Thousands are best appreciated up close and personal—and that's how the Seattle duo likes it. Everything Kristian Garrard and Luke Bergman do hinges on intimacy: their hazy harmonies, intertwined guitars, and affinity for unplugged house shows. They sent their debut album, The Sound of Everything, to some reviewers with complimentary headphones. Even the chords Garrard favors when composing the band's acoustic reveries reflect that affinity for proximity.
"When I was first shown what a diminished chord was, it blew my mind," the 28-year-old recalls. The notion of notes spaced tighter than in traditional major or minor formations spurred his creativity. "I would find two of the most unrelated chords, and then spend hours figuring out how to connect them through a melody. That was the goal of my whole songwriting approach, trying to make weird changes sound good."
Judging from The Sound of Everything and the rapt attention the pair commanded during a February residency at the Sunset, Garrard has succeeded. "MTSES III" and the effervescent "Must Be Born Again" unfurl like strands of DNA, melodies twisting together into one-of-a-kind structures informed by the curious order of the natural world more than rote rules of Western harmony. Assonance and cadence shape his lyrics as much as rhyme scheme, imparting the words with a lilting, off-the-cuff character.
With very rare exceptions—a flute on "Love Won't Come," droning harmonium on the title tune—the Thousands sound consists of just two voices and two guitars. Separating Garrard and Bergman's individual contributions, however, seems as futile as unraveling that double helix. "We try to arrange the parts so that they're woven into each other," confirms Garrard. "Sometimes on the recordings you can't tell who's playing what."
Bergman is an imposing guy, but his harmonies are remarkably delicate, crossing over Gerrard's vocal leads or hovering just a half step or two away, as in the final passages of "Everything Turned Upside Down." In a loud rock band like X, such frisson heightens tension and builds excitement; for Thousands, who favor hushed dynamics, this tight formation feels more relaxed, like a shadow that cannot be divided from the entity that casts it.
The duo's ease together was reinforced by living in the same University District group house for three years. It was here, at the behest of friends who wanted to hear more, that Thousands first tried making a DIY record. It didn't go smoothly. "There were always doors slamming or people walking around. And the music is so quiet, there needs to be dead silence," says Bergman. The solution? They took the material—which is already ripe with images of rolling hills, mossy trees, frost, and fog—out to the country, recording in the woods of the Oregon Coast, an old house in Columbia County, and the silo of an abandoned farm in the historic hamlet of Thorp, Washington.
Playing in unconventional settings was already part of the Thousands narrative. Most early performances took place at house shows and similarly tight-knit affairs. A last-minute spot supporting Fleet Foxes at Columbia City Theater earlier this month put them in front of their biggest crowd yet: 300 patrons. "I was majorly apprehensive about starting to amplify ourselves," admits Bergman about graduating to larger audiences. Creating the same effect in a busy bar as in a friend's kitchen proved daunting, but practicing with a PA—plus a genial stage presence that never feels precious—has smoothed the transition.
The small social circle that was Thousands' earliest boosters, and pushed them to record, also led to their label deal. "The album wasn't intended to be a big international release," says Garrard. "We did a little pressing of it, just for our friends. Then Skye [Skjelset] from Fleet Foxes got really into us, and he was burning CDs and giving them to everyone he could." One of those recipients was former Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde, who promptly signed them to his Bella Union imprint.
Even as The Sound of Everything reaches listeners worldwide, Thousands have started their next album. The new songs revolve around a true historical tale about two of Garrard's female ancestors who settled on Vancouver Island's Clayoquot Sound in the early 20th century, and a gentleman who lived across the inlet (in a small wooden castle!), who adored these sisters so much that he'd serenade them by playing his cornet in the treetops. It's a fantastic story that bodes well for Thousands' future: Even if his ambitions are modest, Garrard seems genetically predisposed to connecting powerfully with admirers more than a few feet away.