by Nathan G. Lee
I was sixteen the first time I heard a Thursday song. I received a CD sampler from a record store containing “Understanding in a Car Crash”, the post-hardcore anthem from their album Full Collapse that launched the New Jersey group into the forefront of their burgeoning genre, but I didn’t know any of that at the time. All I knew was that the song was chaotic, melodic, odd, and…I didn’t like it. It wasn’t until replaying it a few months later that I realized what a gem I had overlooked. I listened to more Thursday songs online and found them to be completely foreign, and they opened me up to a new way of appreciating music. I saw the beauty that exists in the disparity between melody and aggression. I was hooked, and a large part of it was how lead singer Geoff Rickly’s earnest vocals and passionate delivery swelled fervor as I tried to unravel the stories and metaphors contained in his complex and often poetic lyrics.
I followed the band closely throughout high school and college as they signed to Island Records during the mid 2000’s hardcore/emo surge and departed for Epitaph Records during the subsequent burst. The band broke up at the end of 2011, but their influence on countless fans and artists continues. Much of my musical taste was directly or indirectly shaped by Thursday, and I still keep lyrics from “For the Workforce, Drowning”, their song that eschews a rote life, framed in my cubicle at work.
So I was excited (and a bit nervous) when Rickly agreed to let me interview him after The Vans Warped Tour 2013 Acoustic Basement stop in Atlanta where he played a solo set along with Vinnie Caruana (The Movielife, I Am the Avalanche), A Loss for Words, Koji, and Brian Marquis (Therefore I Am). Affable and forthcoming, Rickly spoke of how he found his way back to touring after Thursday’s split.
“Actually I wasn’t really looking to do solo stuff at all, because I got a job as a screenwriter. I was living in Park Slope [Brooklyn], and I lost my apartment. Brian asked me to go on the Basement tour, and it was just, like, timing-wise I don’t have to find an apartment right now if I go on this tour.” Rickly is referring to last summer’s Acoustic Basement Tour, where the veteran frontman had to dramatically shift musical gears. “I spent the next two weeks trying to learn how to play guitar and sing. That was a big learning experience for me, and being held to have to do something was a great amount of pressure and was really good for me,” Rickly enthused. “And then I found out by the end of the tour that I really enjoyed it, and I started writing new tracks. It was just a really cool, positive experience, and now I’m super into it.”
Rickly’s solo material is a big departure from Thursday upon first listen, but his penchant for melancholic atmospheres and slow build-ups have always been partially explored throughout the band’s discography. On his first self-recorded collection, Mixtape 1, he freely delves into that side of his musicality without hesitance, although his next offering might sound totally different. “Right now I’m just in this really experimental phase where I find out what I’m good at,” Rickly said. “Obviously I know I can sing for Thursday, but I don’t know what else I can do. Some of these mixtapes I’m sure will be terrible, you know what I mean? But that’s part of the process. Now I’m doing slow bluesy stuff, the next one might have more beats and stuff. Maybe I’ll do one that’s doom metal-y. Each one is going to be really different [to] see what I’m in to.”
With no immediate plans to release a full solo album, Rickly has stayed busy with his grindcore collaborative project United Nations and his vinyl-only label Collect Records. He acknowledged that it’s tougher for rock and progressive bands to get major label attention than during the hardcore/emo band grab of the mid 2000’s. “Even the pop bands that I like, like Man Overboard, A Loss for Words – it’s just a different landscape than it was ten years ago. Where they could have had big hits before, I just see it being more challenging, being more underground again.”
Despite these changes to the industry and his past tussles with labels, Rickly’s love of music and optimism for the future is palpable. At one point during Caruana’s set he joined the crowd and sang along just like any fan would, and backstage he quickly rattled off several bands that he’s currently excited about (Holograms, The Sad Boys, Hoax, Title Fight, just to name a few). He isn’t confining himself to just music, however. “There’s a new [television] pilot that I wrote with some friends called ‘This Will Be Our Year’, and it’s so fantastic,” Rickly beamed. “The main writer from that show ‘Monk’ is a producer of it, so I think that’s going to get picked up soon.”
Whether he’s screaming grindcore, performing new acoustic songs, releasing records, or writing television shows, Rickly seems to be living the defiant answer to the question he penned years ago that now sits in a frame on my desk – “Just keep making copies of copies of copies / When will it end?”
You can download Geoff Rickly’s album Mixtape 1 for FREE here. You can also catch him on tour later this year on the West Coast and parts of Europe