Fire. Air. Water. Earth. These four classical elements were identified by the Greek philosopher Plato, who believed them to be the basic building blocks of life. Now over 2,000 years later, they are the subjects of an ambitious four-disc undertaking from Thrice.
At first glance, making a rock record centered on the elements doesn’t seem like a very natural or obvious venture.
“Originally it was Dustin, our singer’s, idea,” guitarist Teppei Teranishi explains. “He kind of came up with it randomly, and when he brought it up to us, we thought it’d make a good record.”
After expanding their sonic palette on 2005’s Vheissu, which branched out from their punk and metal influences, this step into the unknown required something of a leap of faith.
“At first we were a little apprehensive and weren’t sure if we could pull it off,” Teranishi confesses. “If we did [do] it, we wanted to do it right.”
The band, which also features Biola alumnus Dustin Kensrue on vocals/guitar, as well as brothers Eddie and Riley Breckenridge on bass and drums, initially sat down to talk about what each element would sound like, formulating a basic outline for the project.
Teranishi describes the process as locating “the kind of instruments and sounds which felt earthy to us, or airy or watery or whatever [until] we started to come up with ideas which felt like… okay, this could work for Water or this idea could work for Fire.”
The band, which hails from nearby Irvine, opted to stay at home and produce the album themselves, which freed them up to work at a pace of their own choosing.
“We ended up doing everything that had to do with this record ourselves. Even the artwork, Dustin did,” Teranishi says. “It was challenging, but it was a good experience.”
However, the process wasn’t without a bit of strife. While in the midst of the recording sessions, they parted ways with Island Records — who had released their last two studio albums — citing “different visions for the band’s future.”
The label was generous enough to let them keep their current recordings, and the band would go on to finish the record. Soon after, they signed with Santa Monica based Vagrant Records, a return to their independent roots.
With their epic endeavor now complete, the band chose to spread it out over two distinct phases.
“We felt like the best way to let people grasp the whole breadth of the project was to split it up into two pieces,” Teranishi explains. “It’s 24 songs to give people all at once, and especially with something that’s pretty heavily conceptualized like this record, we thought it would be a little too much.”
Fans finally received their first taste last month, when The Alchemy Index: Vols. 1 & 2 – Fire & Water hit stores. Teranishi describes Fire as “all heavy and guitar based” with traces of their older material, but it was the Water half which proved to be a big divergence.
Immersed in a collage of electronics, Water “uses a lot of reverb and subtle modulation to make it seem more underwater. A little more muted tone [with] electronic drums,” Teranishi says.
The second half of The Alchemy Index, which is set for a spring release, further ventures into unexplored territory. For Earth, this meant adopting a stripped down approach, complete with an array of instruments such as acoustic piano, upright bass, acoustic guitar and even horns.
On the accompanying side, Air brings the concept full circle. Teranishi reveals it to encompass a stripped down quality, as well as electronics and traditional band aspects, and “everything just ties together with all the songs on there.”
Aside from their musical pursuits, the band is also active in a number of charities and nonprofit organizations, including Invisible Children and To Write Love On Her Arms.
“It’s just something we want to do, and I think it’s a personal decision,” Teranishi says, describing the band’s involvements. “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.”
Along with their charitable work, Thrice donates a portion from each one of their records to a different cause. Blood: Water Mission, an organization which seeks to promote clean water efforts in Africa, was picked for Fire & Water.
“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,” Teranishi explains. “It’s something that’s very important for health and survival, and we thought it was a pretty cool cause [to be a part of].”
After creating the most expansive effort of their career, what does the future hold for Thrice?
“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,” Teranishi admits. “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.”
If The Alchemy Index is any indication, it most certainly is.
Originally appeared in The Chimes