By Jim Schutze
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It's been a tough year for Thrice—personally and professionally. The sometimes bristling, sometimes atmospheric post-core California rockers are ready to close the book on their putative "return-to-basics" album, Beggars, as well as the disc's accompanying tour cycle. It's been a rough go—one that's found the entire quartet dealing with issues of mortality and forced guitarists Teppei Teranishi and Dustin Kensrue to each beg off different tour legs in the last year to be with their families.
"It's really strange," says Eddie Breckinridge, who comprises the rhythm section with drummer/brother Riley. "Each of our families is dealing with cancer. It's a reality check, and though it's a horrible thing, I think it's good that we are learning that we aren't invincible and that it's really important to cherish what you have."
"I wish we could tour more on Beggars," he continues, "but the way things happened, with family members getting sick and the record leaking three months before it was released, just destroyed the possibility of getting some good solid touring on this record. I guess that's just the way it is."
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It's a shame because Beggars is a fantastic album. But it's not much of a "return to form" disc, as has been widely reported. Really: Thrice never fell from the curve, so much as it simply detoured in unexpected—but still intriguing—directions. They emerged on the breakers of emo's second wave around the turn of the millennium with a moody sound mixing sinewy breakdowns, taut rhythms and bursts of anthemic melody. Though they drew on many of the same stylistic tics as their post-core bedfellows, they demonstrated far more facility in balancing hard edges and glimmering hooks, culminating with their third album, 2003's major-label debut, The Artist in the Ambulance.
Though that disc was a resounding success, the band almost immediately began to step back the sound, using the Island-bought studio time to layer and expand their palette on 2005's follow-up, Vheissu. While still muscular, there's significantly more texture and pretty, dreamlike tracks at play—putting the band more in line with Coldplay than At the Drive-In. The change was driven in part by their discovery of musical manipulation software, Reason.
"You come up with ideas that you'd never develop just playing your instrument because you become so familiar with it that you tend to play certain kinds of melodies," says Breckinridge. "It was really healthy for us because it pushed us into this new realm of ways to write, and viewing music in a different way."
They soon left Island, signing with Vagrant for Alchemy Index, a series of EPs collected into a pair of full-length albums. The four EPs' tones corresponded to the classical elements—fire, earth, water, air—as the band separated their different sonic impulses into narrow sleeves. Though it showcased the breadth of their skill and vision, the real beauty was in how the band brought those disparate tones together, making them fascinating—if never fully satisfying—releases.
So it's not surprising that in returning to the more driving rock approach of Beggars, the band had to come together as well, writing in the practice space rather than at home alone, like the last couple albums. They recorded it in Teranishi's garage and self-produced the album, for both control and fiduciary reasons, producing a tighter, harder-rocking effort.
"A lot of new parts were created in the moment, rather than being a little more calculated," Breckinridge explains. "That's something that may have been lacking on a few of the records we had done. It ended up lending itself to the songs having more of a cohesive feel, and being a little more groove oriented."
While their willingness to explore different approaches may have cost them some fans, it's a big reason why they've stuck with it through thick and thin these dozen years. By remaining true to themselves rather than an audience, they've remained vital, and, more importantly, engaged in their craft, carrying them through the rough spots.
"It's amazing how much people start off being this creative entity and then they get lost, not realizing where their creativity comes from," Breckinridge says. "They just cling to what they know people know them as, and it's sad. I think, in the end, people respect you doing what you love, and that it comes through in the music."