Thrice: Dustin Kensrue Interview

Posted November 18, 2009 in

I’m often asked what kind of music I listen to. For the past few years, my response has simply been “Thrice.” My answer envelops a variety of genres, an evolving discography, an impressive live show and consistently high quality music. With over ten years of experience and growth, Thrice has only been getting better. Their newest record, Beggars, is yet another successful demonstration of the band’s progressive talent and honest style. I caught up with vocalist/guitarist Dustin Kensrue while on the road with Brand New to talk about everything from their new album to the band’s future plans.

SLUG: I’ve seen you guys live quite a few times and I feel like your live performances keep getting better. You keep a pretty good balance between your old stuff and your new stuff. I was actually surprised by how many songs you played on your older records last time you were in town. Do you think the live groove style influences and changes the way you play your older music on stage?
Dustin Kensrue: Yeah, definitely. I think even playing songs live for a while you start to interpret them differently, even without noticing. Over time you’ll go and you’ll hear the record version and  think, ‘Oh, I don’t even play it like that anymore.’ We’re playing  a little less old stuff on this tour—we’re trying to change the set-up just a little bit in general. We played kind of a similar set for a while. We’re playing some songs we’ve never played, either ever or rarely, and we’re playing a fair amount of Beggars stuff and an Air song that we’ve reworked for the live show that’s cool to play, and it seems like people are digging that.

I know the last tour you guys changed your set list for a lot of the shows. I saw you in Vegas first and then here in SLC and you had a different set list. Is that how it’s going to be on this tour?
DK: I think it depends on where we are in proximity to other shows. When they’re really close we try to change it up. I think we’ll probably end up changing it somewhere between shows when we do the headlining portion of the tour.

SLUG: You’ve said in other interviews that you’ve been gradually incorporating that live feeling into your music and it’s especially apparent in your newest album. Do you think that’s going to continue being a focus?
DK: I think that the lessons that we’ve learned will continue to be employed in whatever music we make, but as far as the really raw feeling of this record, I don’t know if that’s something that’ll be in the next record or  if it’ll be more of a hybrid. This record is pretty different in that it’s just all pretty raw—there aren’t a lot of layers to it as far as overdubs or electronics, which I really like about it, but we’re not married to that line of tact.

SLUG: So what direction do you think we could see you going in future albums?
DK: I don’t know. As far as my own feelings right now, I think the next one might be a little heavier,  maybe a little more mathy in a groove-oriented way, not exclusively, but I definitely think we’ll incorporate some of that stuff. It’s not always necessarily the heaviness of stuff that we’re opposed to, it’s just the lack of groove or soul that has been in a lot of it, or it’s very cheesy―things we perceive as cheesy―but I think we’re seeing different ways to do heavy stuff, and we have different ways like the Fire record, but I think that there’s still more to check out there. And I like doing stuff live, as we are more interested in how they translate over and kind of writing with that in mind. That’s just kind of what I’m feeling right now.

: Personally, I feel like your music has evolved along with my own musical tastes, but I know some fans didn’t really like the jump from the Artist to Vheissu to the Alchemy Index. What would you say to those fans?
DK: Ummmm… Sorry? I think that most people that like music in general and not just a particular style of music or whatever, that are fans of earlier stuff and  they give a fair shake to the later stuff, I think most of them will like it,= and will find things with it that they can dig into. Whether or not a certain one will be their favorite, that’s gonna be different for everybody, but I think what a lot of fans have come to see is that―and I’ve come to see this with other bands ―just a band you like a lot and they have a change in sound , you definitely shouldn’t write it off right away. Sometimes it might take you a couple of weeks to have that shift as well, but I’ve found any band that I really respect or really like and haven’t liked the record right away, I’ve liked if I give it a chance.
I think Beggars especially, the way that it sounds, not playing into the whole arms race of sound that everything else plays into―not everything but a lot of things―focuses much more on just the feeling of it, so at first listen it might not be as sharp, but I think that as you start to learn the record and understand it, you’ll have a deeper and hopefully more lasting effect.

SLUG: I’ve noticed your latest lyrics have become kind of more Christian-themed and you have a lot of allusions to a savior or Christ-figure in your songs. I’ve also read that you personally have a lot of biblical tattoos. How would you say that Christianity or spirituality in general influences your songwriting?
DK: My relationship with Christ is central to everything that I do, so for me to write music that doesn’t come from that place, I think it’s possible it would be dishonest. I do try to write in a way that various people in various walks of life can relate to it, can at least dialogue with the songs. The music that’s there is not worship music in the sense that it’s made for Christians to do their thing together. I’m Christian and I write from my heart and about things that are interesting to me and things that are talked about and things that can range from all over the place, but I don’t see a disconnect or necessarily a growth in my focus on that. I think that the music usually ends up reflecting just where I’m at. If you see a record like the Artist in the Ambulance, written probably in one of the darker spiritual points of my life,  wrestling with a lot of different things,  you see that playing out, and I think that’s good. I think that honest music, honest art in general, resonates with people, and I have no desire to make something that’s only what I think people might want to hear or might benefit from or might be not be offended by.

: You and Teppei both have kids now. How would you say that becoming a father for both of you has changed your creative process and the band in general?
DK: It’s hard to say how it changes creative process, except for it definitely changes you as a person, so that’s gonna influence how you write or what you think about.

SLUG: Teppei has said in an interview that once this all stops, he’d like to travel. Thrice has been active for over ten years now, can your fans hope to hear from you for another ten before Teppei’s tour of the world, or is retirement in the near future?
DK: I can’t speak to a year from now, I just don’t know. There’s times when it feels like … I think with anything you’ve been doing for a long time you move through [different] periods … and I think those are just natural ebbs and flows of being a musician. Some are external things as well, but I love doing this. It’s hard being away from family, but I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be right now and I’ll continue that as long as I feel that way.

: Making a living as a musician is difficult, as you know, especially in the digital age, but Thrice still manages to donate a portion of their record sales to charity. Why are these charitable contributions important to you?
DK: Beggars is actually the first one that’s not doing it directly. As we moved around labels and various things, it just became harder to make that work paper-wise and just like the way it was structured in a unique way so we kind of started to force it into other ways. We felt like the bigger benefit has come from us just coming alongside different causes, whether it’s been at shows or having them on tour. We’re trying to focus a little more in that sense. In general, the idea has just been that we’re blessed to be in a certain position being able to do something we love for a living.

SLUG: You guys have done a lot of DIY recording and producing. Is this going to remain a permanent feature of your future work or do you see the band signing with another major label?
DK: I doubt if anyone would have us, but I somewhat doubt that we would do that. The way we’re hovering is a little more free. Long term things get stuck. The issue with Island was we’d signed on and we were really happy to be there, and a couple of years down the line almost everyone was gone, so it’s really a different label that we were on terms with.  I don’t know that we would ever do that. I would assume that in the near future, we will continue doing things ourselves—it’s just given us a lot of control, and not in a sense that somebody was stopping our control before, but as less is in your hands, you lose control. And we had someone who mixed this record, which we weren’t planning on doing, but that was a direct result of Teppei being honest and saying he couldn’t get it where he wanted to and he didn’t know how, so we brought a friend in.

SLUG: After the Beggars leak, were you disillusioned at all about working with indie labels like Vagrant Records?
DK: No, that could have happened anywhere, I mean that was more just someone’s malicious trying than it was really a bridge in security. Somebody really worked hard to steal that.

SLUG: You seemed to bounce back well, though. Do you think the way you released Beggars was successful?
DK: It was the best we could do with our circumstances. Definitely not ideal, but you’ve gotta roll with the punches, you don’t have another choice, you can’t put it back in the box and whine about it.

: You’ve said before that you prefer more frequent, smaller releases like Alchemy Index to drawn-out full-length album releases, but you just released another full-length pretty quickly after the Alchemy Index. Should we look forward to more projects like the Alchemy in the future?
DK: I think that there are logistical issues with trying to do the smaller releases and how that works, but as everything changes, some of that stuff changes too in that it might work out better to do smaller things. I think even just doing ten songs works a lot better than doing twelve or whatever where you’re writing fifteen. We wrote twelve songs on the record and it just felt a little bit more compact. Even that much made a difference… Definitely not opposed to it . I think after Alchemy we were really excited to do something a little more straightforward.

SLUG: It seems that a lot of bands right now are into collaborations with other musicians. You’ve been doing some solo stuff and Teppei’s got Black Unicorn and some production side projects …
DK: Black Unicorn is really good. Our buddy Chris wants to put it out but Teppei is very self-conscious of anything he does, so that’s why it’s not out anywhere. I think it’s great.

: So do you think Thrice as a whole is interested in musical collaborations with other bands and who would you work with if you did?
DK: I don’t know, it’d be fun to do something with Brand New, we get along with them well. I just don’t know how it would work out. Just the way that we write being very collaborative anyway … I don’t know if that would make it easier or harder in that you’re doubling the amount of people you’re working with, which it’s hard at times to work with three other people. And that being said, I think another issue is that I don’t know if we live near anyone who would be a good fit for collaborating. It would seem stupid to even think about something like that.

Don’t hold your breath to see the next Thrice album released with a ‘Featuring …’ sticker on the cover, but do come see them headline on Nov. 20 at In The Venue with The Dear Hunter and Polar Bear Club.