Believe it or not, being one of the Warped Tour's headlining acts kind of sucks. You never know exactly when you'll be taking the stage each day — could be 11 a.m. tomorrow, 7 p.m. the next night. The bathroom facilities leave something — well, a lot of things — to be desired, and take any notions you'd had about lavish hotel rooms and chuck 'em out the window.
"It's pretty brutal at times," said drummer Riley Breckenridge, whose band, Thrice, is in the thick of Warped. "I'm kind of getting used to it, but when you do get days off, and you can actually treat yourself to a hotel room with a legitimate bathroom and you can take a shower in a real shower, it's like, 'Wow ... this is really nice.' You appreciate it. On Warped you've got 'team showers.' There's like maybe four showers for something like 500 people. So if you can get into the shower, you're lucky. If you can get into it before everyone's hit it and f---ed it all up, you're really one of the lucky ones. Same goes for the Port-a-Potties. If you can hit them early, they're not bad. But late in the day, after everyone's unloaded in them ... like I said, pretty brutal."
Add to that the pressure of finding time to hold daily band meetings with label folk and the dude who's mixing the album you've got coming out in two months conferenced in, and you're talking all work, very little play, and even less bathing.
But somehow the post-hardcore Orange County quartet — who launch a fall headlining tour in October with Underoath, the Bled and Veda — is still managing to get a lot done. Sure, Vheissu (pronounced "vee-sue"), Thrice's first new studio album since 2003's The Artist in the Ambulance, is a work in progress, but it's close to becoming a work realized. In fact, Breckenridge said right now, there's just the final track list and the album art that need to be sorted out for the September 27 release. Oh, and then there's the video treatment for the first single, "We Are the Image of the Invisible," which frontman Dustin Kensrue's been dedicating much of his off time to.
"Dustin's actually working on a treatment with Gerard [Way] from My Chemical Romance," Breckenridge revealed. "They've been working on it together, because we're big fans of My Chem's videos, and Gerard has played a huge role in writing the treatments for those. So we shared the song with him, and we just wanted to know what he envisions for it. Dustin had a pretty developed idea before we left for Warped, and he took it to Gerard and sought his input. Now they're bouncing ideas off of each other."
Breckenridge wouldn't discuss specifically what the two singers have come up with so far, other than to say that it "sounds awesome" and he's "psyched about it." He did promise that there would be a rather involved narrative, sprinkled with some performance footage — and lots of elaborate costumes, sets and fancy-schmancy lighting.
Fans can expect "lots of new instrumentation" from Vheissu, which the band — rounded out by guitarist Teppei Teranishi and bassist Eddie Breckenridge — worked on with producer Steve Osborne (Massive Attack, U2). "We experimented with Rhodes piano, grand piano, a lot of synthesizer stuff," Breckenridge said. "We really took a chance with a producer who might not have been the most obvious choice for us. I think a lot of people who're familiar with our older stuff would have expected us to work with a metal or hard-rock producer. But Steve helped us expand our sound. When we started writing, we kind of sat down as a band and said, 'Anything that comes out of you, we are going to entertain that idea. So don't worry about writing a piano or string arrangement. We'll tackle those ideas and incorporate them into what we do as best we can.' That made the writing more fun, because we weren't doing what was expected of us; rather, [we did] what came natural."
Vheissu will feature 11 tracks, including "Atlantic," "Red Sky," "Of Dust and Nations" and "The Earth Will Shake," a "rhythmic and really slow and heavy" song the band has infused into its half-hour Warped set.
Breckenridge also said the first 100,000 copies of Vheissu will feature limited-edition artwork and an expanded booklet boasting in-depth commentary on the recording process and studio photos. But what's with the album title? The drummer explained that it was inspired by Thomas Pynchon's book "V."
"Dustin saw that word and thought it was a really pretty sounding word, and it's not really defined in the book," he said. "It's just kind of thrown out there, and we wanted to have a one-word title ... You hear the word and you don't really know what to think of it. We wanted the word itself to come to represent the album that we made."
Depending on whose deconstruction you want to trust, Vheissu's either derived from the German term "Wie heißt du?" — translated to "What is your name?" or "What are you called?" — or was a code name for the volcano Vesuvius in Pompeii, Italy, which some believed served as an entrance to the underworld. One book hints of an ancient race of people who used Vesuvius to access underground tunnels that led to nations all across the earth.
Either meaning's fitting, Breckenridge said.
" 'Who are you?' or 'What are you?' is a theme that runs through Dustin's lyrics, and I really thought the tunnel thing was cool because, being in a band, you're faced with a lot of difficult decisions, paths you could take," he said. "A lot of times with this band, it kind of feels like we're standing at Vheissu and picking a tunnel, not knowing where it's going to lead — you just hope for the best. With this record, we're trying something new and we've been very ambitious. We're walking down this tunnel and we don't know where it's going to take us. It's the kind of record we could be buried with and feel good about."
For more on what life is like on the Warped Tour, check out the feature "Backstage At The Punk Rock Circus."