Not sleeping 'til it's over
Ben Carrigan, drummer with Blackrock boys The Thrills, who recently shot to fame with their debut album "So much for the city", talks about San Diego, sudden fame and the band's so-called "sunshine sound".
It's not easy being the Next Big Thing. It's 6:20pm and Ben Carrigan, drummer with The Thrills, has been up since 6am. The band is in Dublin for just 24 hours and he has been giving interviews since 10am. Looking like a slightly dishevelled Prince William in a navy Pringle v-neck and striped shirt, you'd expect him to be just a little ratty and more than a little tired.
As he explains, "If one more person starts that 'sun-drenched Beach Boys' crap, I'll kill them." But that's as near as he comes to complaining. Carrigan's enthusiasm is still brimming - for The Thrills' debut album 'So Much for the City', for his new lifestyle and for the band's future plans.
"We're still running on the adrenalin of it all. Six months ago, we were still rehearsing and it just suddenly took off. We're not taking it for granted for a second. These things don't last forever, so we're just enjoying it. If we don't get to sleep 'til it's over, we can put up with that!"
By this stage, the truth about The Thrills has become mixed up with well circulated myths. They followed their muse to a San Diego beach, sat on a sofa and wrote songs. They lied to their parents, saying they had a record deal and were about to become famous; for a year. Twenty-five British A&R representatives turned up at their first Dublin gig with shmooze, chequebooks and offers of half a million to sign. Their debut London show was supporting Morrissey at the Royal Albert Hall, after a personal invitation. Just for the record, it took Robbie Williams ten years to play there.
"The whole thing about San Diego isn't quite as romantic as some people make it out," Ben explains. "The notion wasn't necessarily to go over and write songs. When you leave school, you're suddenly free, you just want to go away and have a good time - work for the summer, get a bit of sun, sit on the beach with your mates, have a few beers and listen to music, you know? But apart from 'Deckchairs and cigarettes', everything else was written when we got back."
"So much for the city" has topped both the Irish and British album charts and it reached double platinum status within a month of its June release. Since then, the band have played their debut New York show at the Mercury Lounge, supported Beck and the Rolling Stones, announced two headline Olympia shows in December and received a nomination for the 2003 Mercury Music Prize (with judges describing the album as "a pristine debut of melodic gems - California dreaming from the streets of Dublin"). Whatever the album's genesis may be, why is this Irish band suddenly selling by the bucketload?
"I actually don't know," Carrigan muses. "I mean, we never really put much thought into making a big statement or anything. We just do what we do and if other people like it, that's brilliant. Most bands write songs and go gigging around Dublin, getting to know everyone, but we never really did that so we never became part of that scene… I suppose that's why we don't really sound like others around at the moment. Our manager saw us, he had contacts in English record companies and that was it. I'm sure five or six of our demos are still lying at the bottom of bags somewhere!"
When asked his opinion of the 'Friends of the Frames' music scene in Ireland, Ben is cautiously diplomatic. "Everybody in Dublin kind of knows each other, which isn't a bad thing or a good thing - it's just a very small scene and there are so many people trying to get a leg up. It's much harder to make it here, so bands tend to club together." He adds: "You really have to get noticed in Britain and we were just lucky in that respect. It's a shame that more Irish bands don't get noticed 'cause there's a great music scene in Dublin. But I do think it's harder for people over here than it is in England."
Perhaps because of that same distance from the Dublin scene, The Thrills are making music that sounds more like distilled Californian sunshine than bottled Blackrock drizzle. It's hard to believe that these guys grew up watching Zig and Zag and drinking Lyons' tea like the rest of us. Comparisons range from Neil Young to The Beach Boys and even The Carpenters but, as Ben explains, "Everyone borrows from other bands, I think - we just put everything into the melting pot to create something of our own, with our own different spin on it. We've never gone out to recreate '60s records, that's why we worked with a contemporary producer like Tony Hoffer [who has also worked with Air, Beck and Supergrass]."
Almost inevitably, given the nature of the press in this country, the stirrings of a subtle backlash against The Thrills' rapid success has already begun, with some of the nationals dismissing them as pampered rich kids producing derivative music. Ben takes a philosophical approach. "I try not to read too much of what they say in the papers. If you let it go to your head, you can start to lose the plot and you want to keep grounded. Equally, you don't want to be offended by bad articles, so it works both ways. We're all good friends anyway, so if one of us ever steps out of line, we'll bring him down a peg or two!"
Carrigan's almost star-struck enthusiasm for meeting Morrissey and Beck (who The Thrills supported in The Point last August) and seeing Mariah Carey when they played 'Top of the Pops' is refreshingly honest. Despite all the marketing hype and coaching from Virgin Records, it's obvious that he's still adjusting to the novelty of being thrust into the spotlight.
"We've been away so much in the last few months that it's very hard to keep a realistic mindset on what's going on," he explains. "You hear you've a number one album and you think, 'that's fucking amazing!', but it's only when you hear it from your friends and family, that's when it becomes real."
And what of playing a triumphant homecoming at Witnness? "Yeah, that was the best 'cause that's where it suddenly felt real. The tent was jammed and loads of our mates were there, which was cool. It was completely different to playing the Temple Bar Music Centre to 60 people, standing against the back wall with their pints in their hands and not even looking at you!"
Carrigan has no intention of letting such adulation go to his head, however. "I wouldn't be allowed. Our folks keep us grounded - they ring up and abuse us, going 'What the hell? I just saw you on TV and you look like a heroin addict'. That's probably 'cause we'd been working so hard that we hadn't slept in three days!"
After a hectic summer that included festival dates in Glastonbury, Tea in the Park, Reading, Roskilde and Witnness, The Thrills had another British tour in October to finish before they could even think about starting work on a second album. "We've a few new songs done and dusted already, though," Carrigan says. "They're very different to the first record, much more upbeat. Spending the summer in San Diego was a great way to experience different cultures and different music and that's what inspired 'So much for the city'. The second record's a bit more difficult - I mean, we had 23 years to write the first one and now we've six months to write the second!"
By this stage, it's 7pm and Ben is on a roll. He's obviously getting the hang of this interview thing but, despite all the media grooming, he's still a Blackrock boy at heart. "The funniest thing is, when you tell people how you're doing abroad or whatever, you kind of expect them to go 'Oh really, that's great' or something. But they don't - they're almost blasé, you know?" He continues in his best D4 accent. "Then you tell them we've done The Late Late Show and they're like 'Oh my God, that's fantastic!' I mean, hello? A bit of perspective here? At least we didn't turn up in orange boiler suits like Boyzone did the first time…"
A knock on the door cuts Ben off mid-rant, signalling that his working day is finally over. For the first time in seven weeks, he can go home and sleep in his own bed before a 5am start the next morning for Dublin Airport. "My bedroom has turned into a dumping ground for my family's crap, though," he laughs. Now that he's a star, of course, I presume he's going out to paint the town red? "Nah, I'm just going to go home, get fed, get the clothes washed and eat all the nice things in the fridge." Rock 'n' roll.
by Mary Anne Kenny