'Please listen without prejudice'
Dublin's finest, The Thrills, are back with a much-anticipated album and a Belfast date tonight. John Meagher hung out with the lads and found them a delightful bunch
It's the Thursday night before Oxegen and the sweaty ABC2 venue in Glasgow is rocking to the sound of The Thrills. Dublin's most commercially successful new guitar band of the decade is racing through a 50-minute set that includes six new songs and a hand full of oldies. The crowd is loving what it hears, singing back tunes like Big Sur word-perfect, and listening respectfully to material from the forthcoming album, Teenager.
There's a lot of love for The Thrills in Glasgow tonight. "That went really well," frontman Conor Deasy says in the dressing room afterwards. "Did you notice that some people knew the lyrics to every song?" bassist Padraic McMahon says.
I've spent the previous few hours in the company of the band, talking about the new album, and will sink quite a few pints with them as the night goes on.
"Yes, the album has been a long time coming," Deasy says. "And we had it finished about a year ago, but then realised it wasn't quite what we wanted so we had to work on it again."
"It's deflating when that happens," keyboard player Kevin Horan says. "Because so much work has been put in already, but we felt the album needed some new songs." Hence tunes like Teenager's opener, Midnight Choir, perhaps the most fascinating song this band has yet penned. "The extra toil was worth it for moments like that," guitarist Daniel Ryan says. "And we certainly toiled on this album."
The band decamped to Gastown, Vancouver - the notorious district of this otherwise sedate town - to work on the album with long-term producer Tony Hoffer. And then there was a stint in Wexford, which saw some newer songs come to fruition.
While there are signs of a departure sonically, those who fell in love with the band's jangly pop have no cause to fear. "There's something for everyone on this record," Deasy insists.
Whatever you may think about this band, know this; they are among the most eminently likeable bunch of musicians you're ever likely to meet.
Deasy is charming and engaging, without ever giving the impression he wants to ingratiate himself with a journalist to make himself look good. He's popular with the females too, happy to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
Classic good looks help, of course, but he is an approachable sort and quite keen to shoot the breeze with anyone.
Ryan doesn't drink or do drugs. He retains a childlike wonder of music that flits from an impassioned discussion of the merits of 50 Cent to the glories of Metallica. He has become friends with Dexy's Midnight Runners' frontman Kevin Rowland. "I was invited down to see them practising I Couldn't Help It If I Tried (an early Dexy's favourite), and I'd thought I'd died and gone to heaven."
McMahon can't wait to get his hands on the Interpol album (which hadn't been released at that point). "I really envy you having heard that," he says, examining the tracks on my iPod. Deasy is also a fan and borrows the MP3 player to take a quick listen to the new tunes.
When I first met the band, some months before the release of the Mercury Prize-nominated debut album So Much For The City, four years ago, I was struck by their knowledge of all facets of the arts. That hasn't changed one iota - their tour bus, for instance, is crammed with DVDs. McMahon asks me to nominate my favourite albums of the year so far and he makes note of the ones he hasn't heard yet on his BlackBerry.
The friendships between the bandmates seem palpable and they appear genuinely interested in each other's opinions. Late in the night, Deasy and McMahon engage in a passionate argument about Pete Doherty (Deasy reckons he has talent, McMahon isn't so sure).
Kevin Horan seems to be the butt of the playful jokes - including an involved discussion about his dislike of ketchup - but it's something he takes in his stride.
Drummer Ben Carrigan is nowhere to be seen. He has long been considered the quietest member of the band and shortly after the set, he returns to his hotel for an early night.
Various attempts are made to get him to join the band later, but he's clearly shattered.
This is the tail-end of an exhaustive UK tour that saw them playing everywhere from Plymouth in the southern tip of England, to Moray in the Scottish Highlands.
"That was a good one," says Horan of the Scottish gig. "It was a cow shed, of all places, but the atmosphere was something else."
Three days after we met, the band is due to play Oxegen. Deasy admitted to a sense of trepidation playing a hometown gig. "We haven't played Ireland for a while," he says. "Of course, it means that bit extra to play at home."
The Thrills formed in 2001 (an early moniker was the Cheating Housewives) and burst into the public eye four years ago, having impressed abroad before they were noticed by the masses here.
Their brand of West Coast guitar pop with its Beach Boys-inflected melodies and songs about the Californian dream saw them bag a appearances on the hit US show The OC (Adam Brody, who plays Seth Cohen in the series is a fan).
It wasn't long, however, before public opinion back home seemed to turn against them with some suggesting Deasy's songs were affected and that they were one-trick ponies.
Deasy says the band has had to contend with none-too-subtle criticism in their hometown.
"People shout things at you on the street," he says. "I was walking down the street in Dublin, minding my own business, when this guy starts following me, shouting abuse. I went into a pharmacy and he followed me in, shouting abuse. I lost it at that point. There's only so much of that you can take."
Ryan says that he met a female acquaintance on the street some time back. She was with her boyfriend and introduced me as Daniel from The Thrills. Straightaway, he mentioned that he didn't like the band, but best of luck to us anyway.
"I mean, that's a bit like being introduced to a solicitor and straight away saying how much you dislike solicitors."
There's also a sense that The Thrills aren't exactly flavour of the month with other, far less successful Irish bands either. "If I was in a band I probably wouldn't like us," Deasy concedes. "It must be incredibly frustrating to be in a really good band and not get the breaks."
Ryan interjects at this point: "But we worked hard. This didn't fall into our laps. There might be a perception out there that it did, but we really worked at this and we're still doing so."
The band is also well aware of the unkind things the critics have been saying, particularly the scathing reviews - this writer included - that greeted the second album, Let's Bottle Bohemia. "What hurts is someone you have a lot of respect for writes something considered and yet dislikes it," Deasy says. "What doesn't matter at all is some hack" - he spits out the word - "who files some lazy, glib review. That's water off a duck's back."
But the band is aware of the reviews. Later, an Irish music writer who slagged off the new lead single, Nothing Changes Round Here, gets mentioned. "He's never liked us," manager Alan Cullivan says. "But that's fine with us." Such rejections are easier to handle when one considers The Thrills' celebrity fans.
Former tennis great John McEnroe has hung out with them backstage and was convinced by the band to introduce them before a New York show.
"We were playing for a Manhattan audience that might have seen it all, but not this local boy - a tennis legend - introducing a band from Ireland," Ryan chuckles. They have also become close to Oasis - "the nicest guys you can imagine," Ryan says. "They treated us incredibly well, and would often be in the wings listening to our warm-up set," Deasy remembers. Deasy is reluctant to anticipate how well Teenager is going to do. "That's an unwise game," he says. But he has a defiant message to his critics: Listen without prejudice.
The Thrills play Spring & Airbrake, Belfast, tonight. Box office: 0870 2434455. Teenager is released this week