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Dom Craik (Nothing But Thieves)
Nothing But Thieves
Nothing But Thieves
Nothing But Thieves

Dom Craik (Nothing But Thieves)

Dom Craik
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Nothing But Thieves

Nothing But Thieves founder-member, guitarist and confirmed Aston mics fan, Dom Craik had racked up some serious guitar chops by the time he was 11, and by 17 he had found the perfect line up to take his band forward. With 700,000 album sales and 750million streams to date and a #2 spot in the album charts with their 2017 release ‘Broken Machine’, the UK guitar outfit don’t seem to have put a foot wrong since forming in 2012. Seeing their touring and release schedule, like so many bands, disrupted by the Covid 19 outbreak, NBT have found innovative ways to keep engaging with their fans, including their homegrown, collaborative ‘Solitude Sessions’. Dom took time out to explain the band’s journey and how they’re using their lockdown time to keep the music coming.

Nothing But Thieves
Proving Mum wrong

“At primary school we got these letters to take home about music lessons asking if I wanted to learn an instrument. For some reason I said, “Mum, I really want to learn guitar”. You could tell that some kids were just going to do it for a week and get bored of it and my mum had the same reaction: “It’s going to collect dust”. Not that she wasn’t supportive but I had to really win her over before she agreed to sign me up for half a term. I practiced so much… my only motivation was to prove my mum wrong, which is hilarious because I was only 6.

I was doing the homework to be ahead of the game, and then rather than being in guitar lessons with the same age group I’d get pushed up into the 10 and 11 year olds. When I got to 11 I’d been playing for about 5 years, this whole ‘just proving my Mum wrong’ thing subsided and I was thinking “oh f**k, I really enjoy this!”

My cousin Phil was the bass player in the band was in, in year 10 or 11. On my first day he’d pulled my top button undone and untucked my shirt. He was sorting me out so I’d be cool at school. We had 4 or 5 quite small rooms of drum kits, practise amps and guitars and I’d see Phil and his friends practising, jamming out literally every classic rock cliché; AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and a bit of Thin Lizzy for good measure. It was a ‘School of Rock’ moment when Phil took the classical guitar out of my hands and handed me a Les Paul - that was the real transition. I took on the challenge of playing with the older kids and absolutely loved it, that’s how I found myself playing with other people.”

 

 

 

The singing trumpet player

“I was still having classical lessons but they started dwindling off, then I started with YouTube, I just found myself learning songs, solos and weird, proper obnoxious rock techniques like sweeping and tapping. I got myself a Steve Vai signature guitar which is the most horrendous looking thing, but I think that phase was really important.

When it got to 6th Form there weren’t enough pupils taking the music course for the school to run it but my mum, bless her, got them to send me across the road to the grammar school to do the A Level there. I was running backwards and forward between schools. There was a historical rivalry between them but they welcomed me with open arms. I thought grammar school was what a school was meant to be like. At my school there were kids wetting toilet roll and throwing it on the ceiling and stuff like that, but at the grammar school they all had aspirations to go to Oxford or Cambridge.

At my first music lesson I thought I was very cool playing guitar but it quickly came to light that I was actually the odd one out and they were probably laughing at me. I asked them what they played and this guy said he plays oboe and someone else said trumpet. I heard someone singing, popped my head in and it was the trumpet boy and I thought: “oh wow, this guy has got an incredible voice”.

Perfect triangle

“The singer turned out to be Conor [Mason, Nothing But Thieves lead vocalist and guitarist].

He was singing Maroon 5 or Jamiroquai, really random but quite poppy. I told him I had a studio down the road. I was a 16 year old kid living with his parents, I didn’t have a studio, I just had an 8 track recorder in my garage. I convinced Conor to come round and we wrote some music, it was the best thing ever. He just loved the guitar and he thought I was great, I was listening to his voice and he really had it nailed. That was how that relationship started.

So after Conor and I met we realised we couldn’t do this properly with 2 people, we’d need to expand. We had a mutual friend called Joe [Langridge-Brown, NBT guitarist], It was like a perfect triangle, so we got him in. Joe really took the lead on the lyrics, it was nice because for Conor and I it wasn’t our strong point. I was more focused on the technical side of the recording, Conor could write but he was more about the melody. Joe was the missing piece of the puzzle. As a 3 we had the balance and dynamic sorted.

We didn’t really know our place in the first year of writing - I’m talking about when we were 17, nearly 10 years ago. Now, if something sticks out like a sore thumb, of course there’s feedback, but I feel we know where we all stand so the boys are comfortable with what everyone does. It comes from being mates and also from learning not to become attached to whatever you create. When I’ve done sessions or writing with other people sometimes you can tell that there’s this marriage to an idea that they’ve created. You’ve got to leave that at the door otherwise it can become difficult.”

 

 

 

 

 

Omni-present

“My friend Julian Emery, an amazing writer and producer, was using Aston Spirits and saying what great microphones they are - he was always talking about them. I was properly curious. When I got to Mike [Crossey]’s studio he was using them too. I was starting to see these microphones everywhere; on Instagram and seeing them in mag reviews. I’ve got mates who live in the middle of Arizona using them. I’m thinking “wow these microphones are everywhere, there must be a reason - it’s pretty much a sign!”.

The first time I was recording with them we used the Spirits to close-mic drums. We would have them in ‘omni’. The coolest thing about that feature is that we would get baffles in a right-angle configuration in front of the drum kit, only about 3ft away and create a little corner for the Spirits to sit in - 6ft apart, one in line with the hi hat, one with the floor tom - and we would get this insane bottom-end because with omni we were getting amazing, weird reflection off the back of the baffle. That was the first song we recorded for this new project. We probably used that technique more often than not.

We were doing some guitar with a Silvertone and we threw a Stealth on that for a few songs. That was really cool. We had some Starlights which are my go-to overheads. They not only pick up the perfect transients of the attack but the top end isn’t harsh so I love them for the cymbals.”

Pushing the level

“At the moment my signal chain is quite simple. My interface is an Apollo Twin I’ve been using for years since before I got really into gear. The preamp is good. My big recent purchase was the Rupert Neve Shelford channel. I’ve only got one, with the hope of getting another 10 at some point, because they are that good! I love it for a few reasons, for vocals and that classic Neve thing - if you want to colour the sound you’ve got it there. You can be subtle or if you’re not getting the right sound you can absolutely rag the EQ to do pretty extreme things. My other favourite part of it is the compressor. You can control the compression of a really dry mix, it’s really useful. It’s a compressor that you can’t hear working, in a good way, so if Conor’s belting vocals it will do its job but not in a way that sounds like it’s being compressed.

The other thing that I love and one of my favourite tricks is to over-gain guitar into the Neve DI and really push the level. You get that brilliant super-dry guitar distortion, like amazing, amazing overdrive. I used it when I had the UAD 1073 plugin, and now actually having the real thing it’s a lot fuller and more aggressive. It’s a multi-purpose unit that seems to nail everything you put through it. You have to be careful pushing the Shelford int the red. It’s probably not the best way to be using it but I just love the sound of it, it’s quite extreme.

The reason I got the Shelford Channel was because Mike Crossey was using it for Conor. He [Crossey] has got the biggest vintage mic collection you’ve ever seen but he uses Aston stuff. He’s such a purist. He’s been using the Shelford Channel into one of the Undertone Unfairchilds he built with Eric Valentine and it’s ridiculous - it’s got 30 tubes in it or something crazy and they’ve got to be changing them a couple times a year.”

 

 

 

Solitude Sessions

“Our first EP had 3 or 4 songs, we recorded it ourselves and self-released. It’s nothing life-changing but it got attention and lead to us getting a record deal so I’m really glad it exists! I can’t bad mouth it too much but it’s got some nice songs on it. The second record was the Broken Machine album, we did some of it with [Producer] Mike Crossey and then I did a crossover with the demo so there’s lots of stuff on the demo that bleeds into the actual final recording.

Our current project [Moral Panic] is all mixed and ready to go. We signed off on all the masters but then we’re thinking “we can’t put an album out if we can’t tour it”. There are some discussions with management and the label about what we do with the release plan because the world’s gone upside down for a bit [with Covid 19]. You want to be in a position where you can be releasing music and playing it simultaneously.

We’ve been doing these ‘Solitude Sessions’, recording then doing a little edit of the mix and the video and putting it out. People really enjoy it. I was talking to the boys about how we can take that further and I had this idea, how about we get the bands to submit their performances, playing piano, drums, bongo drums whatever, and we’ll do a fan collaboration video where we mix their parts as well as ours and by the time you get to the final chorus there’ll be 50 to 100 people playing, which will sound huge!

Obviously releasing music during lockdown was really odd. We had a load of content planned, we were meant to be going to Russia, Finland, Ukraine and Minsk and it was all canned. All the plans for shooting content around the single had to go on hold. We’ve had to get a bit more creative about it…”

Life under Lockdown

“As I live with Phil the bass player we can both record through my interface straight to Logic. But when it comes to Joe’s guitar and James’ drums we literally don’t have any way of recording them. They have nothing with them, so I said; “Get the sound on your phones, send me the audio and then I’ll have to mix it” and my god, I regret saying that, it’s been a f**king nightmare! Anyone in audio will appreciate the difficulties in trying to record a drum kit from an iphone!

I had a plan of how to do it. I was using 2 phones for the drums, one that was closer and one far away, I was amazed how bright it was closer to the drum kit than further away, also the room sound and the depth of it. I also got James to smack his snare drum multiple times by holding his phone different distances away from it. I decided was that I could build the sample from that snare drum so it would fit tonally it would make sense listening to the full drum kit. Every time I layered 4 or 5 different hits I would create a snare bottom that was super bright using like a load of crazy plug-ins to distort it, then I made a snare top and blended them. I had to make sure that they were all in phase, it just came back sounding monumental. I did this with the kick drum as well, I had to go through the kick and the snare on every single hit!”

Outtakes

Q. Who are your favourite artists?
A. “I have an appreciation for both Queens of Stone Age and Radiohead for slightly different reasons. Queens to me are one of the coolest rock bands and they always push the boundaries, like tone is so valued to them. I think to be good at engineering and for creating tone, guitars, drums, bass, whatever it might be, they’re a good reference point.

I like the Mark Ronson album. He’s brought it into the 21st century and made it sound a little bit posher. Some of the drum sounds are amazing. I’m not one of these people who thinks Queens of Stone Age can do no wrong and there are definitely albums songs I prefer versus those I don’t. A lot of Queens purists were a bit sceptical of having it produced by Mark Ronson, I think it was a good sound.

The other band is Radiohead, and I think differently from the Queens they change for every album and every album has an original sound, I think that’s a difficult thing to get, especially when you’re doing bedroom downloads. I think holistic sounds can come from a few different things but if you’re using similar instrumentation in the same sort of environment, with the same producer going through the same gear, there will be a common thread. There’s just something about the way they play together and Thom Yorke just gets fully immersed in it, so from a performance side of things, I find them so engaging.”

 

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing??
A. My dad, who is a legend, owns his own company selling swimming pools and hot tubs and is the most Essex geezer you’ll ever meet and I would have gone into the family business probably turned into one of those dodgy salesmen.

 

Q. What was the first song that made you cry??
A. Sadly, I would have probably been about 13 and it was a song by Rihanna called ‘Unfaithful’ because my older girlfriend who was 15 at the time broke up with me and she just started kissing the coolest kid from school. I still remember it to this day. Rihanna came on and I just burst into tears and some teachers took me into the tuck shop and calmed me down.

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