Make History, Detroit band Thunderbirds are Now!‘s 3rd full-length and second on Frenchkiss Records, does away with a band in full tail-chase and depicts one at it’s peak: no longer stressing about what people might expect, but rather wearing their influences better than one of Interpol’s tailored suits. “We live off of pop music,” says singer/guitarist Ryan Allen. “Some Beatles for breakfast, a little Smiths for lunch, and the Pixies for dinner. Sometimes we’ll have a little New Pornographers for a midnight snack.” Further, “making an album full of melodies, actual choruses, songs in major keys… it’s something I think we all grew up with, so it was inevitable that we’d make a record like this. It’s our chance to do right by our influences and by ourselves.”
To document Make History the band convened in New York and Philadelphia with longtime friend John Schmersal, famous for his signature guitar skronk as a member of Brainiac and for his skewed-pop sensibilities with his current band Enon. Schmersal’s ear for melody as well as unconventional sounds and structures helped TAN! find a perfect marriage between the straight-ahead and the peculiar. It’s a coupling that can be heard all over Make History. Chris Zane & Syd Butler (proprietor of Frenchkiss Records & Bassist of Les Savy Fav) mixed the album. Take the opener, “Panthers in Crime,” which starts off with an acoustic introduction and crashes to an end with keyboardist Scott Allen manning a Hammond organ and drummer Matt Rickle bashing his kit. Or examine “The Veil Comes Down,” a four-on-the-floor rocker that features bassist Howard Chang’s steady rhythms and some of the most eccentric keyboard noises the band has ever cooked up. The eleven-song album culminates with live staple “(The Making of…) Make History” and its chorus of pop-centric “ba ba da ba’s” singing the album to its triumphant close. It’s all done with the utmost intent of separating themselves from the dance-rock and the post-post-punk pigeonholing that has plagued some of their contemporaries, making their own history along the way.
For those unfamiliar with the band’s ever-changing evolution, let’s get you up to speed: The band started off as a five-piece in the suburbs of Detroit, eventually trimming down to drummer Mike Durgan, bassist Marty Smith, keyboardist Scott Allen, and singer/guitarist Ryan Allen. The band released two EPs and one full-length record (2003’s rambunctious Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief on the Action Driver label), before signing to Frenchkiss Records to release their 2005 breakthrough Justamustache. The record garnered praise across the board from tastemakers like Pitchforkmedia.com and others.
After Smith left the group to become a married man the band drafted bassist Howard Chang and hit the road with fervor, touring with the likes of Enon, Minus the Bear, The Hold Steady, The Constantines, These Arms are Snakes, Supersystem, and Rahim. Summer 2005 saw the band make their first appearance on the American summer festival circuit playing the Pitchforkmedia-curated Intonation Music Festival. To cap off their year the band visited the UK for the first time. In early 2006, Durgan left the band, so new drummer Matt Rickle (of Detroit faves Javelins) stepped in to the fray, joining the band for their first-ever Australian tour alongside Les Savy Fav and the Hold Steady. 2006 promises more of the same upward trajectory for TAN! starting with Make History in the fall and their patented brand of unrelenting touring and inspiring live shows around the globe to follow.
Your new album is called “Make History”… who the fuck do you guys think you are?
The title is meant to suggest a few things. First, it’s supposed to be a bit cocky, in the sense that yes, there is no way our band is going to ever achieve something on the level of the Beatles or Nirvana, but who is to say that you aren’t allowed to try? Additionally, we are attempting to encourage the idea that life is short and that everybody needs to try and carve out their own bit of history in whatever they do. Paint a picture. Make a record. Walk an old lady across the street. Shit like that. Also, who the fuck do you think YOU are, sir?
I’m the guy who asks the questions, son. Next one: You guys change members more often than Lindsay Lohan changes bikinis. What happens to the former members after they leave the band?
Most often, they are sent off to a farm to incubate for a few months. They grow back the hair they’ve lost, begin a more regular diet, and attempt to relearn how to sleep in actual beds, rather than on the floor of a dirty punk-house in Madison, Wisconsin. Soon they are released back into the world as model citizens, primed to make babies, buy houses, and take their girlfriends/wives out to eat with ease. The remaining members of the band watch from afar, constantly peering into their empty wallets, trying to imagine what it would look like with a couple Abe Lincolns chilling up in there.
We heard you guys turned into pussies on the new album. What happened?
Fuck you dude. Suck our dicks.
Seriously though, what happened?
Dude. FUCK YOU.
Fine, but I was just curious.
Fine, but I was just curious.
Don’t mock me!
My, aren’t you smug? I just thought you guys would like the opportunity to defend the change in direction you made on the new album. I guess I could have worded it differently. Calling you “pussies” probably isn’t the best way to get on your good side, now is it?
No it’s not, but we accept your apology. We’re just really sensitive about that kind of thing, you know? Anyway, yes, the new album does take a turn away from the dance-influenced spastic punk that we’re sort of known for, and focuses more on the lyrics and achieving an overall timelessness in the songs. In this age of Myspace and manufactured punk, it seems that anything with energy and abandon to it has to also lack ambition in order to sell some records. We’re more in the mind of trying to make a record that you want to hear ten years from now instead of ten days from now.
Wow. That’s pretty deep. Oh, will you guys ever learn how to play Kariki?
Does your second album suck?
No, actually it’s pretty fucking good.
The show is over. Who wants Taco Bell?