Ah, the ’80s – when the hair was high and the heels were even higher.
It was a time when masculinity could be found within a feminine shell, as pretty boys donned lipstick onstage while they riffed through guitar-heavy songs about girls and getting wasted.
There’s something different to be said, however, for Thunder, who never partook in the mainstream stereotypes that typified their contemporaries. The London hard rock delegation have made their own mark as musical legends: since their formation in 1989, they’ve notched up nearly two dozen top 50 singles in their homeland, cultivated a reputation as unmitigated live performers and count Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses) and David Coverdale (Whitesnake) among their fans.
Thunder guitarist Luke Morley is more than happy to share tales of days gone by. “The late ’80s and early ’90s was an interesting time for rock music – the early ’80s had all been about the synth, the strange haircut,” he recalls. “During that period we were trying to find our niche, I guess. Danny [Bowes, singer] and I jumped on a plane in ’87 to the States, first to New York where we crashed on a mate’s floor for a week, then to LA.
“There was lots going on in LA – Guns N’ Roses were huge, Aerosmith were having a resurgence, Metallica were coming through – the kind of songs I was writing at the time I sensed were gonna work and come through. We met Andy Taylor [Duran Duran], who ironically was a New Romantic. Well, at least I thought he was when I met him,” Morley chuckles. “The first Thunder album did well in the UK and we found ourselves off to the races – and we’ve never looked back.”
Indeed, Thunder formed at the tail end of hard rock’s peak, and yet somehow managed to wheedle a position within the genre that would not only survive the changing years, but give rise to a recalcitrant can-do attitude.
“We never thought about it too much,” says Morley. “We didn’t overanalyse what we were doing. We started out a jeans and T-shirt kind of band – there might have a bit of back-combing, but we weren’t into the lippy! Our favourite bands – The Who, Free, these are all bands who were like, ‘This is us: you don’t like it, go fuck yourself,’ and that was our attitude; we were quite arrogant. We didn’t kind of aspire to fit in that whole LA big hair scene. We were always a bluesy group, kind of outside all that a little bit.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love some of those bands – Guns N’ Roses’ first album is a masterpiece and it inspired Backstreet Symphony [Thunder’s first album]. We always see ourselves as being of the English blues rock heritage thing; we never saw ourselves as a bunch of pretty boys with big hair.”
These days, Thunder need not worry about being perceived as pretty boys with big hair – for the most part, the poor buggers are older men with no hair. The ravages of age aside, the thirst to make music is still as fresh as ever. With their latest album Rip It Up just released, creative inspiration is still rife, even if the focuses within the music have shifted.
“Nobody can hide or deny the fact they’re getting older,” says Morley. “If I were still writing songs about chasing girls around barrooms, there’d be something wrong. You look at the world from your age, and you have to have some sort of dignity about what you do. That doesn’t mean it has to be boring, you just adjust – you’ve gotta do it how you feel it.
“Some of the music I’d say is more restrained in its playing, but I think that’s just age – you have to leave room. One of the things you try and do is leave enough space around everything – minimal is good, do what’s needed, let the songs breathe – and if it all comes together in the right way it should be good. Over the years we’ve gotten better at doing that, and this album is certainly the most musically developed of our career and I’m so excited about that.”
The term ‘underrated’ has often been used in reference to Thunder. Given the length of their career, it’s interesting they’ve never wished for more mainstream recognition. Or have they?
“I think we have been a little overlooked by mainstream media in the UK,” says Morley. “But I don’t think we’re the only band that has. It’s kind of frustrating, yes, but we make music primarily for ourselves and if mainstream media can’t embrace it then there’s nothing we can do about it. In life it’s only effective to do things you have control over.”
But finally, Thunder have become recognised enough that they are coming to Australia on tour – and it’s only taken them 27 years. “We’re really looking forward to it,” enthuses Morley. “It’s bizarre it’s taken us so far in our career before coming down for the first time. We’ve always enjoyed travelling, so roll on March.”
When asked if he’s looking forward to meeting Thunder’s Australian fans, Morley guffaws: “I’m looking forward to meeting both of them!”
Thunder play the Factory Theatre on Tuesday March 7.