Thunder: A Conversation with Luke Morley

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By Lori Smerilson Carson –

Time brings experience and expertise and Thunder is definitely a testament to that. Starting with their debut album Backstreet Symphony through their latest Thirteenth studio album ALL THE RIGHT NOISES just released on March 12th, this extraordinarily talented band has been creating amazing hard rock hits that have kept them going strong as a band for over three decades.

As the first single “Last One Out Turn Off The Lights” and their second “Going To Sin City” were hitting the airwaves and internet, Guitarist Luke Morley took time to reveal some details about the new LP, share some memories and inform fans of what they can look forward to.

Ohio Music Experience:  What inspired the new album ALL THE RIGHT NOISES? Was there a theme?

Luke Morley: Kin of. I think some of the songs, probably most of the songs on the album are kind of inspired by what was going on in the world right about the time I was writing it. So, it takes on subjects like Brexit which is “Last One Out Turn Off The Lights”, Donald Trump which is “Force Of Nature”, and the rise of right wing populism in Europe which is “(The) Smoking Gun”. “Destruction” which is kind of about the dark side of the human experience or mental health, depression. Yeah, so there’s a few comments on I guess, heavy subjects in there, but I try to approach ‘em with the usual you know, sense of humor where possible. Definitely being angry about a few things. It’s a really good, the way you get yourself in the mood to songwriting.

Ohio Music Experience:  What inspired you to write a song about Brexit? I love the lines in the song, “Nobody’s watching, they’re sliding down the hill,” “You are the leaders, there’s no one talking sense.”

Morley: Well basically. Obviously as an English person being part of Europe as we were, was a wonderful thing because it means you could you know, jump on a train. Go to Paris. No problem, just a passport required and you could kind of cross all the boarders in Europe which is great of course if you’re in a band touring because you don’t ever have to deal with all kinds of awkward visas and permits and stuff. You know, you just kind of go. It was great, and there was a cultural enrichment that went on as well because more and more people were traveling, going to Spain and Italy. Learning more about food and art and all sorts of lovely things. And then Brexit, which is just kind of shut all the boarders, and now it set us back kind of fifty to a hundred years and you know, we have an idiot for a prime minister and a bunch of rogues in his government, and it’s an awful situation to be in. I just hope there’s a whole generation of young people now coming up who will get to vote next time, will go hang on a minute. wasn’t it the case for a better situation we used to be able to roam freely around Europe, but now we can’t, and they’ll vote them out; but you know, hey, you’ve had enough political grief over there (he chuckled).

Ohio Music Experience:  Yeah. It’s a great song and hopefully those points will get across. There are a few songs that have political points. Do you have a background in politics?

Morley: No. I’m just kind of interested in the world, I think. Most of the guys in the band are kind of late fifty and sixty now, so you know, your experience and the way you look at the world of age is very different than when you’re in your twenties when the band started. When you’re only interested in sex and girls and drinking too much or whatever. As you get older, obviously priorities change. You mature and you look at the world differently. I think if you write songs as I do, you have to be honest with yourself and write about the things that you care about. That motivate you. That you have opinions on because you know, if you try and not do that or if you do something else, the authenticity’s gone. It’s like, if you have to convince yourself of something, there’s no way you’re going to convince other people.

Ohio Music Experience:  Is that what inspires you when you write?  World events or things that you’ve experienced?

Morley: It could be anything, yeah. I think it could be anything that gives you a feeling or motivation to sort of talk about it or whatever. It could be literally what’s going on in the world. It just happened to be lots of great material in that area in the last few years, but it could be a sunset. It could be a car you’re looking at. It could be anything. The other thing, the trick is keeping your mind open to all possibilities.

Ohio Music Experience:   Is that how you brought in the songs that deal with mental health and depression?

Morley: Yeah. I mean, “Destruction”. I’m very lucky these are not issues I’ve ever had, but I have friends that have, and so it’s kind of based on anecdotal stories that they told me about how they’re feeling. That particular song started off with the music and it’s quite dark. I just thought, this is not a happy love song. It’s something else, but what are we talking about here? I had a few lines.  There were some other very good ideas, and my concern I said, well maybe this is a good kind of musical bed to lay this kind of stuff on which is I said about the darker recesses of the human mind that we’d rather not talk about.

Ohio Music Experience: A lot of people can relate to that. You guys started in 1989 with your debut album (Backstreet Symphony released in 1990), I remember the song “Dirty Love”,

Morley: You don’t sound old enough (he laughed).

Ohio Music Experience: Well, thank you. Oh, I am. Now, you and (Lead Vocalist) Danny (Bowes) are lifelong friends. You still have (Guitarist, Keyboardist) Ben (Matthews)and (Drummer) Harry (James) in the band as well, right? All the original band members?

Morley: That’s correct. Apart from Chris (Childs) the bass player. Chris the bass player’s been with us twenty-six years. He’s a new boy.

Ohio Music Experience: How did the band originally come together?

Morley: Well basically, myself and Danny met when we were at school. We were eleven years old and we started out first band together in school and played in local pubs and stuff. Then I think it got kind of serious when we met Harry really because Harry was playing in another local band, and we kind of got together and that band was called Terraplane. We did our first record deal with CBS or Sony which is it now, and made two albums and they were kind of ok. Sony was the wrong kind of label for us really then. This is the 80’s and they had Wham, Sade, those kinds of acts. So, they were very much a pop label. So, we didn’t really fit and they were trying to, they said, we’re a pop band. We didn’t want to be a pop band, so it didn’t kind of work out, but it did teach us lots of valuable lessons about how to deal with labels. How to deal with management. How to make records and all those things. So, that kind founded off the two albums and then Danny and I, we sort of knew we wanted to kind of get something going together and I had written a couple of songs that were much more like the stuff we wanted to do. One of those songs was “Dirty Love” and we wanted to make rock music that we’d grown up with. That was reminiscent of (Led) Zeppelin and Bad Company and Free and The Who. That was kind of the era of music that we really loved. So, we for some reason and we still don’t know why, we decided we’d go and  look at America.

We’d never been before, so jumped on a plane. We stayed a week in New York sleeping on a friend of ours floor and then we went to LA for a week and this was ’88, so it was that whole scene on Sunset Strip and we just didn’t have anything like it in the UK. You know, The Roxy (Theatre), Gazzarri’s. All these kind of clubs were spewing out kind of rock bands, you know, guys with big hair. Girls with big hair. Everybody used to not be able to tell who was a boy, and who was a girl to be honest, at the time. It was a mad scene and it was quite glamorous, and I think there was a lot of energy about it. I think that was the first time I heard Guns N’ Roses on that trip. Oh wow, these guys are really, really good. This is a really good rock ‘n roll band based on strangely kind of English bands. It was weird, but just seeing the whole thing and it kind of energized us, and we thought well yeah, rock and roll is alive and well. It’s just not in the UK right now, and we went back and basically started the band. Harry said, “look, we’re going to start something else, but it’s going to be much more natural and what we want it to be, and we’re gonna live or die by it kind of by instinct.” So, that’s when we started the band and then bizarrely, Guns N’ Roses broke through in the UK around about that time and all of the sudden every record label was looking for a you know, the English equivalent, and we went from like kind of you know, basically being shown the door at Sony, to every other major label wanted so sign us (he chuckled) in about 18 months. It was so peculiar. Yeah, that was it and we never looked back really after that.

Ohio Music Experience: What would you attribute to your longevity as a band? You guys have been together over thirty years. What would you recommend?

Morley: I think the core of the band is Danny and I have a relationship, it’s very, very durable. I think that’s totally because we are quite different as people. We’ve got loads in common in terms of life experience growing up the same time. Same part of London you know, going to see the same bands. Hanging out with the same people. So, we have a lot of shared experience, but as we’ve both grown up, we’ve sort of you know, stayed really good friends. And through the trials and tribulations of the music industry which is when it’s great it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s pretty bad, but we survived all of those things and come out of it still with a sense of humor. Still make each other laugh and you know, we get along. The other good thing is that he’s really good at things I’m really bad at, and I’m really good at things that he’s really bad at. So, we’ve got a dove tail quite nicely and complement each other in that sense, and the mutual respects never gone you know so, yeah. It works and the old thing about if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Ohio Music Experience: What would you say were your inspirations? You mentioned a couple of British rock bands.

Morley:  Yeah, basically When I was a very small kid. My parents were quite young when I was born, and this was like the 60’s, so a home that was always The Beatles, The Kinks, The (Rolling) Stones, Bob Dylan, (The) Beach Boys. It was always kind of musical. I always thought it was quite fascinating, but I didn’t kind of connect into anything particularly until I saw Jimi Hendrix on the TV playing with his teeth. Obviously, this is one of that tailor mint Spanish guitar pieces and I just thought, that looks cool. I’m interested in that. So, I bothered my father until he bought me a cheap Spanish guitar, and then just started discovering all of this fantastic music because in the 70’s, God it was a great time to be a teenager. I mean, in the UK particularly with these fantastic bands. (Led) Zeppelin, The who, The (Rolling) Stones, Thin Lizzy, Bad Co (Company), Free before that. Judas Priest, Wishbone Ash, Yes. I mean there was such an amazing amount of fantastic rock and roll bands in the UK, and you know, we got to see them all. And it really extended a profound effect on me, and then maybe in my later teens I started discovering American music like Steely Dan, (The) Doobie Brothers and also as a background to that I guess, we had fantastic soul music in that era you know, the Philadelphia stuff. So, all that fantastic music I guess is kind of rolled up in kind of where our influences are, but I think primarily, it’s kind of British rock bands all ‘70 or ‘75 I guess are the foundations.

Ohio Music Experience: Did you have formal musical training?

Morley: No. no, no, no. I took my guitar off to school and the teacher was very nice. He played kind of a traditional Spanish guitar, and he said to me, “you know you should be a guitar player.” I think he was expecting me to say Segovia or Joplin. I go, “Jimi Hendrix.” he said, “I can’t help you.” I said, “oh. what do you suggest I do?” He said, “what I suggest you do is listen to Jimi Hendrix. Try and do what he does and then watch other guitar players. And it was really good advice. That’s exactly what I did really, and as soon as I was old enough to sort of sneak into pubs that had bands, I did that and I’d go and watch the guitar player, and then look at film of people and just go home and practice, and guitar didn’t leave my hands for about five years. Went everywhere with me. To bed. To the bathroom, everywhere. Yeah, I was very obsessed with it. I’m glad I was because it’s given me a good living.

Ohio Music Experience: It definitely paid off. About the videos. The videos for “Last One Out Turn Off The Lights” and “Going To Sin City”. Was the Sin City song about gambling and that scene?

Morley: No, actually it was about what I was saying about in ‘88 when Danny and I went to L.A. It was about that. It was about the, you know the kind of androgyny scene. The boys looked like girls and the girls looked like boys. The kind of glamour of it all. Yeah, it looked like quite a sinful place, but it was. So that was the inspiration for that song. Sunset Strip in the ‘80’s.

Ohio Music Experience: Very cool. The cover of the album, the tower (actually called the ‘Singing Ringing Tree’)? How did that come about?

Morley: Ok. So, the object that’s on the front of the album. It’s actually a sculpture.  It’s maybe about 15 feet, 20 feet high and it’s made of galvanized steel pipes, but each pipe is like a flute. So, when the wind blows, and it sets up on a hill in a very windy place in the north of England. Each of these tubes plays a note and it’s the eeriest, weirdest sound. When we finished the album and it was like the usual thing. What are we going to call it? And the line “all of the right noises” kind of appealed to me because rock bands get told they make like a dreadful noise sometimes and you know, we felt we made all the right noises, and it’s taken from a lyric in “Destruction”, so we thought alright, that’s a good title. Then I just started googling weird stuff that made noise. Everything really, and at one point I googled bizarre musical instruments and this sculpture thing came up. What the hells that? That looks really interesting or weird thing, what is it? And I started to read about it and discovered this sculpture is made by these two architects and it sits on top of a hill overlooking this small town in Lancashire north of England called Burnley. I thought it was weird because it looks something like an alien or it looks like it’s almost alive. Like it’s going to hop along or something or move and you can’t really tell if its sinister or its good. It’s just there.

So, a very good friend of mine is a photographer (Jason Joyce). So, I rang him. I said, “look. I’ve got this idea,” and I sent him kind of a picture I got off the internet of this thing and he went, “wow that looks interesting.” So, we went up there and we spent the best part of 24 hours taking photographs of it, and the shot actually made the front in the end. We took it at 3 am as the sun was coming up and it had this kind of eerie thing, and of course it was making this very strange noise. It just all seemed to kind of work with the concept of the album title. It just seemed to feel like the right thing. Also, it reminded me a lot of as an object of the sort of stuff that artists did in the 70’s. You know, the guys that did sleeves for Zeppelin like Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti. Pink Floyd like The Dark Side of the Moon. Great designers. The two guys Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell. Storm Thorgerson was a good friend of ours because he did the sleeve of our second album (Laughing On Judgement Day released in 1992). He passed away a few years ago unfortunately, but there’s something about the shape of this object sitting on top of the hill. It reminded me of him, and I thought this is the kind of thing that he would really like. Fortunately, the band loved the idea, so that was it really.

Ohio Music Experience: I’m sorry about your friend’s passing. You guys seem to live the song “Don’t Forget To Live Before You Die”.

Morley: That song, strangely it came about in a conversation I had with a young guy. We had gone to a bar and I was in the bar with a few friends. I just got an order for drinks and it was quite a few different drinks. It was quite an awkward order and he did it all, and he was uncomplaining and really polite. So, I said, “Thank you. Can I get you a drink?” He said, “Oh no,no. I don’t drink.” He’s about twenty-two years old, twenty-three maybe. And I said, “have a drink,” and he said, “no. No, I drank once, but it made me go a bit crazy.” So, I said to him, “well, isn’t that the point”? (He chuckled) and he laughed, and he said, “no I like to be in control of myself.” I’ve met quite a few young people that age who it was kind of similar. They were worried about their body or worried about how they look or how they feel. Complete opposite to when I was their age you know, where we just did everything and drank everything and woke up late and got in all sorts of scrapes and stuff, and I just thought it was really strange for young people to be that kind of cautious. So, that’s kind of what the song is about really. It’s just saying to that young guy or anybody else young who’s over cautious you know, be willing to look after yourself and be serious about life, but you have to remember to let your hair down sometimes.

Ohio Music Experience: That is so true with all the stress we have in the world.  You guys are doing a T.V. concert show tomorrow right (March 13th and 14th)?

Morley: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. It’s a streamed performance. Over the last year we’ve been approached a lot by people saying, we want to do a stream gig with Thunder. We’re always a bit nervous about it because I think from a technical point of view, the ones that I’ve watched didn’t sound great, and that whole thing about a Thunder show you know, fifty percent of it is the audience. Without an audience would it feel kind of weird and a bit kind of stilted maybe? Then a friend of ours approached us who’s filmed the band before. Who we trust.  And we sort of came up with this idea which was to approach not like with a gig without an audience, but approach it kind of like a T.V. show where the band are performing and try and kind of make it feel like a T.V. show. We had this old T.V. show in the 70’s and we have a show now called Later. Its bands performing in the studio with an audience. They’re still playing live, but it’s kind of mixed out for T.V. It’s just like a different vibe. So, we said to our filming team, can we do this? Can we kind of make it feel a little bit like it’s a 70’s T.V. show? He said, that’s a great idea! So, we did that. Got it all set up. Then we said, what about could we kind of get any fans in here virtually? So, what we did is we put up three, four large screens around the place and we got the fans to come in via Zoom and to watch. So, there was an audience there, but they were all up on these screens. It was very peculiar. It’s great.  It gave the band like almost kind of comparable adrenaline levels to a real gig. The only weird thing was at the end of each song they were applauding, but we couldn’t hear them (he laughed). I watched the whole thing yesterday. It looks great. So, yeah, that goes out tomorrow night and it’s going to be up for 48 hours and I think it’s good fun. It’s kind of quite intimate because the cameras are in really tight which they wouldn’t be able to be if it was a filmed gig. I think it’s quite cool. I think it’s going to be an interesting thing to watch.

Ohio Music Experience: Are there anymore down the line for fans to look forward to?

Morley: Possibly. The thing that goes out tomorrow, we’re gonna see how we feel about it after the event, and if it’s the case we aren’t able to perform you know, for real for a while, then we may be able do it again in a slightly different way, but we’ll see.  We’re very openminded about it. I think we have to be because musicians obviously want to play as much as we can.

Ohio Music Experience: You do have a show in Denmark in May, but the others aren’t until 2022, right?

Morley: The one in Denmark still may not happen. We’re not expecting it to happen right now. Until we get told it’s canceled, it’s on. Yeah, the way COVID is in Europe right now, it’s impossible to say whether or not anything’s going to happen this year. I sincerely hope it does for the audience and for the band. It’s a wonderful thing when it does come back. I’m sure it will. The vaccine’s getting rolled out quite well over here, but it’s got to be the same across Europe before we go there, and obviously with you guys in the states, it’s the same thing. You got to make people safe and if you make people safe, hopefully rock and roll will come back and we can all go out and have a huge party.

Ohio Music Experience: Are there anymore videos?

Morley: Yeah. There’s a video for “You’re Gonna Be My Girl” which is going to be up and around soon. So, there will be a few other bits and pieces coming out. Just keep an eye on the Facebook page and the Website (thunderonline.com) and we’ll tell you what you need to know.

Ohio Music Experience: Was there anything you wanted to add?

Morley: I just hope that Thunder do get a chance to come play in the States sometime soon you know, before we get much too old (he laughed).

Ohio Music Experience: I’m sure you will. The new album ALL THE RIGHT NOISES is really great!

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