By Daniel Kohn
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Energy is what Thrice drummer Riley Breckenridge would like an audience to come away with after seeing his band. "Energy and emotion, but not in the emo sense," he says. "Not crying, but just that our hearts are in it."
"We all just love music—that's what the whole experience is about," front man Dustin Kensrue proclaims. He's sitting next to Breckenridge and the rest of OC's Thrice—guitarist Teppei Teranishi and Breckenridge's bassist brother Eddie—who've just finished a practice session inside an Irvine industrial space.
The men of Thrice are young (average age: 21) and punk, but they're also committed, driven and unrepentantly serious about their chosen craft. Perhaps too young and serious. They're nice and all, but—aside from broad generalizations about how they really, really like music (um, who doesn't?)—they don't have much to reveal about themselves. Deep, detailed questions about their music are frequently met with embarrassed silences and nervous glances, broken only when one of them blurts out desperately, "Someone else talk!"
"We all quit school and our day jobs to focus on this," Kensrue explains.
"This is it now," Riley says, speaking for everyone. "This is what we do."
What they do, as can be heard on their new album, The Illusion of Safety, is exhume the most vital organs from the decrepit corpses of otherwise stale underground genres—punk, hardcore, indie rock, emo, heavy metal—and recombine their basic elements into an invigorating structure. Thrice manages to make Iron Maiden-infused twin guitar harmonies sound airtight alongside melodic Saves the Day-like vocals. None of this is confused or contrived, two things the band actively works against.
"We all listen to totally different bands," Eddie explains. "We take our favorite parts of every genre. Sometimes it doesn't work; sometimes it does. We do a lot of editing."
"When we started out, we were really into punk—Fat Wreck Chords stuff. But we really liked Metallica and Iron Maiden, too," Riley offers. "We wanted to incorporate that. When you're young and you're starting, you don't really know what to do, so you're just like, 'Well, we'll sound kind of like these guys. That's how we'll get a show somewhere.'"
The band's first release was a self-financed single, "First Impressions," recorded after just three months of playing together. Identity Crisis, their first full-length, followed. Last March, the album was reissued by punk-label-with-a-social-conscience Sub City, which donates a portion of every record sold to a charity of the band's choosing. Sub City is also the label behind The Illusion of Safety.
"One of the main reasons we chose Sub City was because of the charity," Kensrue says. "You have a choice between Sub City and [sister label] Hopeless when you sign; it's the same people working there. The people there are amazing. Their hearts are in what they do. We could tell they were going to be there for us."
The particular charitable cause that The Illusion of Safety supports is A Place Called Home, a nonprofit youth center in South-Central LA that focuses on "at risk" kids between nine and 20, offering a family-like atmosphere, one-on-one mentoring and other forms of community intervention.
"It's this place where kids off the street can come in and get a meal or record music," Eddie says. "They have instruments there, a whole studio. They can make rap songs or rock songs. It's an awesome, awesome place."
"There's a lot of stuff that goes on there besides music," Kensrue adds. "But that's what brought us there."
Kensrue jokes that Thrice's contribution will probably only be good for "a couple of chairs," a comment that elicits heavy laughter all around. But The Illusion of Safety should, by all rights, contribute much more than that. In the first week after the album's Feb. 5 release, it sold just more than 4,000 copies nationwide—excellent for a smallish, relatively unknown band. More important is its contribution to heavy music in general, with its adept blend of skill, melody and chug. A cursory listen to the band's back catalog reinforces that the sophomore disc is undoubtedly Thrice's finest hour—so far. Beneath their sonic crunch, the band's lyrical wordplay disguises their messages in murky imagery, delving into matters of life, death and personal morality.
Thrice plan to support their new album with a rigorous touring schedule that keeps them away from home until July. They'll play alongside bands as diverse as Anti-Flag, Hot Rod Circuit, Thursday and the Movielife. Thrice also has nine dates slotted for this summer's Warped Tour.
Which brings us back to the question of what they want to leave their rapidly fattening audiences with. "Hopefully, they'll go home with a new appreciation for music," Kensrue says. "That's the ideal."
Or better yet, chimes Eddie, "they'll go home and pick up an instrument."Thrice performs with Anti-Flag, Against All Authority, Virus Nine and Pipedown at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 629-0377. Tues., 7 p.m. $9.99. All ages.