Drummer Riley Breckenridge breaks down Thrice’s first album in five years, To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere, and how being present in the moment has reinvigorated the band to come back as strong as ever.
So how have things been?
I’m good. I’m excited about the record coming out and busy with being a new dad. But yeah, I’m excited for the record to come out and excited to tour. I can’t complain.
First thing is we obviously have to talk a little baseball. How has the season been for you so far?
It’s been pretty cool. I’m an Angels fan and I’m not particularly happy with how they’re doing. I didn’t really have high expectations anyways and don’t have many reasons to watch the Angels, outside of Mike Trout at bats or Calhoun at bats.
I’m good friends with Mark Trumbo. He’s on the Orioles and he’s killing it this season, which has been awesome to watch, so I’ve been watching a lot of Orioles games. The Cubs are amazing to watch. Arrieta is out of this fricking world right now. The Astros, with Carlos Correa.
I’m super into watching young talent – Bryce Harper. There’s so many good young players in the game right now. I’ve got MLB.TV, so I check in on these young studs playing baseball at an incredible level. That keeps me pretty happy. I’ve kind of washed my diehard fandom for just one team. I’m just a fan of players and a fan of the game.
Yeah, I’m a diehard Mariners and it was such typical Mariners that when they trade Trumbo he’s lighting it up right now.
[Laughs] I knew that was going to happen as soon as they hired Dipoto. Dipoto is all saber, on-base percentage, guys who put the ball in play a bunch, and Trumbo is just a hacker. He goes up there and swings out of his ass. Generally, that’s kind of a hit or miss equation. Right now, he’s hot. He’s always been a streaky player. He’s on a hot streak now, and I’m sure he’ll cool off.
He didn’t do much for us last season when we picked him up, so it wasn’t like that huge of a loss, but yeah.
Yeah, but also I know they’re professional baseball players and they’re supposed to be able to cope with a lot of crap that maybe normal people can’t cope with, but it’s tough to move in the middle of a season. You get comfortable with one team and then you get traded. You just got to pick up all your crap and move to a new city and try to get integrated into a new clubhouse.
I think that can be challenging for people. It’s part of the deal, I guess, but I know he’s really happy in Baltimore. It’s a good clubhouse and apparently Showalter is a great dude to play for.
I saw you posted he’s using “Black Honey” for his walkup music already.
Yeah, that’s awesome. I sent him a few tastes of the new record early and he really liked the chorus of that song. He’s like, “I think I’m going to use this as my walkup.” I was like, that is awesome.
All right, cool. Well, let’s talk some Thrice stuff then. This is the first record since you’ve been back from the hiatus, so you’ll be touring now and all that good stuff. I know a lot of people freaked out when you first announced the hiatus. With anything in life, nothing is a given that you would come back, even though you probably thought at some point you would. Now that you’re all back and stuff, what did you make of that time period? How do you think it helped you out for this record or impacted things for it?
I think it was good in a lot of ways. It’s kind of like a bit of a reset, or a refresh. Guys were just getting burnt on the cycle, you know? You write a record, you record a record, you go on tour, you tour a bunch. Then you take a little bit of time to decompress and you do it all over again. We had been doing that for 14 or 15 years. Teppei and Dustin both have kids. It’s tough being away from family for tour. Dustin felt like it was time for him to do something else and focus on his family.
We made a decision early on with this band that Thrice is the four of us. We all have a lot of input on a lot of different things, creatively and business-wise, top to bottom. If one person wasn’t into it, then we were going to stop it. Thrice doesn’t exist unless it’s the four of us. He needed a break and we were respectful of that.
I didn’t know what was going to happen, or if it was going to happen. I know Dustin said in his hiatus letter, straight off the bat, “We’re not breaking up. We’re going to make music again.” But, you know, that could have been five years, 10 years, 15 years. Who knows what can happen? Somebody could get sick or somebody could totally fall in love with this new career path they’ve taken. You never know. I’m just stoked that we’re back.
During the hiatus you kept busy with a bunch of little band stuff here and there, and one other cool thing you did was drum tech for Jimmy Eat World for a little bit, who are another one of my favorite bands. How did you like doing that and balancing these other small projects along the way?
It was really cool. The Jimmy Eat World thing, I think I was doing that for a couple months, and then over the last year or so I’ve been working for Weezer doing drum and bass teching. It’s been awesome. Both of those bands exist at a success level that’s higher than Thrice ever got, so it was really cool to experience that world, playing bigger venues and having a grander production. It was really cool to see it from that side of the stage, being backstage instead of onstage.
It was a cool learning experience, too, because you would get the preshow nerves but you wouldn’t have the adrenaline rush of actually playing the show. You’re just kind of waiting in the wings, hoping nothing goes wrong. If nothing goes wrong and the band’s happy, and they put on a good show, then that’s a success for a tech. It was an interesting adjustment.
Zach from Jimmy Eat World is one of my favorite dudes on Earth. He’s a great dude, and a big sports fan. Then Scott and Pat from Weezer have been awesome to work for, too. It’s been a cool experience.
Did you like the new Weezer album?
I actually do quite a bit, yeah. It’s probably number three for me, behind the Blue Album and Pinkerton.
Yeah, I thought it was a really solid one for them.
So when you first decided to start work on a new Thrice record, what did that process look like at the beginning? I read somewhere that it initially started as a concept album of sorts, but then you kind of scrapped that and went with what you ended up going with.
I think the concept record was more in Dustin’s head before he shared it with us. I didn’t know that was his intent until I probably read the same thing you did. I was like, oh, it was going to be a concept record [laughs]?
Lyrically, we let Dustin do his own thing. As we write he scats over what we’re playing, so we have a general idea of melody and cadence and stuff like that, but we don’t know what the lyrical content is. As we get closer to actually recording, he ends up sharing with us what he’s got in terms of lyrics. But yeah, I guess he might have had a broader concept in mind but scaled it back a bit, or it ended up moving in a different direction.
Lyrically, since you brought it up, is this is definitely the most sociopolitical record and group of songs you have ever done, which kind of makes sense with this bizarre election cycle we’re in right now and everything that’s been happening in the world recently. At what point did you realize it was turning out that way? Do you think that impacted how the record came out?
Not really. Like I said, the lyrics are Dustin’s world. We’re not really let in on that process or on the completed work until the very, very last minute. We had all the songs tracked, and then when it came time to do vocals it was like, OK, here are the lyrics for the record.
I don’t have any issues with any of the lyrics, but it definitely does have a sociopolitical bent. I think a lot of the topics that he’s bringing up are important topics that need to be discussed. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that he feels passionate about what he’s singing about, because when we’re playing them live he’s going to be feeling what he’s singing about.
One big change you did on the record is you did a lot of the writing online, sharing files back and forth, since you weren’t all in the same area anymore. What did you take away from doing that and what was that experience like?
I would say it was good for the most part. I was kind of used to writing like that because all the Puig Destroyer stuff was written virtually. We’d build a demo in Logic or something and just share files. It wasn’t completely foreign to me, but Puig Destroyer is like a joke band and very much first idea, best idea. Don’t over think this. Let’s just make this as absurd and fast as possible.
With Thrice, this is our bread and better. This is what we do, and we’ve always been very meticulous about stuff. With prior records, we were all in the same area, so we’d have the chance to jam stuff out a little bit more.
There was a decent amount of jamming for this record. We were doing one-offs last year. We’d end up flying Teppei in for rehearsals, and then book three or four days on either end of that show so that we could write, in addition to rehearsing for the shows. But a lot of the construction of songs was done virtually.
We’d go into Logic and it’d be like, here’s the verse. Here’s the chorus. Here’s another verse. Here’s the chorus. Here’s the bridge. Here’s an outro. Whatever. In doing it like that, anybody had the ability to say, “Oh, I think the chorus would be better if we used this part, or what if we changed the last note on this chorus?” You could record your own thing at your own studio and then share it with everybody. Then we’d do a discussion on basically like a message board, where it’s like, “Oh, I like that chorus. What if we tried this?”
So it was less “Hey, we’re all in the same room. Here’s my idea for the chorus. Let’s jam on it four times in a row and see if we’re feeling it.” It was “I’ve already got this. I’ve plugged it into the song. Listen to it a few times and see what you think.” It was unique. I think at the end of the day it helped us explore more options.
It was really freaking time consuming because I had to program stuff, which I’m not particularly speedy programmer guy. But yeah, at the end of the day I think it was productive, and allowed us to work on stuff without getting burnt out from being in a practice space eight hours a day for months and months.
One of you was talking about in one of the behind-the-scenes videos that there is still that magic that happens when all four of you get in the same room together, so I imagine that’s got to be somewhat difficult to replicate when you’re not all there together.
Yeah, but I mean there was enough jamming around the one-offs to refine parts. Then in the studio, the quote that I had in the video is really cool stuff happens when you enter the studio without songs being like, OK, we have a completed demo of this song. We basically know how it’s going to sound recorded, we just need to record it in the studio with this gear, or whatever.
The songs were a lot more open-ended going into the recording process than they had been on Beggars or Major/Minor. We had the ability to be like, “Well, what if we ring out on this note here instead of strumming all the way through the end of this chorus? What if the fill here was not the fill that you had on the demo, but something different?” So it was a lot more like a conversation and a creative experience than it was just capturing better versions of the final demos we had, if that makes any sense.
How did you like working with a hands-on producer again, because that’s been a while since you’ve had someone in that role?
Yeah, I liked it. I think Eric brought a lot to the table. He was familiar with what he had done in the past and pushed us to make the most of the things that I think we’ve done well over the years, but also pushed us to try new stuff. His demeanor was outstanding. He was encouraging, patient, and then open to experimenting.
We’ve been in situations in the studio before where there wasn’t a lot of room to experiment, or the producer-band relationship was less like two contemporaries discussing something they were working on creatively. It was almost more like band-dad in some regards, I guess. So it was super productive and a really positive experience. I had a lot of fun with it. Tracking drums with him was really, really fun.
Something that popped out about the record as a whole is that there are some monster choruses on this thing. That’s not to say you haven’t had big choruses in the past, obviously, but there’s a few on here that are really epic-sounding. Was that more of an emphasis on this one, do you think? Did you spend more time fleshing those out?
I don’t know. Maybe part of it is, I don’t want to say level of maturity because that doesn’t sound right, but early on in our career people would tell us, “You guys don’t write choruses. There are no choruses on this record.” I think over time you learn the importance of a chorus.
I think Dustin has gotten better as a melody writer. I think Eric helped a lot in making sure we were not doing things that made the chorus less impactful on accident, which we might have done in the past. Dustin has matured a lot as a songwriter and realizes the importance of having a big chorus. I think that shows on this record.
You have always experimented with different variations of heaviness over the course of your career. This record isn’t super fast as a whole, and there’s not much screaming on it, but it still sounds pretty heavy in places. How do you like experimenting on that side of things?
I like a lot of really heavy, sludgy stuff. Stuff that’s not 190 beats per minute or heavy and drop-tuned is super exciting to me. I think there’s something impactful about a song that might not be the fastest song in the world but is heavy and moves you in an emotional way.
A song like “Big Riff” by Cave In or some recent O’Brother stuff, or a band like Torche or Cult of Luna – these really heavy bands that can do some really dramatic, dynamic shifts with stuff that’s maybe not the fastest stuff in the world. It’s more about dynamics and bringing that heaviness.
As far as the screaming thing is concerned, I don’t know. I feel like the singing-screaming thing has been done to death. I think there’s plenty of room to build intensity with your vocals without going into full-on gargling glass screaming, like shredded vocals.
The first two songs that are officially out now are “Blood on the Sand” and “Black Honey.” Are there any interesting stories behind those two that people might not be aware of or necessarily think right off the bat?
“Black Honey” was actually the first thing we started jamming on when we got back together. Shortly after we got the texts from Dustin saying that he was into playing some shows and writing music, he and Teppei were both down here for the holidays. Ed and I still had a rehearsal space at the place where we used to practice.
We just got together one night and were going through voice memos on our phones. Teppei was like, “Oh, I have this riff idea.” It was the opening riff for “Black Honey,” and that was the first thing we jammed on. We have this really rough iPhone demo of that, so that was pretty cool.
“Blood on the Sand” I think is pretty obviously Nirvana inspired, just vibe-wise I guess. There’s nothing really outside of that that sticks out to me as like, oh, nobody knew this.
The opener, “Hurricane,” is probably the biggest-sounding opener you’ve done since “Firebreather” and sets the tone really well for the rest of the record. At what part in the process did that song come along?
That was actually Dustin coming in out of nowhere, rewriting a rough verse-chorus idea that we had that was just not working, and totally fixing it and making it awesome [laughs]. It was pretty cool. I can’t remember the working title of what it was before, but it was kind of like a sludgy, plodding, super heavy but very melodic idea. We couldn’t figure out how to make it good. It just felt flat.
We decided we needed to scrap that verse-chorus idea, and then a few days or a week later all of a sudden a message pops up, like “Hey, check out this Logic file I put together. It’s kind of a new take on whatever the working title was.” I remember driving home from work and was just like, “Holy shit, this is rad. I’m super into this. Where did it come from?”
That’s one of my top four songs on the record now. It’s just one of those things where you think an idea is dead in the water, and then somebody takes it and tweaks it and turns it into something awesome. That’s happened a ton of times over the years. I’m super, super happy that Dustin fought and saw that through, because the end result is far better than the direction that it was headed as a working-titled demo.
What would the other three of your top songs on the record be then?
I really like “The Window.” I really like “The Long Defeat.” I like “Death from Above” and I like “Salt and Shadow.”
I was going to ask about “Salt and Shadow.” That song is definitely the big outlier on the record, probably the most Water-like song you’ve done since Alchemy Index, with it being really soft and stuff. How did that one take shape?
That one went through several different iterations before it ended up being what it is. The arpeggio guitar that opens the song was the root idea that Dustin had. We were kind of thinking about taking it into this weird mix of super heavy and super mellow and kind of electronic. We had gone through demo after demo after demo, and it just wasn’t working.
I think we were already pretty deep into the recording process, like maybe three weeks or so, but Dustin added the piano line that comes in halfway through the song. It feels like it could be on a Danny Elfman soundtrack or something. That was like the money piece.
The plan all along was to take a basic idea and really build that out in the studio. I think it was a couple days of us in the studio experimenting with stuff and layering things, building these weird Frankenstein drum kits and percussion tables, messing with a Hammond organ and all kinds of synths and petals. That was super, super fun.
It was one of my favorite songs to record because it was almost like throwing shit at a wall and seeing what sticks. You could just try whatever you wanted. If anybody had an idea, you could try something. We just pared it down from there and built it into what it is.
How did you get the idea to do the outro as the piano version of “Hurricane?”
It was one day towards the end of a recording session. As usual, the session devolved into people dicking around on instruments [laughs]. Eric still had the vocal mic up that Dustin was doing vocals on. Teppei walked into the live room and sat at the piano and started playing the “Hurricane” line on the piano. We were like, “Holy shit! That sounds really cool like that.” And then Eric just pressed record. I don’t even think Teppei knew he was being recorded. We decided to use that as a piece of the record to bookend things.
Two last songs I wanted to ask about are “Wake Up” and “Stay with Me,” which are two of my other favorites on the record. I love the chorus on “Wake Up.” It’s very anthemic and fits the thematic ideas of the song really well, and then “Stay with Me” is almost like a Thrice power ballad version of a song that’s really cool. How did those two come about?
I’m trying to think. “Wake Up” was like… Are you familiar with the band Colour Revolt at all?
Very minimally, but a little bit.
They did some tours with Brand New back in the day. They’re very, very good. A very inspiring band that never ever got the recognition they deserved. How they were not as big as, or slightly smaller than, Brand New or Manchester, or the bands that they toured with, is beyond me. They’re all phenomenal musicians and they write great songs. I think the main riff of “Wake Up” was inspired by Colour Revolt.
That was a song that was pretty flat, just the verse-chorus thing was not feeling like it was going anywhere enough. We ended up tacking on the end section with the filtered drums and stuff, messing with a bunch of really spooky swells. The original demo was just like guitar, bass, drums, vocals. There’s a lot of atmosphere and additional stuff that pulled that song from being a little flat to something that’s pretty interesting.
Then “Stay with Me,” at least for me that’s the most catchy and emotionally impactful song on the record. I feel like it can resonate with a lot of people. It is definitely the closest thing we’ll get to a ballad. It feels a little like “Red Sky” to me vibe-wise, with a huge chorus and subdued verses.
Not quite as ominous as “Red Sky,” though.
Yeah, I hear what you’re saying. That one I don’t even know it developed. Actually, a big part of that was realizing that when the chorus starts it didn’t need to be balls-out. The actual hook of that song is the intro riff, which is why for all intents and purposes the chorus of that song is a slow drum build, instead of this explosion right when the quote-unquote “chorus” would start.
That changed how much the song impacted me, anyways. That was one where some fine-tuning needed to be done arrangement-wise to take it from something that felt pretty average to something I think is really cool.
Looking at the record overall, was there anything specific you wanted to accomplish with the drumming that maybe you hadn’t necessarily done too much of in the past?
Early on, once we had decided that Eric was going to do the record, totally unsolicited he sent me a Led Zeppelin playlist. John Bonham is one of my favorite drummers of all time anyway, if not my favorite. He was like, “I want you to listen very intently to these songs. Listen to how he plays. Listen to his pocket. Listen to his feel, his dynamics, and learn these songs. Think about how he’s serving the song and how deep his pocket and the groove is.”
I was like, “Oh shit. Listen to John Bonham and play Led Zeppelin songs. I would love to do that!” It was a really cool perk of working with Eric, him being like, “Hey, try to channel Bonham in a lot of spaces.”
There is a lot of stuff on this record where I feel like the drumming is best suited to just be a backbone and be as groovy and deep in the pocket as possible. It’s not about cramming this new fill that I learned or as many beats as possible into these small windows of time. There are some places on the record where I can flex a little bit, like “Death from Above,” “Whistleblower” and “The Window,” but it was mostly about serving the song and not trying to overplay.
I’m not captain technical drummer guy [laughs]. I’ll be the first to admit that. It’s been really important to me to find my voice in drumming, to have a good pocket, serve the song, and just try to be tasteful with stuff. It’s not about me, it’s about the songs.
To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere is a really cool album title. Is that in reference to anything specific?
It’s in reference to a Seneca the Younger quote, who was a philosopher. I’m not entirely sure what his meaning was behind that. At least the way that I saw it in our current climate is that with the Internet, cellphones and whatnot, we have the ability to kind of be everywhere all at once. If somebody asks you a question and you don’t know it, in the old days you’d be like, “I don’t know. I need to go to a library, find a book and learn about this thing so I can explain it.”
Now, it’s just like, “Well, let me grab my phone and Google.” You can know anything at anytime. You can be in touch with anyone at anytime anywhere. A lot of times having access to all of that knowledge and all of those people can pull you out of where you are currently. That’s kind of what the title means to me, focusing more on the importance of being present in the moment that you’re in instead of being everywhere all at once.
So that must tie in with why the instrumental is called “Seneca.”
Lastly, you have the tour starting up in June. I know you’ve already said you’ll be playing “The Sky Is Falling” on it, which I think you only played when that Air record first came out. Are there any other surprises that can be expected?
We are playing a very old song. I don’t even know the last time we played it. It’s been at least 10 years, I would say, but I can’t give it away. It is from Illusion of Safety. There’s going to be a lot of stuff across the board. The song pool is pretty diverse, both based on which record the song is from and dynamically.
It’s such a challenge now to build setlists. We play a headlining set, so that’s roughly 90 minutes and 22 songs. Trying to showcase your current record but also pay homage to your old records, and then having a set that flows and doesn’t seem completely schizophrenic, is a challenge.
Then, we’ve changed guitar tunings so many times over the years that one song will be in E standard, one will be in D standard, one will be in drop C, one will require a baritone guitar, one is the baritone guitar with drop A tuning. So building a set that flows well, where the guys don’t have to tune or change guitars between every song, is a little bit of a challenge. I think we got a pretty good mix and it’s going to be a fun tour.
I can’t wait to hang with the La Dispute guys again. I’m really excited to see Gates live, because I’ve never seen them. It’s going to be fun.