Calling You Out: An Interview with Thrice

From post-hardcore, to experimental, instrumental, indie and ‘90s grunge––though it may seem to some an identity crisis, Thrice have been widening their musical berth with every new release over the last decade, earning the respect and admiration of true music fans. The West Coast four-piece continue to develop their talents and taste with their latest and seventh studio album, Major/Minor, out on Sept. 20 through Vagrant Records. With the same rawness as 2009’s Beggars, but with added weight and conviction, Major/Minor is sure to strike a chord with Thrice fans new and old. SLUG caught up with vocalist/guitarist Dustin Kensrue for his thoughts on the record and a lesson in philosophy.

SLUG: The new record seems to be drawing from a variety of musical styles and genres. Where did you get the inspiration for the musical portion of the album?
Kensrue: There’s definitely some diversity on it, but I feel like mood-wise, it’s more consistent than a lot of our records. As far as stylistically, we don’t usually write with anything in mind. There will be a part that will be like, “let’s try to push this towards this sound,” but generally it’s just what happens when we’re jamming together. This record was made in a similar way to Beggars, but the feel is different just because the time we wrote it was different. There’s definitely not a master plan of like, “this is going to be the ‘whatever’ record.” For us, records start to be self defining after a certain point, you just start moving with it and you’ll see where the songs are pushing themselves and you’ll see certain songs kind of on the fringes of that, and you can either bump them off or pull them in. I felt like there was going to be more mathy stuff and that didn’t end up happening much. It’s much more of a screw rock record––definitely rhythmic, but not super mathy.

: What was the process in putting the record together?
Kensrue: There were a few [songs] that started with the brothers [Riley Breckenridge (drums), Eddie Breckenridge (bass)] and Teppei [Teranishi (guitar)] jamming while I was out of town. “Cataracts” came out of one of those … “Yellow Belly” came out of that. The last two records we’ve had a couple of songs come out of a three-piece jam, which I think can be helpful because there’s less going on, a little more definition––the bass is doing one thing, guitar is doing one thing. Also, “Anthology” is a kind of demo of it, just me singing over me playing the guitar. I track all of my ideas on Evernote or I’ll forget them instantly. I’m constantly recording little pieces and sharing them.

SLUG: Lyrically the album seems a lot darker, there’s a lot of tension between light and dark. What were you pulling from when you were writing the lyrics?
Kensrue: I don’t know … life. I think I was pushing on this light and dark essence, even the title of the record is in some ways hinting at that. One of the more foundational mysteries of life is: What does it mean that there’s beauty and truth and goodness alongside sorrow and terror? We kind of deal with that specifically in “Treading Paper.” You can either say those are just illusions, they’re not actually real, they’re just accidents of nature and nothing has any true value, or you can say those are real and that there must be a reason why this darkness exists, and I definitely choose to believe the latter of the two. Nothing makes any sense to me if I have to look at it and say, “This isn’t real, this love I feel, this joy I feel, this beauty I see,” that that actually doesn’t correspond to reality just feels really untrue to me, I can’t even process that. So dealing with the record, I think I’m hitting on these things. It’s been a really hard past couple of years for the band, just deaths in the family and sicknesses, so there’s been a lot of that as well as great things, new life and friendships, a lot of good stuff, too, so some of [the album] is explicitly trying to catch that. “Blur,” for example, is based on this email that Riley had sent early on talking about these slow shutter photos he’d been taking, and how they captured this feeling that he had of being unable to grab any moment and understand it, and everything was blurring together … I think that sometimes it’s easier for me to dig into someone else’s emotions than my own.

: Tell me about the title, Major/Minor, and the album cover art.
Kensrue: Originally it was the working title for “Yellow Belly.” It’s something that we had been talking about throughout, that there’s this certain indie ‘90s grunge sound throughout the record. It’s not on purpose, it’s just kind of happening, and some of that’s just through the choosing of major chords when normally there would be a minor chord in that key, which is what a lot of those bands were doing in Seattle in the early ‘90s, it has this certain mood to it when you do that. We’d never really done that, but for some reason on this record every song just started having a bit of that in there. We talked about it early on, about it possibly being titled that, and then took it off the table and eventually brought it back. I think everyone is happy with it … and it works really well.

A buddy of mine up in Seattle did the art, we went through a lot of different phases of it. I really like the cover, it feels stark and dark to me. I think it captures a little bit of the weight of the record, the heaviness to it. I don’t know if a lot of people are going to like it, it’s pretty stark for a record cover.

SLUG: There are a few songs that get a little preachy. Do you think that these lyrics will alienate the atheists among us?
Kensrue: I think that sometimes things call for rough words … It’s calling myself out as well. “Promises” is not too preachy, I think it’s more of a lament to what we’ve done to marriage, how we’ve devalued that. I don’t think you have to be Christian to see the negative effects that come from that. As much as people lay that challenge on themselves, you can see the vows that people make, the ideas they have of it, but it’s just very self serving in the end rather than what it’s meant to be. The whole point of the vows is to say, “as hard as it gets, I choose to keep loving you,” but the way that it actually works out in practice is, “once this gets hard, I’m out of here.”

: I noticed bits of lyrics from “The Weight” on Beggars in “Anthology” …
Kensrue: “Anthology” is actually built out of seven different Thrice songs, which is why it’s called “Anthology.” Not all of them, but a lot of the various love songs that have been either directly or indirectly related to my relationship with my wife over the years, so it pulls from “Trust,” “The Weight,” “Silhouette,” “Years To Come,” “The Whaler,” a couple more. Each half of a line is hinting at a lyric from another song.

SLUG: You said the writing on this record was similar to Beggars, what about recording?
Kensrue: In recording it was a lot more similar to Identity Crisis. It was quick. Also similar to parts of Vheissu. We tracked a lot of Vheissu live, but we did this much quicker. Kind of just no nonsense, got the songs, got the arrangements, lay them down and capture the right energy and be done.

SLUG: Any awesome b-sides for this record?
Kensrue: I went in and tracked a couple of acoustic versions of songs that turned out really cool.

Make sure to pre-order a copy of Major/Minor, out Sept. 20, and don’t miss Thrice playing the new album live, along with some classic favorites, on their headlining tour coming through the Saltair on Nov. 1.