Fresh off their quadruple EP concept album, The Alchemy Index, California-bred Thrice like to keep things interesting. Currently touring the country with punk superstars Rise Against and Alkaline Trio, Thrice has built a core fan-base as pioneers of the contemporary hardcore and punk scenes, blending elements of metal, pop-punk, folk, electronic and classic rock to formulate a melting pot of aural goodness. IBreathetheUnderground caught up with front man Dustin Kensrue before Thrice took the stage at the Congress Theater this month in Chicago.
IBreathetheUndergroud: How would you describe your music to someone whoís never heard it before?
Dustin: Itís always been changing but it has roots in punk and hardcore. Itís been, over time, incorporating a lot of stuff from a ton of different genres. At this point itís like kind of dynamic and versatile rock. I donít know. Thereís a lot of heavy hitting stuff and thereís a lot of melody in there and everything in between Ė from stuff thatís super mellow at times to things that are really, really heavy.
If you could set one thing on fire, what would it be?
Thatís an interesting question. I donít know. I always think too literally for these questions. Too bad you canít set fire to ideas.
Iíd probably set fire to the 911 Commission Report because itís a giant pack of lies and omissions.
Whatís it like touring with legends of the scene like Alkaline Trio and Rise Against?
Weíve known both of them for awhile. Weíve known Alkaline for a really long time. Theyíre like friends and peers to us. Theyíre all awesome guys and great live bands, so itís definitely a pleasure being out with them. Itís great being out with Gaslight [Anthem], too. Theyíre a great band. I hadnít heard them much, hadnít heard them at all until we knew that they were going to be on this tour. Then, I picked their record up and Iíve been digging that quite a bit. What are your preconceptions prior to the first of a two-show homestead for both headliners, especially in a town that takes so much pride in its hometown legends like Chicago?
Our outlook on this whole tour is weíre two of four on this, and we havenít done something like that in awhile. Itís been a lot of fun. You have to earn it, you know, and just go out there and play hard for forty minutes. Play for the people that are there to see you and play for the people who have never seen you before. You can never see how a show is going to go. Itís really unexpected Ė especially when youíre earlier on the bill. Sometimes you think itís going to be a really good reaction, and itís not. But then, later, it seems like it did something. Sometimes, the total opposite. You think itís going to be awful and people are just having a great time. We really donít think a whole lot about that kind of stuff. We just go out there and play.
What is your favorite body of water?
I would have to say the Pacific Ocean because Iím from California and I feel an affinity with it, I guess.
How important do you feel your art is to your music?
I donít differentiate our music from art. I see art as being a pretty broad concept and I feel like the aspects of the music and the aspects of our lyrics and whatever [album] design weíre doing is all speaking to and coming from some other place. If you talk about the contrast between art and a consumer product, I think we try to focus on it as art and not as a product.
Musical evolution is a key component to creating a successful legacy for your act, and Thrice has certainly done its part to move forward sonically. Do you ever step back and think, ďAre we changing too quickly for our audience?Ē
I definitely think we have at times, but, when youíre trying to be true to yourself and what you want to make, thatís a better gauge of how youíre progressing than if people like it or not. Iíve been thinking about this a lot, this issue, and what it means for us to even be making music at this point, ten years in, and what our band is. When weíre writing a record, it could one of a million places, you know? Especially at this point, after The Alchemy Index. I was just thinking that what makes us who we are is not just who we are as people now, together playing music, but where weíve come from. Iím hoping to try to build a new fort without completely shredding our artistry. Weíre trying to do what we can do best and better than anyone else, the places we can go that maybe no one else would go. We all just love different kinds of music. More and more everyday weíre into completely different things. We have a lot of core bands that we like together.
Itís a weird dynamic. I definitely feel like we alienated a lot of fans at certain points. But I do feel like a ton of people really appreciate the fact that weíre just trying to push ourselves and do something different. Thereís no right or wrong way that that could have been done. So itís just more opinion if people want to hang out or not. I definitely appreciate people that take the time to just listen to the records that weíve made and try to understand why weíve made that record and where weíre going and why we like it. I think usually those people whoíve been fans before will take that time in appreciating the new records.
Have you ever had a mud facial?
No. Iím not big on massages and stuff like that because I donít feel like itís worth the money for me. I buy my wife massages and stuff like that but for me Ė I donít need that. I gotta keep that money for something else.
The Alchemy Index is a ball of concepts. Thereís the surface concept (manís relationship with the elements as depicted lyrically), but more important is the deeper idea behind the quadruple EP, revolving around the elements that make up Thrice as a band. Having broken it down, do you feel like itíll be easier for you to fuse these elements to perfection on the next album?
No, I think it probably makes it harder in a certain way, but I do think it was good for us as an exercise and even just to clear our heads and be able to refocus now on where we could or should be heading. I feel like its good in that sense as something we needed to do.
What prompted you guys to break with Island [Records] and how did you choose Vagrant as the next step?
The Island thing was pretty mutual. They didnít know what to do with us anymore, and we knew that they didnít know what to do with us and didnít really want to invest in the band anymore. Most of the people we had worked with over there had gone at that point. The music industry is just shuffling all the time, especially with the majors. They balked when they heard the majority of the record and our A&R guy at the time actually had to leave after we left. Weíre really glad we left because he was our dude there. He kind of helped us negotiate getting out of there Ė Island saving a bunch of money and us getting to keep the record that we worked so hard on. I feel like it worked out better for everyone. There wasnít any bad blood. It was just kind of like, ďThis doesnít make sense for either of us anymore.Ē It was nice that it didnít get super-messy.
So whatís next for Thrice? Have you guys decided on your direction for the next album? Have you started writing?
Weíre in the process of writing. We could write anything, so itís like, ďWhat should we be writing and what kind of direction does that look like?Ē I think weíre still figuring that out. Itís definitely not set enough yet to put into any kind of words.
What US city that youíve visited has the best air? You take a breath and say, ďDamn, it feels good to be alive.Ē
Maybe, like, Seattle. Thereís a freshness there. Same with Portland. Thereís a freshness and thereís also a damp quality thatís not humid really. I hate humidity. I almost said Denver or something, but I really like the kind of wet, earthy smell. Youíve got the ocean coming in and you have plenty of rain. I like how it smells.
Ladies and gentleman, Chicago natives Rise Against have finally avenged the creation and subsequent release of 2004's near-miss Siren Song of the Counter Culture with this week's drop: Appeal to Reason.
It's kind of hard to put my thumb on exactly what gives this album perfect timing. It's not a direct response to SSOTCC like 2006's The Sufferer and the Witness, which was spectacular in it's own right and instrumental in positioning RA as the new reigning punk rock champions. But it's not exactly a step deeper into the existing boundaries of mainstream pop-sensible music. It's more of a statement that defines new boundaries for the norm of the music scene; it's an album so confident and brimming with emotion that even the most outspoken punk rock skeptics can't ignore.
The one thing that's clear: this bands revolves around Tim McIlrath's overpowering vocals and ideologies. Don't get me wrong; Joe Principe's bass guitar has been a significant factor in the success of this band. There's a lot to be said for the rest of the band, too (even though the other spots have been revolving doors over the band's nine-year career). But McIlrath is the life-force.
Reviews of ATR have generously likened RA to a more generation-conscious Bad Religion, which I find to be a satisfying comparison. I just have a few comments on this; for one, the lyrics are socially-charged and active (a Bad Religion recipe for success), in high contrast to the blatant finger-pointing of 90s political punkers like NoFX and Anti-Flag. The vocals are a major driving factor for both bands, and the songs are chock-full of poppy hooks and anthematic choruses. But the real diverting factor between these two bands: Bad Religion's music is formulaic, static, and has withstood the test of time, while Rise Against continues to prod into unknown territory, thrusting themselves forward through the preconceptions that surround punk rock.
This band is not afraid to push the limits. Five full-lengths through, I doubt they've even reached their halfway point.
So why the comparison to SSOTCC? Well, for one, ATR just feels like the production quality is eliminating some of the rawness of previous recordings. SSOTCC was afraid to go there, and you could hear it. Somehow, TSATW was catalyst enough to show RA what needed to be done before they could make their unique punk style work for them in the studio without directly selling the rawness and energy of the live show. Rather, they're selling quality, precision, and evolution in this recording and saving the live show for the real fans.
They had to go and do a radio-friendly single -- "Re-Education (Through Labor)" -- just to piss me off. The video (which was apparently filmed in the basement of the Chicago-favorite Congress Theater) captures the band's determination perfectly. I wanted to post it above, but apparently Universal Group doesn't like getting their shit pimped, as they've disabled embedding. Check it out here instead.
"Spin out of control / Spin out of control / Try to recover, but collide with each other / We spin out of control."
- Tim McIlrath, "Kotov Syndrome"