Leeds noiseniks Thank recently released their debut album ‘Thoughtless Cruelty’, a record that doused the exuberant abrasiveness of their earlier material with a healthy amount of poppier melodicism – an addition that tipped the musical scales of the album into the band’s most accessible but simultaneously most creative release. It also stars their most startlingly acerbic, lurid lyrics yet – as nuanced as they are humour-drenched – the distinctly illustrative “I will face God as I walk backwards into Hell” a fine example.
Freddy Vinehill-Cliffe, the band’s incomparable frontman and the idiosyncratic Shakespeare of noise rock, crafts lyrical stews in which humour flourishes alongside ominous and twisted imagery; religious and social themes; a brutally revealing vision of self-flagellation; coming to the fore in a heady mix. Vinehill-Cliffe’s vocal style is similarly indistinguishable and unique: flitting between myriad screams, shouts, spoken word, singing, and other assorted approaches. Although heavily influenced by artists who embody the semi-sung, semi-spoke sprechgesang vocal form, such a label is also one the band’s vocalist/guitarist is reluctant to embrace firmly.
Despite likenesses to The Fall or cropping up, there remains only one word – or one neologism – to describe Thank: Unpigeonholeable.
Below, Freddy goes through the birth and evolution of Thank, achieving their goal of releasing music on Box Records, the making of the album, their being equally influenced by comedy as well as music, and more.
LTW: How was Thank born, and how has the band evolved?
FVC: We’ve had a few different line-ups now. The very beginning, it was the three of us: me, Lewis, Cameron, plus a guy called Jack. So we were a band for about a year as that four-piece line-up. So that was me on vocals, Lewis on guitar and synth, Cameron on bass. Actually, at that point, Cameron used to swap between bass and guitar. So we didn’t have bass on every song; and then after about a year, we got Theo involved, he started doing bits of extra synths and some white noise elements, and he was also playing percussion as well to start with. But eventually his role kind of expanded. And then just after we recorded the Please EP, Jack, the drummer suddenly quit. But we got called Rob Slater, who has actually produced pretty much everything we’ve done. Even before he joined the band, he produced everything we’ve released, apart from The Curse, which is our side of the fleet we did with Blom. But then unfortunately, a few months ago, he quit as well. So we’ve now got Steve. So we’ve had four different line-ups now, and then on the tour last week, we were playing without Theo. So we had some stand ins, we ended up having Nick for the Leeds gig, and a guy called Jeremy for the Brighton and London gigs. So it’s become quite fluid. I don’t know how it would feel particularly if one of these left now. Me, Lewis, Cameron…that feels quite integral.
We’ve had a few different line-up changes, which is interesting, because I’ve often had this idea that a band is that group of people, and if the line-up changes, then that’s not the band anymore – and I still feel that way with some projects. So for example, I play guitar in a band called Beige Palace as well, and that for me, beige Palace is those three people, and if there was a line-up change, then it wouldn’t be Beige Palace anymore. So before Thank, three of us – me, Lewis who plays guitar and synth, and Cameron who plays bass – the three of us were in a band called Pink Rick, which was a four piece, the three of us plus a guy called James, and he quit that band. When he quit, it seemed very clear at the time, “that band’s done now, we can keep making music together, but it’s not going to be Pink Rick anymore. It’s something else.” Then for whatever reason, with Thank I’ve not had that mindset, it seems to vary from project to project.
What was the Leeds scene like where Thank came from?
So me, Lewis and Cameron actually met when we were all studying in Scarborough. So the University of Hull used to have a campus in Scarborough, but we were all studying there; when we finished our degrees, we all moved to Leeds. The main reason for that was because we ended up spending loads of time in Leeds, when we were studying in Scarborough, we used to come over for gigs all the time in Leeds, it felt like all the bands that we were excited about at the time were based in Leeds. So for example, we were really excited about Blacklisters. They were a big, big influence – the self-titled album, that had like a pretty seismic impact on me and the kind of trajectory of the music that I wanted to make. Post-war Glamour Girls (the former band of James Smith of Yard Act) was another band that we were all really into. I’d say those two bands in particular, were two bands that drew us to the Leeds scene. But then beyond that, bands like Super Luxury were a big thing for me; I actually later ended up briefly playing bass for them, which was fun. It very much felt like they were part of the scene – they rehearsed in the same place as a lot of the other bands. So that’s kind of how we got more involved in the community of things; and we ended up rehearsing at CHUNK, which by this time is Pink Rick, so by that time it was 2015. There was a really diverse selection of bands but also the music they were making, it was a really fertile scene where it felt like there were no real boundaries: there was kind of the general thing that it was like noisy guitar, but we’re taking that in all kinds of different directions.
How has signing to box records been?
Really good, we’ve worked with a lot of small labels over our time as a band. We released our first tape on Cruel Nature records, and we did a split through Hominid Sounds, and then we did the 10-inch. But Box records was a big one, partly because when we started the band, I can remember that was kind of a goal that I had: I want to release something through Box records. So it’s nice that that has finally come to fruition; we were quite inspired by some of the bands that Box records were putting out particularly five or so years ago, when they were putting out Foot Hair and Beauty Pageant. But as well, Matt (the enigmatic frontman of Pigs x7) who runs the label is really great to work with.
What was reconvening for the debut album like?
I think in November 2019, we had already said: “…we’re gonna take at least six months off….” Because we were all feeling a bit burnt out on it. I got into a mindset where I felt: “okay, we can either take a break now, or we can keep going, and we’ll probably end up splitting up.” We all were still passionate about it. And we all wanted to still keep doing it. But I was just like, okay, something’s not quite right here, we need to take a step back. So we were already in the middle of that, when COVID. So at least now we’re taking a bit of a break. And then after a while, by maybe April or May of 2020…I wanted to start writing songs. So I was writing a lot of stuff on my own at home. By September, we decided, “okay, let’s actually try and get back in the practice room.” We didn’t have a practice room at that point but thankfully, Wharf Chambers were kind enough to let us use theirs because they were closed. So around September, October, November time in 2020; but that was really just to try and figure out some of the new stuff – and even that was without Theo and it was a bit awkward. So we were rehearsing all masked up, at almost the opposite corners of the room as far apart as we could possibly be, and yeah, we managed to figure out I think l four of the songs. I think we figured out From Heaven; we already had Good Boy done before COVID. But it doesn’t new stuff I think we had From Heaven, Paris Syndrome, a Social Contract, and No Funeral. But even that was very rough because we were rehearsing as a four piece. I couldn’t really sing because I was messed up but it was just to kind of blow the cobwebs off a bit. But other than that we weren’t in the same room together until we recorded and even then, there was never a day where all five of us were in the studio once, which was really weird because in the past we’ve always recorded fully live. It’s just been we’ve set up in the room, recorded it as if it was a live set. So until we started rehearsing for our recent gigs which I think we started this September just gone. Until then the five of us hadn’t been in in the same room since our last tour in November 2019. So there had been this two-year gap including the rehearsal period and recording period of the album where the five of us hadn’t been together. So yeah, it was a very muddled, disjointed process. I think it worked. But it was very weird, especially for us.
Where do your lyrical themes come from?
The religious stuff, and particularly the stuff to do with St. Ignatius has actually been a theme throughout the band; so I kind of ended up leaning into that more. The house that I’ve moved into over the course of the pandemic is actually about 100 yards from the church I used to go to as a child as well. So that kind of put me in that mindset. around when I moved here as well, I watched the film, the Two popes with Anthony Hopkins, and that got me really intrigued to learn more about like Jesuit Catholicism, a particular sect of the Catholic Church. So I was reading into that and then I ended up reading the spiritual exercises, which made sense because The Curse has, I think, some quite overt references to St. Ignatius. So having sort of be bringing in his writing specifically because it was quite a vague reference. Well, not vague, it’s quite a direct reference in The Curse, but it was a very surface level reference. So having like specific references to actual passages from his writing in the album felt like the next logical step on that. I don’t even really know if I consider myself religious: I definitely have a fascination and a preoccupation with religion – having been brought up in the Catholic Church, at least until the age of about 11, at which point my dad lost his faith. So we stopped going to Church but having been brought up in the Catholic Church till I was 11, that obviously shapes your worldview. So I can’t escape the fact that I everything that I do, and everything I see, is kind of viewed through this, like prism of the Catholic Church. That’s just how it is. So I think…really digging into that, and applying that to other things, like the end times our apocalyptic selves in the world right now. that seems just like a very natural thing. I think it could be easy for someone to try and combine all those themes and for it to be quite pretentious. But for me, there isn’t any pretence there. Because that’s just that’s just where my mind goes. I’m often kind of just experiencing everything through that prism of having been brought up a relatively devout Catholic. We weren’t like, my parents weren’t like, super strict or anything, but you know, relatively devout Catholic.
…it’s not like we’re a Christian rock band, but it’s not even really like a religious thing, I think a lot of people were maybe thrown into a state of spiritual confusion during COVID, because it gave people a lot of time for self-reflection. Literally, I could see from my window the church I used to go to as a kid – I’ve not been there for nearly 20 years – it’s something that preoccupied me a lot during most of 2020, which is when I was writing the lyrics.
With your lyrics, how do you achieve such a unique balance between the darkness and the complexity, and then on the other hand, the humour?
Humour is just my natural way of dealing with everything – and that can be a blessing, because I’m good at making people laugh; I’m good at putting people at ease. It can also be arrogance, things that people don’t think I take things seriously enough perhaps. So yeah, it’s really good when I’m dealing with very serious subject matter. I’d say in some ways, Thank is probably as much influenced by comedy, as it is by music: I’d say Stuart Lee is probably quite a big influence on me; Vic and Bob, Tim and Eric are probably quite a big influence.
I have done stand-up comedy as well at a few points in my life, never gained that much momentum with it, but I have done it. It’s just not something I really think about. When I first wrote son, they used to always be funny songs – this is when I was in my early to mid-teens, after a while I felt guilty about that: “I need to start writing proper songs”, “Why can I only write funny songs” – but I didn’t really know how to do anything that wasn’t funny. So even as time has gone on, over the past few years, my songs have gotten more serious, but there’s always still that element there. But I try to keep in mind this idea that it’s really good for the first line of a song to be really funny.
What are your views on sprechgesang and your evolving approach to it?
I think when I was first playing in bands in that in my mid to late teens, I wasn’t that confident with my singing. So I started doing like a half-talking, half-singing thing anyway, and then people kept people kept telling me that we sounded like The Fall and at the time, I was like, “I’d never heard of The Fall”. So I went and listen to that and it became like a self-perpetuating thing: I started doing it kind of naturally, partly just out of almost out of nervousness, and then it just kind of developed because I started listening to more and more bands that did do that kind of sprechgesang thing. There’s very little, certainly new music, that I really like proper singing. I’m just not that good at it. So I would like to sing well, I mean, definitely that this album has more proper singing than anything we’ve done previously – and I would like to continue on that trajectory. One of my absolute favourite bands is These New Puritans: you can hear on the first record, it’s pretty much purely sprechgesang stuff; on the second album, he starts trying to sing a little bit, but it’s a speak-singing thing; the third and fourth albums, he’s just fully singing baby, and I like the trajectory of that. I think particularly their more recent work is amazing, and, and he’s not got the best singing voice in the world. But he’s just doing it, and it works. I think there’s this idea that if you want to have an idiosyncratic vocalist, you do the kind of talkie-singing stuff, and that’s how you have like your own personality. The guy from These New Puritans (Jack Barnett), he still has very much his own identity: and it’s probably partly because of the limitations of his voice, and that is what gives it the kind of the personality in the character, pursuing that.
I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I’ll be like taking about it on Twitter but I don’t really like the idea of being pigeonholed as a Sprechgesang vocalist because I don’t do that all the time. If you listen to the album, half of it is me properly singing. There is a lot more properly screaming as well. I’m a big fan of classic screamo, like the Blood Brothers are like a really big influence on the band, particularly Names and Your Machetes. So bands like The Body, who are big influence on us, their vocals are all scream so there’s that, that’s not singing but it’s not like you’re saying either…I feel like I’m doing all kinds of different stuff.
What is your lyrical process like, and it’s sources of inspiration…?
I’m not as much of an active reader as I would like to be. But I do find that whenever I do get really into reading books, I find it very useful. There’s definitely a lot of me paraphrasing interesting stuff from books. On the album, I think Kurt Vonnegut, I’ve paraphrased a little bit there; or else on the first EP, there’s loads of Russell Hoban stuff that was like coming through on that. So yeah, I mean, you know, I’m always writing stuff down.
How much of your art would you say is rooted from some kind of pain or trauma?
It doesn’t have to be like that seismic. I’m not very good at writing songs when I’m suffering, but I’d say the aftermath of that is usually what happens when I write the most. It’s: “okay, I’m done suffering now. Now here are some lyrics about that.” Yeah, like pretty much all Thank songs, even if it’s something that’s relatively petty, a lot of it is still kind of rooted in those kinds of experiences.
I think it can be cathartic, sometimes the stuff that pain or the painful experience, in retrospect might be quite inconsequential, so sometimes it’s like I’ve written about this and this is how I was feeling at the time, but I suppose sometimes that’s even where the humour comes from. I would say the first EP in particular is like the most emotionally raw thing we’ve done, but some of the stuff I was crying about on that is pretty pathetic.
Have you always been the frontman type and how has your approach changed?
I feel like early on that was just by default, because I was the person writing the songs when I was younger, and no one really wanted to sing. In fact, nowadays, I’m playing guitar early on, I was just doing vocals and it’s the only one I’ve really been in where I’ve done that – and that’s a lot of fun. I think if you want to be a frontman, it takes like a certain amount of narcissism or whatever whicH is probably something that I’m guilty of. My parents made me start going to drama club and I kind of took to that but yeah, I was cripplingly shy till I was probably eight or nine years old and even now I’m like still very shy in certain situations. So it’s very weird. To be a frontman and to be putting on the Billy Big Bollocks routine in front of a roomful of people when actually, in certain other circumstances I’d be like, properly shrinking violet kind of thing.
You previously talked about not really listening to noise rock much anymore: what’re you listening to now, and what’s the connection between music you listen to and music you write?
There definitely is still a connection. So when we were really deep into the writing of the album, I was listening to a lot of These New Puritans, particularly their second album and their fourth album, I’d say the way a lot of the rhythms on the album are quite influenced by them.
I was also listening to a lot of King Crimson; a lot of Mitski, I don’t think that anything that we do sounds much like her, for a few years now has been a big influence on how I structure songs because I think she’s very good at like trimming the fat and just not including any extraneous or superfluous stuff. Nothing extra, no frills and I really like that. I really respect that the new Fiona Apple album a lot as well actually, again, that probably comes through because it’s so percussive.
What are the plans for the rest of the year?
So we’re booking a lot of gigs in at the moment… a couple of festivals booked. I think we’re playing raw power festival in London in August.
I would like to think that we will be recording album two by December of this year. But well, you know, you never know how these things are gonna work out.
Order ‘Thoughtless Cruelty’ here. Thank continue their UK tour, the last date in Manchester at Peer Hat.