Rank Your Records: Thursday's Geoff Rickly Explains Why 'Full Collapse' Is the Band's Best Record
Geoff Rickly talks about the highs and lows of Thursday's discography.
Photo Credit: Maclyn Bean
It's amazing what time does. Throughout Thursday's career, they've gone from playing in basements, to helping bring post-hardcore to the masses in the mid-00s, to being saddled in a weird grey area of scenes, and finally to be well-regarded by the avant-garde of the now. Each record provided a different shade of Thursday, showing how versatile and adaptable the band could be, but more than anything that their sound wouldn't stay stagnant.
Since the band's break up in 2011, frontman Geoff Rickly has gone on to play intensive solo shows, continue with the powerviolence force of nature United Nations, and front the brand new No Devotion with former members of Lostprophets. Through any of these projects, Rickly's sincerity and immediacy in his voice is unmistakable, making him one of the most memorable vocalists no matter what band he fronts. We sat down to take a look at Thursday's discography and talk about where they stack up in his mind.
Noisey: Talk to me about Waiting. What was it like getting into the beginning of Thursday?
Geoff Rickly: I was throwing basement shows all the time. There were all kinds of bands I had through there, I had You and I’s last show in my basement, Reversal of Man broke up in the basement, we’d have Saetia and Hot Water Music and Kid Dynamite and foreign bands like Leatherface. We just had a really good diverse group of bands. We’d have all the DC bands come and play, and San Diego bands like Go Go Go Airheart and I think The Locust, I’m not sure if they played or not.
Yeah, we’d have these wild shows with Rainer Maria and Converge on the same bill. And that kinda got to me. What I was into was the community around underground music. It wasn’t one specific sound or genre or anything like that. That’s what influenced Thursday, I wanted to put something social together that had its roots in hardcore, but was more tied to the culture and the aesthetic of DIY hardcore than it was the sound of it. So that’s where it came in for me. When I grew up I was always a goth kid. So for me that was a big thing I brought into Thursday, sort of a Cure, New Order, Joy Division influence. It was so overt that there was a song like “Ian Curtis” where I go on and mash up Joy Division lyrics. And that wasn’t common at the time in hardcore. Kids were kind of obsessed with The Smiths, but more goth influence wasn’t present. So that was a cool thing Waiting hinted at, there was this heavy dark atmosphere pect on the record. Even though musically we had no idea what the fuck we were doing, we had an idea aesthetically of what we wanted to do. Our drummer learned how to play drums to be in the band pretty much, I gave him a copy of Quicksand’s “Slip” and was like “if you learn this whole thing you’ll know what we want to do.” And then there were little things like Kelly Cadome in New Brunswick came and played violin on the record. Stuff like that. It was very community based, and even though we didn’t know how to do what we were trying to do, we were just going for it.
5. COMMON EXISTENCE
Moving onto Common Existence. I saw Thursday back when I was a big scene kid, and I went to that Taste of Chaos tour with Bring Me the Horizon. And it was really horrible because that band was calling the crowd “faggots” and stuff, and it just seemed like the opposite of Thursday. Everything happening to Thursday around that time seemed really weird and kind of fucked.
Yup. Yup. You totally nailed it. That’s the other thing, my association with that record is how fucking horrible I felt about being in Thursday. Everything we cared about was really out of fashion, and all the bands we really respected at the time held themselves as being too cool to be playing with a band like Thursday. And that’s all changed now. Weirdly Thursday now has become this cool band in retrospect that was doing some ambitious things musically. So that stuff has changed a little bit, but at the time it was never more pronounced how fucking uncool Thursday was. [Laughs.] Yeah, that was a tough time man. And there was this management team thing, and we ended up playing this stupid Taste of Chaos tour where we were supposed to go to Denny’s every night, and kids would come and take pictures of us eating. It was so fucking horrible.
Going to the album itself, lyrically you’re making allusions to Denis Johnson and stuff while the other bands are—
Calling people faggots out there. Yeah. Pretty difficult.
Right. Talking lyrically about the album, was it the first one you made direct literary allusions or did it evolve from something previous?
There were more obscure references in previous records. With Common Existence, the difference was rather than one thematic whole about something personal to me, I wanted to look at Common Existence as a short story collection about other characters than me. So like I wanted to tell stories about people I knew, or things that were representative about America at the time. That’s why it was Common Existence, it was this thing that we share, and also it’s not so precious or special. One of the things about Emo lyrics over the early 2000’s made it really specific about ME AND MY FEELINGS AND WHAT I WANT. I wanted to spread out from that overinvolved sense of entitlement that was going on from most bands. That was the plan at least, but maybe that’s even a problem where it’s trying too hard to make a point of doing something rather than it be natural. I don’t think it was too overdone, but the personal emotional charge on the other records result in something. If you’re aware of it being self-centered and you do something to offset that, maybe that’s more powerful than really setting it up to write other people’s stories.
4. WAR ALL THE TIME
Moving on to War All The Time, it was your first record away from Victory. What was it like going into that after everything you went through with Full Collapse?
It was difficult, to be honest. We spent so long fighting to get off Victory, and we got off finally but at quite a price. I think Tony got 1.2 million dollars, which pretty much guaranteed we’d never make money for the rest of our career because we’d be paying off that bill for as long as we were on the new label. Stuff like that weighed on us, and the expectation of following up this massive record that sold almost half a million on Victory, which at the time was unheard of. So we were kind of looked at, “What’s this record? Are you going to be the next Nirvana? You going to do this?” and I just wanted to write a record that we could play live that would be really aggressive and progressive. I wanted it to be new and have all these boundary pushing ideas and I wanted it to be heavier than Full Collapse, because listening back to Full Collapse on record, not live, was so pop. And so that was the thing, I kept pushing for it to be more aggressive. It was a long strenuous process, I was sleeping in the studio a lot, there were no windows in the studio, so I’d get this Jersey City no windows no light, no air. And when I hear the record I think there’s a quality of that. It is like a never ending struggle record. So War All The Time makes sense as a title.
At the time I hated the record. Like the day it came out I thought “we totally failed, it sucks. Not proud of it, not into it.” In retrospect I think that’s a mistake. I think it’s a really cool record, and it might even be better than A City By The Light Divided, I don’t know. It had some really cool stuff. "For The Workforce Drowning" is kind of the best opener we ever had live. When we opened with that song it would just crush and surprise people as to how nimble and aggressive and angular our band was. It was like a super heavy Fugazi or something, it was really really charged. And then songs like "Division St," and "War All The Time" had a really nice melodic edge to them. The lyrics on that record are probably a lot of the best that I’ve ever written. They’re so specific and I crammed like a thousand words into every song. Which I hated at the time too, I thought it was such poor storytelling to use that many words, and there were no places for me to pause for breath when playing live. But looking back, that’s what kind of made that record.
3. A CITY BY THE LIGHT DIVIDED
Sweet. Moving into A City By The Light Divided, what was that like?
That was an interesting record because the biggest tours we’d ever done were for War All The Time, so we’re coming off this massive high of playing. And we also played 300 shows in a year, so it was totally exhausting. We had seven days at home, and maybe 50 days off but on the road. So it was totally exhausting and physically demanding it, and at the end of it we weren’t the new Nirvana. We were just on track to sell the same as Full Collapse, which was incredible, but for some reason we thought the expectation was never met and we were failures. So that was pretty heavy emotional baggage to carry, and we were exhausted. I think we had a pretty extreme reaction to that, which was let’s throw all that out and let’s make a really personal record for ourselves. It’s a lot more melodic, and for us let’s make a really experimental record and go with this producer that we really respect that all our fans will probably hate. Which is funny because it was just before everybody else went experimental too.
So it was an interesting thing, and there are moments on it that are total misses. I think “We Will Overcome” is pretty basic, it’s not an interesting song in a lot of ways. But that being said, there’s songs like “Sugar in the Sacrament,” and “Autumn Leaves Revisited.” Some of those songs are my favorites I’ve ever written. I think “Other Side of the Crash” is totally brilliant for a bunch of reasons. Sonically its incredible, it’s got a beautiful structure, and the ending is kind of huge and apocalyptic sort of in the same way Envy would get. I think lyrically too, the doubling back of themes and retelling them and stepping through the same doorways like “Other Side of the Crash,” reflectively looking back at a tragedy now that you have distance from it. And also musically looking back at those themes and that time in our career, and then Autumn Leaves revisited is like Miles Davis’ Autumn Leaves being played over and over again for father-son generation. That’s a thing through my family, that song’s been important. So it’s like visiting your own mortality through looking at your own child. And that was a personal victory for me on that record. Probably the best other live song we wrote was “At This Velocity.” So there’s things like that, it was really exciting. Counting was really exciting for me because it was our version of a pop song which wasn’t very pop obviously, it’s like still really difficult and not as catchy as your basic Taking Back Sunday song.
I definitely remember hearing “Counting” on Live 105 and my friends and I being super excited for Thursday being on the radio.
Right, right. It’s so funny because we were like “well that’s about as pop as you can possibly get,” and listening back I’m like woah, what are these time signatures going on and the bassline is doubling around the one. We were crazy for thinking it was an obvious pop single. And we had an interlude on the record that was instrumental that we thought was beautiful that was one take live in the room. So there were a lot of cool things on the record, we were starting to stretch out sonically, and Dave Fridmann was really great for us on a personal level to write.
2. NO DEVOLUCION
Cool, moving into No Devolucion. Honestly I thought this was going to be your favorite record. Going to a lot of your solo live shows you play a bunch off it. I remember initial reaction being a tiny bit weird, but then it sticking around. A summation of those influences you were talking about earlier coming out, but instead it just sounding like Thursday to the max.
Yeah, it’s interesting you say that, because what I love about it is we weren’t trying to incorporate ideas anymore, we were like mastering them into what Thursday is. Instead of Thursday trying to change, it was like Thursday was a new band. And it was a return to being comfortable in our own skin, and feeling like we know what Thursday is and what it’s about. That’s what I love about that record, it’s like just perfectly what we were going for. We weren’t failing at it, we weren’t trying to be some other band or be cool, we just totally nailed it. I love the sound of it, it’s the best I’ve ever sang, a lot of our best songs are on it, thematically from the first song to the last song it plays out really beautifully, it has the best artwork we’ve had on a record. Just as a record, I love it, I think it’s just amazing, just incredible. And in a lot of ways I think it’s a better record than Full Collapse.
The way we wrote it was so fun. We’d start playing in the morning, those guys would have a song recorded by noon, and I’d take it upstairs and write lyrics and they’d track all the overdubs, and by dinner time I’d have the song written with the lyrics, and I’d come down and sing them, and by the end of the day the whole song would be finished in one day. And that was a really great, fresh way to write. It made us all super psyched about it. “No Answers,” I don’t know if we’ve ever written a better song. “Turnpike Divides,” by far one of the best songs we’ve ever written, and for old Thursday fans, they love that song. The ending is just so beautiful. When we’d play it live I’d almost always tear up at the end because I love it so much. And “Stay True” is just the perfect thing to end our career on. It perfectly encapsulated a little wave goodbye.
“Turnpike Divides” specifically feels a sonic representation of Thursday's timeline, from this really aggressive beginning to this almost post-rock catharsis at the end of it.
Yeah, and not trying to capitalize on the post-rock of the moment like Mono or anything like that. A lot of the influence I hear in it is what we grew up listening to just done right. It wasn’t us trying on a new hat, it was truly who the band is, “Turnpike Divides” is just a classic Thursday song. Yeah, so I’m really proud of it, there’s some great super heavy moments on the record that aren’t forced, they just fit. Like “Past and Future Ruins” gets super heavy at the end. I think sort of what happened to the scene is that now it’s like you have these mash up bands. Like “oh synth pop into moshcore into this into that!” It didn’t have any mashup feeling to that record, it was just natural. There were peaks and values, lights and darks. And just the package, I love the artist, such a beautiful artist that encapsulated it. The theme of the record being about love and divorce and all these things but through this really beautiful hopeful prism. Super proud of it, I could probably go on about it for another hour.
1. FULL COLLAPSE
So, Full Collapse. I don’t know where to start.
We went from the band that put out Waiting to the band that literally every rock band for the next two years had “recommended if you like Thursday” because that was just it. People were sticking around for hours after shows outside to talk to all the kids who came to the show, it wasn’t about autographs anymore. I think we changed a lot of the landscape of what it was like to be at those shows. I remember going from playing basements to being told we’re not allowed to play the Fireside in Chicago anymore because it will get shut down. It was this drastic, huge time for us then. Where other bands were just waiting for their big break, we felt a little ashamed and embarrassed and guilty about the whole thing.
Full Collapse is totally innocent, and that’s why I think it’s beautiful. Just a bunch of kids pouring all their heart and dreams into one big record. Full Collapse was like, that was it, that’s all we wanted to do. We took off school for a year to tour, like “this is it, this is our one big hurrah.” And you can hear it, you can hear it in my vocals. Even though I couldn’t sing that well, I love the way it sounds because I sound like a totally inexperienced naive kid that has a lot of hopes and passion and sincerity and it hadn’t been ruined yet. I didn’t feel sarcastically like the world was a shitty place yet. So it’s like I love that record, I hear a really hopeful person who means every word he says. And I think “Understanding In a Car Crash” has really become a classic song. “Cross Out The Eyes” is one of the first songs I ever wrote on guitar, “How Long Is The Night” is one of my favorite songs we’ve ever played live. “Paris In Flames” was a really cool song at the time, because there weren’t any bands in the scene talking about transgender or LGBT activism or rights. Full Collapse was really ambitious in the subjects we tackled, and that’s why I think I resented a lot of the bands that rode our coattails. They didn’t have any social consciousness. It was like “oh you just want the sound and to be cool,” which is the opposite of us. We just wanted to get a message to get a cross.
That record was born out of a lot of tragedy. I went back home this weekend because the first person I ever played music with in high school died. So I went home to a little informal memorial, and it was the first time I’d seen many of my high school friends. I literally did the whole Bruce Springsteen “Never Looking Back.” I’m fucking out of here, this town is full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win. That kind of thing, and I never looked back. “Understanding In a Car Crash” is about losing my girlfriend in a car accident, “How Long Is The Night” was about my French partner who lied down on the train tracks behind our school and waited for a train to run him over. It was just a lot of that kind of stuff happening at our high school. My friends who were playing with their dad’s service revolver accidentally shot one of their best friends. That record just had a lot of hurt and heartbreak that was built up, and Full Collapse was about letting it go and talking about it. That’s why another record could be the same. You don’t go looking for that tragedy, it just happened and I kept a lot of it in, and then I let it out, and it was gone. Every time I played those songs it was like therapy for me. I really love that record.
John Hill doesn't want to feel this way forever. Follow him on Twitter — @JohnxHill