(extended version of an article originally published in Star News with additional Q&A)
By Brian Tucker
“I don’t think we took the band seriously when we started,” Thunderlip guitarist James Yopp said. “I think it was, ‘we’re going to play some metal riffs, see what happens.”
A ton of shows and a decade later the band still delivers a fun, loud show. They may not be serious but they play serious. The attitude has worked well for a band whose debut Get Your Life Together was released ten years ago and remains a good time, especially so performed live where fans know every word. Amidst member changes and ups and downs the band’s original members – Johnny Collins (drums), Chuck Krueger (vocals) and Yopp remain solid friends and are now fathers (Yopp and wife Emily are expecting in February).
It’s the day before New Year’s Eve and Yopp, nursing a cold after returning from touring (he’s currently in Valient Thorr), talks about the new album Sunday Driving with Krueger as he tends bar at Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern. A slight departure from the band’s fun but blazing hard rock sound, fans won’t be disappointed. Krueger sounds better than ever (he quit smoking).
For the most part Sunday Driving is a massive shot of adrenaline save for two acoustic numbers that will might surprise but should impress fans. The hypnotic “Punch this Pilot” isn’t about a fear of flying but a play on words. Krueger played acoustic guitar on it, with recording engineer Ian Millard adding 12-string guitar.
“The first part is actually about alcohol de-toxing, a real bad hangover, shaking,” Krueger said. “The second verse, Yopp said ‘write about your kid.’ (Yopp) was getting ready to go on tour and said we should write an acoustic song. We’ve always talked about (trying) at some point.”
“That’s something we’ve never done as a band. I think once you start doing that it becomes mechanical,” Yopp said. “Keep it natural. Don’t question it. I think it’s always been like that. I think that’s what Thunderlip is. I like to mix things up, not punch in the face the whole time. Like a roller coaster, I always liked albums like that. We’d never really done that, it’s always been balls to the wall.”
A song from a many-years-old recording session yielded “The Temple of Dude,” a roller coaster ride about Indiana Jones, complete with a chorus that will linger and make you laugh. The band took their time making the album and also because they had to – members had kids, were in other bands, and were touring.
“It gave us time to sit with songs and what we recorded so far,” Yopp said. “With older records, you go back and listen and say ‘we should have done this different.’ With this record, we’ve had it completed for a while.”
The sound of Sunday Driving drives home the band’s intention of having fun, songs Krueger says are about “Indiana Jones and booze.”
“I don’t want to say that we write a lot about drinking but it looks like that,” Krueger says, then laughs. “I remember the thing Johnny Collins told me, when he used to give me grief about getting too drunk at shows. I said, ‘you told me from day one that (shows) would be better the drunker I am when we play. So I stuck to my guns with that. Then (crowds) started showing up.”
Band members are now in their late 20s and early 30s and their kids are in the same age group. It’s a good chance they could start a band as Thunderlip enters its second decade.
Krueger gives it thought. “They’re all about the same age. They could be in a band together.”
“That would be awesome. I know Johnny’s kid can play the drums almost,” Yopp adds. “Put him on the drums, he beats the hell out of them.”
Additional Q&A with James Yopp and Charles Krueger
Is some of the music from the EP? “The Temple of Dude” song?
Yopp: I guess it has been around that long. That’s the only song that’s really that old on the new record.
Krueger: We were going to try to do an Indiana Jones EP, not necessarily a parody. The whole thing was going to be called The Temple of Dude. That song made it through. We took such a long break that I think we forgot most of the other three. Live, it definitely goes over well.
You recorded the album piece-meal over time?
Krueger: We took our time. Member changes and all that. The Yeaghers (Zodiac Panthers) were in there for a minute. Johnny is on the album, six songs. I think we’re going to have him play two of the songs that he did a good portion of the writing. Yeah, he’s going to get up there and play with us. It’s been a process, with the member changes.
Yopp: I was doing stuff in between tours. It gave us time to sit with songs and what we recorded so far. A lot of time, especially with older records, you go back and listen and say we should have done this different. With this record, we’ve had it completed for a while.
Krueger: I remember you cringing on that first album forever.
It’s been ten years since Get Your Life Together.
Krueger: None of it live is cringe worthy but I wish I could go back and re-track that singing a little more. I didn’t know what I was doing, going in there and screaming everything.
Yopp: We did three songs off of it live-tracked as demos, didn’t over dub anything that actually got on the record. Then we recorded the remainder of the songs.
Krueger: I’d like to see it re-released. I don’t know if we’d have to do anything to it. I don’t think we’d ever re-record it. People really dug that record.
Yopp: That’s the charm about it. It was special because all of us had totally different tastes. It wasn’t like a group of metal heads or punks and loved a few bands and wanted to sound like them. We were all doing whatever. It was punk rock, and I was just getting into Iron Maiden. Chuck (Krueger) and (drummer) Johnny (Collins) were into indie rock, 90s rock and it was a weird mix of people coming together.
And looking back on the band?
Yopp: Working with Chuck and Johnny it always felt right. I admire them for their musicianship. Especially the first years. It’s the highlight of my musical career, even though we were adolescent, nobody was that great at their instruments. We didn’t care, we just wanted to have fun and write music.
Krueger: with the first album I was screaming everything and barely snag. On the second album I tried to sing but I was still a big smoker. On the third album I didn’t smoke so I think I have done my best. I think my voice has cleared up. I’m hitting higher notes than I was able to before.
Ian Millard knows you guys well by now, how to record the band.
Yopp: Yeah, he’s super laid back. It’s so laid back. Anytime somebody wanted to do something we could come in and take our time, it was loose. He’s come a long way, been doing it for a while. I’ve worked in some big studios with Valient Thorr and he can produce with ingenuity like a lot of these bigger studios.
Is it hard to get everyone together?
Krueger: It’s not hard, until we start writing again…if and when we start writing again. I think that’s when it would be hard. Now everybody goes and does their job, everybody is pretty good at their craft when it comes to that band, they walk in and we’re good to go. One or two practices and we’re good.
Yopp: It’s about creativity ultimately, just songs to me. I’ve never needed much more than hearing the songs coming together, and if it sounds right to me, I’m happy. I’m not worried about how many people hear it or how much it sells. It’s never been about that. It would be nice to have money, but honestly, I’m super proud of it and to be done. The simple fact is that we did it.
Word of mouth carried the band early on.
Krueger: Knock on wood. We were packing it out from the first show. It helped having Brandon Autry in the band. He’d talk to anyone and he was promoting and hand billing everything since day one.
Yopp: I tour out West and East coast with Valient Thorr and see shirts all the time. People shout “meet the snake.” I hear that one a lot. Meet the Snake? Somebody here knows Thunderlip.