Thursday is one of the biggest bands in the game. Since 1998 the guys from New Jersey have been steadily working to claim their spot at the top. February 2009 is a huge month for the band as they will unleash their new album, ‘Common Existence’, off their new label Epitaph Records. The album comes out on February 17th and they head out on the Rockstar Taste of Chaos Tour on February 14th. Amongst all the madness, Tom Keeley, was cool enough to give us some time.
Stoli: Your band has been playing together for over a decade. When you first started did you think that Thursday had that longevity?
Tom Keeley: Truthfully we never thought about anything like longevity. The only goal in the beginning was to try and write some songs for fun and try and play some basement shows in our hometown. A lot of our friends had bands, and we all grew up going to shows with the understanding that anyone could be in a band regardless of skill level, as long as you really loved music…we all certainly loved it enough..I guess it just became a matter of stumbling through learning long enough to actually figure out how to write a song front to back.
Stoli: When you head back to New Jersey to visit do your old friends look at you differently and do you still have stuff in common?
Tom Keeley: If they look at us differently, they hide it really well. We have been so lucky to have such a strong and loyal family of friends from back home. They’ll not hesitate to knock you down (in a loving way), if you deserve it or not. It’s hard to be to affected, or egotistical around the people we consider our friends. I’m sure it’s possible, but I don’t really care if someone has a bad opinion of me or my guys as a result of some success we’ve had. Truth is we’ve tried to run this band as transparently as possible, with humility and empathy. We value long lasting connections and an honest exchange of ideas and creativity over stardom, money, fame etc.
Stoli: Why did you decide to name your band, Thursday?
Tom Keeley: A lot of the bands at the time seemed to have these names that sounded so damn self important…a lot of bands started with the word “THE” as if they were the place to be…the band to know…or as if they statement they were making was THE statement you needed to know about. For us the idea of anonymity was really attractive, especially in a band name. Your band name is so much a part of a bands identity it’s easy to get swept up in the sense of self importance. For us it made more sense to go after something that undid that process a bit. Thursday is such a commonplace word/idea that speaks nothing about meaning or sound when you first see it. Which I think helps create a really potent sense of surprise and immediacy when a listener hears the first song, whichever song. It’s hard to bring preconceived notions or expectations to that intersection if all you know about our band is the name “Thursday”.
Stoli: You have the album coming out in February and then the Rockstar Taste of Chaos tour. How do you get mentally & physically prepared for that?
Tom Keeley: Brainstorm, plan, practice practice practice, and then trial by fire. These new songs are vastly different from a lot of our other songs from a technical standpoint, so there is a lot of homework to be done And we now have over 5 albums of songs to distill into 1 hour of live music. So we are certainly brainstorming and visualizing these songs in the context of our older work. Trying to sculpt a set of songs that ebb and flow, but ultimately are made up of a series of big events. It’s never been about making a playlist of hits or the most popular songs, but about filling a space, telling a story, creating an explosive moment in which we can lose ourselves and hopefully connect with everyone in the room. Act both as a spiritual catalyst and glue…create something that shocks everyone into being in that moment and show that there are many things in life that connect us all, it just happens to be music in this case. Hopefully we will have ironed out all the technical stuff before day one of tour so that we can maneuver all of that unhindered by the actual process. We do have to steer it all, but the goal is to do it in a way that allows for a sense of being swept up all of it. To feel like you’re just there witnessing and becoming part of something greater and more powerful than yourself.
Stoli: I remember when you were signed to Island. How did that break up go and why did you choose to sign with Epitaph?
Tom Keeley: Honestly, as far as label breakups go, it couldn’t have been better. The label was sort of driving along with no air in the tires. They no longer understood us as a band, they had a different agenda than we did. 2 months after releasing A City By The Light Divided they pulled the plug all while smiling and saying how important we were to the future of the label. We had intended on touring for close to 2 years on that record, but with no team behind the scenes promoting it, it became a very difficult process. We still toured for over a year on that record, at the end of which we simply asked out of the deal. Island tried to convince us to stay, and for a moment we were worried that we might have been about to start experiencing the “nightmare major label story” we had heard so much about. But ultimately they agreed to let us go…..so. that was that. go figure.
Epitaph has always been on our radar as an important label. They’ve proven for over a decade that they understand and support challenging music that is left of the center/mainstream. We didn’t have a label for about a year and certainly considered all the options…starting our own label, giving the music away for free, but I always had this sense that if we signed with Epitaph it would just ‘make sense’. Ultimately we didn’t want to be bogged down with trying to run a label and risk spreading ourselves too thin. And the Radiohead model of giving away music works for them because they’ve spent a good deal of time as “The Biggest Band in the World”, which affords them some maneuverability. We’ve had some great success, but at the end of the day, we work better with a creative team around us. Epitaph has just proven so far to be the right fit.
Stoli: How long would you say it took to write & record the new album?
Tom Keeley: Writing took about a 14 months, and recording cumulatively took 6 weeks, spread over 3 months. Recording was done in 2 week stints up in Fredonia NY, in the dead of winter, literally in a cabin in the woods. So spending more than 14 days up there gave you a sense that the world had ended and somehow we were the only survivors….very isolated.
Stoli: With six guys in the band, how do you keep the peace and everybody on the same level?
Tom Keeley: Lots of drinking, pills, and hard drugs. No, the truth is you kind of have to give up on trying to keep the peace. I realized that the more I tried to keep the peace the worse things got. It ultimately becomes a process of accepting that were 6 very different, opinionated, people and that it’s ok to disagree and compromise. No one person is ever going to get his way exactly as he would like. So it’s a constant push and pull, the occasional explosion, but ultimately getting to make music everyday is so rewarding that the positives always outweigh the negatives. No matter how pissed I may be at one of the other guys, the band wouldn’t work as well without them….sometimes I wonder if that tension actually serves the band…..I think it’s a balance.
Stoli: What does the inauguration of Obama on 1/20 mean to you if anything at all?
Tom Keeley: I don’t presume to be so studied in politics to full grasp the true meaning of this change though I will say that, if nothing else, hoping for something vastly different than what we’ve had for the last 8 years is a good start. I hope that Obama actually does deliver on what he’s been promising, and that he can do better. That remains to be seen. I will say specifically that having a dialogue with those who completely disagree with our belief systems is important. I’d rather have a discussion about fixing a situation before hitting a giant red button than just lunging for the damn button. The idea that sitting down with a nation like Iran validates their political agendas seems strange to me. They don’t need our validation to carry out whatever they want to carry out. They’re already valid…they’re in power…The best we can do is engage them, fully grasp the dialogue, and hopefully help avoid a situation where people are suffering and dying.
Stoli: When you are out on the road are you most likely to be partying all night or do you like to take it easy?
Tom Keeley: Both. Seems that day 1 of tour is always the ‘over do it’ night. We’re out there to play live music, and hopefully play it well..if you’re constantly hung over or paying for something that happened the night before its harder to make sure you’re doing your job….so, again we try and strike a balance between being responsible and letting loose. That being said, it does get way out of hand…often.
Stoli: What would you say is the coolest thing about being in a huge band like Thursday?
Tom Keeley: I would say, the coolest thing is that people see us as a huge band..hahah..No that’s the strangest part. The best part is being able to focus fully on making art, every day. Before the band I was trying to figure out how to become a graphic artist…I knew some form of art was going to be the focus of my adult life. Music took over in that process and filled that role. No matter how much or little money I have, I can always sit down and write music, and the fact that we’ve managed to make it a modest living is great…we’re very very lucky.
Stoli: If you could suggest one song from the album for me to download what track would that be & why?
Tom Keeley: Hmmm. I’d say Resuscitation of a Dead Man. It’s the album opener. I would rather a person hear that song first as its intended to hopefully spark a desire to explore the rest of the record. We spend a lot of time laying out our albums to flow in a very specific way. If you were to start with “love has led us astray” it might lead you to believe that it is a very different kind of record.
“Resuscitation of a Dead Man” MP3:
Stoli: If you could offer bands that are coming up one piece of advice for the music biz what would that be?
Tom Keeley: Don’t be afraid to take your time, and watch your ass. haha. Seriously though, no matter how gifted a group of musicians you might be, you need to afford yourselves time to suck under the radar. And by suck I mean develop your voice as a collective entity. So many young bands get swept up by big labels and thrown into the studio before the band’s art has developed at all…it’s hard to be so self aware so early on…being faced with ideas of public image and identity before you even know what you want to say, or how to say it powerfully makes for boring one dimensional music. So go slow. The more powerful and well crafted your art is, the better your chances are of effecting people on a deep level.
Stoli: What makes you excited about 2009 & inspired to create awesome music?
Tom Keeley: I’m waiting for the next sea change in music. Right now we have this generation’s version of Nu-Metal. A big lumbering dinosaur ready to be put out of its misery. It’s been a few years since our underground became the mainstream, and the music (in my opinion) has suffered. There have been some great bands making challenging statements, and some decent new pop music…but it’s time for something new again. I can’t wait for some smart pissed off kid to start a band that finally starts the whole cycle over again….I haven’t heard that band yet, but I’m hopeful.