Guitarist Teppei Teranishi discusses what it was like making the four-part concept record The Alchemy Index, the difficulties in getting each element to sound unique, and the band’s charity work.
You guys just released the first half of your album a couple weeks ago, The Alchemy Index, and each disc is centered around one of the four natural elements. How did you guys arrive at that pretty abstract concept?
I guess originally it was Dustin, our singer’s, idea. He kind of came up with it just randomly, and when he brought it up to us a while ago, we just kind of thought it’d make a good record. At first, we were a little apprehensive. We just weren’t sure if we could pull it off, just trying to figure out ways to do it. If we did it, we wanted to do it right. So we just kind of talked about it for a while.
At first, we actually decided to do it as almost like a Thrice side project. It still would have been a Thrice release. It wasn’t going to be like a traditional record, it was going to be a little more indie. Kind of experimental stuff, less song based. And the more we wrote for it, the more we started to realize we were actually making some pretty cool stuff. I guess along the way we decided to make the record what it is.
How did you go about creating each disc’s unique sound, and was it hard to get the different styles to feel right?
Yeah, definitely. I guess we sat down first and discussed what we thought each element sounded like to us, and plotted out a basic outline. For Earth, mostly acoustic instruments, the kind of instruments and sounds which felt earthy to us, or airy or watery or whatever. Then we started to come up with ideas which felt, like, OK this idea feels like it could work for Water, or this idea could work for Fire.
Then in the recording, we tried to record every element pretty different. With the Water stuff, we used a lot of reverb and subtle modulation to make it seem a little more underwater. A little more muted tone, electronic drums, stuff like that. Fire obviously is all pretty heavy and guitar based.
Like I was saying with Earth and Air, which are coming out next year, Earth is all stripped. I guess just getting a lot of acoustic instruments, like acoustic piano, upright bass, acoustic guitar, even horn. Air is kind of the most in the middle of all the elements. I think there’s some stuff on there a little stripped. There’s stuff on there that’s electronic. There’s stuff on there that’s traditional band, like guitar, bass, drums. I guess everything all just ties together with all the songs on there.
Just kind of a combination of all of them.
Yeah, that makes sense [laughs].
You guys decided to produce this yourselves and were essentially just working at your own pace. How did this come about to affect the creative process?
I thought it was really cool. We pretty much ended up doing everything that had to do with this record ourselves, even the artwork Dustin did. I think it just gives you kind of the ultimate creative control. You know what I mean? We were in control of everything about this record, and it was fun. It was nice. It was challenging, but it was a good experience.
You were the main producer, right?
Yeah, I engineered the record and was in charge of basically recording it.
Did you find it difficult to handle both that producing aspect and the writing stuff?
Yeah, definitely. It’s hard because you have to have your head in two different places at the same time. While I’m worrying about writing stuff and doing songs, I’m also worried about how to record it, get it on tape and get it to sound good. It’s definitely challenging, but it’s also fun. I really enjoy recording, and it’s something I want to keep doing. So I definitely enjoyed it.
You produced Please Come Home, Dustin’s solo record, too, right?
So this is something you can see yourself getting more into in the future?
Yeah, definitely. I like it a lot. It’s fun.
The Alchemy Index was originally the title for your guys’ website while you were writing the album. Was it always the plan for it to be the final title?
Yeah, pretty much. I think by the time we ended up making that journal page, we were pretty sure that was going to be the title. But it wasn’t 100% set in stone.
The whole project is split up over two releases. Was this your decision or the label’s?
It was our decision. I guess ironically we felt like the best way to let people grasp the whole breadth of the project was to split it up into two pieces. It’s 24 songs to give people all at once, especially something that’s pretty heavily conceptualized like this record, and we thought it would be a little too much. We wanted people to take their time with each record and really grasp each one, and we thought the best way to do that was to split it up in two releases.
One of the things I most admire about your band is how you support a number of charities and different causes. You donate a portion of the proceeds from each record to a different organization, and the one for Fire & Water is Blood: Water Mission. What are they all about and what made you pick them?
They’re an organization that raises money to go to Africa to go build wells in communities. Clean water is something that I think we all take for granted, especially being in a rich nation, but children and a lot of people in this world don’t have it. It’s something that’s very important for health and survival, and we thought it was a pretty cool cause.
We like the way they do things. They go into communities and instead of just erecting a big building and kind of westernizing the society, they try to integrate themselves into the community. They help do sustainable wells that will be dug by the people and run by the people. They also collect clean blood for blood transfusions and whatnot.
Having been blessed with your musical success and the fan base and influence that comes along with that, do you feel somewhat responsible to get involved with things like this?
I don’t think it has to do with being in a band or anything like that. It’s just something that I think we’d be doing even if we weren’t in a band, or in some other type of public place. It’s just something we want to do, and I think it’s a personal decision. I think the reason why we even mention more or less isn’t to tell people, “Hey, look what we’re doing.” It’s more or less to just bring awareness to the causes we think are worth supporting.
How’s the new tour going? Is the new stuff getting a good reaction?
Yeah, it’s been awesome. It’s been a lot of fun, and the shows have been cool. All the bands on the tour are super rad, and all the people on the tour are super rad. So we’re having a really good time.
After the tour’s finished, what’s next? Are you going to be doing a headlining tour any time soon?
We’re trying to figure that out. I think the rough plan is to release the next record sometime in the spring, and then do a headlining tour after we release the record.
The whole Radiohead thing from last month got a lot of people talking about the future of the music industry and the role of major labels. Now that you’re back on an indie, where do you think music is heading, and how do you see Thrice fitting into that spectrum?
I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. When we signed to Vagrant we actually signed for only the two Alchemy Index releases, and then we’re free agents after that. So it’s literally up in the air for us. We’re not really sure what we’re going to do. We’ll see. I guess the music industry is at an interesting point right now.
Can you see the band releasing something yourselves without a label?
Yeah, I think that’s definitely something that at least we’re considering in the future.