Thrice singer-guitarist Dustin Kensrue admits that Orange County, a conservative bastion in Southern California, gets a bad rap. Speaking via phone from his home there, he says he’s learned to love the place.
“I really like it even though I resented it while growing up,” says Kensrue, who brings the post-hardcore band to the Agora on Sept. 25 as it tours in support of its new album, To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere
. “I had kids and realized it was a really rad city to live in. The cool thing about it now is that it was a bit more homogeneous when I was a kid. Now, it’s super diverse, and it’s a cool melting pot. People really care about the community.”
While growing up there, Kensrue says he mostly listened to classic rock before discovering punk rock.
“Punk rock was formational in that I loved the energy and honesty and there was a rawness to it that was compelling,” he says. “Through the years, even though Thrice has been all over the map with music, the punk rock ethos has stayed with us in how we approach our art.”
Thrice, which formed in 1998, didn’t exactly have lots in common with the other OC acts.
“There was hardcore stuff and poppy punk stuff,” Kensrue says. “We didn’t fit into any of that completely, but we’d play all those shows and be the oddball. We weren’t hard enough for the hardcore show and too hard for the ska show. We never felt like we part of a scene. We felt on the outskirts.”
After 14 years, the band had built up a strong fanbase on the post-hardcore/alternative rock circuit. But Kensrue says the relentless schedule eventually took its toll.
“We had been going non-stop,” he says when asked about why the band took a hiatus in 2012. “We would write, record and tour. It got to be a grind. We were still doing great work and the fans were still there but it just felt like we needed a break. There were just a variety of reasons. I think it was super helpful in the long term even though it was hard for everyone in various ways in the moment. Coming back, everyone agreed it was necessary and helpful. We’ve been able to reset and re-prioritize how we do things. We only tour three weeks at a time now, which is way more sustainable. It costs more. But we’re biting that bullet, so we don’t explode.”
After reconvening in 2015 to play a few festival dates, the band started working on new material. The resulting album, To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere
, came out earlier this year. Album opener “Hurricane” features parched vocals and heavy guitars. Gang-style vocals distinguish the cascading “Blood on the Sand,” and “Wake Up” includes a spoken word segment that makes it come off as something like U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky.”
“I think there is a lot of variety [to the songs], but I also think it’s our most cohesive work as an album,” says Kensrue. “I think we always strive for the diversity and some kind of cohesion but for whatever reason, [this album is different] possibly because we were coming back and not having something to react to from our previous record. We’re usually reactive and think, ‘We already did this, so let’s do this.’ This album ended up having a sound that incorporates everything we’ve done."
The eclectic album closes with “Salt and Shadow,” a song that features cooing vocals and layers of electronic blips and bleeps.
“It started with just that little guitar lick in the beginning,” says Kensrue. “I think we had a demo of it where it was going really heavy with big rock choruses, and it felt like it was a bit much and seemed overwrought. I went back and built a rough structure of what’s there now. We took it to the studio, and we fleshed it out a bit. A lot of what sounds like organ is me playing guitar through a HOG 2 pedal. If you played a chord, it makes a bunch of octaves.”
Like other Thrice albums, To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere
finds the band writing about political and social issues. “Whistleblower” makes allusions to Edward Snowden, the former CIA agent who leaked classified documents, and “Death From Above” makes references to drone warfare.
“It’s definitely just the climate of 2015 when I was writing a lot of it,” says Kensrue when asked about the album’s themes. “In the process of writing it, I’m always a bit more aware or deeply looking into the things going on in the world around us because I do research if I’m writing about something that can be looked into. I like that aspect of writing where it forces me to engage more than I normally would. It’s a combination of a lot of heavy stuff going on in the world, and the music we write is generally kind of heavy."
He says the songs aren't meant to be left-leaning. Rather, he aims to provide "an honest look" at issues.
"It’s hard to not swing one way or another and see something under every rock," he says. "It’s easier to say that everything is fine and think the best about our government. I used to be a bit more in that camp, but it’s a naïve position to hold. Democracy only works if we keep things in check.”
Thrice, La Dispute, Nothing, Nowhere, 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $21 ADV, $25 DOS, agoracleveland.com.