Flick on CNN for five minutes, and it's easy to see why an emo-core band like Thursday might title an album War All the Time. After all, political insurgency, governmental hypocrisy and bloodshed abound, providing plenty of fuel for punk rock creativity.
Strangely, the New Brunswick, New Jersey, band wasn't referring to the current situations in Iraq, Israel or the White House when it wrote the disc. War All the Time, due September 16, is about combat, but not with weapons. Rather, it addresses the battles that take place on the home front that cause boyfriends and girlfriends to fight like guerilla soldiers.
While Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly's songs have always been riddled with pain, War All the Time is the band's first LP that specifically addresses romantic relationships. "I've always been afraid to talk about the idea of romantic love in songs because I feel like it's such a cliché," Rickly said. "And the way that it's been addressed has been either exploitative or ridiculous. But then it became a big part of my personal life, and I felt like I was stifling myself by not writing about it."
Rickly got the idea to approach romance as an adversarial condition from late bitter writer Charles Bukowski, who described love as a war. "It's this thing you live every day where you have this friction and there are all these personal interests going on, and it's sometimes violent," he said (see "Thursday Singer Says Lightning Strike Was Scary, But So Is Sex").
Some of the violence Rickly wrote about on War All the Time was physical. Part of the first single, "Signals Over the Air," is about the bizarre relationship the singer had with a troubled woman. "She with constantly telling me, 'Hit me. Be a man,' " he said. "It just made me feel crazy. She wanted me to do all kinds of stuff to her, and she was really sweet and I really cared about her, but she really wanted to be controlled."
Other violence addressed on the record is more psychological. "Marches and Maneuvers" is about a personal situation Rickly and an ex-girlfriend had to confront that tore them apart.
"It dealt with our thoughts on children and abortion," he said. "It's about whether you can choose what your life is gonna be or whether your life chooses what it's gonna be on its own. And it addresses living together and having all those pressures, and then eventually blaming each other for things that happen and winding up almost hating each other."
The actual creation of War All the Time was almost as arduous as the subject matter addressed. After months of soul-searching, Rickly was working on lyrics to the final three songs, but nothing was coming. Worse, he wasn't pleased with the final tunes he had written.
While Rickly tried to summon his muse, his bandmates — guitarist Tom Keeley, guitarist Steve Pedulla, bassist Tim Payne and drummer Tucker Rule — continued writing and came up with three more songs, including "Signals Over the Air." Rickly loved the new material, but with the band already out of the studio and the album deadline approaching, he was worried there wouldn't be time to record them, which nearly gave him a nervous breakdown.
In the end, the band's label delayed the release and paid for Thursday to re-enter the studio. Yet even after the new tracks were laid down with new lyrics, the singer second-guessed and third-guessed himself.
"In the past I had always written about things that had a point," he said. "If I asked questions, I answered them, and every song had a resolution. This time, instead of having some basic feeling of insight, I just had all this confusion, and that messed me up."
It wasn't just the negativity or the uncertainty that bothered Rickly. It was the fact that none of the songs were linear, and few offered hope.
"The climax to every song was a question that I can't answer. And that was scary to me. I was worried about being exposed for the unhappy person I was at the time. Everybody always says how sad the other Thursday records are, but I think of them as something beautiful that comes out of something sad. And I felt this one was just scared and schizophrenic and really ugly. When we finished, I was really sure it was this big black hole of indecipherable, unrelatable paranoia."
Only after recording War All the Time did Rickly realize how depressed he actually was. That in itself was pretty upsetting, but he was also concerned that the album would be frustrating to fans who had clung to Thursday like a life preserver in a tidal wave.
"I thought about all the kids that say our music helps them so much, and I wondered if it was unfair to release a record that says, 'I don't know anything and I need help,' " Rickly said.
As a last resort, the singer distanced himself from the project for a month to try to regain his equilibrium. Then, when he placed the CD in his player, he was shocked by how his attitude had changed.
"I couldn't believe how different it sounded from how it had felt to me," he said. "Somehow it turned into this incredibly hopeful record. Now when I listen it says to me, 'Yeah, this is going on now, but I swear it's gonna get better.' "
Thursday will launch a North American tour on Monday in San Francisco. Dates run through September 27 in Washington, D.C., after which the band will head to Europe. The group will return to North America to tour with Thrice and Coheed and Cambria starting October 17 in Pittston Township, Pennsylvania. Shows run through November 4 in Phoenix.
To hear Thursday's War All the Time, check out "The Leak" on MTV.com on Monday.