Rutgers to Riches

The members of Thursday ditched college to be emo-hardcore stars. So far, it's working.

Thursday, with Planes Mistaken for Stars, From Autumn to Ashes, and One Line Drawing Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Avenue 8 p.m. Friday, November 8, $10 advance/$12 day of show, 216-241-5555.
Thank God it's Thursday: The band headlines the Agora on Friday.
Thank God it's Thursday: The band headlines the Agora on Friday.

"If we could, we'd stay right where we are now and live it forever," Thursday singer Geoff Rickly gushes from a stop in Billings, Montana. With Thursday's 2001 breakthrough album, Full Collapse, continuing to move over 5,000 copies a week (more than 150,000 total), a prime slot on last summer's Vans Warped Tour still bringing them much acclaim, and another round of sold-out headlining gigs under way, Rickly's excitement is understandable. Thursday's dark, melodic hardcore has broken out of the underground and onto MTV, a mere four years after its inauspicious beginnings in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Back in early 1998, rock stardom was the last thing on Rickly's mind. An English major at Rutgers, Rickly was preparing for a career in the classroom and writing poetry for esteemed literary journals when he began booking hardcore shows in his basement. Rickly and his housemates would charge a few bucks to see touring bands like Hot Water Music and Kid Dynamite play matinees. Despite attracting noticeably large crowds, Rickly hosted 300 shows in three years before the cops shut him down for good. "We'd pull all the cars up close to the house to block the sound," he says. "From the street, it sounded like a loud stereo."

While promoting one of his basement gigs, Rickly met Tom Keeley, guitarist for a fledgling hardcore combo lacking a singer. Within weeks, Rickly hopped aboard, and Thursday was born. With Rickly's extensive scene contacts at Thursday's disposal, the band never lacked for shows or a local following. In January 1999, while still perfecting its instrumental acumen, the group released the nine-song calling card, Waiting. Afterward, they made a discovery that still serves them well. "When we started the band, we wanted to be straight-up hardcore," Rickly says. "After we recorded Waiting, we went back and listened to it and heard elements of other stuff we were into. We talked and discovered that we all liked darker '80s bands like the Cure and decided to consciously incorporate that into our music."

As 1999 slid into 2000, Thursday spent more time on the road than in class -- resulting in Rickly and Keeley's dropping out of Rutgers, along with fellow students Tucker Rule (drums) and Tim Payne (bass). Indie filmmaker Steve Pedulla (George Washington) came aboard on second guitar and filled out Thursday's sound with prodigious chops and classic rock influences. After attracting the attention of various indie labels, Thursday signed with Chicago-based Victory Records and constructed the daring Full Collapse.

Alternately arty and muscular, Full Collapse was the perfect record for a hardcore scene ready to embrace its emo brethren. Although the album is devoid of emo's signature octave-scaling runs and forlorn love ballads, Pedulla and Keeley's uncanny knack for weaving Johnny Marr-like minor-key picking around a tapestry of passionate power chords is enough to reduce the hardest skinhead to pumping one fist in the air while wiping tears away with the other. Rickly's intensely personal lyrics fit his Morrissey-meets-Robert Smith vocals perfectly. The lead track, "Understanding in a Car Crash," recounts a grisly wreck that killed one of Rickly's childhood friends and left another hospitalized -- minutes after the two dropped him off: "Splintered piece of glass falls in the seat and gets caught/ Broken windows, open locks/Reminders of the youth we lost."

Thursday was well received from the onset of the Full Collapse tour, but soon learned that Victory head Tony Brummel seemed to pay attention only when the band landed high-profile gigs. When Thursday won a spot on the 2001 Warped Tour, Brummel printed up thousands of promotional neon-pink whoopee cushions embossed with Thursday's logo. The band was appalled. "That was a lot of people's first exposure to us," Rickly winces. "Tony said he didn't care; he'd promote us as he saw fit."

But when the outfit landed a spot on Saves the Day's tour in November 2001, Brummel's tune quickly changed.

"We started selling a thousand records a week," Rickly recalls. "Suddenly, we started getting daily e-mails from Tony signed, 'Every day is Thursday.'" Yet Brummel's newfound love for his charges (and their ever-increasing record sales) didn't stop him from further embarrassing the band with a radio edit for "Understanding in a Car Crash" that cut out more than 90 seconds of the song. When Brummel sold 25 percent of Victory to MCA, Thursday had seen enough, exercised the "out" clause in its contract, and signed with Island/Def Jam.

Understandably, Brummel wasn't happy about losing his best-selling act. Victory put out a press release declaring Thursday's Island/Def Jam contract illegal. Making matters even more complicated: Island/Def Jam and MCA have the same parent company, Universal Music. "Universal could wind up suing itself with its own money," Rickly adds. "It's so stupid."

Fortunately, it looks like that crisis will be averted: Thursday recently reached something of a truce with Victory. The band released an EP, "Five Stories Falling," on Victory that fulfills its contractual obligations and allows it to jump to Island.

In the meantime, the band has installed a digital studio in the lounge of its tour bus and is hard at work recording new material after its surprisingly successful run on Warped. "It's been a great ride so far," Rickly beams -- still two thousand miles away from home, but finding a new one in every city.

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