It's been said that being in a band is a lot like being married. If that's the case, thistle is celebrating their crystal anniversary as a Post-Punk power trio with the release of their latest and consistently excellent full length, The Small Hours.
A decade and a half after coalescing as a high school diversion, guitarist/vocalist Mike Montgomery, bassist Toby Weiss and drummer Rick McCarty are still rattling rafters and shaking foundations with a visceral sound that combines Punk's manic energy and Prog's thoughtful deliberation.
The members of thistle have been perpetually busy since the 2005 release of their last album, Tired Anchor. Dividing their time between day jobs, thistle shows, securing and building their Candyland studio, producing area bands and the additional duties that Montgomery and McCarty have taken on recording and touring with instrumental post-Punk/Prog trio Ampline (and the as-yet-unreleased sessions from their now defunct Light Wires project), thistle worked in time to write and record The Small Hours.
"It took about eight months of recording time," McCarty says. "The writing process was quite a long time before that."
Although the album has been released on the band's own Tiberius Records, the trio spent the better part of the last year shopping The Small Hours to other labels in an effort to cut back on the administrative responsibilities of marketing and distributing a new album. In the end, though, self-release remained the most viable option.
"We were testing the waters, seeing what interest might be out there," Montgomery says.
"We didn't really find any favorable situation that was any more beneficial to us than where we were on our own."
"It wasn't a bad thing for us to do that," Weiss says. "We did get some good feedback about it, and there were a couple of people who really enjoyed it but were like, 'We're just not doing anything right now.'"
After enduring a number of potentially big opportunities that ultimately fell through, thistle decided to stick with the self-sufficient route. With new songs piling up in rehearsal, getting The Small Hours in circulation was critical.
"We may not have everything in place like some of the bigger labels we were talking to, but I got to a point where I didn't care," Montgomery says. "It felt like a game, trying to get someone's ear. We just said, 'Fuck it, let's move on.' We want to play a lot more and not have to do the behind-the-scenes label work that we've done with all the other stuff.
"I love having our small label and being able to put stuff out and do whatever we want, but the drawback is that you have X number of nights a week to do music-related work. Do you want to designate one or two of those as office work? Instead of writing or practicing, let's get together and stuff envelopes."
Now on their seventh release — four full-lengths and three EPs — and still in the same lineup since Montgomery formed the band in the early '90s (a less committed rhythm section departed early on; McCarty moved here from Boston to attend Xavier University and assumed the drum position, then Weiss signed on as bassist), thistle's biggest change has been in the writing department.
"We're writing more as a band," Weiss says. "When we started, one person would bring in an idea pretty well complete and now we're hammering things out in the studio together. It's more frustrating but it's more rewarding in many respects."
Maintaining a fresh perspective on the writing process is just one of the ways that thistle has managed to stay together for the long haul.
"We just try to find ways to keep it interesting for ourselves so that after 15 years of playing music and having grown up together, we can stand in a room and not be total assholes to each other," Montgomery says with a wry laugh. "Which is hard to do sometimes."
The upcoming release show for The Small Hours at the Southgate House (where McCarty is now club manager) is somewhat bittersweet. While they're very pleased with the finished product and anxious to have it heard, the show represents an ending of sorts as it marks the last live appearance of their longtime friends, Columbus' Miranda Sound, who are disbanding to pursue other musical and life interests on the heels of their just-released eponymous final album.
Through the vagaries of the music industry and a shape-shifting commercial marketplace, thistle has remained consistent by virtue of a sense of commitment to each other and a strong, insular work ethic that keeps them sober and focused during gigs and rehearsals.
"Our sound has definitely changed, and it is what it is, so in some ways there may be a drawback to being in a bubble," Montgomery says. "We've never caught the curve of some new fresh thing. I still just want to go to a small room, turn it up loud as fuck and knock the windows out playing something that could have been written 20 years ago."
THISTLE celebrates the release of The Small Hours Saturday at the Southgate House. Get details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.