THUNDER’s LUKE MORLEY – “That’s The Longest I Think I’ve Ever Gone Without Doing A Show Since I Was A Teenager”
April 24, 2022, 2 months ago
With an unexpected lengthy time off the road thanks to COVID, Thunder put it to good use. Despite having just wrapped up work on their thirteenth studio effort, All the Right Noises, before lockdown down began in 2020 – and it’s release being delayed until March 2021 – the band immediately penned and recorded a follow-up, the double album Dopamine, which appears a little more than a year after its predecessor (on April 29th).
Thunder – singer Danny Bowes, guitarists Luke Morley and Ben Matthews, bassist Chris Childs, and drummer Gary "Harry" James – will also launch a UK arena tour (the first since pre-COVID) shortly after Dopamine drops. But before all the activity began, Morley gave the lowdown to BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato.
BraveWords: Dopamine is the band’s first-ever double studio album.
Luke Morley: “It didn’t set out to be that, but it turned into that. I think one of the positive aspects of lockdown was it gave me a lot of time to write. At the time of going into record, we had 20 songs – all of which we recorded – and we had 16 that we felt needed to be heard. So, that necessitated taking a double album. Our label raised their eyebrows slightly, but it’s all good now. As a band, it’s been a long journey – of 30 odd years. This is our fourteenth album. So, the challenge I think when you’re making records for that long is, ‘How do you approach it?’ Some bands see albums as really more of an hors-d’oeuvre for a tour. But we’re not like that. We need to keep moving forward and feeling like we have some sort of musical momentum. And this album I think we’ve branched out and into more interesting and varied areas musically. There’s a song called ‘Big Pink Supermoon,’ which is a nod of the hat to American music and jazz – Steely Dan, Tom Petty maybe – it has a three-minute saxophone solo, which I never thought I’d see on a Thunder album, but hey, it was the right thing to do. So, we did it. There are other songs where we’re using a sort of gypsy fiddle and an accordion. So, we’re at the stage now where we don’t really care. [Laughs] We’re doing whatever we like – and we enjoy it, as a result. But people make assumptions about a band called ‘Thunder.’ They go, ‘OK. Well, we’ll put that over there with Iron Maiden and Motörhead.’ They’re both great bands, but they don’t sound anything like us and we don’t sound anything like them. The only thing we can do to alter that perception is release music that is true to us and hope that people get it.”
BraveWords: What is the story behind the album title?
Luke Morley: “It fascinates me that lots of young people now live their life through this device in their hand. The phone has become all sorts of things – as well as a portal into this virtual existence. And there’s a whole generation of people who slip through that every day – it’s very normal. But for people my age, it’s still slightly a bit odd. And my observation of it is what brought about the album title and the artwork. In that there’s two young girls taking the selfie and they’re in this kind of incredibly lavish bathroom in a hotel somewhere and they’re so self-obsessed they don’t notice the fact that there’s a Unicorn coming out of one of the toilets 20 feet away. And the point being that if you live your life through this little thing, then there’s a whole kind of plethora of wonderful things going on that you’re gonna miss. But you know as a society, we have produced a load of dopamine addicts who need to get their ‘hit’ – they need to get their validation, their popularity, their social status fire via telephone. And it’s fascinating. I’m not sure how good it is, but it’s fascinating, nonetheless. And you know when you think about that and you start analyzing that as a thing, there’s plenty of plenty of fuel for songwriters there, I think.”
BraveWords: Let’s discuss the new single/video, “Across The Nation.”
Luke Morley: “A lot of the songs on the album are written as a result of everything I’ve just talked about in the last answer – but also about lockdown and the pandemic, and how that affected people across the nation. It’s pretty much very straight up – there’s no metaphor in it at all. It’s really about the frustration of being a musician in that time, and not being able to do what you’re supposed to do – just to play in front of people. I think we didn’t do a show for maybe two years and that’s the longest I think I’ve ever gone without doing a show since I was a teenager. It’s quite a change of life. But you have to kind of roll with the punches and everybody had to deal with problems that were far worse than my problems to be fair, so I’m not gonna moan about it. But once again, there’s lots of subject matter for the songs within that thing, and the isolation, the loneliness, the stuff that all sorts of people went through. Once again, it’s lots and lots of stuff there that makes a great feel for writing songs about.”
BraveWords: Will the upcoming shows focus on the last two releases, since Thunder was unable to properly tour behind All the Right Noises?
Luke Morley: “Yes it will. But I think we have an obligation to our fans. I mean, in the UK, we are doing big shows there – arena shows – so we need to acknowledge the fact that the band has been together for 30 years. And there’s gonna be quite a few people there maybe that haven’t bought the new album, or that wanna hear older songs that they’re more familiar with because they have an emotional resonance with them. And I think we have a sort of duty, too – to give people to an extent what they want. I remember when I was a kid and I’d go see bands, if they were a little bit self-indulgent and went off on 20-minute jazz funk jams when they could have fitted in three or four other songs that you know well, or maybe more popular or whatever…I think those days are gone. People work very hard for not much money, and when they buy their tickets, they deserve to have an evening that they’re gonna really enjoy. And I think audiences have a tolerance for new material and they’re interested in it, but I think ramming the whole album down their throat is a little bit extreme. So, my job is to achieve within the set that balance between old and new. And hopefully, enough to promote the new but acknowledge the old.”
BraveWords: What was your guitar set-up for Dopamine?
Luke Morley: “Well, being perfectly honest with you, despite owning a lot of guitars, I didn’t use that many on the album. I’ve got three Fender Stratocasters, I used two Deluxes [from circa 2008] and…what’s the one after the Deluxe? I’m terrible with names…it’s silver. [Laughs] So, it’s basically Fender Stratocasters, one Telecaster, one Les Paul, an occasional bit of Flying V – for the electrics. For the acoustics, just one – I have one that sounds so good, it never leaves the house. It’s an old Gibson J-200, and if you put a microphone in front of it, it just sounds like an orchestra. So I find there’s not much room for anything else after that. Pretty basic. Amplifier-wise, a mixture of EVH amps which are very good, Mesa Boogie black-style occasionally, and on this album we used quite a lot of the Kemper processor because it sounded so good. It sounded so good on the demos that by the time we got into the studio to make the album proper, we’d A/B the guitar sounds, and be like, ‘Wow, that sounds great. Let’s just leave it.’”
BraveWords: What was your guitar set-up back when Thunder first started?
Luke Morley: “It was much more Les Paul into either a Boogie or Marshall – much more straightforward. But I’ve found as I’ve gotten older…I don’t know if it is me physically changing or the way the guitars are manufactured, but I found myself gravitating much more towards Fenders these days. I found them impossible to play when I was younger, but now they seem to fit much better. Maybe it’s my body changing shape, I don’t know. [Laughs] The guitar the most people that saw the band at that stage would associate me with is the white Les Paul Custom – and I’ve got two that are virtually identical, and they’re both ‘88. Just off the peg, I’m not one for customizing things really. I think if it’s a good bit of wood and a good amplifier, it usually sounds pretty good. I’ve still got them. They’re very heavy guitars though. Good God, they weigh a ton. So, I tend not to play them quite as much these days. At the start the start of Thunder or just before the band began, I’d written most of the songs that were going to end up on the first Thunder album [1990’s Backstreet Symphony] and they were all very much traditional ‘Les Paul rock tunes.’ And I had a ‘70s Les Paul Custom before that, in a kind of wine red – which was OK, but it was tonally not quite as thick as the sound I was looking for. It was hard to describe…it was a bit too velvety. I wanted something that it was a bit more fat. And a friend of mine said, ‘Oh, you should try the new Les Paul Custom. They’re really, really good.’ And I think they maybe changed the wood, or something had changed about them. I went into a guitar shop in London, I tried about three, and it was remarkable that they had three there – because I’m left-handed – so finding left-handed guitars is kind of like…it was rare as rocking horse shit, as we say in this country. So, if you find a good one, you tend to snap it up. And they have these two white ones that sounded fantastic and I will both of them. And glad I did because, I used those almost exclusively on the first three albums. So, they’re invaluable guitars.”
BraveWords: You just mentioned it was difficult to locate quality left-handed guitars early in Thunder's career.
Luke Morley: “It still is – to be fair. I mean, I’m constantly browsing eBay and Reverb looking for things. Because they don’t come up very often. And as I’m sure you’re aware, there were years where Gibson were making really fine guitars, and more recently, I don’t think they’ve been quite as good – if I’m being perfectly frank. And with Fenders, it was kind of the opposite – I think they had a couple of decades of trying to find themselves, maybe trying to change too much about the basic design. But certainly, the Elites, the Ultras, and the Deluxes – the guitars they’ve been making the last 10-15 years – are actually very, very good, very well made, and sound great. So, it’s like everything else – these things come in waves and it depends on who is running guitar companies, and their attitudes. The thing though with guitar, Leo Fender and Les Paul got a lot of things very right and changes in design that have been, and the locking trem and what Eddie Van Halen did for the guitar was an amazing leap forward. But those basic designs are very, very hard to beat.”
BraveWords: Which Thunder album are you most proud of from a guitar standpoint?
Luke Morley: “Well, I’m gonna be very predictable here Greg, and I’m gonna say the new one. [Laughs] I think it’s interesting because the new one is a bit more eclectic in in terms of musical styles and areas that it goes into. That’s always a bit more of a challenge for a guitar player – playing in a style maybe that you’re not necessarily associated with. And it’s cool to kind of attempt new things, set yourself new challenges, and go into areas you’re not kind of familiar with. Kind of that old David Bowie quote – you know you’re in the right place when you’re just struggling to stay within your depth. When you’re comfortable, you don’t challenging yourself. And I think there’s a lot of truth to that.”
BraveWords: Why do you think Thunder was one of the few melodic rock bands that remained popular in the UK during the grunge era?
Luke Morley: “It was a bit of a double-edged sword for us, because in the UK and in Europe and Japan, our timing was very, very good when the band started. In America, we thought it was good initially. We had a bit of a false start with Capitol Records, who didn’t like the band at all if I’m honest – well, the guy who ran the company didn’t like the band – so we were fortunate enough to get picked up by Geffen. And we had an amazing year whereby without necessarily setting foot in the country – well, not to play, anyway – we sold a quarter of a million albums and we were all over MTV like a rash. It looked like America was kind of there for the taking. And then we had a tour booked with David Lee Roth and Cinderella, and our then-American manager called us about two weeks before and said, ‘OK guys, unpack. The tour’s not selling.’ So, we were kind of mystified. ‘Why is David Lee Roth not selling tickets?’ And he said, ‘Well…it’s grunge.’ And we were like, ‘What’s grunge?’ I mean, it literally hadn’t filtered through into the UK at all. So that was quite a shock to find out that a lot of the mainstream rock stations have changed their formats and our label, Geffen, just sort of pulled any kind of future tour support. So, we were in a situation where I guess we could have come and toured and paid for it ourselves and struggled around the country in a van and done all those things. And I think maybe because we were all in our early thirties at that point, I think we had been ten years younger we would have gone for it. But we just looked at each other and thought, ‘Do we really want to be doing that when we can go to Germany and play nice gigs?’ And I regret that decision now, because I think we should have come. And as a consequence thereafter, the right kind of time never appeared. And we had a couple of interesting offers but it was at the wrong time, so we’ve never managed to come and tour America – which is one of my great regrets. But you know, never say die – there’s always hope.”
BraveWords: Future plans?
Luke Morley: “OK, so the album’s released worldwide on the 29th of April. We have a UK tour – five arena shows around the UK, then we go into Europe for a number of European festivals, and then after that – thanks to the pandemic and Brexit and many other things – we are caught in this terrible logjam with lots of other acts. And I think whereas in the usual kind of gigging cycle, we would have gone into Europe, maybe Australia and Japan, but this time that’s not happening. So, as a result of this kind of logjam and tours being moved back a year and some two years, I think any kind of meaningful touring outside of the UK…I mean the UK tour was postponed twice – it was supposed to be 2020 originally, and now it’s 2022, obviously. And that’s happened everywhere else. So I don’t think we’re going to meaningfully tour anywhere else until next year. And I think lots of bands are gonna be in that position. So it’s gonna be an interesting time and frustrating, I’m sure. But let’s hope that the live aspect of the industry gets back into some kind of order soon.”