Dig the Now Sound (Thursdays at 10:00 pm eastern on Turn Me On, Dead Man Radio) plays standout recent garage/psych. The featured track this week is “Wars Most Won” by the Chicago band The Thons, self-described “surf scum punks and nice guys, too”. They’ve been waiting for a while for me to post this. We started corresponding in June but the summer has been a busy one for me in ways unrelated to Turn Me On, Dead Man, and I almost lost track of this. Still, Graham (guitar/vocals) and I have kept in touch through the summer.
I was listening to “Wars Most Won” and hear references to the CIA and 1963 and I wondered if this song belonged on my list of JFK assassination songs. I told Graham, “I’m catching enough of the lyrics to think it might be but I’m not sure. What are the lyrics of that song?” He explained,
The song is more about “blowback” from CIA activities than specifically the JFK assassination, however the assassination does fall into that category. When I wrote it I was thinking more about CIA involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan with the words “1963 coming down on me” meaning the World Trade Center towers falling down on people in 2001 as a delayed blowback from 1960s “king making” activities in the Middle East. The ending part about drones in the air is a reference to several Wikileaks videos from drones / Apaches showing civilians being killed by drones.
Here are the lyrics:
The good old days
They don’t make much sense
When they’re looked at
Through a different lens
The same old thing don’t make no difference to me
If murder fits
Then it’s in our plan
Nothing wrong with that
Sell it back to them
Whatever pays don’t make no difference to me
NYC and the CIA
1963 coming down on me
1963 coming down on me
Party on the Airforce One
We must be God’s own sons
Cause we have the wars most won
Dying to be an American
(this verse / chorus is repeated, then there’s a bit of a guitar breakdown part, lyrics pickup at 2:50)
Waving your hands
We don’t care
You look suspicious to us
Yea yea yea
We’ve got drones
In the air
Look out missiles above
Yea yea yea
(repeated a lot til the end)
So we moved on to talk about Thirty Foot Snake, the album that contains “Wars Most Won”.
Turn Me On, Dead Man: I guess I’ll just start by asking about your influences. I noticed a YouTube clip of Robert Pollard on The Thons’ blog. I take it you have a particular interest in Guided By Voices. Any others? Which GBV album is your favorite?
Graham: What is pretty hilarious…is I don’t think I’ve listened to an entire GBV album. About 2 years ago I got hammered and randomly bought tickets to go see GBV at The Metro here in Chicago. I had just run 1 mile without stopping and was celebrating by day drinking (which in hindsight is pretty sad + dumb). But anyways, I went to that show and it was amazing. Bob Pollard was doing high kicks and shit and shimmying all over the place. There was a mosh pit I was in that I vaguely remember. It was amazing. So I don’t listen to them but I appreciate their massive output of songs. My favorite track is probably “Liquid Indian” because it is super creepy but also a solid jam. I would totally go see them again because it was an awesome live performance.
Musically I’d say big influences have been The Misfits, The Buzzcocks, The Velvet Underground, Black Flag and The Clash. I really appreciate The Minutemen’s aesthetic of putting out a stream of music. You see that modern day with bands like Thee Oh Sees.
I’d like to think we focus on quality too, but I don’t like getting hung up on ‘the perfect album’ – I’d rather get all these ideas out there in the world sooner than later.
Turn Me On, Dead Man: When I was young anything released before 1977 was ancient history but I’m struck by how broad influences are among current musicians. My impression is that we’re living in a golden age (other than the small matter of how difficult it is to actually make a living as a musician, that is)–a golden age in the sense that so much great music is readily available.
Graham: influences are indeed pretty broad. I do think we’re in a golden age of sorts because of the following:
– It’s easy / affordable to get basic recording equipment ($19.99 guitar jack + your phone).
– Nobody thinks they’re gonna make money in the music industry so only people who care or are totally insane will spend their time making music.
– It’s easier to discover new music than back in the day. In the early 90s, I only knew about stuff if it was immediately physically available. Now you can see what your friends are listening to in real time or follow hourly updates from bands / labels / music zines.
Turn Me On, Dead Man: So you’re based in Chicago? What’s the scene like there? Where do you play? Do the Thons travel much?
Graham: We’re based in Chicago and the scene is pretty supportive here. There’s a good DIY scene (house shows) that will often draw bigger crowds than venues / bars. Promoters are kind of a problem…it’s tough playing good venues and making any money for us. It’s tough making money in general…which leads me to the tour.
We haven’t toured yet and I’m not sure when we will. I’d need to know we weren’t going to lose a ton of cash because none of us are loaded and we have no label support. I’m currently saving up a little to do some kind of tour out to NYC. I need to get on that…
Turn Me On, Dead Man: So talk a little bit about your new album. What was the inspiration behind Thirty Foot Snake? Did you really record the whole thing in one afternoon? How many takes did you have to do for each track? Which tracks were the most difficult to get right?
Graham: The new album was recorded in one afternoon at Public House Sound Recordings. We spent about 2 hours setting up, 4 hours recording and 2 hours mixing / picking the best takes. There weren’t any splices or anything, everything is happening live at the same time including vocals. We did this for our first album “Raw. Real. Rock.” too.
We didn’t do more than five takes for an individual track. “Make Me Believe In You” was the most challenging along with “Here I Am” and “Wars Most Won.” I think our average was around three takes for a song.
We had a record setting cold / snowy winter in Chicago. It sucked. We recorded this in December so it was pretty cold in the basement studio we recorded at (Public House Sound Recordings). That was a challenge cause my hands kept freezing up. Little known fact: Wyatt* recorded this whole album wearing a big winter parka I think with the hood up? I can’t remember but it was nuts.
*Wyatt is the drummer on all our current releases. He moved to Colorado this May and we have a new drummer, Greg.
Turn Me On, Dead Man: I’m curious to know if you have any pet conspiracy theories. Not too many bands write songs about CIA blowback. Any topics that really generate a lot of heated discussions among you and your friends?
Graham: Ha, I used to be pretty big on conspiracy theories. I was like 90% confident the moon landing was a hoax. Pretty confident Lee Harvey Oswald was set up and could be convinced the Illuminati were living in the core of the Earth controlling things. Now I’m pretty comfortable saying I have no clue about anything. Honestly…I don’t think anyone is in charge of anything. I don’t think the government is smart enough or coordinated enough to pull off a grand scheme and keep it secret for decades. I’m also pretty god damned busy lately and don’t even think about it anymore.
I do think aliens exist and it’s weird because I feel like people who think aliens don’t exist are likely in the minority. I mean…the numbers and probabilities are there. Actually I’m calling dibs on this scenario: I like to think that Mars was once a thriving Earth like planet with people living there who got to about our level of technology before they destroyed it with green house gasses and stuff. Like they poisoned the atmosphere and now live inside the planet like mole people. Their technology wasn’t good enough to colonize another planet so to keep life going in the galaxy they launched bacteria and basic organisms to their closest planet, Earth. That’s how we got started. It’s total bullshit but wouldn’t that be cool?
Turn Me On, Dead Man: Anyone who has listened to Turn Me On, Dead Man Radio will readily understand that I have a soft spot for 1950s sci-fi movies. I just have a couple more questions for you: first, what’s the origin of your band’s name? Second, what’s next for the Thons? Where do you see things going?
Graham: The band name is not very exciting. I really should make some shit up for this…but honestly it was a typo. I was texting Frank something and I went to say “see you then” and it autocorrected to “see you Thon” – I have no idea why. I was using it as a placeholder name when we were starting out as a duo just Wyatt + me, drums and guitar. It ended up sticking. I liked to think of it as a play on marathon because our songs were all really short at the time. So like calling a fat guy Tiny.
I also like to think of it as a group of people who don’t really fit in anywhere. Like of tribe of people called The Thons.
We have a lot of stuff going on. There’s a shitload of practicing to do. Our drummer Wyatt left in May and Greg joined us. We need to get our current stuff polished up so that’s 16 or 17 songs including “No Me” which doesn’t have a studio version recorded. We’re working on 8 new songs to be recorded and released before the end of the year. We’re sitting on another 30 or so demos that need to be worked out. So we’ve got a lot in the writing / practicing department ahead of us.
On top of that we’ve got an important show at The Empty Bottle on Friday 8/15. It’s a benefit for Connor Roche, frontman of Nude Intruder. He’s fighting a battle with cancer and we’re going to play this rock show with a bunch of other bands to raise funds. It will be sweaty, packed and awesome. Looking forward to it.
I’d like to see us work with a label on some future releases. I’d like to play a lot more shows locally and do a small tour. For sure I want to hit Milwaukee this year. But I’d like to see us go out and play a string of shows in a week or so out to NYC + back. Travel light, set up quick, knock out a couple shows a day, etc etc. That would be my dream.
Turn Me On, Dead Man: Well, be sure to let me know if you come to DC.