The Tyranny of Irony
Thrice singer/guitarist Dustin Kensrue believes in social activism, the power of music to change the world, taking responsibility for your actions, absolute morals, and seeking out truth. Because he doesn't shy away from writing political songs, and because his band gives a portion of album sales to charity, he is being held up as the new face of all that's Good and Just and Right in music today. Punk luminary Brian McTernan, who produced Thrice's vigorous and brainy third album, the relentless The Artist in the Ambulance, told Alternative Press, "This band is becoming a way for kids to learn about their place in life."
Which is a little much, if you ask me, but still less overarching than many of the breathless magazine articles about the band that read like hagiographies. Is this band going to save the world? No. Is any band? No. Is this band going to revolutionize the way you listen to music, ripping your ears from the sides of your head and rearranging them, causing you, quite literally, to listen to music in a different way? No. Am I cranky? Yes.
But, in Kensrue's defense, all he ever wanted to do was play music and make music. He never set out to save the world.
"I want to do cool things with my band, but I'm doing this because I love music," he says. "That's why we started a band, and that's why we're playing. I don't want people to think the reason we started this band is to save the world."
Thrice—rounded out by guitarist Teppei Teranishi and bassist Eddie Breckenridge and his brother, drummer Riley Breckenridge—formed in Irvine in 1998. The Fat Wreck Chords- and metal-inspired band practiced in Kensrue's dad's office—in fact, they still practice there. About growing up in Irvine, aggravatingly good-natured Kensrue (who is 22 and has been married for a little more than a year) has only good things to say.
"I feel very blessed that I grew up somewhere where I felt safe running around the streets at night," he says. "I used to walk to the high school and jump off the platform at night barefoot, and it was totally fine, and a lot of people grow up where you shouldn't even be walking barefoot. I think people diss on the suburbs a lot, but if I had kids, I'd want them to grow up somewhere safe."
Kensrue, who was attending Christian university Biola before quitting to tour with the band, says "blessed" a lot. It might be rhetorical, or it might be religious.
"I'm very interested in truth and the meaning of life," he offers as an answer to the question of whether he's religious. Perhaps he's religious in the same way Teranishi and Eddie Breckenridge are straight-edge. They are, but they don't claim it as an identity.
But back to this notion of "safety." It seems to hold certain significance for Kensrue, who, it seems, despite his Irvine-philia, finds something dangerous and sinister about "safety" (the band's second album, released on Hopeless/Sub City, in fact, is called The Illusion of Safety).
On the new album, in the song "The Melting Point of Wax," the group sings about the danger of playing it safe: "There's no promise of safety on these second-hand wings/But I'm willing to find out what impossible means," Kensrue sings over churning guitars. Later he vows, "I will touch the sun, or I will die trying."
"It's a retelling of the Icarus myth, but applying it to both our music and career decisions as a band in the past year, using the take on it that it doesn't matter if you fail, it's a lot more beautiful and interesting to at least try and do the unsafe thing, which might have a moment of glory but could fail in the end. I think a lot of bands fly straight and go the way they know they'll be moderately successful for the longest time, even though they might not be affecting people's lives for the longest time," Kensrue explains.
Apparently when the band members broke the news to their parents that they were quitting school and jobs to go on tour, they weren't met with oodles of immediate support.
"My parents weren't superexcited. It's not the safest career move," Kensrue recalls. Still, the band was determined. "I think everyone looked at it like you only get opportunities once, and it was just the time to get out there or not ever move forward, and we looked at it like you can always go back to what you were doing. It might not be as easy, but you can."
And then, somehow, Thrice became superhuge, playing the Warped Tour, releasing an album on Island Records, and saving the world from greed and irony and capitalism and the media and clandestine operations and apathy. Actually, Thrice never directly level their lyrical canon at irony, but they are very earnest and very sincere and very worried about the state of the world, so probably irony doesn't score too many points with them. To wit, Kensrue does not have a favorite joke.
But really, what Thrice are trying to do, or rather what they're managing to do inadvertently, is to tell kids that it's cool to be enlightened and passionate and aware and that there are ways to get involved and things worth involving oneself in. It's a noble task.
Unless, on a fundamentally stylistic level, you have a problem with earnestness and sincerity writ large, in which case you are probably some kind of knee-jerk, sarcastic, eye-rolling twit with a gnarled soul. I am that twit. That twit is I.
But I like the idea of a bunch of music fans sincerely trying to change the world. I just wish they'd gotten to me sooner.
Thrice perform with Thursday and Coheed & Cambria at the Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700. Sun., 8 p.m. $17. All Ages.
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