The third era of Thrice

The third era of Thrice

By Ben Tipple

May 25, 2016 15:25

Ask any long-term Thrice fan about the Californian outfit’s near-twenty-year career and they’ll pinpoint a defining moment, one that in some eyes remains as divisive as it was then. Its impact is still heavier than even their almost three-year hiatus, one which ended with a single image appearing on their official website as 2014 drew to a close. The culprit is ‘Vheissu’, the 2005 follow-up to their ‘Artist in The Ambulance’ breakthrough.

Now heavily celebrated, it marked a clear turning point for Thrice. Whereas ‘Artist…’ had propelled them into the upper tier of the evolving emo scene, ‘Vheissu’ appeared as an unexpected experimental beast. Lead single ‘Image Of The Invisible’ all-but wiped the slate clean from its thunderous opening. ‘The Earth Will Shake’, the album’s most militant outing, represented the band’s mantra. “We dream of ways to break these iron bars,” vocalist Dustin Kensrue growled, seemingly referencing the mould Thrice had created for themselves with their previous effort.

Its controversy was far from an accident, as drummer Riley Breckenridge explains. “‘Vhiessu’ was a real turning point for us as far as freeing us up creatively,” he looks back. “It wasn’t the next logical step for the band if you look at the previous record. It made a point to our fans and our label at the time that we want to make the music that we want to make. We’re not going to be a band that tries to figure out a signature sound and then sticks to it.”

‘Vheissu’ was a public statement of intent. As Breckenridge alludes to the relative safety of Foo Fighters and NOFX – “if you buy a record you know what it’s going to sound like,” he laughs – he reaffirms the importance of self-assurance. “Everybody has different influences and is into different stuff, so when you’re trying to combine these four different minds and subsections of inspiration, it’s only natural that – if you’re being true to yourself – your music will be a reflection of that,” he proclaims. Anything less is, in his eyes, self-denial. “’Vhiessu’ was important because we put our feet down with the label and sent a message to our fans,” he rallies. “We’re going to make the music we want to make.”

It’s an ethos that led Thrice to release the vast ‘The Alchemy Index’, an unashamed exploration of their multitude of influences categorised by the natural elements that best represented them. It also drove the band through ‘Beggars’ and ‘Major/Minor’, both retaining the basic elements of the sound that forged the second era of Thrice back in 2005. And it’s an ethos that has continued through to ‘To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere’, the first release since their 2015 return.

“It was a lot easier than I expected,” Breckenridge expresses his surprise at the reunion’s simplicity. “I think with everything, if you take three or four years off, you’re worried your skills aren’t going to be as sharp.” He apologises for the overused cliché. “But it ended up being like riding a bike.” It certainly helped that the band members hadn’t fully stepped away from music, but it was Thrice’s return to the live setting that truly kicked them into gear.

“When you’re playing live shows you need to be in good shape,” he accepts. “Across the board there’s a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm.” It’s a quality Breckenridge admits began to fade as the hiatus drew near. “Around when ‘Major/Minor’ came out, we were kind of tired of the cycle.” He speaks of routine; how writing, releasing and touring begins to feel every day. “I think everybody is just refreshed and excited now, I really couldn’t ask for anything else.”

The reinvigoration is obvious on ‘To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere’, a quote borrowed from philosopher Seneca the Younger. It is also reflected in the record’s theme, one of appreciation. “We interpreted it as a call for people to be present in the moment,” Breckenridge says of the title. As much as it represents Thrice’s rediscover enjoyment, it also represents their perception of modern society. “Technology is amazing. We have phones in our pockets that can call anyone, answer any question and physically guide us. We have the capability to be everywhere, but at the same time people get so buried in that ability they kind of leave the moment they are in.”

“It’s like the debate about people filming with their phones at shows,” he continues, clearly impassioned. “You’re at the show, just enjoy being there. It’s really weird, you could have watched it with your eyes but you’re watching it through your phone… I just don’t understand it. It’s about being present in the moment.”

Alongside the message borne out of experience, ‘To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere’ provides Thrice with the opportunity to take their experimentation one step further. “We kind of had a discussion about trying to push dynamics,” Breckenridge says of their developing sound. “We wanted to make the lows lower and the highs higher.” It’s something Thrice have achieved. Opener ‘Hurricane’ provides an anthemic introduction, not dissimilar to ‘Firebreather’ on ‘The Alchemy Index’, Breckenridge concedes. Standout ‘Black Honey’ delivers an ominous edge that has eluded Thrice in the past, while ballad ‘Stay With Me’ presents them at their most heart-breaking.

This success is in part down to a new attitude and process, and the involvement of producer Eric Palmquist who Breckenridge honours as the fifth member of the band. “It was the longest we’ve spent in the studio since ‘Vheissu’,” the drummer notes. “It was also the first time since then that we’ve worked with a more hands-on producer.”

“Like any record, you lay a rough foundation down early on and it kind of takes a life of its own. There are songs that we had rough sketches of half way through last year, and by the time we got into the studio they were completely different. It was a very fluid writing process and we had the ability to experiment. We tried a lot of things in the studio whereas in the past we’d go in with demos that were set in stone, and we’d try and record a better version. These songs were very malleable and everybody was open to doing everything we could in the studio to make them as good as possible.”

This is most obvious on the album’s closer, the epic ‘Salt and Shadow’. Considerably removed from Thrice sounds of the past, it sees the four-piece experiment with percussion, synthesizers and guitar pedals. “We had free reign to try everything and anything on that song,” Breckenridge celebrates, “and then Eric whittled it down to the stuff that was working. It was really exciting.”

With ‘Vheissu’ almost-unanimously marking the start of Thrice’s second era, ‘To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere’ could welcome in the third. Yet Breckenridge disregards this suggestion. “The third stage is yet to come,” he suggests enthusiastically. “There’s a lot about this record that kind of feels familiar to everything post-‘Vheissu’.”

Instead, ‘To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere’ offers something Thrice have held close to their chest in the past. It’s a stepping stone in their development, one that channels the best of what has come before and hints at the possibilities in store. Most importantly, it’s the sound of a reinvigorated band and a phenomenal passageway to Thrice’s next stage. “We’re really excited about the future. Everybody is already excited about writing again and making another record. And if I know anything about our band,” Breckenridge teases, “we definitely have more places we want to go.”