Although they’re no longer being dubbed “the next Nirvana,” New Jersey post-hardcore innovators THURSDAY still carry the weight-and expectations-of the world on their backs. With a powerful new album and a headlining spot on this year’s Rockstar Taste Of Chaos, they’re giving us one more shot.

Story: Brendan Manley

Photos: Roberto Chamorro

It’s a frigid winter day in New Haven, Connecticut, but it’s no surprise that Tom Keeley’s blood is boiling. Earlier today, as the Thursday guitarist chatted with fans outside of the legendary venue Toad’s Place, a kid told Keeley something the guitarist has, unfortunately, heard many times before: Of all of the band’s releases, 2001’s genre-defining Full Collapse remains the fan’s favorite, despite the seven years and two excellent releases that followed. Keeley, who genuinely seems friendly, earnest and diplomatic all at once, just shrugged off the comment, yet shares a more candid retort later, when recounting the story to his bandmates.

“What he wanted to say was, ‘Your first girlfriend is always going to be better than your wife,’” says guitarist Steve Pedulla, sipping a Jameson and water in the back lounge of the band’s tour bus. “When you hear it said to you, it’s kind of like someone saying, ‘You were cooler when you were in seventh grade,’” he says, shaking his head. “It’s got this little sting to it.”

Facing their own legacy is an uphill battle Thursday-singer Geoff Rickly, bassist Tim Payne, guitarists Pedulla and Keeley, drummer Tucker Rule and synth op Andrew Everding-have been fighting since the release of Full Collapse and the arrival of their new disc, Common Existence. Presenting to the world a previously obscure phenomenon of post-hardcore, kindled in the basements of New Brunswick, New Jersey, the buzz surrounding Thursday grew into a shockwave once the record started circulating in the underground. Boosting the hype was the heavy airplay the video for “Understanding In A Car Crash” received on the then-budding MTV2 and MuchMusic channels. Fans and critics started calling the band the “next Nirvana,” and major-label A&R executives began trolling New Jersey, New York City and Long Island for the next Thursday.

The momentum led to a deal with Island Records, at a time when the major labels were snapping up every “emo” and “screamo” band they could get to hold a pen. The union with Island bore Collapse’s intricate follow-up, 2003’s War All The Time, which took off from the get-go like a multi-stage rocket, yet fell back to earth lifeless, when label boss Lyor Cohen, and other key executives who oversaw Thursday, left the label for Warner Music Group during the album cycle.

"We were totally demoralized by that,” says Rickly in an unassuming luncheonette in downtown New Haven, shrugging with amusement at the insanity of the period. “We were thinking about breaking up then, because in 2003 we only had seven days off without shows. I had an ulcer the doctor thought was stomach cancer… I was totally freaked out about it.” (The incident gave rise to the new song, “You Were The Cancer.”) He unenthusiastically picks at his meal, a gamey, third-pound cheeseburger, the establishment’s signature dish. Whether discussing his band’s meteoric past, inevitable fall and uncertain future, Rickly does so thoughtfully, eloquently, and now more than ever, with tired wisdom. The kind of comment Keeley endured from the Full Collapse fan is something Rickly takes very personally.

“I know there are a certain number of kids who will love us forever, because of Full Collapse, or we’ll have a place in their heart, and I think that’s great,” he says, wearily. “But with every record, if I don’t do something for someone-if I don’t speak to someone-then I kind of feel like, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ I can make more money at any other job [which would let me] hang out with my family and I wouldn’t be on display. People always say to me, ‘You’ll be fine after Thursday-you can have a great career in the music industry.’ Do you think that I want to work in music after this is done? No. I’d rather do something completely different.”

As touring for War drew to an end, Thursday also began to confront internal battles in addition to the label’s external pressure. Communication was nonexistent and the group’s new high-profile, road-heavy lifestyle was leading to insidious problems with substance abuse. While most members are fairly tight-lipped on the subject (“We definitely all tend to self-medicate in our own ways,” admits bassist Payne cryptically), Rickly is characteristically forthcoming when pressed, but quick to point out that Thursday’s level of touring debauchery never reached Mötley Crüe-esque proportions.

“You walk around a corner one day after a show, and you see a bunch of dudes doing blow, and you’re like, ‘Oh, is this my reality now? Maybe I’ll have some blow, too,’” he says. “I guess it really did almost break up the band. There was some rehab and stuff for a few months when we were on hiatus; it was mostly a rehab hiatus, but it never felt like a rock-star drug thing. It didn’t feel like a Behind The Music moment.”

Even though they were faced with a new regime at Island that didn’t sign-or necessarily care-about them, Thursday were still reassured that the label believed in them. They recorded 2006’s A City By The Light Divided, which was not only the band’s most challenging work to date, but also the biggest departure from their post-hardcore roots. Executives at the label-who were only interested in getting the band to write a hit single-had no use for the album, despite City selling 45,000 copies in its first week. Many fans-hoping for another Full Collapse-also balked at City’s experimentation, and ultimately the album was a commercial flop, despite the critical praise. Just two months into touring for the record, Island pulled the plug.

After taking the music world by storm, by the latter half of 2006, all was quiet in the Thursday camp. Their inevitable exodus from Island Records (in the process, turning down a sizable chunk of cash from the label for a new album) made them yet another major-label casualty. Rickly says getting out of the deal ate up all of the band’s money (which went to lawyers), so Thursday couldn’t even tour when perhaps they needed to most. For the group, there would either be a new beginning-or an end.

“We were sort of figuring out, ‘We can’t afford to tour right now. Can we afford to be a band anymore?” Rickly says. “We’re coming off a record that didn’t do that well, with no home, no backing and our management contract expired. So for a minute there, it was six of us dudes sitting in a space again by ourselves, being like, ‘This is what it was like in the beginning.’ Of course in the beginning, we all went to school and had jobs.”

If you want to read more about Thursday check out AP 248