Thick As Thieves was formed in the summer of 2004 by guitarist Aaron Benson and drummer Mike Cotter. The two first met on an eastbound train from Chicago to Boston. During the course of the resulting conversation they realized that they shared many musical interests. Aaron was in the process of completing his MP&E major at a local music college but having just purchased a guitar, he was interested in getting involved in the process of songwriting. Mike had been playing drums from a young age but was forced to abandon the instrument to help his family recover from the locust plagues and drought that had devastated their farm in northern Illinois.
The Midwestern pair began composing lengthy guitar/drum arrangements that defied conventional timing and song structures. The songs generally originated in a brief guitar riff or a snippet of a beat before developing into full-blown tunes. Their work culminated in an experimental album called "Telemakos Airlines" and accompanying light show ofthe same name. While it was an artistic success, it lacked the immediacy and energy of a full band. After a lengthy discussion an effort was made to bring new players into the fold. The Bassist had been working on his own material while playing in a variety of local bands. He crossed paths with Aaron while the two were waiting in line at a vegan diner in Allston and found an immediate connection. At the same time in late August, Mike met an up and coming writer named Tyler Blake. He was persuaded to set aside the novel he had been working on and return to his first love: music.
After a string of noisy but fruitless rehearsals, the quartet began to come together. Despite getting banned from the first venue (thanks, Madison!) they played at, the band spent two years touring and writing songs. Inspired by a childhood spent next to the ocean, Tyler had written a 235 line poem called "Overshore & Undersky." This text became the framework for the band's first album, "We Planted Driftwood And Nothing Changed" which was released in May of 2006. A sophomore album entitled "True Believers In The Long Walk Home" will be released 5/2/08.
Aaron Benson: guitar and noises
Tyler Littwin: guitar, bass, and vocals
Mike Cotter: drums
Kellen Kleinfelter: guitar, bass, and vocals
Heres to Waking Up EP (2005)
We Planted Driftwood and Nothing Changed (2006)
True Believers in the Long Walk Home (2008)
**Cover Story** Thick As Thieves Writing Concept Songs In A Digital Singles Age
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Thick As Thieves: Writing Concept Songs In A Singles Age By Christopher Brook Photos by Derek Kouy...Thick As Thieves: Writing Concept Songs In A Singles Age
By Christopher Brook
Photos by Derek Kouyoumjian
“Songs should be like any good piece of fiction,” says Tyler Littwin, singer/guitarist of Cambridge’s Thick As Thieves. “You should have ups and downs, moments of tension and moments of release.”
Literary metaphors aside, it’s still hard to shake the fact that the four of them are hunched over vanilla frappes and cheap fries instead of poetry anthologies and atlases.
By Sunday afternoon, Boston’s Pour House is buzzing. Taps of Harpoon IPA are flowing, college students filter in and out and NCAA basketball is broadcast across flat screen TVs. Within minutes, it seems like meeting Thick as Thieves over periodicals at the local public library would be more fruitful than hunkering down with them in a corner of restaurant.
Amid the hustle and bustle, Littwin orders a greasy burger and proceeds to discuss his band’s new record with the kind of rapt attention that’s usually reserved for authors.
This is because Littwin, who plays alongside Mike Cotter, drums, Kellen Kleinfelter, bass, and Aaron Benson, guitar, is keen on drawing parallels between music and books. Littwin and company, whose songs can be likened more to chapters in a book have explored this relationship as of late, crafting longer and more fleshed out songs for their new record. The band relished the opportunity to discuss how True Believers in the Long Walk Home, their second self-released long player, came to be.
True Believers..., the band’s follow-up to 2006’s We Planted Driftwood and Nothing Happened, seems expansive in every sense of the word. Culling songs from different stages of their four-year existence, the album, follows a loose concept translated through the band’s reinvigorated sound.
For a band that counts “misleading romantic literature” among their MySpace influences and boasts an English degree-toting singer, it seems apt that Thick As Thieves’ songs flirt with prose. Yet, writing a concept record poses a challenge. Often bands must balance both ambition and discretion when whittling down songs and choosing tracks, thus possibly overstuffing the album, a common malady faced in non-conceptual pieces as well.
It only seems fitting, though, that Thick as Thieves was forged through academics. Kleinfelter and Benson grew up together in Michigan. Benson later met Cotter at Berklee and the framework for Thick as Thieves was formed. The two toyed around with an experimental guitar and drum sound at first, producing an album called Telemakos Airlines. The two ultimately realized their songs called for a fuller band sound. Kleinfelter, who had wound up in Boston, busying himself with assorted bands and music of his own, was eventually recruited by his old friend to play bass. Littwin, recently graduated from Colgate University with a bachelor’s degree in English in hand, filled in for vocal duties soon after.
While concept records are intended to convey a more thematically united series of thoughts through music, there’s a difference between books and records. Novels are rarely sold by the chapter, whereas records, especially in the burgeoning age of iTunes, can be purchased individually, on a song-by-song basis.
Therein lies a problem. If a record, especially a concept record, is intended to be a fully realized idea, how can it be consumed without listening to its tracks beginning to end?
On iTunes, some copyright holders have even mandated their CD be purchased as a whole, forbidding the sale of individual tracks. It’s from this that a question mounts: how do you sell albums in a singles-based world?
Though the idea is heavy on their minds, Thick as Thieves refuse to believe that music should be taken too seriously. “We’re not going to go to that extent,” says Littwin laughing, “We’re pretentious assholes but we’re not going to be that extreme and not let people buy it.”
“I’d rather walk away with someone having our record paying nothing,” says Littwin, in line with such practices.
Even Nine Inch Nails, certainly no strangers to the concept record (2007’s Year Zero visuliazed dystopian future), did something similar in 2008. By releasing a collection of instrumental music, Ghosts I-IV for free, NIN mastermind Trent Reznor allowed listeners to download the concept record and see the big picture, instead of restraining what they could listen to.
Concept albums do not always have to follow a central character’s plights and struggles however. Albums such as Radiohead’s OK Computer (dependence on unreliable technology) and even The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (the course of a blossoming to souring relationship) are concept albums but in a thematically exclusive fashion. Like these two landmark albums, True Believers... isn’t forcing the subject matter into a narrative structure (i.e. Tommy).
While any songwriter will claim their songs follow a certain theme if they’re written in the same span of time, the songs on True Believers... do more than just that. Littwin’s songs are influenced by poems by 18th century poet William Blake. In particular, “The Proverbs of Hell,” written in 1790, commingles the good and the bad. Taken from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the poem waxes philosophical, claiming that “reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.”
While it may sound a bit heavy-handed at first, Littwin admits the songs seem stronger when seen through the lens of Blake’s poem. Specifically, the poem’s third line spoke volumes to Littwin: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” This concept, the idea that people won’t really know what’s best in the world until they’ve done it all, echoes through the record.
“Blake is generally outlandish in his own way, but these lines struck me as being surprisingly poignant,” he says. According to Littwin, the songs tackle the idea of extremes through a larger theme of losing control. Stressing that the losses can be either good or bad (like losing the one person you loved or losing yourself in rock and roll) Littwin describes that ultimately, you’re going to be alright in the end.
Hence the record’s title, True Believers in the Long Walk Home.
“The trip might leave us exhausted, confused, hung-over, or lovesick, but we’ll make it back,” says Littwin.
Each track on True Believers... is rooted in this concept of excess. It’s a record about dealing with transition and the start and end of things. Whether it’s excess happiness or misery, Littwin hopes each song serves as a documentation of experiences that people go through.
“You look back and realize that this was the greatest day or this was the worst day of my life,” says Littwin about some tracks.
Writing concept records isn’t exactly new territory for Thick as Thieves. We Planted Driftwood and Nothing Happened was loosely based around the idea of change and how easily small towns can lose their character.
Unlike Driftwood, though, where songs shared a geographically defined element, songs on True Believers... resonate fuller. Tracks are held together by a more cohesive strain of ideas, which in turn creates a more satisfying listen.
While a common songwriting bond fortifies True Believers..., the record is complemented musically by a more realized sound as well.
The band cites one song, “Mars Vigila,” as serving as the template for the new record. Released a few months previously as a preview of things to come, everything about “Mars Viglia,” from its arrangement to its production, sparked the recording sessions that eventually led to True Believers....
As added encouragement, friends heaped praise on the song, which the band released as a mini-single of sorts at the tail end of last year. It was a “we can do this record” mentality, according to Benson, that inspired them to move forward with the album.
For Littwin, “Mars” was a way to test the band’s waters. Having not put out a record since 2006, by offering the song to fans, Thick as Thieves were able to gauge how people would receive their new fuller sound and push forward.
Marked by lush atmospherics and a hooky refrain (“They’re out of the bars and into the streets”), “Mars Viglia” isn’t just the centerpiece of True Believers...; it serves as a dramatic watermark - even an audible turning point for the four piece. After laying the groundwork for the album at Allston’s Mad Oak recording studio last December, Benson produced the remainder of the album in bedrooms across Boston.
Much like Littwin, Benson speaks with an unnerved sense of diligence, describing even the littlest things the band would do to tweak their sound.
Benson describes how a lot of the band’s music is influenced by elements taken from the room they’re in at the time. Recording their first album at Berklee, there was no shortage of instruments. Logically, the band used what was available, accenting songs with timpani drums, a piano and a “huge concert bass drum.” At one point in a recent recording session, Cotter even played percussion on a cow-print ottoman. According to a blog chronicling the recording, the ottoman, named “Bessie,” has been an endless source of inspiration for the band.
Overall however, the instrumentation on True Believers... is much more diverse. Roping in friends from Boston’s The Shills to play horns and peppering in bits of Rhodes piano, the songs sound deeper than previous efforts.
“We were definitely more willing on this record to branch out from the guitars-vox-drums format,” Littwin says of the songs’ cushioned sound.
By being able to incorporate more instrumentation, it’s only natural that the band felt more comfortable writing longer songs. With more room to stretch their proverbial wings, the band aimed to give their new songs more room to develop and breath without, as Littwin described, “prog-rock wanking.”
Songs like “Goodnight Danny-Boy” press the five-minute mark while songs from the last record would clock in around the more conservative 3:30 minute mark.
Clearly, for Thick as Thieves, writing longer songs complements the concept record’s form of storytelling.
“Mars Viglia,” another song of five-plus minutes, features gauzy electronic dirges, which segue from one song to another.
Having longer songs also allowed the band to gussy up arrangements. While the band’s previous output may have treaded poppier ground, their new material is entirely conscious of where it’s going. “I Heard A Pin Snap Loose” eases subtly into “Goodnight Danny-Boy” while a horn section from the first track resurfaces in the last track.
“We were very conscious of the pacing and mood of the track listing when working on this record,” Littwin says.
True Believers..., however, has been better sequenced than past efforts. For instance, the anthemic “First News From the Zephyr,” easily transcends into “Weak End with No End,” a cool, electronic number. Elsewhere, “There Were Sparrows,” a plaintive, acoustic guitar-driven piece about Littwin’s deceased father is the perfect closer. While the songs’ subject matter may be about transition, the music fits this mold as well,
giving the half-hour album a better pace and flow.
By using literary prowess and musical know-how, Thick as Thieves have plotted the release of True Believers... to a T.
When asked about how the record will look, the Thieves know how to respond.
Benson thrusts an iPhone across the table and pulls up a .PDF file of the record’s cover, complete with an intricately drawn red octopus sprawling across light blue panels.
The band plans to offer the file as a download from iTunes when True Believers... is uploaded to the internet this summer.
While questioning skeptics isn’t something the band should have to worry about, one has to wonder if there’s anything this band hasn’t though of.
It makes sense though. With a fine anthology of poetry or 500-page novel, the order of the pages has been predetermined for months. Why should a CD be any different? A lot of Thick as Thieves music plays through like a book, and like any good listening experience, the songs unravel like slow spools of thread over the course of the disc.
Surely, just as the band intended to.
Thick As Thieves Review (True Believers in the Long Walk Home)
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Thick As Thieves True Believers In The Long Walk Home By Thick As Thieves (myspace.com/musicforth...Thick As Thieves
True Believers In The Long Walk Home By Thick As Thieves (myspace.com/musicforthieves)
For every moment of hushed beauty here, like the gently plucked acoustics and heavy-hearted piano balladry of "Chemical Division," there's a counterbalancing blast of snarling, vampy rocking, countrified twang, or moody, electronic ambience. It's an impressively diverse sonic palate for the young Cambridge band, whose songs break and crest on waves of sudden momentum shifts. "Mars Vigila" is the highlight: a rhythmically complex burst of chiming, ethereal elegy and melting guitar delay broken up by breast-beating, shouted catharsis. Through it all they maintain a surprising sense of melodic focus for a group stitching so many ideas into such a tightly woven whole.
Bumpin' crop: A Summer harvest of New England Product
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Our FNX homies over in Lynn have a knack for rooting out great local talent, they’re even better at ...Our FNX homies over in Lynn have a knack for rooting out great local talent, they’re even better at putting on awesome rock shows. Not very good at jogging, though. Not at all. This Friday, August 8, they’ve gathered five of Boston’s best rock bands for a spectacular blowout at the Middle East Downstairs—and if you don’t believe that “best bands” part, there’s empirical evidence to be had: Here’s a pre-program primer of the night’s lineup.......
(for the full article please visit: http://thephoenix.com/Boston/Music/65890-Bumpin-crop/)
Thick as Thieves, “I Heard a Pin Snap Loose"
While Thick as Thieves is locally regaled for their mega-adventurous guitar rock, “I Heard a Pin” is a gorgeous little acoustic number putting due emphasis on the sweet tones of Tyler Littwin’s vocal. It’s hard to fathom a prettier song coming out of Boston this year. Curveball aaaand strike!
Spotlight in Dec issue of Northeast Performer
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Thick As Thieves By Miriam Lamey Photo by Patrick Piasecki It’s pretty much understood that n...Thick As Thieves
By Miriam Lamey
Photo by Patrick Piasecki
It’s pretty much understood that no two people will ever see the world in precisely the same way. In a collaborative setting, however, differences in band members’ backgrounds can be cause for exciting musical interactions. Take Boston-based Thick As Thieves, for example, who blend together their literary leanings and varied musical backgrounds into an enlightening indie rock concoction.
Singer and guitarist Tyler Littwin majored in English at Colgate University, and draws on his passion for literature when writing songs. Not coincidentally, the band takes its name from a William Blake manuscript. “There’s lots of symbolist stuff, in the vein of TS Eliot, that I draw on.” Littwin continues, “In songs, you don’t have a long time to tell a full story in a typical sort of narrative fashion; you have to be throwing words and phrases in there that kind of resonate with people.” Combined with light, acoustic guitars, mournful vocals and strong bass and drums, Littwin’s vocals comprise a strong focal point to the band’s sound, always mixed clearly so the listener can discern the lyrics.
Littwin cites Irvine Welch, the Scottish author of Trainspotting and The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs. The band doesn’t call themselves anglophiles, but British and Scottish influences are ubiquitous in Thick as Thieves’ music. When writing lyrics for their latest album, We Planted Driftwood And Nothing Changed, Littwin admits that he was inspired by Welch’s writing style and ideas. Lyrically and thematically, the album ponders “going out to one area, seeing the same people, and [Welch’s] books deal with a lot of that, the same characters,” Littwin explains, “I’m sure that it influenced the lyrics directly.”
Littwin hails from the East Coast, while bassist Aaron Benson and drummer Mike Cotter are both originally from the Midwest. Benson, from Travers City, Michigan, says, “the area I’m from is a really artistic area. I was focused on a lot of the British sounding music; obviously the Beatles, but Radiohead was a huge, huge influence. Muse, more of that guitar-driven type stuff.” In complete contrast, Cotter was raised in a small town in Illinios. Yet Cotter was involved with marching band, jazz band and concert band, which shaped his drum playing. He feels his style is “more of a percussive art, not just playing the kit.” Cotter continues, “I hear a tune, I usually listen to it really, really closely and base my drum part not just off what genre I’m playing, but off everybody else who is playing, which is what you do when you listen to a lot of classical music.”
Each member in Thick As Thieves comes from complimentary, although highly different musical backgrounds. It seems that this should make for creative problems and jagged practices, but Benson feels that the band is adept at bringing their ideas together in a cohesive fashion. “We all write,” Benson says. “Mike will come out with the drum kit and Tyler will start playing guitar over it. I’ll come up with something myself, and get to the point where I’m not getting any more ideas and I’ll bring it to the group.” He remarks, “By the time we get through the first verse it’s already changed. Almost always the songs start off as something completely different; there are songs that started off as ballads that turned into dance songs and vice versa.”
Heavy Rotation Record's Annual Epic Event, Berklee Performance Center, February 7, 2007
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From the Boston Phoenix review of the Heavy Rotation show at the BPC: "But the evening's highligh...From the Boston Phoenix review of the Heavy Rotation show at the BPC:
"But the evening's highlight was a set by Thick As Thieves, who recruited a second drummer and a string quartet to join them for two powerful, layered rock originals. For a while, real-world professionalism ruled"
Show of the Month
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"Thick As Thieves took the stage next, looking fairly confident as they set up their instruments. Ty..."Thick As Thieves took the stage next, looking fairly confident as they set up their instruments. Tyler Littwin's vocal melodies were the band's greatest asset, weaving infectious hooks throughout tightly performed, often folk-based noise rock. While Thick As Thieves performed dynamically and had decent stage presence, the band's songwriting was most impressive. Often adventurous in structure, the core arrangements seemed wholly organic, as though they were initially written on an acoustic guitar and arranged for live rock later on. One highlight of the set was "Here's To Waking Up," featuring a catchy chorus melody reminiscent of 1990s Brit pop."
Thick As Thieves
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Heavy Rotation Record's Thick As Thieves is keeping rock and roll at the forefront while inklings... Heavy Rotation Record's Thick As Thieves is keeping rock and roll at the forefront while inklings of indie float in and out from behind the strings. The band was formed when guitarist Aaron Benson met with drummer Mike Cotter in Allston. After some initial setbacks the two started piecing together extended works in odd time signatures, and structural forms. After recording a rough demo, the duo met their now bassist, Matt Harmon and soon after called upon writer/poet Tyler Littwin to front the band even without any prior singing or playing experience. One William Blake reference and a few practice sessions later, Thick As Thieves was born.
It's hard to nail down a description of the band since they have such a wonderfully unique sound in today's world of monotony. Littwin's melodies and lyrics are catchy enough to stick, but avoid any threat of being generic bubblegum pop. Their music ranges and changes from Radiohead like ambience with sweet vocals floating on heavy reverb over slow picking guitars and synthesizers to upbeat pop rock numbers that rely on harmony and melody more than crunching guitars and solos.
Ambient guitar slides, arpeggios and slides drift through atmospheric sound scapes created by honed and able musicians that set the listener in a state of buoyancy in the Thieve's gently rippling orchestration that gradually progress with intensity before smashing in to the rock that waits below. Sometimes edging on Get Up Kids, or early Hot Rod Circuit, and at other times hints of Elliot Smith can be heard.
In the most generic of terms, Thick As Thieves can presently be described as Alternative Rock but with tracks that creep along and others that explode with high octane guitar riffs and screams, it will be very interesting to see in what direction the Thieves move from here. Pick up the Thieve's current album "We Planted Driftwood and Nothing Changed" at their show tonight (December 19th) at TT the Bears in Cambridge. For more information visit Thick As Thieves on myspace.com or musicforthieves.com.
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Thick As Thieves We Planted Driftwood and Nothing Changed 2006 Daaaamn. This is really the kind...Thick As Thieves
We Planted Driftwood and Nothing Changed
Daaaamn. This is really the kind of band that makes the Boston music scene so vibrant. Cambridge-based Thick As Thieves’ debut full-length is a joy from start to finish, full of bubbling creativity and a maturity rare in a band comprised of members in their early 20’s. Their sound manages to be both accessible and exploratory: it is guitar-based (but happy to use all sorts of keyboards for effects), with a vocalist who at times sounds like Billy Corgan with the sensitivity of Elliott Smith. The songwriting is remarkable as well; every riff is fluid and in perfect balance with the vocal melodies. There is an extremely high level of musical communication between the instruments, and the whole album feels more coherent than most major-label releases. Not many bands can vary their sound as effectively as from stellar rockers like “An Empire Sound” to delicate musical moments like “Telegraphs to Spitfire.” Plus, their lyrics are gorgeous and evocative.
-- Matt Aucoin
We Planted Driftwood and Nothing Changed Review.
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Thick as Thieves — We Planted Driftwood and Nothing Changed Recorded and Mixed by Aaron Benson ...Thick as Thieves —
We Planted Driftwood
and Nothing Changed
Recorded and Mixed by Aaron Benson
Mastered by Jeff Lipton at Peerless Mastering
As far as album titles go, Thick as Thieves seems to be taking its cue from the Liars — both groups favor the vaguely disturbing sentence fragment. The similarity, however, ends there; there is a certain sense of modern alienation in the music of the two bands, but while the Liars have channeled that detachment into forward-facing avant-garde, Thick as Thieves returns to the source. Its sound, built on the simple template of solid rock music, pulls us back to a time before that ubiquitous alienation even existed.
Or so we think.
On the band’s debut, Thick as Thieves write songs that, for all their appealing hooks and smooth vocals, are filled with doubt and ambivalence. The band often plays with a tense, suspenseful softness, seemingly holding back while containing its sound within a limited frame. The strongest tracks on the disc are those that make the best use out of this quiet space: “Here’s to Waking Up,” with its understated riff and country twang, evokes with a few broad strokes all the fear and possibility of an empty day. The CD’s closing track, “...Or Other Testimony of Summer Nights,” using nothing more than a plucked guitar and a distant-sounding voice, creates the band’s most haunting song.
Thick as Thieves struggle when they are trying to play in a more dynamic register. Many of the disc’s more upbeat tracks, such as “Bright Keys” or “Commuter Lot” focus more on hooks than on mood, and in such moments the band loses that wistful quality that makes the stronger songs so appealing. This is a band that, on its debut, is still in the process of exploring its strengths and weaknesses. We Planted Driftwood and Nothing Changed allows us a peek into this process - a listening experience that is equal parts fascination and exasperation. Still, when Thick as Thieves is on, the sound is arresting. (Self-released)
Thick As Thieves
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Thick as Thieves Thick as Thieves Not long after the release of Sawyer’s Signals/Sounds, the Bos...Thick as Thieves
Thick as Thieves
Not long after the release of Sawyer’s Signals/Sounds, the Boston group was forced to take a change of direction following the departure of their lead singer and keyboardist. The remaining members – Aaron Benson (guitars/backing vocals), Tyler Littwin (lead vocals/guitar), Todd Dahlhoff (bass/backing vocals), and Mike Cotter (drums) – emerged as Thick as Thieves and now, one year after Sawyer’s demise, Thieves has a six-song disc to share their work as a quartet.
The self-titled EP is clearly the work of a skilled band, but it takes a minute before Thick as Thieves delivers the goods. Introductory track "Overshore", with its incredibly dreamy (i.e. new age-y) feel and distant, washed out spoken vocal segment lacks cohesion with the remaining five tracks and comes off as a bit self-indulgent. The remaining songs demonstrate focused songwriting capable of packing a plethora of ideas.
Although an average track length under four minutes isn’t usually the mark of what would be described as epic, these compositions are certainly worthy of the label. The group seamlessly transitions between numerous musical themes creating dynamic soundscapes and an engrossing musical experience sure to make listeners thankful that the quartet chose to form Thick as Thieves following the dissolution of Sawyer.
Our set varies from show to show but the overall pacing is generally the same. We open and close with louder/faster songs and find space for everything else in between. Have been known to throw in the occasional Tears for Fears cover. Normally play 45-60min sets. But could fill a 2 hour set if need be.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.