After a triumphant 2012, Richard Thomas is set for a scorching 2013 with a host new material, February tour dates and by the end of the year, a debut Brother and Bones album. For all we know, this is a band you’ll be hearing a lot more of…
We all have our go-to friends for certain recommendations, whether that be music, food, wine, a hotel, places to visit, but when Ben Howard tells you to “Check these guys out”, you do just that. Ben’s talking about Brother and Bones – Rich, Si, James, Yiannis and Robin; five musicians who are pushing the boundaries, blending alt-rock and acoustic to rapturous acclaim. Another recommendation came from the guys at Fender – frontman-cum-troubadour Richard Thomas uses the new Takamine Pro Series – and when they hooked us up to speak with Rich following the release of latest EP For All We Know, we weren’t going to turn it down! Long black hair, a wispy beard, earthy vocals and a soaring songwriting talent make Rich the unsung folk-rock hero that we’ve all been waiting for. A genuine man, lacking in ego, admits that a year ago they were playing to around 15 people, but now it’s more like 1,500. With any misconceived comparisons to Mumford and Sons pushed aside, Rich Thomas leads his band into an unknown territory – one with the brashness and wrath of Metallica yet one with the gentle and melodic floods of Ray LaMontagne. Having said that, comparing Brother and Bones to anyone is an erroneous feat, what they’re doing is guided only by their ambition and ferocity to make their own kind of music.
Brother and Bones has had an incredible 2012; they released their second EP For All We Know, played Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, sell out shows in London, major festival appearances, supported Feeder, and more recently, appeared as Ben Howard’s special guests at his sold out Brixton show, marking the end of one hell of a year. ‘We’ve known Ben for a while and he’s been great giving us these opportunities to play with him. He gave us a foot-in-the-door into Europe. It’s kind of an acoustic thing we do with those shows, rather than a full-band set-up. When we played with Feeder that was a more energetic full-band thing, it was nice to rock out on a beach,’ Rich says laughing. Having just finished 2012 by playing the same venue the band did to kick off the year, Rich is feeling a little reminiscent. He’s just hopped off the London Underground and it’s easy to get lost in his enthusiasm. ‘We’ve had a great 2012 and we’re all hugely excited for what’s in store in 2013. We ended 2012 on our fourth sell out show in London and it was nice to finish in the same sort of vein as to how we started the year.’
Rich, like Ben Howard and a host of other singer-songwriter hot shots, is from the South West and I wryly suggest that I believe there has to be something in the water down there. ‘No, not at all,’ he answers. ‘It’s in the cider,’ he chuckles. ‘Everything is so detached down there. London is the place where everything is happening and is at the forefront for most stuff but the innocence and naivety that comes from the South West makes for a very different approach and a different delivery to music. There’s a really strong music community there and it’s nice to be a part of that.’
‘I was down in Cornwall until I was around 18-years-old. I spent all my fun days down there,’ he laughs, talking of living in the South West. ‘I live in North West London now, but there’s one other guy in the band who’s from Cornwall, too. We all live around London now, though. It makes sense to be here and I love the excitement of it. The band was conceptually born in the South West just because it was something I’d wanted to do for ages. I had to move to London to find the people that I wanted to eventually form the band with and there are so many good musicians in London, it’s a very different ball game. It was an inevitable process to move to London and get my hands dirty,’ he laughs.
‘Live shows are the only way we can make a name for ourselves,’ says Rich. ‘We’re not getting any radio airplay at the moment, we’re not on TV or anything like that, so getting our name out via gigs and social media is a really important thing for us. We’re a rocky band but the sentiments of the music can be striped back to a very bluesy kind of thing. There aren’t many rock bands doing what we’re doing, in the way that it’s fronted by an acoustic guitar, but we’re not a folk band,’ he laughs. ‘What we’re doing pulls from the standard influences, you know? We love Led Zeppelin as much as we love Bob Dylan and Ray LaMontagne. We all listened to Rage Against The Machine when we were growing up; so somewhere between those bands is what we’re doing. I’m a self-taught player, I think you’ll always be self-taught regardless of whether you study music or not because it’s about what you want to get out of it and the approach that you take to get out of it what you want. Your ears are everything, there’s nothing that anyone can teach you to change that. Ultimately, that’s the defining factor.’
‘It was recorded with a guy called Rupert Christie,’ Rich says of the latest Brother and Bones EP, For All We Know. ‘We’d not met before recording the EP, but we were introduced by a mutual friend and he had our previous EP which is very different to For All We Know, not in terms of songwriting and arrangement, but more in terms of production values and the general approach. We took a lot more time with the actual sounds that we were trying to create on this record. We spent a lot of time with different instruments and it was a very meticulous process. The results are very different to anything we’ve done and it was a huge learning curve for us, as is every time you get into the studio which is why we love recording so much. We’re getting closer to the sound we want to eventually put down on an album. We have the acoustic elements, the massive percussion elements and then the added drums which make for a tribal kind of sound. This represents where we’re at live pretty well, especially when it can be a bit raucous,’ he laughs.
‘Normally I’ll come into the studio with a few songs and I’ll know which ones will work with the band and ones that won’t. I’ll play the songs to the band and the ones that connect are the ones that will have everyone jamming along. We’ll then flesh them out. Everyone in the band is so great, they all bring a lot to the table and that’s what really makes our sound – everyone adds on top of the sounds that were already there.’
So, the next thing on the agenda for Brother and Bones must be an album? ‘We keep saying that this will be the next step. With us it’s about trying to find the means to record an album. We’ve got all the songs ready to make an album; we’re just looking for the right way to do it. We’re hoping that by the end of 2013 we’ll have an album out but I’m pretty sure we’ll put something else out in spring – maybe a live EP or a new single, something to show everyone what we’ve doing. We really want to come out in 2013 with a clear message of what we’re trying to do. With a lot of content out there from our acoustic stuff to our full-on rocky stuff, we want 2013 to be about our sound and make a big statement about it, we’re just figuring out how we’re going to do that,’ he says.
‘It’s very much about the people that we work with and making sure those people are right for what we’re trying to achieve,’ Rich admits. Although currently unsigned and happy with the creative control that allows, he wouldn’t rule out signing to a major label, should one come along. ‘We’re more than up for looking at every possibility and ultimately we’d love to have an opportunity where we can take things as far as possible and if that means going with a major label, then great. It’d just have to be the right people, you know? We just want to keep pushing and pushing. We’ve done a lot of stuff ourselves so we’re now ready to have a good crack at doing it with a team of people who really know what they’re doing.’
If you’ve not seen a live set from Brother and Bones you can catch them touring throughout February, if you have seen Rich and the guys live, you’ll know their mix of acoustic rock means his guitars get a good thrashing on stage. You’ll only find him with a Takamine…
‘The first one I had was a C Series jumbo and a lot of blood, sweat, tears and breakages went into that over the last eight years,’ Rich says of his “workhorse”. ‘I don’t think there are many bands that do what we do on stage, in terms of playing rocky music and going for it with an acoustic guitar – the guitar has gone through the wars and it has really stood the test of time! I’ve played small venues right up to Brixton Academy with that guitar and people always say to me how great it sounds. It just has this huge warm sound. I’ve recently got my hands on the new Pro Series from Takamine and to be honest, this guitar sounds even better than the jumbo! It’s exactly the same preamp but this one’s a dreadnought and for the money there’s nothing else out there that’s going to give you such a nice and balanced sound. Between the Pro Series dreadnought and the C Series jumbo, I’ve got a mix that will really punch through on the recordings either for fingerpicking or strumming. I’ve got them both strung with D’Addario strings and I usually have one of them tuned to DADGAD and one to standard. I’ve been using D’Addario’s DADGAD strings which are really great. They’ve actually helped me get a lot less string buzz – because I play so hard on some of the tracks my guitar can give out a bit, but those strings really help balance that out!’
‘We’re really looking forward to getting back on the road, this year is going to be a busy one for us. We’re talking about some support tours, solo gigs and fitting the time in to record new material and move our live set forward. One thing we all do is make sure we get to go out and see the bands we love, too,’ Rich finishes.
Brother and Bones’ latest EP For All We Know is out now. The band will play dates across the UK throughout February.