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What We Have Become

From left: Teppei Teranishi, Eddie Breckenridge, Riley Breckenridge, Dustin Kensrue.

Thrice isn’t the type of band that cultivates drama. Since forming in southern California in 1998, they haven’t had any member changes, nor have they been spotted on TMZ sucking face with internet celebrities or abusing hotel rooms (unless you count hogging Wi-Fi bandwidth to play World of Warcraft). The focus of this largely insular four-piece has always been the music. But the band’s seventh album, Major/Minor, almost never came out due to personal tragedies the band endured during the writing process.

“I thought this record wouldn’t get finished at several points,” guitarist Teppei Teranishi admits from the Seattle area, where he recently relocated. “At multiple points during the writing of this record it was like, ‘Okay, maybe we need to take a few months off now’—it was pretty up and down like that.” Thrice were only a few months into the writing process when drummer Riley Breckenridge and his brother, bassist Eddie Breckenridge, found out that their father was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in his throat and tongue. Soon after, Teranishi’s mother was diagnosed with stage IV cancer as well. Then, last year, while the band was on tour with Manchester Orchestra, guitarist and vocalist Dustin Kensrue’s father was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor that forced the band to drop off the tour so he could fly home immediately.

“I’ll admit that it was really hard to focus during those initial sessions because I was terrified of my phone ringing and having my mom give me bad news,” Riley says. Earlier this year, both Teranishi’s mother and the Breckenridges’ father passed away, and after taking some time off to be with their families, Thrice reunited and finished the writing process for Major/Minor at their former studio located in Teranishi’s detached garage in Orange, CA. They then recorded it at Red Bull Studio in Santa Monica. The album’s title was initially based on the fact that the aggressive opener, “Yellow Belly,” shifts from major to minor keys, but Teranishi explains that the band’s own personal travails also inevitably tie into the title. “What’s happened to us really made us take a look at what’s major and what’s minor in life, in the sense of what’s important and what really matters.”

From left: Teppei Teranishi, Eddie Breckenridge, Riley Breckenridge, Dustin Kensrue.

If you’re not familiar with the band’s story up until now, you should know that Thrice started out as a melodic punk act and were swept up in the screamo explosion in the early part of the millennium alongside artists like Thursday and The Used. But in the decade that followed they forged their own path, both ideologically and musically. Instead of acting as a support act for larger artists, this self-sufficient unit prefers to take younger, up-and-coming bands (such as O’Brother and La Dispute, who are accompanying them on their current headlining tour). Musically, the group challenge the conventions of how we digest music via releases like their four-disc concept album, The Alchemy Index.

But the most noticeable sonic shift on Major/Minor is a newfound alternative influence that’s represented by grunge-inspired guitar riffs, driving drums, and Kensrue’s diaphragm-scraping vocals. “I definitely see the ties to some ’90s stuff, and that wasn’t initially a conscious thing. But I think as we started writing, certain songs started taking on those characteristics and we took inspiration from where things were heading naturally,” Riley explains. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, let’s make a record that sounds like ’90s stuff,’ because honestly, I don’t think any of us listen to all that much of that type of music. It just snuck out subconsciously; Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and all stuff we listened to in the ’90s I guess came back.”

That’s not to say Major/Minor is an exercise in nostalgia. From the stratospheric chorus of “Promises” to the grimy groove of “Cataracts” and the Sunny Day Real Estate–inspired proto-emo vibe of “Call It in the Air,” the album serves as further evidence that Thrice continue to push their own boundaries in an increasingly formulaic musical landscape. “While we were writing the record I remember Riley and Ed saying, ‘Why does this seem kind of happy?’” Teranishi says when asked about his perception of the album. “To me, it doesn’t feel as brooding and dark as I think our stuff tends to be. There’s definitely some stuff like that on the record, but there are some songs on [Major/Minor] that are a little more feel-good in a sense, which is strange when you consider where all of us were coming from personally.”

From left: Teppei Teranishi, Eddie Breckenridge, Riley Breckenridge, Dustin Kensrue.

Speaking of which, those personal experiences were all very different, considering the unique personalities of the band members. Teranishi—whose parents were both born in Japan—feels a deep connection to his family’s culture, which is represented in a full sleeve of traditional Japanese art done by Las Vegas–based tattoo artist Kent Kelley. “I grew up in a very Japanese house and went to Japanese school, so I feel like it’s a tribute to my heritage even though to Japanese people [tattoos mean] yakuza,” he says. So has the introspective guitarist ever been mistaken for a gang member? “No, I don’t think so,” he says. “I think they know it’s a pretty common thing in the Western world—and in the past few years tattoos have become more popular over there too.”

While it’s evident that a painstaking amount of thought and planning went into Teranishi’s elaborate sleeve—and every note of Major/Minor—the same could not be said of everyone else’s ink. At 19, Riley got his first tattoo of his then-girlfriend’s initials alongside his own, something he admits that he tried to “bail out of at the last minute” but ended up doing anyway. “Since then I’ve spent an ungodly amount of money and time and have probably unhealthy levels of ink just ground into my right shoulder to try to cover up a mistake that I made 17 years ago,” he says with a chuckle.

The band’s drummer also has two half sleeves (although he admittedly calls his right arm a “disaster”) as well as the Tibetan Sanskrit word for hope on his left forearm and a painting called “Clouds” on his right wrist, both of which were done by British artist Tashi Mannox. However, when Riley—who has tribute ink on his left arm for friends who passed away in a car accident when he was 19—was asked if he would ever get a memorial tattoo for his father, he takes pause. “I was actually just talking to Mom about that, but it seems weird because he absolutely hated them,” Riley says, adding that he kept his burgeoning ink collection a secret from his father until he was in his mid-20s by wearing lots of long-sleeved shirts during the summertime.

“When he first saw them he was pretty disappointed, but I think my dad kind of warmed to them as long as he knew they meant something to me,” Riley explains. “He would always joke, ‘I wish you guys would have invested in tattoo removal companies because there are going to be so many people who want their tattoos removed,’” he says with a laugh.

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