Thine interview from Qvadrivivm #5 (2008)

Bleaker Optimism

Interview: Kuronen

31 jan. 2003.
Friday, 9:30 A.M. Hung over. One of the best days of the year.

5 Dec. 2003. Friday, 9:30 A.M. The same physical-existential condition. One of the worst days of the year.

On the second occasion, I put In Therapy, the second part of Thine’s assumed trilogy of albums, in the player because I want it to mirror the first occasion, to work as a sort of ironical remark on the threads to recent personal history. The first time it is played for entirely different reasons.

Katatonia-mop Jonas Renkse has stated that he doesn’t like it when artists start to write happy songs after a certain time period. Depressive is the kind of music he likes. “Even when I’m in a good mood, I listen to depressive music. Actually it makes me happier,” goes the argument.

What lies behind the thought patterns and behavioural blueprints of a human being when he, on the most beautiful and exuberant day of the year, on the peak of his existence, puts on a record like In Therapy and can enjoy it to the tee, without feeling the slightest hint of negativity? Why do I use In Therapy as a counterbalancing force? This I ask Thine guitarist Paul Groundwell.

“From the perspective of In Therapy, many people may not even notice that it is a pretty dark and bleak album and maybe that is its charm. It is a deception. The woman who smiles at you in the park on a Saturday afternoon could be thinking of horror.

“The man down the road who says hello every morning with a wave and a smile could go home and beat up his wife. People who find us accessible upon listening do not have to know our darker side. People who do not know English may think we are a happy band of boys on some songs.

“Depressing music is also beautiful at the same time. I think that listening to dark music helps diffuse the negativity in a way. It becomes calming like a therapy session.

“It helps you to understand and comprehend. A topic that is depressing often derives from a topic based on love so its roots are usually the same. The best love songs usually have some twist or looming tragic end. It is the way of life. To love and lose. If music is thought provoking, it is depressing only if you chose to see it that way.

“Maybe albums hold two functions in that if we are depressed, then we relate to a depressive album that is almost sympathetic to our problems, yet when we are happy, we can just enjoy the album for its mood and creativity because at that moment in time the problems are theirs and not ours to share with them.

“It depends. Is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory a happy, family film or a dark, at times unnerving experience? I think it’s pretty messed up myself.

“By the way, Jonas really liked In Therapy, so he obviously knows what he’s talking about.”

So there.

let’s go back a few years. Thine used to be a band very different from the one they are today. In Therapy uses a rather heavy marker to underline the transitions that have taken place in the group’s music. In a variety of respects, the simple melancholic metal rock renders the earlier, textured editions of Thine a square metre of ancient canvas. This is something the band have made quite clear in interviews. “If we had tried not to sound like a certain band, we would have sounded like a different one anyway,” ran some utterance. This kind of progress could promote not only bemusement but also downright anger in some people (‘fans’, as they are called). Hence it is best to offer Paul Groundwell an opportunity to clarify things.

“The earlier Thine became a weird fusion of styles and a willingness to not be held within boundaries,” he says. “Maybe this is why we keep changing so much—because we do not want to be caged… We do not want people to predict our patterns. We are not formulaic in our approach to a release. If we were a big, commercially successful group then maybe our intentions would differ—but I can’t imagine that happening right now.

“The early Thine incarnation was magnificent. The songs on the first album kept you guessing, kept you awake. It was like an insight into the tragedy of man as told in the style of a prophetic dream or something. It was very symbolic. Every line had several meanings depending on your perspective of context. Imagery was heavily used as well because the music was less restricted. We could paint many pictures. “A gallery of the carnival of existence and the cunning of man”. I think Thine were misrepresented because people had to categorize us. It was conscious creativity.

“It is true that around the first album we ended up being compared to a load of old prog bands that we never listened to, but we didn’t mind if certain ideas sounded similar to other bands—the album just ended up sounding original because we threw many ingredients into the same pot at once.”

Between 1998’s A Town Like This and In Therapy, a lot of troubles and perturbing ghosts had to be got rid of. Once again, a great achievement was initiated by misery and misfortune.

Recalls Paul, “Other than members’ personal and mental problems, a lot of what drove us was the willingness to prove people wrong. Personally I spent many, many hours shaping In Therapy. It became like a spiteful shadow, because it followed me everywhere. It never really became a burden though, just stubborn determination and a conscious act of revenge. To make art you must have something that drives you, and negative energy usually works best. Maybe this is some people’s definition of Satan, as a source of pride and inspiration, when your closest friend is your own misery turned destructive. The ghosts never leave, although they only surface once in a while. It is an exercise in containment. In Therapy was an exercise in containment. I think the next album is an exercise in release, as could be said of A Town Like This. So yeah, the ghosts haven’t gone and I don’t want them to go, because, as you correctly stated, basically it is the shit that drives us.”

Was there any particular breakthrough moment for you in terms of your music between the two albums—something that made you realise you could work in this new form?

“Well, for one, we didn’t want to repeat ourselves,” Paul replies. “The evolution to the new style happened over a few months. After the first album, some more songs were written in a similar style. These songs were then dropped. I then compiled a tape of about 70 minutes of new stuff at the end of 1998, which was 90 percent clean guitar music with more catchy ideas and tunes compared with the first album. I don’t think the other guys were too keen though, because these songs did not incorporate much energy—they were more structured songs with lyrical tales similar to those on the first album. One was about a guy whose job was to collect the bodies of children from the local lake. He had a low mental age and could not grasp the concept of death. He would bring them to the shore and wonder why they were blue, and not moving, and not responding to him. The music to this song was, in contrast, quite light, almost jolly. I thought it worked well… not being so obvious as to reflect dark concepts with dark music. Sometimes the impact is reduced by revelling in too much drama. I kept the idea of shorter, structured, to-the-point songs where the vocal could dominate the song more than before. The new style has not really changed much since just after this point—early to mid 1999, after those songs were also dropped. The newer songs were just re-worked and re-worked until they were satisfactory.”

Some critics might claim that the all-important chance in Thine’s music has been lost and obliterated with the transition; that the unexpected elements have been replaced by superfluous opportunism.

Paul concurs to some extent: “I would probably agree that the element of surprise was sacrificed but, like I said, In Therapy was an album of containment. It is maybe best to see Thine as a concept in itself because you cannot understand a book by reading one chapter. In Therapy was one chapter. It is like a film. A Town Like This was maybe the grand visual opening sequence with location setting and In Therapy was more about plot and character development. In Therapy was a very psychological and gritty album that was more dedicated to restriction and consistency than to over-extravagant expression. This is how it retains an element of cold calculation. I used to fear criticism but it is just opinion. No problem.”

Going from the abundant, progressive complexity of A Town Like This to the streamlined style of emotional music presented on In Therapy has had its inevitable effects on the technique and inner psyche of the band.

“The new style is more accessible,” believes Paul. “It is not as initially challenging as before. It has been stripped down to incorporate a sense of reality and focus. The technique behind composing In Therapy was probably more complex and gives more raw insight into what we are about. Artistic ambition doesn’t change, it is not even a consideration. If inspiration comes as it does now, good. If not then we die because we would have no more determination or drive to succeed or create. It just happens because it is a part of life and not life itself.”

Many people have said that upon first listen In Therapy appeared to them as an excessively formulaic experience. I would have to admit to sharing this sensation. On the first exposure, everything seems to go on, but—with the exception of “Feel”, and perhaps “Contact Point”—not a lot happens. This tendency to grow listen by listen, a quality many of us know from the best and most hardwearing of rock albums, really shows on In Therapy.

“It is strange because I wanted the impact to be instant,” Paul reflects. “I wanted people to be hooked straight away. The basic song structures all came pretty easily over the course of time. They were re-worked many times though and some lyrics were also frequently re-written. This album was based more around rhythm and vocals than riffs, so this is why the vocal ideas were very important. It is weird though, because I have listened to In Therapy many, many times—way past the point when I should have become bored but I rarely tire of it. It is a case of becoming familiar enough with the album to differentiate and to listen to all the layers. Some reviews said the same thing—that initially there is nothing outstanding but then over time it unravels itself. The point of listening to an album is to try and make a stranger become a friend. A case of approach and circumstance (and quite often trend).”

If someone were to say that In Therapy lacks in dynamics, Paul would not lose his temper, instead recommending that person to get more intimate with the album.

“I would say to look at the songs individually. The songs themselves do not lack dynamics. Maybe people would like more variety from the album, which is fair enough, but I wanted this album stripped down of everything that is too fiddly or shiny. No nice little interludes. No Rock-God solos. That was not our style. The album is a statement. It was trying to avoid soap opera dynamics. If people choose to frown at strangers then it is their choice to keep a smaller circle of friends.”

“But you left me / Doesn’t that count for anything? / I’m a product of you and for you / Now please excuse me while I redecorate this world for you” – Thine, “Deny Everything”

with Thine, even amid the rather drastic transformations, one of the main timbres has retained its central position: the noticeable eccentricity, flash of madness, even. On In Therapy, most of this quirkiness appears to reside in the dingy world of the lyrics. Whereas the music itself is quite conformist, there is a weighty batch of crooked thought to be found in the verse not printed on the sleeve. Paul says the general genesis of the lyrics was all his and Alan’s work.

“I wrote all the lyrics except “Feel”, “In Therapy” and “Contact Point” which were by Alan. You are right in that the musical quirkiness has gone. This is probably more a diary than a colourful philosophy book with illustrations. Some of the change in writing style was to fit the lyrics into the song structure. If you are repeating a catchy chorus several times then you cannot write paragraphs of creative writing without repetition. It was a hard task to put across a song with deep, slightly twisted meanings with the way they are structured. I think it worked though. I have always preferred writing about darker aspects and observations. It is like a four-minute injection of experience. We always fear that which sounds too familiar to our own experiences or desires. I just wanted people to think—“yes, I know what you mean”.”

The particles in the representation of this twistedness are far between, but they seem to have one mutual factor—that of some sort of iciness of human behaviour. Within the compositions, there is violence working as a type of focalizer; love being portrayed through aggression and cruelty; martyrdom and inadequateness born out of not meeting the requirements of being a human; inner dystopia; estrangement; detachment; eccentric morals; what have you. Everything is framed, however, by utmost contradiction, as it seems that every time the destitution is complete, some sign of caring, understanding, and empathy will surface, as though a certain portion of humanity was always preserved for posterity. All in all, the lyrics contribute to a very cryptic, paranoid and schizophrenic setting. Everything emerges as being somewhat Kafkaesque. Even though I understand, from reading my share of Fish, Ingarden, Iser and their lot, that there has to be a strong reverence for the reader’s interpretation in the analysis of texts, I also believe there must be a core ‘text’ for all writing. Paul believes the grand scheme of the texts of In Therapy is merely balance.

“The lyrics are pushing and pulling—the same hand that welcomes and caresses you is the one that forms a fist and betrays you. There is much paranoia, because there is no longer a function for trust. There are no morals or conscience. Civilisation has become a myth because we still function on primitive impulses no matter how advanced our planet has become. Merely knowing right from wrong does not deem us civil. When one abides quite strongly by the code of morals, it does not make you better, it gives you more contempt for everyone else, who morals seem not to concern. I can easily write about violence because I can contain it. I can write about my ghosts because I can contain them also, but it doesn’t make the situation any less real. Lyrics are not just one theme per song, they are many small thoughts compiled into one. It is the untold secrets and desires of humans that probably interest me most—more what someone will think of but not dare say to you or admit to.

“Although most of the lyrics are rooted and spawned from reality and experience, some of the themes are obviously exaggerated. I think it succeeds though because it is the thought of the action rather than the action itself. In “Homewrecker Extraordinaire” and “Never Learn” there are flashes of violent imagery that are more like warnings than the actual thing. It is the thought of potential power that is capable of being released that disturbs. That doesn’t make it any less real, because the thought of the action was raw enough to enter your mind.”

So, paul perceives the musical side of In Therapy as the antithesis of the lyrical and thematic reality of Thine. A total contrast, that is what he wants the album to be. It follows that the high-tempo metallic rock an sich should carry a number of upbeat elements into the frame of mind of the listener. At least to my demented mind this is a rather difficult prospect to imagine.

“To me, this contradiction works well,” Paul says. “There are many cases of well respected members of a community being murderers or child molesters, yet to those who know him or her it is always the same, “No, this person would never do something like that“. It is mankind’s well-executed art of deception and phasing out of conscience. Potential killers walk the streets.

“Paranoia. The upbeat music is there to welcome you in, to tell you that everything is OK. It is the light at the end of despair. A term I use to sum it up is bleaker optimism.

“I am an optimist. The album could almost be two sided though:

“A: The music could be there to show that eventually, when all the bad stuff has passed, things will get better. The determination to succeed.

“B: The lyrics could be there to show that no matter how hard you try, tragedy is never far away.

“The result can just be an individual’s outlook in regard to their own way of tackling life.  Is the cup half-full or half-empty?”

Even though In Therapy is not a portrait of the most typical and simplified of emotions, the emotional capacity of Thine’s music has inarguably soared since the last full-length album. It almost seems as if this has made the music a more social experience, which must be an almost unheard-of characteristic for Thine. This change of perspective, says Paul, is to broaden the range and impact of emotion in the music.

“The music is now more accessible. The impact from a chorus was a very conscious effort—to be uplifting, beautiful but also often despairing. It has become more real. Perhaps it is our ‘coming of age’. The next album is sounding even more uplifting but perhaps a little too thoughtful and isolating to be a social experience unless it is a gathering of those who share some common malfunction.”

Yes, the next album. It is the closing episode of the trilogy. How will the monster ruin its disguise?

“We will do another album, darker than In Therapy in some respects, more primitive emotionally, maybe to close the chapter… maybe not. There are certain bands who shed their disguise to the world and look a lot less interesting for it. I think the monster remains of intrigue anyway because some of it is too close to truth to be exposed. The deception is more in the perceptions of the people and their willingness to come closer. We do not intend to ruin the disguise because people aren’t close enough anyway.

“The next album should not be far away. The songs are already written, although we’ll probably do a demo recording first. The music is a further evolution, although some elements from In Therapy remain. Some songs are more experimental but the lyrical topics are also quite similar. We do not want to just repeat that album though because this chapter will have much more to say. Obviously, the satisfaction is in the finished product.”

Quiz question: Who was it that Alan met at Bradford Rio in 1997-98 when Thine were supporting Anathema there, and why did he think it was me?

in all, In Therapy is, both musically and lyrically, a very conscious and calculated effort. Alan’s vocals seem an apt manifestation of these attributes; while being quite high in the mix, they give the impression of being rather colourless. Paul refers to them as ‘cold and stark’, ‘like emotionless emotion’, which is a good description. According to the guitarist, the vocalist, who also appears on the front cover of the album, was very paranoid and frustrated and had other stuff going on that were messing him up at the time of recording. Alan’s being on a low point makes the performance more real on the record because he was not really putting on an act, opines Paul.

It is often said that by the passage of time a high degree of calculation and consideration will find its relief in primitivism, the uncontrolled act of outing emotions; that the needs of emotion and freedom are not sufficiently nourished via meticulous contemplation and extreme fastidiousness. Paul reckons Thine might never be able to shake the elements of control and sensibility off of themselves. The surveillance stays.

“The calculation and consideration will always remain but will become more expressive rather than constraining, but not an uncalculated release of emotion. The needs were not supposed to be nourished, more suppressed. It is interesting to think of the limits of human emotional endurance. People ask me “Where does all your anger go?” It doesn’t go anywhere. I suppose it builds up which is why people seek release. I suppose this is the element of primitivism you mention but I am suspicious of many bands and their integrity towards a supposed outpouring of emotion. There is no point in pretending. I am sure some bands are genuine but I don’t like the thought of extreme music without extreme motivation.

“Thine are bound by restriction but we are our own entity and, for me, a whole following, a whole set up. We have been left out for certain reasons. My term was to keep us standing tall because we have done this for quite a long time now yet certain things remain inappropriate. This will be corrected. A band becomes an entity but is just somebody at home writing some songs. That is all. No secret formula. No master plan. I don’t write songs in the name of Thine or within the restriction of Thine code, I just become inspired and write. It is an institution for us because it became more than a mere foundation.”

On the release of the first album, many vipers deemed Thine victims of the typically British disease of cocky, know-it-all mentality coupled with a very cynical ‘besser wisser’ type look on life. Even if they aren’t all ‘dedicated and quiet’, Paul does not feel that the aforementioned is quite true of the characters and personalities in Thine.

“I am the dedicated and quiet one,” the guitarist says. “I don’t know about this cocky mentality. I don’t know what we were supposed to know to know it all. A thing I sometimes read in reviews is that “I knew Thine existed but I never read much about them“. How can we be cocky when we have existed in the shadows for years and many have barely heard of us? Something is wrong there… But yeah, maybe it did come across in the music—an air of sophistication and extravagance. A couple of members at that time were pretty extroverted but I am sure the vipers never ensnared them for long enough to even realise so. We are certainly no cockier than any other band. Probably much less so.”

A Town Like This has been described by the band as the first ‘metal noir’ album ever. In some ways, this term is reminiscent of the ‘tech noir’ coining that was used to glorify sci-fi films in the eighties. The same faux feel of imaginative over-sophistication could almost be applied to the concept of ‘metal noir’.

“I don’t know,” Paul’s weighs. “It was someone at Terrorizer who did an interview and at the end he had written,  “…Not black metal, but metal noir”. I thought this perfectly summed up the atmosphere I was trying to create on that album. It was a comparison to film noir I think, which contains dark topics and black humour of a certain ambience usually. It seems that this was reflected in our music and the content of the lyrics. It is a feeling of sophistication but more of a man with a cigarette in his mouth and a knife in his back.”

in the end, what do Thine have to do in order to exist to the fullest? As told by Paul, they have to retain the inspiration they have for creating music. Thine do not need people saying that they had heard the name but not read much about the band.

Well, that is what we have been here for. Paul has the final word: “Man, that was hard work. Am I cured?”

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