Interview: Geoff Rickly of Thursday


Thursday will go down as one of the iconic bands of our generation amongst the hardcore and punk scene. Whether you think they’re not underground enough, or don’t play enough hardcore for your liking anymore, they’ve certainly proven themselves time and time again on record, and more importantly, within the community itself. On the heals of their next album, No Devolución, this will be a sharp left for many, but long time fans will see the band shine at possibly their brightest moment yet. Stripping themselves of most of their hardcore elements, the album still packs an elegance and driving force that made us all fall for the band’s music over a decade ago. On the second night of their tour with Underoath, Geoff Rickly sat down with me over chips and guacamole to talk about the last ten years, the scene and how proud he is of the band’s next album.

Since last night was the first night of this tour, how did it feel going through the album? It’s not the first time, but knowing that you’re going through it every night from here on out, what’s going through your head after one night of it?

It’s definitely funny, because it’s not just one time, like a hometown thing or L.A. Kids have been begging for it forever. We’re just doing it, and even a song that you’re not super siked on playing, and you haven’t played that song in forever. Last night when we got to “Wind-Up,” we were like “Why are we playing this song?” [Laughs] You know what I mean? It’s one of those things where I love that record and just because there’s a song on it that you wish you could erase, it’s part of it. You have to accept the flaws in things. That’s one of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about this tour. This tour will be the end of Thursday playing most of our old stuff. I think there will be times when we do some old stuff, but our next record is very different. I don’t think that we’ll ever try to do anything…like Common Existence was the last record of us trying to be a punk band, post-hardcore band or whatever you want to call it. Common Existence was sort of a love letter to that side of what we do. It was also the last record we knew we’d do in our 20’s. Now we’re all over 30. It’s kind of like, “We’ll see how the new record turns out.” I’m really happy with it. It’s so beautiful, but it’s so different. It’s not heavy. There’s nothing heavy about it. There’s nothing punk about it. It’s just a beautiful record. That’s the thing, the record is about devotion and beauty. It’s not urgent, and it’s not about a lot of things that people love about Thursday. It’s also very true to where we want to be. When you read things like that [Alternative Press] article, where you see the living that we make, it’s like “It’ll hurt your career.” Well, my career is already like sub-standard pay. Obviously, I just want to be happy. So this tour is kind of about a look back at something [pause] that record has been a life changer for me. It gave me a new path. I feel like, for one of the few times in my life, I came the closest to saying what I wanted on that record. Accidentally, we just really made a record to capture what we thought was missing from music at the time. Because you’d see all these hardcore bands, and then we’d go off and listen to The Cure and The Smiths and stuff and there was nobody that was bridging that at all or making that connection. Unbroken was covering Joy Division, but they didn’t make anything that sounded like Joy Division. To us, it was just this thing that we wanted to do. For us, we listened to American Nightmare and Swing Kids and Unbroken, and I lived at the time with the band You and I. We were friends with all the original screamo bands, or whatever you want to call it, but we all loved The Cure and The Pixies and it just seemed like a natural thing to me. So looking back on that, I feel like we got what we were going for in a certain way. All the things we hated about it and being so intense and so honest and raw and the singing being not perfect, that made it. A good record would have done it in a professional way – bulletproof. I hear bulletproof records every day. Perfect. There’s no soul. There’s so much soul to [Full Collapse] that I just love to go out there and play it every night. In the last eight years, since War All the Time forward, I really just wanted to play Full Collapse that night, but we had new material and we needed to play that stuff. [Laughs] I finally have an excuse with the ten year anniversary of it. I love that record, and it will always have a place in my heart. Now I actually get to go out and play it when I want to. That’s the exciting part about it. The less exciting part is that there’s so many great songs on our new record that I’m dying to play, and I have to wait to play those songs. We’ll tour on that record, so I’m not worried about that.

You mention all these influences, Joy Division and The Cure, all these bands who had influence on you. We talked in the interview for the book I’m working on that the last track, where you were layering everything on top of each other, you were very influenced by Spiritualized. With songs like “In Silence” and “Time’s Arrow,” it seems like that influence has always come through with every record. But you’re saying this time around, it’s more, well, I’m just trying to get an idea of what you mean by no more punk rock.

There’s no “Resuscitation of a Dead Man” or “He Climbed…” on this record.

What about something like “Autumn Leaves Revisited,” where it’s heavy, but not in a traditional hardcore sense?

Not even so much of that. It’s a very controlled record. I think a lot of what Thursday’s been good at live is letting there be a balance between beauty and chaos. I think this one leans very heavily on the beauty side. It’s funny because the first feedback we’ve gotten from a journalist is Andy Greenwald. He wrote me a Twitter that said, “You finally did it. This is the perfect Thursday record. This is the balance you’ve been going at for years.” It’s funny, because we weren’t really going for a balance. We went off on one direction and was like “Fuck it.” It’s also funny because Andy was a lead reviewer for SPIN, so we thought, “Awesome, we’re going to get a five star review in SPIN.” Now he’s working for Penthouse. [Laughs] That’s amazing, we’re going to get our first big review in Penthouse. Even though he’s this talented writer, and he wrote Nothing Feels Good

Yeah, I’m a big fan of his work…

Yeah, Andy’s good. He’s a really wonderful person. I met him through that book. With that I really got to meet him, and I’m really quite a fan of him as a person.

What of this tour is going to be reflective of this new record? The passion we speak of. The passion riding through these younger bands like La Dispute and Touche Amore and Former Thieves and Native. How much of that ideology rides through this album without getting “intense?”

That’s an interesting question. I hope the “line” that comes through is that it tries to be a sincere and honest document of where we are at in our lives. I think that that’s the common thread between bands like La Dispute and Touche and Pianos [Become the Teeth] and Make Do and Mend. Those bands are totally different from each other. You couldn’t say that those bands are heavy in a similar way. But there’s something that runs through all of them that feels real. That feels like they’re not trying to be cool. They’re not trying to sell themselves. Maybe Thursday fans will hate it, but hopefully the fans will like it. I think fans that feel that sort of honesty will really enjoy the record.

For some fans, they may not appreciate it because they’re so enthralled in the other stuff. Do you really care?

I mean, this is the double edged sword. On one hand, as much as we’ve been the hyped band in the scene, we’ve also been the reviled emo band of the scene. I’ve had so many people talk shit on me that I really don’t care what people think. At the same time, the people that really hold onto our band and it changes something in their lives – and music does that for me all the time – that they’d be disappointed they lost out on the record that would help them through, then that would be disappointing. I don’t think that we could have made a record that was heavier or crazy. It would have just sucked. It would have been us trying to make that. Those people who wanted a specific thing, they would have been disappointed either way or we just wouldn’t have made another record. It’s really all you can do, just try and be true to yourself. Everyone I’ve played it for doesn’t really know how to react to it. Then you give them it for a few days and they call back and are like “This is a wonderful thing. Thank you for letting me stick with this. This isn’t a first time thing, you have to sit with it.” Even our label, we didn’t hear anything for days. Then they called back…

I felt that way with the new Get Up Kids record…

I haven’t heard that yet.

It took a few listens and then it sort of clicked. But I think one of the things to is whether you know a band or not. One of our staff members just reviewed an album by a long time band, and he didn’t have much previous knowledge of their older material. The review was so good, and he really enjoyed the record. His approach to the record, not knowing the past, that was just incredible. I sort of wonder what it would be like to approach the new Get Up Kids album if I wasn’t a fan already. So I hope, once I hear this record, and the approach that you’re telling me it takes, that maybe I should sit with it as a new slate of music and not focus on the past, or even maybe knowing the past where you guys are approaching with it now.

If you have time after your other interview, I’ll definitely play you some of the album.

Awesome. Yeah, definitely. Now, with my anticipated write-up for the site, I mentioned what I thought was the one big fault with Common Existence – and something that past Thursday records nailed – the flow of it being an album. There’s nothing wrong with the songs, but it didn’t feel like there was a flow to the record.

I think a lot of that was about sequencing. We never could agree about the sequencing of Common Existence. I think that was a big part of it. We never agreed where “Unintended Long Term Effects” should go. No matter where we put it, we felt it broke up the record somehow. We always thought about it as a fast version of “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith. That riff had that feeling like that. All the other songs were long, and this one was short. We wanted to put it on the record, but no matter where we put it…sometimes I wish we never put it on there. It would have felt like a short record, but maybe it would have been a bit more solid without it on there. We kept flip-flopping between having “Resuscitation” or “Last Call” first, and it was just one of those things where we ran out of time. We had to send it in. No one was very happy with the order. I still think Common Existence was what we were trying to get with War All the Time. A dark, claustrophobic, progress hardcore record. To me, with War All the Time it sounded a little too much like Full Collapse and I wanted it to sound a bit more radical. I think A City By the Light Divided got everything we wanted on that record, except I think we should have left out “We Will Overcome” on that record. Other than that, that record had a real feeling. It’s just funny, you can never really tell what imperfections make a record or what imperfections kill a record. Like “Wind-Up” on Full Collapse. It was one of our first demos. I don’t know how we put it on our second record. It totally doesn’t wreck it somehow. [Laughs] It just works. I don’t know. So much of this stuff is happy accidents.

Every time I play “Cross Out the Eyes” now, and someone is trying to do the off vocal screams towards the end. It’s crazy to think it was a computer mess-up.

Tom Schlatter from You and I came out to do it with us at the holiday show. It was the first time we ever did that live. When he would come out and do it with us before we recorded it, he would do it the way it was supposed to be. It was cool to do it the way that it is on the record. It was really great, it was really fun. It was great to hear it played out that way. It’s like, “Oh, that’s how it sounds on the record.”

So what about this record, do you think you got the cohesiveness and the tracking down?

I don’t know. I hope so. [Laughs]

Okay, well, in our other interview, you talk about Thursday constantly making records to make that perfect album. Again, I can’t get out of my mind that Full Collapse would have been the last Thursday record. Then you talked about making that perfect record. Going back and figuring out what was wrong last time. With the feedback now, do you think you did it this time around?

No I don’t actually. There’s one song that I know is in the wrong spot. It may even be the “Wind-Up” of this record. Maybe it shouldn’t be on this record, but it’s still awesome. It just somehow works. It might be hard for me to tell, because I’m so close to it. This record is mostly hit. Whether it’s what most people are going for is another story.

Subjectivity aside…

Yeah, what we were going for we got through and through, unlike Common Existence. [That record] was a collection of short stories all bound together. This is a record like War All the Time, where it is one theme. The theme this time is devotion because I feel like people don’t write about devotion. They write about first love, about obsession, heartbreak, jealousy, whatever. They don’t write about something that’s so fundamental. It’s about devoting yourself to another person, a life long goal or a set of beliefs. In this case, a band that’s been best friends for thirteen years. It’s something beautiful that doesn’t get explored. The record is like a prism. You shine one theme into the prism and you get so many different versions of that theme. All the songs are different twist on that idea of devotion. I’m really happy with that. It turned out better than I can hope. Also, the artwork has been unbelievable. I can’t wait for people to see it. There’s a paper artist in Brooklyn, Mia Pearlman, she does these giant installations that fill up rooms…because she’s an instillation artist, we’re working on a deluxe version of the CD packaging that’s layers and layers of cut paper where the light will shine through the CD hole. I feel like the sound and look of the record are matching up. That is really cool. I feel like that’s a challenge to make that happen.

That’s how I felt about the Touche Amore/La Dispute split. Vass told me the idea last SXSW, and the packaging came out and was great. The same can be said about this Still Life/Evergreen split I got a year back, the packaging was just incredible. I think that’s coming back, and fans are appreciating it. Do you think that’s important for bands to do these days?

I think if it’s done right, it’s great. I think if it’s done wrong, it’s just a gimmick to sell your record. Jeremy deVine, who put out our split with Envy, I love his label. Temporary Residence has some of the best packages if you look at all their LPs.

Yeah, I liked all the Old Wounds album covers.

What he does, I love. He just thinks it’s so rad. That’s why he does the label, to get to do stuff like that. I think labels like that are bringing back the fine art aspect of music, which is really fun.

Yeah, even with the Fang Island record, the design was simple, but if you look in the sleeve, there’s printed fireworks inside the jacket. Who else is going to appreciate that besides a fan? It’s so awesome.

Yeah, I feel like when it comes from there, stuff people may not care about but is important to you, I love it. There was this Spiritualized box set for their rerelease, and it was this giant pill box, and every box had a CD for each song that you popped out of the blister pack. I think they made a 1000 of them, and everyone came with a Spiritualized doctor pad that was signed by Dr. Jason Pierce and signed your prescription for the record. That’s so fucking cool.

Yeah, the Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency and I reissue came out good too. It’s pretty simple, but it comes with a booklet of linear notes about the album. With the vinyl resurgence, and Record Store Day events, I feel like it’s either put out an LP like everyone else is doing now, or put out something worthwhile that will entice people to buy it.

And that’s kind of exciting too, the demand for something of higher quality. If you want them to buy it, you’re going to have to give them something good. That’s pretty awesome, because I think the whole unit moving corporation based CD sales of 2000 – that model where it didn’t matter how it looked because it was cheaper to do it that way and you could put a whole lot at Best Buy. I’m sure bands and labels made money off it, but there was no heart to it. There’s a thing in Jonathan Franzen’s book Freedom, and one of the characters is a punk rocker. Then eventually he becomes a country artist, which is so true. After a couple of years, he does an interview and he starts being asked if it’s a political thing. He’s like, “Why would you ask that, I make chiclits. I’m a producer. I just produce things and I sell them. I make meaningless things that people can buy and sell jingles. I go around the country being a door to door salesman. What do you think I do?” It’s funny, and so cynical. It was just these things that people were trying to sell. It wasn’t anything worthwhile to make you feel anything.

There was a time when there wasn’t leaks and you would have to go to the store and just get an album. It was like being in a medical survey. Am I going to get the kick or am I going to get the placebo?

Right! I think that’s why bands were selling so many records around that time. Music had gotten real decentralized. In the early ’90s there was this band and this band. You really had to know a lot about hardcore to be into that stuff or really talking about underground bands. So everyone was throwing records out there. You still couldn’t download it, the Internet was too young to do that. So people were buying every CD they thought would be good.

It’s true. The first time I heard Saves the Day, and I loved “Sell My Clothes, I’m Off to Heaven,” but I didn’t know the name of the song, just my friend always played it. So I ended up buying both Stay What You Are and Through Being Cool the same day to find out it was on a Vagrant comp as a b-side later on. That is how it went, but now if you need something, it’s completely at your disposal. Kids are discovering all this new music because of it, and there’s a scene brewing again with smaller labels with bands you support on them. What do you think of these labels and how they’re mimicking what was going on with Dischord and Level Plane some years back?

Back then, every label was smaller. Victory Records’ biggest album was by Boy Sets Fire. Still, that record sold like 70,000 copies…

Which is like the number one album for Soundscan now…

Yeah, yeah. But this would be the total of all the records sold. It is weird, because the whole scene blew up, but then downloads killed record sales. It’s a funny thing because I’m wondering if not for downloading, if these bands would sell any of these records.

But what do you think of this resurgence of the D.I.Y. and seeing these bands and crowds almost imitate the old days. Kids are buying more vinyl. There is certainly a throwback going on here, but when does it get to the point that it’s over-saturated?

That’s really hard to say. I really couldn’t tell. It comes in so many waves. It’s different from the underground, sort of Dischord stuff. Most of these bands are doing things that we did when we started, and no one would confuse us with an underground band back in the day. It’s really hard to say if they’ll seem obscure in a few years, or that’s what will be big. I love a lot of the stuff that’s going on right now in the underground. I’ve done my best to kind of help those bands with records and touring. At the same time, I’m not a part of it. I see things happening and I do what I can to help, but at the same time Thursday is not a part of it…

Well, it’s funny to say you’re not a part of it. Some bands I talk to hold you in a high regard, and still see what you guys do for other newer bands. Especially on this tour, playing Full Collapse every night, what do you think about the influence of the record and how it resonates ten years now? What about all these kids looking for obscure records by bands that didn’t last nearly as long as Thursday have?

That’s the thing, I got to see a lot of those bands and put on shows for a lot of those bands, and people don’t realize how fast those things lasted. It would be a 7″. It would be a show. It would be a heart attack for one week. That was it. It was hot shit for ten minutes. Even by those standards, there may have been a basement show, and you went to see them. In retrospect, I don’t think kids know how fleeting a lot of that stuff was. It’s interesting, because I was talking to someone, and he was talking about doing a lot of shows with You and I and Saetia, and they were considered just the coolest of those bands. He was like, “Yeah, it was just this thing that we did. It didn’t seem that radical to us. We just wanted to play our friends’ basements and make art and scream and get rowdy. It was the kind of kids that we were and now people love our records, and those kids are the worst. They’re sanctimonious and totally entitled to something special.” That’s not what it was about. It was about bringing your friends and bring some food to take to the homeless shelter later. It wasn’t about being a scene queen or hipster guy. There was nothing cool about it. It was just kids making noise. I feel like kids don’t realize that’s what it was like back then. It’s cool to see bands I grew up with become legends, but it’s funny to see kids get bent out of shape about them and how special they were. They wrote some great songs, but they were doing what everybody else was doing.

It’s so funny, because I constantly have those discussions of “which album is better.” Yesterday I got in a conversation about the Orchid records and how I think the Gatefold/self-titled is their best, against the grain of Chaos is Me. I still think Change is the best Dismemberment Plan album, and would love to get that one on vinyl more. But while it’s cool to have these conversations, there is so much subjectivity in them that people don’t realize they’re spewing.

That’s the thing, I don’t think that any of these opinions are wrong, but it’s just the attitude of going about it. Like, these kids have to be right about this one thing in their life. It’s so annoying. Whatever, it’s the same with Star Wars kids. It’s something to fight about, or even bond over. It’s funny, some kid was talking about us taking out Circle Takes the Square and how we shouldn’t because they’re some underground screamo act or whatever. That’s so funny because Tom was in Circle Takes the Square and wrote “Hole in the World” which is on Full Collapse with them. But yeah, they’re so much cooler than us. On some level, if something moves you, it will take up time in your heart and your head. You could be closer to a song than the person singing it. That’s the great thing about music. Once it is out there, it’s everybody’s.

I find that conversation comes up a lot among friends and bands. Just the case and point, the summer I saw the “Understanding (In a Car Crash)” video and really wanted to get that record. But I didn’t have any money, so my mom agreed to buy the album if I got good grades on my report card. It just so happened, my parents got a divorce that summer as well, and I just remember listening and falling asleep to that album every night.

Around that time, when you were listening to it every night, we were playing it every night. You needed it more than any of us in the band did. When we toured with The Cure, I was going through some crazy personal stuff. Every night, they would play “Standing on a Beach.” That song was like a raft. It was a thing I latched onto. It’s weird, like they just threw that song in and they probably haven’t played it in like 10 to 15 years. It’s so weird. Maybe there were nights where the keyboard player was [nonchalant about it] and I was freaking out. At the same token, we were on tour with The Mars Volta in Australia in 2004. Omar was talking about how much he loved their new record because it wasn’t out yet. It was still his, and once it was out there, he wasn’t going to listen to it anymore. Once he released it, it would be everybody’s record. I thought these guys were so spacey. I respect what he was saying, but I had no idea what he was talking about. Now I do! I listen to our new record every day, because once it comes out it will sound like everybody’s music. Then with everyone’s opinions, you may see it in a different light.

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