Introducing Thelma Ball, a new breezy indie rock band full of messy riffs, hazily distorted vocals, and a broodingly melancholy edge. The band have been together for a good few years now, and released the Self Help EP last year which is an outstanding collection of tracks; Healthy Pupil would have to be my favourite track, with really softly distorted guitar accompanying Mike’s vocals which have a hazy sound through the distortion of the microphone. The blurriness of Mike’s vocals are a main feature in the band’s music, giving their sound a very retro-vintage rock aura, drawing similarities to vocal effects used by Julian Casablancas in The Strokes. The band’s sound is quite experimental, but still draws on classic indie rock- there’s that breezy American rock feel to their music, as if it came straight out of a gritty New York studio. Confused is a brilliant track too, with really strong, solid guitar playing throughout. Thelma Ball’s music is very consistent and solid, keeping the heavy guitar and soft but cleverly intricate drum riffs, all tied in perfectly by that retro rock sound from the vocals. Their sound is very brooding and charming, with such fantastic old school rock elements in it that their tracks leave an undeniable impression on you. It’s very blunt and raw music too, with no pretence about it; what I particularly liked is how uncompromising it is, with little experimental riffs and sounds, especially on Start A Fight. The opening riff and that heaviness of the guitar on Start A Fight is immense too, with those classic raw vocals and soft drumming building it up into an immense burst of indie rock power. The name “Thelma Ball” is actually the name of Mike’s grandma, and the four piece are composed of Mike on guitar and vocals, Rob on guitar, Liam on bass, and Jamie on drums. The London based band have an unreal sound, which I’m hoping will help them take off properly in 2017; for fans of artists like The Strokes, they might just be your new favourite band.
You can read my interview with Thelma Ball below:
Tell me about your band; who’s in it and how did you form?
Michael: Liam and I have been playing music together for ages, this guy seems to be able to play anything so if I wanted to start a samba-punk-metal band, I’d probably still ask him. I met Monte and Jamie after leaving the flat lands of Lincolnshire and like an inevitable and predictable love story, we’ve ended up playing together
Liam: Mike and I are originally from a small town in Lincolnshire called Holbeach, and have known each other since we were 14-15. We went to college together, and were in a couple of bands before Thelma Ball, so we kind of know the ins and outs of each other’s playing. Mike met Monte and Jamie at Hertfordshire Uni; I think they were all on the same course. I moved down to London a few years ago into the same house that Mike and Monte lived in. We were a three piece for a while, Mike, Jamie and me, until we decided we needed a second guitar to give us a fuller sound, and that’s where Monte came in
How did you come up with the name ‘Thelma Ball’?
Michael: When we started out, we were using the name, SZYSLAK, a reference to the famous bartender from The Simpsons. The name change came about after one mispronunciation too many, aside from the fact that even the keenest spellers were struggling to find us. Thelma Ball is the name of my grandma, somehow it seemed like the right way to go and it sounds odd but it didn’t feel too much like a person’s name, like Stuart Robinson or Anne McCarthy does, not that I have anything against the use of those particular names, however
Liam: We’ve gone through many different names. We were called SZYSLAK for quite a while, after Moe Szyslak from The Simpsons. But we had to change it due to people being unable to spell it… it wasn’t fun having to spell the name out to people during gigs! Thelma Ball is the name of Mike’s Nan; it’s a cool name and it doesn’t really have a specific meaning behind it
Tell me a bit about where you’re from and the local music scene
Michael: We come from all over the land. Liam and I are from a small town in Lincolnshire whereas Jamie and Monte had London and Liverpool to keep them occupied. Growing up, there was a lot of travel in between gigs for the bands Liam and I played in and a lot of bands knew each other within what there was of a local music scene. London is almost the opposite, there are so many bands that you’re always playing with different people and we’ve swapped the long distances for traffic. In London, you’ll find us at most Joe Osborne & The Winter Moon gigs and vice versa, so there’s a ‘mini scene’ there maybe
Liam: Where me and Mike are from is one of the flattest places in the country, a lot of it is below sea level… there’s more hills there than what there is a music scene. It’s alright if you’re in cover bands playing in pubs and that, but it’s a vast sea of nothing if you want to get out there doing your own stuff. We’ve played at places all around London. I wouldn’t really say there’s that much of scene per se, there are little snippets of stuff here and there. We’ve played with some really great bands, but most of the time they’re a complete different genre to what we are
Monte: I’m originally for Liverpool but recently moved to London. Liverpool music-wise is really thriving, I know a few decent venues have shut down in the city over the last few years but there are still some great bands around
You note some key influences being The Strokes, Nirvana and Mac DeMarco; which other artists have influenced you and who did you grow up listening to?
Michael: In the last few years, bands like Tigercub, The Growlers and Slaves have made an impression as well as a few classics like Pixies. I’m also a supporter of Rodrigo Amarante, otherwise known as the man who does the Narcos theme tune. I like the way he can put a song together. I remember the first music I put on my MP3 player was comedy music like Weird Al Yankovic. I’ve also listened to a lot of Arctic Monkeys and RHCP in my time, there’s a bus service in my hometown called the 505 that will forever provide imagery for the AM classic
Liam: Personally I’m a massive fan of The Beatles; McCartney’s written some of the most melodic, catchiest bass lines ever, and that’s definitely influenced the way that I play. When I was a kid I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be Liam Gallagher or Robbie Williams when I grew up
Monte: I’d say the Pixies, Pearl Jam, Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine are my other influences. I grew up playing in heavier bands, so I’d also add bands like Trash Talk, Gallows, The Misfits and Ceremony to the list too
Jamie: I’ve always listened to a lot of hip-hop and punk rock. These styles may always sneak into the music
What’s your first memory of music?
Michael: I used to go and see my Dad play in bands around town when I was very young so probably that, although I have fond memories of listening to Hendrix in the car during trips to Scotland, Highway Chile is still one of the best things to hear on a car journey
Liam: I can always remember watching/listening to my dad play guitar at home. I must have been around three, or four years old; I think that’s where my real love for music began
Monte: Buying my first ever album – Enema of the State by Blink 182
Jamie: Long drives with my parents as they played Prince and Marvin Gaye
What influences your lyrics?
Michael: I remember the first song I wrote was a parody of the popular hymn that went, ‘I’m going to paint a perfect picture’, reworked into, ‘make a perfect pizza’. That song was largely influenced by my favourite toppings at the time. Nowadays, I’m drawn to the grey area we all seem to occupy, neither especially satisfied nor that unhappy and unsure if you’re being ambitious or delusional. I find it interesting to write about the niggling feelings at the back of people’s heads that have so much control over us
Given the state of politics currently, would you ever consider embodying that in your music?
Micahel: I think it’s inevitable that politics will influence our wider ‘grey areas’ and levels of satisfaction, so indirectly, we do and would. I think it’s important when people are political with their music and there are smart, effective ways to do it. I’d always feel slightly trepidatious about tackling a particular political issue in an explicit way because the song is then forever tied to it, but if it felt right then definitely
Monte: I’d like to, perfect time for it really – there’s a lot to say, and no one saying it right now (in a musical sense)
Jamie: If it is something that you feel hasn’t been said then nothing should be off limits in music
What’s been your favourite music release this year?
Michael: It could be City Club by The Growlers, I’ve got plenty of use out of it already and went to see them in Brixton recently, which was very, very good. Joe Osborne & The Winter Moon also offer a very nice Christmas time purchase with their EP, The Republic. They are a talented bunch and need checking out
Liam: It’d be a tossup between Everything You’ve Come to Expect by The Last Shadow Puppets, the Future Present Past EP by The Strokes, We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest, or The Heavy Entertainment Show by Robbie Williams
Monte: Tough one, I’ve listened to the DMA’s, Skepta’s and Radiohead’s new records a lot. If I had to say one I’d say Skepta’s Konnichiwa for the cultural significance
Jamie: A Tribe Called Quest never fails to disappoint. Their new album We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is a definite recommend
What’s the best gig you’ve been to?
Michael: It might have to be Mikhael Paskalev at Electrowerkz although seeing him at Sebright Arms was special because I didn’t know who he was, my good friend Jonnie asked if I wanted to go and it turned out to be a great decision. Paskalev told me I looked like Jeff Buckley at Electrowerkz though, which I can’t ignore
Liam: I was lucky enough to see Paul McCartney at The O2 a few years ago, that’s definitely top of the list for me
Monte: Probably Deftones at Leeds Festival back in 2009
What’s the dream venue/ festival to headline?
Micahel: For me, the marker growing up was playing on Jools Holland. I find it hard to dismiss how great it would be to fulfil that fantasy, playing at Celtic Park would also be a treat though
Liam: Got to be either The Hollywood Bowl, or Glastonbury. I’ve always liked the idea of playing in an amphitheatre type venue.
Monte: Primavera on the beach
Jamie: Playing Glastonbury would be awesome. It’s such an iconic festival. Or Reading Festival for nostalgic childhood memories
Who’d be your favourite artist (living or dead) to collaborate with?
Michael: Jeff Buckley would be humbling. Johnny Cash would be fun, we could eat cake in a bush afterwards.
Liam: I think Josh Homme would be amazing to work with, both as a producer and a musician. Arctic Monkeys wouldn’t sound anything like they do without his producing on Humbug. Julian Casablancas would be another person who’d be great to work with. He produced the newest Growlers album, City Club, and you can really hear his influence on it.
Monte: Kurt Cobain
Jamie: There’s so many I would love to work with. Collaborating with Amy Winehouse would have been a great experience!