“I’ve had a lot of guitar time recently – to be honest I’ve been doing nothing but over lockdown!” admits Joe Langridge-Brown, guitarist and backing vocalist of Essex alternative rockers Nothing But Thieves.
“I’ll be coming out of 2020 a much better guitarist than I went in,” he continues. “I found this article online that said if you can play these songs you are a certain standard guitarist. And I realised I couldn’t play any of the songs! I’d never tried. So this was the list I was going with, songs like Scar Tissue, Little Wing or Master Of Puppets…
“It was a whole breadth of different stuff and I’ve been working my way through it. I never really learned a lot of that stuff because I joined a band within six months to a year of starting out. It was more about figuring out which songs of our own we wanted to play. I’ve gone back to the start again (laughs)!”
Speaking of his own music, the British quintet will be releasing their third album, Moral Panic, in October this year. When we point out that some of the lines on latest single Real Love Song sound more like a synth, the guitarist explains there’s plenty more where that came from...
“Oh yeah, that’s actually a theme across the album with the leads!” grins Langridge-Brown. “We wanted to have this half-synth, half-guitar thing so you wouldn’t really know exactly what the sound was, adding to the whole soaring feel of it.
"Most of it came through an Eventide H9000 Harmonizer. I did have the pedal version but this was the big fuck-off rack version that Mike Crossey, our producer, got delivered just as we started. I think it was as much as an experiment for us as it was him, all of us figuring out this new piece of kit.
“So we used that for the first time for those leads lines, with one delayed reverb-y sound and some extra octave effects that we manipulated a bit to have this chorus-y effect. That’s an amazing piece of kit, though it does take a while to get your head around it. We left the session probably only knowing 1% of what it can do. There’s just so much involved!”
As for other gear, the guitarist recalls a Duesenberg Starplayer, a thick-sounding Gibson Custom Dickey Betts SG belonging to singer/guitarist Conor Mason and “a lot of Walrus Audio stuff” lying around in the studio where they crafted their latest work, citing their Slo reverb as perhaps his pick of the bunch.
Its rich atmospheres would compliment his guitar sound to no end, though would also prove useful for the other members during the recordings...
“We don’t just use it on guitars, we use it on anything,” laughs Langridge-Brown. “Dom, our other guitarist, plays keys as well. So on a few songs we put a Rhodes through the Slo and I would ‘play’ the pedal as he played the Rhodes. We found some really unique sounds by experimenting with that.
“Mike produced our last record, so we went in with a good relationship already and a lot of the same gear from last time. It felt like we knew our way round. He’s got the Universal Audio Culture Vulture outboard gear, which has these really nasty grainy sounds, so we’d go into that and then straight into the desk with no amp. To be honest, the whole album process was an experiment to find sounds that were off-kilter.”
Here the Nothing But Thieves guitarist talks us through the 10 albums that blew his mind...
1. Foo Fighters - One By One (2002)
“We might as well start at the top, the first album that made me pick up the guitar. It’s actually an album my dad showed me, he’d play it in the car when I was young. It felt like the heaviest thing I’d ever heard. All My Life starts the album and I remember feeling so much inspiration by the end of that first song.
“I guess it started my love for rock music but also the whole backstory of it – making me want to know why certain albums come to exist. So, for example, with this one they originally recorded in a posh studio and felt it sounded shit. They went back to a basement and recorded themselves, and that’s what became the record. Knowing things like that about album really enhances the music for me!”
2. Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - Anthology: Through The Years (2000)
“Choosing a compilation album might be controversial! But it was the first music I remember hearing from my parents playing me really young, almost like a first memory kind of thing.
“It’s a double-disc best of that spans all the years as well as some of Tom’s solo stuff. You can hear how his sound progressed. It was my first musical experience and has carried me through to this day. I honestly think Tom Petty is the greatest songwriter of all-time and listen to his music routinely!”
3. Citizen Cope - The Clarence Greenwood Recordings (2004)
“This is one of the first albums I discovered for myself. It made me think about music in a different way, because I’d mainly been listening to heavier rock before that. There was a song called Sideways that I especially liked, it didn’t have that overdriven guitar sound I had become very familiar with…
“When you start discovering artists for yourself like that, through no other influences like family or friends, it can feel a bit more personal to you. I still listen to it a lot today. The way he uses different instruments for different things made me look at music in new ways.”
4. Pearl Jam - Ten (1991)
“Front to back, this is one of the best albums ever written. It’s certainly one of the greatest debuts of all-time. I can listen to it whenever, it just always seems to work for me. I was going through a big discovery of grunge and branched out from Nirvana to Pearl Jam. I think Ten taught me a lot about the pace of an album, how songs shift in mood from one to the other...
“For example, I think the song Porch seems to inject a bit of energy into the album at exactly the right time. Even the opener, Once, has this big moody intro before it fully kicks off. It’s probably how we tried to start our first album, with the song Excuse Me. I’ve learned a lot from Pearl Jam!”
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers - By The Way (2002)
“I can’t say they’re a band I listen to as much these days, but John Frusciante’s feel and simplicity has been so influential to me. There’s a song called Don’t Forget Me and I swear the solo is only three notes played over and over again. At the time, I felt like I had to play really fast because the best players were doing all these amazing arpeggios...
“This was the song that made me understand the right three notes can affect you way more than anything for the sake of speed or technicality. I’ve tried to keep that simplicity in my own playing. I’ve seen some pictures of his rig and it’s unreal. The guy has so many pedals on different boards, so he’s probably to blame for my love for that as well!”
6. Radiohead - The Bends (1994)
“Our fans will probably know Radiohead have been a massive inspiration to us over the years. This was the first album that got me into them and funnily enough, it’s probably not even their best one. Maybe it’s the most accessible for a new fan. I remember watching music channels as a kid and saw the video for Just, which was incredible. That was my first foray into all of it...
“Through them, I started becoming attached to bands who weren’t particularly macho. There was a time where maybe I was listening to music with less nuances. Radiohead made me get into music that was more open – and as a result it’s the kind of music I can listen to in any mood I’m in.
“Their last album A Moon Shaped Pool was incredible. As a fan, it was great to finally get a recorded version of True Love Waits! And I’ve been listening to Ed O’ Brien’s latest album… it’s quite Brazilian-influenced, which was interesting!”
7. Pixies - Doolittle (1989)
“After Radiohead, I started delving into how they made music and who their influences were. Which is how I discovered The Pixies! This second album has so many great songs on it. I actually think Monkey Gone To Heaven has the best middle-eight ever written! There are certain moments in music that really grab you and this is exactly what does it for me.
“The vocal delivery really drew me in, it felt so unorthodox and unconventional. A lot of music I’d heard before this felt more ‘perfect-sounding’ and Pixies were always about the raw feel. Which has been instilled into Nothing But Thieves, it’s way more important than being correct, at least for us.
“I also feel like the song Here Comes Your Man comes out of fucking nowhere! It’s a weird ballad, some random surf rock song in the middle the album. I guess it showed me that if you can really do anything you want if you know how to do it right!”
8. Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)
“This is an influence we wear on our sleeve a bit. If you know of Jeff and then hear Conor sing, it’s pretty easy to tell there’s serious inspiration there. I kinda feel sad when I hear it because that album is the sound of an artist in motion. He definitely wasn’t the finished product – it’s obvious he had so much to offer and sadly it never got realised.
“It’s such an interesting legacy, yet intensely sad from him dying and the way in which he did. This album is like a snapshot of what he was doing at the time, leaving us to imagine where it would have gone without it ever actually happening.
“And his guitar playing is so underrated. If you play guitar, you start to realise how annoyingly good he was – moving around these strange chord shapes. I feel like that gets overlooked a bit because he was such an amazing singer!”
9. The War On Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
“Here’s a more modern choice… probably my favourite album of modern times, I would say. I was aware of them and had heard some songs from previous albums, enough to keep an eye on them. When they realised this new album, they took it to a whole new level and I felt like I understood who they were and what they were doing.
“There’s definitely some of that Tom Petty/Americana vibe to some of their songs, which might explain why I really gravitated to this one. Their guitarist manages to pick out notes for his solos that are really affecting, they’re not flashy but they really get inside you. I’ve seen them live a few times now and they really know how to pull it off."
10. Idles - Joy As An Act Of Resistance (2018)
“I think these guys are the best band in Britain right now. Again, I was aware of them before but it was their newest work that made me realised what they actually sound like as five people in a room. Maybe earlier on, they were trying to sound a certain way, it was a bit less natural. This feels like how they’re meant to sound...
“The lyrics are amazing, the production is great and they have another album about to come out. The first single, Grounds, is incredible. Maybe this next album will be even better, I don’t know, but I genuinely feel like they’re one of the best bands going right now… which is the biggest compliment I can give!”
Nothing But Thieves's new album Moral Panic is out 23 October. To preorder visit nbthieves.com