They make no bones about it: Harmonic new Irish outfit the Thrills titled their Virgin debut So Much for the City because, quite frankly, that’s exactly how they felt about their native Dublin at the time. “You know how — when you’ve grown up somewhere your whole life — you just wanna get the f--- out of there?” mop-topped frontman Conor Deasy inquires rhetorically. Four years ago, in the summer of ’99, he and his mates were “bored, bored of the same clubs, the same people. We were just in a bit of a rut, really.” So Deasy and guitarist Daniel Ryan — his next-door neighbor since childhood — decided they needed to get away from Ireland. But where to? Europe? India? The popular getaway for hip young Celts, Ibiza (an island off Spain’s eastern coast in the Mediterranean)? Nope — the chums chose America. Knowing full well, Deasy says, “that there are cities in the States where all the Irish people go as well, like Chicago and New York. So we went to San Diego, thinking, ‘Who else from our country would possibly come here?’” Who, indeed? From both a recreational and creative standpoint, The Thrills wound up picking the perfect locale. En masse the members flew over, rented an oceanfront house, dragged furniture onto the sun-baked sand and beach-partied their way into California culture. The next year they returned to the West Coast — San Francisco this time — to further their surf-sound studies. So it’s no surprise to hear the jingle-jangle of The Byrds ‘n’ Beach Boys’ optimism in self-explanatory City songs like “Big Sur,” “Hollywood Kids,” “Don’t Steal Our Sun,” “Deckchairs and Cigarettes” and their current U.K. smash single, “Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far).” Coupled with Deasy’s marshmallow-light, Neil Young-quavering falsetto, So Much for the City is as far from Dublin as that Lucky Charms leprechaun is from a bowlful of his own sad cereal.
Sipping Budweisers in a booth at their Bay Area venue, the fresh-faced Deasy, sporting a frayed Santa Cruz T-shirt, and a bearded Ryan, looking oddly incongruous in a natty two-piece suit, chuckle, because at the moment, Santa Cruz really isn’t that far away — a mere hour-plus drive down Highway 101. “But when we wrote it we were in Dublin, so it was quite far,” concedes Deasy, in a chipmunk-hyper chatter. “And that’s why we have a lot of those Cali numbers; it’s escapism through songs, because we used to write that music just to take us away.” Life on the West Coast wasn’t always easy. Starving in San Diego, they regularly weaseled their way into the Sea World amusement park and scarfed down free hot dog lunches by telling vendors that yes, once again, sneaky seagulls had stolen their food. They were only caught once, Deasy sighs, when hunger got the best of them; sorry, the snack barman said, his booth had only been open for five minutes, and no shorebird could eat a hot dog that fast. The Thrills also dutifully took up boogie-boarding but were shooed off by surfing locals. In San Francisco, the group played even more crafty angles. They soon discovered that several bars offered their patrons free all-you-can-eat weekend barbecues, and their stomachs would rumble all week, waiting for burger-gobbling Saturday. “And we also went driving a lot,” says Deasy. “We took trips to Tijuana, Santa Barbara, we even hit Vegas a coupla times. And I’ve never seen tramps so well-dressed as they were in California — just walking down the street, the bums all look like schoolteachers there.” The second Stateside summer, Deasy was so broke he left for Dublin a week before his band buddies did and felt mortified when Ryan emailed him a few days later to say that he’d just met two Thrills icons, Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach. Back in Ireland, though, the group’s distinct sound, an approach so uniquely American that Deasy worried they’d wind up laughingstocks, was beginning to attract attention. After all, their album was being released at the height of the Strokes/White Stripes rock revival. He admits, “I thought we’d come out and people would go ‘What the f--- is this? This isn’t the trend we’re in!’ But as it happened, we got a really good buzz going in Britain. But none of this was planned, Deasy wants it known. “With all our harmonies and my singing style and all, it was never really thought through or anything. When the band came together back in Dublin, my voice came together with it. I just think there’s this Irish cultural fascination with America.” And the Thrills owe it all to that first summer. Recalls Ryan, “Our band had been falling by the wayside for a couple of years, so when we hit San Diego we brought along our acoustic guitars, but we basically came there just to have a good time and get the hell away from Ireland.” But, concludes Deasy, before phoning several San Francisco friends to invite them to The Thrills’ show, “It was a kind of musical awakening for us, in a way. Things just started to make more sense to us in California. Most of those summers, we just hung out talking about music, guitars and songwriting. And everything just seemed to open up from there on out.”
Listen closely to So Much for the City, and you can almost hear the Sea World seagulls. …