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Devolving the Guitar
For No Devoluci—n, Thursday’s guitar team endeavored to unlearn the guitar—to almost completely deprogram their whole style, only occasionally bringing in their familiar melodic impalement. “Not every song has that,” Pedulla says, “but we really like to have a wide dynamic range in terms of getting real quiet and clean—and then really heavy. It’s a keystone of what we do, for sure. A good example is on the last song on the record, ‘Stay True.’ It does the same thing but in a completely different way.”
The song in question begins with an electric guitar that’s so gently picked it’s almost imperceptible. The drums enter, followed closely by a flood of EBowed feedback in the background. There’s a tension that sits underneath the calm and, three minutes into the seven-minute epic, Rickly’s voice becomes histrionic and the guitars build up along with the pummeling drums. Though it never reaches the abrasive levels of previous material, there’s a simmering darkness that never would’ve come across in the vicious heaviness of their older material.
Pedulla and Keeley are happy to discuss some of their favorite guitar moments on No Devoluci—n, as well as how they managed to get some of the more out-there sounds on the record. The first track, “Fast to the End”, has a wild noise solo—a warped, Tom Morello-esque skittering across fluctuating pitches. “It was a lot of fun to do—and I’m actually wondering how I’m going to recreate it live—but I know I’ll figure it out,” Pedulla says. “I had set up various filter and modulation settings on one of those Line 6 M13s, and I also put some parameters into the expression pedal to control each one. So I would hit a chord and switch back and forth between the different settings and also work the expression pedal. On some of the takes, I wasn’t even aware of the guitar—I would have it on the floor, hit the note, and then just play the pedals with my hands and kind of go for it. We started to realize that when you go to this effect, it does this thing and that’s a good opening, and then when you go to this, that’s a great mid section, and this is a good closing. So it was almost directed improv.”
In comparison, Keeley contributes a beautiful, slightly atonal melody to the skeletal and haunting ballad of loss, “Empty Glass.” But while the duo envisioned the type of vibe you hear on the album, the way they got it was actually a mistake.
Keeley (left) engages his bridge pickup and barres high on the neck as Thursday’s
keyboardist, Andrew Everding, strums . . . you guessed it—a Telecaster with a Duncan
Hot Rails bridge pickup. Photo by Elise Shively
“We recorded it during the last session,” says Keeley. “Geoff had the vocal part and the Hammond organ part and not much else. We knew we needed to finish it, so it fell on me to make the glitchy instrumental sections. I was really excited about that, but it was very frustrating to make, too. It ended up as a clean guitar run through a reverb pedal and a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler. Instead of strumming, I just turned the reverb and gain up and fretted the string with my strumming-hand finger. With all that sustain, I was able to play the guitar more like a violin. There were six layers of the main progression and six layers of harmonies, and that was going to be the part—this forward-moving thing. But then I accidentally stepped on the DL4’s loop reverse-play button, and it was suddenly a more powerful piece in reverse—with these suspended melodies and a weird timing that pulls you along in this uncertain way. The sweet note of the progression is delayed just a little bit too much, and at first I was like ‘Ah man, I wish I’d taken that one set of four beats out so it hit right where I wanted.’ But everyone was like, ‘Dude, you’ve gotta leave it—that’s what’s going to really engage people and make them listen more intently.’” Keeley adds that, if it hadn’t been for Fridmann’s “writing doesn’t end until the mix is over” ethos, there wouldn’t have been nearly as many spontaneous moments like that.
But as Keeley previously mentioned, No Devoluci—n isn’t all abstract soundscapes. The whiplash switch-ups and intense guitar buildups that have kept Thursday fans enthralled throughout the band’s existence manifest themselves in the savage shift from seething fuzz to all-out saturation on “Past and Future Ruins.” But even that has evolved.
“The chorus riff has a swing to it that we haven’t had before. To expose myself a little bit, it was my attempt at making a Silversun Pickups song,” Keeley confesses with a laugh. “I don’t think it sounds anything like them, though—which is usually the story with me: If I have a favorite band and I try to write something like them, I’m usually not good enough to nail it, y’know?”