The guys in Thrice have a little problem: They talk before they think. "You don't think about the repercussions," says guitarist Teppei Teranishi, referring to a post his band made on its website a couple years ago after it performed at a large radio festival in Texas.
We were just saying about how bad all the music was [there]: It was horrible," adds singer and guitarist Dustin Kensrue. "We weren't trying to be ungrateful. It wasn't supposed to be a reflection of their station as much as on modern rock music."
For better or worse, the California post-hardcore quartet — still linked to a major label that counted on radio support — placed itself in a tight spot. The group eventually found the sponsoring station rolling out the unwelcome mat. The record company wasn't too happy either.
It was a decisive time for the band. With decent airplay and videos in rotation, should they have just kept their mouths shut and befriended radio execs in an effort to scale the corporate ranks?
No way, says Kensrue: "We were never interested. At a certain level, you have to do it, but I don't think we're cut out to do it. We're not good at selling ourselves."
Fortunately, Thrice doesn't have to do much of that these days. In many ways, the band — which also includes brothers Eddie and Riley Breckenridge on bass and drums, respectively — has come full circle, returning to an indie label and recording and producing their new EPs without any outside help.
The first installments, collectively dubbed The Alchemy Index, were released in October; the second set is due in the spring.
Such changes have allowed Thrice, which launched nearly 10 years ago, to unleash its most diverse, in-depth listening experience to date. The Alchemy Index's four EPs include a total of 24 songs and are being released in pairs.
Oh yeah, they're also divided by the elements (and subtitled Air, Earth, Water, and Fire).
The song titles pretty much say it all: "Firebreather," "Backdraft," "The Arsonist," "The Flame Deluge," "Digital Sea," "The Open Water," and "The Whaler" on the first two discs alone.
It's a hefty undertaking. But for a band that has four full-length albums under its belt, it was an irresistible challenge.
Conceived while Thrice was still under contract with Island Records, The Alchemy Index began as a concept of soundscapes, with a few structured songs in between.
But rather than make the project some sort of limited release that only the most devout fans would hear, the band pursued the concept, fleshing out the material into actual songs — categorizing the tracks based on their direction: heavy hardcore into Fire, electronic ideas into Water, acoustic cuts into Earth, and a mix of the three in Air.
Despite being California boys, the band recorded all of its previous albums on the East Coast. The Alchemy Index was made closer to home. It resulted in a much smoother effort for both the band and its individual members. For one thing, Teranishi and Kensrue became fathers (or fathers-to-be) during the recording.
"We worked a 9-to-5 thing every day, instead of doing something two months solid," says Kensrue. "It was spread out through a long time, so we could be with our families. We got to live a somewhat normal life when we were recording, which is cool."
"Plus, you're able to get inspired by life," adds Teranishi. "When you're isolated, it's kind of hard."
The band also felt secluded from the emo scene from which it was spawned. Teranishi was raised on a diet of local Orange County punk acts, but, he says, he's always felt like an outsider on his own turf. And Kensrue says that Thrice never really associated itself with any of the region's music cliques.
"We always got along better with East Coast bands," says Kensrue. "There's just a different ethic and aesthetic."
In fact, during its Island days, Thrice was closely linked to New Jersey labelmates Thursday. They appeared together on magazine covers, seven-inch singles, and concert tours.
It's fitting that both bands parted ways with the label earlier this year. Thrice landed with the L.A.-based Vagrant, which signed the band without hearing a single note of the new EPs.
Teranishi says the six-month release gap between The Alchemy Index's parts gives fans plenty of time to soak in the somewhat challenging music.
"That's the interesting thing with this," says Teranishi. "We got to push so far in every direction — from a rootsy, stripped-down area to full electronics. And it kind of blows the doors wide open as far as our future."
"Every time we're finished with a record, we're itching to do another one," adds Kensrue. "But there's a lot of music and a lot of different stuff. I feel like I can just hang and play this music for a while, and then see what happens."
Still, Teranishi says that Thrice will most likely start writing some new songs on tour. But with the wide precedent set by The Alchemy Index, it's anyone's guess what the band's next musical move will be. Even the band is clueless about its future.
"I have absolutely no idea what we're going to sound like after this," says Teranishi. "Seriously, I have no idea. And that's really exciting in a way."