Theme Park want to make you dance. Their new album ‘Is This How It Starts?’ is a pop-fuelled vision, a synthy, slinky, unashamed creature with a good heart. Or perhaps a series of good hearts, as bassist / guitarist / synth player (nobody in Theme Park is ever just one thing at once) Oscar Manthorpe explains over a North London phone line one chilly Spring evening.
“We wanted it to be very much that collaborative process where you just chip in with all these ideas, and no one was afraid to just throw in a vocal line or a new idea for an aesthetic direction or whatever,” Oscar says. “It felt like a very open forum. I think collaboration is very much the way to go if you want to open up new ways of making music, because if you just keep making music by yourself you end up doing the same sorts of things a lot because you don’t necessarily throw some crazy new vibe onto an idea.”
In the case of ‘Is This How It Starts?’ the collaborative process meant not just opening the floor up to the band, but also to long-time friend and producer Ben Garrett of Fryars. It was hardly a gamble, considering the other members of Theme Park Miles and Marcus Haughton have been friends with Ben since childhood. According to Oscar, their unerring trust in each other allowed them to take creative risks and bring new ideas to the table in a way that might not have worked among a different group of people.
“Being truthful in a group, it’s easy because we are all friends,” he says. “It’s that kind of thing where you just relax. You don’t feel embarrassed to say things, or try things, and if someone thinks it is embarrassing or it’s a bad idea a true friend will tell you ‘oh, maybe we’ll leave that out’, you know? It never felt like a challenge, it always felt like a happy, open place.”
The buoyancy of that openness led Theme Park into a freer, more experimental phase, allowing them to completely overhaul some of their tracks and bring something brand new to the fore.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
“There are those moments where you just flip a song completely,” says Oscar. “With ‘You Are Real’, for instance, that was one that felt like a very validating song to be doing with Ben because Miles’ demo was very much a synth driven thing. It was him singing along with one synth, and Ben kind of brought it back to having some more organic instruments in it, the acoustic guitar – this kind of classical guitar which we put in – and organ parts, and then suddenly Miles was excited by that and decided that in the middle eight he wanted to put in a rap part, almost. You just bounce off each other.”
The excitement that the band felt while writing and recording is palpable on the album. ‘Is This How It Starts?’ is bold and energetic, and frank about life in the UK in your mid-20s. While it is fundamentally an honest record, ‘Is This How It Starts?’ also refuses to get bogged down in austerity, playing on real-life themes with the musical lightness that has become Theme Park’s trademark.
“I think in general we try to write stuff that doesn’t take itself super seriously. I enjoy listening to sad stuff, you know, I wouldn’t want to just listen to happy stuff all the time but when we’re writing music, when you’re doing it every day and playing it live to people you want it to be exciting and fun,” Oscar considers. “Marcus and Miles are very much ‘up’ guys who are very smiley, they’re very buoyant people to be around. They’re bouncy, passionate. I think the music reflects who we are as people, you know, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
And thank god for that. Theme Park are an oasis of joy in an increasingly serious landscape, defiantly upbeat during a time when that kind of thing is needed most. They’re only trying to share that happiness, that rhythm.
“It never felt like a challenge, it always felt like a happy, open place.”
“The things that I really love listening to or really get me excited, I often feel like dancing to,” says Oscar. “I generally think that’s a good thing to aim for, to try to make people dance. I think of some of the most exciting moments that I have with my friends, great nights out – or even if it’s a great night in, and you’ve had a long boozy dinner and then someone sticks on Kendrick or something and everyone just gets up and dances - I’ve had so much fun listening to music and dancing to music that I love, that’s all about energy.”
For anyone who has heard Oscar’s work with Theme Park, there will be little doubt that the energy they’ve been aiming for has come through.
“People do dance at our shows, which has always been nice,” he notes. “When I was younger I’d often go to more…gig-y kind of gigs, rock bands and stuff, and that was more about pushing people around or jumping around, or even just the respectful head nod, which I always…. he pauses for a second, trying to gather the right words that will be both honest and fair. Then, decided, he carries on. “Like…I would hate to go and try and make people dance and get the respectful head nod. I would rather people just having fun, losing it, and that’s hopefully what people do.”
Theme Park’s new album ‘Is This How It Starts’ is out now.