The Dirty Thrills: Blues, Politics, and good old-fashioned rock'n'roll

a press shot of the dirty thrills

As Louis James discovered back in 2015, Classic Rock has readers in high places. “Joey Tempest hand-picked us to support Europe because he saw us in the magazine,” the Dirty Thrills frontman says, smiling. “That was our first proper taste of being where we feel we belong. And the response was phenomenal. So, y’know – thanks!”

We can’t take all the credit. It’s taken talent and tenacity for the London-based quartet to get from their formation in 2012 to their current hot-tip status – not to mention a rhino-thick skin.

“It’s tough,” says James. “One minute you get thrown a lifeline, the same day it gets ripped away. We played with the Scorpions for ten thousand people. Then nothing. On our last tour of Europe, the engine flooded and it took all our earnings to get our gear home.”

Lately, for the Dirty Thrills the pendulum has swung back in the right direction. After a couple of appetite-whetting EPs and 2014’s self-titled debut album, they’ve just signed to Frontiers, and James says their latest, Heavy Living, is the one to judge them on. “The first album, we were still finding our feet, and the production let it down. On this one we worked with James Loughrey, who’s worked with Skindred, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page. It was all about capturing our live sound. Because you need to see us live – I’m throwing mic stands, jumping off stage, doing backflips…”

“We recorded at Monnow Valley in Wales, and you could feel the history,” says James. “Sabbath recorded there and Ozzy used to swim in the lake. I didn’t, it was January when we did the album. But that might have helped me hit the high notes, with the old testes going back up into the body.”

James’s scream is certainly one of the band’s selling points (he cites Robert Plant as his touchstone). But the songwriting is strong too, broadly based in blues-rock but with a tendency to shift gears. “Changing tempos, changing feels,” the singer says. “Law Man is like an Aerosmith song, The Brave has an Arabic intro then it’s grungy and heavy. Every band says this, but I do feel we’ve got something different.”

The lyrics are a mix of weighty and and frivolous. “Law Man is about how the white man decimated the native American land,” explains James. “That leads into Hanging Around, which is about a native American who has been hanged, and Death is forcing him through the underworld. We write politically, but we just want to be good old-fashioned rock’n’roll.”

And, if James is honest, he just wants to be a good old-fashioned rock’n’roll star.

“The most famous person I’ve ever met,” he muses… “was Brian May, at an awards show. So many people wanted a photo, that by the time it came round to meeting me he kinda couldn’t be arsed. Could I handle that, people constantly pulling at me? Oh God, I’d love it. That’s one of the dreams, isn’t it? Bring on the pulling!”

Heavy Living is released on September 15 via Frontiers.

For fans of…

“We like the classic stuff – Zeppelin, Free, Bad Company, Small Faces, and modern stuff like Rival Sons,” says James. “Rival Sons were one of the reasons we started this band, actually. I put a post out saying: ‘Singer seeking band, trying to do Rival Sons, White Stripes, Black Keys meld’. The Pressure & Time album is awesome.

Watch Dirty Thrills in Law Man video

Dirty Thrills unleash Hourglass video

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.