The The are an English musical and multimedia group that have been active in various forms since 1979, with singer/songwriter/frontman Matt Johnson being the only constant band member. Releases are fairly few and far between for the band, but over the years The The have sold several million albums internationally and achieved critical acclaim — their 1983 album Soul Mining was voted the third best album of the year by British music magazine Melody Maker. This album featured the song "Uncertain Smile", which at one point was voted the third greatest song ever by Australian Triple J radio listeners.
Since 2007, The The have enjoyed a small surge of attention in the United States thanks to an M&M's advertising campaign, which has been using the band's song "This is the Day" as its theme music.
In November 1977 Matt Johnson placed an advertisement in the NME 1977, asking for 'Bass/lead guitarist into Velvets/Syd Barrett'. Johnson later placed a second advert in the NME, stating his new influences as 'The Residents/Throbbing Gristle'.
Finally, The The made their debut as a trio at London's Africa Centre on 11 May 1979, third on the bill to Scritti Politti and PragVEC, using backing tape tracks for the drums and bass. The band at this point consisted of Johnson on vocal and guitar, Keith Laws on synths\tapes, and guitarist\violinist Peter Fenton-Jones (who would quickly drop out of the group).
As The The was getting underway, Matt Johnson was simultaneously working with experimental synth-pop combo The Gadgets, and would contribute to two albums this group released in 1980. As well, Johnson recorded two solo demo tapes in 1978/79, one of which (See Without Being Seen) was sold at gigs; the other (Spirits) is apparently unreleased in any form.
Peter Ashworth, then known as Triash, became The The's drummer in 1980, and Tom Johnston was added on bass. The band, now a quartet, issued a single ("Controversial Subject"/Black and White") on 4AD Records. Johnston and Ashworth would then drop out of the band, although Ashworth (using his real name) would move onto a decades-long career as a photographer and designer for numerous bands — amongst them, The The. Tom Johnston, meanwhile, pursued his career as cartoonist for the Sun newspaper.
As a duo (Johnson and Laws), The The began playing shows with some of that era's most influential groups: Wire, Cabaret Voltaire, DAF, This Heat, The Birthday Party and Scritti Politti. In 1981, Johnson issued a solo album on 4AD called Burning Blue Soul; years later, it would be re-issued and credited to The The.
In September 1981, the duo inked a deal with Some Bizzare Records, and released the 7" single "Cold Spell Ahead". Shortly thereafter, Laws left and the only member of The The was Johnson.
The band's next single was an early version of "Uncertain Smile" produced by Mike Thorne; it reached #68 UK. This version is very different from the perhaps now more-familiar album version, and features sax and flute by session player Crispin Cioe rather than (as on the album version) the piano of sessioneer Jools Holland. Former member Laws appeared on one b-side track of the 12".
In 1982, the intended debut album by The The (The Pornography of Despair) was recorded, but was never officially released. Johnson apparently ran off some cassette copies for friends, and several tracks have been re-recorded or issued as B-sides, but the album remains unissued, and (according to Johnson) is likely to remain so.
Instead, in 1983 The The released their official album debut, the synth-noir classic Soul Mining. It featured the minor UK #71 hit "This Is The Day", as well as a new recording of "Uncertain Smile".
During The The's more prolific period of releases, from Soul Mining (1983) to Dusk (1992), most artwork used on the albums and single releases was produced by Matt Johnson's brother Andrew Johnson. The artwork has a distinctive style, and sometimes courted controversy, most notably the initial release of the 1986 single "Infected" which was withdrawn from sale and re-issued with an edited version of the cover art.
For the 1986 album "Infected", The The still only consisted of Johnson, augmented by session musicians. This album spawned four charting singles in the UK, notably Heartland which made the UK Top 30.
By 1989, The The was an actual band again, Johnson having recruited ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, ex-Nick Lowe bassist James Eller and ex-ABC drummer David Palmer as full fledged members. This line-up recorded the album Mind Bomb, which featured the band's highest charting single to that time, "The Beat(en) Generation", which peaked at #18 UK.
Adding keyboardist/guitarist D.C. Collard to the official line-up in 1989, the band embarked on a world tour in 1989/90, and issued the 1990 studio EP Shades of Blue. This and a later EP of remixes, 1993's Dis-infected, were compiled into a 1994 full length album for the North American market called Solitude.
In 1993, the five-piece line-up issued the album "Dusk", which spun off three top forty singles in the UK, led by "Dogs of Lust". A world tour followed, at which point the band's line-up was reshuffled; Marr and Eller left, and were replaced by guitarist Keith Joyner and bassist Jared Nickerson, respectively. Also added was harmonica player Jim Fitting. Palmer bowed out partway through the tour and was replaced by new drummer Andy Kubiszewski.
The band's next project was 1995's "Hanky Panky", an album that consisted entirely of Hank Williams cover tunes. Hanky Panky was recorded by a new group consisting of Johnson, Collard, Fitting, guitarist Eric Schermerhorn, bass guitarist Gail Ann Dorsey (billed as "Hollywood" Dorsey), and drummer "Reverend" Brian MacLeod. Their cover version of "I Saw The Light" hit #31 UK.
A 1997 album called "Gun Sluts" was apparently recorded but left unreleased by the band after it was rejected by their label. The band then ended their relationship with Sony, moving to Interscope.
In 2000, The The, now conisisting of Johnson, Schermerhorn, bassist Spencer Campbell and drummer Earl Harvin, released "NakedSelf", the band's final new studio album to date. This same line-up also recorded two new tracks for the 2002 compilation 45 RPM: The Singles of The The.
In June 2002, The The made a single live appearance at the Meltdown Festival in London. At this point, the band consisted solely of Johnson, with guests J.G. Thirlwell on tapes and loops, and Benn Northover on film and video . This is the last live performance by The The to date; Johnson has stated on the official The The website that there are no plans for The The (or Matt Johnson) to appear live on stage again .
In May 2007, The The released a new download-only single on their website. Entitled "Mrs. Mac", the song was about Johnson's first day of school as a child. All instruments and vocals on the track were performed by Johnson.
A press release was issued along with the track, announcing a forthcoming The The album called "The End of the Day" with guest appearances by Elysian Fields, J.G. Thirlwell, Thomas Leer, Rob Ellis, Anna Domino, and others. To date, the album remains unreleased.
Matt Johnson is the only consistent member of The The. As well, from 1983–1988 (and again from 2002–present) he was the only official member of The The.
Official band members have been:
Matt Johnson – vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass guitar, harmonica
Keith Laws – keyboards (1979-1982). He is now a Professor of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire.
Tom Johnston – guitars (1979-1980)
Triash (a.k.a. Peter Ashworth) – drums, percussion (1980)
Johnny Marr – guitars and harmonica (1988-1994)
James Eller – bass guitar (1988-1994)
David Palmer – drums (1988-1994)
D.C. Collard – keyboards (1990–1997)
Eric Schermerhorn – guitars (1995-2002)
Gail Ann "Hollywood" Dorsey – bass (1994-1996)
"Reverend" Brian MacLeod – drums (1994-1997)
Jim Fitting – harmonica (1993-1995)
Spencer Campbell – bass (1999-2002)
Earl Harvin – drums (1999-2002)