Most European bands hope that someday, when they finally hit it big, they can lie on a California beach and soak up the sun. But the Thrills hit the beach early and that's where they found their sound. In the summer of 1999, the five young Dubliners headed to San Diego in a last-ditch effort to keep their band together. They rented a small beach house, dragged an old couch onto the sand and spent four months listening to everything from Bob Dylan to Burt Bacharach. Returning home, they wrote songs that oozed California sunshine. Four years later, with their single Big Sur one of the songs of the summer, they're on magazine covers and preparing to open for the Rolling Stones.
The Thrills' debut album, So Much for the City, is a love letter to their time out West. "For us it's an escapist record," says lead singer Conor Deasy. "Our minds kept wandering to these places in California. But it wasn't until we heard the songs together that we realized how much we'd tapped into that sound. This is how the songs came naturally, there was no master plan."
No wonder So Much for the City has the sunny, chiming sound of lucky breaks and happy coincidences. Like the time last year when, after three years of being ignored by record companies, the Thrills' demo tape suddenly sparked a bidding frenzy that led them to Virgin Records. Or the time that same demo landed in the lap of Mancunian gloom-rocker Morrissey, who invited them to play their first London show opening for him at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall last September.
Although Deasy insists "it's the lazy assumption that this is just a summer album," these tunes wouldn't sound quite right on a rainy day. Take the opener Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far), with its bouncy bass and sun-streaked harmonies. Deasy's breathy vocals (his Emerald Isle accent dissolving into a surfer's drawl) make him sound like J. Mascis backed by the Beach Boys. Big Sur begs to be blared from a car speeding along the highway with the top down: "Just don't go back to Big Sur/ Hangin' around, lettin' your old man down."
Sometimes, the cheesy Americana is spread on too thick, as in Your Love is Like Las Vegas, with uninspired lyrics like "Your love is like a city that burnt me good/ Las Vegas I could only afford one weekend." But you can't help feeling that the Thrills boys are just shaking the sand out of their hair before showing us what they can really do. Whether they go the way of the Beach Boys or the Surfaris remains to be seen. For now, So Much for the City is a warm ray of audio sunshine, a happy-go-lucky homage to the little stretch of beach that started it all.