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Thursday: Melody vs. Discord

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Thursday: Melody vs. Discord

Thursday’s Tom Keeley (left) and Steve Pedulla onstage with their guitars of choice—Fender American
Standard Telecasters with Seymour Duncan Hot Rails bridge pickups. Photo by Dave Summers

Since emerging from the late-’90s hardcore underground and achieving wide acclaim, Thursday has been credited with helping pave the way for modern-rock heavyweights like My Chemical Romance, exposing the world to great new hardcore bands via the opening slots on their tours, and maintaining street cred by recording with up-and-coming bands like Japan’s Envy. More than anything though, Thursday will be remembered for defining the emo/post-hardcore blueprint via Steve Pedulla and Tom Keeley’s scintillating dual-guitar attack, Geoff Rickly’s passionate singing and open-hearted lyrics, and the utterly dominating rhythm section of bassist Tim Payne and drummer Tucker Rule.

Indulging in extreme dynamics while melody battles discordance is Pedulla and Keeley’s raison d’être. This juxtaposition was first explored on the band’s second album, Full Collapse—which they have been recently performing in its entirety to celebrate its 10-year anniversary. Thursday’s major-label debut, War All the Time expanded on the sound with a keener sense of eloquence as pianos and choirs found their way into the oft-ferocious mix. The band’s 2009 release, Common Existence, showed a conscious shift away from the post-hardcore constraints they helped establish, and now their sixth album, No Devoluci—n, finds them exploring deep valleys and high peaks—be they emotional or melodic, expressed in subtler or more intriguing ways.

“There are traditional chord structures in things we do,” explains Keeley, “but there was sort of an effort to circumvent the guitar or approach guitar parts other than thinking of them as guitar parts—kind of undoing the guitar as a traditional rock instrument and using these different effects, chord structures, and strumming patterns to make a more nebulous, melodic vehicle.”

As Pedulla puts it, “A big part of what makes us Thursday is that there are sometimes parts that are almost two leads going on, and they interlock in some strange or unconventional way—so there’s definitely a different dynamic to how we write. It’s the type of thing where both of us will be vamping on a part to try and find what we’re going to play, and we sort of have this unspoken rule where we say, ‘Right . . . bear with me. I’m going to fall on my face a lot—but I will find something.’ We have that trust. We know we’re not being judged by each other.”

Keeley agrees. “It’s a million different things—it’s never the same equation twice. Sometimes we just ignore each other and play as many notes as possible. Sometimes we dictate to each other. I think it’s safe to say there’s a mutual respect for our different points of view and different practices of guitar playing. I couldn’t imagine these songs without Steve’s unique voice. It’s a weird alchemy, a weird experiment. There are a lot of mistakes, a lot of revisions, and tons and tons of editing, historically anyway. And, eventually, even if our parts are fighting each other, we know when it’s working and we know when it’s not.”


Pedulla reaches to the nether regions of his Tele’s fretboard. Photo by Elise Shively

As far as “nebulous melodic vehicles” are concerned, it’d be hard to argue that Keeley and Pedulla have been anything but successful on that front with No Devoluci—n. Written in the wake of Rickly’s divorce, it has an emotional rawness set to churning fury, chiming elegance, and wreaths of eclectic treatments.

“But the whole record isn’t that,” Keeley is quick to add. “It’s not like our guitars sound like ghosts or anything! We certainly have a lot of power chords and traditional angular guitar work—which is sort of our thing. In that sense, it was business as usual. But with [producer] Dave Fridmann, there’s a lot of attention to pushing things toward the weird.”

Fridmann has produced Thursday’s last three records, but reportedly it was the latest one—which was barely demoed at all and was written in just a week—that particularly fired his imagination. What is it about Fridmann that keeps the band coming back to him for production duties?

“You rely on Dave to tell you when to cut the shit, quit thinking, and just play,” says Keeley. “But if I say to him ‘Hey, man, I don’t know if this part is right for this record—how does this sound?’ he’ll reply ‘It sounds like a guitar.’ That means it’s my responsibility to dial in exactly what I need. In the past, I’ve gone, ‘I’ve got no idea what guitar tone I want— what do you think would be a good idea?’ to other producers, and they’ll come up with all these suggestions. Dave does do this on occasion— he’ll fine-tune things—but generally it’s ‘What do you want it to sound like? What’s your vision?’ That’s scary, but ultimately it forces us to become better musicians with better ears. He generally trusts our gut and our instincts, as far as getting into the weird spots. It’s terrifying—but completely empowering.”

For a band of self-described non-musicians, Thursday encompasses a scope and spectrum of aural possibility that’s perhaps wider than musicians who play “by the rules.” Thursday’s distinct sound has always revolved around Pedulla’s and Keeley’s clashing tones. Clean melodies run parallel to each other before soaring through molten distortion, generally grappling with each other and causing semitone clashes, off-kilter countermelodies, and ending in all sorts of pleasing chaos. You expect dropped-D tunings, escalating octave melodies, furious tremolo picking alongside thrashed minor 7th chords, and, more often than not, the delight of crashing from clean, intricate chords to full-tilt, metal-tinged riffs. Light chorus and a splash of delay keep the flashier melodies sounding like they’ll float into forever, but it’s the stop-start breakdowns punctuated by complete silence that define Thursday’s guitar MO.
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