Thursday have always been difficult to categorize. Although they famously rose out of New Brunswick, New Jersey's basement culture they've always been far too cerebral to be considered a traditional hardcore band. Over their eleven-year career they've toured with everyone from the Cure to Cursive, but have retained an inherent aggressiveness that can only come from being weaned on similarly independent nineties acts like Ink And Dagger and Lifetime. All of these references to other bands only serve as guidelines-and with Common Existence Thursday have finally reconciled all of their seemingly disparate literary and musical influences into a collection of songs that span the spectrum of human emotions from frustration to hope and, above all, love.
When Thursday-singer Geoff Rickly, guitarists Tom Keeley and Steve Pedulla, bassist Tim Payne, drummer Tucker Rule and keyboardist Andrew Everding- delivered the genre-defining Full Collapse, Alternative Press called 2001 "The Year Punk Broke Again." SPIN christened the band the "The Next Big Thing" featuring Rickly on its cover in 2004. Thursday's major-label debut, War All The Time, was a commercial success - but, ultimately, Thursday abandoned that route. Instead, they became something far more impressive in today's musical climate: A band that eschewed gimmicks, instead forging a unique, organic and evolving sound more lasting than trend. The New York Times concluded, "They may not be rock stars, but by a kind of critical consensus they have emerged as the standard-bearers for their sound, the band considered most likely to survive the vagaries of rock trend-hopping."
It worked and fans embraced the band's subsequent releases such as their Dave Fridmann-produced 2006 opus A City By The Light Divided, 2007's CD/DVD package Kill The House Lights and this year's extremely well-received split-EP with the legendary Japanese screamo band Envy. Though the band have taken some time off to work on other projects-including Rickly's visceral outfit United Nations , Keeley's Black Jets project and Rule's jaunt overseas to fill-in with My Chemical Romance-they have spent the better part of the past twelve months in a damp warehouse in New Jersey writing the songs that comprise Common Existence. "We worked on this record every day for almost a year," explains Rickly, adding that the band spent six hours a day poring over the instrumentation and arrangements of these songs until they came up with something they were all ecstatic about.
"Writing this album was an enormous amount of work because we wanted to do something that was a progression and was also closer to the heart of what Thursday's sound is about," Rickly explains. "I think the rest of my band has really amazing chemistry and I really wanted to push them to find even deeper strengths than they had before," he continues, "despite all the hard work, it's the most fun I've had making a record." And it shines through while listening to the disc in lieu of the sometimes heady subject matter.
From the cathartic "As He Climbed The Mountain", which is probably the first distortion-drenched hardcore song to feature a slide-guitar break; to the stripped-down post-hardcore anthem "Friends In The Armed Forces" (which features Quicksand's Walter Schriefels); and the simultaneously dizzying and jaw-dropping rocker "Resuscitation Of A Dead Man" (featuring Rise Against's Tim McIlrath), Common Existence reminds listeners why they've always loved Thursday. Even the band's new-wave and indie-rock influences shine through on "Time's Arrow"(in which the subject of regret is illustrated by literally turning the tape around at the end of the song and replaying it backwards to undo the damage), and "love Has Led Us Astray", further confusing cynics who attempt to slap the latest musical tag on Thursday.
All of this wouldn't mean anything if the lyrical content on Common Existence wasn't equally as urgent and incendiary. Tracing a path from lonely last calls to frenzied fallout shelters, the themes are explored in the compassionate and desperate tone that Rickly has been developing his entire career.
"So many of our songs have been about crazy or devastating situations and this record is about growing up and seeing that everyone shares the same existential crisis that we're going through," Rickly explains. "Everybody feels like they're special or different and this record is about me realizing that everybody has these feelings and there's nothing more common than what we think is our individuality."
Rickly notes that he gained new perspective from various sources including a fan who lost her family to Hiroshima-related-illnesses and literary icons Cormac McCarthy (As He Climbed This Dark Mountain), Martin Amis (Time's Arrow), and David Foster Wallace(Circuits of Fever) and that they've always been inspired by the troubadour tradition, in which every song is a story and every story has its own narrative force.
"I think that we're still a post-hardcore band," Rickly says. "Once you've been playing this long it's natural to want to wring power out from different things, different chords, different time signatures," he adds. "It doesn't necessarily change the fundamental swing of your music; it just makes you want to express that same center in different ways." With Common Existence that center remains intact, but Thursday have created something new and relevant, that can't be ignored.
It's that Thursday force and feeling
A parade of black garments bearing the name My Chemical Romance in various places and excited faces wait religiously outside the back of the MEN Arena, for a mere sighting of Gerard Way and troupe. Just inside the hallowed venue, six guys are relaxing in order to maintain a sense of readiness. They are blessed with the task of building the excitement and warming the crowd up. For the black parade that will follow Thursday's
exhibition of emotive, hardcore pushing and punk embracing alternative music from their four album range that spans ten years. Guitarist, Tom Keeley agrees to be whisked off to the tour bus to open out the world of the poetic, piercing and authentic New Jersey outfit;
"To me hardcore and punk is the same thing, a headspace. A way to question
popular ways of doing things, our main motivation is to find our own unique voice.
Five or six years ago many bands had that same intention, instead of music as a conduit for dissent. "
It is apparent from this opening snippet that we are dealing with an idealistic, deep and sincere muso, who makes up a group with the same qualities or mere characteristics if you subscribe to modern cynicism. Thursday's fourth album 'A City By The Lights Divided
', accentuates the dark epic approach to alternative music producing that reaches a climax in the strident, rhythmic and bemusement conveying 'Division Street'. Utilising Geoff Rickly's drawn out vocals to full effect and impact:
"We didn't really approach this album differently from any of the others. Each song's its own process and is usually borne out of every direction, without sounding cliched we try to be organic, it's a bit like alchemy, really."
A stoic seriousness and commitment by Tom, to make his point is imminently prevalent and it also comes through in the music that he helps to produce. Therefore, it is time to facilitate this approach by delving into the dynamic of their live experience. With such a range of material at their disposal and a broad fan-base that draws in bold indie kids, dyed in the emo-ers, the grunge and post-grunge crew as well as punks and metallers. It must hard to compile set lists for gigs these days, rather like shopping for a vegan, a raving carnivore a dog and a diabetic?
"Yeah, it's hard to crush four records into forty-five minutes. We're not always
happy with shorter sets. We try to make them high impact work out sets and for gigs like tonight we try and think of material that fits better in a big arena. It's tough though cos songs like 'Running From The Rain' fit into this category, but it is not the epitome of who we are."
Thursday do come across as a band that simply cannot be summed up by snippet of their range, especially if the same amount of musing and consideration goes into the song writing process, as it does to each question here today. Surprisingly, given the lyrical prominence in communicating the band's defiance, depth and cutting nature it is the music that is the first step in their creative journey;
"Yeah, usually Geoff (the lyricist) responds to the music. Occasionally, he will have an ideal lyric and we build upon it as a band."
Despite the consistent feeling, force and authenticity that runs through each offering. There has to be one song that defines their ethos and gives them more pride than the others as a result of its creation?
"Jet Black, at the time we wrote that song we didn't know where we were going as a band. It was a difficult process making that song, it was the first song we made after 'Full Collapse'. We almost didn't make it out of that song. It's a warning and a beacon at the same time.'
The latter sentence sums up the impact of the New Jersey sextet's music on a growing and broad fan base. That said, it must be difficult compiling material, with so many creative outlets in the outfit they are by no means a one or two man band. Democracy in band-form;
"It can be difficult writing with five other guys. We fight terribly at times, but it's just like a family fights. Creative dissonance is a part of our song writing process."
The album mentioned, their benchmark album from 2001, 'Full Collapse' brings together heart-wrenching choruses, epic song builds and robust guitar mastery that is a watermark for punk, screamo and post-hardcore acts to rise to. It is timeless in its authenticity and drive, as well as being instrumental in signalling the band's determination to project their beliefs, controlled anger and their stoic determination to do things their own way. Something that also carries through to their live sets, whatever the occasion;
"When people come to our gigs we want them to feel, well hopefully uplifted, joyful after the sharing of a love. It's supposed to be a celebration, we don't want people to come away feeling they've had their socks rocked off. In an Arena we are not there to show off, we all got into music because we love it. Although it can be hard, at times, to make a connection with people who you are 20 feet away from, but there are ways of transcending that."
There is a general view that Thursday manage to make and have always made that connection with the crowd whatever the circumstances. One of the keys to the rise to recognition and respect of this poetic engine of spirit and growl, has been the strong New Jersey scene that they and the likes of Taking Back Sunday and Midtown grew out from. Is there a fear that the global nature of music access through myspace and you-tube is going to render local scenes redundant? Tom maintains a pensive look and a hint of dejection precedes his reply;
"I see scenes disappearing, I think the sense of community is changing. I mean, the attention span of most humans is not long enough to combine the two worlds, but it can also be used to strengthen what is already there. It also means that the quality of music is changing, bands don't have a chance to be horrible anymore. It all has to be instant."
The frown that follows this statement hides a sense of pride in having to work hard at achieving the sound you want. It is a natural corollary of this that a band does have to possess enough backbone to work through the bad days. The Manic Street Preachers did it and it only embellished their eventual appeal.
Given that Thursday only seem to be growing in stature, appeal and expansiveness, it is fitting to end with a quote about the future. More specifically Tom's fears for the music industry in general;
"I just hope that kids become less concerned with their career than making a statement about what is going on. Nowadays, there are very few bands around who have no other motive than to react to what is currently happening in music."
And with this snippet of sincerity and concern Tom returns to the band, to prepare to make their short, but potent statement to My Chemical Romance fans. One thing is for sure, this tour will not change Thursday's ethos or outlook one bit.