Interview: Geoff Rickly of No Devotion

No Devotion

Recently I was able to connect with lead vocalist Geoff Rickly, of No Devotion and Thursday, to discuss No Devotion’s upcoming record called No Oblivion. The new record is set to hit streaming services on September 16th via Velocity Records, and I also asked Geoff about the process for getting No Devotion’s incredible debut album, Permanence, back on streaming services. In this in-depth interview, Geoff opened up about his personal struggles, the departure of some members of No Devotion, his memories of producing My Chemical Romance’s debut LP, the difference in writing for Thursday compared to No Devotion, as well as his future goals for each musical project.

Thank you for your time today, Geoff! First of all, you guys recently did a tour with No Devotion, and I know that it was cut a little bit short because of an illness in the band. So how is everyone in the band doing these days?

Yeah, I’m healthy again. So no more pneumonia. And I’m not quite singing again, because it damaged my throat and lungs. But I’m hoping by the time Thursday gets back on tour, it will be.

Hope you feel better! Congrats on the upcoming release of No Devotion’s second album called No Oblivion. So where did the album title come from, and why did your band choose to title it this for this collection of songs?

So after the first record came out, and immediately the record label went under, and the record went out and print, we all kind of said, “We’ll take the next year and decide if we even want to do this anymore.” It sort of at the time felt like it was like one thing after another with all of us. I was also deeply into a heroin addiction, and really having a hard time getting out from under it. And when I first heard “Starlings,” the first demo from this record, I was in the process of getting sober. And it made me think, like actually, I could stay alive long enough to make more music. And I still love music, and this music. This is like my favorite thing I’ve ever heard from these guys. So the record felt like a choice to not let yourself slip into the void, or whatever. And when I think about No Oblivion, I think about the choice that I’ve made to live my life, now clean, and not just want to dive headlong into the kind of erasure of the self that comes with heavy drug abuse.

Sure, I understand. Permanence was my favorite record to be released in 2015.  I actually have the vinyl over here. So luckily, I was able to snag it before it was out of print. Can you tell me what the process was like for getting Permanence back on streaming services?

Yeah, we kind of had to disentangle, and figure out how many different partnerships there were behind that record because the label had to deal with Warner Brothers for distribution. And there’s also the various publishing entities that were involved. And once something falls out of print that has a few different partnerships, it gets really complicated. And so like three years to two and a half years ago, we pretty much figured out that we could get it back on streaming right away. But we decided that we wanted to not just “throw up” the record and be like, well, we’re not touring, and we’re not releasing new music. So we just thought we’d like to wait and make kind of an announcement that the band’s coming back.

Yeah, I see. So now you guys are officially a three-member band after the departure of Mike Lewis and Jamie Oliver. So are there any challenges, or potentially benefits, to writing as a smaller unit now?

Yeah, definitely both. It’s strange, because we had a drummer even when we recorded the singles. Not the record, we were recording a couple of different drummers, but with the singles we had a permanent drummer at the time. And so we were a six-piece and now we’re a three-piece, so it is quite a bit different. The huge benefit, I’d say, would be that Stu, Lee and I are really, really in sync. We have really similar ideas about things. So when Stu comes to me with a song that I really like, immediately I know he’s gonna get it and he’s going to add something to it. And I also know that Billy is the same as when we write a new song, I know that Steve is going to produce it really well and add all these flourishes to it. He helped me to figure out what is cool, like if I’m giving a melody that’s not quite all the way there, he still always knows the extra stuff to sprinkle in a couple notes that I’m missing that would really make it pop. And so it’s the most natural right now. Three-piece No Devotion is the most natural I’ve ever seen when writing music. It just feels like it’s no work at all. It’s really a strange feeling. The drawback is, when you have six people, everything gets really balanced out. So if all the stuff that you’re doing is really fast, then somebody’s saying, this stuff’s too fast, we gotta slow it down. If all this stuff is really sad, somebody’s gonna be like, we need a couple pop bangers to make it more exciting. And with Stu, Lee and I, we don’t do any of that. We’re not balancing. This record is eight songs because it’s so intense. And it’s such a crushing, dark record that if we put nine songs on it, it would just feel like it was pressing, you know what I mean? So we really wanted to end that. We tried actually to have some other songs, but we started trying to put like one or two of the upbeat songs that we had on the record, and it just ruined the mood. So the perfect balance was to get the eight songs, two sides of a record, and that’s it. But it’s interesting in some ways, because it’s a very different record from Permanence. But it just felt perfect for what it was. And it felt like a real honest reaction to all the stuff that we had all been through. So it just kind of worked. And I think the next record will probably be really different again. But right now, this is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. I think it’s the best my voice ever sounded in some ways. 

You sound great in the advance that I got of No Oblivion. I think my favorite song right now is “Love Songs From Fascist Italy.” I think it’s the one that puts the right balance of what you did on Permanence, but also a little bit of the Thursday kind of vibes that you put out recently, too. So, good work on that!

That’s interesting. I think there is more Thursday on this record than on the first record. And I think that with the first record, we all wanted to prove like that we’re doing something totally different, and not have people sit there thinking that it just sounds like Thursday. But this time, I don’t think we feel uptight about that. We’re like, “Let’s make the record we want to make. And if pieces of who we are shows through from other things that we’ve done, that’s natural.” That’s who we are.

it definitely sounds very authentic to who you guys are. And I’m sorry I missed the show that got canceled in Baltimore. I was planning on going, but it was out of your hands at that point…

Yeah, it was so out of my hands. I was devastated. It wasn’t even my call to cancel the show. Our manager was like, You’re not going down <to Baltimore>. He said, “There’s no way I’m gonna let you.”

Yeah, you don’t want to damage your voice or anything like that, or make it worse.

Yeah. Even if it wasn’t COVID, people just don’t feel good about it. I mean, you’d be in a small room with somebody who’s basically dying on stage.

Yeah, I totally get it. Anyways, I love the vinyl variants of the new album for No Devotion! Especially the handwritten lyrics built into the mold of the vinyl, that’s really cool, and really creative. So how much say does your band get in the packaging, artwork, and overall promotion on the new album?

We’re really lucky to have the success and the kind of legacy that Thursday has now because in the situations we get ourselves into with labels and manufacturers and stuff like that, I have this really long history of doing things the right way. Now, we get a lot of say in what we want to do. And we’re so lucky to have that. I mean, I know a lot of bands get kind of forced into situations they don’t want to be in, and especially right now, with the production delays and everything. Believe it or not, we almost felt guilty, but we’ve had the vinyl <of No Oblivion> since February of last year. The thing is, we were going to release the record much earlier, but I fell off the stage with Thursday, and broke my ankle. And then we decided we had to cancel some shows. So that’s kind of weird to have like all these records around that we didn’t share with anybody.

Definitely! And it seems like you join a list of illustrious musicians who have recently broken their legs on stage like Rage Against The Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, but hopefully you’re on the better side of that at this point.

With Zack, I’ve really been thinking about it. Because when I was a kid, I saw Rage Against The Machine with Wu-Tang Clan in New York City, and that’s when he originally broke his ankle on stage. I saw the medics come out, saw them wrap his foot, put a cast on it, he came back out, and he finished the show. And the fact that this time, if you watch the video, it doesn’t look like he did anything that looks too bad. But I’m thinking, it’s probably because he has an injury, and now it’s reopened. So with me, I’m thinking that I have this injury, I should be a little more careful with it. You know what I mean? I don’t want to reopen it in the middle of the tour. I got some screws in my ankle, and I don’t think he <Zack> got screws put in his ankle like I did the first time. But I fell off the stage on Valentine’s Day of this year, and it’s not recovered yet. I can’t crouch. My foot doesn’t bend that way, it’s really weird. So the idea of going on tour in less than a month and not being agile… 

Yeah, like not trusting yourself on certain spots and stuff…

Yeah, I’ve never been like a super strong person, but I’m very agile. That’s what’s allowed me to like hop off stages and jump around. And now that I’m like 40, I don’t know…I feel like I’m gonna break my legs and do something stupid.

So to shift gears a bit, My Chemical Romance’s Bullets, an album you produced, recently celebrated its 20 year anniversary. So are there any vivid memories that come back to mind with that band during those recording sessions?

Yeah, I mean, there’s so many. I just remember the joy of listening through Gerard doing songs in whole takes, just singing them. And so you would hear like, “Okay, that’s what the song is supposed to be.” And I’d hear him doing the takes, and I’d start to hear, oh there’s not enough variety in this melody. It keeps repeating the same idea over and over again. And it’s a good idea, but it’s not good enough. So I started going through it with him, line by line, trying to get him to add a little variety. And I’d suggest, maybe the second one felt like this. And he would sing something back, and it was the first time I suggested a different melody. He sings something back that was so different from what I was saying, but it was so much better and clearer that it was immediately clear that he’s a natural singer. He had range, and he had ideas that you could just see. Because usually, when you suggest a melody line to a singer, it takes them five to 10 times singing the melody that way to make it their own. To not just sound like they’re parroting somebody else singing like a piano, or mechanically. You want them to connect with it, and enjoy it the first time. It was a different melody, and it was so full and rich and surprising. And it was like, fully him, and it had more emotion than he was singing in the first take. I just remember that very first thing being like, “Oh, he’s incredible.” You know what I mean? I’ve always known Gerard was talented, and I’ve always liked Gerard. I didn’t know that he was a great singer until that moment. I thought he’s got good ideas. He’s an amazing artist. He had been a comic artist before that. Like, I didn’t know about the rest of the band, they were still finding themselves. Ray was clearly a great guitar player, but the rest of the band, they didn’t know what they’re doing so much. I kept trying to get them to fire their drummer. I was like you gotta get rid of this guy…Mikey was a little shaky. He was basically saying, “Well, they gave me a bass.” It was kind of how it felt at the time. But when I heard Gerard it changed everything that I thought about what they could be.

That’s great. I had never heard that story before! Is there a certain role that you think a producer should have in those types of capacities?

Yeah, I think with every producer, you get a different strength. And I think there’s a tendency to go to a producer and say, “I know what you do, but this is the kind of record that I want to make.” And that’s got mixed results. You’ve got to pick a producer because you like what they do. With Thursday’s A City By The Light Divided, we wanted it to be big, powerful and heavy.. I love those records, but the idea that you’re gonna change somebody’s thinking really works, when you match the content of the record to what the producer is good at. And that’s why, for me, the last Thursday record, No Devolucion, really works, as we paired what we’re doing with his strengths. And he takes things that are like, subdued and makes them sound big and exciting. So when you give him something that’s too big and exciting already, it just doesn’t work to his strengths. And yeah, he’s brilliant. I think he’s amazing. It’s why he made the first No Devotion record. We’ve worked with them so much. I love him, and I love his records. But each producer brings something different. With Dave <Fridmann>, he makes this amazing sounding thing. And he knows how to cut things up and move things around, he manages a lot of information really well. That’s his big strength. And then somebody like, Ross Robinson or whatever, that’s just like all about trying to get the drop. Like, getting it to sound crazy and exciting. And for me, my strength is I like to nurture singers. For me, I like to help them find who they’re supposed to be, which is why I really liked doing the first album. Beyond that, it doesn’t play to my strengths as much. I know how to hang my stuff, but I’m not great at it. I help young singers find out who they’re supposed to be. So my natural talent as a singer is to see why they’re special, and to try and get them to keep going in that direction. And the other side is a lot about just making them feel great about themselves and making them feel comfortable. And so with MCR, I helped them find out who they were supposed to be. And I made them feel like nothing could ever stop them.

I think a lot of people appreciate that, given their trajectory! <Laughter>

<Laughter> Yeah, do I think they would have done well if anybody else had filled that role? I think they still would have done really well, because there’s something pretty undeniable about them. But they did need somebody to fill that role of taking action on them. And when you’re watching kids from Newark, it’s not always guaranteed that somebody’s gonna take a shot, right?

Especially during that period of time, where everybody was just getting major labels thrown at them.

Yeah, I felt really happy about that time period.

That’s great. Thursday and No Devotion appear to be up and running full time as new releases are coming in, or you’re putting tour packages together. So what do you find to be the major differences and writing for Thursday versus No Devotion?

They’re just so different. I’m trying to think of what the similarities would be. I almost can’t think of any. What Thursday usually does in the past, because we haven’t written in a long time, is we would all get into a room and fight for like seven or eight hours. And sometimes it’d be under seven or eight hours, and we’d have one part.

<Laughter> That reminds me of that meme of everybody fighting during Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. And then they get this beautiful piece of artwork at the end!

Yeah, and the thing is, at some point that worked for us. So we just kept doing it. And there’s only so long you can fight with each other. When people wonder where the new Thursday music is, it’s like if you want us to keep being a band, and if you want to keep seeing us live and putting out new music…because as soon as we start writing, it gets fucking brutal around Thursday.

And I guess you know your guys’ personalities at this point too. So that’s kind of another one of the strengths for the band’s longevity too, right?

Yeah, I mean, we keep this thing, and every so often every couple of months, we’ll try and write a different way, but we still fight. And we get it. I hate to say it, but for some reason on Thursday, there is a certain magic that comes out of this fight, whereas with No Devotion, it’s almost like we all think exactly the same way. And there’s just no point in fighting, and we just keep on pushing each other to keep getting where we want it to go, and then it’s just done. And yes, we did the whole <new> record, and we did it in two weeks. And then we spent two years trying to make it better, because we thought, “We cannot be done in two weeks!” And so we spent two years saying we’ll change this one part. Okay, we’ll take this song out. Okay, now we’ll bring back that song, but we’ll turn it into this. And there’s literally only one song that changed. The song at the end was the only one that significantly changed. And it was the only one that I was thinking we got to kind of find something else for this record. But it turned out it was because I was singing a chromatic melody, instead of what the key of the song is. And the chromatic melody made it sound like if you’re listening like, to be kind, Nine Inch Nails, but it probably really sounded like my melody was probably more like Rammstein. And I do not do a convincing Rammstein. <Laughter> I’m not like a huge German dude with latex on. And I like Rammstein. I think they’re an interesting, weird thing, but it’s not something I can pull off.

<Laughter> So the last question I have for you is now that No Devotion appear poised to release music on a more frequent basis, what do you anticipate the future looks like for this project?

We had this idea when we finished No Oblivion after two weeks, that we’re gonna do a record every year for three years. It’s gonna be like our David Bowie, Berlin period. And then we didn’t release it for two years. <Laughter> Like, okay, maybe that’s not gonna happen. But we’re definitely planning on keeping it more steady.

Good! Any last words for your fans of either band? 

Just that every time I talk to somebody who’s heard the record, they have a different favorite song. So I keep on being like, well, maybe we’ll do a video for that one! And so it’s great to hear that you love “Love Songs From a Fascist Italy.” I played  the new record for Mikey Way, and he said, “Dude, I can’t believe how good this is. You got to do a video for ‘Endless Desire.’ That’s the song!”

And that’s a sign of a good record, too. That people aren’t harping on the same single song, you know what I mean?

Yeah, it really is touching. I think the thing that we keep saying about the record is it’s probably not going to be a wide audience. It’s not going to be where everybody loves this record. But we do think it’s gonna be very deep, where the people who find the record will really love it. I think that’s great.

And it seems like Permanence has its own core audience too. I hope that continues for you guys.

Thanks, Adam. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about everything.

Absolutely! I enjoyed it so much, Geoff.

Have a good one!