Words by David C. Obenour
Putting the FU in fun, THICK have had more than their fill of male bullshit at the club and from the White House. Society’s run amuck, there’s no one remotely capable at the helm, we’re all shouting at each other online – and all of this was written and recorded long before just mere weeks ago when the rug really got pulled out from underneath it all.
But to just focus only on the wrongs the band is rallying against on their debut album, 5 Years Behind is to neglect the trio’s considerable chops and undeniable talent for finding smart and infectious melodies. Some of the best rock music is the hardest music to write about. When songs just seemingly naturally find their place, matching the right attitude with the right music, it’s hard to come up with more to say than it’s really good rock music.
So yeah. THICK plays really good rock music.
Off Shelf: These are frightening and uncertain times, I hope you and your’s are well. Are you still there in New York?
Nikki Sisti: Yes, we’re all still here in Brooklyn. It feels kind of surreal to be here, the streets around my home are pretty empty and all the restaurants are closed or at least closed to the public other than take-out. There is a sense of uncertainty especially since this city thrives off of music, food and art, all of which are on hold.
Kate Black: It’s definitely a little nerve-racking, we’re at the epicenter of the issue. For a while, people weren’t taking the issue very seriously even with the ask for social distancing there were a ton of people out and socializing in large groups. It seems to finally be sinking in and the drizzly streets are much more empty.
OS: Have you seen people come together in your community in a way that’s surprising or encouraging?
NS: I have seen a lot of people come together for our local venues bars and restaurants. A lot local owners have created GoFundMe accounts for their employees who are not getting paid. Personally, I find myself trying to order take-out from my favorite local spots as a way to help in some degree. I am lucky enough to still have income, so I want to use my privilege and help in any way I can.
Shari Page: I’ve been working in the service industry for a while and we had to shut down due to the virus. I’ve seen such a camaraderie of people who have started funding to help people who work at venues, restaurants and bars. It’s been such an amazing support system!
KB: It’s been really heartening to see the music industry come together in a stressful time — everyone is trying to find ways to make it work, our label is even rerouting all artists Bandcamp sales directly to the artists. We’re in a position where our national leadership isn’t making the right decisions, so you’re seeing more impact on a state and especially grassroots level to combat what’s going on. Seeing people donate to local bars and venues so they can pass through to their employees and the rare companies who are pivoting their production efforts towards making a difference gives a little hope to the situation.
OS: I’m sorry, I’m not trying to make everything a bummer, but how are you dealing with having a record come out right on the eve of all of this upheaval? I saw you just had to postpone your tour with The Chats and Mean Jeans.
NS: It’s been a bummer for sure! I mean, it honestly just sucks. We have been looking forward to this tour and record for so long and had so much momentum and now everything went on pause. We know we are not the alone in dealing with the pains of postponing tours and in some way knowing we are all going through this weird time together is comforting.
KB: At this point, the health of a band depends on touring, so to have that eliminated for the foreseeable future is a tough pill to swallow. There’s a lot of effort that’s put into getting a record out the door and our booking agent had been working on the tour with The Chats since the fall. We’re trying to come up with creative ways to keep things moving in the era of social distancing, but it’s sad not to play shows, it’s what we love most about playing music.
SP: It’s been interesting to see how all our lives are now on social media… I feel like an avatar.
OS: Despite all of the serious and frustrating issues – on personal and societal levels – that you deal with, there’s an undeniable fun pulsing through 5 Years Behind. How do you find that energy in the midst of trying times?
NS: It’s a balance of recognizing what is going on in the world and society around us while not getting consumed and taken over by it. We don’t ignore the pain or frustration or anxiety in our lives. Instead, we see it, we accept it and we try to move past it.
KB: I try to separate my anxieties into two buckets: things you can control and things you cannot control. When I’m faced with things I can’t control – like a global pandemic – I try to be patient with my emotions. Just because you can’t fix it doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. I try to eventually redirect the energy into working towards something instead of dwelling in the negativity. It’s really hard feeling powerless to affect larger societal issues, at the end of the day, I’d rather speak my mind or spend more consciously, do the seemingly little things that might not matter to the large corporations or the current administration, but they mean something to me and they mean something to the causes you’re choosing to support.
OS: You all have an amazing knack for just these great, great melodies. Where do you think your inspiration comes from in coming up with those musical and lyrical hooks?
NS: I grew up listening to the radio and all that TRL pop music so I think generally I write songs in a very “pop” format- verse, chorus, bridge, chorus [laughs] and have always strived to write melodies that get stuck in your head.
SP: I grew up so enamored with MTV music videos. We had such a strong music culture in the ’90s and every kind of music was played on mainstream radio and was focused around the melodies. I listened to a lot of Green Day, blink-182, and Spice Girls.
OS: The production on the album also just seemed spot on for you as a band. In broad stokes, can you talk about working with Joel Hamilton, what did and didn’t work, and how you arrived on the sound you did?
SP: I treated this time around in the studio like I was studying for a test. I would wake up and drum every day. Joel is great at coming up with parts we would have never thought of and really pushing us. It’s hard to not look back on some of the songs and want to have things mixed differently but that happens with any recorded songs – you can always find something you’d want to do different.
KB: It’s really awesome having a new perspective and working with someone you trust with your songs. When we’re writing, we focus on how it should sound or feel when performing live, but that doesn’t always translate directly to a record. There’s also so much you can do in a studio to fill out the sound and more room to play with dynamics. Joel gets our vibe, so he was able to offer slight adjustments or ideas that enhanced what was already there.
OS: There are two songs with “Fake News” and “Bumming Me Out” that really stand out in the way they talk about how we consume the news. How do you relate those songs to the world we’re living in now?
NS: I go in waves. I usually listen to the news on my bike ride in the morning and sometimes it gets daunting heavy and repetitive. I have started to follow positive news accounts and it really has affected my mental health and perception of kindness in the world around us. I suggest everyone follow some positive news accounts!
KB: That’s cute [laughs]. It’s hard, because the news is pretty inescapable, social media has turned every human into their own news outlet. It feels like we’re in an era of miscommunication and the algorithms are just encouraging the confirmation bias. Sometimes I need to take a break, because while it’s important to be informed, it’s not good for my mental health to feel so completely overwhelmed by things I can’t control.
SP: It seems like there’s always news out there that is making people feel worse. The news gives us the sensation of a lemon going onto a cut. It feels good for a second and then it starts to burn. We have to just pick and choose what news we trust and how much we want to listen to it!