Singer/ Songwriter Dustin Kensrue is well known to most people as the lead singer of the beloved Orange County Post-Hardcore stalwarts Thrice. He returned to UK shores earlier this year in support of his third LP, Carry The Fire.
Supporting our gig coverage and album review Brumlive’s Francis Sebastjanowicz had a brief chat to him before his gig at The Glee Club in May, The vocalist has been releasing and touring solo for a few years now. Carry The Fire, released only a week before the gig that has continued to met with very positive reviews.
So Dustin, how has the overall response been for the album so far?
I don’t think I’ve heard anything negative written about it so far. Been playing it live for the last couple of weeks and the response has been good and I’ve been enjoying playing it so far. I really enjoyed making it and I think the response has been exactly what I wanted.
As a musician known for your lyricism, I imagine the writing process is quite drawn out and consumes the most time when writing music. Can you tell us a little about how you approach writing your lyrics?
Yeah, it’s a long process, very careful with them, bordering on perfectionist. I think lyrics are important and I want that to come through when I’m writing. Usually, I’m recording melodies whenever they come into my head and then maybe snippets of lyrical ideas, but the actual writing process is more me sitting there for hours and hours and hours, slowly hammering away, building up and then tearing down and building again, repeatedly. Usually, the lyrics are last, pretty much always for me, doesn’t mean they’re the absolutely last thing. I may have an idea and work some music around it, but usually it’ll be built up over a pre-existing melody.
And how does the writing process differ, from when you’re writing for Thrice compared to writing solo?
The big difference is that the Thrice stuff is very collaborative and democratic, the songs tend to build off parts that different people bring and we jam on. That I’m adding melody over it and in the end I’m trying to shape the whole thing that if you strip it back it’s still a great song, even though it was built, initially, on these parts, that, by themselves don’t actually make a song. I’m kind of reverse engineering it to make sure it actually becomes a really great song.
Whereas my solo stuff is built from the ground up, around a core, as in, ‘here’s the song, now what instrumentation can I add to make it a great song’. Kind of the opposite process.
With Thrice recently reforming, it follows on from a lot of bands recently who have split and then reformed e.g. Refused & Alexisonfire. Do you feel that there is a chance of alienating fans, who may have paid a lot of money to see ‘final’ shows by these bands?
Well I think, it’s not good to speculate on that stuff, which people tend to do, when people know very little about what is going on within these people’s lives and within the bands. Secondly, I don’t see a problem with bands playing shows to make a little money and to have a little fun. We all listen to plenty of bands who hate each other and stay together as a band, because they like to make music and they have to make a living.
For Thrice, I tried to make it really clear, even though people hear ‘breaking up’, that this is legitimate hiatus. I had every intention of coming back to this and I needed a break for X, Y and Z reasons, that are taken care of at the moment, my kids are a little older. I went and did some other stuff that I felt I needed to do, that season is over and I, in that time, in the break, found a lot of clarity over what I’m really gifted at and that is making music. Specifically writing songs, I’m excited to get back into that. And, in terms of playing with Thrice, I love those dudes and love playing music with them and I’m excited about that.
With Thrice only playing Hevy festival this year, are there any plans of playing more UK dates?
Usually those kinds of festivals have bands sign a clause, stating that they won’t play any shows around the festival. So, I don’t think there is likelihood of us coming back this year to play more UK shows, but in terms of future shows, who knows?
So, is there any bands around at the moment that are particularly exciting you, or any bands that you feel don’t get the appreciation that they deserve?
I love Dinosaur Pile Up, I really like their record. Cloud Nothings I’m loving at the moment, Father John Misty I’m listening to a lot and I’m pretty much always listening to The National. I’ve found myself revisiting a band called The Weakerthans lately, who me and Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra, we were out touring solo in the US, both realised we both loved The Weakerthans. That I find, is rare to find people that are super into them. Fantastic song-writing, I’d recommend their album ‘Left And Leaving’, though Andy is trying to convince me that the record after that ( Reconstruction Site) is the better album, which I actually lost a week after buying it, so I’m getting into that one a bit more myself.
So, is there any other bands that you have connections with other than Manchester Orchestra?
Yeah, Brand New, we’re all scheming to do some giant tour, it’s neither here nor there. I think it’s the kind of thing where we would tour with each other all the time if we could. I mean, there is a few bands that we have these strong connections with, it’s in the past that we toured the states twice with them within a few years, which is probably not helpful in certain ways, but we wanted to tour together and we did the same kind of thing as them back in the day. Those guys, Kevin Devine, just throw us all on a bus together and we’d be happy.
Is there any bands that you’d love to play with that you haven’t had a chance to tour with?
Thrice is always in a bit of weird spot, as to who it makes sense to tour with. I think our actual catalogue would open us up to touring with a much broader variety of bands than actually end up happening. I think people tend to view as whatever we are branded as at the time, in 2003 we were branded as Screamo, we never thought that was us anyway. We never really fit the mould of that, ten years on we still think that was never us and isn’t us now. So yeah, there’s bands I would love to tour with, like The National, that’ll probably never happen because of what we’ve been labelled as, as a band.
We’ve always been on the outside of everything, the same thing as when we were starting out in Orange County, we never really fit into any particular bill. were never hardcore enough for the hardcore kids or never Poppy enough for the pop-punk kids. We played every line-up we could to get our name out there but we always seemed to be the oddball band at whatever festival we played at.
I think during the later albums, you’ve found that sound that works for you, which seems to coincide with your voice changing. Do you ever find it hard to sing like you did back in the early days?
I think the last three records are great, I stand by that. Prior to that the albums were a bit spottier.
When we play live I don’t scream in the same way ’cause it sounds horrible, not that I can’t scream any more, it just sounds very non-musical to me. Some of the more metal influenced stuff, their much better with more sort of yelling, rather than screaming, as there is more melody in it.
I think we’d record that stuff completely different now, it’s funny, while we’ve been practising a lot of the older songs, even the way I phrase things is much better now on a lot of the songs. There wasn’t a conscious change, just over time I just think I’m a much better and more confident singer than I was back when I recorded those things.
Interview: Francis Sebastjanowicz
Photograph: Sophie Jones