Music towns like Brighton often come with a set of contrasts. They’re inspiring, because there are tons of artists milling around, collaborating, figuring out their voices alongside each other as they jump from band to band. You’ll always find one gig or another to go check out. But on the flipside, that means there’s that much more noise to cut through, that many other names from which you have to stand out. In the last year or so, one of those bands that has stood out from the local pack is Thyla, a group that’s putting their own spin on the tradition of dream-pop.
“It’s just crazy, every other person in Brighton is a musician,” Thyla frontwoman Millie Duthie says over a Skype conversation from her home in the seaside UK town. “It’s really competitive and sometimes it can get a bit catty, but you just have to stay above it, and then it’s amazing.”
Duthie — who was actually born in the States before her family returned to the UK when she was a small child — is like a lot of other musicians in Brighton, in that she moved there with the explicit goal of being a musician. The same goes for her bandmates — drummer Danny Southwell, bassist Dan Hole, and guitarist Mitch Duce — all of whom came from other parts of the UK and relocated to Brighton to attend the British And Irish Modern Music Institute (otherwise known as BIMM). That’s where Thyla came together in its earliest form: Duthie met Southwell on their very first day of school, and the genesis of the band goes back to when the two lived in the same house during their college years.
When they found each other, it was the result of years off exploring by themselves. Southwell, Hole, and Duce all grew up as musicians; Duthie started a little later, picking up a guitar at 16 and discovering she had an innate knack for songwriting despite lacking formal training or theory knowledge. All of them gigged around Brighton with other groups until their own project started to percolate. Duce, the latest addition, joined last year, a moment Duthie locates as Thyla truly coming into their own and beginning to feel a distinct forward momentum.
“Things didn’t really start moving for us until he really started gelling with the band and our sound developed a little bit,” Duthie remembers. “About a year ago, we started playing gigs and people started turning their heads rather than going ‘Oh, this band has loads of potential.’”
The band’s early days and growth have, thus far, been catalogued by an impressive series of singles that span early 2017 up to the present. Earlier tracks like “Pristine Dream,” “Ferris Wheels,” and “Tell Each Other Lies” took a lot of cues from dream-pop: aqueous-then-chiming guitars underpinning Duthie’s vocals, which could escalate from an elusive breeze to a gale-force wind in one beat. Oddly, you can find them compared to Interpol in some write-ups from the time, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense — aside from the fact that, crucially, they injected a propulsive edge to their soaring dream-pop choruses by grounding them with hardend post-punk rhythms on occasion.
While Duthie still writes solo and sometimes brings a song to the band, she argues that their best material arises when it’s the four of them in a room jamming, ideas developing on the spot within minutes. “That’s where the magic happens,” she says. “You just have to hope for the best, but it’s where the coolest music comes from.”
Combined with the effect of a recently-expanded lineup and the new perspectives that inevitably come out of a fresh band dynamic, the result has been a slightly different aesthetic in their most recent work. Two months ago, Thyla returned with “I Was Biting,” a composition that still had shimmery guitars and Duthie’s voice swooping up into the stratosphere, but now paired those facets with a distorted, grunge-indebted churn — the fire to the air of Duthie’s voice, each element in tension with but also fueling the other.
That’s partially how Thyla concocted their latest single “Blame” as well. The most aggressive and hard-hitting single the band has released yet, it bears the mark of that specific energy — the energy not just of the four of them kicking up then containing a storm together in a room, but also of their intensifying live shows. “We wrote it out of a real want to go for it onstage, and we didn’t have the tune to facilitate that,” Duthie explains. “’Blame’ was written for the need of a live energy we didn’t have before.” She adds with a wry laugh: “It’s 170 [BPM], you could nearly call it drum n’ bass. It’s super fast and it’s wicked to play onstage.”
“Blame” still has traces of the more otherworldly moments in earlier Thyla singles, but there’s a new ferocity, a frantic forward charge and Duthie opting for vocals more percussive than parabolic. The tone of the song mirrors the fact that it came from a more furious and desperate place thematically, influenced by the anxiety and insecurity that can come with trying to make it as an artist and the more detrimental qualities of a music town like Brighton. “’Blame’ is the frustration of that, the pressure to be a specific type of person, to look or sound a specific type of way,” Duthie explains. “The chorus … it’s a bit extreme, but it sums up the attitude of ‘Ugh, what do I do. I know what I want to be doing, but I don’t know how to get there.’”
Topically, these are concepts Duthie often likes to traffic in elsewhere, too. “I tend to write a lot from insecurity, because I’m always scared that it’s not going to be good enough, because it’s all self-taught and a bit untamed,” she says. But she’s quick to point out that, by her estimation, a lot of Thyla’s music comes from a sad source yet counters itself with the brightness of its music.
That’s often the unique quality of dreamy, ambiguous music: It can be what you need it to be in that moment. Out of any of the songs Thyla’s released so far, this might be most evident in the bursting chorus of “Tell Each Other Lies.” You can’t quite tell if it’s defiant, melancholic, or exultant. That’s where a lot of their music’s power is rooted. Whether it’s the burn-it-away catharsis of “Blame” and “I Was Biting” or the gleaming heights and pure beauty of “Pristine Dream” and “Tell Each Other Lies,” Thyla look inward to this emptiness, this feeling of not being good enough, and roar back to prove themselves worthy. “An answer to it,” as Duthie asserts.
Accordingly, these singles have started to catch on, garnering Thyla a bit of buzz in their homeland, earning them some tour slots outside of Brighton’s local music scene. But they’re careful not to let any external pressure threaten the fragility of a still-sorta-nascent project that’s just now taking shape. There’s more music in the works — Duthie’s currently recording new demos — but it remains to be seen when Thyla may arrive with an EP or a full-fledged album. “An EP would be awesome, hopefully by the end of the year, but it just depends on whether we think we have the tunes to do it,” she says. “We’re not just gonna do it because someone thinks we should have an EP out. We want to make sure we have something to say.”
They might be proceeding with level heads, but they are also aware of, and feeding off of, the positive attention that’s been bubbling up around them. As Duthie puts it, there’s a “real cool energy” surrounding Thyla right now, which is the kind of gratifying encouragement you need at some point, the realization that toiling away on music while holding down a day job is worth it when people start responding to your work. Thyla might feel the hype, and want to capitalize on it, but they’re also not letting those reactions impact their focus. “You have to straddle it, and have confidence,” Duthie says of this moment in their early career. “It’s just sheer grind and hard work. Every second we get, we’re in the room writing music. Because that’s what we love doing.”
“Blame” is out 5/9 via B3SCI Records. It will be available here.