THRICE DRUMMER RILEY BRECKENRIDGE RAPS ABOUT THE DEMISE OF THE ALBUM IN METALSUCKS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Thrice are something of an enigma, a band that’s refused to ever stay the same. The Irvine, CA-based foursome started out as a metal-influenced heavy punk band that incorporated more and more progressive elements into their music with each album. 2005’s Vheissu took a complete left turn by adding indie and electronic elements, a path down which the band ventured even further on their 2007/2008 4-part album suite The Alchemy Index. Beggars, their latest offering, incorporates all of their prior influences and stretches their indie wings still wider, still experimenting with new sounds and expanding their fanbase.
A few weeks ago I spoke with drummer Riley Breckenridge about the band’s constantly evolving career arc, public and critical perception of this change, the new album Beggars and its super-early leak, consuming music in the digital age, and what the band hopes to accomplish in the near and distant future. Our chat follows.
Cool. I guess we’ll start off with the new album, Beggars. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the album, what it represents to you guys as a step forward from the last album or any of your past albums, and just anything about it at all that you want to share?
Making The Alchemy Index, which was 24 songs split up into 4 EPs that were all really varied sonically and thematically, that was just a huge undertaking for us. We’d never written that many songs before. We never experimented with some of the styles that we had experimented with on that project before. We had some more sonic stuff, some acoustic/bluesy based stuff or ambient stuff. That whole process, while it was a huge learning experience, was also kind of a fractured process because we had so much work to do. We had 2 guys recording an acoustic track in the studio, then I would be on my laptop programming some stuff for the Water disc, or Ed would be coming up with some bass lines for the Fire disc or something. So there was a lot less of the 4 of us being in the same room and jamming stuff out together than there was on prior records. When it came time to make Beggars, I think we were all really excited about taking the stuff that we learned in making The Alchemy Index, getting the 4 of us back in the same room, jamming ideas out, writing songs as a collective, and just kind of feeding off the energy and the vibe that’s in the room when we play together or on stage when we play together. I think Beggars is just kind of a snapshot of where we’re at right now after learning what we did in making The Alchemy Index and incorporating some of our newer influences. We’re just really happy with how it came out. It was a fun record to make, and I think the process went a lot smoother and was a lot more creatively fulfilling than prior records.
What are some of those newer influences that you mentioned that affected this record?
I think there’s more of a blues vibe in some of the songs and that definitely comes from Teppei and Dustin. As far as the rhythm section goes with my brother and I, we just wanted to focus on making grooves feel good and getting stuff really locked in which makes what I do especially a lot more fun. I guess there is a kind of a little bit of classic rock vibe. That’s probably most evident in some of Teppei’s guitar lines. I guess just capturing that energy. Regardless of what kind of style it fits under, [the difference has been] having us being in the same room together.
Cool. I wanted to ask you about the leak of the record because that’s something that’s definitely made headlines. I’ll just leave that open. What’s your opinion of that?
It’s weird. I was thinking about it this morning because the record came out already, the official release even though it’s only digital. I was thinking about how in the old days when everything was coming out in pre-digital and you would go to a brick and mortar store and pick it up. It was about grabbing the CD, going back to your car and listening to it on the way home and at stop lights you’re looking at lyrics and album art. When you get home you just sit with the record. That’s kind of lost now. Being in a band there’s almost this weird feeling where you’re kind of like waiting for the record to leak because everything leaks now. So you’re almost waiting for a leak day more than you’re waiting for a release day.
From a fan’s perspective or from the band’s perspective?
From the band’s perspective. I’m just speaking on behalf of myself, not on behalf of the band. Everything leaks these days, and we fully expected it to leak, but we never expected it to leak 3 months early. We certainly didn’t expect it to leak with a promo copy with voiceovers on every track. The audio quality, I guess, wasn’t all that good. So that was kind of disappointing, but we just kind of had to make the best of it. You just scrap whatever marketing plan you had set up. It was tough for us too because a lot of the artwork for the record was pending at the time. Nobody in the band had a mastered copy of the record yet, so it was kind of weird. I think we did everything we could to make the best out of an unfortunate situation. We’re just really happy with the feedback that we’ve gotten so far. The physical release of the CD will be on the 15th of September. We’re trying to make that a special moment by adding more content with a couple of remixes and a cover. It’s just kind of a symptom of the modern age. Everything leaks, and you’ve just got to find a way to deal with it.
I think with you guys, the problem seemed to be not necessarily that it leaked, but that it happened so early — in a normal case where it would happen a little closer to the release date. What can you do to… I don’t want to say to combat leaks because you can’t really combat it, but what can you do to make the best of it? With future albums, as digital becomes more and more a part of the picture and eventually the entire picture, how do you view the album as a piece of art? How is that different from the way you would prefer your art to be experienced?
For me, I buy 50% of my music on iTunes or Amazon and then 50% actual physical copies. I don’t think that’s necessarily out of preference, but I guess it’s out of convenience which is why digital releases are so appealing. I definitely miss the moments like I explained earlier where you go to the record store, buy a physical copy of the record, and you sit down and digest it. That’ll still be there for people with this record. With the leak happening so fast and people starting to talk about the record, people hearing the record not in the way we intended them to hear it (with the voiceovers and low audio quality) we just decided we need to get people the record as soon as we possibly could – with high quality audio and without the voiceovers. Today was the soonest we could possibly do it through iTunes. As far as combating leaks, maybe the best thing to do would be to keep everything hush hush and not send stuff to press. Our record leaked before we even had masters of the record (partially because we were on tour). I guess kind of hold the record a little closer to the vest and maybe forego some of the press that you might get prior to a record.
Do you think that a situation like this could actually help further the cause of your band as a whole business entity including the touring, merchandising and everything? To where a leak or release date eventually could be irrelevant and the purpose is to tour and sell merchandise.
Yeah, in our case right now, it’s a little too early to tell how much it’s going to affect us. I know the leak got us a fair amount of press at a time when we weren’t really prepared for it. You have to make the best of that which is why we made the record available now. We never had to deal with anything like this before, so it’s kind of a learning process.
You guys have a pretty big, established touring base. You guys have done the Warped Tour and tons of headline tours all over the world. Are royalties a significant part of your income?
Not at all.
Would a leak necessarily even be that much of a bad thing from your perspective as a businessman?
I don’t think so. The only thing that we’re missing out on right now is probably print media. Who knows how long that’s going to be around? It’s already starting to die a little bit. Then there is a kind of general confusion. I don’t know what to chalk that up to, but people are like “wait, I can’t get it if I go to the record store down the street?” No matter how clear you make it that the digital release is today, people’s reading comprehension fails or something along those lines. Then getting the reviews, whether they’re positive or negative, getting them out there in places more people can see it. I think we’ve been lucky that things have gone pretty well. The other thing, you brought up touring and merchandising and stuff like that, we had a set release date of October 13th and had touring set up according to that release schedule. Now the record is out today, and we’re off the road. We’re doing a week of Warped Tour in a week and a half or something. There’s going to be down time before we head out with Brand New. Later on we play with Deerhunter in the fall. So it’s hard to capitalize on the buzz of a record being released and touring in support of that, but we’re going to see how far we get.
Going back to what we were talking about a few minutes ago, with The Alchemy Index, you guys really took a huge step artistically that I guess even extends back to the album prior. Did you feel that some of your fans were jumping ship or did you not really give a shit that some of the fans who liked the heavier/punkier stuff that you did were not really interested in the new stuff?
We’ve had a decent amount of people jump ship on almost every record except for The Artist in the Ambulance because that was the biggest one, but it was also the most heavily promoted. We had a major label behind us. Since then, we just set out to make the record that we want to make, and stuff that we feel that we’re going to have a good time playing live. It’s stuff that’s interesting to us. You’re bound to lose a few fans along the way, and I don’t think any of us would be happy making a similar sounding record over and over. That definitely works for some bands, but I don’t think we’d be a band for as long as we’ve been a band (almost 11 years) if we would have found a sound and stuck to it because our influences are constantly changing, and they’re going to make their presence felt on the music we make. We just set out to make the record that we want to hear, and whatever happens happens after that.
At the same time, you guys probably picked up a few new fans along the way.
I think we have, but it’s also been a kind of difficult thing for us in that there are people — because we got a lot of more mainstream press in 2003-2004 because of The Artist in the Ambulance — there are people who think that we still sound like that, so even if they might like what we’re doing now, it’s harder to get those people to give us a chance. Whether it’s listeners, critics, or bands that we want to tour with, if somebody has an idea of what they think you are, it’s hard to change that even if the music is different.
Are there other bands that you sort of look up to, even if they’re stylistically different — with a similar career trajectory as yours — where they started out in a certain scene and ended up somewhere else? I’m thinking of bands like Radiohead, and Tool – bands that have not really ever stayed the same.
Yeah definitely Tool and Radiohead. I think Brand New to a certain extent. Their early records were way more pop-punk and now they’re kind of getting a more indie following, I guess.
See, I didn’t even know that as, I guess, a writer or whatever because I judge them on their earlier stuff. So that proves your earlier point.
Yeah. I’m trying to think of other ones. Even Coheed & Cambria to a certain extent because their earlier stuff had little more of a pop influence, and now it’s more classic rock influenced. They’re doing stuff like playing Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and touring with [Heaven & Hell]. They’ve done a good job of branching out and not getting stuck in one particular scene. Maybe even Mastodon a little bit where their early stuff was more metal with the Converge crowd and Dillinger Escape Plan crowd, and now they’re appealing to a much broader base of people and getting more prog rock and classic rock influenced. I think their last record was fucking amazing. It’s just cool to see them not get stuck in one particular scene.
Definitely. So you guys are going out with Brand New. Any other touring plans for the rest of the year?
We do Brand New for 3 weeks from the West Coast to the East Coast. Then on the way back to southern California, we’re going out with Deerhunter and Polar Bear Club. I think that’s going to be about it for the year. We’re doing one big show in Long Island with Brand New, Manchester Orchestra and Glassjaw at Nassau Coliseum that we’re really excited about. It’s going to be a huge show for Brand New because they’re playing in an arena in their hometown. Getting to play with Glassjaw again, we played with them on the Warped Tour in 2003, and I really like them as a band. There are questions on what they’re up to or if they’re putting out new music or anything, so to get to see those guys again and play live is going to be awesome. We’re excited about that. Probably at the beginning of next year, we’ll look to do maybe the U.K., Europe, Australia and maybe do a [U.S.] headlining tour in the Spring.