Rip It Up
After 27 years in business (and occasionally out of it), Thunder are on a serious mission. In an era when most bands of their provenance are more concerned with sticking to a safe formula than with delivering music with impact and meaning, the London- and Brighton-based five-piece are only concerned with doing their absolute best. Compromise is not on the agenda.
"We’re running out of time to deliver our best work, because we’re getting older. I’m acutely aware of that," says singer, manager and radio presenter Danny Bowes. "For us it’s all about quality and value for money for our audience. It would be all too easy at this point to say, ‘The fans are there, the record company are paying for it, let’s just do a standard album’ but we hate that idea. The pressure is there to make everything as good as it can be. Everybody has to step up."
Then again, compromise has never been part of Thunder’s worldview. Bowes, plus guitarists Luke Morley and Ben Matthews, bassist Chris Childs and drummer Gary ‘Harry’ James, have always faced life’s challenges down with unwavering dedication. Their early career – think raucous recording sessions, armies of female ‘companions’, lakes of booze and iconic slots at Donington (Download in new money) – may have been a whole barrel of chaotic fun, but those times also came with personnel shuffles and management chaos. Even Wonder Days, the band’s remarkable comeback album in 2015, was no walk in the park, with Matthews conquering a life-threatening illness during the recording process.
Through it all, Thunder survived – which leads us to Rip It Up, their eleventh studio album. It’s a record with big boots to fill, as Wonder Days raised the bar significantly for its creators when it came to creating a follow-up. Fortunately, Rip It Up steps up to that challenge with utter confidence, bringing 11 songs that cover a wide range of sounds and emotions to the rock territory of 2017.
"Rip It Up is certainly not Thunder by numbers: it was a real challenge to make," reflects Morley, who composed the songs and produced the album during the spring and summer of 2016 at Rockfield Studios in Wales. "Everybody had to think outside the box and leave their individual comfort zones. At the same time, it still sounds like Thunder – and to me, that’s evolution."
Rip It Up comes at an exciting time for Thunder. Wonder Days was recorded in three separate recording sessions rather than a single extended marathon, recalls Danny Bowes, and this approach yielded such high-quality results that the band repeated it for the new record.
"Doing the new album this way cost more money, and it took a while to make, but it was the right thing to do," says the loquacious singer. "A lot of effort went in over a long period of time, especially for Luke, but having recorded Wonder Days that way and getting such great results, we took the same approach in the recording, and we all had to step up our performances to capture the new songs, but it worked. We made changes in the mixing and mastering, and both changes paid off.
The last album had some songs looking back through rose-tinted spectacles: this album is all about the now. The Rip It Up title sums it all up: the lyric and the message say, ‘If you don’t like your life, don’t put up with it, change it’."
So where are Thunder at as we enter 2017? In a great place, reveals Bowes. "We’ve never taken our audience for granted – ever," he tells us. "When one of our shows sells out, we tell our fans that we’re stunned and grateful – because we really are!"
Morley adds: "You know, it’s very easy to make the same album and use it as an excuse to go on tour, but with us that’ll never happen. I always want to write better songs than I did last time. We may not have made our best album yet – who can say? You have to keep that in your sights and do the best you can."
"I genuinely believe that our best work still lies ahead of us," states Bowes. "There’s more in Luke’s creativity that can be unlocked, and the band’s ability to capture his songs gets better with every record. Some may say that our best album is behind us, but I don’t believe it and I never have: I’ve always felt that the next album could be our best."
How many other bands can say the same? Roll on 2017: for Thunder, it’s going to be the time of their lives. Make sure you’re along for the ride.