Ideal Conditions is an indie rock album that’s rife with layers of sonic textures, all distilled to a point of perfection, or at least Andrew Wiggins’ vision of what perfection should be for Thousandaire’s sound. “I think it all comes back to consistency,” he says over the phone while traveling from Baltimore to Philadelphia to play a show just a few days before releasing Ideal Conditions, the group’s second full-length recording.
It’s the definitive statement so far of Thousandaire’s musical DNA and the vocational drive that Wiggins has spent a lifetime honing, while maintaining control over every aspect of the music.
Wiggins is the vocalist, guitar player, and principal songwriter for Thousandaire. He is also the majordomo overseeing all creative and technical facets of the band in pretty much every situation imaginable.
In conversation, he offers a recent revelation that he’s had about leading the group, which includes bass player Chad LeBlanc and drummer Tom Bruno, while traveling up the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states for this latest round of touring.
“We play the same, we sound the same, and we have the same amount of fun no matter what,” he says. “We’ve played in front of a hundred people and we’ve played in front of five people on this tour. We’ve played with everything mic’d up, and we’ve played with the most minimal set up, from a vocal PA in a tiny dive bar to setting up in a record store with a portable PA, and we’ve played with the same intensity. Despite these variables, it sounds just as good in any situation. That is very intentional for us,” he adds. “I have worked really hard to make that, and I didn’t want the record to be any different.”
Of course, Wiggins is pulling from decades of experience that encapsulate everything from playing and touring with a range of bands, including math rock outfit Blame Game and noisy post-punk groups HAWKS and Wymyns Prysyn. He has also spent time composing noise with his solo project Caesium Mine. Wiggins has also spent years doing live sound and mixing touring bands in venues including the Earl and 529. He also spends most of his days building fuzz pedals and repairing vintage guitars and amps at his self-run Moreland Magnetics business. “All of that experience goes into making this worthwhile for the 30 minutes we’re playing music,” he says.
Press play on Ideal Conditions and the opening number “No Good” channels an intense live band vibe, taking cues from like minded ‘90s rock acts such as Silkworm, Chavez, Dinosaur Jr., and the Meat Puppets. Asymmetrical guitar solos and fugue-like moments in rhythm take shape amid songs such as “Promise” and “Coward,” and in an older number, titled “Sgt. Billy.” Throughout each one of these numbers, extended compositions blend layered walls of sound and lyrics that are often contemplative, self-conscious, and always heartfelt.
Even at their most melodic and briskly paced moments, Thousandaire’s songs feel haunted and disquieted. Much of the inspiration behind the group’s self-titled 2020 debut album was sparked by Wiggins embracing a freshly sober lifestyle after years of consumption. Ideal Conditions reaches beyond the previous album’s blueprint as Wiggins tightens his focus on the art of crafting the music itself.
“Thousandaire was probably the best creative outlet for me to get out a lot of what I was feeling at the time, whether that was intentional or not,” he says. “I don’t need to get really personal in my songs. I have a therapist,” he laughs. “I don’t really need to use music as therapy, and all of my lyrics are hypothetical. But it is a vibe that I can’t really avoid. On the new record, there’s a little bit less of that. Time has put some distance between me and those feelings.”
In more recent years, lyrics have moved closer to the forefront of Wiggins’ mind as he has continued writing songs. The strength of the sound, the songs, the performances that keep him truly and naturally motivated.
“I used to get really frustrated about writing lyrics until one day, I was talking about it with our old drummer Adam Weisberg, after he’d moved to New York,” Wiggins recalls. “Both of us are fans of Cass McCombs, and Adam said, ‘I bet that dude gets out of bed every morning and writes lyrics all day long, whereas you get up and make fuzz pedals all day. So don’t worry about it so much, you’ve got other stuff going,” Wiggins laughs.
The raw and serrated tones and distortion of songs such as “Bar Song,” “Your Gold Teeth III,” and Ideal Conditions’ title track are instantly arresting, drawing strength from each one of their respectively visceral and emotionally stirring melodies.
“I listen to a lot of records, and I think what’s best for what I want is both consistency and intimacy,” he says. “We recorded this record as live as possible, and I want to put the listener in the room with these songs, instead of putting the listener in a balcony seat in a huge 2000-person arena where there’s a symphony that has all kinds of bells and whistles going on. There’s something to be said about those kinds of records, but it’s just not Thousandaires’ vibe.”
Wiggins owns all of the gear the band uses. He’s worked closely with drummer Bruno and bass player LeBlanc to customize each of their instruments’ singularly abrasive snarls.
Damon Moon at Standard Electric Recorders in Avondale Estates also worked closely with Wiggins to summon and recreate the sounds that Wiggins had stuck in his head, and to carve them out into real-world songs.
In this process, it’s the ability to adapt that sets Thousandaire apart.
“It’s the way we set up the equipment, the way everything sounds, the way we interact with whoever is doing sound. To me, it’s all about eliminating variables and stuff that you can’t control. If you get used to not having all the bells and whistles, like if all we did was play Terminal West where we have a huge production and a top line sound system, and then go play some record store, dive bar, or something where everything isn’t necessarily up to spec. If you can’t play your songs the same way that you play them on a big stage, then you fail.”
This extends to capturing the group’s sound on vinyl, or in the case of their latest offering, it’s on cassette. And what you hear is the culmination of Thousandaire playing under ideal conditions.
This story appears in the January 2023 issue of Record Plug Magazine.
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