As anyone who’s watched more than two minutes of a Thought Forms gig will tell you, the Bristol drone-crafters are a band with an ever-shifting visage. That evolution isn’t letting up any time soon – before they head into Great Central’s back yard in February, guitarist-vocalists Charlie Romijn and Deej Dhariwal and drummer Guy Metcalfe not only have a full album of new material to adjust to, but a new brother-in-amps in Portishead touring bassist Jim Barr.
“Having Jim on stage feels very natural,” says Romijn. “On the last day of our 2011 tour with Portishead, he took us to his studio and we fell in love with the place. We ended up recording [2013 sophomore album] Ghost Mountain there with Jim as producer. He was just a really good fit with us personally and creatively.”
That connection paved Barr’s way into the band on their new release, Songs About Drowning. “When we started thinking about the recording process, we knew we definitely wanted to work with him again. The stuff we were coming up with had space for proper bass parts, and a couple of songs actually started melodically by Jim with the bass.”
“I couldn’t stop the words from pouring out, and I spent a lot of time refining them and shaping them into the songs we made.”
Barr’s contribution to the record, immediately apparent from the start of opener Forget My Name, is a significant one, but the marked progression in the band’s aesthetic isn’t just limited to the rhythm section. Songs About Drowning sees the wandering, feral, sonic landscapes of Ghost Mountain’s now driving with purpose. Likewise, Romijn and Dhariwal’s vocals have grown from sparse minimalism into potent forces, both lyrically and melodically. It’d be unfair on the band’s previous work to call these improvements, but their range has tangibly expanded.
“With Ghost Mountain,” Romijn explains, “the songs had already been fully formed and toured before we went to the studio. This time around, nothing was completely written before, and we spent more time building things from parts.”
She heaps more credit on Barr, too, citing his gift of a Bass VI as instrumental to their developing song structure. “There was much more space for lyrics,” Romijn says, noting her own growing portfolio of writing – between albums, she’s released a chapbook of poetry and art closely linked to the band’s music. “I couldn’t stop the words from pouring out, and I spent a lot of time refining them and shaping them into the songs we made.”
With so much change afoot, it’s either design or happy accident that Thought Forms have a tireless work ethic when it comes to touring – they’re currently in the midst of a European stint supporting 65daysofstatic. Via questionable Italian venue wifi, Romijn tells me the band “feel like we’ve been constantly on the road or preparing to be for about five years.” Having deliberately taken some time out to write and record Songs About Drowning, the band are relishing the opportunity to bed in the new material before their headline jaunt early next year.
“We’ve really enjoyed bringing out the new songs in a live environment, and we’re very happy to have Jim for our headline tour.” The move from three to four-piece is a big step in Thought Forms’ journey, but like the shifting tides in their writing process, it’s a change Romijn is embracing. “I can’t think of many other people we’d allow into the creative process, but there’s a total trust between us. He’s part of the family.” The current may be pulling Thought Forms in new directions, but they’re in no danger of going under.
Thought Forms play Firebug on 24th February.