Originally published in: Wonka Vision Magazine
Album: The Alchemy Index
Random thoughts: This long piece was originally intended to be a cover story for Chord Magazine, but Chord went on hiatus right when that issue was supposed to come out. There I was left with a cover story and no magazine. I was working for Wonka Vision at the time as Managing Editor and Justin, the publisher, agreed to print this as their cover story. Needless to say, J-Dog saved the day. This story was a theme piece on Thrice's charity work and was definitely a labor of love.
CHARITY AND ALCHEMY
By Jason Schreurs
It didn’t take long for the members of Thrice to see the impact their charity work was having on the communities and world around them.
When the Orange County melodic hardcore band sold 100,000 copies of their second album, The Illusion of Safety, their label at the time, Sub-City, wanted to do something special. So they planned a Thrice show at A Place Called Home, the boys and girls club in South Central LA that the band had chosen to donate partial proceeds of that album’s sales to.
Louis Posen, owner of Sub-City, made “fool’s gold” records to give to the band as a lark, but the presentation that really mattered that night was to the kids at A Place Called Home. A music scholarship was created in Thrice’s name and given to some of the kids in the center’s music program.
“It was one of the times when I knew for sure we were doing the right thing,” remembers bass player Ed Breckenridge, as he collects his thoughts. “I mean, I know it is the right thing anyway, but I could actually see it in action… and it was awesome.”
Five years, three albums, and two record labels later, the band—Breckenridge, his older brother Riley on drums, vocalist/guitarist Dustin Kensrue, and guitarist Teppei Teranishi—continue to donate to a carefully chosen charity with each of their releases. But all four members fondly remember that night at A Place Called Home where they felt that, in some small way, they had made a difference.
“It was really cool to see these kids that, who knows what they would have been doing if they didn’t have a place to go and get involved in music,” remembers Riley. “The kids were so excited about playing music and being in a band, and that took me back to when we started our band.”
As a young punk/hardcore group, it was Sub-City’s Posen that opened Thrice’s eyes to using the band as an instrument for social change. When Posen told them they could either sign to Hopeless Records, his main label, or the Sub-City imprint, which donates a small portion of each CD sold to a charity of the band’s picking, the choice seemed obvious. The individual members of Thrice had always been involved in charity work, but may not have followed the same path with the band if it weren’t for Posen’s influence.
“I don’t think we would have understood that it was possible as a band,” explains Ed. “When he gave us the choice, it seemed right. He created the model and we’ve been able to continue that. I’m very glad he did it and I’m proud of Louis for creating that.”
Since then, Thrice have continued to select a charity for each release, even after leaving Sub-City (the label recently celebrated $1 million in money raised through CD sales, many of which were Thrice records). Thrice has made significant donations to many different charities while following their path to Island Records for two albums, and their recent signing to Vagrant Records for a pair of double EP releases, The Alchemy Index.
“It was definitely Louis that opened our eyes to how easy it is to get involved. You don’t have to be Bono or sitting on piles of money and donate millions of dollars to charity to make a difference. You can donate a small amount, or your time, or your skills,” says Riley.
The band have held benefit shows, sold exclusive merchandise for charity, and done everything else in their power to try to effect change in the lives of others. Still, they don’t consider themselves a political band. The band’s lyrics do address social issues, but they hope everyone will ultimately make their own decisions. And all the better if fans get exposed to some of the causes the band supports.
“We’re not a preachy band,” says Ed. “Maybe indirectly we’d like to help a movement or get bands to give more, but mostly it’s just our way of giving back on a personal level.”
Thrice’s members came from fairly stable backgrounds and feel fortunate to be able to help the needy. The process of choosing a charity for their next release isn’t too tough, since there’s an abundance of worthwhile organizations that could use help. Donating part of their album sales has become, as guitarist Teranishi puts it, a “no-brainer.”
“We’re very grateful for being in the kind of situation we’re in,” adds Riley, “and it’s definitely not something we take for granted, so when we are presented with the opportunity to help someone who is less fortunate, it’s an easy choice to get involved.”
After the success of their Island Records debut, The Artist in the Ambulance, Thrice had enough clout to headline summer punk festivals and bring a strong following along with them. When their Island follow-up, Vheissu, hit in 2005, the band’s fan-base became more fervent, but they never quite hit it big. And without extra money coming in (all four members use the band as a primary income), donating part of their profits is a selfless act, and a somewhat questionable one financially.
“It’s definitely a sacrifice. I think any giving is. But we started doing this before we had any money,” chuckles Kensrue, “so I think we’ve gotten used to it. We’re not rich in comparison to other musicians, but we’re making ends meet.”
Teranishi puts it more bluntly: “We are giving away our personal money, but compared to 90 percent of the world, and living the way I do, I don’t feel like I have the right to complain about that.”
Island used to match Thrice’s donations to a certain amount, but they decided not to pursue this arrangement with their new label, Vagrant. Instead, the band is taking control of their charity work and leaving the label out of it.
“We’re taking the charity thing into our own hands. It always ended up getting really complicated, especially when we were dealing with a major label,” explains Riley. “Since we’re the ones who want to make the donation, it’s going to come entirely from our pocket and it’s not going to involve the label at all. It’s nothing to do with them being reluctant or anything. We didn’t even bring it up.”
The concept of do-it-yourself not only applies to the band’s charity work, but also the creation of their latest endeavor, the ultra-ambitious four-EP set, The Alchemy Index. Featuring six songs on each of the four discs (released in two installments), and representing the elements of earth, air, water, and fire, the project was recorded and produced solely by the band.
“The idea was to make something more aesthetic, and it cuts down on profits a little,” chuckles Kensrue nervously, “but it’s important to us to have the product and the package presented in the way we wanted to.”
Uncompromising in their vision, the band made the decision to stagger the two double EPs by six months so listeners could absorb the material slowly. “In the end we decided it would be an overload of music to release 24 songs at once,” says Kensrue.
Thrice also obsessed over what would be on each record, how the theme or mood would play out, and how strictly they would stick to the elements, lyrically and musically. The first two EPs, Fire and Water, sound appropriate to their moods; Fire is a heavy, riff-laden disc, and Water is flowing and electronic-sounding. All four discs represent different aspects of the band’s sound, which has progressed over the years.
“Because we split it up like that in four parts, we were really able to push further in each direction, and really extend into different styles of music,” explains Teranishi.
For the first two volumes of The Alchemy Index, the band chose the Blood:Water Mission as its charity. The group does work in Africa to help communities with clean water and AIDS relief.
Other than promoting the organizations they raise money for and trying to spread awareness, Thrice aren’t interested in tooting their own horns when it comes to their charity work.
“I always have mixed feelings about publicizing any of this,” says Kensrue, “but the reason I keep making it public is because I want to get the word out about these different charities. My hope is that it inspires other bands and just people in general.”
Donating to charity has become a big part of Thrice over the years; and it’s something they aren’t interested in changing any time soon.
“People are sometimes discouraged to give because they don’t have that much money and they are just trying to make ends meet," says Kensrue, who pauses, then adds, “but if you are consistently giving, it changes the way you view money, and it changes the way you view other people.”
For more info, go to: www.thrice.net
Thrice: The Donation Index
Since they started in 1996, Thrice—vocalist/guitarist Dustin Kensrue, guitarist Teppei Teranishi, drummer Riley Breckenridge, and bassist Ed Breckenridge—have donated to many charities. On their first album, Identity Crisis, the band was asked by their label at the time, Sub-City, to pick a charity to donate to. Since then, Thrice have continued to pick one to accompany each release.
Album: Identity Crisis
Charity: Crittenton Services for Women and Children
Helping children and young adults through abuse and neglect, Crittenton Services in Fullerton, CA was an organization the band could easily get behind. Harbor Campus, a division of Crittenton, gives children access to many programs, such as art, music, and sports. “We did a little acoustic show for the kids that were staying there. They were just excited to see some live music and to talk to us, and that was actually a lot of fun,” remembers Kensrue.
More info: kidsmatter.org
Album: Illusion of Safety
Charity: A Place Called Home
A Place Called Home is a center for at-risk and impoverished youth in South Central LA which includes a music program with instruments and a recording studio. The centre created a youth music scholarship in Thrice’s name. “The contribution we made was so small, but we were able to do something to make those kids so happy,” says Riley.
More info: apch.org
Album: The Artist in the Ambulance
Charity: The Syrentha J. Savio Endowment (SSE)
Run by Mark Beemer, a close friend of the band, SSE provides financial assistant to low income women fighting breast cancer. SSE raises funds through a variety of different projects, such as the Shirts for a Cure Project (go to merchnow.com/shirtsforacure for exclusive t-shirt designs from Thrice and other bands). “One of the most memorable things we’ve done with them is the Race for a Cure. We’ve participated in [the race] as a band twice, and it was an amazing experience,” says Teranishi.
More info: syrentha.org
Charity: 826 Valencia
Founded by Bay Area writer Dave Eggers, who also did the cover art for Vheissu, 826 Valencia helps students in San Francisco with their writing skills. “It made sense that we were working together with [Eggers] on the artwork, and he had a cool charity, so we decided to support it,” says Teranishi.
More info: 826valencia.com
Charity: Invisible Children
Thrice also did a number of benefit shows supporting Vheissu to raise funds for the documentary film Invisible Children, a behind-the-scenes look at the exploitation of Ugandan children. “We were out on tour and Tim from Underoath knew the filmmakers,” explains Riley. “He passed along the DVD to us, and I just remember watching it on the bus and being blown away. It was so moving.”
More info: invisiblechildren.com
Album: The Alchemy Index, Vol. 1 and 2
Charity: Blood: Water Mission
Founded by Christian band Jars of Clay, this organizations helps African villages with clean water and AIDS relief. “It’s about making sustainable progress in those communities,” explains Kensrue, “and not go in and be all Western, like, ‘Here’s this big, new thing,’ but about empowering communities to take ownership of the wells they are building and things like that. It’s actually creating a better environment for the communities’ future.” The band is currently deciding on a charity for the second part of The Alchemy Index, out this Spring.
More info: bloodwatermission.com