- 19 Feb 19
Armed with their sonic wall of death, THUMPER have been causing a right old ruckus in Dublin, and are now looking to conquer the rest of Planet Rock. Their leader Oisin Leahy Furlong talks college days, influences, bodily fluids and iconic friends, The Murder Capital. Photography by Miguel Ruiz.
Those who’ve proclaimed rock ‘n’ roll to be dead - Louis Walsh, Kanye and, curiously, Marilyn Manson among them - will be nonplussed by what’s going on all around Ireland at the moment. From Dublin to Dundalk, Cork and Shannonside, dozens of young bands are burning down the discos again, and making music that says something about their lives.
I’ll stop with the clumsy Smiths analogies, but the grassroots Irish rock scene is as creative, confrontational and, most importantly, fun as it’s been in years. While there are plenty of nods towards Curtis, Cobain and Moore/Gordon – Sonic Youth are definitely this generation’s Velvet Underground in terms of influence outstripping record sales – these are bands with an acute sense of their own time and postal code.
In Dublin, it’s been thrilling to witness the three-way duke out between The Murder Capital, Fontaines D.C. and Thumper to see who can be the most viscerally thrilling both on stage and on vinyl. Yep, having your music on shiny black plastic is back as a badge of honour. While we’re loathe to bandy around the S-word – hands up who remembers the NME’s desperate attempts a decade ago to convince us that Humanzi were spearheading some sort of Behan-esque revival of punk and another journalist’s ‘80s ‘Dubcore’ touting of the capital as the new Seattle – the triumvirate have lots in common including the fact that all of them have members who attended BIMM music college in the Liberties.
“I’ve no problem with people calling it a ‘scene’ because we are mates who hang around, gig and occasionally make music together,” reflects Oisin Leahy Furlong, the Thumper mainman whose mission in life is to “deliver bubblegum psych through a wall of sonic death.” Or so it says on their Spotify page, which in addition to Dublin shows rapidly expanding fanbases in London, Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester.
“You can’t help but stumble into each other in a city this size,” he resumes. “While our reasons for wanting to be in a band are probably quite similar, we all sound completely different. We’ve a song, ‘Waste Fellow’, which is us joking about Thumper appearing on all these lists alongside Junior Brother who’s musically a million miles away from us.”
Junior Brother being Ronan Kealy, a Kerry-born, Dublin-residing alt. folker who’s the missing link between John Martyn and Slint. Quality fare but you’d want to be on serious drugs to mosh to it.
Raised on a healthy diet of “the gnarlier Dylan, Neil Young and Crazy Horse and Leonard Cohen”, Oisín’s rock ‘n’ roll ‘eureka!’ moment was hearing Nirvana for the first time. “There was no going back after that,” he grins. “My next discovery was Sonic Youth whose melodies blew me away. My Bloody Valentine were another revelation in terms of how you combine melody and noise. I started taking guitar lessons – I wanted to be the new John Lennon – and then formed my first band, Nuisance, with two of the only other people I knew who played music. Actually, I also knew Fangclub who went to the same school as me. They’ve been on the go for fucking years! My first ever gig, aged 13 maybe, was them in the soccer club out in Lusk. We did an Irish tour with them in 2017, which felt a bit like a school outing!”
Leahy Furlong – “I know it sounds posh, but really I’m not!” – divested himself of his Nuisance bandmates and morphed into Thumper during his last six months at BIMM. “I was the ‘music guy’ at school, but when I went to college I was surrounded by people who were a lot better than me. Almost everyone was brilliant at their instruments and well versed in songwriting, which I wasn’t at first. The original Thumper stuff was me with a microphone and a guitar recording very badly onto a laptop. It was lo-fi through necessity, though, rather than design.”
Those solitary lo-fi days are long gone with Thumper now a twelve-legged beast of a band capable of fulfilling their leader’s sonic wall of death pledge. “I always joke, ‘I’ve had a bad day, I’ll just add a guitarist to the line-up’. We’ve got three guitar-players and two drummers. What that actually lets you do is play less as opposed to more. It’s not all three of us hammering away on power chords for ten minutes. It allows more space. We approach things in a very kind of stereo way live.”
Somebody made the interesting observation that it’s mainly serious boys at Murder Capital gigs and really cool girls at Thumper’s. “I’m glad you said that, not me!” he grins again. “We’re shit at being moody. There are actually photographs of us smiling, which I’m sure has held us back. There’s lots of spitting and licking and weirdness at our shows. We’ve probably spent fifty quid between the six of us on our clothes. The Murder Capital are iconic, we’re messy!”
One of the people that Oisín palled around with at BIMM was Murder Capital singer James McGovern. “I actually knew James before college. When I was in Nuisance he met up with us three or four times and gave us bits of advice. We were the same age, but he was just that more musically literate and together than me. I hang out with James and the Murder Capital guys all the time. Up until this summer their bassist, Gabriel, who I’ve known since he was 15, was in Thumper. Gabe also makes these amazingly literate 10-minute songs as For Foresters.”
Asked whether a degree of competiveness has crept in, Oisín pauses a second and then goes, “Yeah, I guess it has but no one’s going round saying, ‘We’re the fucking hottest shit in Dublin’ or anything like that. There’s a generosity of spirit between bands that’s really very sweet.” This is probably the first generation of bands that’s grown up with Apple, Spotify, Vevo, YouTube et al and accepts that this is how musical business is done nowadays.
“The days of a hit single buying you a gaff are well and truly over,” Oisín acknowledges. “Well, unless your Ed Sheeran or Adele. No one I know is getting into this to be rich and famous, it’s just ‘cause they’ve got tunes and something to say. That said, I do think there’s a renewed sense of music being worth something. People are buying records again and t-shirts are a big thing. We’re not going to be joining Bono any time soon out in Dalkey, but we’re not starving.”
Thumper’s finest 7mins 7secs to date is ‘(You’re Bringing Me) Down’, a veritable intercontinental ballistic missile of a song produced by Girl Band’s Dan Fox who’s become something of a father confessor to Thumper.
“Girl Band are one of my favourite groups ever, so when I met Dan at a party I couldn’t help but very enthusiastically tell him this. I woke up the next morning going, ‘Oh, fuck, what have you done?!’ But he got on to me the next week saying, ‘I love the tunes, if you fancy working together…’”
When they subsequently hooked up, it was Thumper’s first time recording in a studio that wasn’t in somebody’s bedroom, bathroom or garage. “We were doing 17-hour days and not even noticing because Dan creates such a relaxed vibe while you’re recording,” Oisín reflects. “His style of production is going in and jamming it out. Every now and again he’ll stop and go, ‘That’s great but maybe try this.’ You might get thirty of those during a session, but because Dan’s such a cool dude you don’t really notice it. I’m not a fucking dickhead megalomaniac bossing everyone around, but I’d probably get a bit pissed off if somebody was being constantly negative.
“Live we’ve always known we can pull it off, but we hadn’t 100% nailed a single until we did ‘(You’re Bringing Me) Down’ with Dan. It was one of the first things I wrote in 2015, but we needed three years to catch up with its ambition. We know when something’s ready to go and when it’s not. We don’t automatically think we’re geniuses. We wait until we’ve rehearsed the fuck out of something before we let other people hear it. Anyway, the reaction to ‘(You’re Bringing Me) Down’ when we stuck it on Spotify was unlike anything we’d known before.”
Before heading back to the rehearsal room - Thumper are currently mapping out two more singles, with a debut album to follow - Oisín has a heartfelt appeal to make. “If anyone in Aiken Promotions or U: Mack is reading this, I’ll bake you a cake and shine your shoes if you let us support The Oh Sees in The Button Factory in May!”