INTERVIEW WITH RILEY BRECKENRIDGE FOR THE EIY HANDBOOK
RILEY BRECKENRIDGE, 35 (Irvine, CA)
YEARS IN MUSIC: 17
ON THE WEB: thrice.net // hermitology.com // twitter.com/rileybreck
CURRENT PROJECT: Thrice
ROLES: Drummer, songwriter
WHAT FIRST GOT YOU INTERESTED IN MUSIC? I grudgingly played trumpet from 4th to 6th grade at the urging of my parents (I was far more interested in sports at the time), quit before junior high, and didn’t even think of playing an instrument again until my senior year of high school. In the summer going into my senior year, I blew out my knee playing football and was faced with at least nine months of rehab and physical therapy. Since sports was my passion, I needed to find something to fill that void. I’d always been fascinated by drums and rhythm, and ended up buying a disheveled drum kit out of The Recycler (think of Craigslist in print form) for $50 so I could spend the year annoying my folks and neighbors by teaching myself how to play.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE MOMENT YOU FIGURED OUT WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE? I don’t think I ever really “figured it out.” When Thrice started in ’98, I was in limbo, had a college degree in English (which actually might be worth less in the corporate world than the paper it’s printed on), was working 40+ hours a week in the pro shop of a golf course, and was living in a house with one of my best friends and my ex-girlfriend’s brother. I was confused to say the least, just kind of existing rather than focusing on a goal. Writing and playing music was a great release from that confusion, and was something I was really passionate about. As Thrice began to slowly develop a local fan base, I had pipe dreams of it becoming something I could do for a living, but my self-deprecating mind kept reminding me that it was highly unlikely. In 2000, when we signed with SubCity Records, and we committed to touring full-time, we collectively decided to drop everything at home and focus on doing everything we could to make that pipe dream a reality.
WHAT WERE YOUR GOALS WHEN YOU STARTED? Thrice formed in ’98. I was 23 years old, and our goals were very short-term: have fun playing and writing music, play shows wherever and whenever we could, and maybe one day we’d get to play in an actual venue, rather than someone’s living room, garage, or a youth center. It’s always been about focusing day-to-day, and taking small steps forward, rather than setting our sights on some grandiose dream scenario of playing arenas, flying in private jets, and being on the covers of magazines.
HAVE YOU ACHIEVED THOSE GOALS? We’ve done much more than I ever dreamed possible. The fact that we’ve been a band for 12 years and that I can still pay my rent by playing an instrument, writing music, and doing something creative is something I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do. I’m eternally grateful.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS NOW? My goal is to continue working day-to-day to get better at what I do, push myself creatively, never stop learning and growing as a musician, and do everything I can to increase the longevity of something I’ve given everything to for more a third of my life.
WERE YOU ALWAYS ON THE PATH THAT YOU’RE ON NOW? Thankfully, I’ve been in one band, with the same members, for my entire time in the industry.
WHAT HAVE YOU HAD TO SACRIFICE ALONG THE WAY? Lots. There’s been financial sacrifice, missing out on time with loved ones, missing out on holidays with family, missing friend’s weddings, not having a life timeline that is considered “normal” or “acceptable” by a majority of the population, and more that I’m forgetting (probably on purpose), but I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. I am fortunate to be where I’m at, and I don’t take that for granted.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU ON A DAILY BASIS? That there is no end to creative growth, no formula for a perfect song, no show that can’t have been better. There’s no “answer” to music. It’s not a math problem. It’s like π. It’s infinitesimal. The inspiration comes from savoring the journey and being open to learning every day.
HOW MUCH OF YOUR SUCCESS HAS COME FROM LUCK? TALENT? HARD WORK? That’s impossible to quantify. I’m sure a fair amount of it came from luck; being in the right place at the right time, chance encounters with people who facilitated growth, saying “yes” or “no” to certain opportunities based on a gut feeling, having a fanbase that has grown with us (for the most part), dropping everything to pursue something with a high failure rate. I think luck has to be involved somehow, but the key is that you’ll have more opportunities to be lucky the harder you work. I’d like to think that talent has played an integral role, but there are plenty of examples of “success” that would prove the contrary.
HOW HAVE YOU MEASURED YOUR SUCCESS THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER? It’s definitely not money or fame, because I’m not famous, and this certainly isn’t a lucrative business. We get what we put into it. If we work hard and tour, I’ll have money to pay the rent and bills. When touring is sparse, it gets more difficult. I just feel fortunate that the possibility of making enough money to live reasonably even exists in a business that is (or at least should be) based in creativity and artistry. I suppose respect is a pretty big part of it too. Being appreciated for what you do makes you feel like what you’re doing is worthwhile, which is added incentive (beyond my own personal goals) to continue to grow and learn. And proving people wrong and earning that respect is an inspiration as well. It’s always nice to convert a doubter, even if that doubter is yourself.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS? It means different things to different people. For some, it’s probably money and fame — and if that’s why you started playing an instrument, I feel sorry for you.
ANY REGRETS? No.
DO YOU THINK THE BEST BANDS IN THE WORLD TEND TO GET FAMOUS, OR TEND TO STAY UNDISCOVERED? Fame implies mainstream recognition, and unfortunately, the mainstream has shown that it appreciates style over substance, and “safety” over progress. Great music will always be around for those who are willing to put forth the effort to find it. It might take more work than being spoon-fed something on the radio, but anything worthwhile requires effort.
Read Riley’s answers to 50 questions about music and the music business in the EIY HANDBOOK, available in print or eBook version at www.earnityourself.com
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