2014 Artist Survey: Thumpers

John Hamson Jr. and Marcus Pepperell on Heartwarming Fan Interactions, Common Criticisms of Their Music, Robin Williams, and Boyhood

Feb 04, 2015 Issue #52 - January/February 2015 - St. Vincent
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For Under the Radar's 12th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2014. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2014 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions.

Check out our Best of 2014 print and digital issues for answers from alt-J, Camera Obscura, Chromeo, The Dears, Death From Above 1979, Deerhoof, The Drums, The Flaming Lips, Glass Animals, Hookworms, Sondre Lerche, of Montreal, Ought, Owen Pallett, The Rosebuds, Still Corners, Strand of Oaks, Teleman, Sharon Van Etten, The War on Drugs, Warpaint, Woman's Hour, Wye Oak, Zola Jesus, and others.

 Here are some answers from John Hamson Jr. and Marcus Pepperell of Thumpers.

 [A shorter version of this interview ran in Issue 52, the Best of 2014 and January/February 2015 Issue, which is still on newsstands. This is the full version of the interview.]

 Top 10 Albums of 2014

 Marcus Pepperell:

1. Sharon Van Etten: Are We There-This was the most profoundly affecting album of the year for me. You learn something about yourself listening to this record.

2. FKA twigs: LP1-Kinda wish "Water Me" and "Ultraviolet" were on there too, but that's no real criticism. It's great.

3. St. Vincent: St. Vincent-Annie Clark blew us away at her SXSW performance and these songs were why.

4. tUnE-yArDs: Nikki Nack-A protest album with so much imagination, lightness of touch, and aggression all at the same time. It's just so fully committed and well-realized.

5. Future Islands: Singles

6. Owen Pallett: In Conflict

7. Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste-I love how these songs stomp all over your expectations of where they're going. It's a breathless experience, and her voice is so versatile and playful.

8. Wye Oak: Shriek

9. Sun Kil Moon: Benji-Some of the lyrics are so candid and understated. I can't remember the last time I was so undone by that approach in music.

10. Mac DeMarco: Salad Days

What was the highlight of 2014 for either you personally or for the band? 

 John Hamson Jr.: Playing outside Europe for the first time was really special. The fact that our record took us that far away from home was something we always dreamed would happen, so to be able to tour extensively in North America and visit Australia was a real gift.

What was the low point of 2014 for you? 

 Marcus: Having to cancel our European dates in March. It was completely out of our control, but nothing is worse than having to cancel dates-it makes me feel like we're being ungrateful, a state that is so far removed from our actual feelings about the support we've had.

What are your hopes and plans for 2015?

 Marcus: My main excitement is always the same: to see what we can come up with musically. We've had an intensely challenging 2014; we've toured three continents, released a debut album, collaborated with a load of other musicians (and non-musicians), learned a lot. I want us to crystallize those experiences into something more focused and powerful than we've done before. The good thing about being hyper self-critical in the way that we are is that we always have something to prove to ourselves.

U2's new album was downloaded for free into millions of users' iTunes accounts without their permission. Was it a wonderful gift to music fans or an invasive action that devalues music? Also, which artist, other than you, deserves to have their album automatically downloaded to half a billion people more than U2?

 Marcus: I was all set to write about how much of a bullying power play this move was on the part of U2 until I remembered that the Windows '95 CD's inclusion of the "Buddy Holly" video was exactly how I discovered Weezer. Now I'm lost. Hmm, it does make a difference, though, that Weezer were an alternative band on their debut album that had produced an era-defining music video, whereas U2 are already the biggest group on the planet and have produced... I'm not sure, I've sort of not bothered to listen to it. That's what they want! Whatever, it's subjective whichever way you look at it. Personally, I'd have preferred to get The Blue Album again. Maybe Apple could hack into my brain and delete my memory of it so I can enjoy it for the first time?

Did you take part in the ice bucket challenge? If not, why not? Grimes declined due to animal testing issues, was the grief she got for that deserved? 

 Marcus: We didn't. We were nominated, but were on tour at the time and just quietly donated. Pretty amazing how the campaign captured the public's attention, though. I, for one, think it's exciting that we have an alt-pop personality in Grimes that actively engages with these issues and that people care about her opinions. Isn't that fucking awesome?! She researched what the deal was with the challenge in general and gave a genuine reflective judgment on it. Whether or not you thought her stand was justified, she's raised awareness for something she cares about. There's someone in the limelight who assumes a thoughtful responsibility for her actions and has the ability to communicate her explanations for them so well. (Can we give props to Lorde for that too, please?)

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri opened up a new national dialogue on police shootings and racism in America. Do you think anything will actually change because of it?

 Marcus: You have to remain optimistic that tragic events like this will have their effect on national attitudes, yeah. To assume anything else is too distressing. But it is looking like it's going to be a really slow process. There's a responsibility to make sure that the event remains in the public consciousness and that is everyone's to share.

What's your craziest theory for what happened to the missing Malaysian Air flight?

 John: This was all going off when we were on our first American tour and one of the guys in our band was obsessed with it, so between hotel and venue Wi-Fi we were able to really go to town on our theories without truth or updates getting in the way. I think our favorite was the Lost-style plane landing on a tropical island.

Mark Kozelek was criticized in 2014 for insulting his audience (calling them "hillbillies" for talking during his set) and for making fun of The War on Drugs when their sound bled over to the stage he was playing. What responsibility do performers have to be respectful of their audiences and fellow bands?

 Marcus: None at all, they can do what they want if they are so (pointlessly) inclined. Inter-band fighting is pretty unrewarding for everyone concerned. As for audiences, I mean, they're pretty self-policing. If they've had enough of you, if your music is not worth putting up with your egocentrism for, one way or another they'll let you know. 

"Weird Al" Yankovic was back in a big way this year. If he were to lampoon any one of your songs, which one would you want it to be? What would the "Weird Al" version's lyrics be about? 

 Marcus: "Now We Are Sixteen" would always have been a better song as "Now We Are Springsteen."

Which common criticism of your music do you most agree with?

 Marcus: Er. I'd take any criticism of the album as being "over-exuberant" or "anxious" as a legitimate complaint, though I think it's also fair to say that depends on what you want from what you're listening to.

John: Our record was an intentional sonic overload, but in doing so I think that maybe distracted from the lyrical melancholy and hardness.

What's the most uplifting or heartwarming fan interaction you've ever had?

John: In Austin, TX this August we played one of our favorite shows ever at Stubb's BBQ. It was great to be back there after our time at SXSW, but also brought back memories of the accident that occurred just outside that venue which we witnessed the direct aftermath of. After the show this time, we're meeting people at the merch table and one of the people that got hit that night was there, still on crutches, but vehemently still going to gigs and still a huge music fan. It reminded me of that feeling at SXSW that the show goes on, despite some drunk asshole. Don't fuck with the music community, okay?!

Marcus: A fan of ours (hi, Melissa!) made us a book, a printed and bound bona fide book, of prints that she had designed based on aspects of our visual image. It was mind-bending attention to detail and we LOVE it.

What's the topic no one asks you about in interviews that you wish they would? Conversely, if you could get journalists to stop asking you one question, which would it be?

Marcus: A) Oh. We always just raise what we want to talk about! Are we doing it wrong? B) We're going to take out a super-injunction against journalists using the verb "thump" to describe our music. If we've named ourselves after it, don't you think we see its aptness already?

Who from your youth (such as a former bully, an unrequited love) do you most hope pays attention to the fact that you're now a successful musician?

Marcus: We had more than our fair share of fall-outs with other musicians when we were in earlier outfits. One of the most outspoken said he hoped there was a special circle of hell dedicated to us, but I think our angrily taking everything to heart then (and, boy, did we have reason to; we were rubbish) helped us in the long run. We owe it all to the haters. (And knowing they helped us will probably hurt them most anyway.)

What was your favorite music video as a child?

 Marcus: Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U."

John: Peter Gabriel: "Sledgehammer."

Which subject do you wish you paid more attention to in school?

Marcus: I dropped history on the basis of totally wild marking at my school, and that annoys me in retrospect. More than that, though, I regret the few years I spent not singing in the school choir because that shared experience is impossible to reproduce.

John: I was made to drop physics at 17, as my other option combinations didn't allow it. I think now I would really kick up a fuss or make it happen. Every so often I think about going back to school to get that qualification. 

Both Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman died in 2014. Did either death deeply affect you and do you find it strange to grieve for a stranger? Which celebrity's death in your lifetime has most affected you?

 John: Both of these deaths deeply affected me and are probably the most ever in my life. We were on tour for both of them, which makes me more emotionally vulnerable anyway, but hearing the news of Robin Williams as we were driving up to San Francisco left me sobbing in the van for a few hours. It's just-with both of these deaths actually-that you hope that once you're older, things are figured out, demons are fought/defeated, and you reach a level of peace. The fact that both these INCREDIBLE people had to turn to either drugs or suicide for relief is just heartbreaking. We were also in Berlin last fall when Lou Reed died and that, again, really broke me up. 

Which well-known filmmaker would you most like to direct one of your music videos?

Marcus: It's gotta be Spike Jonze. We both loved Her and Being John Malkovich, and so, so many of his music videos besides.

This year Grimes scrapped her new album due to negative fan reaction to its first single and her unhappiness with it. How much should fan reaction/expectation play a part of your creative process? Have you ever abandoned a big creative project far into it due to your dissatisfaction?

Marcus: Well, of course you shouldn't release music that you're unhappy with, but it's probably a braver thing than people might imagine to scrap a whole album entirely on your own judgment. We've never got so far with something and then abandoned it ourselves, no. Reacting to what your fans want is a reality of making art at a certain level, but I feel like a large part of what I respond to as a music listener is the creator's passion and excitement for their own sound. 

What's the funniest thing anyone said in a review of you this year?

Marcus: Someone described one of our songs as "greasy, moist-lipped" in a review. I don't know exactly what they meant by that, but I can't sleep now that I've seen those words deployed so close to each other.

What was the most important political or social issue that the press and the public largely ignored in 2014?

Marcus: I mean, I couldn't say it was the most important issue in the world when there are so many genuine disasters ongoing, but on a lifestyle front choosing your own time of death is up there, and actually that was something I was heartened to see in the press this year. In the U.K. we had a popular actor, Lynda Bellingham, very bravely record her decision to stop the chemotherapy that she was undergoing for treatment of cancer. With increased life expectancies in the U.K. and other countries, it feels as though we're on the frontier of a major movement in this area and-painful a subject as it is-the sooner people are able to discuss it in a real way, the better.

In 2014, what was the best movie you saw, book you read, comic book you read, video game you played, and/or TV show you watched?

 John: Boyhood really blew me away in terms of how it resonated so heavily with me when I watched it. It was something I feel I could have watched forever, like I could watch a whole life of someone like that. It actually really reminds me of how much I love some music: that sense of newness, but also familiarity that you sometimes get with songs, that it's always been in your life, because you couldn't imagine not knowing it. I think that's the drive for us making our second record, to truly connect with the listener on a deeper level than pop music. 

www.thumpers.co

www.facebook.com/thumpersthumpers

 

 

 



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