- Check out thier new EP Searching, it's out now!
- Next show in CHicago is September 7th @ Lincoln Hall
When asked to describe what kind of music they make, the three members of Thirdstory—Elliott Skinner, Ben Lusher, and Richard Saunders—all respond with a nervous laugh. Known for their sublime vocal harmonies and uncanny knack for re configuring the language of pop songs, the music that the trio creates together is fantastically genre defying. “That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?” laughs Lusher, “We usually say it’s pop songwriting mixed with soulful vocals, live instrumentation and elements of folk guitar and electric guitar, with a very hip hop influence on the production. So basically it’s everything.”
A collaborative effort in the truest sense of the word, Thirdstory’s forthcoming full-length debut reflects the group’s wide range of influences and diverse backgrounds. Though all three members share one common childhood experience (“We all went to the same arts camp for music at some point,” says Saunders, “So we have this very specific thing in common—a very rigorous vocal training and a nerdy shared love of jazz.”), it was a serendipitous meeting at a NYC showcase in 2013 that eventually brought them all together. “It quickly bloomed into this amazing thing, a collective of singer songwriters making what we think is a balance of really emotional music that connects with us personally but also as relatable on a pop level,” says Skinner.
After initial rehearsals proved fruitful (“It just was extremely easy harmonizing with them and it made sense very quickly,” says Lusher) the band set about making a name for themselves by posting masterful cover versions of contemporary artists like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande online. Showcasing their clever knack for interpreting the songs, they soon wracked up nearly six million views on YouTube. Ultimately, it was their own sublime take on Sam Smith’s “I’m Not The Only One,” that propelled Thirdstory to snag a record deal with Verve Records, a Universal Music Group subsidiary.
When it came time to write songs for their debut album, the trio quickly realized it was imperative that they present their own unique voices, which is no small feat in a group comprised of three very individual songwriters. Still, the process proved to be much more organic than anyone could have expected. Working alongside producer Malay (Frank Ocean, Zayn), the three musicians quickly found that the songs they wrote transcended their collective influences.
“It’s totally collaborative,” says Skinner. “We'll all bring in different melodies that we have and we're always humming and recording things on our phones. It becomes a process of sharing and trying to fit the pieces together. It is always a push and pull of ideas and criticisms. Some of our tastes line up, some of our tastes don't line up, but we’re all in the room when it's happening and we're all a big part of the process.”
“We all knew at the end of the day we looked at ourselves as songwriters and wanted to make sure our album was mostly songs written by us,” concurs Saunders, “As we started the songwriting process that's where we really got to know each other's influences. For example, Elliott is very much into folk music. I would say I am more into R&B. It involves a lot of figuring out how to balance those influences.”
“I think the coolest part was not being able to predict exactly what the end product is going to be,” says Lusher, “We never know in a given moment whose idea is going to stick.”
The ten tracks that make up Thirdstory debut run the gamut from slinky R&B to gospel-inflected pop, all built on the strength of the group’s incredible harmonies. Whether it be the slick, elastic funk of “G Train” the swaggering pop of “Heart Hit the Ceiling” or the folky sweetness of ballad “On and On”—the group manages to weave all of their influences into a sound that is uniquely their own. Their songs work across various genres by means of simply sounding classic—the kinds of songs made to be sung along to, the kinds of songs meant to be played loudly on car stereos and in teenage bedrooms. Epic, soulful, and heartfelt, these are songs that seem to grow with every listen. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Searching For A Feeling”—a swoon-worthy pop song about chasing the exhilarating high of first love and the very adult frustration involved in trying to reciprocate emotions that you don’t, in fact, always feel.
With Thirdstory’s debut slated for release later this year, the band will hit the road this spring and summer. For all three of the band members, the experience of playing live gets the very heart of what Thirdstory is all about. “We’ve played with all kinds of different setups,” says Lusher. “Sometimes we’ll have a full band and sometimes it’s just us—with Elliott playing bass or guitar and Richard and I playing the piano or switching off on other instruments. We also like to just sing songs around the guitar or the piano, since that’s how we really first got started. It’s nice to know that you can go out and perform these songs a bunch of different ways or change it up depending on however you might be feeling that night. It’s always mostly about our voices anyway. As long as we can sing together, that’s all that really matters.”