Thrice were supposed to be on hiatus. Why did they return so soon?
Thrice frontman Dustin Kensrue reveals the story behind To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere
After a three-year break, Thrice are back with a new album, To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere.
Their hiatus was prompted, in large, by frontman Dustin Kensrue becoming a worship pastor at the Mars Hill Church in Seattle. While Kensrue continued to make music on his own in that time, it was his resignation from his role there in the wake of numerous controversies, including alleged rackeetering ("Me and some other pastors had to try to make some sort of stand and call it out," he explains) that would eventually lead to the four-piece to pick up their instruments and start writing together again.
It may not have been the longest break, but it was still time for significant changes to take place, both within themselves and the world at large. Those various changes – whether small or large, personal or political – came, of course, to permeate the eleven songs of To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere. It’s a record which doesn’t just confidently mark Thrice’s return to making music and the next chapter of their career, but which also serves as a brutal yet vital reflection of the unescapable truths that inspired its creation.
Are you surprised the hiatus only lasted a short period of time?
Dustin Kensrue: “I’d definitely been missing it in general, but really my schedule freed up and a lot of circumstances had changed since I wanted to take the break in the first place – my kids are a bit older and stuff like that, so it was like ‘Well, I wanted to do this again, and now I’m able to.’ But I think taking a break was really healthy for us as individuals and as a band. I think we have a refreshed sense of appreciation for each other and for what we’ve been able to do and what we can still do. There’s always been something very special about playing with those guys. We’ve been doing it for so long that there’s a lot that’s irreplaceable in that connection, and I think the dynamic we have when we’re writing produces something very much unique and different than any of us would have done on our own.”
Let’s talk specifics about this record. The title, To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, is very philosophical – what does it specifically mean to you?
“It’s an old quote from a Greek philosopher called Seneca The Younger, and I think what’s really interesting about it is that he thought it was important and profound at the time teaching his protégé, but to look at it now in context of the distractions we have and the ways we can avoid being present in any given moment, it’s pretty overwhelming. So I brought it up with the guys and everyone seemed to resonate with it. I think it’s one of the bigger struggles in our age right now, this idea of constantly being distracted by technology or our wandering thoughts and anxieties. The record isn’t dealing with it a ton specifically, but the last song, Salt And Shadow, does, but the rest of it is really the environment that it’s being written in and about, that air we breathe in the current age. I don’t want to say that’s the concept woven through the whole record, but it seem to be something that really resonated with all of us and we felt like it’d be a fitting title.”
Do you think there’s some kind of solution that needs to be found with regards to that idea of disconnection?
“Well, I don’t think there’s any magic bullet that’s going to fix it because there’s too much good that comes from it. And that’s kind of the irony – we’re able to actually be everywhere now, which is crazy, and you think it’d be great, but in stretching yourself so thin you lose having a real connection to any place or people. But I do think it goes beyond technology. I think that technology and other things have really created within us some habits where, even if we don’t have that technology with us, we’re very distractible and our attention spans are very short. We’re constantly looking for ways out of the place that we’re actually at.”
Tell us about the song Whistleblower – is that about Edward Snowden revealing government secrets?
“I definitely won’t say that it’s got nothing to do with Edward Snowden, but it’s definitely not just a song about Edward Snowden and that situation, which it seems like some people are grabbing onto and thinking I’m oversimplifying that situation. Which is not at all what I’m attempting to do, at least. I think there are many nuances to a situation like that where someone makes such a large decision that can affect so many people, but what I’m trying to get across in that song is this idea that there is…I’m trying to fight against the culture that automatically writes off whistleblowers and tries to defame them and shout them down and shame them, because that kind of culture is what keeps bad, evil and immoral practices going in companies and countries. There’s a huge pressure that people have to wrestle with to come to those decisions, to be like ‘There’s no other option for me now but to ignore something that’s weighing on my conscience or to do something drastic that I know I’m going to be slammed for.’ I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for someone like Snowden who happens to believe in making a choice that they think is the right choice even though it’s a really hard choice and there are big consequences. And it’s something that I personally had to wrestle with up in Washington."
What happened there?
"I was at a church, working there. It was a larger church and there was some stuff going on that just kept getting worse and worse. There were people trying to fix the culture there and there were a lot of half-truths and untruths being handed down. And finally, I got to this spot where I was like ‘This is actually a lie. This is not true,’ and people were unwilling to address it. So me and some other pastors had to try to make some sort of stand and call it out and it was crazy. It was a really, really hard time and the whole thing fell apart and it was brutal, but there was so much pressure internally in that situation to not say that something was wrong. I’ve read a bit about being a whistleblower and there’s just a ton of pressure to not make the choice to stand up and change things, and it allows horrible things to continue to happen. So there’s a bit of a personal connection there as well as appreciating what other people have done.”
The idea of hope, which I believe is something people like Snowden – and yourself – offer others by making these drastic decisions. But did you find yourself questioning your faith because of what was happening? What did that situation do to you?
“It was brutal. And it’s been really brutal for a lot of people that were involved there. I think, for me, I wasn’t burned on my faith, or even on the church as a whole. I’m pretty burned on a lot of things that were associated with that specific church and it’s hard to sort through what is and isn’t messed up about it. It’s been a rough time of recovery, but in that larger sense I don’t think it threw me at all.”
Okay. Because I do find – and correct me if I’m wrong – this to be quite a gloomy, pessimistic record – it starts with Hurricane, which is very portentous and doom-laden, and The Long Defeat is a very pessimistic song.
“I don’t know if I’d say gloomy, but it is a very heavy record, and sombre at times. The Long Defeat is interesting. It’s based on an idea that Tolkien talked a lot about. I don’t think he came up with it, but he talked a lot about ‘The Long Defeat’. There’s a sense where it’s pessimistic in the short-run, although maybe realistic would be a better phrase, because oftentimes pessimist just say ‘I’m being a realist’. But what that song is trying to say is that things will continue to go badly in many different ways and if you base your efforts on the immediate results of something you’re going to give up. But if you understand that your efforts are not always going to turn out the way you want and you’re not always going to see these victories on the small level, you’re able to have hope – the chorus is “hope without assurance.” And I think that’s something that’s really helpful. Say you’re working in the inner city and you’re trying to change the lives of the homeless people who live there or something and day in and day out you see the same stuff go wrong, you’re going to give up if you feel like ‘I can’t fix the whole thing.’ But what the song’s arguing for is that’s not really the point – the point is to faithfully fight the fight that you know you need to fight. It’s kind of a weird concept, but the idea is that there is something larger than these everyday defeats that we’re facing. As a whole, though, part of the dark, heavy vibe really is just a reflection of a lot of what’s been happening in the world in 2015 and the beginning of 2016. It’s been a heavy time and I think the record reflects that.”
Being in America especially, you’re confronted with it on an everyday basis. It’s not in a good place at the moment, and every day you see more division and more unrest. It’s kind of terrifying.
“Yeah. I was trying to think about what makes it so different and I think its size and its very, very diverse regions are huge factors. You can look at any country in Europe and it’s much smaller and I think there’s much more of a national identity that’s a bit more cohesive. I mean, you still have a bunch of different divisions, but I do think that there’s something different and I do think the States is so diversified and spread out that we have a hard time having common understandings. There’s huge problems that exist in one place which another place doesn’t understand at all. I might be oversimplifying it, but it’s something that I’ve thought about a lot.”
Were you aware, then, that you were stepping into such political shows on this record, and what were concerns about doing so?
“I mean, I tried not to overthink that on the front end. With the exception of The Alchemy Index records, where we had a very strong theme we were going for, we write most of the music first and I have things that I’m thinking about, and as I try to write lyrics I’m basically saying ‘What do the songs feel like? What are the things I’m thinking about or feeling that I feel like layer over the story the song’s already telling?’ And so Thrice being a heavier kind of band and me being a bit drawn to the bigger issues of life in general, all that gravitates a lot of times towards writing pretty weighty, heavy lyrics. This record was no exception –I’m listening to it with everything going on and there’s just this weight and heaviness to it. Hurricane is a good example of my trying to find something that fits there – the beauty and calm of the verses slamming into this huge thing, and I’m trying to find something that works with that and I end up writing something where I end up questioning why all these beautiful moments in time are always shattered by something – because that’s what the music feels likes its doing.”
Although Salt And Shadow takes a complete right turn and becomes lighter and more dreamy. It seems to open the door to what’s next – you’re walking out of those heavy shadows into something with perhaps more light?
“Yes, although I do like heavy contrast. I think the lyrics of that song are pretty sad. I guess there’s a melancholy mood to that song, even though it’s soft and beautiful.”
Would you say the time away from the band affected the dynamic?
“I think just that appreciation for each other as people and musicians. When you do anything for long enough, as much as you can consciously be like ‘Well, this is great’ or whatever, you lose a visceral sense of some of those things. So just coming back to it and being in a room together jamming on new stuff, I think there’s just a better perspective. I think we’ve always been pretty grateful for what we have, but I think it’s even stronger now. As far as the way we interact writing, I think, overall, we’re in the healthiest spot we’ve ever been in. I don’t know if that’s because we’ve been doing it for a long time or if part of I has to do with everybody maturing separately in different ways in that time apart, but things are great and we’re already looking forward to writing the next one.”
Does it feel more like a regeneration or just a continuation of where you were at when you stopped?
“It was definitely different coming out of a break rather than coming directly off doing something. It was an interesting time to reassess what we are as a band, what we do well, what we enjoy doing, though I feel that’s going to get clarified a bit more on the next record, because with the first one back there’s a bit of exploration. We’ve always talked about how as a band we can do whatever we want, and we’ve done that – or tried to do it – and I’m starting to wonder if we want to focus, in the same way that as a person you can learn about yourself and the things you enjoy and the things you’re good at and play to those strengths, if we can do that as a band, because that’s something I’ve never thought about consciously doing with Thrice. So that’s what I’m thinking about right now but I don’t know if it’ll actually play out in anything. But to get back your question, I think we tried to approach this freshly, but also look back at the things we’ve done and the things we like doing. We tried to start this record with a concept or direction, but it didn’t go there at all once we got in a room together.”
So what are your hopes for Thrice in the future?
“Going into it, it was just like ‘Alright, let’s do this again!’ because that’s what you do as a band, I guess. My favourite part about it is the creating. It’s the hardest part, too, but it’s great. So that’s the first level. And on the second level, it seems like the break has given us opportunities for fresh ears to hear the new stuff. Which is great, because I feel like for a while we were constantly dogged by this term that we’re a screamo band or whatever, and even in 2003, we never felt really akin to a lot of what would be locked into that. It was just the time that was happening and we were screaming and playing heavy music that had emotions! I don’t know, it seems like it hounded us for a while and it feels like we’re coming out from that cloud a bit. Which is nice. We can be seen as a rock band. We like that term because it’s really broad. It doesn’t pin us down. So I hope that continues to play out.”
To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere is out now on Vagrant Records. For more information, visit the band's official site.