After churning out modern rock music since the early '80s, British act The The has returned with its first album in five years -- "NakedSelf" -- due Feb. 29 in the U.S. and Feb. 28 internationally. The album, which will be issued worldwide on Nothing Records, is also the act's first album to be released since parting ways with longtime label Sony Music. In line with the album's title, The The displays a more stripped-down sound on "NakedSelf" than on previous outings.
The The leader Matt Johnson -- who created the act as a concept group and works with a rotating set of musicians -- explains why it took so long to complete the new album. "I went through a lot of life changes. I had a son. People who were close to me passed away, and I was moving around a lot." Johnson recorded the album in New York, his primary home for the last five years; he also has homes in Spain, Sweden, and England. He says, "I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. The lyrics were very difficult to write."
Johnson, who co-produced the album with Bruce Lampcov, notes, "Producing is very tiring, more tiring than performing or songwriting. Songwriting is the more enjoyable part for me. When it's going well, I'm proud of the results." During the five-year hiatus between albums, The The recorded another album, 1997's "Gun Sluts," which was unreleased. The The also did a sneak-preview tour of the East Coast in November and December 1999.
Johnson says of the mini-tour, "At some of the shows, we played the entire ["NakedSelf"] album before we did older songs. It was inspiring because people were into it." As for the album's edgier sound, Johnson explains, "It's partly an attempt to get away from this sanitized, over-digitized, computerized sound that a lot of people are doing. I was using manual typewriters to write the songs and old equipment to record it."
The new album's direction coincides with The The's decision to sign with Universal-distributed Nothing Records. Johnson says of the change, "I came to the end of my contract with Sony. It was an odd situation: I finished the album but [Sony] owned it, and they said they weren't going to release it unless I made changes to the album and signed a new contract."
"I said, 'Well, then give me my album back.' I signed with Nothing because they seemed more passionate and very keen on my past stuff," he adds. Executives at Sony had no comment at press time. The first single from "NakedSelf" is "ShrunkenMan," which will ship to college radio in early to mid-February. The single will be released to modern rock radio shortly thereafter, according to Nothing.
The The embarks on a select European tour this month. A U.S. tour is tentatively set to begin in March or April. Johnson has assembled a touring band that consists of guitarist Eric Schermerhorn (who's worked with Iggy Pop), drummer Earl Harvin (MC 900 Ft Jesus), and bass guitarist Spencer Campbell (who's played in Johnny Cash's band). Although The The traditionally released videos in the past, there are no immediate plans to make a video for "ShrunkenMan." This time around, as Nothing Records co-owner/president John A. Malm Jr. points out, the group's live show conveyes what "NakedSelf" is all about.
As for the idea that The The is really just a Matt Johnson solo project, Johnson confesses, "If I could go back in time, I would change the name of the act to just my name. But by the time I decided to do that, it was too late. I was a huge fan of John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, so the The The concept band was inspired by that."
Sometime before the release of the "NakedSelf," The The plans to participate in an online chat on a Web site to be announced. There will also be promotions at retail and on The The's official Web site (www.thethe.com). Johnson says that he is enthusiastic yet skeptical about new technology. "I find E-mail to be very useful, but the Internet is overrated. The Internet is rapidly becoming a giant shopping mall."
He adds, "The best thing I've learned since I've been in this business is to have no expectations of an album's sales. It's a real pleasure making the music I want and working with the musicians I work with. Anything else is a real bonus."
-- Carla Hay