With their Island album 'The Artist In The Ambulance' scoring high in the US charts, Californian punkers THRICE are now denting Europe. Justin Style met with singer Dustin Kensrue and guitarist Teppei Teranishi during the Deconstruction tour.
Everyone seems to have caught on to the fact that today's mainstream hard rock and punk scene is populated by a significant number of Christians. Sometimes their approach to lyric writing is very much full-on evangelistic proclamation. Sometimes Christian songwriters (eg, Chevelle's Pete Loeffler or the Black Rebel Motor Cycle Club's Peter Hayes) have a less overt approach to the lyric writing art. Now the work of Thrice out of Orange County, California, is coming under the scrutiny of fans keen to see believers making headway in the mainstream. There is a definite religious undertone to many of the band's songs penned by lead singer Dustin Kensrue and although he likes to leave meanings open to discussion, there is no doubt in my mind that his faith is an inspiration for much of his lyrics, especially on his earlier work. "I was talking to Rob from Boy Sets Fire yesterday and he said that he saw religious imagery in our lyrics. And I think being brought up in the church, although the songs may not be religious, our imagery definitely purveys different thinking patterns. So I think in that way my faith probably does have an influence." At times the pictures painted in Thrice's songs can seem a little dark, but as Dustin points out, "I think dark imagery has a way of communicating stuff that couldn't be said in any other way, or at least not as powerfully." There is often debate over the particular meanings of Thrice lyrics. Dustin believes that "people will read into songs what they want and I think that is good, that's how art effects us. It brings something out of us and kind of unlocks us. But people need to realise this and not be so dogmatic, and realise that most of what they're saying is probably inside themselves." Dustin points out well known Christian writer CS Lewis's work as a major influence, the song "As The Ruin Falls" on the 'Identity Crisis' album is in fact a piece by Lewis put to music.
Thrice consists of Dustin (vocals, guitar), Teppei Teranishi (guitar), Eddie Breckenridge (bass) and his brother Riley Breckenridge (drums). It all started back in high school for Dustin and Teppei; they played guitar together and were fans of '80s rock and old school punk. They toyed with starting a band but things didn't kick off until they met the Breckenridge brothers. Eddie skated with Teppei and joined them in their new venture as a bassist, after playing guitar for many years. His older brother Riley joined them on drums to complete the line up. After years of playing anywhere that would let them, they released an EP, 'First Impressions'. They then managed to attract the attention of local label Sub City Records, with whom they released two mildly successful albums 'Identity Crisis' and 'Illusion Of Safety'. They've now finally broken into the big market, signing to Def Jam's Island Records. Their debut album on the label 'Artist In The Ambulance' made a major dent in the US album charts this year. They have toured Europe playing the Download Festival at Donnington followed by a tour with Deconstruction. Thrice's musical style is extremely hard to pigeonhole, although it is clear that they have progressed from a fast paced punk outfit to a more emo influenced post punk act. I asked Dustin to describe their style: "I think we don't really fit into any one genre, like rock. I read people's synopsis of what genre we are supposed to be and it just doesn't really feel like that." Through the wizardry of lead guitarist Teppei Teranishi, they have always maintained a metal edge, with his very technical and challenging riffs. On 'Artist In The Ambulance' Dustin's poetic lyrics are delivered with the usual switch from harmonies to screams, however his voice has certainly gained more depth. The extended production times that a major label can afford has certainly helped the band produce a far more complex and crisp record. Said Teranishi, "We worked a lot on structuring songs this time round, whereas we used to just throw songs together in the past. And definitely having two months as opposed to just over two weeks to record for 'Illusion Of Safety' helped us achieve a better sound."
The future is definitely bright for the So Cal locals; they have broken out of the west coast underground scene but still remain as fresh and innovative as ever. Fans must be careful not to mistake their growth for an attempt to reach the mainstream, as is so often the cry when bands move up to the bigger stage. On this subject, Dustin stated for the record that "we signed for them (Island Records) because we felt it was the right move for us, and it's enabled us to make better music and be on the road more." And they certainly have done that: since the recording of their album in January they have been on tour throughout North America and Europe, alongside a vigorous promotion schedule for their new album. But the band has remained grounded. Since their days at Sub City, they have maintained a policy of donating five per cent of the profits from their album sales to the Syrentha J Savio Endowment, a charity providing health care for under-privileged Americans. In an age when many rock stars donate considerably more of their income to South American drug cartels, such an initiative is praiseworthy indeed.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.