Formed in vocalist Matt Groebe's garage in 1995, when the four founding members were all attending Shawnee Mission West, Thulium broke through the local scene's surface as a quintet in 1999 with The Secret Club, its second full-length disc following a self-titled debut and a few EPs. The group remained a five-piece until guitarist Steve Nick departed in April of this year, returning Thulium to its original lineup of high school buddies.
"It's like a new life, a newfound energy to reach our goal of being the best band in the world," drummer Jeff Polaschek says.
"Our whole attitude shifted [when we returned to] being a four-piece, and it's nothing but positive," says Bryan Chesen, now the quartet's sole guitarist. "We're tighter, closer, playing a lot more and sounding better than ever."
And the ladies, they do agree. Lots of girls, generally hovering on the cusp of age 21, are certain to be in attendance when Thulium plays. That's due in part to the fact that the four guys in Thulium are friendly, self-deprecating and sans ego, but it's also because Thulium incorporates all those qualities into a personality-driven show that gives fans catchy pop music and unapologetic good times.
"I'm not bragging," Chesen adds, "but we bring more girls to a show that any other band I've ever seen locally, except maybe Pomeroy."
"A Thulium show is a great place to meet girls," bass player and songwriter Drew Scofield concludes. "Hopefully, the music will drown out anything stupid you might say."
Where women are, men will follow. But if the men are skeptical about Thulium going in, they might be pleasantly surprised during the show. In the great power-pop tradition, Thulium's hook-filled gems are mostly about girls, and guys should have no problem relating to the trials and tribulations of Scofield's life, as chronicled in song.
"Cash Money's rappers talk about ice on their necks, Rage Against the Machine wrote about politics, it's stuff that was important to them," Chesen says. "We like girls."
"Most pop songs are love-related," Scofield clarifies. "People who write pop songs for a living know most anyone will relate to generic romantic tripe, but I don't feel that's what we do in our songs. I try to write things in a way I haven't heard before. One of the great things about music is the ambiguity of songs, the way people find their own experiences in someone else's."
One of those people is Thulium's Groebe, who performs Scofield's songs. "If I step back and think about singing Drew's songs, it seems like it should be weird," he says. (Perhaps even more so given that Scofield maintains that his often woeful tunes are true stories.) "But while I'm actually singing, I never give it a second thought."
For Thulium's next record, which is only in its early planning stage, Scofield says to expect fewer love-themed songs. However, if The Secret Club's hidden track offers any indication, the new ditties might focus on another topic of major interest to young clubgoing males -- alcohol. Titled "21," that tune compiles successive takes of a song performed repeatedly on a long drunken night, resulting in versions that range from initial sobriety to sloshed abandon.
Polaschek has recently found a novel way to use the demon alcohol for motivational purposes, Groebe says. "Jeff got drunk for the very first time only a couple of months ago when we had an overnight in Wichita," he begins. "Jeff never drank before he turned 21. He just said he didn't care to. After he turned 21, he had a few girlie drinks here and there, but never got drunk. As an incentive to pursue more out-of-town shows, Jeff promised that he would get drunk at our first out-of-town show that we stayed the night, so before the show we picked up a six-pack of Smirnoff Ice and then invited everyone we talked to back to the hotel room. Around 5 a.m. or so, we ended up at Denny's, where Jeff had transformed into the staggering drunk he'd always made fun of."
A sacrifice, to be sure, but Polaschek's ploy worked -- Thulium has been making road trips frequently. This allows the band to start with a clean slate, because locally, some of the hip crowd has declared Thulium the scene's black sheep. The Secret Club's title addresses the group's failure to break into the cool kids' clique.
"They call us jocks and frat boys, when only Matt was in a frat for one year, and then three of us dropped out of college," Chesen says. "And physically we aren't exactly Sports Illustrated's Man of the Year. As far as responding, we don't. If someone calls you a name, there's nothing to do but call them one back, and that's not our style."
"The criticism we hear the most is that we sold out, but to sell out, you have to be big enough to change your style for what sells," Polaschek theorizes. "We're not even close. Plus we've been playing pop-rock ever since we started."
When Thulium plays pop-rock, it puts on an entertaining, crowd-friendly show, contrary to hipster opinions that detachment is a desirable quality and that anything popular to assembled masses is without merit. "The perceived conflict between art and pop is why we are outcasts in comparison to other local musicians," Scofield says.
But there's a lot to be said for just having a good time, and therein lies Thulium's greatest strength. "We write songs that are deep and meaningful to us, and people end up just really having fun," Polaschek says. "I don't think it's a big deal."
And if it is, it certainly shouldn't be. Music's supposed to be fun, remember?