The backstage area of this year's Vans Warped Tour often resembled a punk-rock frat party, according to Thrice frontman Dustin Kensrue.
There was plenty of partying and more than a few juvenile practical jokes perpetrated by the bands and their crews. Such situations can be flat-out dangerous, and sometimes injuries ensue.
A few weeks ago, Thrice drummer Riley Breckenridge damaged his back while reaching under the band's bus. Was he looking for water balloons filled with sour milk to throw at the members of Pennywise? Nope. He was trying to remove his suitcase from the storage compartment, and in the process of doing that, aggravated an old skateboarding injury.
"I'll always re-injure it doing something stupid," he said sheepishly of his back. "One time [I did it when] I was reaching across the driver's seat of my car to grab my keys off of the passenger seat."
Rock drummers are supposed to be indestructible troublemakers — they're not supposed to have trick backs that give out during pedestrian tasks. Yet this kind of un-rock-and-roll-ism is typical of Thrice, who are diffident, subdued and completely uninterested in acting like rock stars.
"We're not into poking our heads into anyone's party or onto anyone's bus," said Breckenridge. "I only got to know some of the people on the Warped production crew in the last two weeks of the tour, and they were like, 'We had no idea who you guys were because you never hung around and you don't talk to anyone.' "
Whether the mavericks of Thrice are speaking some private chaotic language through music or simply channeling pent-up emotions they're too reserved to exhibit in their daily lives, one thing's for sure: These guys may be sedate in person, but on record and onstage they rock harder and more furiously than most of their glue-sniffing, bottle-guzzling peers.
Thrice's recently released major-label debut, The Artist in the Ambulance, is a study in contradictions. It's alternately noisy and melodic, bruising and uplifting, and desperate and hopeful, blending styles of thrash metal, hardcore, emo and pop-punk, often within a single song. The disc's title was inspired by a book by Al Burian called "Burn Collector," which deals with ideas of social obligation and humanism.
"It's basically asking the question, 'Do we, as artists, have the responsibility to do something more than fill empty space and to sing and dance and entertain?' " Kensrue said. "We try to do as much as we can in our music, but we also work with charities, and that's one way we try to do more outside of music."
The first single from The Artist in the Ambulance, "All That's Left," is a spiky, yearning cut with a deceptive pop refrain. Like many of the band's tunes, it balances the sweet and bitter through optimistic lyrics that burn with pain.
It's about the strength we have in our youth and the things we trade for that," Kensrue said. "When you're young, you're kind of free and you're not as owned by your possessions or your position, and it makes you powerful because you have less to lose. As you get older, you start tying yourself down with things. [The song asks], is the trade we made worth it? And is it possible to hold onto that strength and that vitality?"
At the end of the month, Thrice will head to England to play the Leeds and Reading festivals; then they'll tour Europe, opening for Rancid and Alkaline Trio. This fall, they'll return to North America to tour with Thursday and Coheed & Cambria. To Thrice's delight, Deftones will headline more than two weeks of those dates.
"If you would have told us when we were signed that we'd be going out with the Deftones, I wouldn't have believed you," Breckinridge said. "To me, something like that is way cooler than partying and trying to be a rock star."