Not Just Another Super-Group
Remember the days
of "super-groups" like Blind Faith and CSNY? If you miss that era
- and you love harmony - you're going to love The Thorns, whose self-titled
album is just out on Columbia's Aware label.
You may have also enjoyed their past work as three of the last decade's most
critically acclaimed singer-songwriters. The Thorns are composed of Shawn Mullins,
whose song "Lullaby" was one of 1998's big hits, Pete Droge, who wrote
the title song for the 1995 film Beautiful Girls, and Matthew Sweet, who had
the hit "Girlfriend."
They met up last
year at the Sound Factory recording studio in Hollywood, where each of them
had been recording solo projects. Droge and Mullins came up with the idea of
forming a group with a folk-rock harmonic sound. After several other musicians
had dropped in and out, Sweet, who shared a manager with Mullins, heard what
was going on and joined them. Columbia agreed to underwrite their "experiment"
but at first the songwriting proved a tough process.
"We had just started working on this song which became "I Can't Remember"
(the album's first single)," says Droge. When their rep from Columbia suggested
they take a break to eat, they said "We're gonna stay here and finish the
"We were sitting in the room, singing the song together and it was very
clear to me that our voices, just out of pure dumb luck, worked great together."
After that, with a deal from Aware/Columbia behind them, the songs started to
flow. One song, the garage-rocker "Thorns" suggested a name but they
were reluctant to assume it-until they were erroneously introduced as The Thorns
at an accidental meeting with the Rolling Stones.
Next, ace producer Brendan O'Brien stepped in. He had also produced Bruce Springsteen's
The Rising, as well as albums by Droge and Sweet. "Until Brendan came on
board, it never crossed anybody's mind that this could be a commercial radio
record," says Mullins. "We just tried to write songs that we liked."
Apart from a few veteran studio musicians like Jim Keltner on drums and the
E Street Band's Roy Bittan on piano, the Thorns play all their own instruments
in addition to combining their voices in perfect three-part harmony. Not that
there hasn't been some tension. What with three artistic egos at stake, "It
took a tremendous amount of letting go of all our power issues," says Sweet.
For the last few months, the Thorns have been playing at conventions and private
gigs, as well as a few radio shows in selected cities. They also appeared on
the TV series American Dreams as an early '60s surf group. This summer, they'll
be on a full tour, promoting the album and possibly spearheading a revival of
that Super-Group thing.
But as Droge points out: "At the beginning, nobody knew how it was going
because, really, in theory, it's a disaster waiting to happen-three
guys who are used to generally being dictators . . . trying to be a band. It's
a miracle we actually made it happen."