It’s hours until doors at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia and already fans swarm outside . Many have arrived ticket-less and desperate to find a scalper, since tickets sold out within minutes of going on sale. Someone reportedly offered to pay $90 for one.
Though critics carp that their 15 minutes expired years ago, Thursday still commands a devoted following and that can be seen with the day’s turnout.
Thursday’s rise was startling. The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based band went from basement shows to being hailed as the next Nirvana. The unexpected success of 2001’s Full Collapse led to the mainstream party-crash of 2003’s War All The Time. For a moment, the band prowled the stages of talk shows and arenas, hung with celebrities and seemed to live up to the claim that they were the vanguard of a new youth music revolution. Yet the standard cycle of decline for indie-bands-gone-major ensued: internecine strife, near band breakup, label disinterest and the inevitable pink slip. Unlike most major label casualties, Thursday continued undaunted. They regrouped with Epitaph Records to release what is arguably their most accomplished release in fifth full-length Common Existence. They resume what they’ve always done best: performing.
This is their first night of a headlining US tour, with most shows taking place in more intimate venues. It’s a welcome change of pace for vocalist Geoff Rickly. “It’s just a really good start to the tour,” he says, reclining in their bus.
Rickly looks road weary, however. Perhaps it’s the weathering affect of over a decade lived mostly in vans and buses. He wears a non-descript black t-shirt, worn jeans and a red jacket. His hair hangs like tangled vines down the sides of his face.
“We played the Taste of Chaos tour and it really wasn’t our scene,” continues Rickly hair hanging like tangled vines down the sides of his face. He recalls feeling alienated amongst the younger bands and their rabid fans, despite his band being the headliner.
“We played the Taste of Chaos tour and it really wasn’t our scene,” Rickly explains. He recalls feeling alienated amongst the younger bands and their rabid fans, despite his band being the headliner.
Throughout our conversation, it becomes evident that Rickly is protective of his band and for good reason. Since their meteoric rise, Thursday ignites seething enmity in its detractors. From DIY punk purists to indie scene bloggers, the band serves as a convenient piñata. “I think Thursday gets a bad rap,” Rickly asserts. “I think there are definitely a lot of kids out there who don’t know anything about Thursday but assume they do because they’ve heard bands that listed us as an influence.
“The people that don’t know the band just assume it’s cool to hate the band,” he adds. “ I think that’ll eventually wear off. People hear us and realize that we’re not what they thought we were.”
Common Existence, released earlier this year, surely confused many detractors and long-time fans. While 2006’s A City By The Light Divided was a sharp detour from the band’s older sound, Common Existence revved up the tempos and injected a venom not heard since the band’s earliest days, if ever. Yet the album also demonstrated the band’s immense growth, with seasoned performances and a consistent approach mostly absent from its predecessor.
“It was fun,” Rickly says about recording the album. “This is the last record we’re doing in our 20s, so we decided to do something fun. That was really fun- finding out what parts of the map on the old stuff that we never really experimented with and also doing it the way older guys who can play wanted to do it and adding really cool keyboards because none of those old hardcore bands did that shit.”
In contrast to A City, the band strived for a more straightforward sound on Common Existence, though with a sprinkling of experimental non-sequiturs.
“We picked our moments to go crazy,” Rickly says. “In those moments, we wanted to go crazier. In other moments, we wanted to sound like a band playing in a room.” He pauses and declares, “I love the way the new one turned out.”
After being spurned from their former major label, Thursday found a new home in indie powerhouse Epitaph Records. The band clearly enjoys their current digs.
“They’re really supportive,” Rickly says of the Epitaph gold brass. “They get it. If we want to do something that’s not Full Collapse, they get it. When they heard it, they latched onto all of the songs that were all of our favorite songs, but we thought would be over peoples’ heads. It’s the right place for us.”
It seems Thursday spent much of the past decade searching for a home. They moved from local New Jersey label Eyeball to the larger indie Victory Records and then relocated to the comparatively palatial musical real estate of Island Records, finally returning to a humble indie abode in Epitaph. The band has similarly meant many things to many people. Though often hailed as a progenitor of the oft-maligned post-hardcore strain of emo, screaming and singing over mid-tempo guitar-agitated rock music, most overlook the band’s outwardly political stance. They’ve supported decidedly progressive and left-leaning causes, while Rickly’s lyrics routinely address matters of political concern, though usually through a personal lens.
Last year, Rickly stirred up considerable I nternet controversy as a guest writer on MTV’s Headbangers’ Blog. He wrote passionately about the void he saw in the current punk landscape- the paucity of the political element so intrinsic to its, or at least his formative days.
“It was just this trend where the whole aspect of what I’ve always loved about punk rock as a subculture and a counterculture was going missing,” Rickly explains.
For those who experienced the hardcore milieu of the 90s, it’s difficult to compare to the decidedly apolitical nature of anything described as punk or underground today (Brian Peterson’s book Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit, and Sound adequately portrays the tone, issues and artists of that era).
Rickly continues, “I feel like getting into punk was like this great doorway to community and social activism.” He sighs, nostalgic. “That, as a whole, is not why kids listen to punk anymore at all. I’m not saying this is right or wrong. But I really miss this thing that was so prevalent everywhere.”
It’d be easy to write off Rickly as an out of touch old head, a grandfather on the porch ruing the cruel march of time. Yet a casual glance at most laboring under the banner of punk rock is enough to convince anyone that something is missing.
Critics of the blog cited Thursday’s collusion with a major label, MTV, corporate-run music magazines- the promoters of everything Rickly spoke against. Critiques also blamed Thursday for inspiring many of the fashion-conscious boy bands that Rickly bemoaned. That Thursday came from a politically minded and fiercely independent background is lost on most who hate or love the band, as is the fact that Thursday handpicks smaller opening bands for its tours (one band posted their sanctimonious rejection to Thursday’s opening band offer on a messageboard).
Rickly remains unapologetic about his band’s involvement with the majors, War All The Time, their Island Records debut, sold close to 400,000 copies. “It was amazing in the beginning,” Rickly says about the band’s major label tenure. “When we recorded War All The Time it was like a dream situation.”
Yet the dream quickly ended. As he tells it, every one of their supporters at the label departed. The label spent $200,000 on a video for the title song- only to not push it to MTV or other music video or radio outlets. “We had finished our touring schedule and … everything lined up where nobody was pushing the record anymore. It was just done,” Rickly recounts. “There was no one even to call at the label- there was just no one left.”
The label’s new staff had little desire to invest any effort in Thursday. Rickly recalls difficult meetings wherein the label pressed the band to write hits, while the band hungered to pursue a more experimental direction. Not long after the release of A City By The Light Divided, Thursday received the boot. Rickly muses, “Being on a major label is weird. We probably never belonged there.”
Yet despite his band’s negative experience, Rickly sees a silver lining in the major label stratosphere. He remains wistful about the lost opportunity, “I guess War All The Time could’ve been a hit and if we had legitimately gotten to be a huge band past the point of it being a fad to like Thursday, I wonder if we would have been able to subvert being that big in an interesting way.”
At this point in the conversation, Rickly leans forward to show me his iPhone. On it is a photo of a wildly grinning Rickly standing next to a stone-faced Jay-Z. “Boys,” he chuckles. He speaks rapturously about hanging with the hip-hop impresario, as well as with Beyonce. It illustrates just how far Thursday came from its big bang in a New Brunswick basement.
Though the band show no signs of slowing down, Rickly concedes that Thursday- like most bands- has not eluded the wrath of the new music world and the current economic distress. With some exasperation, he elaborates on the band’s financial woes, “All of us have rent to pay. Some of us have kids and some of us have wives. We have to pay healthcare. It’s hard. If we don’t tour all summer, we’re still paying $750 a month in storage and we’re paying an absurd amount on healthcare. We have to clear serious costs to be a band.”
I ask if it would be possible for Thursday to still be Thursday if the band members got day jobs and pursued their craft on a part-time basis- essentially returning to the basement from where they came. He shakes his head and responds, “So much of being in this band is this almost monk-like vow of consuming your life with making art together. If we were to get real jobs, the art would suffer enough that I don’t know if I would want to call it Thursday.”
He stops for a moment and adds, “There’s a certain purity in the all-consuming fire that goes with Thursday that I don’t ever want to leave behind.”
That all-consuming fire is vividly on display during Thursday’s performance that night. Though it is the first night of tour, the band maneuvers with surgical precision as they began with the trio of songs that begin War All The Time (“For The Workplace, Drowning,” “Between Rupture and Rapture” and “Division St.”). Rickly conjures messianic moves, arms raised and the audience transfixed. The rest of the band looks as possessed as they had six years earlier on the same stage. Guitarists Steve Padulla and Tom Keeley sway while summoning tormented noises from their guitars. Tim Payne lunges with bass strapped high on his torso and held like a weapon. Tucker Rule and Andrew Everding occupy the back of the stage, Rule wreaking havoc on his drum kit and Everding bouncing and singing along whilst attacking his keyboards. Rickly talks in between the songs, addressing the kids as his equals, not his subjects.
The set consists of a healthy balance of the new and the old. It’s clear the band employs serious time and consideration into crafting each night’s set list. “I just realize that you can’t always listen to what people say they want,” Rickly explains. “You have to balance what people want to hear and what people don’t realize is better than what they want to hear.’”
Something the average Thursday fan might not be ready to hear is “Stay True,” their newest song. Rickly excitedly plays it for me, a wide grin spanning his face. “This is more like what I’d want to do next time,” he says.
The song sounds as if the band absorbed the massive instrumental swells of the Temporary Residence Records roster (who released the Thursday/Envy split). It grows slowly and steadily with echoing guitar chords and minimal drums. Rickly coos over the building music, which rises to a roiling climax. He delivers Robert Smith-worthy wails over the crescendo, the song ending after nearly 10 minutes. As to the possible direction of the next record, Rickly prognosticates, “Huge, sprawling, epic, lush, sad record. Makes people cry.” He smiles, “Sounds good to me.”
Rickly offers no timeline for the new album. The band will operate as it has for the last 12 years: G et in a room together and enjoy the art of writing songs together. Whether it leads them to the gilded stages of rock stardom or to the cramped punk clubs that they called home for so many years, Thursday will continue to make music that resonates with its fans and more importantly, with themselves.“I still can’t believe that I got to do that stuff,” Rickly reminisces. “I got to be in a legitimately huge rock band. But it’s also weird how fast it’s kind of over. We’ve been around for 12 years- that’s longer than the Beatles had been around. It feels like I haven’t gotten to do anything that I want to do in a band yet. But I guess that’s just the same as what it is to be young. It’s over before you know it and then you’re an old person. And you’re never going to be young again.”/p>