Fire. Air. Water. Earth. These four classical elements were identified by the Greek philosopher Plato, who believed them to be the basic building blocks of life. Now over 2,000 years later, they are the subjects of an ambitious four-disc undertaking from Thrice.
At first glance, making a rock record centered on the elements doesnít seem like a very natural or obvious venture.
"Originally it was Dustin, our singerís, idea," guitarist Teppei Teranishi explains. "He kind of came up with it randomly, and when he brought it up to us, we thought itíd make a good record."
After expanding their sonic palette on 2005ís Vheissu, which branched out from their punk and metal influences, this step into the unknown required something of a leap of faith.
"At first we were a little apprehensive and werenít sure if we could pull it off," Teranishi confesses. "If we did [do] it, we wanted to do it right."
The band, which also features Biola alumnus Dustin Kensrue on vocals/guitar, as well as brothers Eddie and Riley Breckenridge on bass and drums, initially sat down to talk about what each element would sound like, formulating a basic outline for the project.
Teranishi describes the process as locating "the kind of instruments and sounds which felt earthy to us, or airy or watery or whatever [until] we started to come up with ideas which felt likeÖ okay, this could work for Water or this idea could work for Fire."
The band, which hails from nearby Irvine, opted to stay at home and produce the album themselves, which freed them up to work at a pace of their own choosing.
"We ended up doing everything that had to do with this record ourselves. Even the artwork, Dustin did," Teranishi says. "It was challenging, but it was a good experience."
However, the process wasnít without a bit of strife. While in the midst of the recording sessions, they parted ways with Island Records ó who had released their last two studio albums ó citing "different visions for the bandís future."
The label was generous enough to let them keep their current recordings, and the band would go on to finish the record. Soon after, they signed with Santa Monica based Vagrant Records, a return to their independent roots.
With their epic endeavor now complete, the band chose to spread it out over two distinct phases.
"We felt like the best way to let people grasp the whole breadth of the project was to split it up into two pieces," Teranishi explains. "Itís 24 songs to give people all at once, and especially with something thatís pretty heavily conceptualized like this record, we thought it would be a little too much."
Fans finally received their first taste last month, when The Alchemy Index: Vols. 1 & 2 - Fire & Water hit stores. Teranishi describes Fire as "all heavy and guitar based" with traces of their older material, but it was the Water half which proved to be a big divergence.
Immersed in a collage of electronics, Water "uses a lot of reverb and subtle modulation to make it seem more underwater. A little more muted tone [with] electronic drums," Teranishi says.
The second half of The Alchemy Index, which is set for a spring release, further ventures into unexplored territory. For Earth, this meant adopting a stripped down approach, complete with an array of instruments such as acoustic piano, upright bass, acoustic guitar and even horns.
On the accompanying side, Air brings the concept full circle. Teranishi reveals it to encompass a stripped down quality, as well as electronics and traditional band aspects, and "everything just ties together with all the songs on there."
Aside from their musical pursuits, the band is also active in a number of charities and nonprofit organizations, including Invisible Children and To Write Love On Her Arms.
"Itís just something we want to do, and I think itís a personal decision," Teranishi says, describing the bandís involvements. "I think the reason why we even mention more or less isnít to tell people, ĎHey, look what weíre doing.í Itís more or less to just bring awareness to the causes we think are worth supporting."
Along with their charitable work, Thrice donates a portion from each one of their records to a different cause. Blood: Water Mission, an organization which seeks to promote clean water efforts in Africa, was picked for Fire & Water.
"Clean water is something that I think we all take for granted, especially being in a rich nation, but children and a lot of people in this world donít have it," Teranishi explains. "Itís something thatís very important for health and survival, and we thought it was a pretty cool cause [to be a part of]."
After creating the most expansive effort of their career, what does the future hold for Thrice?
"When we signed to Vagrant, we actually signed for only the two Alchemy Index releases, and then weíre free agents after that. So itís literally up in the air for us," Teranishi admits. "Weíre not really sure what weíre going to do. Weíll seeÖ I guess the music industry is at an interesting point right now."
If The Alchemy Index is any indication, it most certainly is.
The Alchemy Index: Vols. 1 & 2 - Fire & Water is in stores now. For more information, visit www.thrice.net.
This is a phone interview I had the great privilege of conducting with Thrice guitarist Teppei Teranishi. Itís part of an article Iím writing on the band for Biolaís newspaper, which should be coming out later this month.
You guys just released the first half of your album a couple weeks ago, The Alchemy Index, and each disc is centered around one of the four natural elements. How did you guys arrive at that pretty abstract concept?
I guess originally it was Dustin, our singerís, idea. He kind of came up with it just randomly, and when he brought it up to us a while ago, we just kind of thought itíd make a good record. At first, we were a little apprehensive, we just werenít sure if we could pull it off... Just trying to figure out ways to do it. If we did it, we wanted to do it right. So we just kind of talked about it for a while.
At first, we actually decided to do it as almost like a Thrice side projectÖ It still would have been a Thrice release. It wasnít going to be like a traditional record, it was going to be a little more indie. Kind of experimental stuffÖ Less song based. And the more we wrote for it, the more we started to realize we were actually making some pretty cool stuff. I guess along the way we decided to make the record what it is.
How did you go about creating each discís unique sound, and was it hard to get the different styles to feel right?
Yeah, definitely. I guess we sat down first and discussed what we thought each element sounded like to us, and plotted out a basic outline. For Earth, mostly acoustic instruments... The kind of instruments and sounds which felt earthy to us, or airy or watery or whatever. Then we started to come up with ideas which felt likeÖ Okay this idea feels like it could work for Water or this idea could work for Fire.
Then in the recording, we tried to record every element pretty different. With the Water stuff, we used a lot of reverb and subtle modulation to make it seem a little more underwater. A little more muted tone, electronic drumsÖ Stuff like that. Fire obviously is all pretty heavy and guitar based.
Like I was saying with Earth and Air, which are coming out next year, Earth is all strippedÖ I guess just getting a lot of acoustic instruments, like acoustic piano, upright bass, acoustic guitar, even horn. Air is kind of the most in the middle of all the elements. I think thereís some stuff on there a little stripped. Thereís stuff on there thatís electronic. Thereís stuff on there thatís traditional band, like guitar, bass, drumsÖ I guess everything all just ties together with all the songs on there.
Just kind of a combination of all of them.
Yeah, that makes sense. [Laughs.]
You guys decided to produce this yourselves and were essentially just working at your own pace. How did this come about to affect the creative process?
I thought it was really cool. We pretty much ended up doing everything that had to do with this record ourselvesÖ Even the artwork Dustin did. I think it just gives you kind of the ultimate creative controlÖ You know what I mean? We were in control of everything about this record, and it was fun. It was nice. It was challenging, but it was a good experience.
You were the main producer right?
Yeah, I engineered the record and was in charge of basically recording it.
Did you find it difficult to handle both that producing aspect and the writing stuff?
Yeah, definitely. Itís hard because you have to have your head in two different places at the same time. While Iím worrying about writing stuff and doing songs, Iím also worried about how to record it, get it on tape and get it to sound good. Itís definitely challenging, but itís also fun. I really enjoy recording, and itís something I want to keep doing. So I definitely enjoyed it.
You produced Please Come Home (Dustinís solo record) too right?
So this is something you can see yourself getting more into in the future?
Yeah, definitely. I like it a lot. Itís fun.
The Alchemy Indexwas originally the title for your guysí website while you were writing the album. Was it always the plan for it to be the final title?
Yeah, pretty much. I think by the time we ended up making that journal page, we were pretty sure that was going to be the title. But it wasnít 100% set in stone.
The whole project is split up over two releases. Was this your decision or the labelís?
It was our decision. I guess ironically we felt like the best way to let people grasp the whole breadth of the project was to split it up into two pieces. Itís 24 songs to give people all at once, especially something thatís pretty heavily conceptualized like this record, and we thought it would be a little too much. We wanted people to take their time with each record and really grasp each one, and we thought the best way to do that was to split it up in two releases.
One of the things I most admire about your band is how you support a number of charities and different causes. You donate a portion of the proceeds from each record to a different organization, and the one for Fire & Water is Blood: Water Mission. What are they all about, and what made you pick them?
Theyíre an organization that raises money to go to Africa to go build wells in communities. Clean water is something that I think we all take for granted, especially being in a rich nation, but children and a lot of people in this world donít have it. Itís something thatís very important for health and survival, and we thought it was a pretty cool cause.
We like the way they do things. They go into communities and instead of just erecting a big building and kind of westernizing the society, they try to integrate themselves into the communityÖ They help do sustainable wells that will be dug by the people and run by the people. They also collect clean blood for blood transfusions and whatnot.
Having been blessed with your musical success and the fan base and influence that comes along with that, do you feel somewhat responsible to get involved with things like this?
I donít think it has to do with being in a band or anything like that. Itís just something that I think weíd be doing even if we werenít in a band, or in some other type of public place. Itís just something we want to do, and I think itís a personal decisionÖ I think the reason why we even mention more or less isnít to tell people, "Hey, look what weíre doing." Itís more or less to just bring awareness to the causes we think are worth supporting.
Howís the new tour going? Is the new stuff getting a good reaction?
Yeah, itís been awesome. Itís been a lot of fun, and the shows have been cool. All the bands on the tour are super rad, and all the people on the tour are super rad. So weíre having a really good time.
After the tourís finished, whatís next? Are you going to be doing a headlining tour any time soon?
Weíre trying to figure that out. I think the rough plan is to release the next record sometime in the spring, and then do a headlining tour after we release the record.
The whole Radiohead thing from last month got a lot of people talking about the future of the music industry and the role of major labels. Now that youíre back on an indie, where do you think music is heading, and how do you see Thrice fitting into that spectrum?
I donít know. Itís hard to tell. When we signed to Vagrant we actually signed for only the two Alchemy Index releases, and then weíre free agents after that. So itís literally up in the air for us. Weíre not really sure what weíre going to do. Weíll seeÖ I guess the music industry is at an interesting point right now.
Can you see the band releasing something yourselves without a label?
Yeah, I think thatís definitely something that at least weíre considering in the future.