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If we could, we'd stay right where we are now and live it forever," Thursday singer Geoff Rickly enthuses over the phone from Billings, Montana. With Thursday's 2001 breakthrough album, Full Collapse,still moving 5000 copies a week (with more than 130,000 sold at press time) and a current headlining slot on the Vans Warped Tour, Rickly's Peter Pan ambitions are understandable. Thursday's dark, melodic hardcore has broken out of the underground and onto MTV a mere four years after its humble beginnings in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Back in early 1998, rock stardom was the last thing on Rickly's mind. An English major at Rutgers University, Rickly was preparing for a career in the classroom and writing deconstructive poetry for esteemed literary journals when he began booking hardcore shows in his basement. Rickly and his housemates would charge a few bucks to see touring bands like Hot Water Music and Kid Dynamite play matinees. Despite attracting huge crowds, Rickly managed to promote 300 shows in three years before the cops shut him down. "We'd pull all the cars up close to the house to block the sound," he reminisces. "From the street, it sounded like a loud stereo."
While promoting for one of his basement gigs, Rickly met Tom Keeley, guitarist for another fledgling hardcore combo lacking a singer. Within weeks, Rickly hopped aboard, and Thursday was born. With Rickly's extensive scene contacts at its disposal, Thursday never lacked for shows or a local following. In January 1999, while still perfecting its instrumental acumen, Thursday released the nine-song calling card Waiting. Following its recording, the members of Thursday made a discovery that still serves them well. "When we started the band, we wanted to be straight-up hardcore," Rickly states. "After we recorded Waiting, we went back and listened to it and heard elements of other stuff we were into. We talked and discovered that we all liked darker '80s bands like the Cure and decided to consciously incorporate that into our music."
As 1999 slid into 2000, Thursday spent more time on the road than in class -- resulting in Rickly and Keeley's dropping out of Rutgers, along with drummer Tucker Rule and bassist Tim Payne. Filmmaker Steve Pedulla (George Washington) came aboard on second guitar and filled out Thursday's sound with prodigious chops and classic-rock influences. After attracting the attention of various indie labels, Thursday signed with Chicago-based hardcore giant Victory Records and constructed the daring Full Collapse.
Alternately arty and muscular, Full Collapsewas the perfect record for a hardcore scene ready to embrace its emo brethren. Although Full Collapse is devoid of emo's signature octave-scaling runs and forlorn love ballads, Pedulla and Keeley's uncanny knack of weaving Johnny Marr-esque minor-key picking around a tapestry of passionate power chords is enough to reduce the hardest skinhead to pumping one fist in the air -- and wiping tears away with the other. Rickly's intensely personal lyrics fit his Morrissey-meets-Robert Smith vocals perfectly. The lead track, "Understanding in a Car Crash," recounts a grisly wreck that killed one of his childhood friends and left another hospitalized -- minutes after they dropped him off: "Splintered piece of glass falls in the seat and gets caught / Broken windows, open locks/Reminders of the youth we lost."
Thursday hit the ground running on the Full Collapse tour but soon learned that playing small clubs and basements was met with indifference by Victory head Tony Brummel -- who seemed to pay attention only when the band landed high-profile gigs. When Thursday won a spot on the 2001 Warped Tour, Brummel printed up thousands of promotional neon pink whoopee cushions embossed with Thursday's logo. The band was appalled. "That was a lot of people's first exposure to us," Rickly winces. "Tony said he didn't care; he'd promote us as he saw fit." When the outfit landed a spot on Saves the Day's tour in November 2001, Brummel's tune quickly changed. "We started selling a thousand records a week," Rickly recalls. "Suddenly, we started getting daily e-mails from Tony signed, 'Every day is Thursday.'" Yet Brummel's newfound love for his charges (and their ever-increasing record sales) didn't stop him from further embarrassing the band with a radio edit for "Understanding in a Car Crash" that cut out more than 90 seconds of the song. When Brummel sold 25 percent of Victory to MCA -- thus essentially becoming a major label -- Thursday had seen enough, exercised its contract's "out" clause, and signed with Island/Def Jam.
Understandably, Brummel wasn't happy about losing his best-selling act. Victory put out a press release declaring Thursday's Island/Def Jam contract illegal. "The last time I talked to Tony, he said he'd drag it out as long as possible if we made it hard for him," Rickly complains. Making matters even more complicated: both Island/Def Jam and MCA have the same parent company, Universal Music. "Universal could wind up suing itself with its own money," he says. "It's so stupid."
While Thursday waits for the contractual dust to settle, it has installed a digital studio in the lounge of its tour bus and is hard at work recording new material in between its surprisingly successful Warped dates. "You'd think the kids at a festival would only know the single. But they've been singing the other songs more than they do at our club shows," Rickly affirms. "It's been a great ride so far."