Forget about "The Rising."
On its brilliant third album and eagerly-anticipated major-label debut, New
Jersey's Thursday has created one of the smartest and most moving surveys of
life after the attack on America, all without ever once directly mentioning
Images of life in the trenches permeate "War All the Time," but unlike
their neighbor Bruce Springsteen, vocalist Geoff Rickly, guitarists Steve
Pedulla and Tom Keeley, bassist Tim Payne and drummer Tucker Rule don't milk
recent events for cheap Hallmark-card sentimentality, nor do they make the
mistake of some pedantic punks who strive to tell us "what it all means."
THURSDAY, DEATH BY
STEREO, YEAR OF THE RABBIT
*7 p.m. Saturday
*House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn
One of the leading proponents of a burgeoning underground scene that some
have dubbed "screamo" (for mixing the literate, poetic lyrics of emo punk
with a harsher and more metallic brand of sonic thrash), the New Brunswick
quintet first broached the mainstream with "Understanding In A Car Crash,"
the hit single from 2001's "Full Collapse." New songs such as "Between
Rupture and Rapture," "For the Workforce, Drowning" and "Marches and
Maneuvers" are even stronger, portraying life as a complicated series of
draining battles -- from relations with other countries, to connections with
friends and lovers, to the conflicts that rage within ourselves.
I spoke with Pedulla and Keeley (whose serpentine guitars often blur the
lines between lead and rhythm) as the band was gearing up for a tour that
brings it to the House of Blues on Saturday night.
Q. You were coming off an impressive hit on MTV2 and
modern-rock radio and recording your first major-label album for Island. Was
there a lot of pressure in the studio this time around?
Pedulla: We went through a lot making this one, that's for sure,
but most of it was pressure we put on ourselves. We basically toured for
almost two years on "Full Collapse," and we got home from the fall tour,
took three days off, and then wrote and went right into the studio. So it
was like pretty much nonstop, no breaks. By the end of recording this
record, we were all pretty fried. But sometimes that kind of thing helps
out: It makes you think a little bit less and play a little more.
Keeley: For all the time that we had in the studio, there were
some crucial points where we were definitely rushed to the point where it
detracted from the creative process. There were these weird deadlines. That
actually was the one pressure that we did feel that we wouldn't have really
felt before. But I think as much as it detracted from the process, it helped
the overall feeling of the record. It's important to capture some kind of
tension, especially in our music. A lot of our music is about tension and
release, and I guess it makes perfect sense to have it kind of exist
throughout the rest of our lives, and not just on record.
Q. Though you never specifically mention 9/11, those events and
the mood in New York in their aftermath permeate this disc. Were they on
your mind as you were recording?
Pedulla: Definitely. We were actually home when that happened.
Obviously, being so close, it's overwhelming, and seeing it on TV, the thing
that was so weird is we could see the smoke from our houses. I remember a
couple of days after, we were like, "OK, let's try to get our minds off this
and go to a show," and we went to see our friends play in Hoboken at
Maxwell's, forgetting that that was going to be right there. We pulled up to
park and it was like the smoke was still billowing out right across the
Hudson River. There was no escaping it.
The parallel with "War All the Time" is we were just talking about how
you see all this stuff on TV and it makes you think that it's not real, and
you kind of forget that what it comes down to is a very personal thing and
there are real people involved. That's part of it. I guess the thing is,
we're not trying to make some political statement. We're not like a
political band trying to make some big comment on 9/11 or the war in Iraq,
but definitely that stuff influenced us, and it was in and around the time
we started writing, so that kind of stuff was going to come out.
Q. In many corners, rock is now viewed as mere entertainment.
That's never been the case in the punk underground. Do you think music still
has the power to affect a generation--your twentysomething peers--the way
that it did your parents in the '60s?
Keeley: I think it's inevitable that it will matter again at some
point. It seems that's the cycle of music--that it matters for a while, and
then it gets co-opted and mass-produced, and then times are fine again and
people want to hear happy music and they don't want to think. That seems to
be the trend, where people need to turn off. And then it turns around again.
Honestly, as far as we're concerned, even before everything went down
with 9/11, we all just set out to write music that mattered to us and that
wasn't contrived in any way. We just wanted to see how it would work. We
weren't setting out to write a catchy chorus or any of that stuff. We just
wanted to make music and do it in a serious way. And I'd say that if people
are listening to us now post-9/11 and they're looking for something that is
serious, we're not the only serious band.
Pedulla: I'm actually a little scared about [how the album will be
received]. In the '60s or '70s, people weren't as afraid; all kinds of
musicians would talk out against the war. But for some reason, now the Dixie
Chicks make a comment and they're put up on a cross. Eddie Vedder does a
little comment on stage about Bush and everybody freaks out at him. No one
wants to hear anymore, and I think that's the problem. Probably because of
the nature of the way these events unfolded, people's mind-sets are a little
bit different, but what's unfortunate is they're not open to listening to
the other side.
The way we feel about it is like Geoff will say on stage: "It's not our
job to get up here and tell you what to think about the war or what's going
on in the world right now, we just want you to remember that these are real
people, they're just like you and me, and don't forget that." I was actually
kind of surprised in a way at how many people were pro-war or pro all of
these events that were going on. I couldn't believe it. I thought some of
the people would be more angry about what was going on and not just accept
that, "Oh yeah, that's the right thing to do." To me, it's not even so much
that they're pro-war, it just doesn't seem like they're questioning, and I
would hope that they'd be questioning whether or not this is a good idea.
Q. So the goal with "War All the Time" was to make your fans
Pedulla: I would hope that it could get people to think a little
bit. If we're going to make mindless music, then I don't know why we're
doing it. There's nothing wrong with pop music that doesn't say anything,
but that's just not what we would want to do.