Alternative rockers Thrice, one of the major stalwarts of the wildly popular post-hardcore scene in the early ’00s, have certainly gone through significant changes since their beginnings. But, the differences don’t take shape physically within the band in terms of participating members or even necessarily in the creative process. As the band members have progressed over the years, their growth as individuals have had a tremendous effect on the maturing mood and atmosphere of their music. Thrice is now often seen as a storied veteran of the alternative rock scene, and continue to shift their sound towards a multitude of new directions that could not have been predicted back in the early days of the band’s career. In this exclusive interview, drummer Riley Breckenridge goes over all of the elements that went into their latest album Major/Minor and reflects on the history of the band.
OS: Back when you announced the album, you said that each member was writing music individually for the album. How did that affect the dynamic of the music when you got together to record?
RB: There really wasn’t much difference from any prior records. Everybody’s kind of been a contributor to the songwriting process since as early as I can remember really. When it comes to write a record, everybody kind of works on their own when they have time individually and then when it comes time to write songs, the first step of that process is us bringing the hard drive or iPod with song ideas record on it. We all sit in the same room, listen to what everyone’s got, take notes and figure out what might work and what might not work. You start to get a clearer picture of where the record’s headed based on these ideas that are coming from four people with really different tastes in music. One of the things that makes us us is working hard to get those songs, those ideas, to a place where we’re all content with them.
OS: So, the cohesive idea of the album doesn’t come together until that point?
RB: It’s kind of interesting to see where everybody’s head at when we start sharing ideas. It wasn’t like let’s set out to write a record that sounds like this or like that. We’ve always just kind of let everybody express themselves individually the way that they want to. And then, when we start sharing ideas and piecing those ideas together to turn them into songs, it seems like the record kind of tends to take their own direction. It’s hard to put a finger on what that direction is going to be. It kind of just happens pretty naturally. You kind of build off that energy in the room and for writing those songs and some kind of shift, dynamic turns that kind of sort popping over and over again. Then you kind of start to build on things and the record kind of takes shape that way.
OS: You guys recorded in Red Bull Studios, which you previously used for the acoustic live EP back in 2007. What is it about that particular studio that appeals to the sound of the band?
RB: Well, for the last few records, for Beggars and then The Alchemy Index, we recorded in our home studio in a detached garage behind Teppei’s house in Orange. It’s really, really cramped. It’s like a car garage with a room built inside a room. While it’s comfortable to be close to home, the acoustics are not set up for the greatest recording. [chuckles] Nor is it the most comfortable place to be in. Red Bull is just a really nice studio. It’s really clean. It’s a little bit sterile in some ways. It doesn’t have the character of, obviously, a place like Bearsville that we recorded Artist in the Ambulance and Vheissu in. But, it was nice having that space. It was nice having a bunch of really really nice equipment. We felt comfortable, not only because we had done those sessions in 2007, but because we know Eric Stenman, who’s the house engineer there, and then working with Dave Schiffman, who produced the record. It’s just like working with friends. It was relaxed yet focused. It was a nice break from holing up in our little studio at home.
OS: You mentioned that you worked with producer Dave Schiffman on this album. Was it really important to work with someone you had previous experience with this time around?
RB: It kind of hard to tell, but I kind of felt like this time around it was important to get an objective set of ears on these demos that we were doing. After doing the last two records on our own with no producer, it kind of felt like it was time to shake things up a little bit. It wasn’t like Dave was super hands-on. Basically, we came to him with the record written already and he just kind of fine-tuned things. Let us know which transitions weren’t working, very minor changes and suggestions. It helped us to make a more focused record than without him. And then that he was a friend and we were familiar with him. We kind of knew what we were getting into. He knew how to handle us and how to present his ideas in a tactful way and we knew how to accept them. He just wanted it to be a healthy work relationship and that’s what it was.
OS: You’ve stated that you wanted Major/Minor to be “bigger” and “in-your-face”. And you can definitely hear that in music. Did you have that mindset due to the way you made Beggars? Or was there some other underlying reason for making a more aggressive album?
RB: I think it was kind of building off of Beggars. Some of our favorite moments on Beggars, this is something we realized when we were playing the songs live, is the energy of the four of us playing together. I think that’s something we realized while we were writing Beggars, because the Alchemy Index before it was such a fractured project with four different EPs and a lot of stuff was created just with an acoustic guitar or with a lot of electronic foot programming. It wasn’t so much about jamming as it was about constructing these songs in a fractured way. It was so exciting to get back in the studio and start writing and jamming ideas out for Beggars that, by the time we started Major/Minor, we wanted to build on the momentum that we had from Beggars and recapture that energy and boost it a little bit and just write a rock record.
OS: How does it feel having been together for over ten years now? Do you ever have time to think back on how things have changed since the days of Identity Crisis and The Illusion of Safety?
RB: I don’t think about it too much. I guess since we started touring a little bit less, I mean we used to be a band that would tour ten months out of the year and now we tour more like six months out of the year, just because guys are raising kids and starting families and stuff like that. So there’s a little bit more downtime, which means there’s a little bit more time to reflect. For me, that just about being grateful. I mean, we didn’t start this band with aspirations of being signed or being on a major label at any time or having a video on MTV or song on the radio or anything. We were just a bunch of kids from Irvine that wanted something fun to do after work or after school and had so much fun doing it, and I guess people starting having fun listening to it. There was kind of a slow gradual build that felt very natural here and we just kind of took opportunities as they were presented to us and as long as we felt good about the chances we were taking we did them and never lost sight of the fact that we started this band to have fun and be creative. We kind of held onto that ethos and it’s amazing that we’re still doing what we’re doing, especially as we’ve watched some of our contemporaries kind of hang it up or move onto other things or some people come and go with members in bands. The fact that it’s the same four guys who started this band thirteen years ago is pretty cool.
OS: You mentioned you like remembering you’re just four kids from Irvine. I noticed how for your tour dates this year you end right in SoCal area. Was it really important to stay in that area near the end of the tour or was that just how things worked out logistically?
RB: It’s kind of how things just worked out. It depends on how long the tour is. Since this one’s like six weeks or something, it’s starting pretty close to home in Vegas and ending pretty close to home, like you said, in Orange County. If we were to do a longer tour, sometimes we’ll try to route the tour so there’s a number of home shows right in the middle, so it’s almost like half-time. [laughs] It’s just coincidental it happened like that. To be able to finish off a fairly long six weeks, thirty to forty shows, it’s always fun to do it in front of friends and family and people who have probably seen the band many times. It’s the home crowd, it’s awesome.
OS: Is there any special venues that you love to play in that area?
RB: I don’t know if I have many favorite venues. I have favorite cities. Just for various reasons, I love Austin, TX. There’s no shortage of things to do, no shortage of good food. New York is the same way. Chicago. Seattle. I’m trying to think if there’s one venue that really stands out, but I’m not sure if there’s one venue I like more than the other.
OS: Do you still have a favorite from the old days that you still like to play?
RB: I don’t mind playing some of the older stuff, but it’s been really weird how the vibe of the songwriting has gone from a frenetic, let’s play as fast as we can and riff as much as we can and not really think about transitions to now we’re exploring dynamics and trying to make transitions smooth and stuff. To go back to play that old stuff, it makes things feel physically tense. You kind of have to step outside where your head is now to go back and play that older stuff. I’ll play any of that old stuff and it’s a fun kind of nostalgic exercise in a way, and sometimes when we play the old songs I’ll get flashbacks to the old days and it’s fun. Playing stuff you wrote ten years ago doesn’t feel like you’re playing to the best of your abilities but there’s a nostalgic factor there that is irreplaceable.
You can pick up Thrice’s album Major/Minor on iTunes or in your local record store. And feel free to check out the lyric video for “Promises” below!