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Thornhill: “I want to find a different way to move to heavy music”

Thornhill’s debut album, 2019’s The Dark Pool, was a rare sight indeed.

The record was successful – like ‘pointy end of the ARIA Charts upon debut’ successful – but it also secured the band a place in the playlist rotation for dedicated fans and casuals alike. In the time since, Thornhill have been moving in a direction to demonstate that even still, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Visuals are a key tenet to the Melbourne troupe’s new era – not at the expense of the music, though, but to its benefit. It’s a multi-sensory storytelling enterprise that debuted in the form of new single, ‘Casanova’, out now on UNFD. It’s biting, confident, sexy and glamorous – hell, it’s cocky, and rightfully so. It’s as though Justin Timberlake went heavy, or if James Bond released a metalcore vanity album.

With ‘Casanova’, Thornhill have brought about a new way to look, sound and move while being face-meltingly heavy. And as BLUNT would learn from speaking with guitarist Ethan McMann and vocalist Jacob Charlton, we’re about to see a lot more.

There’s been a lot of discussion about what was harder in the writing process during the pandemic. In your experience, what came easier?
Jacob: I think the whole character building and vocal aspect of this was a lot easier than normal because I didn’t have anything to fear. Obviously when I actually have to send the files to Ethan, I’m very fearful, sweating, going, “I hope you get this. I hope I did this right.” But a lot of the time when you’re in your room by yourself, obviously I have my family knocking on it – they’ll tell me to shut up and that it sounds bad. But I got to really get in a headspace with it and explore my own voice, my own attitude and how to get away with heavy music without having to scream all the time. Things like that were really fun to explore without any real time-related pressures or people in the room. That was really fun for me.

Ethan: I think I sort of had a similar experience. I could get into my own head and grind out ideas that had these particular moods, and I could take six hours if I wanted to. I wouldn’t worry if I wasted Jacob or Cage’s time by being under-prepared or something. I could really focus in on exactly how I wanted something to sound. And because of lockdown, it sort of forced me to do that. I was just glued here to my computer and my instrument because it’s all I could do to stay sane.

Talk me through the aesthetics as well. It seems like a considerable amount of planning and intent was put into this. What do you want fans to take away from the visuals of this cycle?
Jacob: I think a big part of the visual aspect of this song was to convey the characteristics that we provided in the actual song itself. A lot of it’s going to be hard for some people to get. I mean, one of the main things I really talked to Ethan about when we were creating it was that I wanted to find a different way to move to heavy music. And I don’t think a lot of people were dancing and really grooving to their own stuff. It was a lot of punches, kicks, swings… All that’s so shit. And I was like, “No, I don’t want to do that anymore. We’ve done that.” We never want to redo things. We’ve done The Dark Pool. We’re not going to do it again. So we have to find new ways.

I remember as soon as you sent me that intro riff and the kick in, I was like, “This is Justin Timberlake as, so I’ve got to step the fuck up here. I’ve got to really push myself the same way he pushed himself and kind of create a visual comparison, and show people that there’s some cool ways to develop the way you move onstage and the way that your character plays in the song.” So that was a big one for me.

“I think there’s a lot of things that lockdown helped us to take away for the next record, to be honest, because it was a fun process.”

Ethan: The other reason why we wanted to go for that angle for this single – and for stuff coming out in the future – is because Jacob and I sort of had this realisation that it’s not just about… Yes, music plays the biggest part in everything, because you’re a fucking band, but how that is received is all… There’s so many different layers. You could show someone this same song with a different video and they’d be like, “Oh yeah, they’re sort of going for this sound.” But if we give it to them all in a nice little package, being like, “This is what this sounds like, this is what this looks like, this how you should feel listening to this song,” Then it completely changes how people hear it. And I think that’s really helpful.

Jacob: Because you picked it up. You picked it up straight away and you thought, “Sexy.” You thought, “Glam-y.” That’s what you picked up from the package, which is exactly what we’re after.

Ethan: The heavy song on FutureSex/LoveSounds. That’s what it would sound like.

Jacob: I think it works when music has the character it used to have. I don’t think it really does as much anymore. I think a lot of the time with those old, kind of ’80s and ’90s pop stars, when they did something darker or rockier or something that was really kind of different – they had a whole character behind it. They were JT and this is how they moved to their music. And this is what you had to see. And that’s what you will always think when you hear it. If you have such a good image of what the band looks like when you hear the song, you’ll never not see it. I think that’s really important, and I don’t think people do that enough. And that’s what we really wanted to showcase with everything that we do for this album and this song.

The subject matter of ‘Casanova’, I think is fucking cool as well. Intimate stories that get told in a big way. For example, the idea that you kind of make up reasons to not want to like someone because you’re fucking scared.
Jacob: The way I went about this album, different to others, was that I created a character vocally first because to put myself in that spot where I had to sing the way I did, it didn’t come naturally. It was something I had to build to the occasion because I didn’t have the confidence yet to really get there. Because we had a ‘Casanova’ from 2019 I think. Was it? In 2019?

Ethan: Early 2020, I think.

Jacob: Early 2020. And I tried putting vocals on it and it was shit. It was fucking terrible. I was like, “Oh man, alright, I’m not ready for this song yet.” And then when it came around and I really started trying to build this character and this persona that I’m trying to sing about and talk about and act like and dance like, that really helped me kind of formulate a story in the process of this song. This song felt so 007 – very Bond-y, very glam-y. I was just like, “Well, this would be really cool to give a character and a story in the way of a script.” The way [this album] actually flows, it tells a story from start to finish. I can honestly pick out the story and the meaning from the script that I wrote from the lyrics, and work backwards. It was a completely different process to what I normally do.

I love cinema and I had a really big hand in doing all the videos this time. So Ethan and I, we did everything. And we just plugged away and just did every inch this record. So it all means the world. It was really easy to script everything the way I was doing it and kind of work backwards because as soon as you close your eyes to the song that you write, you know what it’s about. Because you know what it makes you feel like. And that was really easy of a process. I think there’s a lot of things that lockdown helped us to take away for the next record, to be honest, because it was a fun process.

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