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 who’s never heard it before?
Dustin: It’s always been changing but it has roots in punk and hardcore. It’s been, over time, incorporating a lot of stuff from a ton of different genres. At this point it’s like kind of dynamic and versatile rock. I don’t know. There’s a lot of heavy hitting stuff and there’s a lot of melody in there and everything in between – from stuff that’s super mellow at times to things that are really, really heavy.
If you could set one thing on fire, what would it be?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t know. I always think too literally for these questions. Too bad you can’t set fire to ideas.
I’d probably set fire to the 911 Commission Report because it’s a giant pack of lies and omissions.
What’s it like touring with legends of the scene like Alkaline Trio and Rise Against?
We’ve known both of them for awhile. We’ve known Alkaline for a really long time. They’re like friends and peers to us. They’re all awesome guys and great live bands, so it’s definitely a pleasure being out with them. It’s great being out with Gaslight [Anthem], too. They’re a great band. I hadn’t heard them much, hadn’t heard them at all until we knew that they were going to be on this tour. Then, I picked their record up and I’ve 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 we’re two of four on this, and we haven’t done something like that in awhile. It’s 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. It’s really unexpected – especially when you’re earlier on the bill. Sometimes you think it’s going to be a really good reaction, and it’s not. But then, later, it seems like it did something. Sometimes, the total opposite. You think it’s going to be awful and people are just having a great time. We really don’t 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 I’m from California and I feel an affinity with it, I guess.
How important do you feel your art is to your music?
I don’t 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 we’re 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, “Are we changing too quickly for our audience?”
I definitely think we have at times, but, when you’re trying to be true to yourself and what you want to make, that’s a better gauge of how you’re progressing than if people like it or not. I’ve 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 we’re 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 we’ve come from. I’m hoping to try to build a new fort without completely shredding our artistry. We’re 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 we’re into completely different things. We have a lot of core bands that we like together.
It’s 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 we’re just trying to push ourselves and do something different. There’s no right or wrong way that that could have been done. So it’s 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 we’ve made and try to understand why we’ve made that record and where we’re going and why we like it. I think usually those people who’ve been fans before will take that time in appreciating the new records.
Have you ever had a mud facial?
No. I’m not big on massages and stuff like that because I don’t feel like it’s worth the money for me. I buy my wife massages and stuff like that but for me – I don’t need that. I gotta keep that money for something else.
The Alchemy Index is a ball of concepts. There’s the surface concept (man’s 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 it’ll 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 didn’t know what to do with us anymore, and we knew that they didn’t know what to do with us and didn’t 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. We’re really glad we left because he was our dude there. He kind of helped us negotiate getting out of there – 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 wasn’t any bad blood. It was just kind of like, “This doesn’t make sense for either of us anymore.” It was nice that it didn’t get super-messy.
So what’s next for Thrice? Have you guys decided on your direction for the next album? Have you started writing?
We’re in the process of writing. We could write anything, so it’s like, “What should we be writing and what kind of direction does that look like?” I think we’re still figuring that out. It’s definitely not set enough yet to put into any kind of words.
What US city that you’ve visited has the best air? You take a breath and say, “Damn, it feels good to be alive.”
Maybe, like, Seattle. There’s a freshness there. Same with Portland. There’s a freshness and there’s also a damp quality that’s not humid really. I hate humidity. I almost said Denver or something, but I really like the kind of wet, earthy smell. You’ve got the ocean coming in and you have plenty of rain. I like how it smells.