THUNDER’s Danny Bowes On Why They Never Broke In North America - “I Think It’s Kurt Cobain’s Fault”
March 13, 2021, a year ago
There have been quite a few rock bands over the years that were mega-successful in England, but for various reasons (some unknown), failed to replicate their lofty accomplishments Stateside. Case in point, Slade, Status Quo, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy, and Saxon – and in the early ‘90s, Thunder. Led by singer Danny Bowes and guitarist Luke Morley, Thunder has scored many a hit in their homeland and remain a top concert draw – able to headline arenas. And March 12, 2021 has seen the release of their twelfth studio effort, All the Right Noises, which is being supported with a pay-per-view TV special viewable on March 13th and 14th (tickets available for purchase through the band’s website and a string of UK arena performances…in May 2022. Bowes chatted with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato on the eve of the album’s release.
BraveWords: Let’s discuss the new album, All the Right Noises.
Danny Bowes: “The album was written in 2018 and early 2019 – in between touring and all the usual stuff that we used to do back in the day. And it was recorded in three sessions – July 2019, November 2019, and January 2020. We like to split the recording in three short sessions. We always work residentially, so we always imbed ourselves in a place in the country. It’s usually a farm that is disguised as a recording studio. It’s a place called Rockfield that is very famous – everybody that’s anybody in the rock world has recorded at Rockfield at one time or another. And we love it. It’s very comfortable. It’s a bit beaten up – just like a farm, really. Really good sound. The people are mental – absolutely crazy – which means anything could happen at any given time. And that’s how we like it. It’s very relaxed. So we there for three times two weeks, and by splitting it into three short sessions, it gives us a very intense focus over that two weeks. It also gives us a period of time in between the sessions, so we can reflect on what we’ve done, look at ways we can improve stuff. It also gives Luke – who writes the tunes – a chance to maybe think about what else he needs to write for the next session. So, we feel we get a stronger album as a result. We made our last three albums that way and it’s more expensive and takes longer, but we feel like we get a better album for doing it. So, for us, it’s worth the extra expense and the time.”
BraveWords: You just mentioned that the third session was in January 2020. Did it prove challenging to actually finish the album once everything started with COVID?
Danny Bowes: “I’ll be honest with you – we were kind of not oblivious, but it felt like it as a long way away. At that point in the news here in the UK, it seemed to be all happening in China – as opposed to the UK. Whatever mentions of it were very much at arm’s length. So, we didn’t really worry about it too much and we got the album done. And then it became more and more prevalent in the news. So much so actually, that we did a Monsters of Rock Cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale in Miami in February, and it became very apparent there. Obviously, cruises are hotbeds for illness anyway. So, we had to do it in a way that was incredibly secure – from a virus point of view. There were hand sanitizers every five feet. So, it was an interesting experience. All that was good, nobody fell sick. And then Luke and I went out to Germany to do a tour called Rock Meets Classic. Where you have a succession of artists which included us, Robin Zander from Cheap Trick, and also, Alice Cooper. We were going out with a very large orchestra from Eastern Europe and in arenas every night, and we’d play a selection of tunes one after another, artist after artist – all with the orchestra. And it was absolutely brilliant. But we only got to play five of the fourteen shows we were scheduled to do – which was a real shame, because the shows were great. But COVID basically ended it. Our final show was in Berlin. And funny enough, it was literally the day after we had approved the final mix of our album. It was mixed by Mike Frasier in Vancouver, and he was sending the mixes to us overnight. And we were approving them sitting in our hotel rooms every night we were on that tour. Strangely, we approved the final mix and said, ‘Yes, the album is done.’ And then the next day, our tour ended, we flew home, and then the rest has been pretty much locked in our houses.”
BraveWords: What about the song ‘Last One Out Turn Off The Lights’ and its video?
Danny Bowes: “The first time we heard that song in demo form, Luke played it for us, and the rest of the band said, ‘This has to be the first song on the album.’ Everybody was in agreement straight away. The last album was a sit-down album – we deconstructed all our songs and put them back together in completely different arrangements. So, you had rock tunes that came out like a shuffle, some turned out like jazz, some turned out like reggae. It was a nutty album to make. But because it was a sit-down album, there was an element of Thunder fans around the world who thought, ‘Ah, they’re getting old now. This is all we can expect from them now – sit-down records, very gentle. They’re ready for their pipe and slippers,’ as they say here in the UK. So, we thought we weren’t ready for that. We wanted to make a rock album – it was always our intention to come back with a very strong rock album. And when he played us that tune, we said, ‘That’s the first song. It has to be. Because that will show them they’re wrong.’ And they couldn’t be more wrong. The song itself is written out of an enormous amount of frustration with the way that our UK government first off, gave the people of our country a referendum and the ability to vote on whether to stay or to leave in the European Union – which was a colossal error. They’ve spent the last 30 years blaming the EU for everything that got them out of the shit – if you know what I mean. They were very convenient to blame the EU. So, why is it a very big surprise 30 years later when you give people a vote and you decide to leave. This was shocking to me – that they allowed it to happen. And the next four years, they spent just making a complete pig’s ear of the negotiations with the European Union. And what we ended up with was – quite frankly – horrendous. Our relationship with the EU is awful, our trade deal with the EU is awful, the ability for artists and creatives to work in the EU is now horrendously difficult – loads of red tape, paperwork, costs. Loads of bands won’t get to play in Europe anymore – as a result of this. Until they fix it. And I’m hoping they will see sense and fix it sooner or later. So, that song is basically just saying, ‘You guys are useless. You’ve screwed it all up. And you’ve let us all in the shit.’ So, it’s a very angry song. The video itself was lifted from a studio session. We went back into the studio last summer – to play eight of the songs from the album live. We brought some extra musicians in, and we just threw the songs around and recorded them all live. So, no audience, but very much warts and all. No fix-ups, no overdubs, no second chances – just smash it, do it, move on to the next tune. And we wanted to do that for the deluxe version of the album. There’s a 2-CD version of the album, and those eight songs feature on that second CD – along with four studio tracks that were recorded at the same time as the album but didn’t make it onto the album. And we just kind of culled the video together from that, plus a load of real elemental images and stuff lifted from the album photo session for the cover. The actual image that you see on there is a sculpture called The Singing Ringing Tree. Which is a metal sculpture – it sits on a hill overlooking a town in the north of England called Burnley. And it’s quite alien. It sings when the wind blows – all the pipes that are on the thing are tuned and makes very a very eerie sound. We loved it, because it looked like some kind of alien creature. Very strong. We couldn’t work out whether or not we thought it was protecting the town or whether it was about to go down and kill everyone! We liked that kind of question going on there. It appealed to our sense of humor – because we’re twisted. So, you’ve got the images combined with the studio footage and a whole bunch of video gimmickry thrown in…and there’s your video.”
BraveWords: And the track ‘Going to Sin City.’
Danny Bowes: “That song was written about the first time Luke and I went to Los Angeles in 1988. We’d never been to America before. We spent a week in New York with a girl we knew who was a singer, and then we spent a week in LA. And that trip was an eye-opener in every sense of the word. We were promised that we would stay with a friend – who turned out to be a liar. His ‘palatial apartment’ turned out to be a shoebox. We couldn’t stay there. We were very poor ‘would-be rock stars’ at this point. So, we had no money. And when we arrived in America, I think our credit card was already maxed out – so it was very difficult for us. But we stayed in a very seedy motel. We crashed the car on the first night we arrived in Los Angeles. I was breathalyzed by a policeman, made to walk a line, and almost arrested. I probably was a little bit flippant with the policeman – and he drew his gun and threatened to arrest me. I became very sensible after that, as you can imagine. We were robbed – our apartment was burgled. We were set upon by pimps after we talked to their ‘girlfriends’ – we didn’t realize that they were pimps and prostitutes. But we were just naïve/would-be rock stars in Los Angeles and we had no idea what we were doing. So, it was a very fun time! We met a lot of great musicians. We did the tour of the Sunset Strip and we saw all of those hair bands that were prevalent in the late ‘80s – Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, Poison, and all those bands. And that scene was happening in Los Angeles far before we got anything like that in the UK. The guys were prettier than the guys. The girls had next to no clothes on. The guys had better make-up than the girls. And Luke and I felt like the guys who’d come to fix the plumbing. We were just so far away from the way these guys looked. But we took the whole energy back with us to the UK. And we formed Thunder as a result of that trip. So, it’s a very formative song. It’s very much written about that trip. Although the video has got a lot of images of Las Vegas in there, the actual happenings within the song took place in Los Angeles.”
BraveWords: What can fans expect from the online performance today (March 13th)?
Danny Bowes: “We’re doing this TV special where we recorded a load of songs from the new album, plus a load of old fan favorites from way back when. We did a live Q&A with our fan club members via video link. Which was the closest we got to a live audience being in a room with us. We shot it like a TV show rather than a live show. And it was enormous fun to do. Very hard work, but very fun. And it’s possibly the only chance we’ll get to play these songs this year. So, it was very important to us that we did it and it went well. I just approved the final cut of the video today, and I have to say I think the fans are going to love it. So, if there’s anybody out there that’s interested in buying a ticket, check out our website, and they can watch it as many times as they’d like over the weekend.”
BraveWords: Five UK arena shows are scheduled for May of 2022.
Danny Bowes: “The roof is going to come off of every single venue, and these poor venue owners are going to have to replace them – because this audience of ours are very noisy, they love to sing, and they love to jump and down. And they’ve been denied the opportunity. Originally, we were supposed to be releasing this album in September last year – with the arena shows taking place in November. So, when that was apparent to us that it wasn’t going to happen, we pushed the album back to March, and we pushed the arena shows back to May of this year. But COVID as it’s done for so many other things has basically done for that. So, we’re not able to do these shows in May this year, so they moved it to May of next year. With all the pent-up frustration that’s going on, by the time we get to play these songs for our audience, I think they’re going to go off like firecrackers.”
BraveWords: Why do you think Thunder has had a very successful career in the UK, but not as much in North America?
Danny Bowes: “I think that can put down to pretty much to one man. I think it’s Kurt Cobain’s fault. And if I ever find him, I’ll kill him! Grunge. Grunge killed us. Like a lot of other bands – not just us. I don’t think it’s personal, but our timing was just off. We arrived in America and we signed to Capitol Records in 1990 via EMI here in the UK. Turned out that the guy who ran Capitol Records hated rock music and hated our band – we did a showcase and that was revealed to us. So, we got off of that record label, and we eventually signed to Geffen Records – after the likes of Aerosmith, Whitesnake, and even Axl Rose from Guns N’ Roses all turned into our big ‘Thunder celebrity fan club.’ And they were all on Geffen Records, and they all nagged John Kalodner – who was the legendary A&R man at the time. He eventually came to see us play a very big festival here in the UK in the summer of 1990. Saw the band, was blown away, I think about three days later, we were on a plane to Los Angeles, and we signed to Geffen. So, the album was re-released in the early part of ’91. We were set to play a very long, very large tour with David Lee Roth and Cinderella, if I recall – in the summer of ’91. And we shipped all our stuff – we were very, very excited. But we got a call with about a week to go from our US manager, saying, ‘You need to unpack. This tour is not selling. It’s all about grunge now. The radio stations are not playing bands like yours. We think the tour is going to fold. And if you come out here and join this tour, you’ll probably get a reputation as being the house band on the Titanic.’ We laughed very hard…but then we cried. Because we realized the implications of what he said. And we never got another chance to play. When grunge arrived, pretty much overnight the radio stopped playing bands like ours. And the opportunity never presented itself again for us to play in America. We played in Canada, and then we had a show to do for a magazine in September ’91. We had a week to kill after Canada, and we played I think four or five club shows – some on the east coast, some of the west coast. Just clubs where they had a local clientele. We didn’t need to sell the tickets, but we went anyway. We had pretty much the whole audience in the dressing room every night, saying, ‘Who are you? Where can I buy your album? I think your band is amazing.’ And that was a very ironic moment. Because you just think, ‘What if we got to play that tour? How different would our lives have been?’ But, sadly, it wasn’t meant to be and we didn’t do it. And the rest…we never got another chance. But who knows?”