Dear world, We’re done screaming. Regards, Thursday
When I call Geoff Rickly at noon on a Thursday he is sucking on a hard candy and rereading the novel Invisible Cities by Italian author Italo Calvino. If you know Rickly on any level at all, you’ll recognize that neither of these things—sweets and intellectual sustenance—are out of the ordinary for Thursday’s frontman (he even has a tattoo reading “Sweet Edge” on his left calf that features two crossed candy canes in front of a cupcake done by Oliver Peck as a testament to the vice). While most professional musicians are content to immerse themselves in video games when they’re not on the road, the 32-year-old frontman for Thursday is a strident intellectual who just happens to sing for one of today’s most progressive rock acts.
Before we get to the band, I should admit I’m a little biased in my assessment of Rickly. In addition to having been close to him for the past decade, I’ve also played guitar for his grindcore side project, United Nations. That said, I’m friends with plenty of musicians and I can’t name another person who is equally as knowledgeable about the short stories of Jim Shepard as they are Orchids’ discography. In fact, most musicians haven’t heard of either of these artists, let alone immersed themselves in decoding their seeming disparate works.
This is important because diversity is what defines No Devolución, the sixth studio album for Thursday, which includes Rickly, guitarists Steve Pedulla and Tom Keeley, drummer Tucker Rule, keyboardist Andrew Everding, and bassist Tim Payne, whose spot is often filled during touring (due to familial obligations) by bassist Lukas Previn, pictured here. The record features barely any of the screaming that propelled the band into the mainstream arena a decade ago during what New York Times Magazine memorably referred to as “The Summer of Screamo” back in 2003. “That was such a weird spot in my life where everything happened so quickly and unexpectedly that it put us in a bubble for a while,” Rule had told me just last night at a dark East Village bar above the din of Bad Religion’s “No Control.”
At the time, he was riding high on momentum. Soon after the band’s 2001 commercial breakthrough, Full Collapse, they signed to Island Records, who released 2003’s War All the Time and 2006’s A City by the Light Divided, albums that were celebrated by fans but failed to make the commercial dent needed to sustain them on a major label. After parting ways with Island, the band signed with iconic independent label Epitaph Records and released Common Existence in 2009; it was their second consecutive recording produced by Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev). And that brings us to No Devolución, an album that Rickly himself thought at one point might never come to fruition.
“Last year, before we even started recording this album, I kept pushing to do a 10-year anniversary tour for Full Collapse because I felt like there was a chance we might not do another record, or we might go into the studio and what we did wouldn’t be good enough to put out,” Rickly admits. “We were just floating in limbo and I thought, ‘Well, if it’s going to fizzle out let’s just end it with a bang with a Full Collapse tour.” And so they did the anniversary tour, opening for Underoath, even though they had already finished recording No Devolución—an album that, ironically, seems primed to give the band a new life.
“Making this record was the most bizarre experience of my life. We rehearsed seven times as a band for No Devolución, whereas in the past we would take a year to write a record, nitpicking over every single note and sucking all the fun out of it,” Rickly says. “This time we went more with the idea of ‘What’s your first best guess?’ This record was also different because there was no outside pressure from anyone like there had been in the past. It was scary in the sense that we went into the studio with only four or five bare-bones songs—but we all pulled together and had fun with the process.”
Recorded and mixed with Fridmann at his studio in Fredonia, NY, No Devolución sees Thursday paying tribute to decidedly non-hardcore influences like Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai without abandoning their signature blend of explosive energy and literary lyrics. “When I started this record I really wanted to write about the idea of long-term devotion, so when the guys would give me the music I’d run it through all the angles of devotion I could think of,” Rickly says. “I kept talking to the band about the idea of the songs being prisms, and if I was going to shine this one subject through each prism, then that subject was going to come back in a different form. To me every song is the same theme; it’s just a different color of that theme.”
If you don’t have a clue what Rickly is talking about, that’s okay. In fact, philosophical mystery is one of the tenets that keeps Thursday fans coming back to revisit the iconography of Rickly’s imagery. As he teases on the new song “No Answers”: “You think you know it but you don’t.”
After all, having easily discernible answers is never as validating as figuring things out for yourself. And since the band’s humble beginnings performing in basements in New Brunswick, NJ, Rickly has, in many ways, treated Thursday more like an art installation than as a traditional rock band. This tendency has helped establish Thursday’s artistic integrity as much as it’s been a commercial disadvantage for the band, especially in a culture that’s increasingly dependent on sound bites and 140-character modes of communication.
“I think it would be a little misleading for me to say that this album is too cerebral for people,” Rickly responds when asked about the complexity inherent in everything from No Devolución’s themes to its packaging (500 copies of the deluxe edition of the CD were an actual installation by the album’s cover artist, Mia Pearlman). “Thursday has never had songs that have been Bieber-huge or anything like that, but I think that has less to do with them being too complex and more to do with the fact that we don’t know how to play traditional rock music, so we’re making up what we do as we go along,” he says. “I read this thing about how Fugazi didn’t use guitar pedals because the limitations were the things that drove the inspiration, and I think that definitely happened with us.”
Musically, No Devolución features everything from epic soundscapes like “Sparks Against the Sun” to experimental, synth-driven explorations like “Empty Glass” but retains enough tastefully aggressive anthems like “Open Quotes” to appease fans of the band’s earlier output. “With this record I think we’ve recorded something that is as good as or maybe better than anything we’ve ever done, and it really closes the chapter on the Thursday I was in from the ages of 19 to 31,” Rickly says. “We’re the guys who were that band, but we’re almost not now, which I think the title says in a really interesting way,” he continues, adding that he came across the album’s title—which roughly translates as “no returns”—while perusing desserts at a Brooklyn bakery.
Despite the fact that Rickly’s personal identity has evolved along with the band’s, he continues to stay true to his screamo roots. He spent part of last year touring as the singer for the defunct Philadelphia act Ink & Dagger in place of deceased vocalist Sean Patrick McCabe. It’s a fitting bookend to the fact that he has a lyric from Ink & Dagger’s precursor, Frail, on his forearm. “My first tattoo says ‘love is love,’ and I got it when I was 18 because I saw Frail with someone very close to me in Philadelphia; I didn’t get a chance to see him again afterward, so I got that lyric to remind me of the best time we had together,” Rickly says about his inaugural ink, adding that some people mistakenly identify the tattoo as self-tribute, since he recycles the line in the Thursday song “A Hole in the World,” about that same friend.
Although Rickly’s first tattoo holds special significance, he and his band members have plenty of others. And if you’ve read the article up to this point thinking you know what you’re getting with Thursday, you should realize this is all just one side of the band’s unique personality. If you hang out with them for five minutes, it’s clear how goofy all of the band members’ personalities are—and they have the ink to prove it. Take, for example, the purposefully bad tattoos that Rickly, Rule, and some of their crew got during their run on the Vans Warped Tour back in 2006. “Our tour manager had a tattoo gun on that tour and we played a game where we all took Post-it Notes and drew the worst tattoos we could think of and threw them all in a hat, and whatever you drew you had to get,” he says. “There were two stipulations: If you picked your own tattoo or if what you picked was morally against everything you stood for, then you could get a second try.” Rickly ended up vetoing a tattoo of the word “Underoath” in which the T was an upside-down cross and eventually consented to a tattoo of a T-bone steak with two eyes on his left ankle. Later, when he had the character’s name, Steakface, added, it was misspelled as Steakeace, making it look “even more ridiculous.” (Other designs from this impromptu session include the word “nope” and a chicken drumstick with a bite taken out, which Rickly helped tattoo.)
Rule, who has plenty of excellent ink on his arms—including the patron saint of music holding a different kind of drumsticks, as well as a sugar skull on the inside of his arm in commemoration of his grandparents—agrees that getting joke tattoos is a bond the band members share. Still, he’s looking forward to getting more legit work done soon. “For me the experience of getting a tattoo is a good way to bond with somebody forever, and a lot of the tattoos I have I share with other people,” Rule says. His self-admitted “shitty” tattoos include a drunk Thursday dove accompanied by the phrase “Who Partied?” and a Starbucks logo on his right calf. “The Starbucks tattoo actually gets me free coffee,” he admits. “Sometimes I tell people that I own Starbucks too.”
More recently, Rickly, Rule, the heavily inked Previn, and a crew member got their individual vices tattooed on their bodies accompanied by the phrase “JDBD,” which stands for Just Dudes Being Dudes. “Pat, our merch guy, and Tucker both got beer cans; Lukas got a pizza with wings; and then I got a 45 spacer because I’m a nerd with music,” Rickly explains. “We’ve always talked about making more lighthearted songs because that’s definitely an aspect of who we are as people, but I feel like I get out a lot of the sadder, more serious thoughts in the music and then spend the rest of the day harassing my bandmates for spilling cereal all over themselves or whatever,” he says with a laugh.
In the same way Rickly has evolved from the singer people referred to as “Tone Geoff” on the band’s 1999 debut, Waiting, into an accomplished vocalist with remarkable range on No Devolución, he’s also grown from an idealistic teenager into an accomplished adult whose sense of self parallels his band’s musical evolution—although he’s not embarrassed of the soul-baring earnestness that largely defined him in the past. “Those early days of the band still resonate with me because I feel like being serious and actually caring is so undervalued in this society,” he says. “I look back at the interviews I did at that time and that’s not who I am now, but I’m also excited that at one point in my life I was so committed to a certain ideal that during interviews I would treat every answer like it would have an impact on people and might change the world.”
Regardless of the band members’ personal growth over the years, different stages of their recordings have affected fans on a truly visceral level—a fact that’s evident in the amount of Thursday tattoos they continue to see on others. “It’s really a heartwarming thing when someone shows you a Thursday tattoo, but it’s also awkward because what do you say to somebody who appreciates something you do so much that they get it put on their body forever?” Rule wonders aloud. “There’s this one kid who comes to shows in Wooster, and he had just gotten the dove tattooed on his ribs and asked us to sign around it because he wanted to get our signatures tattooed the next day. That was the most bizarre thing; I saw him a couple of months later and he showed it to me, and sure enough, all of our signatures were there.”
Perhaps their enduring spirit is the reason Thursday continues to have such a devoted following, despite the fact that most of their peers from the Summer of Screamo have quietly faded into the background. And though the band might never have a hit single, they already have something better—success on their own terms. “We’ll never sell a million records, but people still love albums like Full Collapse or A City by the Light Divided regardless of how many copies we sold,” Rickly says. “The really complex relationships going on and the codes you’re constantly being asked to break are the reasons why people still like the records 10 years later,” he summarizes. “I’m kind of glad that it takes work to like Thursday because then you invest yourself in us. It’s not like fast food—it’s something deeper.”