SWAG 1: An inside view of our new album

Phil Mercy writes –

Frank Zappa famously called it “Dancing about architecture”, and yet we are continually being told “people are interested in this stuff”. So, with the release of Thieves’ Kitchen’s fifth album, “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy” just around the corner, we’re faced with the unenviable task of talking about our music. I had a lovely chat the other day with Greg Spawnton from Big Big Train, and it’s clear that they suffer the same kind of agonies when all the fun of making an album is done, and it’s time to sell your wares. The risk is that, however you approach the task, you’re going to end up sounding like a prat or, worse still a self-important, pretentious wanna-be. So, before we go any further with this exercise, let’s take it as read that we in the band don’t think we’re ‘bigger than Jesus’, and that as much as we love the music we do we know there’s lots of other exciting and interesting bands out there who you may well like too, or ever prefer to TK. OK? Good.

With that out the way we can all relax a little. I’ve sketched out some chapter headings for things to write about, the tracks on the album, the last four years and what on earth we did with them etc. I’m hoping that you’ll find some of it interesting or illuminating. I’m writing from a position of hindsight. It’s 23rd December 2012, and the album has been mastered for the last 6 months. We’ve all had a chance to listen to it and reflect on it. We run the risk of rationalizing everything. You know, the bit where your brain invents stories to present the facts as you remember them in the most favourable light, conveniently editing out all the difficult bits. I’ll try and avoid that wherever possible.

What have we ended up with? Well, there are six songs although the cd has seven ‘tracks’ on it to accommodate Amy’s spoken intro to the first song. I asked Thomas what his thoughts were on this and his overall impression of the album was ‘Cohesive’, and in one word I think he’s got it spot on. Looking back at the four previous albums you see obvious ‘transition’ releases which seem in retrospect to be documenting the band coming from one place and ending up in another. ‘Head’ was a transition release where the band were coming together from a variety of backgrounds and trying to find a ‘Prog’ identity. ‘Shibboleth’, the third album was transitional as the band explored more of a fusion approach. Strangely, ‘Argot’ was the last ‘cohesive’ album in my view. On Argot there was a commonality of purpose with four ultra dense, ultra long, songs. The agenda was to stretch playing and composition to the limits of our abilities and, looking back, I think we managed it. We’ve all moved on a lot since then and other aspects have become more important to the writing, but at that moment in time *that* was what Thieves’ Kitchen was about, and you can hear it clearly throughout Argot. A cohesive album.

As much as we all still love what we did on The Water Road, I don’t think of it as cohesive. Thomas had joined the band, and we were all still learning to write together, to inspire the best in each other. You have tracks which clearly come from different roots and some of the results are extreme. You have the fusion mayhem of ‘Om Tare’, and the symphonic tendencies of ‘The Long Fianchetto’ or the title track. On the same album you also have the more Anglagard/ Swedish sounding tracks like ‘Returglas’, ‘Plaint’, or ‘When the Moon is in the river of heaven’. ‘Tacenda for you’ maybe bridged the gap a little.

Who am I kidding? (What did I say about rationalizing?) I don’t really think the differences are *that* great on The Water Road, but in comparison ‘One for sorrow, two for joy’ *is* more cohesive.

I was asked online a while back how the new one compared with ‘The Water Road’ and in a moment of poetic insight I replied “More oomph, less melancholy”. This is probably true, too, but nowhere near as elegant as Thomas’ “cohesive”. Whilst there’s still a lot of room for dynamics on the album, over-all the energy level has increased ever so slightly. As well as in the writing of the songs, much of this is because of the playing of Paul Mallyon and Brad Waissman who were the rhythm section on the album. Both players have the twin abilities of being very sensitive to dynamics whilst being able to make odd time signatures really swing and rock. We wrote some very, very, silly things on this album, timing wise, and these guys just made them sound natural.

So, overall I think you’re getting at least what we think the album sounds like. It’s definitely a Thieves’ Kitchen album in the same vein as what was to be found on The Water road; Amy’s voice and words; the Mellotron, Hammond, and Rhodes sounds; the rock/ fusion guitar; but there’s a little more of a rock attitude to the tracks, and they all sound like they’ve come from the same writing team.