For many fans, disillusion ensues when their favorite band makes the dreaded jump from an indie to a major record label. Such a move can result in flashy music videos and bigger, more impersonal venues for shows. Whether true or not, a sense of compromise and impurity creeps over the music. Before they played a sold-out Electric Factory on Tuesday, Thrice's bassist Ed Breckenridge and Thursday's guitarist Tom Keeley talked to Street about such challenges that face their respective groups.
Even if the two weren't on the same label, the pairing for a tour makes sense as the bands have similar sounds. Hailing from New Jersey, Thursday combines enraged lyrics -- a caustic mix of impassioned singing and gut wrenching screaming -- with often dissonant and ever-changing guitar lines. California's Thrice rely much more on their guitars to carry songs rather than the vocals, not to mention having a much more polished sounding final product. But both toured incessantly, building their audiences to the point that major labels came calling in droves.
As the bands receive increased exposure, however, the venues become increasingly larger. The sense of intimacy at a place like The Khyber, for example, in no way matches that of the Electric Factory -- playing with the same kind of intimacy would therefore seem to become much more difficult. Nevertheless, the problem has not yet become an issue for Thursday. The reason why is simple: "For us, it was never about rocking out to a crowd of people. It was about sharing music with individuals who love music." For Thrice as well, despite having 2,300 people in the crowd, Keeley watched "...[them] play, and everyone [was] connected, all the way to the back, everyone [was] singing and [had] something invested in it and [felt] connected in some way."
Thrice takes that connection a step farther in the form of their desire to help others. The title of their Island debut, The Artist in the Ambulance, references a story by Al Burian, who pondered the question of artistic responsibility. In keeping with this notion, the band donates a portion of every record they sell to charity, something they have done on all three of their albums. As Breckenridge says, "Little tiny instances, like meeting somebody for a split second, can change the course of the rest of your life, and I don't think people really look at their lives that way." While the responsibility can be stressful, the band refuses to ignore it: "With art...you don't know how it will affect someone else, so it's important to look beyond yourself in whatever you do..."
Part of looking so closely at interactions means knowing that your closest fans will scrutinize your major label debut. But as Keeley says, "We're not going to stop trying to challenge people because we're scared they might not like it." While he is comfortable with the idea that some fans will abandon Thursday with their new album, War All the Time, the "people who have their hearts and minds invested in the music that we made, I wanted to make sure we kept them interested, we didn't want to just repeat Full Collapse," he says. "I think that would be more of a betrayal of their trust than experimenting too much."
But bands must compromise on some points. Thrice, for instance, prefers to let the music speak for itself. While no pictures of the band are in Artist's liner notes, Thrice made a music video for "All That's Left," which would seemingly counteract the original intention. But as Breckenridge says, "The label is the one that wants us to be that way so people can recognize us, but...I would rather have our music be recognized and then us just be the dudes behind the scenes kind of thing." Nevertheless, the label convinced the band that the video would accurately depict the intensity of the band's live show. Similarly, Keeley describes how, "There's stuff on Full Collapse (their previous album) that -- a style of writing or a sound -- for us that naturally makes sense for us to still reference."
But both Keeley and Breckenridge agree that being on a major label has brought a new sense of freedom to their music. For instance, Keeley says that the band would be working so hard on War that the label's representatives would come into the studio and say, "Get out for the day and relax, get away from it, you're looking too closely at it." The approach differed greatly from the band's previous home, Victory Records, where the band felt much more choked. While Breckenridge admits the band gave in to the label on the issue of the video, he still forcefully says, "We definitely have the final say in stuff."
Keeley and Breckenridge erase the stereotype of bands losing their sense of purpose once they sign to major labels. They do illustrate, however -- and quite nicely, in fact -- the idea that fans as passionate as theirs may simply have trouble dealing with the idea that their favorite band will no longer be just theirs. Despite that, Thrice and Thursday continue with those traditions that led them to success in the first place.