Nothing But Thieves, ‘Dead Club City’ | The Album Story

Nothing But Thieves songwriters Conor, Joe and Dom guide us through the making of their sprawling new concept album, ‘Dead Club City’.

From writing lyrics and portraying characters to playing with new soundscapes, this is how the band created their ambitious fourth studio album.

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“In true Nothing But Thieves fashion, we don’t overly think about what we are creating, we are very present and it is just in the moment for the song.”

As frontman Conor Mason explains, when it comes to the band, there are no limits to where they can go musically or conceptually. Coming off the huge success of third studio album ‘Moral Panic’ and its accompanying EP, they were free to explore new territory and challenge themselves to go beyond the typical confines of a rock band.

The result is the sprawling, multi-faceted concept album ‘Dead Club City’, a triumphant mix of catchy melodies and 1980s synths wrapped in a dark morality play exploring fame, success and the need to feel seen. Conor joins us alongside his bandmates Joe Langridge-Brown and Dominic Craik to explore the inner workings of the new world they have created.


“In hindsight, with ‘Moral Panic’ and ‘Moral Panic 2’, we were pushing ourselves and every element of it so far that it was a bit ‘try hard’ at times” Dom reflects. “At the time we were like ‘this is great’ but we look back and there are limited moments on that record that show restraint – it’s a lot of going to 11, as Spinal Tap would say. I don’t think it was conscious but with this new record, maybe that had a part to play. Maybe we did try to show restraint a little bit more. Trying to be a bit more confident in the less is more approach. It feels as if it might have been a bit of a response to the last record.”

Restrained or not, the ‘Moral Panic’-era led to some of the biggest shows and moments of their career, headlining London’s legendary O2 Arena and stepping up to the headline slots at UK festivals. After that level of commercial good fortune, did they feel any pressure when developing a follow-up?

“We probably had that more with ‘Moral Panic’” admits Conor. “We had become an established band, now how do you take that to the next level? That probably pushed us to try and expand the room and push the walls as far as we could. But I don’t know why we didn’t do that this time. It is like we just stopped caring. We just wrote whatever we wanted to write. It felt like we were starting again, on that first record and first EP. Not putting pressure on ourselves and just trying to write the best songs and be creative.”

“We are all perfectionists in our own right so I think the pressure comes from just wanting it to be the best it can be for ourselves” adds Dom.

With the album’s singles ‘Overcome’ and ‘Tomorrow Is Closed’ arriving early in the process, the band were given a certain amount of space to relax and experiment, knowing that they had some key moments ready to go. A turning point came when they put together the record’s title track, ‘Welcome To The DCC’, which subsequently became the first taste fans heard of the new material.

“Before the album, you can kind of design how people think about it based on what songs you pick up front” says Joe. “With ‘Welcome To The DCC’, it was concept driven. Originally we were meant to release a minute of that song. But in the studio, the song came really alive and we thought, no, we’re fucking idiots, we should release the whole thing. It just really made a hell of a lot of sense. It’s a concept record, we are welcoming people into the world.”

“I think we had a bit of a fortunate accident with it” Conor continues. “When we were writing it, we were almost ‘taking the mick’ in a sense – made it very pastiche and over the top, very ‘80s. An invitation to this concept and this world. So we had no restrictions on it. We didn’t have a single mindset on it and then it just turned out to be a single and we were bold enough to release it.”

Elsewhere, there is a clear disco influence on ‘Do You Love Me Yet?’, a song written for a fictional band within Dead Club City, which turned into one of the guys; favourite tracks collectively.

“It was probably the only time in the history of our band where we wrote the song in the studio” says Dom. “It spawned from an idea Joe had. He sent me, with all due respect, quite a ropey voice note of what the chorus could be. A similar thing happened with Conor on ‘Overcome’ where I was sent an embryonic but clear direction as to where the song could go but at the same time, depending on how you are hearing it, you could pull it into a million different places. I know that sounds bizarre but you can dress up the song in whatever clothes you fancy.”

‘Life Is But A Dream’, the recent album from Avenged Sevenfold, moves in similar multi-genre territory, a comparison that Joe acknowledges.

“I was reading about that album and how they feel a bit of an obligation at this point in their career to do things a bit differently and they are pulling at very different threads to what they were. We feel the same. That’s why the album has these different influences and areas. It is very much a consideration as we are writing that the worst thing we feel we could put out is a very stock rock album. That would be the shittest thing we could do.”

Conor meanwhile points out that by establishing this refusal to conform to genre early on in their career, it set them on a path where they were much more willing to take chances.

“It gave us freedom forever” he says. “It meant that we never really had a fully fledged sound. It just gave us the freedom to do what we want for the next three records. It means on the next record you never know what is going to happen, and neither do we, which I absolutely love.”


While all three contribute to the wider writing process, Dom was sat behind the production desk, balancing his roles as both a band member and a guiding hand with an objective view of the wider picture.

“It’s something I thought about quite a lot” he shares. “We’re quite lucky in that we are largely on the same page and very good at communicating. If someone doesn’t like something, that’s absolutely fine. We are three individuals in the writing room and everyone is entitled to their opinion – music is, by its definition, subjective.”

“Then on the writing side of things, it is the longest amount of time we have spent writing a record and the proof is in the pudding, as they say.”

At this point in their discography, the trio have developed an unspoken bond, able to collaborate with a level of understanding that only comes from years of touring and performing together.

“I think I’ve been writing for the voice for so long and bringing in ideas for Conor to sing, I swear my internal voice is Conor’s at this point” says Joe. “I can just hear a melody or how a lyric is going to sound.”


Focused around a members only club and the often power-hungry, social climbing residents of the city it is based in, the concept actually only appeared to the band around halfway through the record’s writing process.

“I knew I was writing in character, I just didn’t know what the exact thing was going to be yet” says Joe. “When we started writing for this album, it really felt like I was still in ‘Moral Panic’ headspace. It was quite hard to not write in the same lexicon. It just felt like I was writing for the same album and it wasn’t enjoyable. It didn’t feel fresh. So I knew I wanted to write a concept record before the concept came about.”

After approaching the band with the idea, they quickly wrote ‘Welcome To The DCC’ and ‘Members Only’, solidifying the plot and its place within their wider plans.

“Once we had those two songs, everything else can hang off that concept so I started tying the other songs in” Joe explains. “One thing that was really helpful was the language of the band – there is a lot of stuff about heaven, I lean into religious imagery quite a lot. That meant that other things tied in.”

Dom adds “we had the conversation where we decided that if we do this, we have to make sure the songs stand on their own two feet and you don’t need the wider context to still enjoy them and have them connect with you. That’s a big ask.”

“It was a consideration right from the start” Joe continues. “I had to think of things on two different levels. A concept album is pretty pointless if it has not got another meaning behind it – otherwise you are just telling a story.”

Not only was this a lyrical challenge, Conor was then also faced with the task of portraying different characters in his vocal performances.

“I have to feel emotionally connected to whatever we are writing” he says. “It is so important to get my head into what we’re saying. I’m a very emotional person anyway so when I sing it becomes a release of my feelings. So when we’re in the studio, I am studying what I’m singing and connecting as heavily as I can with it. I do that on every song we do, regardless of the concept. There are some really heightened emotions within this record, they are just layered in a metaphor.”


“There were different ideas of concepts before that were nothing to do with a member’s club. I had an idea of receiving a call from your future self. Something that intricate can be quite difficult” Joe reflects. “Really the album is about that feeling of being in or out of the club, whether that is celebrity or a political movement or social circle. I was reading an article about ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ and how all those songs are different versions of insanity. That made me think about concepts in a different way.”

“But as far as the name, this is the god’s honest truth, I had the words ‘Dead Club City’ in my phone notes from something. I had written that drunk or something. I always have a million notes of ideas I will come to in the future and I was scrolling along and came to it. Past me came up with that but I don’t remember when or where. I thought it had a ring to it and years later it has found its place which is quite cool.”


Artist Luke Brickett was tasked with presenting the eerie, sundown cityscape adorning the album’s cover, taking inspiration from footage of Expos like the World’s Fair – an older, outdated view of what the future might look like.

“He was so intrigued by the whole story and couldn’t get enough information” says Joe. “I started writing out pages and pages of album lore. He came up with a few ideas from that. The album artwork feels semi church-like which really fit into the narrative in a different way. As far as the process of it, we got an architect to 3D print it then Luke lit the actual model and photographed it on film and that’s how it came about.”

“We’d seen some concept albums and the art where you just know they are trying to be so futuristic and glitzy and glamorous and it just falls on its feet the minute you release it” adds Conor. “It was really important for us to not have a single timestamp or location stamp on any of this – not just the artwork but the videos, the march, the styling. Luke understood that and was messing around with the old EPCOT, futuristic style where you have no idea if that is in the 1950s or 2050.”


With a packed touring schedule including some huge UK arena shows later this year, how do the band see this grand concept translating to the live stage?

“We don’t wanna give away too much but that is the order of the day” Joe reveals. “We are trying to make it feel like we are doing gigs within the Dead Club City world.”

Entering the venue, they want their fans to feel as if they are wandering through the city itself, with bigger venues lending themselves to more theatrical ambitions.

And in terms of future music plans, now that they have created this alternative world for themselves, do they see an opportunity to return for another album?

“I don’t think we’ll know that until we finish the campaign and once the dust has settled” admits Joe. “I like the idea of throughout our career writing a song from Dead Club City. They can just be one-offs where we revisit the world for whatever reason. As we finish the album, things are quite open-ended and the city is still thriving in a way. That’s probably a question to ask us again in a few years.”

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