Thursday's Geoff Rickly The Exclaim! Questionnaire
Published Apr 24, 2011Since their breakthrough 2001 album Full Collapse helped commercialize a new generation of emo and post-hardcore, Thursday's trajectory has taken a creative shape that few could genuinely say was expected. The New Jersey group made label jumps from Victory to major Island and, most recently, to high-profile indie Epitaph, fine-tuning their intensity along the way with experimentation in more consistent aggression, unconventional ambience and the darker reaches of frontman Geoff Rickly's literate, passionate mind.
The band's latest album, No Devolucion, may be their best in years: written in a week on the spot in the studio, Rickly credits the "unchecked impulses" for the expansive new ground – and that old familiar urgency. "We just went in, did our thing, and did it really quickly. It was really exciting. It made me feel sort of like a kid." Thursday sounds as dark and Rickly as cerebral as ever, but No Devolucion – which translates to "no returns" – also sounds new, and fearless of expectation. "I don't think we sound as desperate as we did when we were younger. This is definitely the most confident and relaxed that we've ever been as a band."
What are you up to?
Actually, you know, funnily enough, I know what our record sounds like, but there were a bunch of records that came out that I've been catching up on. Our producer [Dave Fridmann] also did Low, they just put out a new record. And our friends in Young Widows put out a new record that's so fantastic. We played an indie record store last night for the release, and I just picked up a bunch of other peoples' records.
What are your current fixations?
You've really opened a can of worms here. So much of our new record has been about paper art. The cover and all the artwork inside is done by a paper artist named Mia Pearlman from Brooklyn. She does these giant installations of cut paper that just look like these wild storms. That was a lot of the inspiration behind the record. I've been trying to figure out how we can keep the theme of this record being white paper art. And there's this great Dutch artist named Peter Callesen who cuts an outline into the paper and that's one picture. Then he takes the paper that he took out of the picture and makes a separate thing that'll be a comment on it. He'll cut out a tree, then fold the cut-out paper into a skeleton hanging out of the tree. It's really interesting. One of my few vices that I spend money on is collecting art. Book-wise, I've been reading some really great stuff. One of my favourite authors, Jim Shepard, just came out with a collection of short stories called You Think That's Bad. Comic-book wise, I've been loving Scalped, this really great series about Native Americans on reservations. It's kind of like Sopranos on an Indian reservation. It's really gangster. The art's great and the writing's really smart. And [right now] there's this whole local food thing in Brooklyn. All the restaurants are seasonal and the menus keep changing. There are a few chefs who are fans of Thursday so they hook us up with nice meals when we come in, which is really nice.
Why do you live where you do?
When we started touring all the time, I pretty much realized that I was going to be away a ton of the time, and I realized I didn't want to have a car anymore, and there were all of these things I needed when I was living in New Jersey, which is where the band was from, that I didn't need now that I was living in New York. And I don't really have room for much stuff in my apartment, so when I go on tour, it's really easy to put one bag together and walk out the door. But I really love it and I feel really connected to all my friends when I'm home, which is nice, because when you tour a lot, you lose touch. When I'm home, I love to be out and social with my friends every night, which is great about Brooklyn.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
You may be familiar with the work of art known as drugs? No, I'm just kidding. Actually, we all on the last tour watched this movie called Enter the Void. We all started watching it together and we were like "this is kind of trippy," and then it gets really heavy and dark, and then it almost sort of leaves behind the narrative of the film. I just thought it was really interesting. He broke a lot of rules, and the movie is still sort of really warped, and I always love that. I love when people just decide "I know this isn't how you make a movie, or a song, but I'm going to do it anyway." That's some of my favourite stuff with art. Because not only does it affect you on an emotional level, or the way you think about certain things, but it can change the way you think about the medium.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
The Flaming Lips at Coachella. I had gotten really sick when we played Coachella. I had been sick for a while actually, I was having all sorts of weird internal bleeding and stuff. And then when the Flaming Lips came on, I just felt so good watching them. They were so alive, and so fun. They didn't stress me out at all. They just gave me this really warm lovely feeling. It was kind of life-changing, for me. I'm used to bands that are a little lighter than us being occasionally very boring live. And just to see something that I didn't expect at all, something so exciting and fun and making the crowd part of it, that was great. That was really inspirational for me. And when we played Reading Festival, on the main stage, it was really just… it was wild, to not be able to see the end of the crowd. And to be 50 feet off the ground on the stage. BBC filmed it, and when I watched the video I could remember perfectly what it felt like. Almost more like being in the studio than it is playing a show, because you're so far away, you can't connect. So you're just playing, you know? And you end up realizing that you end up sounding better when you just stand there and play (laughs).
What have been your career highs and lows?
Career high would probably be having the Cure ask us to go on tour with them because they loved our record. That was a pretty high high. A low for me would probably be when Efrim [Menuck] from Godspeed You! Black Emperor started a fight with us for no reason. I've never met him. I guess he thought we were somehow ripping his band off, which was disappointing for me because I've always loved them, so that was pretty low for me. I still love the band! I don't care that he hates us. It definitely stung at the time. Like, man! You don't want one of your heroes you've never met telling everyone how much of an idiot you are. It was a few years ago on a Thee Silver Mount Zion tour. From stage every night he would say "This shitty emo band called Thursday stole from us and we're stealing it back," or something along those lines. I had to look up the song and see what he was talking about. They were the same lyrics, but I totally stole that from like a South American poet! Maybe you stole it from the same person that I did! [Laughs] I sent him an email being like "Hey, I think you might be wrong!" But he never wrote back. I still haven't met him but I saw Godspeed on this last tour, and they were fantastic. As always.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
I've had people walk up and just say 'That was fucking awful. How did you guys get on this show?" Stuff like that where I'm just like, "Wow! You don't mind just saying that to me. That's crazy." I've had promoters be like "I feel like I shouldn't pay you tonight." [Laughs] This stuff was pretty early on in our career, but it was discouraging to say the least. My band's pretty phenomenally tight live now, so we don't really get anything like that. Maybe somebody didn't enjoy us, but not because we played badly. But back then it was definitely like 'Well you guys are fucking awful. How did you end up on tour?"
What should everyone shut up about?
A lot of the annoying things that other people think people should shut up about, I find really entertaining. I'll watch Neil Hamburger bag on Britney Spears and, even though he goes way too far, I think it's hilarious because he goes so far. Like everybody makes fun of Britney Spears, big deal. But the fact that he does it like 30 messages in a row for three months straight makes it super funny. And also like, I know people hate on Justin Bieber, but I sort of love him! I think he's sort of a genius. Like, where the fuck did this kid come from that he can play piano and guitar and sing like that when he was 11? And then not crack under pressure when he got to be the most famous person in the world, and instead totally embrace it and become this awkward player? It's wrong! You've got to become a murderer or something to balance out how good he's doing with all this fame.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I guess I'm a pretty good friend to all my friends. I do my best to look out for them. Which is probably my best trait. And then for my worst trait, I think I can be kind of obnoxious. My friends say that when I'm being serious, they can't tell if I'm being sarcastic or being truthful. I don't mean it, I'll just say like, "Oh I like that" when somebody plays me a new song or something. And they'll think I hate it.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
I love Sundays where I go down the street and get our super strong coffee in the morning from this place called Gorilla. And then the farmer's market, if it's sunny. Stop by the comic book store on the way home, then spend the afternoon just kind of reading, whether it's a novel or a comic book or whatever. Just chilling out, reading. It's really boring, actually.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
At about 100 different times: just relax, don't worry so much, and don't try to control everything. I've had so many older mentor figures say that to me at different times in the band. We'd be writing a new record, or about to go on tour, and they'd be like "Dude just relax, have fun, don't worry, you're going to be fine. Everything's going to be fine. Just stop stressing out because you're going to not have fun. It's going to make touring harder, it's going to make writing a new record harder." And I just wouldn't listen. I'd be like, "No! I'm going to work hard on this, and make sure it's right." Now that we did it on the new record, I'm like "Ah whatever, it's going to be great. I'm not going to worry about it." I wish I'd listened to them earlier. It only took me seven years.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
For the band, I guess continuing to do mean things to the people in the band would be the only thing. I'd even forgive it like, a bunch of times. Being just terrible to your friends. Like if you kept stealing from everybody and we gave you a bunch of chances to stop. It would have to go pretty far. For bed, probably something weird, like if they had a tattoo of the face of one of my band mates or something.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I think of a few different things. I think of this one time that we were in Vancouver and we ate like three dozen oysters. I think of Leonard Cohen, because he's just so beautiful, and there was a lake that I used to visit when I was a kid, about two hours outside of Montreal, that I know that he would sometimes go to as well. We'd be like "Maybe we'll see Leonard Cohen!"
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
It was Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine. There were ones that I got when I was younger, but with my parents' money. It was a cassette, but then I remember the first CD that I bought was Broken by Nine Inch Nails. It wasn't planned. That was the format change right there, I guess.
What was your most memorable day job?
Working at a gas station. I had the most strange things happen there. In New Jersey, you have to pump people's gas because it's against the law for people to pump their own gas. A lot of people would get super mad about that if they were driving in from another state, they'd think I was messing around or just looking for a tip and they'd yell at me, and I'd still have to pump their gas. And then any chance I had of getting a tip was totally out the window. Also, there were two mechanics who smoked pot all the time, but there was no ventilation in the office, so in the winter I'd just get totally high sitting there, with the smoke and the gas fumes together. They produced this other thing and I'd feel super light-headed and crazy.
How do you spoil yourself?
There's a Chinese massage place down the street that does the best massage and it's super cheap, it's like a dollar an hour. It's actually less than a dollar an hour. They're just really rough. They really like smash your back into a thousand pieces, which I totally need.
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
If Thursday had never taken off and I never started touring all the time, I would have finished the teaching program that I was in and I'd be a high school English teacher.
What do you fear most?
I'm pretty terrified of spiders. I can't be around spiders. They make me nuts. Like if there's one in a car where I am, I can't stay still until I know where it is. Especially if it goes into a vent, because I'm afraid someone might not turn on the air conditioner and it's going to fly out onto me. I'd freak out.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
That's tough. I feel like every point at which I am on a date with a girl that I start to feel that way, it's for a different reason. Like the girl will tell me a stupid joke that doesn't make sense, and the way that they laugh at it all of a sudden will make me super turned on. I think the quirkiest things about people are always the hottest.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
This has happened to me several times, and the first one was the most intense because I was in college, and it turned out that there was this minor celebrity, a minor reality TV star at the time. She was a Real World person. But I do this thing where when I see a celebrity and I don't realize they're a celebrity, I think we went to high school together, because I recognize them and I think they're part of my life or something. So I walked up to this girl who was a reality star and I was like "Oh my god you're in this class, that's so rad! I haven't seen you in forever!" And I think she was confused because she'd probably been meeting a lot of people and thought she might have known me. And only after the fourth or fifth day of me talking to her did I realize "Ohh, she was on that show! Holy shit, I don't know her at all!" And it's happened with Willem Dafoe on a plane once, and I thought he was one of my parents' friends. He was just like, "Why am I in economy?"
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
So many to choose from! I guess living, I think it would be Guy Picciotto from Fugazi. He just seems so interesting. And I would serve him these vegetarian empanadas that I learned how to make. That would be fun. And dead, I think it would have to be David Foster Wallace, because I always loved his books. I met him very briefly at a signing once and got him to sign my copy of Infinite Jest. He just seemed really kind, and he didn't seem like a bore. He didn't seem like he was just interested in literature at all. He thought TV writing was just as good as Faulkner. I guess I'd probably have to serve him lobster, because he wrote that insane essay about lobster season.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
She's actually super glad that I'm doing this. But I know that they both wish that I'd finished college before starting to tour. I dropped out in my last semester to do this full time.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
That's dark. I like it. There's a song by Iron and Wine called the "Trapeze Swinger," and it doesn't have a chorus or anything, it just tells this long beautiful story. I just really love that song, and every time I hear it makes me cry a little bit. And I'm a sap like that, so I'd probably want it played up.