Features - Interviews

Heavy Pop: An Interview with THVS

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Ahead of the release of their eagerly-anticipated debut album in Belfast’s Voodoo on October 12, we catch up with THVS, a Belfast-based three-piece whose emphatic “heavy pop” craft is on the very cusp of breaking through.

THVS straddle a line between heavy sounds and pop music sensibility. How has the project evolved from your previous incarnations?

Michael: I think that very part of it in and of itself is the evolution, the pop sensibility. In any previous band I’ve been in that was very much balked at so I think that step has lead us to a wider sound. Who says you can’t like Madonna and Deftones? Maybe I missed the class during rock n’ roll high school when we got told that you cant like different kinds of music, probably because I’m a bad ass and was skipping class… THVS is the joy of playing together.Tthat sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

Matt: Greater amounts of happiness and a greater sense of physical and mental well being. This is the happiest I’ve been playing in a band. I know we’ve some fairly gnarly songs which wouldn’t suggest we’re a happy bunch but generally there’s a snappy upbeat-ness and positivity to our music. Our music rages against the shit things in life but celebrates the great things in life. So yeah, happiness and positivity.
Dave: All of my previous bands, the ones that went somewhere anyway because there were a lot more that didn’t, have been rooted firmly in the Stoner Rock/Doomy/Sabbath Worship side of things, so THVS for me was a breath of fresh air. Nothing wrong with Stoner Rock of course, but doing something like THVS gives you much more scope. And it lets you throw yourself about a stage a lot more. I could use the exercise.

Curiously, many “heavy” bands would be offended at being called pop. You clearly don’t have tet same reservations. Give us some insight into which pop music you listen to and take influence from?

Michael: I more than welcome it, Pop isn’t a dirty word, we wouldn’t have all this great music we have today if it wasn’t for the Beatles and only psychopaths don’t like the Beatles! I love pop music, and that doesn’t mean like Justin Beiber or Cascada but there’s always cream at the top of the pile. It’s no secret by now that I love Taylor Swift, Lorde, Lana Del Rey, Charli XCX, Billie Eilish, M83, Purity Ring, Pale Waves, Chvrches, Madonna. The list goes on, those people and bands craft songs that are super catchy have great parts, are really creative and once you dig past the production on some of it aren’t that dissimilar to a lot of rock music. It’s the same notes just presented in a different way. Why not meld a part of that with like Botch riffs? I mean that’s my approach to the whole thing. Plus, I mean, if everyone was just listening to Slayer all the time and everyone sounded like Slayer that’d be pretty dull. Take Sleigh Bells, listen to their catalogue, that guy was in Poison the Well now he writes songs that have dance music influences, R&B influences, pop, rock, rap… and they slay (pun at least partially intended). I don’t ever feel I should shut myself of from anything because I might miss something great.

Matt: Michael’s probably the most overtly pop person in the band but I grew up on pop music before I found the heavy. Depeche Mode, The Cure, those kinda jams. They’re great pop bands with great pop sensibilities but have a heaviness to their music in terms of mood which definitely influences me in how I approach THVS. Mansun were also one of the most criminally underrated guitar pop bands of the 90s who I love. They had a darkness which gave them a real perverted pop sound which I think is just genius. Outside of that a real go to pop album for me is Danni Minogue’s Neon Nights. Trust me. It’s full of absolute pop bangers, it still stands up and beats out anything sister Kylie has done in my opinion.

Dave: Absolutely none. I put the “heavy” in Heavy Pop darlin’. I can’t stand pop music, it makes me feel uneasy. I still think the whole ‘Heavy Pop’ thing came about as a way to annoy me, but it seems to have taken on a life of its own, so I’ve mellowed out on the offence in the past year. And for balance, name a few artists on the more scuzzed-out, low-end end of the spectrum that have made an imprint on the THVS sound to date.

And for balance, name a few artists on the more scuzzed-out, low-end end of the spectrum that have made an imprint on the THVS sound to date

Michael: That list is considerably longer than the pop list: The Icarus Line, Narrows, Deftones, Murder City Devils, Mastodon, Nirvana, Baptists, Metz, Botch, Nine Inch Nails, Placebo, Planes Mistaken for Stars, QOTSA, Royal Blood, These Arms Are Snakes… there’s at least something of all those in there. Right when we started I was super into Narrows, I was really into the way they wrote these really heavy songs but still rock songs, they had hooks and were catchy but still crazy heavy. That’s where the heavy pop seed grew from, so they’re to blame.

Matt: For me its bands like Kenmode, Coilguns, Wrong, Metz, Whores, Baptists, Narrows and the like. I think there’s a shared sonic approach there in terms of what those bands do and what we aspire to do. Me and Michael caught Metz in Dublin about a year ago and they were unreal. It was pure release and energy from start to finish with no let up. I think we both came away from that with the view that that kind of energy is what we wanted to try and deliver in our live shows.

Dave: From my point of view, I’m real into bands like The Melvins, Cancer Bats, Will Haven, The Abominable Iron Sloth, Eyehategod… that kinda thing. I guess you don’t hear a whole lot of that in THVS, but I try to get some of that feel into the bass lines.

Set for release on October 12, your debut album will surely set you apart from some of your riff-wielding peers here in Ireland. Tell us a little about the writing and recording for the record. Did you encounter many challenges when setting out to distil your sound and vision to ten tracks?

Dave: It was a little disjointed. I was out of the country a lot over a three year period. So some of it was written before I left, I wrote stuff while I was away, Matt and Mike wrote stuff while I was away, and we punched out a few more Heavy Pop hits after I got back. But we all know our sound, we know what we want to play, so even thousands of miles apart we managed to write songs that were cohesive and kept that THVS sound. The actual recording was pretty straight forward, three days, one take each song… mostly… then apply enough spice to taste. I guess the biggest challenge was deciding what songs to put on there and what to keep up our sleeves.

Michael: The songs really cover the entire lifespan of the band, there’s a song that was written pretty much right at the very start that we stopped playing but we brought back for this and it’s morphed a little since its initial inception. Like Dave says songs came from lots of different ways there were songs I wrote and brought in and a few that it was just matt and myself playing off each other. Some songs I brought in and we all got our hands on. So it was really just choosing the strongest material and one that presented well as an album and was cohesive. The album really is shades of THVS. That sounds like an awful ITV program ‘Welcome to… shades of THVS’ or a trashy sex book. Anyway, we’re still finalizing running order but so far it seems like it’ll start on the pop side and end up in the heavy side, like a heavy pop colour chart. There were a few songs that we had started that we just didn’t have time to polish up in time so there’s already some material kicking around for what might come next.

The single ‘Palisades’ is out in a couple of weeks. What themes do you tackle on the song and, if you’re able to, can you tell us about the video that will accompany it?

Michael: Lyrically it’s about two people who are so wrapped up in each other, that kind of relationship either with a friend or something more, that you don’t need to speak to communicate, it’s almost like you’ve your own secret language. You build your own little world and no one else gets it and no one else is allowed to get in. That’s the broad strokes of it, I don’t want to give everything away, but that’s where the title comes from as well, that sense of being fenced off. This whole album lyrically and thematically covers very different ground for me, previous efforts have been dealing with external influences and factors where as this is much more internal, I think the lyrics are much more direct and less esoteric.

The video was shot by Bob Logan, he’s our guy for all things videography and photography. He shot the ‘Neon Demons’ video and done our recent promo shots too. But it’s a straight up us in a room blasting through the song, there’s no eagle flying down to hand me a guitar on a mountain top, its straight up garage rock approach. Bob being Bob has added his sprinkle of spice to it all and made it look super cool. I think its important for us to keep it honest and the approach be in line with that, were not actors I don’t want to have a script or for us all to be frolicking all wrapped up in each others world. That’d be creepy, even tho when were not playing that’s how we spend our time.

North and South, there’s no shortage of three-pieces with guitars making noise. In your estimation, what sets THVS apart?

Michael: There are a few things which set us apart from them, one being Dave’s moustache, have you seen that thing? So majestic and powerful and yet sensitive. The other thing is the heavy pop moniker, our ability to sound like every band from the 90’s that didn’t get signed to a major. It’s the blend of everything each individual brings to the table. Metal, noise rock and pop. We’re the Nescafe gold blend of Irish three-piece rock outfits. It’s the catharsis at live shows, the back and forth with the crowd, the energy, the genre straddling ability to play with punk bands, metal bands, and rock bands. Much like Madonna, we’re a chameleon.

To coincide with the single release, you play your first headline slot at the Limelight on August 17. What can we expect on the night?

Michael: Yeah, we’re super excited about it! We’ll be playing some old songs, some new songs, we might play the single – we haven’t decided yet. There are a few surprises in store. We might release a bunch of doves as we come on. I asked Julian Simmons to come down and introduce us but due to a previous engagement he declined… “WHAT ABOUT CHAAAA HERES MY FAVOURITE HEAVY POP TRIO ITS THIIEEVES”. Best get those ear plugs that your granny uses to block out your granda’s snoring.
That’d be amazing, he’s a national treasure.

Matt: 40 minutes of our pure heavy pop onslaught delivered with our usual reckless abandon.

Dave: Energy. Sweat. Probably blood. Likely tears. Heavy Pop hit after Heavy Pop hit. 70’s moustaches. Neon pink.

There’s always been talk about the state or health of the scene in Northern Ireland. Many people take the stance that it was more active, happening, involved and interested say, ten years. Others disagree. Where do you stand? Is this the best we’ve ever had it?

Matt: I think heavy guitar music, similar to what we do was maybe more prevalent around ten years ago in Northern Ireland. The Belfast riff rock scene as it was then. The general populous seem to have moved on in the interim to other things so the scene maybe isn’t as responsive to heavy music as it maybe was previously and that means things can be tricky in terms of shows etc. That said, I always think these things are cyclical and when bands and faces disappear others come back round and take their place. There some great bands coming through in terms of heavy guitar stuff like Axecatcher, Duellists, Gas Hands, that kinda thing so I reckon we’re maybe in the upward direction towards a new peak.

Dave: I think the ‘scene’ was pretty great say… fifteen or twenty year ago, when I was in my late teens/early twenties. But maybe that’s the rose tinted aviators talking. It felt like there was a pretty major slump for a while, but I’d say we’re back to a point now where things are interesting again and there’s a lot going on.

Where would you like THVS to be (howsoever “be” means to you) this time next year?

Matt: In peoples faces, ears, homes, cars, beds, etc. A heavy pop rash that people can’t escape from. The THVS epidemic has started and can only spread!

Dave: Playing bigger and bigger shows, probably working on the second album, festivals would be great, and one of those Kerrang! centerfold posters would be lovely.

Michael: We want the band to grow and reach as many people as we possibly can. Obviously we all think that people need to hear our music, our take on things and hopefully they can relate to that. By this time next year we’ll have released the album some singles and videos so hopefully we’d be about to take the stage to a field full of people all screaming heavy pop back at us. We’re not a band to rest on our laurels so this is only the beginning,

Lastly, the band is stranded on a desert island with a boombox and the choice of one album to listen to for eternity: 1989 by Taylor Swift or Leviathan by Mastodon. Which do you choose?

Michael: Oh man, this is like Sophies Choice. Don’t make me choose! I feel like a boom box is tape based so a C90 is gonna fit Mastodon on one side and Tay Tay on the other. I’m like King Solomon with the answer, didn’t he do that whole cut your baby in half speech? I’m not so up on my scripture as I am with my pop knowledge. Taylor over Testaments. I’ll make that choice any day!

Matt: 1989. It’s got so many moods and layers. It’ll keep you going to eternity.

Dave: Mastodon, Mastodon, Mastodon. If Swift gets put on that boom box I’m taking my chances with the sharks.

THVS launch ‘Palisades’ at Belfast’s Limelight on August 17th