years ago, the project started as me in a room making shit songs, recording them badly and releasing them. Fast forward a few years, and it’s a six-piece band with a double album as our first LP. Delusions Of Grandeur is a nod to that.
“It’s also a get-out-of-jail-free card, because we could be self-indulgent in every aspect of it. When I’m talking about ego on the album, I mean subverting the complete lack of self-esteem with something completely over-the-top. It’s a mask.
“Most of the songs were written one bit at a time,” he continues. “It’s only through doing press and chatting about it that I’ve had to seriously think about the themes of the record. One person asked whether it was my goal to make an album about the seven deadly sins, like greed, fear, lust. Maybe it is!”
There are times when you only fully understand a piece of art after it’s made.
“The interesting thing about music and songwriting,” Oisín elaborates, “is that, just because that wasn’t what I intended, doesn’t mean that’s not the truth. Someone else’s interpretation of our work is just as valid as ours, because this combination of meticulously planning, but also trusting the process, is never more true than when you’re writing a song. It’s preparation meets some sort of mystical element, where you don’t really have control over it. You just have to be prepared for it when it happens.”
When the original version of ‘Ad Nauseam’ arrived in early 2020, THUMPER embarked on an extensive European tour. As it started to impact on Spotify, Apple Music and BBC6, the band were set for a run of festival appearances in Iceland, North America and beyond. This breakneck schedule was abruptly truncated by Covid-19. Having spent the past 12 months holed up in their home studio, THUMPER are now hoping to take up where they left off.
“Covid had a huge effect on us as a band,” Oisín admits. “It’s almost impossible to talk about the story of this album without talking about it. Lockdown really is a huge backdrop to getting it over the line. We’d been in total isolation for two years. There were 100% times where I genuinely didn’t know whether the band would survive. Music in terms of what I did for a living – and what the band did – wasn’t even a concept anymore. We couldn’t make the album, couldn’t gig the record; there was no incentive. Every time we tried to organise something, we’d get cancelled or pulled. It was very hard to stay motivated through the pessimism of that era. I had to seriously think about what else I would do.
“The benefit of having a band as big as ours is that, at any given time, if 50% of us are having a complete mental breakdown, there’s another three people who can keep pulling the train. Then we can figure it out by the time we get back. There’s 100% going to be future albums where I’ve gone off and lived in Barbados for a decade!”
What job would he take up if music was no longer an option? Oisín shakes his head. “I’d probably be a binman.”
“They’ve got a good wage, and consistency,” Alan quips.
What would the rest of the group do if Oisín threw in the towel?
“I suppose I’d be a binman with him,” says Dooley, sincerely.
HOW FAR CAN WE GO?
THUMPER formed during Leahy-Furlong’s final six months at music college. Now, a few years on, he has guitarists Dooley and Alex Harvey, bassist Dav Campbell, and drummers Stevie D’Arcy and Benedict Warner-Clayton, by his side.
“Thumper started off as a solo project,” Oisín explains. “It was just me recording shit and putting it on tape. Then we were getting booked for gigs, so we formed the band to bring the songs to life. It really was a slow process, in terms of getting all the people involved and becoming a group. Most of us knew each other from college.”
“We were fans from watching each other play different gigs,” Alan posits. “We always kept an eye out for other musicians. Once bands end or change, you tend to gather each other up. It was that kind of process.”
“My philosophy was to surround myself with people who were much better at playing music than me, and much more handsome,” Oisin quips. “A rising tide lifts all ships, I figured. That way, we’d be the best band in the world.”
Since beginning life as a band playing – their words – “bubblegum psych through a wall of sonic death”, THUMPER have earned praise for their live performances, with some well-known faces appearing at shows (including the frontman of well-known Dublin combo U2).
“Well, people always talk about how ‘crazy’ THUMPER are as a live act,” says Leahy-Furlong. “Over the last few years, we’ve made a concerted effort to try and bottle that feeling and put it into the music, as opposed to making it representative of who we are. There was a time where every gig would end in blowing up amps and smashing things to bits. Not that that never happens anymore, but there was a point where we just culled a load of tracks from our setlist, took lots offline, and decided to take the way people perceived us into our own hands. The main vehicle for that is the music. If people are interested in what we have to say other than that, that’s up to them.
“If you want to know what we’re about, just listen to our record. The big difference with this album, is that we wanted it to be a body of work that can stand on its own two feet.”
THUMPER’s on-stage presence remains undeniably powerful – sometimes too powerful for their own good, as an old Other Voices appearance showed.
“It was the second last one where the whole crowd got up on the stage, and we kept playing one of our longest songs,” Alan recalls. “They ended up cutting the PA on us because they wanted THUMPER to stop, but we kept playing.”
“We had 35 members of the audience on stage with us,” Oisín laughs, “and they were jumping up and down so much – pedals were flying – we had to step off the stage because there was no room. And the stage itself started sinking from the weight of all the people. The guards were called, and the fucking PA was turned off. It was actually one of the best gigs we’ve ever played.”
“I feel like a THUMPER gig that goes off the rails, versus our best performances, are actually the same show,” Dooley adds. “It’s usually the type of gig where we’re on the edge of everything falling to pieces, because of how much we’re getting into it. We’re always on that balance of how amazing this can be, but also how far can we push it to the point of destroying it and ourselves in the process. That’s where the fun is. A lot of THUMPER gigs, you wake up the next day and are like, ‘What the fuck did we just do?’”
THUMPER are often somewhat lazily mentioned in the same breath as the likes of The Murder Capital and Fontaines D.C. Do they feel any need to differentiate themselves from other Dublin rock bands?
“When we started, there was nothing more uncool than being in a guitar band,” Oisín replies. “Now, there’s post-punk bands around, but we don’t even really fit into that category either. We listen to too much Beach Boys.”
“Or ABBA,” Alan grins.
“Or ABBA,” says Oisín. “There’s too much of that in us. You just serve your own band and songs in your own way. Don’t think too much about what other people will feel about it, because doing it for someone else is the death of creativity. That’s not to say I don’t want people to feel some sort of communion when they come to our shows. That’s a really important part of the process that’s been absent from our lives. I just hope they get on board with this new chapter.”
• Delusions Of Grandeur is out now:
Read the full Hot Press verdict here.