It would be futile to try and predict what Californian rockers Thrice will do next. Why waste the brain space only to eventually be proven wrong?
Over the course of 11 albums – capitulating with Horizons / East, out now on Epitaph – the band have proven to be as unmappable as reveries and as untraceable as gravity, yet tactile enough to punch a hole right through you.
In a time where unpredictability and sudden movements seem long forgotten, Thrice have reminded us all of the magic they bring by expanding our horizons. Horizons / East is challenging, intricate and rife with discoveries, from a guitar riff built atop the fibonacci sequence, or jazz chords co-opted to do the bidding of atmospheric hard rock.
It’s an album powered by sleights of hand and misdirects – so we spoke with vocalist Dustin Kensrue to get an expert take on it.
What was going on in these war room talks? What kinds of things were you throwing around that you really wanted to achieve with this album?
It’s hard. The thing for us at this point is trying to narrow down where we’re actually going to go with a record. Because we have a ton of ideas, a tonne of parts that we could build into things and choose. Like, which ones do you follow up on and which ones actually are going to make it on the album? And what criteria are we using? So that’s what was so fun about doing [2007’s] The Alchemy Index, having creative boundaries to push against.
We’re always looking for ideas like that. I actually tried to crowdsource early on in this one. I was like, “Hey, I want another idea like that, give me some stuff.” And so people were suggesting stuff – but there’s just never been one that feels like it would be as good as or better [than The Alchemy Index], so we haven’t done anything that’s themed like that again. This time we ended up deciding to do a list of challenges – smaller things, just random ideas we had, like, “Hey, what if we did this?” And then start a song like that, incorporating whatever that thing is into a song.
We always went with the ones that stood out the most, such as ‘Northern Lights’. The chordal chords… The piano chords and those verses, they came out of this challenge to get these jazz chords that we normally wouldn’t use. It wouldn’t come naturally to us, but we like it in these jazz songs. So we thought, “Let’s try it out and figure out how we can react to them.” You’re like, “Okay, how do we make this a Thrice song now?” Not just a jazz song with chordal chords. And then the guitar riff in that song is another thing where Teppei [Teranishi, guitars] had an idea to try to writing a riff based on the Fibonacci sequence…
I really want to pick that apart… How?
He basically took the numbers and mapped it out in a scale, what they would relate to and then just played it. He ended up taking out a couple [of numbers] to give it some movement. That’s all that’s going on, but it has a pretty wild feel to it, so we threw that in there. Another big one was that I had an idea to make a song that was trying to illustrate the way everything is connected, even though there’s unique instances of things where everything is actually one thing as well, and doing that through music.
I had a song where it starts with this one, this pulsing of a one, and then it adds to the time signature to three, four, five – up to 11, just to be fun for the 11th record, and then peels all those away – but as you add the different time signatures over each other, they start to create these interesting polyrhythms and patterns, and I think it’s a beautiful way to see or hear that relationship that everything has to each other. Things are interesting and beautiful on their own, but as they come into context together and play off of each other, there’s something entirely new that gets created.
“There were a lot of ideas, and instead of cutting all of it down or doing an EP, we decided to push it into two records that are related to each other…“
As an artist, what’s it like to be on the other side of that process? Was it rewarding and fantastic, or was it maddening and frustrating?
It wasn’t maddening – it was great! There’s actually going to be a companion record that is already partially written and recorded. [It’s going to be called] Horizons / West. There were a lot of ideas, and instead of cutting all of it down or doing an EP, we decided to push it into two records that are related to each other, but are coming out a little closer than a normal record cycle would be. So they’ll be connected in a variety of ways, but we’re really excited about that.
What is the meaning of East and West in this context?
So this one, there’s a lot of dawn images and even pre-dawn images that are woven through it – I think with this record more than the next one, it’s kind of getting at ideas of hope and possibility of a new opportunity; there’s a new day, there’s new things happening. I think both of them will be dealing with this idea that I use the term “Horizons” to talk about, which is that there’s a theme played out on the first on the record called ‘The Colour Of The Sky’, but it’s a mini-story that kind of illustrates this theme of trying to move from places, thinking and beliefs that are closed-off to the world in many ways, and trying to move out into a broader expanse where there’s an invitation to greet the world as it’s actually presenting itself to you in each moment.
Every time you step and move forward, the horizon shifts, and new data, information and experiences get to be woven into whatever that is in the moment. I think in certain ways we’ll tie that between both records. But I do think that East will be a little more tilting it towards these ideas of possibility. Overall, we’ll shift a little bit more towards ideas of mortality and significance – a setting sun fading into the west, as it were. So we’ll see – that’s kind of where my head’s at with it right now.
This album (Horizons / East) sounds very controlled. It sounds like you had a very clear vision and a lot of intent going into this. How well were you aware of how the songs would sound when finished? Do you get as much of a surprise listening back to a Thrice song the first time as a fan does?
I don’t know if I could say it like that – listening back on it for the first time – because I already have so much context for it, right? But there is something where when it finally comes together, it’s very special and important. There are definitely songs where you know something is there, there’s something really worthwhile and you want to pursue it, but it can be a long road before you figure out exactly how to make it all work.
‘Robot Soft Exorcism’ came together very early on – I had the arpeggio guitar riff and I had the distorted electronic beat thing, and I knew that there was something really cool there. But getting to the flow and the entire dynamic of the song, that took a long time.
You’re letting the wild horses run, but you’re following close behind and watching their every move – but you’re still kind of letting them go wherever they want to go.
Yeah. It’s hard because you get excited about something, right? Like with ‘The Dreamer’ – that song was originally much slower and it was really cool, and when we did it again at a faster speed, it took me a minute to be like, “Oh man, I missed that one.” I mean, you’ve got to be open to following it somewhere new because otherwise I think you miss out on a lot of cool things that can happen. It’s a lot of holding things lightly and seeing what happens with it.
Horizons / East is out now via Epitaph
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