While New Jersey-based Thursday have been generically described as post-hardcore, they more easily fit the role of soul-searching distortion addicts. Their chaotically crafted lyrics gut-wrenchingly dissect and examine the struggles of everyday life.
Now, on the eve of completing their latest release, entitled A City by the Light Divided, guitarist Tom Keeley has a clear view of the band’s mission. “We’re disregarding the mold all together and trying to write as naturally as we can without too much concern for the taste of the mainstream right now,” he reveals.
Thursday received critical acclaim with their 2001 offering, Full Collapse, followed by their Island Records debut, War All The Time. Tom’s excitement about Thursday’s latest effort is infectious. He took a few minutes in between takes to clue us in on how this project is an evolutionary step for the band that was well worth taking.
What differences and similarities can we expect with your new recording?
Well, it’s definitely a Thursday record, but this is the first time we’ve worked with a different producer. We’ve done all the other records before (Full Collapse, War All the Time, Five Stories Falling and Waiting) with Sal Villanueva. We kind of decided it was time for some new blood. So we went with Dave Fridmann, and it’s just been incredible. It’s such a weird process for us now. The way we’re recording everything is just more on the fly and real time. It’s super organic.
That seems to be a trend for a lot of bands these days. The result is a different kind of energy.
It’s weird for us, because we always only knew one way of doing things. That process helped turn us into a real band. This band is the first band for all of us, so when we started, we didn’t know what we were doing. Thankfully we had Tim Gilles and Sal to kind of guide us through recording.
But I’d always heard bands say that we should just make a document of the song – just play in a room and set up mics. There’s also a lot of cool stuff you can do with a really good studio – messing around with stuff, overdubs and making use of the technology. I love the idea, but I had never experienced it, so I didn’t know how much I believed in it as a viable recording option for our band. Obviously, it has worked for tons of bands. Fugazi did it that way. They just set up and were going for an exact, accurate document of a band playing.
Is that the reason that you chose to go with Dave Fridmann? He’s worked with Sleater-Kinney and The Flaming Lips. Did you take a look at some of those bands?
We definitely took a look at the bands he worked with. It was mostly The Flaming Lips work that he did that sold us. It wasn’t him selling us on a dogmatic process. We flew up here like a month before we started, and the vibe that we got was that he was really just going to customize the process to whatever the song needed. We would record one song one way, and record another song the other way, and it’s all dependent on what’s happening in the song. We knew that it wasn’t going to be a cookie cutter situation.
It was that freedom – the idea that we can do whatever we want, as long as it serves the song and serves the record. Whereas, when you get into the Pro Tools world, sometimes you can get stuck in this formulaic, weird, million-track overdub black hole, if you’re not going into it with a clear intention. Sometimes having a million tracks and all the options in the world can be amazing. But when you have a million options, where do you start?
Right, and it can kind of just stray you away from your original ideas.
Totally. So we thought, let’s just get the energy of playing live as strongly as we can. Make a really vivid document of that, then listen back and see if there are any mistakes or things like that and then play around with it later.
There was a moment where I was kind of terrified in the beginning. I was setting up my amp and dialing it in. I called Dave into the room said, “Dave, this is my live sound, and I don’t know if it works from the recording standpoint.” I asked him to tell me what he thought of it, and I played it for a second. He said, “Well, it sounds like a guitar.” For a moment I was scared, because I just didn’t know what to make of that. After that I thought it was great that we can really do whatever we want, and there really are no rules. You don’t have to have “the” perfect guitar sound; you just have to have a sound that can capture some sort of energy.
Speaking of your sound, you have been using your VOX AC30 Handwired combo a lot. Were you able to utilize that on the album?
Oh yeah, all over the place. I used it for all of the clean tracks on all of the songs, and for a lot of really cool overdriven sounds. That amp was really a big tool for me for doing the weird, creative stuff. You can dial it in so many different ways. You can get such a wide array of sounds, and with the right guitar there’s nothing you can’t do with it. After the realization that Dave was thinking the guitar sounds like a guitar, I thought, well if that’s the case, then this amp is really diverse. So, why not see if I can find a number of really special sounds for choice moments on the record?
Are there any particular settings that you like the best, or any you found that you were coming back to?
Yeah! Here’s one. We were doing this instrumental track, sort of a moment of levity on the record, and there’s a spot where it kind of gets crazy. All of us were playing in the room, and I think two mics were picking up everything, and we were having volume issues. Once we heard the playback, Steve would get buried or I would get buried in the mix, because with one or two mics, you can’t really play around with it too much afterward.
It’s supposed to kind of blow up at the end and I was holding back, volume wise, so that I wouldn’t drown anyone out. Dave came in like three times to tell me to just turn it all the way up in the middle of the song and stand in front of it and get feedback to make it really explode. I was holding back and holding back, and finally I just did it and it was insane. I had the reverb knob turned up pretty high on the VOX, and I was messing around with the tremolo, just kind of manually dialing it in as we were recording. That sound definitely happened a few times on the record, the master volume and the gain fully cranked, with a reverb pedal and the reverb knob on top of it. It’s insane. It kind of sounds like the end of the world. Thank God Dave told me to just go for it, because I was being very timid. I didn’t know that the VOX could actually do that – get that loud, and that crazy!
With that being said, do you think it will be a good touring amp as well?
Definitely. It’s going to be really fun. I’ve always just used whatever head I had. The AC30 just opens up a whole world of options.
You’ll be taking a VOX Valvetronix AD120VTX on the road as well, right?
Yeah. I really like the idea that it has a tube in the preamp. That’s the one thing that isn’t done with digital modeling.
Tell us about your participation in The Shirts for a Cure Tour. It sounds like a great cause.
We felt like we wanted give something back. A few years ago a friend of ours passed away, Sean McGrath. He played bass for Saves the Day and a bunch of hardcore bands that we grew up listening to. We started talking to people about getting some sort of fundraising thing going.
Shirts for a Cure came along. Bands create a shirt design and they sell it to raise money to help women fighting breast cancer. It seemed like the most direct and longest lasting thing we could do. I mean long after we’re a band, hopefully they’re still around, and people will still be buying our shirts, and that money will still be going to them. Aside from playing shows and donating all the money, selling merchandise online is the next best thing. Check it out at a Shirts for a Cure.
Well, that is a great tour and it’s great that you guys are taking part in that cause.
It’s crazy. So much of being a band, you get caught up in how you’re coming across. You can get stuck in a myopic wasteland in your own head, where you’re just worried about yourself and what you’re doing. When these opportunities come along, I think it’s really important for any band, especially young kids. If they have the opportunity to do something good for someone else, they really should. Because otherwise you’re just thinking about yourself all the time.
How do you guys put together the bands that you tour with? Are they label-mates or do you handpick them?
We basically hand pick every band on every tour. Suggestions come in, of course, from other sources, but it usually has to do with bands that we musically heard recently that we just want to be around. We tour for a majority of the year, so if we can be around friends or at least around music that we really love that other people are making, it really helps get you through the year. We’re All Broken is actually Steve’s brothers band. We’ve been hanging out with them since the basement days and always wanted to do some sort of show or tour with them. mewithoutYou is another band. They just came out of nowhere with this amazing record, and we all fell in love with it, so they were kind of high on the priority list for touring.
What are some of the other bands that you are listening to right now?
Well, like I said, mewithoutYou, of course. That’s actually tough, because I’ve been searching through my iPod for things to listen to, and I’m so over most of what I’ve been listening to for the past year. A few of those bands, the people are either dead or no longer a band. I’ve been listening to lots of Miles Davis stuff lately.
So, do you feel like the new music is kind of monotonous?
You know, I don’t really want to talk trash on anyone, but yeah it’s definitely gotten homogenized down to a couple different things. For a couple years there, I think it was right after Nu Metal died, it was really diverse like mainstream music and radio. You could hear all different types of bands being played next to each other. Now some kind of tide came in. In the last couple years most of the popular bands are all kind of the same formula. It’s the singing-screaming thing, with very self-centered lyrics about whatever most pop music is about, which I guess is relationships. Which is fine because there are people who relate to that stuff.
Tell us how the new Thursday album is going to break that mold.
I think it’s because we’re disregarding the mold all together and trying to write as naturally as we can without too much regard for the taste of the mainstream right now. Obviously there’s something about us that appeals to that mainstream on a more subversive level, so it’s always going to be a part of what we do. We all love great pop songs as much as the next guy.
There’s a whole set of rules when you start concerning yourself with getting played on the radio and selling millions of records that can strangle the creative process if you’re not accustomed to just playing by the rules. It’s not that we want to break all the rules, it’s just our sound never quite fit in to one set of rules to begin with. So, we’re just going to continue living in that weird space where we kind of tow the lines between a bunch of different ideas and different levels of acceptability. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.
Find out more about what’s in store for Thursday at www.thursday.net.
By Laura Whitmore and Jenn Plonski