Shortly after Thrice dropped Major/Minor in the autumn of 2011, it became clear it'd be their last album for quite awhile. The Irvine, Calif. four-piece announced that an indefinite hiatus would follow a spring 2012 farewell tour. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait too too long: 2015 saw a series of festival reunion gigs, and now To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere is suddenly due on May 27 on Vagrant Records.
Vocalist and guitarist Dustin Kensrue spoke with Fuse about the band's socially charged comeback single "Blood on the Sand," the pressure of expectations, the 2016 political landscape and what's next for Thrice.
Fuse: Did you guys feel a lot of pressure for this record? You've never gone longer than two years between releases.
Dustin Kensrue: No. I think we've gotten pretty good at just doing what we want. That was something we always talked about, but then realized over time it's something you're continually cleaning out of your system, and with practice you get better. We're much more internally driven to push ourselves and write songs we think are great. It's not completely oblivious to anything external, but it becomes disingenuous to try to write what you think people want to hear. It's never gonna go well.
You guys started out with this post-hardcore, pop-punk–ish, Warped Tour–friendly sound and grew into being your own unique, not easily categorizable rock band.
There was a long incubation for us to not settle on a sound but settle on what it felt like for us to be a band, in a sense. I don't know how to exactly describe it. Doing Vheissu [the 2005 follow-up to Thrice's '03 debut The Artist in the Ambulance], which was kind of our biggest jump, we were pushing ourselves, like, "Look, we felt like last time we were rushed and we're doing what we want to do exactly and then getting all the way there." Then we did [The Alchemy Index, a concept album with four discs based on four elements], which was this huge learning thing, spreading ourselves out, and then coming back and playing Beggars.
Through all of that, we have a good understanding of who we are as musicians individually and as a group. I don't know that this new record sounds like a huge jump. It's very different from Major/Minor or Beggars, but I feel like it's not this giant move. It feels comfortable for us, not in a lazy way, but like, "Yes, this is who we are, this is what we're playing." The next record will probably sound different, because we hate doing the same thing twice.
Vheissu definitely felt like the intro to phase two, but it's been almost 11 years now, more than twice as long as phase one.
That's interesting. I do think that's an accurate way to describe it, that was kind of the beginning of a new era for us. And I guess I would imagine that after this hiatus is probably stage three, starting now. I just think that comes with the territory of taking a break and coming back into it, as an entity.
So you're already thinking ahead to another album? You're back in band mode beyond this summer?
Yeah, totally. I don't know the timeline or anything, but that's where my head goes right when I'm done with another record. I don't usually capitalize on it enough. You get swamped in other stuff. But there's a good creative energy after you finish something. You have the clarity to be like, "Oh man, that was cool but I wish we did more of this [or] that."
Why'd you pick "Blood on the Sand" as the first song to put out?
Oh, I don't know, man. That stuff is all voodoo. It's like guessing and guessing and guessing. It has an immediacy to it, the pacing—I really like the song in general, it's pretty strong melodically, energetically. It's not like the most technical song, which a few vocal people are griping about, but I don't care too much about that, so.
I saw your tweet—"Laughing out loud reading people's comments on new @thrice song. Sadly the web does not require possessing any modicum of civility/brains."
I've seen a lot of disappointing things, just listening to the trolls and being like, "Why? Why are they saying that?," which is the whole weird thing about social media. That's just there and you deal with it and it's fine. But then I was literally laughing out loud reading some. People's grand opinions from the sidelines, and just detailed explanations of things they have no idea about, are very funny.
The Internet's gotten crazier since you guys took a break.
I can totally understand anyone being bummed out on their favorite band's new song or something like that, that's totally natural and we've all been there. But what's super strange to me is someone going on that band's website or whatever social media thing and telling them, "C'mon guys, you can do better" or, "This is horrible, why are you...?" I can't even fathom doing that, personally, and I don't know if it's because I grew up right before you could just say whatever you wanted to whoever you wanted. Is it just because of the access, or is there something else going on? Would those people have always not had an understanding of what is kind or polite? It's just odd. I get not liking it. I don't get you coming on and bitching about it.
I'm guessing it feels unfair when it's just one song from a whole album that's going to have different sides to it.
Yeah, but that's really less of the point to me. I know personally there's been a bunch of records I didn't get or like at first that ended up being some of my favorite stuff. There's so much expectation built up, especially after a hiatus. People have been building what this record should be in their minds. So almost anything's going to be a disappointment to someone, but it's just that idea of how that gets expressed. Especially these people who are like, "I'm the biggest Thrice fan, but this is horrible." If you're really that big a fan, like...when I first heard [Radiohead's] Kid A, I was like, "What on earth? What have they done?" But I just kept it in my car for like two weeks, and one day it just clicked and it's one of my favorite records of all time now. But it's because I had this kind of relationship to the band and I think that's a helpful thing. We've seen a really strong relationship with our fans over time, where all these people trusted us to change and play whatever we wanted over the years. But it's funny, even after all this time, people still have—their expectation changes. It's no longer, "Why doesn't this have a harmonized metal riff?" It's like, "Why doesn't it have X, Y and Z..."
“We've seen a really strong relationship with our fans over time, where all these people trusted us to change and play whatever we wanted over the years.”-Dustin Kensrue
With your three daughters growing up now, have they gotten more developed opinions of your music?
It's funny. On one level you would think, "It's this guy's kids, they must know his music better than anyone." I think the opposite is totally true: any fan's kids are gonna know my music way better than my own kids. We don't usually sit around listening to it. They know that's what I do for a living and they'll hear me recording it or whatever and know the sound of my voice on things, but they're not super exposed to it. Every once in a while I'll show 'em something. My oldest is getting to the point now where I think she thinks it's cooler, but all the shows we play are so late. Last time I played, she begged to come, so we brought her and she was falling asleep in the back of the club.
You just put out an acoustic covers collection a couple weeks ago, and you did your fourth Dustin Kensrue album last year.
I'm really proud of that solo record. I thought it would have more legs than it did, but I probably feel that way about everything I do, so. People who listened seemed really stoked on it. I recorded it all myself, which was kind of a challenge, but it was also pretty cool having control over every piece of it. [I] got to run stuff by my wife, that was a lot of fun, too. She's not musical in that she plays anything, but she actually has a really good ear for hearing what's important in a song.
You've never shied away from calling out what you think needs calling out, and you've been socially active with groups like Invisible Children. "Blood on the Sand" opens with, "We wave our flags, we swallow fear like medicine / We kiss the hands of profiteers and their congressmen / But I've seen too much of this fear and hate / Yeah, I've had enough and I'm not afraid / To raise a shout, to make it clear this has to end."
I've usually tried to stay out of being explicitly political in the sense of being partisan, at least in my art. I really hate the party system and think it's a huge part of a lot of the problems we have. It's much too easy to just be like, "Well, I hate those Democrats." It's so divisive. I try not to go to the party lines but to just talk about actual social issues that have political ramifications. But this year is just nutty. What's been interesting for me, and I don't have super processed thoughts on this yet, but I've actually always been leaning more politically right in some ways. I would align with a fair amount of Libertarian stuff at times, but I don't like a lot of what is packaged in with the right. The state of everything has me leaning toward, "Man, maybe the solution is on the other side of this."
There's a lot of rhetoric about these socialistic things, and you can look at healthcare or something and see that we spend an astronomical amount more than any other nation, and we're still ranked like 12th, 13th in different areas, behind all these countries that have socialized healthcare. I think the only thing we rank earlier on sometimes is less wait time to get something fixed or checked out. In all these other things, we spend so much more and we get less. I don't like big government for a variety of reasons, but I'm moving more toward...I'd rather have bigger government than bigger corporations running my government. I feel like that's a bit more of what the reality is.
All the healthcare money is going to these giant pharmaceutical companies rather than helping the people who need help. All that's to say I'm a fan of the Emerson quote in the essay on self-reliance. He says, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." He's saying, I'm gonna say whatever I think today in loud words even if tomorrow I have to say the exact opposite. If I just sit there and decide "this is what I know, and I'm gonna know this for the rest of my life," you're not learning, you're not growing. And I would definitely say that I'm terrified [Donald] Trump has even a shot at getting in office. It's insane.
Watch a collection of Fuse's Thrice interviews through the years, going back as far as 2003: