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AltWire Interview With Riley Breckenridge of Thrice

Thrice-To-Be-Everywhere-Is-To-Be-NowhereIt may be crazy to the YouTube generation, but a cable channel that played music videos did exist! It was a glorious and novel way to discover new music. One of the bands I discovered through this method was none other than Thrice. It happened by chance during a late-night flip through my cable channels in 2003. While perusing what was on the tube, I happened to catch the psychedelic and visually stunning video for “All That’s Left”. I stopped dead in my tracks, and watched the track all the way through.

I was a 16-year old who loved rap-metal and Eminem. This was my first introduction to all hardcore music, in general. I had never heard anything like it, which is why I went into Best Buy to buy the album that week. Listening to it back then, and even now writing this article, it still stands as one of the best albums I’ve ever purchased. It is definitely one of the most solid records that I own from start to finish.

Some bands release two to three strong records and fizzle out as their careers reach the golden age. Thrice has continued to evolve and innovate throughout their storied career. Back from a four year hiatus, they are releasing To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere on May 26th. The band has managed to keep their music sounding fresh and inspired with their latest single, “Blood In The Sand”.

We recently spoke to the band’s drummer Riley Breckenridge about the hiatus, life as a parent, the influence of label control on the band’s music, and many other topics. Read below!

AltWire [Derek Oswald]: It’s great to see you guys back after your hiatus. Some bands go into hiatus and never come back out of it! Was it easier or harder than expected to get back together with the guys after the hiatus? Was there a learning curve of sorts or was it more like riding a bike?

Riley Breckenridge [Thrice]:
As far as getting back together, it was just like getting on a bike. However, we hadn’t written music together for about four or five years so I was a little worried that the creative juices wouldn’t be flowing as well as they had in the past. But once we started writing and once we got in the studio, whatever magic we had between the four of us came back pretty quickly. So that was exciting. As far as getting back together and whether I thought that was ever going to happen, I didn’t know really. Dustin said in his hiatus letter right off the bat ‘we’re not going to break up; we’re going to make music again together at some point but we’re just not sure when’ and I was under the impression that it was going to be a bit longer. But life works in mysterious ways, and I’m just glad it happened when it did because I didn’t really want to take a break, at all.

I got a text from Dustin and he was at a Brand New show and he said, “Yeah, I’m thinking we should probably start making some music together and start touring together soon”, and I welcomed that with open arms.

AW: I found it interesting that this apparently is the first album you guys have written without living close enough together to jam things out often. What kind of challenges/benefits did that bring?

RB: There were some major challenges. I think it would depend on who you’re speaking to in the band, because some people function well in a file-sharing or virtual songwriting atmosphere, while others would prefer to be in the same room jamming stuff out. I appreciated the convenience of being able to build out pretty ‘fully realized’ demos of songs, and I was programming drum ideas I had instead of working on them with all of jamming in the same room, so that was time consuming and kind of annoying. There were times where I was like ‘I wish I weren’t programming drums for this demo’ and wished that we were all in the same room and I was just jamming them out and having recorded drums for a demo. But it was just the situation that we were in. Teppei was up in Vashon which is just outside of Seattle so it didn’t make sense for him to be down there for months at a time, because he had stuff going on up there.

We were doing a lot of one off shows and festivals last year, so we’d schedule some extra time either before we were going to play a show or after we were going to play a show so we could write for a week and actually jam stuff out. But a lot of the song writing happened virtually. We’d pass a logic session around and they’d be like ‘oh hey I have a new chorus for this, so I’m posting this version of this song with this new chorus I wrote’ or ‘I got a new verse’ or ‘I got a new bridge’ or whatever. So I think it was difficult to not have a lot of time to jam stuff out but I think it also forced us to be more creative in the studio once we all got together and actually started recording the songs. It was an exciting way to write a record because it was a new way to write, but it was also daunting because it was unfamiliar.

AW: This is also your first album to come out since you’ve had a baby (congratulations!). How does that affect your relationship with Thrice/making music in general?

RB: Thank you! I definitely have a lot less free time than I did in the past, which is totally cool because I love spending time with my kid. But there’s not a lot of ‘me time’ right now where I’d have hours and hours to just screw around trying to write music, I have to pick my spots. As far as the relationship with Thrice, I think it’s definitely opened my eyes a bit because Teppei and Dustin, each of them have three kids. They started having kids around 2005 or so, and I didn’t really understand. I was like ‘oh man he’s coming into practice and he’s really tired, I don’t get it’ you know? Like why can’t you be up for practice, why does practice seem like it’s a drag to you know? And now I see it’s because ‘oh your baby kept you up for six hours last night and you got two hours of sleep [laughs]’. So I definitely understand now how difficult it can be to be away from your kids. Which is part of the reason we kind of scaled back on our touring before the hiatus, and part of the reason we took the hiatus. You want to be there for your kids, so I think we’re all at a spot now where we all understand what a reasonable workload for the band is, and a way to make both sides of life sustainable.

So we’re going to try to tour a bit less than we would in the past, and make sure we are present enough to be good fathers and at the same time make the most of this incredible gift that we have which is the ability to make music and tour and do shows and stuff like that. It’s a tough thing to balance but I think it can be done and I think we’re headed in the right direction as far as that’s concerned.

AW: You raise an interesting point in the challenges that are raised now that you guys have families and are touring. Given that there’s much less friction in recording and releasing an album, are you guys considering making more albums with fewer songs to have more time at home (instead of being on the road all the time)?

RB: I don’t know we haven’t really discussed that. I think the main thing is just scaling back the touring, because when we were in the Artist in the Ambulance or Vheissu days we’d be on tour for about 8 to 10 months out of the year. It’d be like we were gone for eight weeks, then we were home for a week, then we’d go to Europe for a month, come home for a week, do a support slot in the US for six weeks, and it was just never ending. It was just always on. So I think we’re going to scale it back, and I believe the longest that we’ll be out for is three weeks to a month. Then we’re going to make sure that we have a decent gap where we can be at home and take care of stuff on the Homefront.

I don’t think that it will accelerate our creativity or our creation of the records. I think we’ll do that at the same pace but maybe have a new record every year and a half or two years. But we just won’t be touring our asses off 8 to 10 months out of the year in support of it.

AW: Going into writing and recording this album, how would you say you feel this record differs from your releases before the hiatus. Musically and thematically do you feel there’s a difference?

RB: I think there is a different sound but I also think that there is a healthy nod to some of our back catalogue in a lot of the music. There’s stuff on this record that wouldn’t necessarily feel out of place on Artist in the Ambulance, or Vheissu or wouldn’t have felt out of place if it was part of The Alchemy Index or Beggars, or Major Minor. But at the same time it’s also pushing that kind of stuff forward. With the quality of the songwriting I think that we’ve grown to figure out how to write better songs, and make albums feel more cohesive. One thing about this album that I think is pretty cool is that it’s almost a seamless record from track to track. An outro will bleed into an intro for another song or there’s a segway on this record which is something that we haven’t had since Beggars I think.

It’s definitely something that’s meant to be presented as a full piece of music, instead of just individual songs, and that’s something I’m really proud of on this record.

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(On the album’s closer ‘Salt and Shadow’) It’s super epic and it gives me chills when I listen to it, and I think it would do the same for a lot of people..”

AW: I started getting into you guys around the release of The Artist in the Ambulance, and then listened to all your records before then and since that time. Your drumming is one thing that has always stood out to me on those records. Who are some of the drummers that inspired your sound growing up?

RB: Well first thank you for the kind words, I really appreciate that. I think early on a lot of my influences were rooted in the Epitaph records style punk-rock drumming, and then some metal stuff like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer that kind of stuff. Then around The Artist in the Ambulance, I started getting into Radiohead and some more kind of indie-rock bands and I pulled some inspiration from those drummers who weren’t about playing really fast, but instead having a really good feel and a good pocket. Then that developed into loving more progressive stuff, whether it was Tim Latona (Botch) or Dave Turncrantz from Russian Circles, or JR Conners from Cave In. Just trying to incorporate some more progressive stuff or odd-time stuff, and then of course the classics like David Grohl, Jon Bonham and Neal Peart.

I just try to listen to as much stuff as possible and try to take as much away from it as I can, and the producers that we’ve worked with over the years have done a good job of teaching me to be open to new things and expanding my playing a little bit. But for me it’s all about ‘hit hard and have a good pocket’, and that’s really all that matters. Also serve the song first before you serve yourself. It’s not important to put the newest fill that you just figured out into a song. It’s more important to have a solid backbone for the rest of the song.

AW: One of our many Reddit questions that came in asked the following: “some songs never translate in the studio the way you want them to. What’s the one song you guys believe never came out how you wanted it to when it was recorded?”

RB: There are a lot and I’ve probably forced myself to forget about those, but the one that sticks out the most is a B-side off of Vheissu which is called Lullaby. The demos we had for that song were super cool and super weird and it was just aggressive and kind of Refused meets A Shape of Punk to Come meets a Muse Absolution vibe. So it was this epic stadium rock thing with this really pissed off sound, and there were synths in it. For some reason the label thought that it was going to be a single, so they tried to steer it in a ‘single’ direction and they tried to make it less weird. Because we were semi-beholden to the label we had to entertain that option reluctantly, and we just beat that song to death. We re-wrote it and rearranged it and we got it to the recording studio and recorded it once, and then figured out later on that we needed to slow it down and change the key of the song. So we had to re-record the song and we just completely beat it to death to the point that everyone in the band was like ‘this can’t be on the record, it’s not what we wanted it to be’. We completely ruined something that was headed in a very cool direction and that’s why it’s a B-Side. Even that B-Side as recorded is not anywhere near as cool as the demos we had recorded early on.

AW: Likewise, what’s the one song you wish you could pull off live but never has the same magic as it does on record?

RB: There are also a lot of those too! That’s always the weirdest thing. You’ll make a record and you’ll go ‘oh yeah! I think people will be super excited by this song, we should do this one’ and then you’ll play it and it’ll be like crickets after we finish. People will just be staring and you’ll think ‘Oh crap! Ok that’s not going over well’. For me personally, there’s a song on Artist in the Ambulance called ‘Hoods on Peregrine’, and it’s kind of a big epic, nasty, proggy song and I always thought it would be cool [live]. It has this big drum intro with pulsing toms and a sick bass riff, and it just seemed big and like it would command a room. We played that live many times and it always goes over flat. So that’s kind of disappointing. There’s a song from Major Minor called ‘Cataracts’ that I really like, it has a cool drum and bass groove and what I think is a good melody and it’s really catchy. I thought ‘hey maybe this will go over well’ because it has a little bit of a Fugazi vibe and that one always fell flat too, so we pulled that out of the set.

But yeah there are tons of songs in our back catalogue where you think it’s going to over well, but it doesn’t go over well. Or you think it’s going to sound good live but it doesn’t sound good live and you just have to adjust from there.

AW: What’s one song from the new album that you’re really excited about that you hope goes over well live?

RB: All of them? [laughs] I think I would really like to find a way to play the album’s closer ‘Salt and Shadow’ live, but I really don’t think it would go over well live, nor do I know how we could pull it off. It’s very layered and very orchestral and kind of electronic in nature. But it’s super epic and it gives me chills when I listen to it, and I think it would do the same for a lot of people, but it’s really hard to do that unless you have 47 musicians on stage and backing tracks and all that crazy stuff. So maybe that’ll just be ‘it’s cool on the record but we’ll never play it live’.

AW: Now was that your favorite song to work on with this record…or were there other ones that really stood out to you?

RB: I liked playing anything that was heavy and anything that was nasty. I did like working on ‘Salt and Shadow’ because there was a lot of construction going on in the studio with that, and a lot of experimentation. The early demos of it were headed in a completely different direction and we spent a few days on it and just layered and layered stuff, and there’s just something really exciting about being able to experiment like that. But yeah anything that’s rock I love playing. I just love beating the crap out of my drums and playing along to heavy riffs. Those were the ones that I like.

AW: What can we expect from Thrice in the year ahead, now that you are returning with a new album?

RB: We are doing a tour in June with La Dispute and Gates which will hit a good part of the United States but not all of it. In August we are going to Europe and the UK but I don’t think I’m at liberty to say exactly where we’ll be going but we’re going to be over there for a little while. Later on in the year, I can’t announce who we’re touring with or where we’re touring but we’re going to hit some places that we’re not hitting on this June run with La Dispute.

Thrice – Blood On The Sand (Audio Only):

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