Riley Breckenridge, best known as the drummer of Thrice, geeks out to baseball as much as he does to percussion. He's in three fantasy leagues, one of them is a keeper league. He reads Baseball Prospectus and verses himself in experimental statistical analyses of the game--SABRmetrics for those in the know--as if he scouts players for Billy Beane's Oakland Mathletics.
The song "Centerfield" by John Fogerty, however, is a different matter. "I hate it," he says. "It's awful."
Rock and roll and baseball haven't much crossed paths over the course of time, which is kind of weird if you think about it, as distinctly American as they both are. Aside from "Centerfield," there's one verse in Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" that mentions high school ball--and that's about it. If ever there were a niche that needed filling.
Breckenridge started Puig Destroyer last year as a tribute to Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, a freakishly athletic rookie sensation who would probably be playing halfback in the NFL if he was born anywhere but his native Cuba. The band's extreme approach to hardcore thrash metal is intended to match the intensity at which Puig plays the game. "He's incredibly raw, totally absurd, mostly out of control, and freakishly talented," Breckenridge told us. "So he's a lot like Puig Destroyer, except for that last part."
The band was supposed to be a one-off project, a shits-and-giggles creative exercise for Breckenridge and a few of his musician pals that shared his baseball-nerd revelry. He had known vocalist Mike Minnick (Curl Up and Die) from touring together in the early 2000s, and met bassist Ian Miller on a music discussion board online, and went on to co-host a weekly baseball podcast together. "Baseball was a huge bonding thing," Breckenridge says about his touring days. "I'd have a hard time finding musicians who were into sports at all, and if they were, it wasn't baseball. The usual response was, 'ugh, sports.'"
Kowloon Walled City guitarist John Howell handles guitar duties, and Scott Evans signed on as the band's chief recording engineer. Puig Destroyer released two EPs in 2013 which garnered enough cult interest for No Sleep Records (Minus the Bear, Manchester Orchestra) to back a self-titled, full-length effort, set to go live September 30.
A virtual band, Puig Destroyer doesn't rehearse or write together in the same room. Breckenridge lives here in Orange County; Howell and Miller live in the Bay Area, and Minnick resides in Chicago. They create songs by sending each other stems from various recording software programs, building songs track by track, one idea on top of the other. "[The first two EPs] were very much first idea, best idea as far as writing went," Breckenridge says about that band's approach. "It's like, don't overthink this, we're not going to send files back and forth and back and forth; it was finished in a week or two."
For the upcoming LP, they used the same basic method, but added some refinement to the process. "Because we hooked up with No Sleep we wanted that first-idea, best-idea vibe, but didn't want to cancel out the ideas of revisions because there were actually people that were trying to help us put it out." This meant tracks were passed around and touched up one or two more times; sometimes Breckenridge had to redo the programming on the drums--all of which he creates using Superior Drummer software--but it did not bother him much compared to other writing situations he's been in.
"The 'lets-play-this-verse-80 times-until-it-works,' there is none of that," he says. "Being able to do this without overanalyzing stuff is super fun." The challenge, he says, lies in staying within the concept: "When you've already written 12 or 13 songs about baseball, writing another 20 you kind of just have to hope it makes any sense to anyone."
Breckenridge is a huge Angels fan, and the new record has a track dedicated to the Halos' MVP outfielder Mike Trout, a bone-crushing grindcore anthem with a shout chorus refrain: "No doubt, Mike Trout, he can do anything!" There is also one for former Angel outfielder Mark Trumbo, called "Trumbomb." Trumbo, who is from Anaheim, hangs out on occasion with Breckenridge and Miller. "He's super into heavy music and gear," Breckenridge says. "He'll talk to Ian and I about amps, and drums and new bands. He's a good friend and wanted to pay tribute to him. And he hits 480-foot bombs, the kind of extreme stuff we like to write about."
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He admits that nobody in the band is really a Dodgers fan--Miller and Minnick's allegiance resides with the Giants; and Howell, a Cleveland transplant, is a nominal Indians fan. "My dad was raised as both a Dodgers fan and an Angels fan--back when the Angels were actually in LA--so naturally, he raised me to be a fan of both teams as well," Breckenridge says. "Apparently, a ton of folks have issues with that--you're either a Dodgers fan or an Angels fan, I guess--but I never knew that to be the case, so to hell with that nonsense."
If it comes down to a Freeway Series in the the Fall Classic, Breckenridge is pulling for the Angels all the way--make no mistake about that. When asked if the band would tour should Yasiel Puig become a world champion, he made it seem unlikely but not out of the question. "We have never been in the same room, or the same city, at the same time," he says. "It would be a weird show because we have so many weird songs, and some of them are impossible to play. But that's the point."