While Thrice caused a buzz by announcing a reunion show at Skate and Surf Festival, the band’s front man, Dustin Kensrue, had released his fourth studio album on April 21 titled Carry the Fire. Moving away from his 2007’s acoustic-based album Please Come Home, Kensrue has managed to compose this solo album with various tones and characteristics. While this album does carry stories of suffering, there are breaks in the darkness with tender songs of love and light. “Carry the Fire” is a term that has been used in literature to describe hope for humanity. We spoke briefly with Kensrue about his translation of this term, as well as the metamorphosis of tone that Carry the Fire transgresses with each song.
Cliché: “Carry the fire” to me is such an interesting phrase. In Greek mythology, the titan Prometheus gave fire to humans to survive. In Cormac McCarthy’s novels, humanity struggles to uphold this flame within themselves. What is it about this theme that became your muse for Carry the Fire?
Dustin Kensrue: The father and son in The Road find themselves in circumstances which bring certain moral considerations to a very fine point. They are no longer abstractions or luxuries. They are either clung to tooth and nail or abandoned as too heavy to bear on the arduous journey. While a post-apocalyptic landscape works wonderfully to bring ethical and teleological questions into sharp relief, the questions themselves are the same ones that we all wrestle through or choose to ignore every day. McCarthy’s metaphor serves as an apt distillation of the questions that I have always been drawn to in my own writing.
Your vocals change drastically during the course of this album. Why play with different styles? Did you feel that you were coming to a stagnant position in terms of tone?
No. It would seem to me that that would be about the last thing anyone would say about my career as a musician since Thrice has always been changing and evolving and no other project I’ve worked on has sounded very similar to another. In terms of why things sound the way they do, I think it helps to see everything as connected. If the vocal style varies, it is to compliment the sound of the music in some way, and the variation of musical sounds change to compliment the composition, which itself is also influencing and being influenced by the lyrical content. I think the melody is usually the most base or core element in my songwriting and has the most influence on every other part, though I spend the most time on lyrics. Melodies are things I pluck out of the air when they fly by and I recognize something special in them. I forage for them, collect them. But writing lyrics, for me, feels much more analogous to a cross between the work of a fine craftsman and a codebreaker.
Did you feel that recording in your home helped you pull out the lyrics and various tones that weren’t able to come to the surface before?
I don’t think the space was especially helpful, at least in this case. We had just moved back to California from Seattle and were crashing at my mom’s place while figuring out where we wanted to settle exactly. I recorded in my dad’s old office, which had a very makeshift setup with no character at all and construction outside the window on two neighboring houses literally every day. So, I think I had to write and record in spite of an environment that was un-conducive to focus or creativity. It felt like recording in exile rather more than at home.
Being a traveling musician is hard on both the artist and their family. Were the songs “Ruby,” “Juggernaut,” and “Of Crows and Crowns” written as a thank you to your wife for her support of your career?
I wouldn’t view it as having an intended purpose as a token of thanks, though I am most assuredly thankful for my wife. The songs simply are what came out when writing. For instance, I’ve had the melody and music for “Ruby” for a few years and only right before recording it did I finally figure out what is was supposed to be about. “Crows” would be an exception, as I did write that specifically for her and finished it for her birthday a few years ago.
You were recently on Emery’s podcast Bad Christian. There has been some controversy revolving around the band’s decision to create this podcast. After being a guest, do you personally view any just cause for calling this podcast “controversial’?
I’m not sure why specifically it has been called controversial, but I can imagine why both Christians and non-Christians would be bothered by it, and these are probably the same reasons that both groups are served best by it.
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Dustin Kensrue Interview “Passionate Flame” originally appeared in Cliché Magazine’s June/July 2015 issue.
Photos courtesy of Heather Glock