Interview: Thrice

interview by brian greenaway

I think it’s safe to say there are too many subdivisions of music these days. Just when you think you’ve got the differences between punk, hardcore, and emo all nailed down, someone will start classifying stuff as “screamo,” “post-punk,” “alt-country,” or “emo-core.” What gives? These arbitrary lines drawn in the sand of modern music often seem to hinder more than they help explain what the music itself sounds like.

Hailing from the cultural wasteland of Southern California, a foursome of young men (Dustin Kensrue, Eddie and Riley Breckenridge, and Teppei Teranishi) known as Thrice combine just about every category and sub-category of guitar-driven music into one dynamic, cohesive whole. Don’t even worry about trying to label their sound. “Identity Crisis,” Thrice’s first release on Sub City Records, showcased the band’s masterful ability to blend brutal hardcore beats with soaring melodic sensibilities. Their sophomore offering, “The Illusion of Safety” takes the intensity and sophistication of “Identity Crisis” and turns the heat up a bit. Well, okay, a lot.

Modern Fix recently caught up with frontman Dustin Kensrue for a little Q and A regarding the new album, the current state of hardcore/punk, and Frappuccinos.


Brian Greenaway: Where are we right now?
Dustin Kensrue: Orange County.

You see the movie?
DK: No, I haven’t seen it yet.

That’s disappointing. What’s the best thing about living in Southern California?
DK: The weather.

What’s the worst?
DK: Traffic.

I knew you were going to say both of those.
DK: Yeah, they’re both pretty big. Seeing the rest of the United States makes me realize how much I love my weather. It’s so nice. I don’t ever wanna move.

Well, you’re going to be seeing a lot more of the United States pretty soon, too.
DK: Yeah, we’ve got a lot of touring lined up right now. The Anti-Flag tour, Face to Face, Hot Rod Circuit. We’re gonna be gone for a while.

What interests you guys besides making music? Do you skate or surf?
DK: Eddie and Teppei used to skate and surf a lot. They’ve both injured themselves but they still try to skate when they can. They both have had big knee surgeries.

Alright, enough chit-chat. Let’s talk about your new record, “The Illusion of Safety”. How is this one different from “Identity Crisis”?
DK: I think it’s just a more mature effort. There was some stuff on “Identity Crisis” that, while it’s not necessarily bad, it just sounds like a younger band did it and I think we’ve grown a lot since we recorded it. We’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s a growing process, and I’m really proud of this record. And I think I will be for a while. I’m very pleased. It comes out on the fifth of February. We’re playing a free in-store down here at the Virgin Megastore.

What is the process like when you go into the studio? Do you have something in mind of what you want to do or does it just sort of happen?
DK: It’s just a lot different now than it was before. We’ve learned so much recording with Brian McTernan. Everything’s just been a lot more fluid and less forced than in the past. We’ve got a tendency to force things because we’d be like “I can make this work” like some kind of transition or whatever and we could do it, but was it really necessary? Probably not.

A lot of songs from “Identity Crisis” like “A Torch to End All Torches” and “Under Par” really seem to capture a lot of the depression and solitude felt by today’s youth. Are these issues you can personally relate to, or just generalized societal problems?
DK: Um, that’s a good question. I think it’s a little of both. I think a lot of societal stuff affects the individual, too. I see things that are bothering me or I feel things that are bothering me and it pretty much ends up being the same thing, you know?

Is that what led you guys to donate a portion of your proceeds to and the Crittenton Services for Children and Families?
DK: Well, every release that comes out on Sub City Records has a charity that the band chooses to work with. That was one of the main reasons we decided to sign with them. The owner of Sub City had some different contacts that he’d made and he shared some of them with us and we were interested in working with Crittenton because they were local and we kind of wanted to help the people in our own area. Crittenton Services is basically a home for abused and neglected kids. It provides them with counseling and a place to stay. We went down there and played acoustically for the kids a while ago. That was really fun.

What should people expect when they go and see you guys play live?
DK: Expect us to put all our heart and all of our energy into the show. One of the coolest things about our shows is the diversity of the guys and girls in the crowd. There’ll be a guy with a mohawk standing next to some emo kid. I like seeing that because it tells me that people are there because they like the music, not because it fits into some particular scene or stereotype.

Do you have any plans for videos?
DK: Yeah, that’s something we’re going to deal with when we get back from the Anti-Flag Tour. We’ll probably do one for “Betrayal is a Symptom.”

What’s up with the web site []? Once it’s all the way up it’s going to be one of the most comprehensive sites around.
DK: Yeah, a friend of ours is doing it and he’s done an awesome job. We’re in the process of adding a lot of stuff to it, and it’s going to be set up to where we can update it from anywhere.

Who helped you guys get started? Did you have support from your families or was it more of a do it yourself sort of thing?
DK: We definitely had support from our families—my dad, especially. He loaned us money to help us do our first recording, and then later loaned us money to get a new van. We also have a practice space that’s an empty office where he works. It’s been a huge help. We’ve been really lucky to have his support.

Do you guys have any day jobs or anything?
DK: Yeah, I do. I work at Starbucks. When I’m home.

What’s your least favorite thing to make?
DK: Frappuccinos. They’re annoying. I don’t know why. After a while you just start to develop a subtle hatred for Frappuccinos and the people who order them. Well, you don’t really hate them, but you’re just like, “Why are you ordering this?”

Hey, it’s okay—you can hate them. Speaking of hate, do you ever find it hard to reconcile the aggressive nature of punk and hardcore in general with your pro-social message?
DK: Not really, because I think you’ve gotta shake people up a little bit. That’s not always the case, of course, and it’s important to remember that there are lots of different ways to get a message across and make it potent. One way is aggression. Another way is to be subtle, keep it under the surface and make people scratch their heads a little bit.

“As the Ruin Falls” off of “Identity Crisis” is adapted from a poem by The Chronicles of Narnia author and biblical scholar C.S. Lewis. What role does religion play in Thrice?
DK: Yeah, some of us are Christians, but in no way is Thrice a Christian band. Someone was making a good analogy the other day that if a Christian paints an abstract picture of a tomato, is that a Christian painting? Obviously not. It’s an abstract painting done by a person who calls himself a Christian.

What do you guys do to relieve stress when you’re on the road?
DK: Eddie and Teppei knit and crochet pretty much constantly—like every chance they have. I read and Riley reads. Riley reads a lot of dark satire stuff, like David Eggers and some new guy—I forgot the name. I read a lot of C.S. Lewis—he was one of the smartest men who ever lived in my opinion and “The Screwtape Letters” is one of my favorite books. I’m reading a book called V right now by Thomas Pynchon. Riley and I both have laptops and we kind of dork out on video games. I’ve been playing Diablo II. You’re this dude fighting a bunch of beasts. I can waste hours on that thing.

Okay, you’re on the Survivor Island and you’re there representing your kind of music. There are a bunch of other performers there representing all the other genres of music as well. Who do you try to vote out?
DK: You know, I really like most kinds of music. I think you can make any kind of music bad and I think you can make any kind of music good. Like techno—I think there’s some awesome techno and I think there’s some terrible techno. I think if people dislike an entire kind of music, then they’re really missing out on something. There’s someone in every genre who’s doing what they’re doing right. Every kind of music has it’s own positive and negative qualities. Like in hardcore you end up sacrificing some dynamics since it’s so aggressive, you know? Or maybe in techno you might end up with a really good beat but it sort of lacks a soul, if that makes sense.

Does anything really bother you about the hardcore/punk scene in general?
DK: Just that it is such a scene. I think there’s too much of a group think mentality. Rather than people being individuals and coming together because they like music, it’s people being a part of a group just because they like being part of a group. In the hardcore scene it often ends up manifesting itself as violence. Kids are all in a group and there’s another group they don’t like and people can’t seem to accept that different people and groups might like different things.

Would you say this groupthink ethos has evolved recently or is it something that’s always been around?
DK: It seems in the past a lot of hardcore and punk was more of a reaction against the mainstream and that kept things unified. But now, it’s sort of opened up more and the group isn’t threatened, so people try to make these weird barriers where there doesn’t need to be any.

What CDs do you have in your collection that might surprise the rest of us?
DK: Um, I’m really into Michael Jackson. Super disappointed by his new album, though. Um, let me think—I can never think of answers to questions like that.

How about your favorite 80s band?
DK: Well, we’re coving “Send Me an Angel” by Real Life, but I can’t say it’s them cause that’s the only song by them I’ve ever heard.

If you could open for any one band what would it be?
DK: Radiohead —for sure.

When do you think you’ll no longer be the “up-and-coming-band-Thrice,” but you’ll just be “everyone-already-knows-who-we-are-and-we-rock-Thrice”?
DK: I don’t know. I hope there’s always room for growth and I’d be happy to devote all of my time to it and not have to work another job, you know? That’s the point where I’d just be very content to write music and enjoy doing it.

Anyone you’d like to thank?
DK: Just people who are supporting us. People who are sharing our music with their friends. That makes all the difference—we really appreciate that.