5-1-Tunes: Thieves

Austin rockers Thieves are breaking all the rules. Whether they’re redrawing the boundaries of pop punk, or crawling across abandoned train tracks on government property in the dead of night while touring through Alabama, it’s clear that Thieves is well-positioned to steal the hearts and minds of everyone they encounter in 2015 and beyond.

Story by Sam Limerick

Photos by Tess Cagle

One fateful day in 2009, Billy Canino (vocals/guitar), Chris Skiles (guitar/vocals), and Nathan Helton (bass) — all good friends from the local Austin music scene — were jamming pop punk records. It was punk rock providence; everyone’s bands were at stopping points, and Thieves was formed that same afternoon. The quartet wrote their first song the very next day, and the rest is history.

But not really. That particular cliché doesn’t fit the untraditional approach Thieves has taken with regards to the development of both their sound, as well as their careers as musicians. The narrative of Thieves is a dynamic one: constantly evolving, always at work, forever in development. Thieves may have started out as just something fun to jam on with friends, but it’s grown into something much larger for its core trio.

In their five years together, Thieves has accomplished a great deal. They self-produced and released their first two EPs and full-length concept album from their closets, outsourcing only the recording of drums. As the band’s goals changed, they decided to up the professionalism for this year’s “Colorchange” EP, bringing in Saosin’s Beau Burchell to produce, engineer and mix the record. Along the way, they have gained quite a following, both in Austin and beyond, and have toured the US multiple times.

Though the group has earned a great deal of critical acclaim and fans by stomping the stages and floors of the Austin punk scene, it’s quite clear that Thieves has grown on an even deeper level as friends and partners. Indeed, the band’s longevity owes a great debt to their incredibly tight friendship. “It’ll always be friends playing music, but if we could do this for a very, very long time, I think we’d all be okay with that,” Helton says, explaining the interconnected nature of the trio’s friendship with their music. “I don’t ever see a day where us three are just like, ‘I really just don’t wanna go play a show with this guy,’” Canino adds. When I spoke to the band, the trio exhibited an unmatched devotion to both their music as well as each other, and I didn’t doubt Canino’s assertion.

The tour stories Thieves has brought back from the road are as unconventional as the music they play, and these stories further hammer down Thieves’ unconventional modus operandi. The societal perception of punk culture lends itself to preconceived notions that depict touring bands as engaged in wildly deviant, hedonistic behaviors. Alhough this is certainly true for some touring acts, Thieves is not your everyday punk band.

For some bands, the name of the game is promiscuity and decadence, but for Thieves it’s ridiculous shenanigans and camaraderie. “I’d like the record to show that on our last drive, I set the driving record for 16 hours,” Canino chimes in. “You did not! It was not 16 hours, you are 100 percent tripping. That’s 16 hours with a two-hour time change!” Skiles fires back. “I have the driving record for a REAL 15 hours!” The duo continues to squabble about the nuances of time zone changesto determine who drove the most. Helton goes on to explain that he alone holds the record for driving the most miles with no hands. “That was real life driving with my knees,” he notes.

The trio just returned from recording their next full length in California. Listeners can expect a release sometime in 2015 — and hopefully sooner rather than later, the group told me. The group has continued to evolve their sound since they released Colorchange, and their goals for the record set the bar even higher. No successful band releases the same album twice, and Thieves has set out to break the mold on their own musical style, as well as their own lyrical themes with this new record.

In addition to this new output, fans can expect the group to tour hard and fast, in as many places as possible. That phrase — “thick as thieves” — carries a variety of connotations. It denotes a special bond between people. It derives its meaning from the concept of “partners in crime.” It is suggestive of a bond unbreakable by societal forces, because it exists outside the norms of society. It’s dark, it’s mischievous and it’s not traditional – it fits these three 20-something punks perfectly.