Dollars to Pounds: Thumpers

October 11, 2012

Up above, check out the premiere of Thumpers' debut video, a FADER exclusive (you’ll have to wait till the very end to catch a glimpse of them), and read an interview below.

Marcus Pepperell is having issues with his toast. He’s trying to cut a particularly tough piece but leverage is proving difficult due to a fractured elbow which he sustained a few weeks back, just before Thumpers debut sold out show. Not that he noticed at the time. Boys. They fall off their bikes, ignore the pain and play on. “Just pick it up!” laughs John Hamson, Jr. Eventually, he does.

Having met at school in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon at 11, the pair became fast friends, playing in bands together in their teens before moving to London to study at Goldsmiths University and forming Pull Tiger Tail with another school pal. This is when I first came across them—a trio who wrote giddy power-pop melodies, underpinned with fuzzed-up Moog blasts and muscular beats. They released one album and went their separate ways.

John went on tour drumming for nu-folkies Noah and the Whale; Marcus focused on a long-term relationship. But that relationship disintegrated and John was sacked, jumping on a plane to South America where he went travelling for a few months while he licked his wounds. It was out of these dark times that their new project, Thumpers, was born. Yet progress was slow, with musical ideas swapped over email for the best part of two years as John joined Friendly Fires, playing bass and percussion, looping the world several times. Thumpers recording sessions were brief bursts of creativity shoehorned in during Friendly Fires downtime.

Their debut single “Sound of Screams,” written at the start of this year, was the key moment of cohesion for Thumpers. It begins with an audible gasp as the pair prepare to the plunge in. Layered with harmonies, cascading fairground whirls and toughened by John’s distinctive clattering rhythms, it’s an irrepressible, heart-swelling indie-pop anthem.

It must have been pretty strange to go from making music together in the same room to be writing from opposite ends of the earth. MARCUS: Usually I could just see by his face whether things are going well or not, so this was a totally new experience. We were a studio project for so long, which suggests we had loads of time, but actually we really didn't have that luxury. It was like, five days, go! You're back in the country, I've got some free time, let's just work constantly for this period and that's where I think some of the energy from the songs comes from. We'd have to relearn how to play together, even though that was a relatively quick process because we grew up learning our instruments together. This time we had to come out with a result.

“Sound of Screams” and the other tunes I’ve heard are so ridiculously joyful, which is surprising considering they came out of a pretty tough time. JOHN: The whole point was we were trying to escape those situations by creating music that was otherworldly. MARCUS: We wanted to write ourselves out of that. I was also trying to appeal to Jack's nostalgia of what we had as a shared memory. Lyrically we were revisiting those times of just leaving school and having to make your own way and make your own world. We wanted to make music that's—what's that word you used in your Bat for Lashes piece?

“Transportive.” Like a mini-van. MARCUS: Ha! Yeah, there's probably a better word for it, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have that, TV on the Radio have that, loads of film soundtracks have that because that's the whole point: to make you suspend your disbelief.

Let’s talk “Sound of Screams." JOHN: What was great about recording this way, it was never about worrying about playing live. This song needs girls: lets do it. MARCUS: Let's get my sisters to sing harmonies because they're both in the next room!

What about about the lyrics? MARCUS: It’s about some friends who I perceived to be in a mid-mid-life crisis. I thought it would be good to write a song that summoned up some of the excitement of leaving your hometown. Saying that's a good thing to do, you still want that excitement and you're not ready to give it all up. It seemed like that’s what they were going to do. I felt like they were isolating themselves and shutting everyone out who had been a part of their lives before.

Did they settle? MARCUS: They didn't settle.

Well, that's heartening. MARCUS: I don't think I had anything to do with it, though, writing my inscrutable lyrics in my bedroom!

What did you take from the experience of touring with Friendly Fires for so long? JOHN: They made their first record with like one mic, and we’re making our music in a similar way. Seeing how they work really gave me the confidence to do that. And seeing Ed MacFarlane perform every night and his dedication to dancing—no matter how he feels, he does it. And that’s the same with Charlie from Noah and the Whale: both those people live it and that is very, very inspiring. Obviously the fact that we got to go around the world a couple of times. With Thumpers we don’t want to just be a band from the UK, I think we should push ourselves to go and have fun everywhere and get our music out there. It was really interesting to see how Friendly Fires do that and make things possible. It was just a great crash course. And I learned how to play the bass as well. After those experiences with Noah and the Whale and going away, when I got back I was like, right, I can do whatever I want. Someone asked if I could play the bass, I said yes and I picked up a bass. You make things happen and that goes for Thumpers. It’s that attitude of not worrying about failure, of just trying things, of being fearless.

From The Collection:

Dollars To Pounds
Dollars to Pounds: Thumpers