Welcome to the world of the Candle Thieves – a very wonderful, weird and whimsical place. Deep thinkers can lose themselves here in gentle, poppy pleasures, and enjoy soft-hearted sentiments with sinister undertows.
The band that made this world together is the brainchild of two serious songwriters, who wear big, thick-framed glasses, walk out onto the stage to the sound of the Jaws theme tune, set off bubble machines, and play glockenspiels, toy pianos, shakers and snares. They summon up the spirits of Eels, Sufjan Stevens, and the Lucksmiths in their sounds, but make wonderful songs that are utterly their own.
But who are these strange characters? They are Scott McEwan and the mysterious man who hides behind the moniker, The Glock, – two sixth form friends from Peterborough, who studied music together at college. They lost touch with each other when they left the school gates, and started to pursue the rock and roll dream. Scott McEwan became the lead singer of a rock band, while The Glock played in a Keane-like pop group that had a top 40 hit. Both have toured the world and tasted the high life, but both craved the chance to make music that was more simple and intimate.
"We had both been listening to songs that were very different to the music we made", explains McEwan, as he remembers the time that the friends spent apart. "We both like melancholy things that were happy on the surface, but more serious underneath – songs that weren't trying to be clever, but somehow said everything." When they met up again after so many years, and realised they were doing the same thing, they decided to start up a side project to do anything they wanted. "We didn't want any rules any more. We wanted to go back to basics, really have fun, and try to follow our hearts."
McEwan had started writing songs in this vein as a solo artist, but The Candle Thieves came together last summer, after both boys had returned home from their travels. They named their band after The Glock's peculiar habit of stealing wax candles from wedding parties, many of which would fill the bedroom to which he had returned. Both boys found that living at home with their families reignited their innocent enthusiasm – and this worked its way, slowly but surely, into their songwriting.
Soon, the Candle Thieves' very own brand of wonky, yet heartfelt, commercial pop, began to take shape. They started experimenting with new instruments, and found out they was something truthful and sweet about a man in his mid-20s pouring his heart out over a toy piano, or experimenting with gentle melodies on a Casio keyboard. They realised they could turn their little gigs into special events by handing out chocolates, setting off party poppers – and then shifting people's expectations by singing songs about nightmares and acute anxieties. More than anything, both boys wanted their music to make people sit up and notice them, and offer a brighter alternative to bands who simply walked onto stage with acoustic guitars, then watched people switch off.
One of their first songs was The Sunshine Song, a sweet pop number about sending rainbows down streams, and being in love, before admitting that love would not last forever. Another was Sharks and Bears, an impossibly cute track that they played onstage accompanied by inflatable toys – even though the song mentioned drowning and hell. They were inspired by the writing of E from Eels, says McEwan, who sang about his difficult life in an incredible manner. "We were inspired by the amazing life that he had, and how all the sadness poured out of him in an optimistic way. We wanted to take his outlook and apply it to our experiences." McEwan does this particularly beautifully when he sings album track ‘Catching Wasps’.
The Candle Thieves' gigs started in earnest in the summer of 2008. They travelled up and down motorways in McEwan's tiny car – packed tight with keyboards and cuddly toys, with The Glock hidden somewhere in the middle. Sometimes people asked why they didn't put their music on tape, to save themselves the trouble of travelling around, but the boys didn't see the magic in that. Instead, they pushed out their boat harder – by blowing bubbles into the crowd and playing amongst them, putting more props on stage, and setting off confetti cans as their sets ended. The word of mouth about them spread quickly – and now they are finishing their first glorious album.
The Candle Thieves come towards us with welcoming arms, singing songs about the strangeness of life that are touched ever so beautifully with hope, light and love. They make music for people who want more from bands, but who are still young at heart. They write for people who are tired of rock's bravado and brimstone, and who want more intimate sentiments to snag their souls and their minds. They may have spent their lives treading very different paths, and exploring life's different corners, but the simple pleasure of music has brought them home to its bright, lovely roots. And now – lucky us – it's our time to get thieving.