Charismatic frontman/writer Geoff Rickly has been burning up the internet in a couple ways, all of them great. There’s the new album from United Nations The Next Four Years, where he gets all power-violent with folks like Jonah Bayer, Lukas Previn, Zac Sewell and David Haik in a way that would appeal to all genres intense and brutal. Since recording that LP, the former Thursday frontman teamed up with the members of U.K. rock act Lostprophets under the banner No Devotion, releasing a pure-pop-forever track, “Stay,” that will appeal to fans of late ’80s British indie-guitar rock and drinkers of the nü-sincerity Kool-Aid (read: Passion Pit, Paper Route, Foster The People), as well as running Collect Records, the label issuing the release (the single and the b-side “Eyeshadow” are available on iTunes now; the Collect vinyl 12-inch pressing comes out July 21.) If you think going from chrome-melting hardcore to pop sweetness is complete insanity or pointedly careerist, well, you don’t get Geoff Rickly. And at this point, you probably never will.
Jason Pettigrew chatted the vocalist up about the extreme noise and pop sides of his psychic coin; how nihilist self-loathing recharged his creative impulses; and how being a good dude requires a person to pay it forward.
Seems kind of weird that the menacing, uncompromising United Nations record and the non-guilty-pleasure pop single from No Devotion are coming out close to each other.
GEOFF RICKLY: I was totally conscious about doing something that was totally pop. People always used to compare Thursday to the Cure without all the pop songs—like Thursday were the dark side of the Cure. I wished we had some of the really pop stuff.
So if Thursday were, say, the title track to Pornography, No Devotion are “Friday I’m In Love.”
Exactly. I hate feeling like a character. I hate it when people feel like they can put me in a box, “Hey, he’s the guy from Thursday,” or whatever reductionist thing. Anytime I get a chance to subvert that, whether it’s spitting battery acid in United Nations or a summer, windows-down jam with No Devotion, it’s a lot of fun.
A year prior, you were doing acoustic sets which framed you as a sad and angry bastard, playing music that felt like real-time diary entries, whether it was your own life or covering Usher. Does the work you are doing right now—as well as how you’ve conducted yourself in the previous two years—go toward defining yourself as an artist or as a person?
Oh man, that’s, like, a real question. I’m not prepared for those. [Laughs.] But that is a good question. I think the solo stuff was defining myself as a person, less about being an artist and just thinking, “Can I go do this out on my own? Can I do this without the support of other band members? Could I do this without much in the way of adoration, being a guy out there with a guitar on a tour where he still has to prove to himself that he can play guitar, and prove to people he can do something worth watching and then go sleep on floors, hang out in vans and eat crap food? Could I move ahead from all the shit that happened to me last year? Am I still in it? Do I still care? Is this life still for me anymore? And that’s what those solo tours were about for me. United Nations, No Devotion and the record label are directions toward trying to be more interesting than… easy! [Laughs.] But even United Nations are easy in a way. It starts those reactions like, “Oh, that’s what he wanted to do in Thursday…” It is confusing.
So you’re keeping people guessing, while fulfilling needs you have for yourself, be they personal, musical or financial.
Exactly. The solo stuff is me going personal without any need to entertain, and then United Nations and No Devotion are more public. I’ve always liked artists like Mike Patton who have so many different sides and are multi-dimensional. But I’m done doing the solo stuff for a while. I love United Nations and No Devotion, but I’m still figuring out which one is going to be my career and which one is going to be my hobby. I sort of assumed it would be No Devotion, and now United Nations are getting all the crazy hype. [Laughs.] The United Nations record shocked even us when we finished it.
Your dealings with the other guys in Lostprophets came from wanting to do a documentary on the horrible situation their former lead singer thrust them into. But you ended up being in a band with them.
Yes, that was my first interest in them. I was talking to Karen [Ruttner], their manager and I kept saying, “No. I’m not listening to their demo. I’m not interested in that line of fire.” And after a while, I did end up listening to their demo. I thought, “Holy shit, this is really good,” and I asked Karen who else they were thinking [about for a singer]. She said, “Nobody. You’re the guy.” I said, “I don’t know about that, but it is really good. Maybe I’ll fly out for a day,” and she’s like, “Yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah, that is how it’ll start. This is going to work.” February 2013 was when we made the first recordings.
What I really loved about it was that I’ve always loved British music; gloomy, morose Britpop has always been my thing. Getting to do that kind of music with Brits was like [imitates excited kid], “This is awe-suuuummm!” The early demos sounded a lot like the Stone Roses and then became more refined as we went on. Half of the stuff we worked on was electronic and the other half was rock ’n’ roll: The more we refined it, it came off sounding a little more New Order, a little bit Jesus And Mary Chain. People in the U.K. know Lostprophets are really sewn into the fabric of that county’s rock scene—which I didn’t understand fully. I always thought of them like a radio-rock band here; I didn’t think they had any songwriting chops. When I flew out there and they started changing the tuning of their songs to accommodate my range, I was like, “Oh, really?” And they were like, “Yeah, like you did with Thursday.” And I said, “Nah, I never did that with Thursday,” and they were like, “Oh?” We looked for my true range, writing around my voice. They wrote 30, 40 songs and let me weed out what I liked and what I didn’t. We could’ve been a grunge band, from the stuff that they were writing, but that’s an American thing, and there are plenty of bands doing that right now. I just steered them into a direction that’s really fun for me.
Did the Lostprophets come to you as a fan or in a place of abject vulnerability after their singer was convicted of being a child predator?
They have a Welsh/British sensibility of not really letting their emotions through. But I could tell they’d been kicked around a whole bunch, and they were wary of any kind of singer at all, especially a new guy: What are the motives for doing this? What are anybody’s motives right now? But honestly? Those guys are really kind: They picked me up at the airport, introduced me to their families, opened their homes to me. I immediately felt very welcomed. After working on a couple songs, we were all, “Well, we should probably talk about what it means to be in a band together.”
[I Am The Avalanche vocalist] Vinnie Caruana told me, “If you end up with them, they are the best guys. Their misfortune is your good fortune.” He knew Lostprophets when the Movielife took them on tour, and I talked to him about it when he and I were on the  Acoustic Basement tour. He was really strong about it: “Don’t dismiss it. Don’t do your Geoff thing where you’re a hater and you hate everything. Actually listen to it.” I mean, I was a little gun-shy being in a six-member band, because of stuff in Thursday that I don’t like to talk about. But then it was awesome.
I’m assuming you got the band name from the first song by ’80s industrial supergroup Revolting Cocks.
Yes. You’re the only person that caught that.
Is the name meant to reflect commentary about the music itself? It’s not all amps-to-11 heavy or electronic pop.
There are a couple things. One is that we don’t have any devotion to our pasts. People will be like, “Oh, it’ll be like Thursday with Lostprophets.” Nope. For people who want that, there is nothing here. We’re not going to be tied to that. Then [the name] references the stylish nihilism of those early-’80s bands—New Order, Killing Joke, Joy Division—a nod to that era. We had a lot of conversations about stuff considered noir—Lana Del Rey, Portishead—I don’t have any connections to the ’50s, but I do have a postcard memory of the ’80s, so I figured [the music should reflect] some British rock, industrial-style darkness, and goth noir with some contemporary sounds. We aren’t trying to sound exactly like that, but just using those same tones, textures and references.
You are releasing the debut 12-inch of No Devotion on your Collect Records imprint in late July. Debut album next year?
Yes. Collect has a U.K. office with some really cool people over there. We still don’t have [the album] completely written or recorded yet, but that seems like a plan. “Stay” was the highest-selling debut on iTunes in the U.K., No. 3 on the alternative charts behind Coldplay and Kasabian—which is crazy. In Japan, it was no. 10. There have been some good, promising, fun things; another single next year, and some shows. Those guys are a U.K. band, so we’re gonna be a U.K. band for a while. I get to be the American guy in a U.K. band. I really hope something awesome happens and people love it. But I really hope it becomes a second chance for those guys, because they really fuckin’ deserve it. They are genuinely good guys.
You come from a scene that’s supposed to be tolerant, understanding and mindful of the truth. I have to ask, did you get backlash from certain quarters or from friends for choosing to work with them?
Oh, totally. “They’re untouchable. What are you, nuts?” I had my own kneejerk reaction to the thing, at first. And that’s what caused me to think, “Well, why? I’m doing to these guys what everyone else is doing to them.”
When it came out that Ian [Watkins, former Lostprophets singer] was guilty, Stu [Richardson, bassist] said, “Man, you can quit now and we won’t be mad. You have a good reputation.” I said to him, “You guys did nothing wrong. If I have a good reputation and I don’t use it to help out good people, then what fucking good is that?” If I don’t risk it for people that I care about, then I’m just an asshole. alt