Stories for nobody else – Kind Hearted Thieves
“I always wanted to be a singer but you let people’s opinions steer you along, I guess. When I decided to just go for it and start writing, it could have fallen flat on its arse.”Kind Hearted Thieves
It’s been almost five years since the tragic death of one of the greatest voices in rock, although it feels like he’s been gone a lot longer than that. Almost a decade has passed since I was in his company for an intimate acoustic show at The Lowry in Salford, during his Songbook tour back in 2012 – and that only feels like yesterday! I’m talking about the great Chris Cornell, of course. 2012 was an incredible year for live music – a month following the Cornell show, two more of my musical heroes were in town, and playing the same bill; Glen Hansard opened for (and accompanied) Eddie Vedder at the O2 Apollo in Manchester, an event not to be missed.
There’s something incredibly special watching an artist performing a stripped-back show with just an acoustic guitar. And for me, with regards to Cornell, Vedder and Hansard in particular, there’s nothing better than the sound of that guitar accompanied by such signature vocals. Having the opportunity to sit and watch fantastic musicians performing live in this way almost made up for having not been present for the Nirvana and Alice In Chains MTV’s Unplugged sessions… almost. We’ve since lost Kurt, Layne and Chris, and more recently – for a while we lost live music altogether, owing to the pandemic.
Thankfully, we’re almost out of the woods now, and the opportunity to watch one of the worlds most accomplished acoustic guitarists, Jon Gomm, play live recently was irresistible… those familiar with Gomm will understand what I mean. It was this event which led to a chance encounter via Instagram with todays featured artist, Kind Hearted Thieves, who was scheduled to open for Gomm in Blackpool the following week.
The alluring combination of a prodigious voice and bare-bones acoustic performances is a recipe followed by KHT with absolute precision; a one-man-band from the North West coast of the UK who has been likened to afore mentioned legends, Cornell and Vedder as well as the likes of Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake.
Over the past couple of years KHT has captured the imagination of his listeners with the release of three anthemic singles and accompanying music videos, gaining over 500k views on Facebook within the first few months. We caught up with KHT to talk about music, reptiles and unfinished business! Let’s get into it…
First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. We’d been exchanging messages just before your show, opening for Jon Gomm, which we’ll come on to shortly – but first, shall we start with some introductions… tell us a bit about you and what goes on in your life?
My life…bloody hell! Haha!!. I am 36, married and I have two kids. Girls. Marley is 13 and Thea is 7. Daily life is pretty much what you would expect with 2 kids, 2 dogs, a cat, and 6 reptiles. For most of my musical life, I was a bass player. I suppose I had always wanted to be a singer, but it wasn’t until just before lockdown I started to take it more seriously. I suppose the only other major thing in my life is I have Lupus. An autoimmune disease. I don’t really talk about it often, but I suppose if I am describing my life it doesn’t make much sense to leave it out.
I’ve heard about Lupus, but don’t know much about it. Very sorry to hear about that – hopefully you’ve got it under control!
It’s cool man. I got diagnosed like 14 years ago so I am pretty used to it. It can be a right dick, but it is what it is… I had a particularly bad flare-up as my second kid was born so the docs put me on heavy doses of tramadol, that when I tried to come off I just got sick (withdrawals). I was stuck on them for like 3 years I think. Dropped down to about 8 stone. In the end, booked myself into rehab which is a story unto itself. But after five days of no sleep, I finally started to feel vaguely normal. Took about six months to get back to human I guess. Nearly wandered off the edge with booze for a bit. I think the whole ordeal changed my brain chemistry, so I have had to just be careful. But yeah not taken any heavy-duty painkillers since I came out about three years ago, and I drink like once a month max now. Pretty clean living. Apart from takeaways, haha!
Really glad to hear you’re ok – those must have been really challenging times. And sounds like you’ve got a lot of family… and reptiles (I’d also class them as family) to support! I’ve always had a soft spot for animals. What kind of reptiles are you keeping?
We currently have a royal python, bearded dragon, leopard gecko, crested gecko, and a Madagascan burrowing frog. Which isn’t a reptile but, same thing… That’s five. Maybe I have five!
Quick!! Check down the back of the couch!! Ok… I’m eager to know… you opened for Jon Gomm recently for his ‘The Faintest Idea’ tour. I’d been to see him play a few nights before we connected, and it was the first time I’d seen him live. Safe to say I was blown away by that performance. Even for the most accomplished musicians, I expect to perform before Gomm would be both an exhilarating and nerve-racking experience. Can you tell us about your experience – how did your set go?
Yeah, it was definitely a bit nerve-racking. I am a bit strange with nerves. They seem to be random. Most gigs I am completely fine then all of a sudden at the least likely of gigs I get hyper-aware. It was all good though. My set went well, although someone fell over just as I finished and smashed their head on the table. That was strange as I didn’t fully know what had happened until I got off the stage.
That’s mental!! A weird thing happened when I watched him in Huddersfield – one guy, who obviously had a few beers too many, was shouting through the set and causing a bit of a scene… one of the bouncers ejected him with more force than was necessary. Jon was a bit concerned about the way he was ‘manhandled’ out of the venue! After your set, did you stick around to watch him play?
Yeah, I stuck around for the set. He is a special talent for sure. Definitely made me want to get better on the guitar haha. He is a really nice guy too. We had a bit of a chat during soundcheck and he gave me some advice.
Can you remember what he told you, and is it something you’ve had the opportunity to put into practice?
We talked about agents and being independent. He has signed deals and stuff now but mainly for his own benefit rather than necessity. We just talked about booking your own shows and being active on socials.
You’ve been described as a ‘DIY Folk-Rock Musician, inspired by the likes of Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Frank Turner & Jeff Buckley”, all of whom have been incredibly inspirational to me over the years. What is it about these artists in particular that inspire you and the music you’re creating?
I kind of just missed the grunge era when I was younger. I was more into punk and new-metal, which I am not sure I am proud of. I knew about all these bands but they were just out of my vision I guess. Other than Nirvana. I got really into that era kind of backwards I guess. I heard Chris Cornell cover Billie Jean which led me to his songbook album. From there it was just a matter of time before I found everyone else. I love all that stuff but it’s the unplugged stuff I spend most my time with I think.
For me, each era has a style of music that has the most powerful singers. Zeppelin, Sabbath, and so on. For the early nineties, they were the greatest singers. True freedom of expression too. Frank Turner is a bit of an anomaly in that list, haha. I kind of set off with the intention of combining grunge and folk music with KHT and Frank did that with punk and folk.
With regards to your writing and production approach – obviously, the acoustic guitar is a primary component in your music, though many of your tracks are layered with moody piano and orchestral arrangements. Would you say you’re a multi-instrumentalist, or is there some collaboration with other musicians involved?
I can get by on different instruments and I tend to play most of them on the songs. I even played a bit of cello on Nevermoor. Well, played is a strong word. I abused a cello for a bit and Mitch the producer made it sound good, haha! I am starting to get a band together, but the recordings so far have been just me. I work with a producer in London, Mitch Ayling. He is an absolute legend and is basically the second half of KHT. Fortunately, he is a drummer too so he has played drums and a few other bits on the tracks. We got Dan Le Gresley from Mitch’s band The Milk to play the lead guitar on Favour The Bold and we had Dominic Glover play the horn section on The Way We Fall.
Do you see the KHT dynamic shifting once you’ve got a band behind you? What’s the vision?
I have been experimenting with getting some more distortion on the acoustic. Shakey Graves style. I would like to be able to add a bit more grit to the sound but without going full electric. I love film music too so having a band with me will enable us to make some really big, epic sounds. I love experimenting so using our standard instruments to make interesting compositions but without losing the vibe of what Kind Hearted Thieves is, that is the goal. I love the folk style but I also don’t want to be tied down to just one like style. People like Chris Cornell smashed it because they had the freedom to experiment but without losing the integrity of their own sound. If that makes sense.
Yes, it does make sense and looking forward to hearing how it goes! When you’re not experimenting with music, what gets you out of bed in the morning?
Unfortunately, work, haha! Other than that I read a lot. I love gaming, just landed myself a PS5. I have a tendency to get into something and then become completely obsessed with it for about six months and then move on to the next thing. Hence the ‘master of none‘ statement before. So my current obsession is chess. My other half is convinced I have turned 70 overnight. I just like learning new stuff, but I never beat the final boss. There are a lot of half-finished jobs in my house haha
You’re not measuring your successes on those half-finished jobs or unbeaten level bosses… Aside from beating the toughest boss of all following your detachment from medication, what would you say has been your greatest success to date?
KHT in general I think. As I mentioned, I think I always wanted to be a singer but you let people’s opinions steer you along I guess. When I decided to just go for it and start writing it could have fallen flat on its arse. I hadn’t ever written lyrics before never mind a full song. When we released Nevermoor the reception was amazing. One of the main things people say is how KHT music helps them through tough times and that is awesome. Makes it feel worthwhile.
We talk to artists who are well established in the industry, in addition to those who are just starting to emerge. Given your experience to date, what advice would you give to those musicians who are still early in their careers, and what is the best advice you’ve been given in your own career?
Don’t chase the record deal. It’s harder, in the beginning, doing everything yourself but I think in the end it will be so much better. I tend to overthink everything, so my manager said post like a punk, haha. Basically, have a punk ethos when it comes to releasing things. That has really helped me share things more often.
Speaking of releases – you’ve released three singles over the past couple of years and with the pending formation of the ‘new’ band… what’s next for KHT?
My EP which is a collection of those 3 songs and a couple of acoustic tunes is out in a couple of weeks. I will be giving that away for free. I am writing for the album at the moment aiming to release that next year. The goal is to do 2 headline shows next year too. One in London and one in Manchester.
Definitley going to be there for that Manchester gig! Can you tell us a little bit about the tracks; Nevermoor, The Way We Fall, and Favour The Bold – what they mean to you, when and how they were created and the stories they tell.
Nevermoor is a strange one as I have no recollection of writing it. I remember specific lines and what I was thinking but the song as a whole just kind of suddenly existed. It was the first song I fully completed and I suppose set the vibe for the whole of Kind Hearted Thieves.
Favour the Bold has an actual story, haha. There is a Japanese practice where they mend broken pottery with gold. The premise is that which is broken can be fixed and becomes stronger and more beautiful in the process. I read about that and got the line we seal our cracks with gold. The rest of the song was built around that and the fingerpicking bit.
The Way We Fall was my attempt at writing something a bit more upbeat. I was aiming for a 4/4 foot-stomper but it turned into a 6/8 something else. No idea how that happened, but when I went to record it we realised we couldn’t do what we were expecting with the drums. It was a good job Mitch was there to drum for that as I wouldn’t have had a chance. My Grandad recorded the part in the bridge a few days before he passed away so it’s a pretty special song to me.
That brings us to a close for now – thanks very much for sharing with us, it’s been a pleasure getting to talk with you about your experiences, and we wish you all the best for the future… see you at your next show!
Readers can follow KHT on Instagram, Facebook and all the usual music streaming platforms.