A dozen years into its career, Thrice is still evolving. Following 2005’s experimental/atmospheric Vheissu and four-part concept album The Alchemy Index Vols. I & II (2007) and Vols. III & IV (2008), the California quartet—vocalist/guitarist Dustin Kensrue, guitarist/engineer Teppei Teranishi and Breckenridge brothers Eddie (bass) and Riley (drums)—has issued the edgier, hard-rock-leaning Beggars (Vagrant). On paper, such a description might make you believe the LP is a return to the post-hardcore days of Thrice’s first three albums, though Beggars is far more mature and varied than that. Unfortunately, the record was leaked in July, forcing the band to change the release date and marketing plan for Beggars, but Thrice seems to have come out of all this extracurricular drama unscathed. As the foursome prepares for its upcoming U.K. tour, they will also be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.
MAGNET: 2009 marked the start of your second decade as a band. Is that hard for you to get your heads around? Do you think you guys are in it for the long haul?
Kensrue: Yes, it is hard to imagine that we’ve been doing this for so long. I remember certain bands I was growing up listening to hitting the 10-year mark and it was unbelievable to me. I was also 15 at the time so 10 years was two-thirds of my life, so it was probably slightly more impressive then. I have no idea what lays ahead for us, but as for now we don’t have any plans to stop. Even if we ever took a break, I don’t know that we would end the band. We love making music together and will continue as long as we can, I think.
Beggars is a return to the four-dudes-in-a-room-playing style of your older work. How did it feel to go back to that following The Alchemy Index?
I feel like in a lot of ways the record is simpler than anything that we have done before in terms of instrumentation and the general vibe. We didn’t go into writing with this approach in mind, but we hadn’t really been writing all together in a room without a plan in three or four years. The Alchemy Index was very creative but also very structured, and each disc was created in a different method than we would normally employ in writing or recording. So when we got back in the studio together, we found that we were having a lot of fun rediscovering our instruments and playing them with a different approach even at that point, incorporating different playing styles from the music we had gotten into in those past couple years.
You recorded Beggars at Teppei’s home studio. How did you like that compared to doing it in a professional studio? Will you keep working the same way going forward?
It definitely is not the ideal sound space for recording, but we’ve taken measures to get it as good as it can be in the given circumstances. But I really like the fact that it is just the four of us. You run into ridiculous situation when you have a bunch of people working on a record. With a producer, engineer, tech and band, we have literally spent two days getting a snare sound up and have lost hours and hours trying to get guitars in perfect tune. We roll a lot quicker and dirtier by ourselves and have learned that if you are less critical of each step, you get a product that sounds much more human and lively and everything comes together in a much more natural way. Some of our older recording really lack the vibe and energy of our live show in certain ways, and I think a lot of this has to do with trying to make things too perfect. As far as continuing with self recording, I think it will be the norm for the foreseeable future. Aside from liking the process and the results, I don’t think we could afford to do it any other way at this point.
How do you think the leak has affected album sales and the way Beggars has been received?
I obviously can’t say exactly how things would have been different, but without a doubt having a record leaked three months early is pretty devastating to any kind of release plan and is definitely detrimental to sales. We’ve just tried to roll with the punches because there is not much sense in worrying about what you can’t change.
While technology has helped bands in being able to promote themselves and reach their fans, it also makes something like leaking an album much easier. Do you think this constantly evolving technology is good for music or do you wish things would slow down a bit?
There are benefits and detriments to any advance in technology. Any time we look around and say, “The world would be much better without technology x,” we usually fail to really think about the ways that we benefit from x. So while I am sorry have to worry about people leaking my records early—or, worse yet, stealing them—I would never give up being able to take my music around with me so easily in digital form.
Your lyrics are often religious/spiritual in nature. Do the other members of the band care if you are singing about stuff they don’t feel the same way about?
I take issue with this distinction to a certain degree. We all have a worldview, and artists create art that is informed by their worldview. I have a Christian worldview, and therefore I write informed by that, meaning that I believe certain things about the nature of reality. Now, we wouldn’t critique someone writing from a naturalist worldview in the same way we would a Christian, though the naturalist would be writing from the same place: namely, his beliefs about the world. I certainly appreciate dialoguing with people about their beliefs, and I think that dialogue should extend into art as well. We are all poorer if that dialogue does not exist. Also, I value honesty in art highly. I don’t even know how or why I would want to appease someone else, and I know that people would not find it captivating in the end either. People are drawn to honesty in art, even if that honesty is coming from a view they don’t agree with. All of that being said, there have been small tensions at times within the band about certain songs or lines, and I have made changes that made the others more comfortable without sacrificing what I was trying to communicate. I think that they understand that people like my lyrics because they are honest and challenging and do not condescend to people. In summary, I don’t try to write religious or spiritual or Christian lyrics, but simply try to write honestly.
You guys have been known to cover Beatles songs, including “Eleanor Rigby” and “Helter Skelter.” Do you need a particular kind of self-confidence to decide to take on the Beatles?
Certain people have the idea that the covering the Beatles is taboo, but to me, you want to cover the best songs, right? I don’t hold any song sacred or untouchable. You can ruin a great song with bad cover, but sometimes a good song is buried by the original arrangement and performance, and can really shine when someone has a different take on it. I love Leonard Cohen, but there is no way that his version of “Hallelujah” is better than Jeff Buckley’s cover. [We’ll take John Cale’s version over either of those. —Ed.] And no, I am in no way saying we are playing “Helter Skelter” better than the Beatles.
What’s it like being in a band with brothers? Are there ever any rock ‘n’ roll, Kinks/Oasis-style punch-ups?
We are all pretty mellow, brothers and all. They are good friends, and I think they really value their time together in the band.
You guys each designed your own Thrice sneaker for Nike. How did that come about? Which member’s was the most popular?
We designed them probably four or five years ago. There were a bunch of bumps in the road of getting them made and then getting them sold. We always designed them with the idea of selling them to sponsor a charity. Finally after all that time we had Invisible Children sell them when they were on tour with us recently. Apparently they were selling really well and made a good chunk of change for the organization. Not sure whose were selling the best.
One of our interns says he spotted you guys grabbing cheeseteaks at Jim’s on South Street after a show last year. Is that rite of passage for touring bands in Philly? Ever been to Geno’s or Pat’s? According to Thrice, what’s Philly’s best cheesesteak?
Yeah, we love grabbing cheesesteaks in Philly. Jim’s was probably the first steak place we went to, and I’ve always loved it. But I usually go to Ishkabibble’s first to grab some some sweet-potato fries. Jim’s also doesn’t have fountain sodas, which is a big minus in my book. I don’t feel qualified to say who has the greatest steak, but I enjoy them all.
—Eric T. Miller
“In Exile” (download):