The Thons are a garage rock trio that make fun, surf-infused tunes that manage to sound both polished and off-the-cuff, which can be heard on their latest LP, Hot Fun. Singer Graham Onak delivers observations in a matter-of-fact sing slash speaking style, while Frank Thom and Greg Bry contribute bass and drums respectively. I chatted with The Thons about why they chose to take more time with it than their first two albums, and how their Loud Loop Press-exclusive single “No Me” was inspired by binge watching The Wire,. As always the single, which was recorded exclusively for LoudLoopPress.com by our very own Damian Wiseman, is available for free download at the conclusion of this post and/or can be streamed in the Bandcamp sidebar to the right.
LLP: So tell me how you guys came together. What’s The Thons’ origin story?
Frank: Graham and I have been friends since high school, and he got me playing in a live karaoke band called The Poseurs with two of our other friends. It was a good time playing shows, but I had played in original bands before and playing covers didn’t do quite the same thing as playing originals.
Graham: “Thons origin story” sounds like a prequel movie. I like it! Yeah, it was fun, but I had some originals I wanted to do. I started working those songs out with our original drummer Wyatt, and then asked Frank to play bass because the songs sounded really hollow without bass.
Frank: Yeah, Graham had left the karaoke band to start The Thons with Wyatt. I kept playing karaoke music for a while. Some other life events took place for me, and I left karaoke shortly after. Graham asked me to try out bass for his project. I agreed with some reservation because I didn’t want to overcommit myself. Well, it turned out that the Thons was a pretty good fun time and much less work than a live karaoke band, so the choice was clear to me.
Graham: We met Greg after playing a gig at the Beat Kitchen in December 2013 with his band Nude Intruder. I thought he was a really good drummer and when Wyatt left the band in May 2014, we asked Greg to join because some unfortunate events led to Nude Intruder disbanding. I thought he’d be a great fit.
Greg: I joined the band in either April or May of 2014, a couple of months after the singer of my band at the time got diagnosed with brain cancer. Nude Intruder played what would be its final show with The Thons and The Muzzlers at the Beat Kitchen. That’s where I met Graham and Frank. It was a great show, and I really dug what they were playing. When Graham asked me to play for them I couldn’t have been more excited.
LLP: So how does a typical Thons song come together?
Graham: Most of the songs start as something I hear in my head that I talk sing or beat box into my phone voice recorder app. I’ll then turn that into a Garageband demo that totally blows with cut and paste drum tracks to give a general idea of verses, choruses and stuff. After that I’ll upload the demos to Soundcloud and share them with the other guys. We’ll come into practice and work out live demos that we’ll record with a crappy little stereo recorder mic. The live practice goes up on Soundcloud, we listen to it, practice, record and repeat ‘til it starts shaping up into something. If it doesn’t feel right, I’ll either work on the Garageband demo more or scrap the song for later until it becomes a better idea. I think there are like six songs in the song graveyard that just felt shitty.
Greg: Just as Graham says. He comes up with some skeletal structures for songs and Frank and I add some muscle. We play around with that and eventually add some skin to solidify, and then add some tattoos to give this weird body some flare.
Frank: Almost every practice we’ve done has been recorded since day one, and that’s really helped in refining the parts we come up with. There can be one little riff I hear in the recording, that I never remember playing, that will stand out, and I’ll incorporate it into the song somehow. I don’t know how I ever rehearsed without recording. I barely have to pay attention in rehearsal anymore, all I have to do is listen to the recording and it’s all right there. Once in a while, Graham will have an idea he feels very strongly about and we play it exactly like the demo, which in some cases works really well. “Terminal Software” came about that way and also “He Lives,” as far as my part goes. If there was a need for me to play a better part I would, but Graham really nailed the parts on those.
Graham: Yeah, sometimes we’ll have a really good riff or jam during practice that we’ll develop into a more solid song. “Woo” is a good example of this. We went back and re-learned how to play the jam we recorded during practice a month or so earlier. It was actually pretty difficult to get the same feel and timing down.
LLP: You guys released a new album at the beginning of this year. Your bandcamp mentions that you spent more time recording it than the previous two LPs, what was the reason for that?
Frank: I think we really wanted to make this album a “listen-to-all-the-way-through” album, so we had lots to refine. A few songs go right into one another, and it took some practice and stamina to get that to work well.
Graham: Yes, I wanted this album to have a more polished, glued together kinda vibe. I felt like our earlier stuff wasn’t really very spacious sounding because we did no overdubs. It sounds a little hollow. I also wanted something you could start and kinda go on this journey, not feel like you have to skip tracks or whatever. So we cut in some noise recordings and tried to blend tracks together a little more.
Frank: Also, this may have been the first album that we hadn’t had ready in full before booking a recording date. The first two albums we just picked the best songs from our pool and recorded. If we didn’t get to some, they didn’t make the album. Hot Fun was being constructed after we had made a recording date, and we had rough versions of the songs we were trying to hammer out in time.
Graham: I think we spent six months working on Hot Fun which seemed like forever. The songs are different from our earlier stuff and just needed some extra time figuring out. We recorded the album in three sessions for a total of maybe ten hours. I don’t like messing with stuff too much. “Woo” was a one-take song. Other ones were maybe five takes. The goal was to get bass, guitar and drum lines down live, then I’d do vocals and a guitar overdub separately. This was different from our earlier albums where we did drums, bass, guitar and vocals live. So each track on those previous albums is a live performance. This can be a pain in the ass because if I ate shit on vocals, we’d start over which can be frustrating.
Frank: There were also some bass parts that I was really nervous about that I practiced over and over. I didn’t want to slack. Now I can play them in my sleep. I think it was the right way, and the tight way to go with this album. I hope this process will be trending with us moving forward.
LLP: Lastly, can you talk about “No Me,” the song you recorded for us?
Graham: “No Me” was heavily inspired by The Wire. I was binge watching it, and there’s this scene where this dude says “Did he have hands? Did he have a face? Then it wasn’t me.” And I was like “Holy Shit! That’s a pretty awesome line.” So it worked its way into my head, and somewhere down the road the words just fell into a riff I had going in my head one day. And it just turns into a song somehow.
Greg: I believe this song was the last one written with Wyatt on drums, right before I came on board. The song itself is pretty balls to the wall, so I wanted to make sure I delivered the forward drive. It’s a fun song to play. It’s super fast, and by time we finished the third take I was exhausted.
Frank: Yeah, we’d had the song for years so it was very familiar and fairly quick to get done. It’s one of our faster, more aggressive songs and one we hadn’t recorded in studio before. I was very excited to get it recorded, it’s one of my personal favorites! It wasn’t much different from our most recent recording experiences. We come in, set up, record 5 takes, use the best one, overdub some guitar, record vocals. Simple. We have never worked out a song or any sound out in the studio. We rehearse heavily pre-recording to make sure we can knock it out quickly. Damien was awesome to record with. No trouble at all, Just like it should be.