Apart from their comforting sound and starry aesthetic, something that I find quite mesmeric about the group 53 Thieves is the consistency we're acquainted with when we take a deep dive into their discog. "They just don't miss!" That's pretty much what I keep shouting when they drop something as each track sonically, and lyrically somehow feel connected to the last.
The pleasantly dreamy "what you do to me" was their first release back in 2019 and ever since then, they've not only paved their way into the hearts of millions but they've also paved their own lane thanks to their garden-fresh style influenced by Electronic, Hip Hop and R&B. I know what you're thinking and no, there aren't 53 members in the group. The quartet is made up of two singers (Conor & Jess) and two producers (Caleb & Will). What makes their story all the more fascinating is the fact they have never met and they are based in different parts of the world - this is purely a remote collaborative experience and it's awe-inspiring how far they've been able to take 53 Thieves. In this interview, the group share with us the pros and cons of working remotely, the story behind their latest single "waterfront", and much more.
For those who don't know, what inspired you guys to form 53 Thieves and how would you describe the journey thus far?
We were inspired to form 53 Thieves following the first collab we did together, the track ‘what you do to me’. The process went so smoothly and we felt so encouraged by the reception that the track received we decided to write an EP together!
What kind of music were each of you making for your individual projects before 53 Thieves?
Conor and Jess: Together we formed the electronic duo Denton Thrift. The music from this duo is built from dreamy synth layers, environmental percussion, and introspective song lyrics.
Caleb: I was making very similar music, chill electronic music mixed with hip hop. In 2010 I was predicting that sound would make a breakthrough. Danceable hip-hop drums with dreamy synths and vocals. This project is the music I've dreamed of making for a long time.
Will: I made hip hop beats, mostly sampling, and worked a lot with friends in my hometown recording songs. I played bass and drums in church growing up, and I think those roots have helped more with our sound now.
Your catalog literally sounds like an entire album by virtue of the fabulous consistency of the sound. You guys just don't miss and it's beautiful to see. How would you say the moniker 53 Thieves connects with the sonic world you're luring your audience into?
Caleb: It connects in many different ways. I believe our sound is what a lot of people want. It complements a lot of different workflows. Coffee in the morning, mid-day workout, drinks with friends, late-night party, picnic in the park. We connect with our fans because we do deliver consistent music. They’re always asking us to not change, of course we do make changes but it still fits in that 53 Thieves sound.
Conor: I think the consistency comes from the quality of the production, Will, and Caleb always kill it and I know that Will takes great pains to ensure that the final mix is *chef’s kiss image*. Further to this, Jess and I take a long time to work through the lyrics and ensure there is a narrative at play. We think that if there’s even a semblance of a story embedded then it’s so much more interesting for the listener to develop their own world within.
Will: It’s mysterious, but there are bits and pieces that are familiar. I want to connect pieces of the past to the present if I can, and the best way I know how is through music.
I've noticed that a large majority of your tracks have been released through Majestic Casual. What was it about Majestic that made you feel that they were the perfect home for your music?
Majestic Casual are all about finding that lofi chillout sound, especially from artists that are under the radar. We loved their aesthetic and general vibe. If you look at the music they have been releasing the past 5-10 years (FKJ, Darius, Snakehips, Masego, Medasin, etc) we feel we fit in with those artists' sound. They curate some of the best chill music in the entire industry.
Can you tell us about the story behind the latest single "waterfront"?
Jess: "Waterfront" is about feeling grounded in yourself. It’s about calling others to rise up and join alongside in feeling powerful together. It was inspired by the image/feeling of standing in front and looking out upon a large body of water (like the ocean) and feeling a sense of calm and strength.
The songwriting of "waterfront" seems to be guided by themes of romance and lovers facing disdain from the community - themes that actually pop up often in 53 Thieves tracks. Are you guys more interested in detailing your experiences and giving the audience a snapshot of what's going on in your world, or providing them with something to imprint their own psyche onto through creating a narrative?
Conor: We designed the lyrics in such a way that it could be more interpretive, it’s awesome that you’ve got a picture or an idea of what the song is about. There’s nothing set in stone or definite within the lyrics so I love that you get the sense it’s about spurned lovers and that you’ve thematically connected it with other tracks like "too slow" or even "lockdown". I think this sort of connection is super important for narrative consistency across our wider body of work, even though there’s nothing purely expositional within our lyrics there’s enough that the intended wider context is still inferred by our listeners!
Pros and cons about working on music remotely?
Caleb: Pros is you get alone time to flesh out ideas. Someone isn’t peeking over your shoulder wondering what you’re doing. Also, it forces you to communicate with your other band members and have a good workflow. Cons are that it becomes difficult balancing the workload, someone might feel they’re doing more work when really everyone is contributing in their own way.
Will: I think the main pro we had was we were ready for the pandemic work cycle last year (or as much as we could be) because we have only ever made music remotely. Big barriers to making music remotely successfully are coordinating schedules across different time zones and balancing workload.
Conor: I think writing lyrics and top-line melodies can be daunting, especially if you’re in a studio and people are listening. The remote aspect means you can just go to town singing the weirdest stuff without fear that you’re going to lose sleep at night cringing at an audience's reaction to your off-the-cuff lyrics haha. The main con is the same thing, sometimes being in a room together and feeling that pressure is exactly what a song needs, I think when we do eventually get together it’s going to be amazing.
How do you guys prefer to start and build a song? Is there generally a pattern that seems to usually work?
Jess: Usually Will or Caleb will send a few minimal ideas across (normally chords + drums) to me and Conor who will then start playing around with some ideas. Some vocal melodies come very quickly and some take longer. We usually try and go with our instinct when writing melodies as often the best stuff we write is the stuff that spills out at the start.
Caleb: Production-wise I usually start a demo with catchy chords and fat drums, something for Jess and Conor to get pumped writing to. My style is pretty simple anyway, I'm always thinking to subtract, not add. I send those stems to will and he fleshes out a more produced idea. I will work with that on arrangement, fx / melody fills, vocal chops, arps, and anything else I can add to give him more ideas.
Do you feel there's a sort of pressure in trying to follow up on the success of 2020? When it comes to music you guys absolutely killed it last year!
Caleb: Yes. After Hours is flawless, it’s a work of art that each song flows with the other and they all belong to each other on the same project. We want to incorporate parts of AH but also we want our sound growing and slightly changing. It’s a balance keeping OG fans happy but also bringing in new ears.
Conor: I suppose a little bit but I try not to think of it like that. I just love writing music with the rest of the Thieves! I think looking at it from such a simplistic perspective takes a lot of the pressure off, you know? Just write and keep writing, care and keep caring, the rest will sort itself out!
Will: Thank You! I wouldn’t call it pressure, but I do feel especially driven with this project. As long as we’re pushing ourselves sonically, staying cohesive as a group, and continuing to develop our sound I think the other stuff has a better chance of working in our favor. Success is relative anyway, as long as I’m happy doing what I’m doing a good bit of the time I think that’s worth it. Thanks!
In one sentence, what would you say makes 53 Thieves work so well as a team?
Caleb: We each bring something unique to the table, 53 Thieves doesn’t work without one of us.
Conor: Empathy. We understand each other's situations and are all personally invested in making sure that everyone is in a good place emotionally.
Will: The four of us are quite different from each other in a lot of ways, and while this can cause friction sometimes it’s also why this has become the most interesting and fun music project I’ve been a part of. It’s also one the main reasons 53 Thieves has appealed to so many people so far. This project is an amalgamation of all 4 of our styles. Plus the support we have for each other is built on our understanding of each other.
Jess: Communication and support for each other I’d say.
So... 1) An artist/band you would have a D.M.C (Deep Meaningful Conversation), 2) An artist/band you’d love to party with. 3) Artist you would like to be your mentor? You're welcome to pick from artists/bands who are retired/dead.
Caleb: DMC would be Led Zeppelin, my favorite band of all time. Same answer for number 2 LOL. 3 would be Medasin, I love his style so much, and learning from him would be incredible.
Conor - 1) Pink Floyd 2) Bearface, I feel like we probably have a similar idea of what partying is, i.e. staying in, playing Dark Souls, and eating takeout food. 3) Justin Vernon
Will - 1) David Gilmour or FlyLo 2) Willie Nelson in his heyday 3) Right now it would be Ennio Morricone, his spaghetti western film scores are some of the best ever written, and the tones/instruments he used had such a unique sound.