An Interview with Geoff Rickly: A New Day

*This post was originally published in The Aquarian Weekly.

It’s been a year and change since New Jersey’s own Thursday announced a hiatus, leaving many to question why such a rising, thriving band hit the brakes. But from the perspective of frontman Geoff Rickly, the group merely took their chance to go out on top, with their original lineup and musical repertoire intact.

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Some may call it crazy, but Rickly stands by the band, their records and their exit. “It was cool—we had our time in the spotlight and it’s just not the kind of band that we wanted to be,” Rickly says. “It was fun and it was a great ride, but ultimately we had to do the right thing. That’s how strongly we knew what we were supposed to do next. We knew what we were supposed to sound like. We could have said, ‘Fuck it, let’s go have a bunch of hits,’ but we weren’t going to do that because we know who we are. I guess it was going down the weird road.”

While Thursday opened the door that countless acts would then knock down and enter in a frenzy that would be dubbed post-hardcore, there’s no telling what the future holds for the six-piece (just Rickly’s own hopes—read on). But since the band parted ways, Rickly is taking his guitar, musical influences and point of view to the streets.

Now, he’s playing the 23-date Acoustic Basement Tour with comrades Koji, Vinnie Caruana (I Am The Avalanche, The Movielife), A Loss For Words and Brian Marquis, formerly of Therefore I Am. Rickly took some time to reconnect with his roots (we’re from the same town), talk shop about the rise to Thursday fame, and what it’s like going solo. The transcription is below:

What’s it like being out on tour as a solo act? What kind of set are you playing?

It’s quite a bit different because it’s just me and my guitar. It’s very intimate and quiet. I play some Thursday stuff, covers, and all the new solo stuff I’m giving away for free on my website.

[Venturing out solo has] been really exciting. When I first started doing it, I just wanted to see if I could do it just once—play a solo show, just to see if I actually could do it. That was my only goal. I’ve been lucky enough to do some screenwriting jobs and tv work, and so I didn’t really take it as it would be the next thing that I do. But then people kept asking me to go on tour, and by the time I courted Anthony Green from Circa Survive I realized, “Hey, maybe I’m actually getting good at this and know how to do this.”

Mixtape 1, released in November 2012, is an interesting selection of music and in many ways, conjures up sound reminiscent of the ‘90s alternative reign. What was your inspiration for composing these tracks?

A lot of my musical influences are influences I’ve carried with me since I was a kid that got drowned out over time. Thursday had its thing. We knew what we were doing. We knew exactly how to work together and we also kind of started a certain sound, so it was sort of like, no matter what kind of influence I brought to it, it was always going to be Thursday, so for me [in recording solo] I got to catch up with a lot of influences that came to me through growing up in the ‘90s. My biggest influence is PJ Harvey. I think she’s the greatest solo artist of our time, and I love her. A lot of my solo stuff kind of sounds like the male version of PJ Harvey. Sometimes it’s that simple! I’m very influenced by her.

“New Sympathies” was recorded in our apartment during Hurricane Sandy with the wind and everything. You can really hear it. At one point, toward the end, you can hear the windows rattling and at the time, I thought maybe we should redo the take. [My production partner] was like, “No, you have to keep that. It’s what the song’s about. The song’s about a ship sinking and we’re on a giant island that feels like it’s sinking. Let’s capture and use all that.”

Who do you point to as other key influences, and which lead singers did you aspire to be like?

When I was a kid, I really loved Nine Inch Nails. I’ve seen them 30-something times. I love them, especially when I was in high school. [TheDownward Spiral came out on my 15th birthday. I bought a fake ID to go to see them at Webster Hall. I really loved Trent [Reznor] and thought he was an amazing personality.

Bad Brains made me get into hardcore and then I wanted to start doing hardcore shows when I got to college. Then I saw Ink & Dagger and that blew my mind. I thought Sean McCabe was one of the best frontmen I had ever seen. The band was so beautiful and chaotic and crazy all at the same time. It was so many things that I wasn’t used to because I had always been so overt in my search for beauty in music. This was a band that was just like, destruction. They were more hardcore than anything I had ever been into at the time. Even though it’s aggressive music, there’s a lot of subtlety involved in it. I just found that was interesting and knew that I had a whole bunch of ideas about what I wanted to do.

I also was into Joy Division, and felt that and all this Goth, Nine Inch Nails-type stuff would translate really well with hardcore music, so it’d be post-hardcore, punk hardcore, and we should make this all kind of work. Turns out I had this voice that sounds like Robert Smith from The Cure, so it all kind of worked out that way. Then we ended up touring with The Cure, and that was a whole other dream.

Looking at your career in the big picture, you and Thursday helped usher in a sound of music. It’s not just about the post-hardcore genre, but a celebration of this community of bands and music. How does it feel to be regarded as a pioneer?

It’s interesting. Now that I’m a little further out from it, I can talk about what it was like at the time. When it first started, it seemed like this amazing thing bursting forth, and there were bands like us taking all these other bands out on tour that we thought were really important, amazing, vibrant, and underrepresented. That was an amazing rush—we’re all going to take this time to make music. We were so ambitious. We wanted to make music more inclusive and break down the rock star methodology and make it so kids can approach you at the concert and feel like it was their concert, too. We had all these ideas for it, you know?

And then just two years later it was this giant commercial radio thing. We had a hit, Thrice had a hit, and even bands that weren’t a part of our scene, like Story Of The Year, had giant hits and platinum records. Then there was a third and fourth wave of bands that we never connected to, who got to be so much bigger than Thursday ever was—and people would talk about us all as if we were the same thing—grouping in Thursday with Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco. No disrespect to any of those bands, but we didn’t understand why [people grouped us together].

People would tell us we started “this thing” and we weren’t so sure. It wasn’t what we were going for. We had just made War All The Time and thought we could probably follow it up with an even bigger record if the label wanted to spend a bunch of money to make sure we had videos and hits. We could probably have done that if we wanted. Everybody was saying that we were the leading band in the scene.

I just remember our bass player saying, “Yeah, man, but how much fun is it to be King Shit on an island full of shit?” So from then on, we didn’t want to concern ourselves only with what would make us the biggest band. We wanted to do what we wanted to do. So we went to this producer, Dave Fridmann [Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev], and we wanted to make records that were emotional, weird and kind of crazy—more like what we’re like as people. We’re not L.A., sunny, every day great people, so why should we commercialize and become this great thing? So we decided to do something weirder. The band got a lot smaller after that, but it was the right decision for us to make.

What’s it like to reflect on how music has changed from an industry perspective?

Whatever you think about our level of success, we were the same, original lineup, for 15 years. Nobody does that. There’s a reason why we were able to do that. We always did the right thing rather than just what “made sense.”

So many bands start out hanging with punks, doing what they want in their basement, and next they’re just hanging out with suits and record label guys—those are their friends. That’s just what your life turns into. All of a sudden you don’t have any friends who care about great music. You just have a bunch of people in a room telling you what sells, and it’s not even that you’re greedy. Honestly, people underestimate how much friends influence you. If your only friends are saying it’s cooler to have a yacht, it gets [challenging to deal with].

Would you want to reunite with Thursday if the opportunity came up?

If we could have the same lineup, and go out and do it, fuck yeah I would. I would be very into it. It would have to be right. That’s always my criteria. I don’t even know why it’s right sometimes, but it has to be right. If you love music as much as I do and you’re given a chance to be in music, you have to treat it with respect or else it will fucking tell you to fuck off.

What’s happening with United Nations? Are you and Glassjaw’s Daryl Palumbo hooked up right now, writing or recording?

We just did a four-show run that was fucking crazy. We started in Brooklyn. It’s usually cool—it’s not a real passionate place; it’s a little hip. There were 200 kids—people stage diving and going crazy. I was hanging from the ceiling. It was wild. We ended at The Barbary in Philly and I ended up breaking my nose a second time. That was great.

We have a bunch of material recorded and I think U.N.’s going to be do more stuff. We’re just trying to figure out when. As soon as possible is the date for everything. As soon as possible, which isn’t very soon.

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