Teranishi focuses hard on his ES-335 during a performance at Atlanta’s Wrecking Ball festival in August 2015. “When we first started,” he says, “we were all listening to metal, punk rock, and hardcore. It was just natural for us to melt
all those things together.” Photo by Perry Bean
Did you set out to become a genre-bending band, or is that something that happened naturally?
Teranishi: No, I think it’s definitely natural. When we first started, our musical tastes were a lot narrower, but we were all listening to metal, punk rock, and hardcore. I think it was just natural for us to want to kind of melt all those things together.
Kensrue: It definitely evolved over time, but I think way back in the day we thought there was something interesting about trying to mix some punk rock and little bits of metal guitar tied together with a hardcore sensibility. It was just a mix of bands we dug at the time, really. We were listening to a lot of new school, West Coast punk. We were listening to East Coast stuff like Minor Threat. And, of course, we were listening to Iron Maiden and bands like that. When you’re creating, you learn by taking different pieces and comping them and putting them into a new context. At a certain point that becomes unconscious—you don’t even think about it anymore.
After releasing so much material over the years, how do you avoid slipping into familiar patterns?
Teranishi: I think it’s getting harder as our catalog grows. We’re aware of it, but at the same time, I believe you don’t ever want to force creativity. I feel like your first or most natural instinct is probably the best. But, yeah, it is hard. It would be interesting to do something themed like The Alchemy Index again for that reason—it might draw something new and different out of us.
As your sound has evolved, it stands to reason that your taste in gear has as well. Is there any gear in your collection that’s inspired more riffs than others? Or changed the way you play or even write?
Teranishi: The baritone has for sure. Mine is a 2005 or 2006 Jaguar Bass VI Custom. It’s not the current one that has humbuckers. Mine has a slightly longer scale and shrill, thin, brittle, single-coils. I think that sounds cool in that lower tuning. I love that contrast between something that’s harsh and thin, yet heavy and low. That sound has inspired a lot of stuff like “Yellow Belly,” the first song on Major/Minor.
Kensrue: Teppei has a Casino that I love, and he loves it, too. It’s a hollowbody, so it sings quite a bit. Even unplugged it’s really fun to play. In the studio it would inspire me a lot … maybe I should get one.
In your opinion, what constitutes “heavy?”
Teranishi: I think it’s a combination of a few things. Tuning plays a big part, because you can take something that doesn’t sound that heavy on a regular guitar in E standard, and then play it on a baritone in B standard and suddenly it sounds really heavy. Also the groove. To me, those are the biggest things. The arrangement can play a big role, as well, because a dynamic contrast of sounds can make things heavy.
Speaking of tuning, Dustin, I hear you’re pretty picky about your gauges?
Kensrue: I’m specific about it because the way a guitar feels to me is pretty important. I think string gauge has a lot to do with that. The reason it’s more complicated for us is we’re typically tuning down to D standard or dropped C, and that lessens the tension. I’m also playing a 24"-scale guitar, which lowers the tension even more. I had to figure out how to balance all of that and make it feel right. I keep it just tight enough for me to play some chunky stuff if I need to, but it’s also fun and loose.
For that [28.5"-scale] Jag, I’m using a custom set of .011, .014, .018, .032, .044, .056. We had a bunch of old strings that weren’t part of full sets, so I experimented until I landed on that combination. Teppei is not as picky, so he just uses whatever gauge I’m using.
How democratic is your songwriting process?
Teranishi: It’s actually a pretty democratic process. We all bring stuff to the table. Even Riley [Breckenridge, drummer] will bring guitar parts sometimes. That also makes it challenging because you don’t have one person calling all the shots and everything can be a big, drawn-out discussion. But that’s a part of what makes us Thrice.
And do you build the songs around vocal melodies or chord progressions?
Teranishi: On this record, we wrote around melodies a lot more than we have in the past, and I think that shows. I feel like it's a more melodic record in a lot of senses. There was a lot of this: “I got this cool melody, but it’s not working with this chord.” Then Dustin would try to tweak the chord progression to fit it around the melody, which we have done in the past, but I think we did a lot more of that this time around.
Kensrue: We often begin with some kind of riff and then I just start singing nonsense over it until I find something I like. Melodies come pretty quickly—it’s the lyrics that take a long time.
When recording this album, what were your main guitars?
Teranishi: I used my Gibson ES-335 a little bit, a Tele, and obviously the baritones. The one that I revisited for this record was an early-’70s cherry red Les Paul Standard that I’ve had forever. I actually used it a lot on the earlier records—I think it was almost exclusively on The Illusion of Safety and it probably saw some action on The Artist in the Ambulance. I hadn’t played it in a long time, but I broke it out and used it on quite a few tracks.