Thursday ends a 13-year break from new music with a pointed song

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Thursday ends a 13-year break from new music with a pointed song
From left: Tucker Rule, Stuart Richardson, Steve Pedulla, Geoff Rickly and Norman Brannon of the band Thursday, at SST Studios in Weehawken, N.J., April 1, 2024. “Application for Release From the Dream,” which the band just released, marks the beginning of a fresh era for a group that helped bring emo to the mainstream. (Krista Schlueter/The New York Times)

by Ian Cohen

NEW YORK, NY.- Thursday, the band once described as the “great screamo hope” for helping break the shouty punk subgenre into the mainstream with its 2001 album “Full Collapse,” returned with its first new song in 13 years Friday, “Application for Release From the Dream.” The title alone underscores just how drastically things have changed for Thursday and its peers over the past two decades: Emo has evolved from a niche concern to a form of classic rock, and the artists who put it on the map are now in their late 40s, navigating a very different kind of life.

Geoff Rickly, the band’s gregarious, garrulous frontman, spent the past decade as a multitasker in the New York City borough of Brooklyn’s art scenes before documenting his path to sobriety with his 2023 literary debut, “Someone Who Isn’t Me.” In the past, the band’s songwriting process might start with “a Times Square hotel and a bag of coke,” he said, and would likely end with the lifelong friends barely on speaking terms.

“When we write, we fight,” Rickly, 45, explained in a video interview last week. But the band has enjoyed a detente since a 2016 reunion spurred by Atlanta’s Wrecking Ball Festival, a short-lived celebration of hardcore music. “I’ve been getting along so well with my brothers, I don’t want to fight any more.”

Thursday — Rickly, guitarist Steven Pedulla, 49, and drummer Tucker Rule, 45 — got its start in the New Jersey hardcore DIY scene, playing basements and VFW halls, and rose to become one of the leaders of a movement where melodies were often secondary to raw poetics. Though the genre quickly devolved into often-unintentional self-parody, over the past 15 years, emo has been undergoing both a reexamination and a resurgence. A new generation has been drawn into its emotional eruptions while purposefully pushing back on its Warped Tour stereotype of white men writing vengefully about exes — reflecting the post-#MeToo climate by holding even the biggest bands accountable for their past offenses and elevating more diverse viewpoints.

When Thursday posted a goodbye note on its website on Nov. 22, 2011, the band didn’t rule out live performances. “At the height of our thing where things are tense and there’s all this pressure, you go, ‘What would it be like to have a normal life?’” Pedulla explained. “And now all these years later, man, I’m really miserable when I’m not doing the band.”

“Application for Release From the Dream” has been a work in progress over the past year, with Rickly shuttling back and forth between New York and the band’s New Jersey studio. The track builds from moody to explosive, striking a happy medium between Thursday’s strident early work and its final full-length, “No Devolución,” which presaged a pivot of former hardcore artists to shoegaze and dream-pop. But Thursday has no plans to make a true follow-up to “No Devolución,” describing its new model as recording and releasing singles as it writes them.

For the duration of Thursday’s first run, the band seemed magnetized toward volatility and interpersonal conflict. “Now we know how to cry in front of each other,” Rule joked. Its second album, “Full Collapse,” became a surprise hit in 2001 as the genre finally began to make inroads on alt-rock radio. The gangly, gaptoothed Rickly cut a charismatic figure during Thursday’s chaotic live sets, performing with a coiled intensity that earned comparisons to Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain.

Island/Def Jam eventually won a bidding war, buying Thursday out of an indie contract. Ultimately, however, the group’s major label albums underperformed, alienating hardcore fans who shunned radio (and, increasingly, paying for music) and failing to draw in new listeners who saw “emo” as the realm of MTV-friendly bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance, whose debut was produced by Rickly.

Toward the end of Thursday’s first run, touring had become a chore. Rule recalled pantomiming a clock-punching motion before taking the stage, laying bare the worst possible scenario for the band since its members dropped out of Rutgers University as teenagers: Thursday had curdled into a deadening day job that most people would still dream of occupying, leaving them feeling “both underpaid and greedy,” Rickly said.

After the band’s split, Rule kept busy as a session drummer, including a long stint with the British boy band the Wanted. Pedulla returned to a steady gig doing film work, while Rickly’s curiosity and conviviality resulted in a series of fiascoes. His puckish, conceptual hardcore supergroup United Nations was hit with a cease-and-desist from the actual United Nations. In 2013, Rickly was mugged at gunpoint, an event that plays an integral role in “Someone Who Isn’t Me,” a surrealist, autofictional account of kicking heroin through an experimental treatment with the drug ibogaine. He worked with No Devotion, a band featuring former members of Lostprophets, whose ex-frontman was convicted of child sex abuse, and kept busy at Collect Records, an indie label that dissolved in 2015 after outrage over its benefactor Martin Shkreli.

By the time Thursday reemerged from its hiatus in 2016, it had endured the recession of emo’s third wave and stood on high moral ground. “They went through the major label machine, but always kept their values intact,” Jeremy Bolm of the hardcore band Touché Amoré said.

“Full Collapse” had served as a sonic touchstone not just for the thriving emo revival, but for metal bands like Deafheaven. And for all of his troubles, Rickly — a spirited social media user who forged friendships with writers, musicians, artists, poets and chefs — had managed to ingratiate himself as a fixture in New York’s arts and food scenes.

Dan Ozzi, the author of the 2021 book “Sellout,” which charts how major labels chased punky bands with loyal followings, acknowledged that Rickly’s social skills have played a major role in Thursday’s sustained relevance, but said the band’s songs also simply hold up. “A lot of Thursday’s peers have aged like milk,” he said in an interview. “You go see them at these emo nostalgia festivals and realize you’re watching a 45-year-old dude sing murder fantasies about his high school girlfriend.” Thursday, by contrast, “were always on a higher, more intellectual level.”

But like so many bands of its era with bills to pay and a reputation to uphold, Thursday isn’t above indulging in emo nostalgia. “I used to get really bummed on being like, ‘We’re doing “Full Collapse” tonight,’” Rule admitted.

This wore on Rickly as well, until a conversation with Mikey Way of My Chemical Romance around the time the two bands teamed up for an anniversary tour helped put things into perspective. “We were talking about how much better things are now, not because we’re standing on the stage in an arena,” he said. “This is life after death for the band, there’s nothing to prove,” he added. “Stop worrying about like, ‘Do I even like these old songs?’ Of course you do, they’re great songs.”

Even with the obvious benefits of a traditional album release — more press, more touring opportunities — self-releasing singles makes sense in light of Thursday’s struggles with corporations. It’s also a better fit for a more fluid iteration of Thursday: Original members such as guitarist Tom Keeley and bassist Tim Payne are still intermittently involved, but the band is now a core trio surrounded by friends and collaborators who can come and go at will, including bassist Stuart Richardson, of No Devotion, and guitarist Norman Brannon, formerly of the short-lived emo icons Texas Is the Reason.

“Norman said that being in a band is like being married to five guys, and being in Thursday’s like being in an open marriage with five guys,” Rickly joked.

The band will support the new song with a run of small shows in the Northeast that it sees as part of a spiritual journey to the past when it would release 7-inch records and play basements with no expectations. “We’re doing it because it’s hard,” Rickly said. “We need nobody to blame but ourselves.”

Rickly had many reasons to be wary of a true reboot; his own crippling perfectionism, the expectations of Thursday fans still clinging to their copies of “Full Collapse,” even his own peers. “A lot of our friends and bands that we love have gotten back together and made reunion records that are just the worst,” he said.

But ultimately, he had to weigh his personal misgivings against the one thing the trio could unequivocally agree upon — being in Thursday is difficult, but not being Thursday is worse. “You know, we got into it all over again,” Rickly said and shrugged. “And it was painful. And it turns out it was totally worth it. Thank God.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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