June 8th, 2012, 7:02 am · · posted by KELLI SKYE FADROSKI, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
After a 13-year run, Orange County rock band Thrice is going on hiatus following a slew of farewell tour dates that kick off next week. June 14-15 find them at a very familiar stomping ground, House of Blues Anaheim. June 16 they drive to Los Angeles to play Club Nokia in the L.A. Live complex. Then they say goodbye with two shows, June 18-19, at a different home county venue, the Observatory in Santa Ana. Every show is sold out.
In November, a post went up on the band’s website, a statement from vocalist and guitarist Dustin Kensrue, stating: “Thrice is not breaking up. If nothing has broken us up by now, I doubt anything ever could. However, we will be taking a break from being a full-time band and the upcoming tour in the Spring will be the last one for the foreseeable future.”
Kensrue went on to share his reasons for desiring a breather from the music industry, chiefly that leaving for extended periods of time to tour has been taxing on his wife and young daughters, and that during the hiatus he plans to continue working as a worship director at Mars Hill Church, somewhat ironically held (during daylight and off hours) in the same space as the Observatory, formerly the Galaxy Theatre.
Since the bad news was delivered by Kensrue alone, some have been wondering: How does the rest of one of the most successful bands from (and still in) O.C. this past decade feel about the temporary disbanding?
“It wasn’t necessarily a group decision,” bassist Ed Breckenridge told me during a recent phone interview, “but it’s a decision that we all understand. Dustin is having a third child, and so he is feeling the stress of that and obviously he wants to put family first, and we’re all going with that and supporting him. Sadly, that means giving up something that’s pretty unreal and amazing. But you have to weigh priorities and we have to honor that.”
Breckenridge went on to say that the hiatus is “definitely indefinite” but hopes that when things feel right again, the quartet will come together once more to make music. Guitarist Teppei Teranishi is also married with a third child on the way. The twin Beckenridge brothers, including drummer Riley, are neither wed nor fathers.
“It’s like: ‘What do we do?’” Ed says. “It’s kind of exciting in a way, but also really scary, too. It’s a big transition, and we’ve been through a lot of those lately recently, losing family members and stuff. But now it’s more of just trying to figure out the world, I guess, taking it one step at a time and trying to make the right decisions for the right reasons.”
Once the hiatus was made public, Ed and Riley decided to continue to make their own music and have been working together to turn ideas into songs. “It’s, like, we also need a band name – that hasn’t even been a part of our lives because Thrice has been the main thing for so long,” Ed says.
Yet there’s a silver lining to launching a new project: “I’m super excited to have this opportunity, because I’ve always wanted to get a little bit more experimental with stuff. I have a lot of conceptual ideas that I want to get out that might be weird and might scare some people off, but I think it will be really fulfilling in an artistic way.”
And Thus Begat Thrice
Kensrue and Teranishi had been involved in various musical projects since their high school years in Irvine, but in 1998 the duo recruited Ed and Riley to form a new band. They didn’t have a name. They were just four dudes messing around on their instruments, in it strictly for the art of creating something, Breckenridge says.
“I wasn’t the kid that was like ‘I want to be up there playing on stage.’ I just liked the idea of creating music, and for all of us it was really about just taking steps: ‘Oh, we wrote these songs … should we play a show? I guess we should? Should we?’
“Not that we haven’t worked on building the band, but I mean, we took that step then we were like: ‘Should we record this?’ We did, and we sent it to labels, and the labels thought we didn’t know what we were doing. So we started playing shows and making flyers and doing all of that. It was all very organic how we developed. Still to this day it’s weird thinking that we’re performers. We’re more just creators.”
That purism and innocence, he insists, has stayed with the band since Day One. They’ve never written a record for anyone but themselves, and during their career they rapidly developed from blueprint screamo into more melodically refined (but still heavy) post-hardcore territory, before ultimately transforming into progressives bearing a distinct Radiohead influence, intrigued by brooding acoustic textures and experimental electronics.
Worrying about what people were going to think of their music, “That was always an after thought for us,” Ed says. “It was awesome because then the music is true to what we’re thinking creatively or what we were inspired by, so I’m glad we never lost that because it made it less of a job and more of a way to express ourselves. I think if we had gotten stuck being where we were in 2000, and kept doing just that, where would the expression be? There just wouldn’t be one, I guess.”
Setting aside their rudimentary 2001 debut Identity Crisis (an album they’ve since virtually disowned), Thrice initially broke into the mainstream of the independent Warped Tour/Hot Topic scene with its sophomore release in 2002, The Illusion of Safety, issued by Hopeless/Sub City Records. The album spawned a word-of-mouth hit, “Deadbolt,” and after tons of touring and opening for acts like Face to Face, Further Seems Forever and Coheed and Cambria, they managed to score a deal with Island Records and released its first major album, The Artist in the Ambulance, just a year later.
That landed them on a Honda Civic Tour with Dashboard Confessional and the Get Up Kids, and later scored them a 2004 spot on Warped. Two years after that came the more conceptual and sonically richer Vheissu; the size of their fan base spiked even higher, and now critics were beginning to take them seriously. Yet, as tends to happen in the digital era, partnerships with the big corporations quickly fall apart.
They split from Island, in part because the label wasn’t interested in putting out the band’s next collection as they wished: as a series of four EPs representing the elements of earth, air, fire and water, collectively titled The Alchemy Index. Instead, Thrice took the pulled-apart project to high-profile indie outfit Vagrant Records, which released the first half in October 2007, the rest five months later.
Combined, it was the band’s most adventurous work yet, spanning the harmonies and electronic programming of Volume II: Water to the acoustic folk of Volume IV: Earth (at least partly an outgrowth of Kensrue exploring Americana with his aptly titled 2007 solo album Please Come Home). Breckenridge says they’re all grateful to have had loyal fans who stuck with Thrice through so many changes in direction.
“Oh yeah, I’ve heard people complain,” he says with a slight laugh. “It’s really insane that we’ve been so fortunate, that people have supported us. I think there are a lot of people who have stayed with us from the beginning – they kind of grew up with us, so that support has been huge.”
Thrice followed The Alchemy Index with its most unified work in four years, breaking their mold even further with Beggars in 2009. The self-recorded assortment, largely written and recorded in cramped quarters in Teranishi’s garage studio, had a much more energetic and gritty feel to it than the previous album, while rhythmically and aesthetically taking cues from Radiohead post-Kid A.
After still more extensive worldwide touring, Thrice scratched out time to cut one more album, the similarly structured Major/Minor, which Vagrant unveiled last September. Another tour commenced … and then the hiatus announcement was posted.
Facing the Finale
To fully involve fans in this farewell-for-now, the band has been accepting song requests via its website to change up set lists and include a little something from every album at each of these gigs.
“That has been really awesome,” Breckenridge says. “The response to these shows so far has been amazing – like really amazing. When you treat a show as if it’s possibly your last time ever playing, it brings out something in everyone – not just us, but also the people at the shows. Maybe the person who would normally stand in the back and mouth along the words is singing a little bit louder now. That energy bounces off of us and we have been giving it right back, and it’s just been awesome. I’ve been having so much fun.
“But I’m scared for the last show because I don’t want it to stop. I’m trying not to worry about possibilities and ends and all of that.”
The final show, he says, will undoubtedly be an emotional one; he admits he may have to wear sunglasses throughout the second night at the Observatory to hide his eyes.
“At the beginning of this tour we played in London, and that was pretty rough,” he says. “The show was great and the people were awesome, but as you ring out on that last note and you’re looking around, it’s like, ‘Holy crap.’ There are very few people that get to experience this in life, especially the people who have wanted it for their whole life.
“I’m not sure how I’ll react at our last show. I’d hope I could walk off the stage with maybe a cheery smile and just be happy that I had this chance at all. That’s the most important thing to recognize. Plus, maybe this isn’t the last time we’re playing. That thought can hold me over.”
He says the best part of being in Thrice was getting to meet so many amazing people and travel the world.
“I think that’s the most valuable thing we received from all of this, to gain knowledge from other people and share in that community of people who are making art and writing music. I hope that doesn’t just go away.”
Earlier this year, Thrice – which by the time of Alchemy Index and Beggars had risen to prominent spots at international festivals, including Coachella, without need of major-label backing – was awarded the OC Impact Award at the OC Music Awards at City National Grove of Anaheim. It was seemingly premature, except for the fact that they were about to put everything on hold.
Accepting such an honor was humbling, Breckenridge says. “That really was amazing, too. I guess my thing is, when people compliment us, I’m always like, ‘Well, this is how we got here.’ When we got the award, I was like, shoot, there are a lot of bands that have made a huge impact on me – how can I share this with everyone who is now thanking us for having any sort of impact on Orange County?
“It was awesome, but kind of hard to receive it in a way. We were super happy about it, but at the same time we feel like there’s so much more to learn. I want to keep impacting people if I can, and I want bands and artists to keep having an impact on me.”
Photo of Thrice by Jonathan Weiner.
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