The Passion Of Dustin Kensrue- An Interview With The Frontman Of Thrice

October 19, 2011 by Chris Grosso

Thrice has been a staple in the alternative-modern-rock world for nearly ten years now. With no real need for introduction, Thrice is known for effortlessly and continuously releasing groundbreaking records. Their eighth album Major/Minor is no exception.

The Orange County, California quartet released their first proper full-length, Identity Crisis, in 2001 and quickly stormed to the forefront of the indie music scene as listeners rejoiced and formed what can only be described as a cult following. Thrice went on to release six highly praised albums – fan favorites The Illusion Of Safety (2002), The Artist In The Ambulance (2003) and Vheissu (2005), the brilliant and intricate four-piece concept album The Alchemy Index: Fire and Water (2007) and Earth and Air (2008), and the most recent band-centric masterpiece, Beggars (2009). Ample touring followed each release, and in the 13 years since their inception, the guys of Thrice have had the pleasure of sharing the road with the likes of Brand New, Rise Against, Alkaline Trio, Manchester Orchestra, Circa Survive, Say Anything, Mewithoutyou and many more.

Major/Minor sheds light on a side of Thrice fans have yet to see. Comprised of eleven songs, the album possesses an analog warmth and organic landscape reminiscent of indie-music’s predecessor; one of the biggest music trends to come from the underground in the 1990’s. That’s right, grunge.

Thrice has never been bound to trends, and fans never know just what to expect from a new release. And that’s half the fun. – Thrice.net

The following interview was conducted on 10/18/11

The Dustin Kensrue Interview

TIS: So I recently read a comment from your bassist Eddie Breckenridge I found rather interesting regarding your new record Major/Minor in which he states, “We have four very different minds in our band. We all enjoy very different areas of music, and share a very similar center. The songs on Major/Minor are essentially the four of us fighting back and forth to get them to our most centered place.” Could you elaborate on that for me and take me a little deeper into the writing/recording process of Major/Minor?

DK: Yeah, we write far more democratically than most bands. That’s not bragging at all, it’s just the way we do it. It makes for some very challenging times as well as rewarding times and ultimately some great music in the end. So the process is different for every song. We tend to put all of our ideas out there in a drop box and share them and come together and talk about them. We’ll comment on one another’s stuff and share a vision of what it could be, tossing ideas back and forth etc. It’s the beginning of something starting to take shape but then when you get in a room with your instruments and try to play these things, for whatever reason, you end up sometimes doing something very different. For example, this record was made similarly in the writing process to Beggars but I think it’s a very different sounding record. There are some similarities in the movement and energy but the mood is very different. There’s a lot more aggressive vibe on this record in general.

TIS: Sure. I actually found Major/Minor to be a bit darker in nature than the majority of your previous releases. Would you agree and, if so, what do you attribute that too?

DK: Hmmm. In what way?

TIS: It seemed like there was a bit of a darker encompassing undertone or more aggression like you said.

DK: To me that’d be a very hard thing to pinpoint in our process besides saying we had a rough couple of years. There was a lot of family stuff going on, deaths etc. So there’s an element that possibly comes through but I think that’s going to be pervasive yet subtle to pinpoint.

TIS: Gotcha. So Thrice has certainly pushed the explorative boundaries on each of your releases over the past ten years and often times fans have a hard time accepting when a band does that,  say for example, bands like Cave In or even Radiohead. Does Thrice also feel that backlash?

DK: I’d say there is a difference between the Cave In and Radiohead situation. I think it actually has paid off for Radiohead and I think part of the difference is just that they keep pushing through and we’ve tried to follow them in that. We stayed curiously safe from the machine as much as we were in it. We really tried to guard ourselves from that and now it’s not even an afterthought or a shadow of a thought in our minds while we’re creating. I think there has been a lot of backlash in our career and Radiohead’s, but I think that through that, many fans have been stoked that the band is pushing and challenging themselves and creating something. That sometimes means having a little patience for people to catch up to where the band was thinking because they are pushing themselves to a different spot than where they’d last left their listeners. There’s a trust involved between a good band and their listeners and I think we’ve built that with a lot of people.

TIS: Right. So now that you’re on Vagrant Records, can you tell me how you’re experience working with them varies from that of your previous label Island?

DK: It’s good man. It’s a good mid-sized label. They get stuff done and work hard. They care about our band and not just in a friendship-y way but the band means something to the label, which is good for us and good for them whereas the band meant very little to Island at the time we left. That’s not a personal plight on anyone. Those labels basically function by having gigantic hit records and that was something we just weren’t going to do, so it made sense for us to part ways. Vagrant has been a really nice place to land.

TIS: Cool. Can you tell me about Thrice’s decision to contribute a portion of each albums sales to charitable organizations on your previous releases and if that’s something you guys still do?

DK: We actually haven’t done it for Major/Minor or Beggars. We tried to carry on this model we’d started with Sub City. We took it to Island with us and then tried to bring it to Vagrant. We were really trying to force them. Logistically, it was very hard for them to figure out how to consistently do it since they weren’t set up for it. So we just continued trying to work with charities in other ways. Like right now I’ll do after show acoustic sessions to raise money as well as selling merch and trying to get the word out on what various organizations are trying to do. It’s been really cool and effective as well as fun. There’s been some cool benefits to trying to engage more directly in those ways. Sometimes we just have no contact with the charities we’re benefitting and I felt like there was a lot of missed opportunities. I think this allows the listeners to be more participatory instead of just buying the record, knowing that proceeds are benefitting others. It’s been cool over time and a lot of people have really gotten involved deeply. So we try and engage people in different ways which I think has had a much bigger impact than any monetary gain.

TIS: That’s great. You’re also a worship leader for a Church out in Orange County, CA. Can you tell me how your faith influences not only your music but your life in general?

DK: Yeah, I’m part of a team planting a Church out in Orange County right now that is part of a network called Mars Hill Church. They started out in Seattle and I think there’s 13 churches now in the network. As for influence in my life, they’re tied together and very closely actually. There’s generally a disconnect of what the kind of faith I’d say I have looks like to most people, especially when they’re seeing it from the outside. For me it’s much more of a situation looking at what one’s life is oriented around, especially regarding the ideas of worship. We tend to define worship rather loosely. The bible talks about it broadly, especially in the sense that we’re all worshipping all the time, just different things and that would be the framework that I work out of. Whatever I sacrifice or wherever I get my identity from, those are all signs of what I’m worshipping. So if I worship money, my decisions ultimately are going to come down to worshipping security. So I achieve security, or I think I do, through money. And I do certain things for money so I feel secure.

I try to orient my worship in my life on God, who I believe to be the creator of all things and the giver of all the gifts and that changes how I view absolutely everything. It changes how I steward my time, it changes how I love my wife, it changes how I raise my kids, it changes how I view music. What are all of these things, and my answer to the bigger questions completely redefines every aspect of my life, so there’s no way I can have a real faith that doesn’t affect my music, that doesn’t affect what kind of person I am or if I try to spend time with fans etc. It affects everything including music. For some people, it could be an accident in the universe that these notes come together, for me it’s a gift that lets me share things with other humans. It lets me express something that God’s given me. Hopefully that clarifies it a bit. I feel it’s less about something I do rather than about something that I believe at a very large level which affects what I think in regards to everything else.

TIS: Sure, I can see that. So it seems like there’s a lot of dogma being dropped with the younger generation of Christians but there’s still the Hardcore, Orthodox Christians who preach peace, love and acceptance as Jesus’ message one minute but then condemn things such as homosexuality or tattoos etc the next. What’s your take on that?

DK: Hmmm, there’s a lot going on in that question. I actually think there’s a bit of a movement in multiple directions. There’s a movement away from the religiousity, the judgment and self righteousness that’s been advertised by a lot of the church. What that’s moving towards is like what you were talking about like ok, let’s throw all the dogma out the window because that’s the problem and just love people. The other movement is people holding very strongly to an Orthodox doctrine but that are being affected by what I would say is the Gospel, which is what God has done for us, and that has lent itself to be lived out in a way that’s compassionate, loving and thoughtful but still has strong doctrine. I would put myself in that camp. I guess I would go back to Jesus when you’re talking about the preaching of love and compassion and then some of the stuff you mentioned are a mixture of misunderstanding of law and things that are just hard to understand in general.

Jesus for example preaches love and compassion and that’s true but he also preaches a lot of judgment, so I don’t think you can take one part without the other. Everyone has to deal with Jesus because he was such a huge figure in history. I think a great starting point is a book The Case for Jesus by Lee Stroble, which examines many of those things. So instead of dealing with that Jesus we have our own agenda and then we kind of bring on our version of Jesus as muscle to enforce our agenda. There’s vegetarians who say Jesus is on their team and there’s anti-gay people who say Jesus is on theirs instead of looking at what Jesus actually had to say. We’re shoving words in his mouth. If someone is curious, just read the Gospel of John. It’s mind blowing. Jesus is so much more than this kind of cardboard cutout that he’s been made to be or this nice man who pets lambs. I mean he’s fiery and he’s pissing people off left and right and he is preaching compassion and love and he is preaching judgment and he’s very dynamic.

He makes very audacious claims about himself that have to be dealt with. As C.S. Lewis has said, either Jesus is a liar, a lunatic or he’s the Lord. He doesn’t really leave us the option to call him a good teacher or a good man. These claims he’s making either make him out to be a liar, which we don’t seem to see in his character because he seems to be of the highest moral character, or a lunatic which he also doesn’t seem to be, he seems to be very sane and held in high regard by the majority of wise men. So if he’s not a liar or lunatic then he has to be telling the truth and be what he claims to be which is God. The reason he came was to go to the cross, which gets to the heart of all of this. There is sin in the world and there is judgment for that sin but God is not only just, he’s merciful and in order to be just and merciful he goes to the cross as Jesus and deals with people’s sin. Does that sort of answer your question?

TIS: I’d say it does the job, I know it was somewhat open ended. I remember when I interviewed Grant Brandell from Underoath he expressed frustration he was having over a Twitter post in which he used the “F” word and then received messages from some of his followers telling him he wasn’t a Christian because he did so, so that sort of sparked my interest in asking you about your perspective.

DK: Yeah, that’s a religiousness or elitism that just because someone says a word or has a tattoo than they’ve negated an entire set of beliefs. I think that can be very distracting and silly. I think there’s context for a lot of different things. I use different language around adult male friends than I would around a young girl. That’s just common sense. What can happen is a prudishness that develops out of Christianity where it becomes about keeping certain little rules and that really shields people from dealing with the heart of issues sometimes. A lot of those people might not use the “F” word but they’ll very politely cut down a girl in their class or something. That’s the evil right there, that you’re hating someone in your heart.

TIS: Well I appreciate you sharing so openly about all of this.

DK: Absolutely, I love talking about it.

TIS: Thanks and have fun tonight in Boston. Best wishes on the rest of your tour.

DK: Cool man, thanks.

VISIT THRICE HERE!

VISIT MARS HILL CHURCH HERE!

VISIT THE INDIE SPIRITUALIST ON FACEBOOK HERE!

IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU MAY LIKE THESE:

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THE INDIE SPIRITUALIST INTERVIEWS SLUG OF ATMOSPHERE

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Chris Grosso is a public speaker, writer, recovering addict, spiritual director, and author of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality (Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster) and Everything Mind: What I've Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening and the Mind-Blowing Truth of it All (Sounds True). He writes for ORIGIN Magazine, Huffington Post, and Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine, and has spoken and performed at Wanderlust Festival, Yoga Journal Conference, Sedona World Wisdom Days, Kripalu, Celebrate Your Life and more. Chris is passionate about his work with people who are in the process of healing or struggling with addictions of all kinds. He speaks and leads groups in detoxes, yoga studios, rehabs, youth centers, 12-step meetings, hospitals, conferences, and festivals worldwide. He is a member of the advisory board for Drugs over Dinner.
  1. introvert says:

    Cool interview. I’m glad you asked some in-depth questions instead of just the normal interview script. I think you’re lucky to have had this conversation! Then again, I’m a die-hard Thrice fan, so I may be slightly biased. The only thing I’d like to add is that I don’t think ‘Major/Minor’ is dark compared to their other albums. ‘Beggars’ had this dark, melancholy feel to it while the new album has a brighter, more hopeful energy. Just my two cents. Thanks for the read.

    • Chris Grosso says:

      Thanks for the comment. In retrospect I think “darker” wasn’t quite an accurate description. I think there was a subtle nuance of pain I felt in these songs I hadn’t experienced on previous releases, but of course the album is open to individual interpretation which is reason to celebrate. I do also hear the hopefuly energy you speak of at times too. Thanks again and be well!

  2. Megan Randolph says:

    How have I never seen this until now??? Your so lucky to have had this interview!!! And I agree im glad you brought up some of the questions you did! <3

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