It's certainly been quite a year for Thrice. Each member has experienced tragedy in their family lives that has forced tour cancellations several times while out promoting Beggars. For a band whose music is inspiration to so many, I recently spoke with drummer Riley Breckenridge about reflecting on their own hopeful music in a time when the creators seem to need it the most.
What's been the mood for the past few months? I think the initial question we all have as Thrice fans is "How are you guys feeling right now?"
I think, given the serious nature of the situation, everyone is doing pretty well. I think we're blessed to be able to do this, and grateful our families are in a place where they're comfortable with us being gone. With something like cancer, you never know when you're going to get a phone call. As a touring musician, that's one of my biggest fears is getting that call. It's awesome to be out and travel and tour and being away from home and get to experience all this stuff on the road. You're always worried about something happening at home. For us to keep getting calls on the road that would qualify as that call, it was really rough. We're all hoping for the best. We're trying to make each day count here, because we know how quickly it can be taken away from us. We're just happy to be out here; happy to be playing music; happy that Dustin's dad is in stable condition. He's undergoing radiation right now. It's kind of like a day to day thing. Like my dad, he's on the mend, trying to build his strength back up after a crazy surgery.
I'm not sure if ironic is the word I'm looking for here, but I think as a Thrice fan that follows the reflection that many fans have on your music and the way that people have said that your music helps better their lives, what do you think about being in these situations now and how that may or may not imitate life?
I don't know if ironic is the right word too. I have trouble finding a suitable replacement for that word I guess. The crazy thing to me is that based on the lyrics that Dustin has written over the years and the topics he has touched on, I think it's fairly obvious that we understood how important it is to be grateful for things. It's weird because the situation that's been going on for the last eight or nine months with everyone's illnesses and Teppei's mother passing away, it's like a reminder, but I didn't really feel we needed a reminder. I guess in the grand scheme of things, you don't get to choose whether you need a reminder or not. I guess you just process it and try to understand what those moments are used for. I don't know. It's a hard thing to quantify and put into words. At the core of it, I don't think anyone needs a reminder of how fragile life is. I lost three of my friends when I was nineteen years old in a single car accident. That kind of flipped my life on its head. That's kind of stuck with me for years. That kind of drove home how precious life really is at such a young age. It's where I think most of us think we're kind of invincible at eighteen-nineteen. To have this happen now, I'm trying to find a way to wrap my head around it and understand what it means. To see that happen to Teppei, and then to be in the situation with Ed and our dad, and then just months later to have it happen to Dustin, it was like, "Alright, I get it already." It's been a rough run.
Does it feel better getting back into things on the road? Do you think being in the situation brings a new light to those songs? Especially with albums like Beggars and Vheissu? Do you feel like there's a new purpose to going out there and playing those songs every night.
Yeah, especially with Beggars since we recorded them and wrote them so much with the live performance in mind. I think they've grown more with the live setting. We've been closing with "Beggars" as an encore for the whole tour. I find myself, every once in a while, really listening to Dustin's lyrics and letting them sink in. Playing that outro is the most cathartic and great release of tension. I guess, yes, to answer your question, they have taken on new meaning.
I wanted to talk a bit about Beggars. It seemed like you guys took the best elements of The Alchemy Index and moved forward with those. Was their any separation between the two, or was Beggars just another clean slate?
Because the Alchemy Index was such a fractured project by nature, we, on purpose, pushed things in certain directions. I think we learned a lot. We learned about things we could do as a band and things we shouldn't do as a band. It was really risky. It was a total experiment on the band's part. We learned so much, not only in writing, but in arranging things and different kinds of instrumentation and recording those styles as well. When it came time to make Beggars, we definitely wanted to make it a more cohesive effort, building on things we learned from Alchemy, but taking it back to our roots: bass, guitar, drums, keys when necessary and vocals. Just strip it down and get things back to our practice space. [We wanted to] just feed off the energy of being in a room with each other. I don't think it was a fresh slate. I think every record is building on past experience and taking the best experiences and kind of pushing them forward into the headspace at that moment.
Essentially by pushing out each idea and tearing it apart, things have imploded and stripped away bare on Beggars?
I think so. Yeah. With a song, let's say "Circles" from Beggars, which came about from three separate parts I had written in Logic and some in Reason, I feel like if we would have done it for the Water EP, we would have pushed it into more of an electronic route and we wouldn't have allowed it to become what it has become on Beggars - which is a full band playing it with guitars being part of the arrangement. Not having that kind of preset of guidelines for what a song could and couldn't be, it was like whatever happened as we were trying to jam these ideas out....It's just about being a band again and playing live.
What do you think it says about Thrice fans to push yourself in the direction you guys have and still maintain a loyal fan base, even with the initial leak of the album? What do you think that speaks of the legacy of Thrice at this point?
I think it's a testament of our fan base. Stylistically we've kind of changed so much over the twelve years that we've been a band. To have people that are so loyal and have stood by us as we've grown and kind of grown with us, is something we are all really grateful for. So many bands, they make the slightest stylistic jump at all, there seems to be masses and masses of people that jump ship and that ends up being the end of that band. We've been lucky. We've lost a fair amount of fans along the way, but there's such a dedicated core of people that appreciate our music and appreciate what we do. We're going to continue to try new things and continue to grow. I know that we're all so grateful. I know it's the reason we continue to do this thing and continue to do this for twelve years now.
Speaking of fans, interestingly enough I just saw mewithoutYou, and during their encore, Aaron came out and said something along the lines of "an understanding" of not playing older songs, but still played "Bullet to Binary." I've been to quite a few Thrice shows, and there's always these fans rallying for older material whether it's for nostalgic reasons or liking certain material over others. What are some of your thoughts on that?
In regards to playing older material, at times when people really want to hear us play older stuff and the majority of older stuff, aren't really understanding what year it is and what's happened in the years since those old records came out. The Illusion of Safety came out eight years ago. We used to tour ten months out of the year. We would play those songs at every single show. Those are songs that are continued to be played six or seven years later at every show. For people to get pissed off that they're not hearing them now on one tour, we have six or seven full lengths now? Probably over 100 songs to choose from? You only have time to play nineteen or twenty a night. It's really hard to make a set list. It's really hard. You're on tour in support of a new record, obviously you want to showcase. You have multiple albums that you can play and people want to hear. In 2010, if you make a quarter of your set list from a record from 2002, that's not necessarily the smartest move if you want to preserve the longevity of your band. You can write an essay on how or why to play songs...
I think it is interesting it's the same at almost every show, especially with Thrice, that it's constant. What sort of head space does that put you in?
Last night, we were just about to play "Circles," and there was this segway between the last song, trying to build this mood for a song we all really like. While we were building that atmosphere, there were people yelling out "Deadbolt!" or "Play old shit!" or something like that. To do that seems really self centered, like we're a band just playing a show for that guy, and it kind of ruins the vibe. I think Dustin stopped and said something like, "Yo, we played that song at every show for eight years." We're giving it a break and rest. That's not to say we'll never play it again. We've pulled out "To Awake and Avenge the Dead" on this tour, which seems to be going over well. It ruins the vibe in certain instances. If everyone is being loud and it's a loud show or something and you want to yell out a song, that's fine. To make that moment about you and just yell out a song at a really mellow part in another song - that's got to be ruining the vibe for a couple hundred other fans. Maybe I don't understand it because I don't go to shows and yell out requests. I'm just there to see a show and just kind of soak it in. It's a hard question to answer. Everyone has different motives for yelling out song requests. Some people want to hear the song. Some people think it's funny. It's hard to address individual hecklers without making it seem like addressing a very broad group of people.
To go back where we began here, on life reflecting art, it seems that Thrice has been quite an allusion band taking influences from other forms of art. Do you think, going into writing future material, it will reflect more on the past year for you guys as opposed to the referencing writing style Thrice approaches?
It's a tough question for me to answer, because I don't write the lyrics. That's Dustin's thing. I'm sure they'll reflect what he's inspired by at the moment, whether it is other forms of art, stuff he's reading, other stuff that's inspiring him. I'm probably interested, just as any Thrice fan would be, about what we've gone through as a band and individually as families, forms the next record and takes influence in Dustin's lyrics. Ultimately that's up to him and how much he wants to let out. Those experiences will definitely have a hand in the music I write....I don't think you can go through something like that and have it not be reflected in your artistic output if you're coming from an honest place. I'm a fan of his lyrics and a fan of his writing.
Well, not just in Dustin's lyrics, but will this mood reflect on the band's overall sound?
I think so. The other guys always tell me that the parts I end up bringing to the table when we're writing a record are fairly dark. I don't consider myself a dark person. I think going through something that we've gone through, you might think the reaction to that is to create darker pieces of music. The other thing is that to see my dad deal with what he has had to deal with has put a lot of hope in me. It's less about being angry and frustrated by the situation puts a lot of hope in that. Just to see the shit he's gone through so resiliently. The loss of weight and giant pieces of your face and neck cut off - it's absolutely fucking mind-blowing to me to watch him and see how strong he is. When you're a kid, you're always looking at athletes or movie stars or musicians to be a hero, now I'm 35 years old and just realizing my dad is my hero. It's been a hell of time. It's put a lot of hope in me and a lot of gratitude. We're so lucky to have what we have and be who we are. That's something that will stick with me forever.
Spectacular interview. Really feel for these guys and what they've been through this year, and it's amazing to see a band focus on their integrity and attention to detail regardless of what people want to hear.
Love this band, and I'm SO happy to hear they're going to be writing a new album. With a band as old as Thrice, I worry every time they release a new album that it will be their last. These guys can do no wrong in my mind.
I can't begin to know how annoying it could be to constantly have people shouting out requests for one particular song. Especially when it's a song I don't particularly see how they could cut one of the newer songs for it. The newer songs are a million times better.
Great interview. Always enjoy hearing what the guys in Thrice have to say.
I loved seeing their last tour. They played songs I never expected to hear, plus ones I was hoping to hear, like a good chunk of Beggars. I was also glad they left out Deadbolt, hopefully when they go back to playing it some of the intensity will return to the song, as over the years its gotten a bit..... uninspired live.