After fronting the popular hard-rock band Thrice, Dustin Kensrue decided to pursue a solo project, which was a departure from his band’s punk-rock roots. Critics have praised the alt-country effort Please Come Home, comparing it to the work of songwriters like Johnny Cash and Ryan Adams. Just as he does on Thrice records, Kensrue tackles big ideas and searches dark places, but he always finds hope. Kensrue, who was a guest on a recent episode of the RELEVANT Podcast, tells us what’s behind the songs, what’s next for Thrice and how his faith finds its way into it all.
A lot of songs on your new album have spiritual lyrics. Why did you choose those kinds of themes?
I really don’t choose my themes. I think it’s a reflection of things going on around me and in my life that lead where the lyrics go. I’ve never had a record where I sat down and said, “I’m going to write about these things.” It’s very natural, and I deal with a lot of weighty issues.
With Please Come Home, the characters seem to be going through rough things, but there is a hopeful angle. Were you trying to write about hope?
I always try to write the hopeful angle when dark things are around. We all experience dark times, dark nights of the soul and situations. There is definitely hope to be had. I think I naturally want to write about that hope and the way out of that dark place. It just seems lazy or selfish to write about this dark thing and not even try to find a way out.
I’m writing about where I come from, and I don’t sit and wallow in a dark place, so I don’t do that in my music either. I think there’s a danger in trying to transfuse your art with a certain reality that’s artificial, and trying to insert morality just comes off as a platitude. C.S. Lewis talks about it a bit. He says you just need to write, and if a moral comes into it, it’s going to come naturally from who you are. It’s about creating something that’s more honest and real.
The title track seems to mirror the story of the prodigal son. Did you plan for that to be the title track and set the tone for the record?
No, I didn’t. I didn’t have that title until very late. I chose “Please Come Home” because the record has a nostalgic feel and the song captured that. That song is an updated re-telling of the parable. C.S. Lewis talks about this (and if you can’t tell, I like him a lot!) where he did something similar with the Narnia stories. Sometimes we’ve heard something so much that it loses its power to move us, and he called it “sneaking past the watchful dragons.” It’s kind of the same way with some of the parables that are hard to relate to because we’ve heard them before or we can’t relate to them because of the setting. So I tried to make it more modern.
C.S. Lewis said something like, “What the world needs is not more Christian authors, but more authors who are Christians.” We’re starting to see in music more bands like Thrice—Christians working in the mainstream marketplace. And they are no longer sealing themselves off from the culture.
That’s a problem the Church has had for a while, creating the subculture, and I don’t think it’s healthy. You see that Paul goes into the middle of Athens and begins preaching in their secular and pagan places about what he wants to talk about, and people are listening, and there’s a lively interaction. I think the Church lost that and started talking to itself.
In other interviews you’ve said that if you could go back to school, you would want to study philosophy. Why philosophy?
I like learning a lot. I love talking about theology, philosophy, physics and the nature of reality. The bigger questions just get me going. Sometimes I wish I had a formal setting to study those, in which to push myself.
Thrice is working on a new album, right?
Yeah. We are working on a four-disc opus. Four discs themed to the four classical elements: earth, air, fire, water. It will have 24-25 songs total.
What was the idea behind it?
I was half asleep in the van, and it came to my brain, and I was really excited about it and kept pestering everyone about it until they agreed that it might be a good idea. It started out being a side thing and not pushed as the next record, but we spent so much time on it and thought the songs were really cool, so we brought it to the forefront.
Is doing a concept record new territory for you guys?
Yeah, I really like it. I think my next solo record will be a concept record. It’s cool because it gives you something to dwell on and think through. A lot of the lyrics are themed toward the four elements.