Comedian George Carlin famously described a house as simply “a place to put your stuff.” The subtext to this bit was that by avoiding consumption and acquisition, you wouldn’t wind up with a home full of shit. However, there was always an alternate path that Carlin didn’t explore: taking your stuff on the road.
In a sense, the multinational Thieves Like Us have embraced this third way. Frequently described as “two Swedes and an American,” Andy Grier (vocals), Björn Berglund (keyboards) and Pontus Berghe (drums) have lived an expat lifestyle for almost a decade. The three met in Berlin in 2002 and bonded over a shared lack of interest in their new environs. Grier and Berglund responded by DJing sets of music that they wanted to hear. In 2004, they decided to start a band with Berghe.
Thieves Like Us developed a performance and recording schedule that led them through cities across several continents. They released several singles on different independent labels. Their 2005 debut, “Drugs In My Body,” gradually garnered attention and two years later was included in the Kitsuné Maison 4 compilation. They released a full-length album in 2008 called Play Music on Sea You Records. It highlighted many of the band’s interests: ’80s darkwave synth-pop, ’90s shoegaze production and a healthy huff of fractured emotions. 2009’s Really Like To See You Again EP was released shortly thereafter and gave a more up-to-date snapshot of the band’s development.
Unlike most expatriate projects that intentionally adopt local sounds and resources, each of the three brought a wealth of musical “stuff” wherever they went. Their music was subsequently nonspecific to whichever locality they were recording in, yet broadly familiar: a healthy wallop of warm, early-Eno synths, a cool counterpoint splash of leather-boot beats and a splash of early New Order angst. Though the musicians may not have had a home for their stuff, they instead went on the road to share it with everyone.
Their second album, Again And Again, is scheduled to be released in the States on July 6. Here, Grier (the American, in case you are not Colbert-color-blind) discusses the roots of their “gypsy” tale.
What are your respective musical backgrounds? How exactly did you meet and what drew you to each other?
We were really just friends before we started the band. We met at a picnic in Berlin in 2002. I had been there about two weeks. I didn´t know a soul in town. But everybody I was meeting was really annoying. Every young person there was either an aspiring fine artist, graphic designer, or DJ. People were way too arrogant, and they all seemed to think Berlin was the shit. To make things worse, they only listened to techno and electro music. No T-Rex around at all (Marc Bolan is the anti-thesis to techno, I think). I was drunk in the park one day and I sat down with some Swedes. Björn and Pontus were there. They were like me. A little lost in there lives. A little insecure and very bitter. We just stuck like glue. We hung out together for two years and then we started Thieves Like Us in 2004.
Are all three of you in the same city/country when you write and record? How was Again And Again developed and recorded?
We try to write ideas independently and then develop them when we are together. We were always living in the same city when we recorded. Again And Again was made in a basement in Paris in 2009. It was quite difficult. I was splitting up with my girlfriend in Moscow. I would have had to drop the entire band and travel there to repair our relationship. But that was just impossible. Also recording was constantly interrupted because we were playing shows every weekend in other countries. We would leave most Thursdays. Fly out of Paris, play two or three gigs abroad and then fly back. Every Monday we had to carry the equipment back up the hill (our studio was on a hill in Montmartre) and reconnect everything. Come Thursday we repeated the process again. It was tough to stay focused with all the interruptions. I never thought we would finish.
Location frequently comes up in your press. One says “faster songs like ‘Shyness,’ ‘One Night With You’ and ‘The Walk’ are clearly aimed at the French dance floors.” Another likens “Really Like To See You Again” to “a romantic trip to Coney Island” and “American Skies” to “a night drive out in Miami.” Are you thinking of specific places or experiences when writing? Do you write while traveling? Do you have a preference between writing on the road or at home/studio?
We don`t think about these things so much. They just manifest themselves. When the inspiration comes we just try to get the idea down on tape, somehow. and we are always writing. I think we will always be a gypsy band.
For your previous album, your videos incorporated clips of early ’80s films, like Christiane F.: Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (“Drugs In My Body” and “Your Heart Feels”), Diva (“Desire”) and Tron (“Program Of The First Part”). Who made these videos? Will there be a similar theme of reappropriated film clips for Again And Again‘s videos (e.g. “Never Known Love”)?
The characters of these films are either drifters or dreamers. We want to make our own videos, but it is difficult to make quality videos. So we re-edited these films. We are running out of films to re-edit, so I think we have to start shooting our own.
You seem to be drawn to a particular aesthetic of the ’80s: Creation, Factory, Philip K. Dick. What artists and genres do you dislike and why?
Your MySpace page lists your influences as “high heels and lasers.” Which makes me think you get a lot of girls, like the one on your record covers, at your shows. Who comes to your shows?
I can attest we do not get lots of girls. Björn and Pontus are in relationships. I am just plain too scared to go up and start a conversation with a girl after a show. Plus my taste is too strange, anyway.
Lasers refers to the future or techonology, I suppose. And high heels maybe refers to sensuality or femininity.
Our audiences are pretty mixed. I see a lot of awkward kids, weirdos and outsiders. But I also see fashion people and lots of normals. Mostly a female audience, which is good. You ever seen all the bearded dudes at a Built To Spill show? Gross.
Let’s play word association. Tell me the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase. First one: Thieves Like Us, the Edward Anderson novel.
I should read it.
They Live By Night, the Nicholas Ray film.
They Live by John Carpenter.
Wish Elliot Gould was in it.
Should be heard more in clubs.
Gildas [Loaëc, a Kitsune co-founder] is a motherfucker.
Forget Me Not Remix EP: http://shelflife.com/catalogue/LIFE069.html