Sweet, Droge, And Mullins Blossom As The Thorns

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

In joining together to form the Thorns -- a group focused entirely on three-part harmonies -- Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge, and Shawn Mullins do not seem to have created anything terribly groundbreaking.

But as one listens to the trio sing in unison on the 13 songs that make up its self-titled debut, issued May 20 via Aware/Columbia, it starts to seem otherwise.

Sure, in the grand scheme of things, what the three singer/songwriters created isn't as notable as, say, the early, generation-defining work of Crosby, Stills, & Nash (CSN), a group that the Thorns immediately recall. Yet the brand of harmony- and acoustic-guitar-based rock they play has, surprisingly, been virtually absent from the pop landscape for more than a decade.

"It's kind of odd," Sweet says. "I mean, there's probably about 10 groups sittin' around going, 'We f***in' did this!' But it doesn't immediately come to mind.

"It is strange. I guess it's because all the boy bands were doing harmonies and stuff, so maybe this wasn't cool to do for the last few years anyway."

Be certain, the Thorns' update on mid-'70s Southern California acoustic pop owes more to CSN and the Beach Boys than to the wave of boy-band pop that has dominated the charts in recent years.

The band's unusual sound has found favor with video and triple-A programmers. Lead single "I Can't Remember" is No. 15 on the Triple-A chart published by Billboard's sister publication Airplay Monitor. VH1 and CMT, meanwhile, are airing the song's videoclip.

The Thorns sprouted about 13 months ago, when Sweet, at the suggestion of manager Russell Carter (who is also Mullins' manager), joined Droge and Mullins in a Los Angeles studio. He was encouraged to listen to a few songs and consider writing with them.

Like the others, Sweet was interested in trying something new in his career. He had joked with Carter about starting a modern version of famed '60s guy/girl vocal quartet the Mamas & the Papas. After a couple of days, the initially skeptical artist wedged his way firmly into the mix. His high vocals meshed seamlessly with Mullins' low, whiskey-tinged voice and Droge's Tom Petty-esque singing.

Sweet says he quickly emphasized the three-part harmony approach. "More interesting to me was [doing] something completely unlike what I would do on my own or what they would do on their own," he says. "The harmonies kind of gave us that, and we helped to sort of ensure that by trying to really write all the songs together."

The group crystallized with "I Can't Remember," the first song written together by the three artists. (Droge and Mullins penned one Thorns song, "No Blue Sky," prior to Sweet's arrival.)

To keep things fresh, each morning, the three avoided bringing in song ideas that were nearly complete.

Sweet says that working in that fashion kept things new. "We kind of traded off days. One day would be Shawn's day, or Pete's day, or my day. There was also kind of an unspoken thing where, whoever's day it was, kind of got the final word."

Droge says, "I think knowing that we really wanted to create something that was outside of all of us made it so that nobody would get too hung up on their own trip."

The Thorns will take flight as opening act for the Jayhawks beginning June 23. The trek is slated to close in mid-July.

Here are the Thorns' upcoming tour dates:

June 23: Indianapolis (The Vogue)
June 25: Columbus, Ohio (Columbus Zoo Amphitheatre)
June 26: Washington, D.C. (9:30 Club)
June 27-28: New York (Irving Plaza)
June 30: Philadelphia (Theatre Of Living Arts)
July 2: Atlanta (Variety Playhouse)
July 3: Nashville (Uptown Mix)
July 4: Memphis (The Gibson Rooftop)
July 6: Milwaukee (Summerfest)
July 9: Chicago (Vic Theatre)
July 11: Minneapolis (Basilica Block Party)

Excerpted from the May 31, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.

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