Tilly Birds: Soaring High with Alternative Rock in Thailand’s Music Scene

In the bustling metropolis of Bangkok, where ancient temples and modern skyscrapers coexist, a vibrant music scene thrives. Among the diverse genres that have found their footing in Thailand, alternative rock has carved a niche of its own, resonating with a generation seeking an alternative voice. At the forefront of this movement stands Tilly Birds, a compelling and dynamic band that has captivated audiences with their unique sound and lyrics. With their soaring melodies and powerful performances, Tilly Birds has emerged as a beacon of hope for Thai music enthusiasts. Comprising of Third (Anuroth Ketlekha, lead vocals), Billy (Nutdanai Chuchat, guitars, and keyboards), and Milo (Thuwanon Tantiwattanaworakul, drums, and backing vocals), the band was born out of a desire to bring something new to the mainstream music scene in Thailand.

“Me and Third have known each other for over 10 years already and we started Tilly Birds in 2011. But, it took us another three years to figure out what the plan was going to be and then, at that point, Milo and the other two guys joined Tilly Birds, and that made us a five-piece band,” Billy says when asked about how they began. 

Third, Billy and Milo of Tilly Birds / Image ©  Tilly Birds
Third, Billy and Milo of Tilly Birds / Image ©  Tilly Birds

Although the group started as a quintet, their current lineup consists of Billy, Third, and Milo. The three talented musicians blend influences from various genres, including subgenres of Rock, Pop, and Electronic music, just to name a few, in order to create a distinctive sound that attracts many listeners. As each member has their own distinct music taste, the artists have always looked to find common ground to make Tilly Birds’ music interesting.

“I think we are quite diverse [when it comes to our music taste]. I’m the punk guy,” Billy exclaims, with Third adding: “I listen to a lot of Soul and R&B music. I grew up listening to that music and singing that kind of music as well. Although my [musical taste] is a bit different to [Billy and Milo], we [always] come together and combine our favourite music genres into our music.”

Third says that he finds pleasure in listening to Soul legends like Al Green and Aretha Franklin, and he admits that Brian McKnight is on his playlist as well. Milo, the man behind the drums, on the other hand, says that, although he likes to listen to Hip-hop now, when he was a 10-year-old boy he got his first MP3 player with Thai pop songs downloaded onto it. He adds: “As I was growing up, I tried to learn [how to play] guitar and drums. My music taste evolved as well as [my music skills]. I started to listen to Rock music, even Metal music, because back in high school I had to play drums for a school band,” and with that in mind, Tilly Birds’ music seamlessly weaves together the aforementioned genres, resulting in a sonic landscape that is refreshingly original. 

Tilly Birds have already released a hefty amount of music. In October 2022, the group presented “Can’t Have It All”, followed by the deluxe album, “It’s Gonna Be Ok” to celebrate the first anniversary of the album. And, given the trio have their own individual creative ideas floating around, I ask Third, Billy, and Milo if they have experienced any difficulties while recording the aforementioned releases.

“Of course, we do experience creative differences [when making music], however, we have known each other for a long time, so there’s not much arguing involved,” Third admits, letting Billy add that although the differences exist “we don’t actually like to argue, we like finding a creative solution [together]. It is usually a debate or [I could call it] a structural argument; it is a logical [discussion]. We often ask each other ‘what’s your idea? What should we end up using?’ So yes, we always have that conversation.”

Music has a magical power to transport us to different worlds, stir our emotions, and ignite our imagination. For some, the experience of listening to music goes beyond the auditory realm, as they perceive a vivid visual landscape of colours and shapes accompanying the melodies. This phenomenon, known as synesthesia, reveals a fascinating intersection between the realms of sound and sight. But for the group, it’s just a straightforward process.

“We base our songs on how we want them to be. Milo arranges every song now, composes the melodies, and I write the lyrics. Billy takes care of the production as he is also a producer. And the magical thing about our band is that anyone can start a song. If I have a story for a song, I can present it to the guys, and Billy might come up with a melody and Milo with a composition. And if the song lacks lyrics, I jump on board at the same time. It is kind of our workflow for now,” Third explains.

Third, Billy and Milo of Tilly Birds / Image ©  Tilly Birds
Third, Billy and Milo of Tilly Birds / Image ©  Tilly Birds

Music being a universal language is a concept that has been embraced by people around the world. It suggests that music has the ability to transcend linguistic and cultural barriers, allowing individuals from different backgrounds to connect and communicate through its powerful and emotive qualities. While knowing a foreign language can certainly enhance one’s understanding and appreciation of the lyrics and cultural nuances within a foreign song, it is not a prerequisite for enjoying and deriving meaning from the music itself. Third mainly sings in Thai, but regardless of the language being sung, the melody, rhythm, and tonal qualities, he is able to convey a range of emotions that transcend linguistic barriers. The group’s beautifully composed melodies stir feelings of joy, sadness, nostalgia, or excitement, and the emotional impact of their music is universal. Of course, music is inherently subjective and each listener brings their own unique set of experiences, emotions, and perspectives to the table. To me, what made me interested in Tilly Birds’ music were the melodies and Third’s delivery of them; although I do not understand the language, I can still derive personal meaning from the music. However, with that in mind, will Billy, Third, and Milo try to write an English album?

“We are actually at the end of finishing our first English album! We have been planning this album for a year or two now,” Third exclaims with excitement and then continues, “it is high time to make the English album and present ourselves to the world.”

“But is it a full-length album?” I ask. 

“Yes, that will be a full-length album,” Billy adds. And although they haven’t announced a concrete release date yet, the guys are as excited as I am about their first English album. 

According to Third, Billy and Milo their cultural background plays a significant role in shaping their artistry. Thailand, with its rich cultural heritage and diverse traditions, has a profound influence on the country’s music and musicians.

Reflecting on some key aspects of Thai culture that impact the musicians and their artistic expression, Milo explains: “Ten years ago, Rock music was very popular in Thailand, but nowadays it kind of faded away. We are a band, but most of the time we are seen as an alternative rock band. But on one of our releases we did infuse Thai music with some British rock. We tried to make it more mainstream; we tried to find how Thai people could listen to and enjoy our music. I think, with our first mainstream hit, “Same Page”, we didn’t want to push too hard, it was more of a laid-back release so it could be an easy listen. This fitted well with Thai audiences and our culture.”

Billy adds: “Even before releasing the EP that Milo mentioned before, we did write songs in English. We do have English songs on our discography, for instance, “Like a Dead Man” and “Heart in a Cage”. [A few years ago] we did record English songs, but then we switched to Thai, and since [releasing those songs] we just kept going by singing in Thai. [It is also important to say] that Thai is a tone language, and that limits how we write our melodies; we shape our melodies. You could say that Thai culture is in our songs, and despite the limitation, I think we, especially Milo, still pull off great melodies.”

While recording in Thai might have its limitations, recording in English might open the group’s horizon musically when it comes to sound, simply because English is easier to perform in. 

“It actually does for the melody,” Milo exclaims. “Yes, there is no limitation when [you sing in English]. You can sing a monotone or have a lot of ups and downs. And, lyrically, it opens things up even more. Right now, the Thai music scene really focuses on very repetitive storylines, but English songs are on [another level]. Thailand is still a conservative place,” Billy explains. 

When artists release their music to the public, they can experience a wide range of emotions, whether it is excitement, nervousness or vulnerability, they share a part of themselves at the end of the day. 

“[Releasing music] is like opening our hearts and souls and showing them to the world,” Third confesses candidly. “We feel excited, to be honest, because we never know what each song will do for the listeners, but we simply hope it satisfies their thirst for a bit of Tilly Birds.”

The Thai music scene is slowly getting recognition beyond its own borders, and I ask them what groups and artists they think we should all pay attention to. Third’s recommendation list is very long,  as he says that Polycat, Taitosmith, HYBS, Electric Neon Lamp, Solitude Is Bliss, Landokmai, Mirrr, Yented, Mints, Moderndog, Zweed N’ Roll, MILLI, Joey Phuwasit, Autta, Palmy, Violette Wautier, Bowkylion and Silvy are some of the artists worth giving a listen. 

After discussing Tilly Birds’ artistry, it was time to learn more about Third, Billy, and Milo’s hobbies and the activities that they love to do when having free time to spare. Third loves badminton, watching new films, and collecting action figures, while Billy says: “I like spending most of my time in the gym and on Netflix.” Milo, on the other hand, enjoys working out and exploring Japanese culture through food, toys, and music. 

With Tilly Birds’ upcoming English album debut, the group’s initial plan is to expand their audience’s diversity. Third says, “Our songs have touched their hearts, but we’d love to go around the world and meet them in person! But when it comes to our upcoming events, we’ll be having our first solo concert in Bangkok, Thailand on July 1, 2023.”

Although our conversation was coming to an end, I was very curious about the message they hope to convey through their music. Third says, “There’s more to music than just love songs. 

“The message also lies in the music and the arrangements; if it touches you, that’s it. No need for an in-depth understanding of what our lyrics mean or what the music conveys because the feeling is the most important when it comes to music. That’s why we do what we do every single day and night.”

Tilly Birds’ music holds a significant place in my heart now as the group’s unwavering passion and musical curiosity shine through their artistry. 

Interviewed and written by Maggie Gogler

Music Videos ©  Tilly Birds

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.

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