Leeroy Thornhill [Ex Prodigy Member] ExclusiveFebruary 5, 2021
Live Interview Editing Mike Mannix
Transcribe Kate Eve Senior
Leeroy Thornhill has lived it loved it and danced and partied his way around the globe numerous times with one of the biggest dance music bands in history ‘The Prodigy.’ Since then hes carved out his own niches in the world of music and has his own opinion about the scene and industry that he wanted to share with us…
Mike Mannix: Hey, Leeroy, whats the craic, how are you?
Leeroy Thornhill: I’m good, thanks, Mike, hope you’re good too!
Mike: Yeah man, looking forward to this. Straight into then. Tell us about the young Leeroy, how you grew up? Your musical influences? What drove you to take steps into music initially?
Leeroy: From a young age I was always into and surrounded by music, from my old mans 8-track player and listening to the radio, it was always on in my house. By the time I was 10 my sisters were into punk and got influenced by Lou Reed, Velvet Underground, The Slits, The Clash, The Crass, Susie and the Banshees there was so much man.
I was getting this raw underground music from quite a young age ya-know
and by the time I got to senior school I was into Northern Soul. At eleven, twelve, thirteen I used to go to these little house parties, it was all about dancing and expressing yourself even at that age, we thought we were cool enough to hook up and have a drink and dance to this music, it’s crazy when you think about it! Then I started DJing when I was at school playing Rare Groove and Funk and then Hip Hop, so by the time I was 17 we were going down to clubs in South End in old churches where people would put on parties with the likes of Derek B and Rebel MC DJing and playing Public Enemy and PMD, and it was all illegal like the early rave scene.
Then the police would turn up, and we would all have to get out of there!
Mike: The sounds always had a rebellious edge!
with the likes of Public Enemy because of the raw messages they put out and some of the Punk stuff, it was quite shocking, and in some ways like when we put out Firestarter it had an edge!
Before the band some of the lads I worked with used to wear German ex-military stuff like the long black leather coats, knee-high boots and wear all black and that. They weren’t actual Nazis or anything but the OAPS used to start on them because of how they looked. They introduced me to some amazing music. They were like, ‘take this tape’, Trouble Funk or Gogo, and some LL cool J stuff. It was great listening to this music months before you heard it in the clubs so yeah, Public Enemy, the rapping, the intelligence, the message, and to this day, they are still great!
Mike: A social narrative before the internet.
Leeroy: Yeah, their messages were very, very clever and still are.
Mike: And then the dance scene exploded!
Leeroy: Around 1988 I was working as an electrician in a place called Towbridge down near Bath Swindon. All my mates had started going to raves, and were like, ‘come to this massive party it’s in a tent in a field’. I was like ‘okay’, and it ended up everyone was marching on the spot to 4×4 bleeps, there was no rhythm at all and I wasn’t sure about it at the start. Then I went again a month later and my friends were like,
‘you wanna do an E man?’
I was like, I dunno about that, what is it?
I did that for the first time felt a bit rough for a while, and then the next thing my feet were on fire, and that was it I just danced all night!!
There was nothing like the rave era when it started man,
nothing like it had happened before in music and it took over the whole country. Punks started appearing and changing their look into the rave look, and all the fighting in the locals stopped, like a unification for loads of different types and groups of people, that really did happen!
Mike: And football violence almost came to a complete standstill for two years…
Leeroy: Yeah, It was the point where people could take their kids to football and that.
Mike: And at some point, this led you up to joining The Prodigy?
Leeroy: Yeah, I was just interested in going out all the time and hooking up with my mate Keith (Flint). We went on missions finding cool parties and stuff and following certain DJs and bands like N Joi and Mickey Flynn. We used to be at Astoria every week when it was rocking, and ended up meeting people and having somewhere to crash. It was so good looking back on all of that man we was living in the moment and for the weekend and then we heard Liam (Howlett) DJing at this after-party.
Keith asked him if he could sort us out with a tape and the one he gave us had all of his music on it, and when we listened to it, it blew us away!
We went up to him again when we were out one night, and we all decided to put something together. We just wanted to get up on the stages of the parties we went to really, so being around at the right time, and having a genius writing music, it just had to happen, but
we had no idea it was gonna kick-off like it did!
I remember we did one or two gigs on Holloway road Rocket Club and they introduced us to this guy who did these parties in Milton Keyes. He asked us how much we were, and I think Keith went ‘300 quid’ and he went ‘Ya what, 300 quid, I have never even heard of ya’, and then as the words came out of his mouth in the other room ‘Everybody in the Place’ came on and the whole venue went wild!!
Keith went ‘that’s us’, and it all kicked off there!
I mean we never thought of ourselves as any different to the audience even though we were up on the stage we related to people quite easily. By 94/95 the Rave thing started to die and not just because we were going rockier. But once it all went jungle that was it, you just got Drum n Bass and the darkside stuff, LTJ Bukem was one of the first who did it, and then everyone jumped on his bandwagon and what went from hands in the air love moment went darksided and heavy.
That’s when coke and all the bull shit started coming into it, and it went from being this friendly thing, so we jumped out
and started getting onto the main stages at festivals and doing gigs with the likes of Wu-Tang and going to Holland, it was a whole different world to the rave thing.
Around that time my Djing shifted, I’d tried all the garage stuff, but it was just too weak for me, don’t get me wrong I like all music, but to me, Techno has the raw energy and is unbeatable, so at a gig
playing Techno and Trance was the best drug music that was out there!
Then we got to 96/97 we went to this festival in Sweden and we rolled up with all the stuff in this van and there was the indie tent, the metal tent, and the dance tent. But it turned out we were on the main stage and we set up for soundcheck, and there was around 5,000 black leather-jacketed rockers in front of us and we were like ‘ahhh mate!’
We hung around listening to the other bands on before us and we heard Helmet play, and then Biohazard, and just before we go on there was still leather everywhere and it all started kicking off and everyone started to try and push their way in, so the festival decided to pull all the tent sides up so people could see. We rocked it man, and I will never forget that, and from that day on that’s where we were more comfortable to be honest with people who were up for all sorts of music up until things got too much by the end 98/99.
Mike: Did you expect how crazy it would get? I mean, coming from the electrician and the house parties and the promoter who didn’t wanna play 300 quid, did you think it would be as big as it became, this massive monster?
Leeroy: Nah mate, we knew the music was amazing and then when all our personalities came together; we all developed. I mean, you have to go in knowing that your music is alright but never imagined what it would become.
Still, it became overkill after a while because we didn’t have enough time to write music, our lives didn’t stop it was full on!
The breaks had to come on because everyone wanted to cash in on us. I mean, we can’t keep going on doing 21 gigs in 23 days. You just wake up. You don’t know where you are. I mean,
I forgot what my house looked like!
It was just crazy,
we circuited the world 3 times!
When it all stopped it got very strange cos we had got used to doing everything as a gang. It was on this downtime that I started messing around with guitars and writing down lyrics because I was naturally a rocker at heart.
Mike: You toured with a lot of rock bands anyway?
Leeroy: Yeah, I mean we were with those sorts of people every week from Radiohead to supporting David Bowie and hanging out with Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana. When Foo Fighters did their first ever gig in England, they supported us and then the likes of the Chemical Brothers.
I will never forget there was a story when we played some festival somewhere in Europe, and then next week we were somewhere else where Rage Against The Machine was playing and we were hanging around the stage, and they said ‘what are you doing here are you the light and sound guys or what?’
Keith was like ‘Nah we’re gigging mate we’re on after you,’ haha!
Mike: So once it quietened down a bit you were able to focus on your Djing again?
Leeroy: Yea, I started messing around buying tracks from this record shop in Miami. The guy knew the sort of music I liked, this was before the internet. I had this residency Djing where I played unique music at one of the clubs in Ibiza, where I would play in the backroom. So I would be doing things like that for a couple of weeks, I would play stuff from my box of records and no one would have heard any of it. Then I hooked up with DJ Hyper, and we worked on some tracks and started doing some live shows around 2005.
Later on I remember talking to Liam (Howlett) and he said ‘the greatest hits album is coming out soon do you fancy coming back and doing some gigs?’ I went ‘hmmm I don’t know?’ Liam was like ‘come on mate I have 8 shows left’ and I said, ‘I will come and do Brixton and I will see how it goes.’ I mean,
it was fucking crazy adrenaline the crowd went metal when I came on, but at that time it just wasn’t the same, it wasn’t fresh for me.
Around the same time I did some remixes for Moby and Dave Gray, but none of it clicked for me. Then around 2010/11 I started producing again but it was a struggle, I had started mixing dance and rock music. The first album we did it was pretty cool, we liked it then started doing some live shows which was pretty cool but there wasn’t enough sort of commitment or direction.
I had gotten into a period where I was doing a lot of collaborations with people, but I felt like I was doing most of the work.
From 2016, is when I felt the music I produced started to click for me. Anything I have done from then I really like it, but anything before that I could easily rip apart.
I got into sampling again and I thought this is where I want to be
I remember when I was in Vietnam doing the Episode festival and everyone was singing along and it just worked for me playing the music that I had written for myself! Then I had Nick come up to me after the gig saying he wanted to sign that track so that was wicked and that’s when I started doing things with Get Hype. It was mainly a Drum and Bass label and they were just like ‘we wanna do some different stuff’ and then I just did what I wanted and was still trying to write stuff to DJ with, and put it into my sets. So yeah, that was a brilliant period.
Mike: And that brings us up to covid?
Leeroy: Yeah, that lasted until last year really, and then Nick was like we are just gonna put the brakes on the label for a bit which was cool. I was preparing an album so from then on
I just looked into the Bandcamp thing, and decided it’s where I am putting out my music right now because I don’t want to deal with record labels.
I just want to write music I can put into my sets that a bit rockier because I include everything and a lot of old school stuff ya know French Kiss by Lil Louie and then I make edits like Grace Jones and Bjork. But some DJs don’t understand my music as I don’t conform.
I feel like rather than people in the music industry helping each other, everyone is backstabbing
People are lost in copying what everyone else does cos it’s whats in at the moment, being an individual gets lost along the way. I mean some of these putting masks on I mean dude you’re a DJ if you wanna be a live act and performer then do it with your own music. It makes me so angry; they think they’re big by playing other people’s music, there is an art to putting it together and watching people and making it work well.
Mike: My sentiments exactly.
Leeroy: I have respect for anyone with whatever makes them happy, whether you want to put a mask on or sing pop songs, but respect other people in the process. So yeah, the last few years have been good for me because
I have just fucked it all off and I do what I wanna do now
I have recently dug out this concept I had 15 years ago, and I thought I wanna do that again. It’s all the sort of music I grew up on and liked. There are 20 tracks on there, it’s only 45 minutes long and goes from Reggae to Hip Hop to Disco and Electro. I mean, it was quite a challenge to mix it and bring it all together, but really happy with it. The whole of last year was about honing skills even though I still have a long way to go with mixing and mastering.
Then, out of that, I picked 4 tunes to extend to include in my DJ mix whenever I wanted to. Then I said ‘fuck it, I will start on another album’, stuff I was going to use for the Get Hype label which was a lot more electronic. It was a little harder to do but still really cool, and that was out in November, and now I am just working on an extended EP from that now really.
Mike: Have you got anything planned for the rest of this year?
Leeroy: I’m hoping when everything smoothes over to move back to England in 8 weeks.
Mike: Your moving back from Berlin?
Leeroy: Yeah, been here a couple of years now and it’s been a great experience, but I wanna get back to England now. I have a lot of contacts at home and would love to do a few online classes with people and help them get started in their music. I mean I don’t wanna be DJing every week, I’m 51 now I have my two albums and my Bandcamp I am grateful for. Even though I only have 450 followers on there, they are great! They love my music and however much money I am making from them I can put into something like merchandising.
I mean Spotify doesn’t give you fuck all with all this happening, and the music industry collapsing you don’t see Spotify or I tunes saying they are gonna up your rate? I mean at the end of the day without music and people, they aren’t gonna get any money.
Mike: Bandcamp did it though, they waved their fee like every first Friday of the month something like that?
Leeroy: It is all this corporate shit you have to battle against. I would rather have nothing than give them my money. To all those people who don’t get why my music is on Bandcamp, rather than Spotify and iTunes, and don’t appreciate that it takes 6 months work from my life then don’t fucking buy it. All these corporates who are taking are not supporting.
So, open up a Bandcamp; it’s a community for musicians. It’s a good place to grow, and the Mixcloud thing is getting stronger and stronger as well!
Mike: At least what you have got on there now is support. People can pay you more than your asking price for your music.
Leeroy: Literally, 40% of people pay more, so yeah I am very confident about what I am doing now because I can do whatever genre in my own way with my sound. But yeah, onward and upwards mate.
Mike: Nice one Leeroy great natter!
Leeroy: Pleasure man!