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Some of the strongest bands function as more of a family unit than as partners in music. With more than a decade of experience behind them, Thrice have proven themselves among the strong, and they're showing no signs of weakness, having recently released a new album, Major/Minor, and embarking on a fall-spanning tour with Moving Mountains, O'Brother and La Dispute.
ACRN spoke to Thrice vocalist/guitarist Dustin Kensrue about what it takes for a band to have longevity, their new album and how the band's helping out Invisible Children.
ACRN: You guys have been around for about 13 years, and I notice that many people find that kind of longevity surprising these days. Why do you think that is, as a person who has been in an act that has achieved such longevity?
Dustin Kensrue: It’s pretty rare, I think, if you look at all the bands that come and go. I’d say it’s a pretty small amount that have reached this many years, especially in this day and age.
ACRN: What do you think Thrice has that has helped you achieve such longevity?
DK: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we have our priorities in a good spot for why we do this. We write the music that we want to write, and we don’t try to cater to anyone’s hopes or wishes or frustrations. That has kept it exciting and fulfilling for us. We’ve become more and more and more happy with the music that we’ve created as we push ourselves. I think that’s a good part of it.
The other part is just learning how to live together as a kind of pseudo-family and just knowing your differences and loving those people even when you don’t necessarily like them all the time. I think that’s the best way to describe a healthy band: a family.
ACRN: And you guys are constantly changing. As you said, you’re not “catering” to anyone, and you push yourselves creatively. On your newest release, Major/Minor, what do you think the biggest creative push you made was?
DK: To clarify, I think we all have slightly different views on this in the band, but generally it’s not progress for the sake of progress, it’s more “what do we want to play right now?" "What’s interesting and challenging to us?" Not so much, "what is revolutionizing music?"
I think that [progress for the sake of progress] can be a bit of something that leads you to something that’s not as honest, even though it seems like, “Yeah, this is very artistic,” but it’s not really coming from the same place. So, for us, it’s very much about what feels exciting to play right now, what seems interesting to us.
On this record, a lot of it was built on things that we liked that were going on in [2009’s] Beggars. Where there was an energy and groove to what’s happening and movement, and we wanted it to really kind of give it more bite. We intentionally structured Beggars in a way, and recorded a certain way to where it feels not very pushed. It’s not very compressed. It’s not very loud of a record. It’s more like a record would sound in the '70s or something, and I think there are some cool things about that.
We definitely wanted this record to “rock more,” for lack of a more specific term, and be more in-your-face. So, we kind of took some of those principles of movement and feel and applied them differently.
There’s also an element of the records' taking a shape of their own once we get in a room together during a certain period of time. This time it started shaping itself toward this kind of ‘90s indie, grunge-y vibe that kind of permeates a lot of the record, which was not intentional at all. It just started happening.
ACRN: You can definitely hear that kind of grunge-y, gritty feel, as I would describe it. And the title of the album also comes from a sort of musical technique. Could you explain what that is?
DK: I don’t think it’s an actual name for anything, but we started using it talking about this idea of playing major chords where a key would normally call for a minor chord. That was a big thing that Nirvana and bands like that were doing. It gave a sound a very distinct tone.
So, that started just creeping into these songs without us trying to do it. We’ve barely done that before. Never? I’m not sure. It just started creeping its way in there and starting having some manifestation in the [final versions] of songs. So, we were just throwing the term around: “Oh, we did that major/minor thing again.” It was the working title of one of the songs, too, “Yellow Belly,” which is doing it.
ACRN: Lyrically, what is something you would want a listener to take away from Major/Minor?
DK: I don’t know if I have one thing that I’m trying to get people to take away. I try to write really honestly. The way I start almost every song now is: we write the music first, and I sit with the music, and the way I describe it is, “The music is already telling a story.” So, I want to see, in essence, what story that is telling. What kind of beginning does it have? What kind of ending does it have? Where does it move in the middle? What is the emotion that comes from this? What’s the tone? I want to find something to talk about will tell the same story so that they’re working together.
C.S. Lewis talks about trying not to--it’s in an essay about writing children’s stories, but I think it’s pretty applicable across the board--he warns against trying to put morals into your story because they end up becoming these kind of platitudes. You’re trying to figure out what you think people need to hear, and the story feels very false in the end and doesn’t flow naturally. His understanding of it was: whatever is in your heart, whatever is going on with you, if you write, it’s going to be in there, and so that’s how I try to approach a lot of the way I write lyrics.
I think in individual songs, there are things that I’m getting at that I want people to think about and engage with, but I’m not trying to use it as this platform to have this certain message that you’re supposed to get. I think a lot of learning comes from questioning, so I try to challenge a lot in the lyrics, and hopefully people respond to that and think through things.
ACRN: You’re on tour right now. How is that going so far?
DK: It’s going really good. We’ve played four shows, and I’ve been doing these acoustic sessions after for Invisible Children, which has been going really well, too.
ACRN: Yeah, I saw a post on Twitter that you were playing a secret after-show under a bridge?
DK: Yeah, actually two of them have been under bridges, which is funny. It’s really cool. It’s different than anything I’ve ever done, really. There’s a ton of people, probably an average of 150 people every day out there. It’s just me and a guitar, acoustic, so I’m usually standing on something, trying to sing and play loudly so that everyone can hear, and people are singing along. It’s really cool.
So, we’re raising about $500 a night out there for Invisible Children’s new kind of initiative called “The Musician Coalition”, where they’re raising money to build radio towers in the Congo to broadcast to these child soldiers that they’re welcome home, because they’re being brainwashed by the rebels that they can’t go back because they’ve been forced to commit these atrocities. So, there are former abductees who are making this broadcast out to these kids and telling them that they can come home. So, it’s building these towers that the money is going toward.
ACRN: How did you get involved with Invisible Children?
DK: We have been involved with it for a while now just doing different things. There was actually a bunch of weird stuff that happened right when we were kind of finding out about them through a friend that knew both the people who were starting it and us, we had just made a music video for “The Image of the Invisible,” which weirdly tied in to what they were talking about. These kids were being abducted in this video, and there was absolutely no connection. So, it was kind of a cool tie-in when we met right after we had done that and found out what was going on there. So, it seemed kind of meant-to-be.
ACRN: How do you let your fans know about these shows?
DK: We are using Twitter. So, people follow @invisible_music. They’re putting the details on there. It’s a good way to get people signed up to follow what’s going on with Invisible Children, as well as just using Twitter to kind of…that’s something I like about it: that you can announce things and events very quickly and do things on the fly where people can be contacted all at once.
Thrice is set to perform at Columbus' Newport Music Hall on October 23.
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