"We're a fairly serious-sounding band, generally," Thrice frontman Dustin Kensrue begins, plastering a contemplative smirk across his face. "But I think the way we approach doing what we do is very playful."
It's a statement that may feel at odds with Thrice's penchant for penning stony-faced rock; doubly so given that their eleventh outing, 'Horizons/East', is all about unpacking civilisation: the thread that glides between sentiency, belief and reality, but most importantly, hope.
"I'm always trying to be hopeful," Dustin considers, "just because I feel the burden of making something that's going to emotionally influence people."
This charge Dustin sees himself as having is a key component to 'Horizons/East'. Emotional, and faith-based influence is a difficult curse to overcome once the course is set.
"A lot of it has to do with openness to new information, new data, new experiences," he explains further. "Because that's the thing that gets shut out most of the time, and shutting that stuff out leads to all sorts of problems. If you can maintain an openness to that new data, new information, a new experience for yourself and other people, there's a path to be chartered."
But, to understand this hefty thread of Dustin's however, we need to head back to 2012.
With Thrice in the throes of taking a breather from the gruelling touring life, while the frontman was becoming a deacon in Orange County for the now-defunct Mars Hill Church, the seeds for these new notions were being sewn. Still, it took the disgracing of the church's former head, along with a little soul searching for Dustin, to harvest that field of thought.
You see, growing up ingratiated in the Evangelical church, to entering in a position of respect and publicity, meant that certain values and became engrained in Dustin. Following "a very natural and powerful human propensity to hold on to certainty or ideas of certainty," it's this he attributes to the rest of the world's fear and loathing too.
"It's very understandable that people feel strange about uncertainty; they want to know what's going on," he says. "They want to know that they're safe, that they're taken care of. So, you have entire communities and social groups that help reinforce those ideas, and there's a lot of good stuff there, but there's also a lot of negatives that come with that."
Now, that's all behind him. These days Dustin is "embracing the uncertainty." Sure, this can be scary, let alone letting the ideologies you've grown up with shape-shift into something more wholehearted: "The beginning of that journey is much more fulfilling and healthy for yourself and those around you."
Explaining further, 'Horizons/East' stems from the thinking of American academic Dr James Carse. His most influential book, Finite and Infinite Games features the theory of culture having a horizon, a spot that's constantly moving. In contrast, society is restricted by boundaries forced through fear of evolving.
Not wasting any time introducing this shifting wind, the album's opener 'Color of The Sky' deals with claustrophobic ideological images of walls that "circumscribed the city, where beyond it nothing dwells at all". Confirming it's "basically a little story of what it looks like to move from one to the other," the truth that resides below is where the new power of Thrice belongs.
There's some well-worn spiel about shoes, a man, and walking a lot. But those shoes have holes for a reason. The dirt they let in is a necessary harsh reality. This is something Dustin really wants to emphasise, having gone through his own period of examination and evolution, with its reasoning too.
"I think the more you can step back and see the complexities of those systems," he says. "It can still be frustrating, but I think it can lead to better methods of actually communicating with people, rather than just trying to shame them out of something because usually, that's gonna push them further into it."
They say the eyes are the windows into the soul. 'Horizons/East' is no exception. The most colourful Thrice artwork in over a decade, the bold, rainbow pattern depicts that of an iris. "The last record, the open hand was kind of a theme, and if this one has a main metaphor, it is literally like an eye opening to the world," Dustin mentions.
This glimpse into the inner sanctum of Thrice, and Dustin in particular, is where the crux of the album lies. "We all do share so much in the human experience, that those cultural differences get in the way of realising that a lot of times," he says, and for someone having been through such a spiritually-driven life, you can't help but feel he knows what he's talking about.
As for if 'Horizons/East' is some kind of social, political or cultural commentary, in reality, no definition suits it, according to Dustin. Explaining that he's "naturally wired to want to write my songs as essays," distilling his notions into the form of not being Dustin's Soapbox Album, "it's hard to say that I want it to be a social commentary. I think I am trying to speak about the world that we live in, and that's definitely a social thing and political, and I think all of that ties together. But I feel weird saying it is a social commentary."
Indeed, in reality, 'Horizons/East' sits above any one title. It's a complex infrastructure of theology, sociology, and musical robustness. Going back to Dustin convincingly saying that Thrice aren't all moody faces and thunderous riffs, setting themselves the, erm, fun challenges of writing songs using the likes of jazz chord patterns and constructing guitar lines around the mathematical Fibonacci sequence, "having those challenges like that… it's kind of absurd and silly," he grins. "But it's also interesting. We like the tension that those things bring."
'Horizons/East' trudges as a wholly minimalist work with maximal effort for all this complexity. It's 'big', and it's the sound of Thrice being hypnotised by their own might.
For all its fun beginnings and elaborate middles, the end is engrained one thing only: hope. "I do think about hope a lot because I think it's a hard thing to hold on to a lot of times," Dustin nods, the weight of everything he's been through laying these new foundations. 'Horizons/East' is proof that even the blackened skies will pass, holding its darkness within but ultimately, "Art can weirdly inspire that in us, and I do take that seriously, and I do think it's a hopeful record."
Taken from the October issue of Upset. Thrice's album 'Horizons/East' is out now.
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