Riley Breckenridge of Thrice: "We Like to Think of Music as More an Art Form Than a Product."
For nearly 15 years, California's Thrice has been one of the more intriguing alternative rock bands going. With an attitude of constant growth, the four-piece has incorporated elements of punk, metal and electronica into their heady and literate stew.
Thrice's highwater mark would have to be The Alchemy Index Volumes I through IV. Released in 2007 and 2008, this four-album set that represents each of the four classical elements was so ambitious that it actually got the band kicked off of Island Records. The band's most recent effort, Major/Minor, is seen by some as a return to the more guitar-centered sound of their earlier efforts.
Speaking from his home in Irvine and in anticipation of tonight's show at The Door, drummer Riley Breckenridge was happy to talk to DC9 about Thrice's ever-evolving sound.
Some reviews have mentioned that your new album, Major/Minor, is a darker, more guitar-driven record. Do you agree?
I think, in a way. Maybe not the darkness thing. I think the darkness kind of came as a result of some stuff that was going on in all of our personal lives. As far as it being guitar-driven, we kind of set out from the beginning to make a nasty, in-your-face rock record. We had a great time recording Beggars, the album prior to this new one. Just being in the same room together, jamming ideas out, when it came time to make Major/Minor, we just wanted to build on the momentum of Beggars. We were in our little studio banging out nasty, aggressive rock songs.
The band has changed stylistically each album. Does that mean your fan base has to be especially dedicated?
Yes, we are really, really lucky and grateful that our fan base has evolved with us. All four of us are part of the writing process and bring ideas to the table. We all have a variety of different influences and we try to incorporate those influences in what we do as a collective. I think that it's kind of natural for our sound to evolve. We are lucky that people have grown with us. They know that we are going to put out a record that is honest and comes from a good place. We've definitely lost fans along the way, people who only liked the punk and metal side of the band. We had to show people that we are more than just a hardcore-influenced band.
Is this evolution in your sound the reason why you parted ways with Island Records?
Yes, I think so. They kind of wanted the same things all major labeled want. They really didn't know what to do with us. Big labels are not career-oriented. They want the big single. We've always been much more into pushing ourselves creatively. We like to think about albums rather than hits. We didn't see eye to eye with what Island wanted. We parted amicably. Vagrant has been much more receptive to what the band's goals are. It's a lot easier to get things done on a small label.
Your 2007 release, The Alchemy Index, was a very ambitious project. Is it possible that the band is too ambitious for its own good?
That record came from an honest place. We just wanted to do something different, spread our wings a bit and try stuff that we hadn't tried before. Ultimately, that was the record that got us dropped from Island. I think we understood that while we were making it. We knew that we were doing something ambitious and that it was probably going to be a hard sell for Island. But it was what we truly wanted to do at the time. We had to follow our guts. That's what we have always done since we started. We trust our creativity and like to think of music as more an art form than a product.
Is every album a truly collaborative project utilizing all four members of the band?
Yes. When we are touring or when we have a little time off, everyone works on their own and stockpiles their ideas. When it comes to actually recording a new album, we all bring in our iPods or our hard drives and sit in a room and play them and critique them and talk about what we can do to make them better and what parts would work best together. It might not be the best way to make a record, but somehow it works out for us.
There are a lot literary references in your music. Do you think your audience gets some of the more obscure references?
I think there are some fans that do not, but [frontman] Dustin [Kensrue] is a huge reader. He's always got his face buried in a book. He sings about what is important to him and what is moving him at that time. A lot of time, that is the literature that he is reading. Hopefully, some of our fans have read some classic pieces of literature. It's OK if they don't know it. I hope people discover some really cool books by listening to our music.
The band is involved in numerous charities. Wouldn't it be nice if every band were so charitable?
Yes, it definitely would be. The first label we signed with, Greenflag Records, the whole idea behind that label was using their bands to promote social awareness and get people involved in charity and showing people that you don't have to be a billionaire to create positive change in someone's life. If you can get enough people behind an idea, you can make a big change. We realize how fortunate we are to be able to do this for a living. To be able to share some of that good fortune seems like the right thing to do. It's not like it's a difficult thing to do. By us getting involved in it, we can show our fans that there are a lot of people who need help.
Whose idea was it to cover "Helter Skelter"?
We are all big Beatles fans. We know that covering the Beatles can be dicey territory. It is a really fun song for us to play. The song fits well with the stuff we were doing on Beggars. The timing seemed right and we were having a blast playing it live. We recorded it and it got picked up by a video game called Red Faction. This band is all about trying new things, and covering that song is part of that.
Thrice performs with La Dispute, Moving Mountains and O'Brother tonight, October 3, at The Door.