“My daughter’s eyes, they are two tiny seas” – Dustin Kensrue‘s lyrics from ‘The Whaler’ on Thrice‘s re-invention or even, re-intention EP The Alchemy Index Volume II might be the best description of where we find the calm yet careful lyricist/guitarist before the release of their 11th studio album Horzions/East and the quartet’s first proper tour since COVID-19 changed existence as we know it. The aforementioned lyric although from 2007, is actually relevant now more than ever, especially for Dustin, as his daughter recognised lyrics in the track ‘Scavengers’ from the recently released LP as a direct quote from fantasy writer Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, as he details:
“There are always bits creeping in there, I kind of can’t help myself, it is fantasy.” He describes shyly yet spiritedly – “I have become a massive fan of Ursula Kroeber Le Guin who wrote the Earthsea book series and some other books. But there is the concept of The Dry Lands – so I wrote that as a kind of fun thing and my daughter who has read it actually picked up on it (laughs). More what it represents in the book than I wanted to pull into the song subtly.“
As discussed in the album review the fantasy realm, especially Lord Of The Rings is undeniably a point of fascination for Mr Kensrue; it would seem his family revel in the fantasy also. As he elaborates, there is more than just one citation on the newest offering and it undoubtedly showcases his exploration as a song-writer; more-so a narrative nerd:
“Wait – yeah here is some more fantasy vibes (laughing). I have got into Dungeons And Dragons the last couple of years, ‘Dissonant Whispers’ – that is a spell in DnD – it works in there on the song ‘Scavengers’.”
Before the misguise and identity issues arise about this prolific lyricist and experimental post-hardcore outfit become assumed; there is almost an infinite number of layers that need to be unfolded in regards to Thrice. Formed in Irvine, California in 1998 the band have explored numerous genres, lyrical topics and even musical outlets. They have THE consistency of having the same original four members that build their family, they are true to themselves as artists and musically leave no stone unturned with each release. A drastic change for the four-piece came in 2005 following their massive success The Artist In The Ambulance where their LP Vheissu leaned towards innovators of alt-rock Radiohead compared to perhaps, Refused.
“I think Vheissu was the opening as far as like the ‘gap’ and especially compared to The Artist In The Ambulance.” Dustin laughs: “The Alchemy Index was meant to be a weird side-project we were trying to do, because it was strange and exciting. Then when we started to work on it, it became the ‘thing’- it takes everything we did in Vheissu and pushes it out to different limits. I do think the process of doing that, was very unique in terms of setting a much broader trajectory of where we could go in the future.”
The future wasn’t a honeymoon but more a ‘Black Honey’ in what Dustin Kensure (guitar/vocals), Teppei Teranishi (guitar/pretty much everything), Eddie Breckenridge (bass) and brother Riley Breckenridge (drums) had to face – the high demand of being more “thrust” into spotlight than Thrice themselves weighed heavily. In 2011 after eight astonishing albums, the band had a break. Each member explored their own journeys for a time, but their reconciliation was where ‘The Earth Will Shake’.
“It was a variety of factors; but the break itself came from a variety of those too – we just knew it was well needed at that point.” – Enlightens Dustin but with affection – “We had been just going full-bore with no breaks for a long time; to put it simply, I just missed playing music with those guys. I was at a show, many years ago now and Teppei was there at the time and I just said: ‘I feel like we should try this again’. I got the ‘bug’ so-to-speak and when we got back together it kind of felt like no time had passed – as far as like the ‘connection’ of playing together. Added to that though, there was a fresh appreciation for each other and the music we make together.”
We are now blessed with three more full-lengths since their reconcilement and this recent release has an expedition that is otherworldly. ‘Buried In The Sun’ is quite possibly the most political statement these Californian gentlemen have penned and astonishingly, Mr Kensrue is still realising its quality.
“It is an interesting song, because the verses are very in your face and then the chorus is a bit more obtuse and obscure and I like the contrast of that because it works with the lyrical ideas going on in the song.” He enlightens but also says in a thoughtful manner: “It basically talks about American imperialism; that phrase ‘Buried in the Sun’ and a lot of the stuff that is said in the chorus is getting at the idea that it doesn’t really matter that if it’s this huge thing that is unfolding on TV that everybody sees or if it is a Black Ops thing that no-one hears about for 20 years. People have such a hard time seeing that there is an American Empire, there is a way that we are constantly terrorising parts of the world and we are too stuck in a way of thinking about it that anything we do is good.”
He continues – “Rather than being self-critical and realising that we are responsible for the things we do and the things that is done in our name; whatever level of democracy we have, it still lands on the American people that this stuff is being done. I wanted to play with that and have this in your face thing and then this pulling back – ‘Buried in the Sun’ has this dual meaning it seems like the sun would expose things and they would be clearly seen, but when things are almost too bright it is everywhere and then you can’t see it anymore.”
As a long time follower, this writer has not been exposed to a “proper” political inspiration like this before from the quartet; it has been discussed that there are citations of Rage Against The Machine evident with this “middle finger” composition from Thrice in numerous publications in regards to this “fire-starter” concoction rather excitedly. Nevertheless, now more than ever, if there is injustice or any motivation which needs to be heard, please speak and loudly:
“For ‘Buried in the Sun’ there is a book called The Jakarta Method by Vincent Bevins, it is very very good. Truthfully, I knew some of what was discussed, but some of it was brand new to me.” Dustin pauses carefully but states his research with conviction: “It’s kind of about the history of the Cold War but a lot of stuff that doesn’t normally get talked about, South America, Indonesia – it was just another look of that American Imperialism and the devastating effects that had for a lot of people.”
Nearing the end of our conversation (a dream-come-reality for this writer) there were two final questions necessary for enlightenment. The first was if the undeniably new adventure with the opus ‘The Dreamer’ was some sort of exploration of La Dispute, Thrice and John Lennon as it is in all probability the strangest arrangement and culmination of genres ever combined and more importantly, if a return to Australia is any kind of possibility considering the state of the world?
“There is a nod to John Lennon, especially that part of that song. It is the first time I have done the ‘spoken word’ kind of thing, it’s a bit more ‘singing’ but it is influenced from touring with those La Dispute guys and mewithoutyou – that was a new direction for us.”
“We always have such a blast there, I’m always like: ‘Can I move here’? I like this place. I remember being over there with Hot Water Music and Alkaline Trio which was super fun. I always have a blast walking round and I know the weather is always really nice. I try to explore the cities if I can. We hope to see you soon.”
Hopefully all those “tiny seas” will be exactly that. But before the possible long wait before a visit from Dustin and the three explorers can occur is there something else the legions of fans worldwide can ‘Hold up a Light’ to?
“It’s something, wait I’ll rephrase this, I always have four or five things that I am thinking about creating at any given moment, musically.” He discreetly admits – “There is definitely material building for another solo record, there is a project for my brother that I am trying to do and then there is another project I am hoping to do. I am hopeful after we complete the companion record for this one I’ll have some time to flesh that out, solo record will be the first one.”
Is there such a thing as an ‘Unquestioned Answer’?
Interview by Will Oakeshott @TeenWolfWill
Stream Horizons/East here
Thrice – Horizons/East tracklisting:
1. The Color Of The Sky
3. Buried In The Sun
4. Northern Lights
5. Summer Set Fire To The Rain
6. Still Life
7. The Dreamer
8. Robot Soft Exorcism
9. Dandelion Wine