Dustin Kensrue is still probably best known as the singer/guitarist of post hardcore heroes Thrice. But he’s been a busy man in the years that his well known band had been on hiatus. In 2007, he released his first solo record entitled ‘Please Come Home’. The next year he released a Christmas album. Then in 2013, he released a Christian worship album called ‘The Water & The Blood’. This past April, he released ‘Carry the Fire’, his second proper solo release. The record is filled with his typical versatility and the deep, emotional performances that have made him fans and gained him critical appeal since ‘Please Come Home’ was released. We spoke to him recently about the record, its themes and, briefly, Thrice.
This was a few months ago, but you had a pretty crazy experience at SXSW this year.
Dustin: Yeah it was crazy. Crazier than I expected.
How many shows did you do again?
Dustin: I did three shows in one day. I also got food poisoning the night before, so that made it that much more interesting. But it was good. It’s a great festival.
Do you find the live response pretty warm in regards to your live stuff?
Dustin: Yeah, it’s always been a really good vibe. There’s always a lot of crossover with Thrice fans, but not any kind of confusion. Actually, I like playing solo sometimes just because I feel like the interaction in the room is a little more relaxed. I mean the music is more stripped down than with Thrice, but there just isn’t a lot between you and the people watching.
Is it a very different dynamic when you have a full backing band behind you, than when you’re just by yourself?
Dustin: I’ve only done three shows with a backing band, back when I released ‘Please Come Home’ and even then it was only a drummer and a bass player. I have no idea. I’m really excited to play the songs live the way they are on the record with a band called The Rocket Boys, who have been backing me up on some of the recent tour dates.
Your first record ‘Please Come Home’ came out about eight years ago. Since then you’ve released a Christmas album and a worship album and a few EP’s and whatnot. But I see ‘Carry the Fire’ as a true sequel to ‘Please Come Home’. Do you view it that way?
Dustin: Yeah. I definitely do. It’s a record that sounds much different than it would’ve if I put it out four years ago, but it’s definitely the follow up to ‘Please Come Home’.
Was there anything specific that you were listening to that was influencing the sound of this record?
Dustin: The only thing that really comes to mind is the new War On Drugs record. I was just digging the tempo and the way the songs were laid out. Especially on ‘In the Darkness’ and ‘Juggernaut’. There was other stuff I’m sure, but that’s the only one that I can think of that was a conscious influence.
Dustin: The way I do things is I just record little bits of ideas here and there and the ones that start sticking, I build on. Most of the ideas have accumulated over the past few years. But I usually only finish things when I have a deadline. Really the only thing that was completed from before was ‘Of Crows and Crowns’ which I’ve been playing for a couple of years. But even that I rearranged for the record.
Do you have a studio at home?
Dustin: Yeah I recorded it all at home. I had done a Christmas record on my own, which was recorded in the back of a bus and in hotel rooms, but it was a lot less evolved. So this was a learning experience. But I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
One thing that strikes me when I listen to ‘Carry the Fire’ is that it deals with some darker themes and material than your previous albums. Most of the songs have a hopeful refrain, but the emotion is pretty intense at times. Did you find that was a theme that kept surfacing as you were writing?
Dustin: Yeah, I was definitely dealing with some heavier stuff on a lot of it. I don’t know if I can pinpoint exactly why those are the themes I wanted to write about. But I was definitely exploring the idea of the darkness within and darkness without, how we deal with that and process it. Do we even acknowledge it. And a lot of times I don’t even notice these themes until after the record is complete. But in this case, I feel like I had a pretty good clue of that early on for whatever reason.
Did the whole Mars Hill fiasco have anything to do with that?
Dustin: I think, emotionally, I’m more processing that stuff now, than I was when I was writing and recording this. I’m a pretty analytical person. Not that I don’t have emotions, but I think I process them differently than some people. I’m a little slower at processing stuff. So I don’t think that had a big hand in this record.
The record is very versatile. Is the writing process when you’re writing your own stuff different than when you’re writing for Thrice or other projects you’ve been involved in?
Dustin: Yeah it’s different than with Thrice. In Thrice, historically, it’s very much a team thing. Different people bring different elements. So with Thrice, there’s a lot of building. But with this solo stuff, it’s very much foundational.
Is there anything in the pipeline for Thrice at the moment?
Dustin: This year we’re just focusing on playing a few festivals. There’s not many plans beyond that.