Geoff Rickly Is Comfortable Writing His Own Narrative

Geoff Rickly

Break-ups happen. They’re unapologetic instances in life that become synonymous with words like “hollow” and it’s all because individuals can naturally become incompatible. For some artists, they can be a nightmare as the endless career options turn into stretches to hoard creativity and stay relevant in a period that’s constantly eating itself from the inside out (because it can). But for GEOFF RICKLY, a break-up is really just a catalyst for new beginnings.

Since the conclusion of Thursday in 2011, the post-hardcore visionary has watched screenplays, solo mixtapes, and house show tours turn into valuable paths. Along with re-launching Collect Records and writing for The Talkhouse, Rickly resuscitated his United Nations project and revealed his spot as the frontman for No Devotion, a fusion with the ex-members of Lostprophets that marries Cocteau Twins with Chromatics and The Cure. All in all, he erased a tragic ending by opening every possible window and stashing his “art” in a safe place. To expose that truth, we met with Rickly during his time in Toronto and discussed his current projects, being an audiophile, and why we need art.

Has time affected your ability to be creative?

Definitely for me. When I was younger it was easier to write music for my peers as they were the general music buying population. It was easy but I wasn’t good at it. Now I find it much easier to consistently work through the ups and the downs – always making music whether it’s solo stuff or doing stuff with other bands like with Ink & Dagger or United Nations or the new thing I started with No Devotion. I’ve found my place where I trust myself as an artist and I’m able to keep making stuff. I know when it’s good and when it’s not good, and I don’t really care who likes it.

You’ve mentioned that Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! are one of the only punk rock things you’ve seen in years. What is it about them that makes this statement true?

Well, she didn’t go and hide, turn a new leaf, and go through an ongoing process behind closed doors. I think doing that out in front of people and writing about it – the rage and the discovery – has been heroic and beautiful. To me, living your ideals and your life for everybody to see and to help empower people in a positive way is the highest thing punk could aspire to be. It really is one of the scariest things you can do – to change your identity, go about it fearlessly, and be there as an inspiration for people who are going through changes.

A lot of bands are reuniting – even bands that recently split have been rumoured to be recording new music and doing anniversary tours despite the fact their conclusions meant a lot to their fans. Is the whole punk/hardcore genre losing its edge and credibility?

Oh yeah, totally. I mean I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with it but I do think the idea of punk and hardcore being this dangerous, threatening, vital thing is slipping. I like going to see bands that I haven’t seen in years. It’s fun, but sometimes it replaces my old memory of seeing them at like a VFW Hall when they had just put out their best record and people felt like it really meant something to them for the first time and everything was changing. As good as nostalgia is, you’re replacing the perfect thing that happened at the time with a nostalgic trip, which is inherently less exciting. But you know, I’m not above it. Like if Thursday were all on speaking terms it’s something I’d be open to… it’s just not going to happen anytime soon.

You’ve mentioned your disappointment in punk culture as you’ve recently referred to it as just an “anti-culture”. What steps should others take to fix these broken values?

I think there’s still a lot of positive things out there, it just isn’t what we think of as punk rock. Anytime you’re making art for people who need it and anytime you’re making something worthwhile that’s proactive and speaks to a community that needs it or anytime you’re creating a safe space for people to talk about ideas – all of that is still really important. Art as a whole is an imaginary place where we can store all of our dreams and they can be safe from the real world where things do get shattered and destroyed and everything is for sale.

Everything that’s for sale ends up getting knocked down and turned into condos so if you can take your dreams and find a safe place to put them, then art is always worthwhile. You just need to find people who genuinely care about these things and you have to nurture those people to make more. It’s super pretentious to call any of this art but at the same time, that’s exactly what it is. Without it, the human experience isn’t worth much.

The vinyl for The Next Four Years features a few cool things like revolutions at varying speeds that result in different sounds. Are you partial to vinyl over digital?

Yeah, you can play it at 33 or 45. At 45, it’s kind of like all blast beats and it’s super fast, and at 33 it’s a super heavy doom track. We recorded vocals that you can hear at one speed and not the other so the two speeds have different meanings and it’s sort of about the way we experience change in the real world – whether it’s local change or personal change. On the iTunes version there’s also a bonus song called “Revolutions In Real Time” and that’s where it’s slowed down to the point that you can’t even hear a beat. It’s a 20-minute piece of music that’s just like a drone because we had this idea that change doesn’t happen nearly as fast as it needs to.

Have you heard about Jack White’s recent vinyl project?

Oh yeah, we sure have (laughs).

Do you think digging into the science behind vinyl is the next step for the format?

I think it’s a lot of fun to do and we definitely sent our record to his press to get it pressed… and then he did his thing right after we did that. That really bummed us out because nobody had done it. Like we sent it in and all of a sudden he had a record that had those features and he’s much more high profile than we are so it was… yeah… a bummer. I mean, it’s cool that he got a lot more people exposed to it.

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The box set you guys put together is quite intricate as I understand it was hand-assembled and numbered by the band. How tedious is it to take the DIY approach?

So tedious. That’s why we decided we’d never make them again once the thousand were sold. And they sold out the first week so… yeah. We saved a hundred for this tour but that’s it.

I think that’s the big difference between what you guys did and what Jack White did. I love Jack White too but you guys fucking put them together by hand.

And the thing is when we started talking about making this record, it was recorded to be this box set. The idea was this band documented everything they went through, like from their demo tape all the way to the last phase of the group. It was very dependent on writing each release separately. It’s never been one record, it’s just all of these different releases. Like if you get the box set, that’s the record we wrote. The rest of it is just a compilation because the only way you can really hear the record is through the box set… if that makes sense.

Having been more hands on with United Nations, do you plan to do the same with No Devotion so you’re not constricted by outside influences or what’s considered traditional?

Well, with No Devotion it’s just such a different animal. It’s kind of like a cold, new wave-y pop band that’s on my label so we’re trying to keep things a little bit more simple. The first thing we did was just a 12-inch single of two songs so we’re kind of looking back on the way things used to be. Like simply introducing new material and having it just sound beautiful and perfect. Like when I put it on a turntable at home it’s just, “Oh my God, that sounds fucking amazing. I don’t think I have another record right now that sounds this good!”. That’s what I’m trying to go for with that band. As an audiophile, I want it to be like ear candy and I want it to look shiny and perfect. It’s less intricate and just very simple. It’s like love songs written in this dark, sort of moody ambient pop form.

So they’re basically complete opposites.

Totally different. I wanted these two bands to be as far apart as they could be whereas Thursday mixed a lot of things and were heavy and ambient and had narrative constructs in the lyrics as well as personal stuff. It was just layer, layer, layer, layer, and I wanted to split those things up.

Your list of accomplishments is pretty huge as it keeps growing, but what other personal goals are you looking to achieve within music or otherwise?

I want to do some art pieces and some larger scale installations and things like that. We’ve been talking about trying to play Art Basel this year and my lady is a director as she has a television show and she’s a documentarian so we’ve been talking about making stuff together. I’ve already produced and written for her shows and written music for her shows but we want to do something a little more full-scale at some point. I’ve done a lot of script supervision stuff and written dialogue for T.V. shows in the past so it’d be fun to work on something with her.

How are those things compared to writing an album?  

It’s so different. I mean with writing an album, I have free reign to do whatever I want and with script supervision and dialogue. They’re like somebody else’s idea and there are a thousand rules you have to stick to so you have to try to work within those limitations to create a balance of all these different things. You have to advance the plot and you have to work on character development, and with writing you have to work with a team.

You usually have to take all these note cards and colour code this character and then you do pluses and minuses. So like, “Does this character have positive motion in this scene or negative? Does the plot go forward or do we have to introduce a new obstacle?”. You then have to start shuffling the scenes because this and that doesn’t work, and you might have too many pluses in a row or too many minuses. Somebody might start to hate the character or then one character becomes the bad guy – you have to constantly reshuffle things. It’s just such a different thing.

That sounds hellish.

It’s fun (laughs). It’s really fun for me because it doesn’t rest on my shoulders. Like I was working on a television pilot for a music related thing and they were record shopping in one scene so I got to used all this super deep record knowledge. I wrote this one funny scene about how kids in the late ’60s thought The Beatles were depraved – like, “those guys are crazy”. That was really fun to do.

Imagine if they saw your version of their album cover.

Wait until you see the shirt we have here on tour. There’s only a few but it’s Paul flipping somebody off.

Speaking of flipping people off – what does “fuck the status quo” mean to you?

I think there’s a certain amount of things you can do to play into the structure that’s the accepted narrative for your life. Even if you can make a comfortable living doing that, it’s the least exciting way any of us can live our lives. If you accept the status quo, you’re accepting the fact there are winners and losers, and that’s just a bullshit way to live.

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