“Instead of learning real chords, I learned squealy sounds,” says guitarist and vocalist Eric Dill, over pizza and beer at Doyle’s Café in Jamaica Plain. “If I got a lot of frowns, I stopped playing it. If I got smiles, I kept playing and waited for a part to come around it. If Joanne had her way, we’d have songs where you’d envision unicorns or wizards or something.”
DISSED CHORDS: Halfway between noise and garage rock lies Thunderhole’s tasteful cacophony.
“A little more complexity and fantasy,” agrees keyboard player and vocalist Joanne Dill. “But I have to tame myself a little bit and save that for another time.”
These might be unfair generalizations. Not all wizards are unsuitable images to associate with their band, Thunderhole. Merlin might be too D&D, but Grant Morrison could work, and not merely because Eric Dill is easily persuaded to discuss superheroes. Jaunt across the astral overpass between experimelectronic noise and garage rock and about halfway in you’ll find Thunderhole’s tastefully cacophonous onslaught. Too burly and serrated to fit among the synthpop hordes, and at times easy to confuse with a series of awesome mistakes, Thunderhole offer an alchemy of barely restrained technical proficiency, why-the-fuck-not methodology, and sensible yet brutal backbeat.
In July of 2004, after the dissolution of the band Eric shared with drummer Mya Davis, the Cotton Ponies, Eric and Joanne Dill began fashioning Thunderhole songs while Davis finished school in Chicago. The Dills, both of JP by way of the Midwest, were already living together (they’ve since married, hence the stereo surnames), which spared Eric the trouble of scanning Craigslist for new musicians. Having begun her musical journey at age five under the discipline of an uncompromising Russian piano instructor, Joanne is sick at keyboards. That made things tricky in the early goings-on.
“It was rough, because Joanne would constantly ask, ‘What is that chord?’ or, ‘What is that note you’re playing?’ ” recalls Eric. “Not that I don’t know some of my chords, but when my guitar is tuned all stupid, I really don’t. For at least a month, we didn’t think we’d get a decent song unless one of us wrote the entire thing, or one of us didn’t play for the whole song.”
Oh but they did a good deal better than a decent song. Flash-forward two days after our Doyle’s encounter: Thunderhole are playing the Milky Way, and there’s a remarkable juxtaposition between the repetitive innocuousness of what is seen — Eric steps back and forth, Joanne sways, Mya flails her arms, nobody makes a discernible facial expression — and all the ugly pretty sounds that roar from the stage.
“Where’s my CD?” demands a woman in the crowd.
“On my desk, at home,” Eric responds. Thunderhole’s full-length has been recorded and is slated for self-release whenever the band get around to it.
“We didn’t record thinking, ‘This is going to be our break,’ like, ‘We’re going to make it with this,’ ” Eric tells me at Doyle’s. Maybe he’s being modest, but yeah, I can’t think of a band as strident that’s ever made-it made-it.
“It’s the natural result of our writing,” Joanne says of all the discord. “I’ll have a chord in mind, he’ll have another chord, and we somehow work it out so it sounds right — but I like discord in songs. It adds a mysterious layer to things.”