It’s tough to believe that nearly a decade ago, Dustin Kensrue et al. began a Warped Tour-friendly punk band in sunny Orange County. Though their debut and sophomore albums Identity Crisis and Illusion Of Safety were well appraised by both critics and fans, the band was not bringing anything new to the genre. It was not until the release of the band’s fourth LP Vheissu that Thrice’s full potential became apparent; Thrice had grown from a melody-laden thrash quartet, to experimental rock champions. Thrice’s latest album—a four-disc opus that epitomizes Thrice’s genius, creativity, and general disdain for genre pigeonholing—is stalwart proof of the band’s desire to innovate. Mr. Kensure obliged PureGrain’s request for an interview during Thrice’s Saskatoon tour stop to talk about The Alchemy Index, the significance of music, and God.
The Alchemy Index was quite an ambitious project. How do you make the next step? How do you make your next project seem on the same level creatively?
Dustin: I mean, who knows where it could go next. But I think that this project is something that, you know, [is on its own]—it’s a specific concept record, really—but I think it’s opened a lot of doors for us with what we can do musically and where we might possibly want to go. But, I really have no idea what we’ll do next. I’m not worried about it being something to compare. I’m excited about doing something that’s at least not so giant and doesn’t involve as many songs.
Why do you believe in God?
Dustin: Well I’ll say this—I think this is a good clarifying point—I think we tend to believe that reason and faith are divorced from each other, that they’re opposite. Classically, that’s not really the case. Faith, as it was talked of in the past, is something that you have enough evidence to believe firmly in, that you put your trust in. So, by that definition you have faith in that chair because you’re sitting in it. You don’t know that it’ll support your weight; it could be broken; I could have sabotaged it. But knowing what you know about my band, or that it was just sitting there, you think, “He probably wouldn’t do that. Chair’s probably fine.” You have reasons to trust the chair, so you put your faith in the chair. So it’s not blind faith. You have good reason to believe that it should hold you up. So I think proper faith should involve you having to make that choice of trust, based on good reason. So, I don’t understand everything about God; that’s not going to happen. There’s things where I’m like, “I don’t know why this is this, or I don’t know why this is this, or I don’t know how I feel about that,” but in the bigger picture I see a lot of truth there. So basically I had to come to grips with the fact that I wasn’t going to understand everything—I wasn’t going to know everything—and that was hard for me. But I think that’s important distinction to make, because you can’t actually have blind faith. It’s not really possible. Even people who say, ”I just believe,” have reasons, but they don’t understand things they feel—there’s other knowledge besides book knowledge. You can have knowledge of how to perform an action. So everyone has reasons for what they believe in even if they don’t know they do.
In “So Strange I Remember You” when you sing, “knee deep in Nietzsche’s lies,” does that refer to Nietzsche’s claim that God is dead?
Dustin: Yeah, he wasn’t trying to kill God, he was saying that our pulse for God is non-functioning at a certain level. I figured that’s what most people would get out of it. That was a really interesting song. It was the only time I ever wrote most of the song, um, what would you call it, you know where you just write? There’s a word for it…anyway I just wrote it kind of quickly and like these images were coming and then I revised it later. I usually don’t write like that. But I think that’s why it’s rich with imagery, because I sometimes stifle myself by getting too analytical too early.
How long does it usually take you to finalize lyrics?
Dustin: Depends. Sometimes it’s pretty quickly and sometimes it’s months where I’ll just be coming back to a song over and over and making small breakthroughs. Other times—like “For Miles”—I wrote it basically in a day and I think the next day my time was up, and I wasn’t even sure if the lyrics were good. They’ve been fairly meaningful to a lot of people. I definitely see a point where I feel like God kind of throws me a boner, or ask me to say something that I don’t even know, but I’m like, “Alright.” I think people resonate with most of the stuff. I don’t think it’s the best example of my writing abilities but I think what’s underneath it really speaks to people.
What do you think is the purpose of music?
Dustin: We have a natural response to it, you know? I mean asking me what the purpose of music is is a very large question that presupposes that there is a purpose, which I agree with—I definitely think so. But I mean, the purpose is the design, and with design is a designer. But I think that’s intuitive to ask that question.
I guess I’ll change it a bit: Why is music culturally significant?
Dustin: That’ll probably go back to what I was saying earlier, just about how it connects with people in some way that we don’t fully comprehend. Why does anything of beauty move us? For some reason we have a response that doesn’t make sense in strict naturalistic evolution either. A lot of things are very superfluous to our survival, which means they should have never been passed into our genes at all.
I’ve been thinking about this ethical thing lately and it sort of relates to this, which is why do we support people who are disabled, when it seems to me that it doesn’t really coincide Darwinism because it seems that we’re sustaining these so-called imperfections in our species.
Dustin: That’s kind of where I’m at and what I would argue—Objectivism, Social Darwinism stuff. And that’s what Hitler was employing. He was gassing invalids and people with mental disabilities. I mean, I think really the reason that we do that is because our culture has inherited a lot from the Christian tradition, that doesn’t really realize that’s why these things are still there. It’s taken the Christianity out of it, but so much of what built it was inherent in Christianity, so there’s these things left over and I think that’s why we’re kind of in a weird state in a lot of ways because people hold on to a lot of these things, and sometimes even grab a piece of it and say, “they held this up above everything else,” and that, I think, distorts things at times and people don’t understand why they want to believe this thing when it contradicts what they believe in everything else. I think that’s a good point. I think the Christian answer would be that these people are also children of God and worthy of our love and respect. Coming from a naturalist point of view I don’t think you can make a very good argument.
I’m not really familiar with Rand’s Objectivism. Do you want to describe that?
Dustin: She wrote some books—The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged—and basically she developed a philosophy where she tried to have moral absolutes without God. Most people just go, if they don’t want God then they’ll want moral relativism—which is there are no real morals—and she kind of tried to say that they were both in the fabric of reality. A lot of it was Social Darwinism—it was very Capitalistic and very supportive of Capitalism, saying that you prosper if you’re strong and you don’t weigh yourself down with other people—I’m really kind of butchering it. There’s some very interesting things about it and, I think, some strong things about it, but at a certain level it’s like we shouldn’t really help people in—her characters that are the villains in her books are altruists. It’s very interesting. I do really like her. I think she’s a good author—and very long-winded, but her characters are very interesting—totally unrealistic, but interesting. What is your belief of life?
Well, I guess religiously I’m sort of agnostic, which some people argue that you can’t be agnostic; you either believe in God or you don’t.
Dustin: I think you can be agnostic. All you’re saying is that you’re unsure. I think that’s a much more…
Yeah, and I am unsure. The proof—well, I was raised Roman Catholic and I did believe in God and did pray and felt like I had a connection a connection to God when I was younger, when I was in high school, but I was still quite ignorant of what exactly religion was. I mean, I didn’t know whether I should be praying to Jesus or whether I should be praying to God; it was confusing for me. I guess I didn’t really ever seek out the information to find out what is the correct way instead of just me making up all these things. But then I went to university and took philosophy and that sort of changed my outlook on things because it helped me look at all of these sorts of questions that I’ve never really thought about before, and to me it just seemed that there wasn’t enough evidence either way to compel me to believe. I mean, the biggest problem that I have—and I think for most agnostics—is the creation of the universe. That’s one of the hardest questions to have an answer to, and I don’t think anybody’s ever going to have an answer to that question until…
Dustin: There’s some interesting stuff happening there, though. I just started getting into this, but there’s a separate group from the intelligent design movement. It’s kind of like they try to make it not religious at all but they’re just saying science shows that there’s design and just trying to poke holes in a lot of Neo-Darwinist thought, which is—realistically there’s a lot of problems with it now and there’s just only becoming more, but atheists have no where else to go, so they hold on to that really strongly. And it makes sense because the ID people aren’t really putting forth a better system. So there’s this group called RTB which is Reason To Believe, and there’s a group of scientists who are actually trying to make a model based on scientific findings—being true to that—and also what they see based in scripture. They’re open about what they’re doing: ‘This is what we see. This is what we would hope to expect,’ and they make predictions like any other scientific model. So, it’s cool because it doesn’t ignore the scientific evidence, or it doesn’t ignore when you say, “God told us so.” It’s pretty interesting; it’s awesome. Can I recommend you a book I just read? It’s really interesting.
Dustin: It’s called Creation as Science by Hugh Ross, I believe. Basically it’s a very brief summary of the RTB position, and very brief telling about what their models suggest, and what it hopes to see in the relatively near future, and what has already kind of proven true. So then it links to all the other books that are part of their model. Deals with a lot of stuff and I think you’ll find it interesting. It’s great. The amount of things that are fine-tuned about the universe to support life, and even the amount of things that are fine-tuned about the Earth to support intelligent life and life that can observe the cosmos is phenomenal on every level. It’s like beyond any reasonable chance. I think practical improbability is something like ten to the hundred and twentieth power, and then these things are like ten to the billionth power.
We actually just had a “Does God exist?” debate at our university. There was a theologian from the States—I wish I could remember his name; I think he was kind of famous. He’s written a few books—well, quite a few books—and then there was another professor that was arguing the atheist side. But the theist, that was one of the arguments that he gave, which was the severe improbability of—
Dustin: —severe, to the point where it’s been postulated that there’s basically infinite universes; and then you’re stuck on completely outside claims to say that. Like, you’re just saying, ‘Well, I don’t want there to be a God, so how could this work?’ Where I think a more reasonable solution would be to look at other evidence for if there’s a God or not and then decide what makes sense.
Although, I think to be fair you would have to at least—I mean, it is a probability right so it could theoretically occur. I know it’s a severe improbability—
Dustin: —what could occur?
That it was formed by chance. Because that’s what probabilities deal with, right? The probability of these things occurring on their own in the formation of the universe.
Dustin: But I think you could maybe say that about one aspect of it. I don’t think you can say it about hundreds. Like, you could if you felt like it, but would you make a bet like that?
Well no, I wouldn’t. But that’s the gambler’s fallacy to say—
Dustin: I’m just saying if someone gave you these odds, like you would never bet anything on them. You would bet everything you owned against it. So I think you have to look at it as if you were a gambler, really. I’ll take the other side of that. I just think it makes more sense than postulating infinite universes or—it’s just crazy the things that people come up with because they don’t want to believe in God. Life on the planet is so improbable that serious scientists talk about…I can’t remember the term…but it’s basically about how aliens came here and seeded life here.
Well then how did aliens—
Dustin: —exactly, and I’m glad you see that right away. Then all it does is push the question back, and then when you push the question back all it does is it becomes way more improbable that there was enough time for those aliens to develop and all this stuff—and there’s also stuff in the book about how improbable it is that life exists anywhere else in the universe; we’re positioned perfectly. It’s really interesting.
It is improbable but I definitely think there is other life in the universe. I mean, the universe is so unfathomably huge. Like, I can’t even fathom the distance between here and the sun, or even between here and our moon. I know the numbers and I know the units that we use, but I mean—
Dustin: —read about it. You’ll get psyched—it’s interesting—cause in the sixties this guy made up an equation that was like, ‘This is the probability that life exists in our galaxy, and it’s this, times this, times this, times this, times this,’ but he didn’t know the numbers that he was using. So now it’s been refined, and it’s beyond any reasonable chance that there’s—it’s really interesting. Check it out.