Some bands just last longer than others. Where some bands ride trends and styles far past the setting sun, others evolve, move on and challenge themselves to become something more. Thrice is one of the latter bands. While they certainly saw their popularity hay-day back in 2003 with the post-hardcore classic The Artist in the Ambulance, it is of no doubt that guitarists Dustin Kensrue and Teppei Teranishi, bassist Eddie Breckenridge and drummer Riley Breckenridge have grown a considerable amount in the records they’ve released since – even if it has resulted in some lost fans along the way.
“Just being creative, pushing ourselves, trying new things and feeling like we’re tied to one particular genre or scene or whatever else, we’re in this to make music and to create and to have fun and challenge ourselves,” says Riley with a sense of accomplishment in his voice. “It’s not about record sales or Billboard chart spots or radio play or anything. And I think that’s a big part of why we’re still going.”
On the heels of their newest full-length Major/Minor, the band is on the last leg of a tour with post-hardcore up-and-comers La Dispute, Moving Mountains and O’ Brother. Though the shows are certainly smaller than the band’s support slot of Thursday after releasing Ambulance, the band is still as passionate and energetic about their craft as they tear through 90-minute sets on each night of this tour. But considering Thrice’s now steep catalog of songs to choose from, it’s become a near science to balance and appease when selecting songs for a set that long.
“We try to take maybe three or four fan favorites from prior records and then the real challenge there is creating a setlist that doesn’t feel too schizophrenic and flows well,” says Riley. “Not only sonically, but we’ve had so many tuning changes over the years, from like E-standard, D-standard, Drop-C, Drop-B, Drop-A, all that stuff. The real challenge is trying to build a setlist that flows so that the guys aren’t doing guitar changes between every song or tuning up or tuning down between every song. Kind of makes us wish we would have stuck with one tuning [laughs].”
But with such a dynamic shift in sound since the band’s inception, it has been a somewhat laughable, yet nearly clockwork-like occurrence of fans requesting a certain song, “Deadbolt,” when Thrice takes the stage – a song they chose not to play this time around. “We played it almost every show since like 2001. Sorry you missed it last tour, or sorry you missed it all 600 times we’ve played it prior. I understand people wanting to hear certain songs, but I don’t necessarily appreciate people yelling “Deadbolt” out in a very mellow part of a song. We’re trying to build atmosphere and there’s some guy in the back that’s like ‘DEADBOLT!’”
Still, the release of Major/Minor has prompted the band to support it heavily on this tour, playing a good chunk of their set in accordance with its release. The reaction to songs like “Yellow Belly,” “Call It in the Air” and “Anthology” was extremely positive during the set, a vibe Riley has been pleasantly surprised by. “I set pretty low expectations for everything, that way I can be pleasantly surprised most of the time,” jokes Riley, though he does point out that “Blur” did not go over as well, leading the band to substitute “Hold Fast Hope” from 2005’s Vheissu in its place.
Major/Minor finds the band in a familiar place in terms of writing. After the highly ambitious Alchemy Index project, the band returned to the group-minded writing style with Beggars, a choice Riley says they enjoyed so much they wanted to get back to that again. “With the electronic stuff [of The Alchemy Index], you’re building songs in Reason and it’s not about jamming. With Beggars, we were excited to get back into being a rock band, and have four of us in the same room playing loud music. I think we had so much fun doing that on Beggars, we wanted to do it again.” The band recorded Major/Minor in a live format, which Riley says made them more prepared and focused in the studio than they ever had been before. “You can build on an energy when all four of us are in the same room or in the studio and there is something to be said for the momentum when you’re recording that way instead of me just playing drums for however many days and then just doing guitars and just doing bass. Everyone feels involved in the process the whole way.”
The deaths of the Breckenridges’ father and Teranishi’s mother, as well as the diagnosis of Kensrue’s father with brain cancer, weighed heavily on the band as they worked on the record. “‘Call It in the Air,’ and I kind of wrote a little bit about it in the liner notes of our vinyl, I feel like the music in that song tells a story; it kind of starts off mellow and hypnotic and dives into some angrier parts, like bursts into these epic choruses. It kind of mirrored a lot of emotions I was having when my dad was sick and then when he passed away, and lyrically I think of “Blur” for the same reason. Dustin built those lyrics off of an email I sent. I took some slow-shutter photos, and the pictures really spoke to me in that they were trying to capture an individual moment but because of the slow shutter speed, you get these light trails and things are blurred. That felt like life to me at the time. We were dealing with so much shit. Teppei’s mom passing away, my dad passing away, Dustin’s dad being diagnosed with brain cancer. All this shit is getting heaped on us, and when you’re dealing with stuff that is that life-changing, it makes it really hard on any one moment.”
Coming out of this though, Riley sees the rewards and fruits of not only pushing through those hardships, but pushing themselves at any given time as musicians. And it has been a particular point for Thrice to give back in whatever way they can, as they have with this tour by having Invisible Children along to gather support for their cause of helping end the war in Uganda. “I just feel really fortunate to be able to do this. I know that there are a lot of people who are less fortunate than we are. The only way to help those people is for people like us, or you or our fans, to get involved. That doesn’t mean you have to donate hundreds of dollars. Small donations will add up. And if you don’t have money, you can donate time or skills and it just seems like the right thing to do. I think by us using what little stage we have to promote the causes we support, hopefully it’ll teach people it’s not that hard to get involved. It’s super easy to turn your back on people who need help.”
It is that drive to do and be more that has carried Riley and the rest of Thrice to this, the band’s thirteenth year making music. And for Riley, that thought is one he is still very much thankful for. “We’ve been lucky to have a core fan base that is really supportive of us with all the stylistic changes we’ve had over the years. It’s been really great to have people who appreciate what we do and have respect for us as musicians and trust that we’ll keep pushing ourselves to make good music.”