Cut from the same cloth as bands like Northlane, Architects and Periphery, Thornhill fast made a name for themselves making colourful prog-laced metalcore, blending thick and gnarly guitars with soaring and melodic vocals. They’ve largely kept committed to that alloy of dark and light, but with their debut album, 2019’s The Dark Pool, they started leaning more on the latter – those brighter and more widescreen soundscapes that didn’t need the aggression typical of metalcore to convey bold, gripping emotion.
The album’s follow-up, Heroine – which arrived back in June of this year – is a fitting continuation of that ethos, all but eschewing the band’s metallic edge altogether. It sees them instead favour flavours of grunge, industrial and alt-rock à la Nine Inch Nails and Alice In Chains, at points nodding to wider-ranging influences like Radiohead and The Smashing Pumpkins, and in some moments even The Cure. The album’s accompanying visuals – like the cover art, press shoots and film clips – all make it clear that the band were inspired most by the gothic uprising of the late ‘90s, and the band have been open about how songs were directly inspired by such cultural phenomena as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Twin Peaks.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Ethan McCann for Australian Guitar, and he told me that Heroine was effectively a multi-layered concept album; the aesthetic influence is one layer, thematic links comprise another, and one comes in how each song was written “to soundtrack a different movie or TV show, or fit a different aesthetic”. Think one of those old-school movie tie-ins where a stack of hot topic scene bands would write songs vaguely referencing the plot or themes of the film it was commissioned for, except every song is written for a different film… But they all link together as the same body of work… And it also has its own set of themes.
Convoluted as its concept may sound, Heroine in a resoundingly consistent (and consistently resounding) effort from Thornhill, and as their set at this year’s Good Things festival proved, the songs sound especially exceptional when they’re performed live. So after they wowed a packed early-arvo crowd at the Melbourne edition, I reconnected with McCann, as well as bassist Nick Sjogren, to dive a little deeper into the backstory of Heroine, reminisce on their recent tour in support of it (where the album was played in full), and explore what’s next for Thornhill. Have a listen to – or read – our chat below.
How’s the day been so far? How was your set?
Nick Sjogren: The set was really fun – really, really fun. The crowd was a lot bigger than I was expecting, to be honest, and yeah, people were going from the start. Pretty crazy, honestly.
So Heroine came out exactly six months ago – well, it will have as of tomorrow. Considering how much passion and energy you put into it, how does it feel to have this record in the rearview, so to speak?
Ethan McCann: It’s kind of bittersweet, to be honest, because it was like… We were really proud of that record, we did lots of things that we wanted to do, I guess. But at the same time, we wrote it in lockdown, so it was a pretty traumatic experience. So there’s lots of good memories and lots of bad memories connected to that record, but we’re keen to, like, move on and get the next one out.
I know that when you’re gearing up to release a record – and recording it as well – things can be so stressful and hectic. But now that it’s been out for a hot minute and you’ve toured it a bunch, are you able to look back and really appreciate what you made?
Sjogren: Yeah, it’s a really funny one, because when it first came out, there [were] a lot of loud people on the internet, who weren’t as stoked [on Heroine as they were on The Dark Pool] because it wasn’t, like, riff-y metalcore style. But we’ve had a lot of people like around to it [and] say that they get it a bit more, so to speak.
McCann: I think it was also kind of nice… Obviously, like I said, we wrote a lot of those songs – if not all of them – in lockdown, [so] to then take them to the stage, we sort of learned what we enjoyed and what we didn’t enjoy playing, which I think will be really cool to apply to new music.
Obviously there was that tour in July, where you [performed] the album from cover to cover. What was it like to celebrate Heroine as a standalone body of work like that?
McCann: It was pretty ideal, I would say, because I think we sort of wrote that album with the intention [that people would listen] to it cover to cover. Because we’re very much so, like, an “album band”. I know the general public, I think these days, is much more into singles and, like, rapid releases – but I think we all really enjoy listening to albums [from] cover to cover, still, so that’s sort of how we wanted people to hear it. So yeah, it was really cool to do that.
Is that something you see yourselves continuing in the future? Making concept albums, and…
McCann: 100 percent, for sure. And if people don’t get it, fuck it.
There were, of course, those couple shows in Canberra and Hobart where you had to play [Heroine] instrumentally because Jacob was not doing so great. What was it like to really celebrate the musical side of it?
Sjogren: I was surprised [by] how much people liked it. Because Jacob is such a good frontman – he’s such a powerful frontman, and his voice has so much character, [so] a lot of the personality behind the music seems to [come] from him. But playing it instrumentally, it was really cool to see people actually appreciate all the surrounding elements, too. It was just a good crowd for both shows in general – not just a good for an instrumental set.
And of course, I’m sure some of them stepped up to the plate with the karaoke vibes?
Sjogren: A bit, yeah.
McCann: My least favorite part was actually having to, like, make banter with the crowd. Because that’s usually Jacob’s job, and I’m not a very talkative guy. So I was like, you know, “Get up!” But it’s not my thing.
Everyone is like, “The singer has the easiest job, they don’t have to play an instrument,” but man, banter – fuck, that’s…
McCann: Banter’s hard. But I mean, they don’t have any gear, so they don’t have to load out [laughs].
Something we touched on a little while ago was, obviously, this record being such a conceptually ambitious and artistic vision – knowing how cutthroat this scene can be at the best of times, were you worried that people wouldn’t rally around Heroine the way they did?
McCann: I wouldn’t say we were worried, we kind of knew what we were doing. And like, by dropping ‘Casanova’ as the first taste of that album, it was kind of intentionally [released] to stir the pot – as childish as that sounds. It’s just like, we knew it was going to mess with a few people, and it’s what… We were really proud of that song, so we were just like, “Eh, let’s just throw them in the deep end from the start and see if they enjoy it or not.”
Well, the album was a wild success – Number Three on the ARIA Charts [and] you got the nomination at this year’s awards for Best Hard Rock… How did it feel to get that kind of response?
Sjogren: I was always pretty confident. ‘Cause I don’t write the music, personally – Ethan and Jacob do 99 percent of all the music, if not 100 – so I was always pretty confident that it was going to be received well, because I really liked listening to it. It was really fun to see it progress, from the first demos – just after [The] Dark Pool came out – to where it ended up getting to. There was a lot of thought behind it that made it all make sense. So I figured that even if people didn’t like it at first, they’d get it eventually, because it’s just really good.
Has inspired you to go even more ambitious, or step even [farther] into the unknown on album #3?
McCann: Yeah, very much so. I think even though it sort of split the crowd for us – like we knew it would – just the fact that we enjoyed writing something different and pushing [the] boundaries so much, I think it’s something we’ll always do with our music and our albums. I think Childish Gambino talked about it, where he’s just like, he opens and closes a world with each album, so you sort of, like, progress and do new things every time – and I think that’s such a cool way of looking at it.
Is that third album something you’ve started talking about now that Heroine has been out for a hot minute?
McCann: Yeah, for sure. We’re chipping away at a few ideas. [We’re] still figuring out the general vibe – it usually takes, like, one or two sort of full songs to then have the direction. Now we’re sort of just, like, playing in the shallow end for now.
What are these vibes you’re playing around with?
McCann:[It’s] hard to explain. Definitely rock-ier; I’ve been listening to nothing but, like, Arctic Monkeys and Queens Of The Stone Age for the past year. So yeah, [I’m] hoping for a sort of UK rock-y sort of sound – but I don’t know, we’ll see. It’s too early to tell.
That’s really interesting, because Heroine has that more grungy, almost like ’90s Britpop-y feel – so I feel like that kind of sound is definitely a good natural progression from from Heroine.
McCann: Yeah, we’re hoping so. And it’s like, it’s kind of funny because I think we’re gonna look back in, like, 10 years, and look at all these albums as just different phases of things we’re into. Because obviously, like, our tastes change pretty rapidly, you know, you don’t listen to the same thing a couple of years later.
Well taste in general, like… And this is kind of circling back to Heroine – I know that this record was written as almost like a score to a lot of the film and TV you were inspired by. What kind of titles are we looking at?
McCann: We’re talking Buffy The Vampire Slayer. We’re talking American Beauty. We’re talking She’s All That.
Sjogren: The Crow.
McCann: The Crow. We’re talking The Craft… Just lots of, like, ’90s goth-y teen movies. I really love that aesthetic, and the colour palettes are always really cool. And it’s just like, I really like the sort of nostalgia that it made me feel – because I was born in the late ’90s, so I sort of grew up with a lot of those movies. And I think that was kind of comforting in lockdown, that sort of nostalgia, so it’s something we wanted to push into the music as well.
Are there any other movies or TV shows that you think you could write a banging Thorny track to in the future?
McCann: The Batman! I would love to do a fucking song on the Batman soundtrack,
Which one? The new one?
McCann: The new one. Give me, like, the Rob Pat number two Batman – give me that soundtrack, oh my God, I will go to town.
Have you thought about the possibility of doing any scoring or soundtrack work in the screen industry?
McCann: I would love to. I don’t think I’m quite there yet. But even just like… You know how bands in the early 2000s used to do, like, music videos, or just songs on album soundtracks, and it would just be like a one off? I really want to do that, because I feel like they don’t do it anymore.
How fucking good were, like… Even as late as the Jennifer’s Body soundtrack with Panic! At The Disco…
McCann: Yeah, shit like that! And there’s, like, little snippets of the movie in the music video. I love that shit so much.
Sjogren: ‘Little Things’ by Rob Thomas… Wait, no ‘Little Wonders’.
McCann: And that Nickelback song from Spider-Man.
Sjogren: Linkin Park’s discography for Transformers.
Are there any filmmakers in particular that you’d be keen to link up with, or franchises? Other than The Batman, obviously.
McCann: I’d love to do a David Lynch movie, that’d be sick. That’d be really sick. I’m sure there’s a list – I can’t think right now.
Sjogren: We need Jacob right now.
McCann: Yeah. Jacob will say someone like Baz Luhrmann, but I’ll pass on that.
I guess in general, we know you’re kicking around some vibes– you’ve got touring lined up for the next… Fucking eternity. Which is 2023 have in store for Thorny?
Sjogren: It’s funny – we don’t have much locked in, but we have a lot of things nearly there. It’s looking like it will be busy – very, very busy, all over the place. So yeah, we are definitely going to be playing shows. We’re gonna we playing hella shows.
McCann: Yeah, I think if all goes to plan, we’re going to be home for all of about three and a half months next year. So, [the year is] pretty stacked.
Huge shoutout to Janine Morcos and Amy Simmons for making this happen!
Heroine is out now via UNFD. Check it out here.