Thyla – Interview 2019

Brighton-based Thyla have been kicking around for a while, firstly as the solo project of Millie Duthie, before she grew the idea into a full band. After releasing a steady stream of singles over the last couple of years, they have just dropped their debut EP, What’s On Your Mind. Adrenaline-fuelled but with a dreamy undertone, it’s already received rapturous applause from all quarters. Last year they graced the Brightonsfinest Alternative Escape stage in St. Mary’s Church, and next month they’re off to SXSW. These are exciting times for this quartet, as Millie tells Jeff Hemmings.

What are you doing?
I’m at home, pacing, and trying to clean up, so I can do all the social media tomorrow in a stress-free environment!

Where did you make What’s On Your Mind?
Max, our manager, his studio in London is called Rex Studios, and we put all our stuff out on his DIY label. So, we recorded the EP there, and had various people mix the tracks.

I first came across you when I booked you to play at Meadowlands festival way back in 2013. You were a solo singer-songwriter then. How did the transition to an electric band take place?
Then, I hadn’t really picked up an electric before. I started as a singer-songwriter. After coming to Brighton, and meeting loads of musicians, I just got a thirst for going down the electric guitar route. It’s something I hadn’t really explored before. So, I put that down to Brighton and the people I was around.

It was me and Chris, my guitarist at the time, who I was demo’ing with. ‘This would be cool with an electric’, I thought. I then got hold of an electric guitar. And some of the quirky acoustic stuff sounded really cool on the electric. And then pedals, a whole new world! I loved it, didn’t really look back, and started looking for band members. Danny, who I knew when I moved here, is the drummer now. And then we met Dan, our bassist. We then went through a couple of guitarists before finding Mitch. The sound you hear now was developed over the last two years. It’s been a long journey.

Have you ditched the acoustic then?
I haven’t ditched it completely. It’s always there as a writing tool. But once I’ve done that, I imagine it on the electric.

Did you used to do open mics when you were a solo acoustic artist?
Do you know what, (they’re) the scariest gig I have ever done! Open mics are savage, because no one has asked you to play! No one’s there to cheer you on. They are there to criticise, or they want to do better than you; they are there to compete with you. They’re terrifying gigs! I watched someone at the Bees Mouth, which is my local, get heckled off! But I think they are a great way to cut your teeth.

There is a theme of social media, and its problems, running through the EP…
That is something that all four of us have felt. You need to treat it with the respect that it deserves. It is a risk in some ways for your mental well-being. You wouldn’t cross the road without looking left, would you? People will wake up and unlock their phones, and dial straight in without thinking about it. Sometimes it can be a really negative experience for people, and they may not be aware that that is what’s causing it. If you take it away in that general sense, and into a band sense, it does suck the rock’n’roll element out. It’s all self-promotion. ‘Look at how we are doing’. You forget to pat yourself on the back and move forward in your own journey, and end up getting caught up in everyone else’s. I don’t think it’s that healthy. In many ways What’s On Your Mind talks about this, in a personal way, but also in the specific sense of being in a band, and having to do it.

As a band, do you have to immerse yourselves in the world of social media?
You can’t not! I tried when I was doing an MA. I thought this is so bad for me, I can’t do it anymore. So, I deleted everything. All it did was stop me getting invited to stuff, and I lost touch with people who weren’t in my immediate circle of friends. The music suffered, and I had to rely on other people to do the music side of things. You get disconnected. It is an absolute must. I just wish people would respect it enough to understand how to do it effectively.

Tell me about the lead track, and single, ‘Only Ever’.
For me personally, although I’ve got an inkling, it’s one of our favourites. It just happened. We went in to a rehearsal, after being out the night before. It was absolutely boiling, we were just jamming, and it came out of a lacklustre, lazy drum beat. Then Dan started playing this Ten-esque (Pearl Jam) bassline, and it was really cool. I was so hungover, I was just singing anything that came into my head. Eventually, it just sort of ‘formed’. Normally we’re a bit more – I don’t want to say perfectionist – but a bit more structured, but that one just came out of nowhere.

Retrospectively it’s about a frustration towards the fact we are always trying to be something that we’re not. It’s about the fundamentals of humanity, and running free and ignoring all of it. I like the message.

What about ‘Better Me’, which is acoustic?
I wrote it, and we tried to make it a big production. But it was there, done, finished as an acoustic song. It didn’t need anything else. I wrote it after reading 1984. It’s a basic coming-of-age, you’re-not-as-clever-as-you-think-you-are, so-much-to-learn song. It’s important to show that side. Once upon a time, that’s where it came from.

You’re off to SXSW!
I know!

Been there before?
God, no! I was actually born in the States. I’ve got a US passport. The boys are in the process of getting visas. It’s all really exciting! We’ve got four shows already. I literally can’t wait. It will be the first time that the band have gone overseas.

Tell me about the striking artwork for the EP, which features a blue frog atop a watermelon…
Adam has been doing our artwork for a while now. We just said we wanted something a little bit different, something that actually has a character, i.e. the frog, in keeping with the title, and questioning ‘What’s On Your Mind?’ The frog is actually a blue poison dart frog. The melon is just for fun. Danny has done a comic. He’s made the frog into a character, in keeping with the whole story, to do with social media.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Since Christmas we’ve ben writing like mad. We’ve definitely got a lot of songs now, and we’re looking to form them into another collection, realistically an EP, rather than an album. It depends on where we’re at, what’s right for us at the time. It’s easy to say we want to put music out, but how are we going to do that? It’s about everyone being in the right head space and place, at the right time.

Where does the name Thyla come from?
Honestly, no reason! I was with my friend, and I said I need a name. I don’t want to call it my own name. That’s boring. She is a Greek goddess, the goddess of fun, but spelt Thalia. We made up the word from that. After that it stuck. If you type it into Google, it means ‘friend’ in Vulcan (spelt T’hy’la), from Star Trek. That’s kind of embarrassing. That’s definitely not where it came from. We’re not Trekkies!

And that MA you mentioned, what was that in?
Music and sonic media, at Sussex. Everyone says, ‘what’s that?!’ It’s just sound and media, rather than visual.

Did you get much out of it?
I enjoyed it. I left uni, and I felt I needed to do something, because music wasn’t taking off right away, and I’m really impatient. I was too proud to go, ‘right I’ll work in a cafe for eternity, until music makes it’. So, I went and did an MA. It was very much a solo mission. It was good for improving my technical musical and recording skills. I can’t say I was doing it for a specific reason except to keep me focussed.

Jeff Hemmings