Thornhill, one of Australia’s most exciting metal bands, is blasting a suave and stylish wave of energy into the metal world. The 5-piece from Melbourne quickly rose to prominence after the release of their 2019 EP “The Dark Pool“, emanating a dark and atmospheric soundscape that stunned the metalcore world.
The past couple of years have been transformative for the group, to say the least. Moving into a new direction aesthetically and sonically, we see Thornhill bringing a whole new listening and viewing experience to the table. “Heroine“, the debut album from the band, is a beautiful and unique channeling of 90’s nostalgia infused with their own creative identity. “Casanova“, the first single released off the LP, was met with wide eyes and surprise, a clear indication that what was coming from the group was well beyond what anyone could have expected. As the following singles “Arkangel” and “Hollywood” made themselves known to the world, it was pretty clear that Thornhill are carving out a special place for themselves in the music scene.
Sonic Perspectives writer Josh Muncke fired some questions over to vocalist Jacob Charlton and guitarist Ethan McCann about the upcoming album. The pair revealed some insight into the writing process, how the styling and new aesthetic came about, and jumping straight back into international touring after all this time locked down. Check out their chat below.
The new album “Heroine” is something that people are eagerly looking forward to. What kind of message are you hoping to portray to listeners as they experience the sounds and sights that are “Heroine”?
Ethan: I wouldn’t say there’s messages we are trying to portray, more so specific emotions. We really focused on trying to create specific atmospheres within these songs so that the listener can feel and visualise the same things we do. We focused a lot on the visual aspect this time around to really push those feelings and sights we see. We feel like context is everything when it comes to taking in new music, especially when a band is changing their sound, so we figure if we are able to explain this shift as best we can, people will hear it the same way we do.
What were the band’s feelings when the first step away from the sound of “The Dark Pool” was taken, and the exploration of a different version of yourselves began?
Ethan: It was extremely natural to be completely honest. There wasn’t any big sit down meeting where we discussed exactly what we were going to do or how this record was going to sound. I listened to a lot of music from my childhood throughout lockdowns, which mainly consists of late 90s/ early 00s alternative rock which was a big source of inspiration for me. We found that so many great bands in that era were really able to paint a picture with the music they were writing, take “Mayonaise” by The Smashing Pumpkins for example, that track makes me feel like I’m walking down a highschool hallway in one of those trashy teen movies from the 90s. We were getting so much satisfaction from this feeling that it was our main focus for the whole record. Instead of focusing on what breakdown hit hard or how fast I could play this riff, it was all about the emotional journey and seeing how specific we could get with these stories.
For “Heroine”, you went to the widely celebrated George Lever for mixing duties. What attracted you to him and his work?
Ethan: We first heard about George after “Sundowning” by Sleep Token came out and then “I let it in…” by Loathe which we all fell in love with. We thought his mixes just had much more character than most others in our scene of music and being that we were shifting our sound, we didn’t just want it to sound like another standard metalcore record. I started talking to George on Instagram and we got along really well, similar taste in music and similar personalities in a weird way. He’s an incredibly intelligent and driven person which are both very attractive qualities in a mix engineer and just person in general. We knew this record wasn’t going to sound like George’s other big projects but we didn’t doubt his ability, it was just a matter of communicating our wants and telling him to make it sound like it came out in the year 2000.
Considering that “The Dark Pool” was produced and mixed within the band, what do you believe Lever was able to bring to the table from outside the group for this new record?
Ethan: The original plan was to have George help produce this album, however with lockdown and my mental health playing up I ended up being pretty closed off throughout the writing process. Sonically George was a massive help, we were able to pitch him some crazy ideas and even if he didn’t fully agree, he made it happen. He also put me in contact with his close friend James Sanger who is this incredible orchestral composer. I really loved building string sections on this album and James was able to make those ideas really come to life. I kind of just build chords and progressions as I hear them, not based on what’s actually playable, James however, being much more skilled in that area, was able to break these parts up in to an orchestral setting. Even though this album was self produced, it wouldn’t be the album that it is today without the help of those two. And of course Jens Bogren who mastered the record.
Ethan, your guitar work on the album is fantastic, full of catchy melodies and groovy lines that really underpin the whole feel and personality of this body of work. How did you approach writing the instrumental parts for this, considering it’s a whole new sound compared to “The Dark Pool”?
Ethan: Thanks for noticing, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Again, it was me going back to my roots really. John Frusciante has always been one of if not my biggest inspiration on guitar so I really tried to work on writing melodies in a similar way. I’d say you can hear this the most on the title track which is probably my favourite on the record, the lead is incredibly simple but through that tone, in that atmosphere, it just makes me feel a particular way, more than any of our previous music has ever made me feel. I actually wrote that whole song to this prom scene from the old Buffy TV show. The whole vibe of the song makes me think of that scene, I was basically trying to write it like a film score. Really the biggest difference in the guitar playing on this record is me just trying to put a bit more personality into my parts.
We’re seeing a good amount of bands pushing the boundaries of hard rock and metal at the moment; Northlane, Sleep Token and Don Broco are just some that come to mind. “Heroine” is definitely an endeavor that has that ability also. How important do you think it is to keep pushing the envelope when it comes to creating music, let alone in the metalcore world?
Ethan: I’ve always thought it was incredibly important, even on our much more metalcore sounding songs we have tried to spice it up over the years. I’ve always loved watching bands evolve over time, I think it’s an incredibly impressive and genuine process. People change, your interests, your wants, your taste all rapidly change over time, at least mine does. If we were to write the same record over and over and keep serving up the same “Dark Pool“, it wouldn’t be genuine. It would be us writing records that “worked”. That was never the goal and nor should it be for any creative in my opinion. You write music that you want to listen to, music that you think is missing, it’s like scratching an itch, if you feel like listening to something and you can’t find it, write it. That was a big focus for us on this record, we tried things that we haven’t heard, at least not for a while in music because it’s what we wanted to listen to.
Jacob, you’ve mentioned your admiration of various film and music figures from the past such as Elvis Presley, Gwen Stefani and Justin Timberlake. What speaks to you about them so much that you’re inspired to channel your own version of their energy through the band, sonically and visually?
Jacob: Something I thought I was lacking throughout our discography was personality through the way I sing and convey what I’m singing about. This album is based on atmosphere and emotion so I really wanted to create a sort of persona for the record’s storytelling and for our live performances through the way we move and dress. I did a lot of research on musical figures that really represent the ideals I’m looking for in music and Elvis really stood out to me in the way that he uses his body and wardrobe to help further explain the songs. I hadn’t really seen it done in our genre, live or through video so I felt as though it was something I can add of myself and a way I could push further out of my comfort zone and hopefully bring something new, to Thornhill and to heavy music.
Where did your passion or interest in styling first come from?
Jacob: I’ve always loved dressing up and the more I saw myself on stage the more I wanted to experiment, on stage and in my personal life. I frequently shop at vintage and opportunity shops and build my own outfits and really push what I want to wear but the passion became more evident when I started to become more invested in film making. My side project with Thornhill‘s guitarist, Matt, started my directorial debut and I wanted to experiment with outfits in the style we were after and was almost like dipping my toes in that side of the art, so when it came time to create the Thornhill videos with our newer sound I was heavily influenced by fashion and what it’ll convey with the overall messages and emotions we’re trying to show the listener. My brother is also studying fashion design and styling so having someone to go back and forth with and be constantly talking to about the fashion industry is definitely a big help.
You’re coming to the close of an immense tour with Dayseeker and Holding Absence, as well as Caskets. How did it feel for everyone to not only be playing live post-lockdown, but touring internationally?
Ethan: It was pretty intense to be honest, it felt like our live music lives went from 0 to 100 in a matter of weeks. We had just finished our album preview shows in Australia before we got on a plane to be in the US for 6 weeks. It feels like adrenaline kind of took over when we got to the first show. That said it has been an absolute blast, all the bands and all the crew have been lovely, so for our first US tour and first international tour back it has been a great time.
Here’s a tough one; who has better fashion taste… Thornhill or Dayseeker? Those boys are looking pretty debonair at the moment.
Ethan: I’d say it’s pretty neck and neck at the moment, those boys have been looking mighty fine. I think we are both going for very different aesthetics so it’s hard to compare. They are absolutely lovely dudes though, they’ve been a dream to tour with.
What’s something about this new album that listeners and fans might be surprised to learn?
Ethan: This is a bit of an extension on a previous answer, however the whole record was basically written like a film score. Each song was written to a different movie or scene or aesthetic. It was a method of writing that didn’t even cross our minds throughout the writing process of “The Dark Pool“. We actually ended up putting demos to clips from movies, like really poorly made fan made music videos. It comes back to that whole idea of trying to paint a picture, making you feel and see the things that we do when listening to these songs. Whether or not that comes across, who knows, but I hope we were able to pull it off, even just for a handful of people.