It’s with pride and dignity and bittersweet nostalgia that I announce to everyone that ten years ago today the album was released that essentially would change the route of my life forever. On July 22, 2003, Island Def Jam Records released Thrice’s third record, first major label release, greatest mainstream success, and highest-selling album to date,
The Artist in the Ambulance.
I could easily begin ranting about how this album changed my life and how great I think it is, but to provide a format, I’ll start by answering the same questions as the recent PropertyofZack article, which paid homage to the album with input from both staff writers as well as Thrice’s own Teppei Teranishi (lead guitar) and Eddie Breckenridge (bass).
How does TAITA hold up in 2013?
I’m listening to it right now, and I can say it still sounds fantastic. This was the one time Thrice allowed one of their albums to get the full-production-treatment, meaning that the guitar tones are all perfect (if not as unique as they’d be on future albums), every instrument can always be heard perfectly well through the fantastic mix, almost every song is boosted with some solid violin arrangements, and pure beauty is achieved every time a three-part harmony shows up.
However, this is also the one Thrice album where every song feel very same-y. Some songs seems hard to distinguish from each other at times, and it’s probably the Thrice album that I actually go back and listen to the least often. (Okay, maybe I listen to it more often than The Alchemy Index, but that’s aside from the point.)
What’s the most important track?
While my favorite song used to be “Stare at the Sun,” then “Cold Cash, Colder Hearts,” then “Paper Tigers,” and now has been “Hoods on Peregrine” for many years, the hands-down most important song on this album will always be the lead single (and Thrice’s highest-charting single ever), “All That’s Left.”
My older brother by 5 years got into Thrice a few years before I did. He was really deeply involved in this whole scene, supporting many bands like Finch, glassjaw, Poison the Well, and Underoath. However, I still considered all of this to be “devil music.” (Note: I’m pretty sure my parents never taught me that rock was devil music, but I just picked that up somewhere. If you had tried to show me Christian hardcore back in those days, I probably would have laughed at you.)
For my brother, music didn’t get much better than this album, and “All That’s Left,” along with its music video and televised performances, were his soundtrack in late 2003. For me, the one screamed vocal in the entire song, the word “treason,” was enough to deem the whole song as being evil. I had to get used to it, though, because the song would literally be constantly blasting from my brother’s room. The song would be playing from my brother’s car as he’d drive home. I heard it everywhere. Maybe it was brainwashing…I don’t know. But after hearing “All That’s Left” a solid 100 times, I remember walking into my brother’s room as an abashed 11-year-old and telling him that I actually didn’t think the song was that bad.
That night, going out to dinner with our parents at Outback Steakhouse, my brother totally outed me to our parents: “Hey guys, Chase said he likes my Thrice song!” Embarrassed, I quickly lashed back, saying, “No! I…just said it wasn’t bad.” In fact, I felt pretty cool. My brother even let me have his super-tight Illusion of Safety T-shirt, which I started wearing it to school pretty often.
That following Spring, when the 6th grade talent show was coming around, for whatever reason I felt I could throw together a ragamuffin band of brand new instrumentalists and expect this amateur drummer, this amateur guitarist, and me (when I hadn’t even begun learning how to play bass yet) to be able to play “All That’s Left” for the show. The fates looked kindly upon us, however, when the school officials decided that the song lyrics were not appropriate enough for 6th graders. So instead I choreographed and performed a solo dance to Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic.”
(The aforementioned amateur guitarist is still a good friend, Tyler. He was originally supposed to join me in the Daft Punk dance, but he also still loves jamming out to TAITA‘s “Silhouette” to this very day.)
Another fun story came one night playing the Scattergories board game with my mom and some friends. We had to fill out categories such as “City” or “Breed of Dog” that all started with a certain letter. One turn, we had the letter C and one of the categories was “Song,” so I aptly filled in “Cold Cash, Colder Hearts,” which would give me TRIPLE points! My mom was convinced I was making the song up.
I remembered two more stories pretty vital to this album in my life. Even though it’s fairly typical for a lot of people to only know the songs “All That’s Left,” “Stare at the Sun,” and “Artist in the Ambulance,” having a small set of songs that unifies a group of people together is a pretty big deal.
As of the past year, “Stare at the Sun” and “The Artist in the Ambulance” have become two of my favorite songs to cover and play at bars and such. Here’s the story of how this came about. When I lived at the Grand Canyon last summer, I attended an open mic at a bar a few times, hosted by a guy named Evan that I would become good friends with. Every time I was there, I played Dustin Kensrue’s “Blood and Wine”, and one night I also played Thrice’s “The Weight” and maybe also “Disarmed.” Evan then asked me if I could play “Stare…” and “Artist…” for him the next time I came, and I gladly agreed and spent time the following week learning how to play the two songs.
(the bar at the Grand Canyon)
When I returned the next week, which would be my last opportunity to play at this bar, Evan was sick and couldn’t make it to see me play these two songs (or the third song he’d requested, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”). Fatefully, however, I ran into Evan later in the summer and got to spend an afternoon with him, and when I say fateful, I mean fateful. As we got to talking about his life, he told me that he had been on a search for truth, knowing he was close but he wasn’t diving in fully – exactly as detailed in the lyrics for “Stare at the Sun.” He had also had someone very close just recently get into a car accident, just like in “Artist.” So I finally got to play these songs with him, and these songs became more than just songs for us. They became the God-sent messages Evan needed in his life, and in fact if I had played these songs for him the prior month, it would have been too soon.
(On the other hand, he didn’t have any woman in his life accusing him of being her baby-daddy, so I don’t think I ever got around to playing “Billie Jean” for him.)
The second story comes from my brother Taylor, who also got into a bad accident, except for Taylor it was a bad motorcycle accident where he and his best friend Marcus riding on the back were not wearing any helmets. Quite frankly, they both easily could have died. Marcus was scratched up all over and Taylor received a fracture to the skull. (Multiple friends of the family, while praying for Taylor – and without knowing any specific details of the incident – received the same exact vision of Taylor’s head being protected by the hands of God, right in the spot where he received what was thankfully just a small fracture.)
(my brother and I upon him first getting home from the hospital)
When Taylor and Marcus were picked up by an emergency ambulance, one of the nurses in the vehicle was none other than Dustin Kensrue’s cousin! In a blurry haze, Taylor turned her and whispered, “Hey…you’re the artist in the ambulance.”
UPDATE ENDS HERE.
Was the band successful in following up TAITA?
On October 18, 2005, my life would be changed in a possibly greater way than when I first heard (and liked) “All That’s Left.” That was the day Thrice released their fourth record, Vheissu, an album of which the power cannot be denied. This was a life-changer for many of us, yet this power was polarizing. It turned fairweather fans into either two things: Thrice die-hards or people who “used to like Thrice but prefer their older albums.” No one was really left in the middle.
For me, the album caught me at a time when I was torn between sticking with pop, getting pressure from some friends to get into classic rock, and getting pressure from the scene to fall deeper into heavier metal and hardcore movements. Thrice swooped in and gave me an album that balanced heavy post-hardcore with piano ballads, a love song, epic post-rockers, and inspirational lyrics. This album defined my taste in music 2005-and-forward, still inspires me today, and pretty much directed my own growth as a musician and songwriter, as the album came out two months after I started playing guitar and the same month that I wrote my first song on guitar.
Vheissu also taught me one of the most important musical lessons I’ve learned in my entire life: the best music IS NOT EASY to like. When I first saw live videos of “Image of the Invisible,” I hated the song. I can’t explain how many times I listened to this song before it finally clicked. At the point the album was released, I was prepared, and I loved it. However, every Thrice album since has had songs that I didn’t like at first but later became favorites.
My good friend Tim was not as prepared for Vheissu as me. He hated it. None of it made sense to him, none of it was what he wanted. So I still remember the day in March, nearly half a year later, when he came to school and exclaimed to me, “I finally got it! I love Vheissu!” It took time, but it was worth the wait!
Vheissu goes down in the books as the album Thrice are most proud about, and it has been praised by many as a near-perfect album.
That all said, I actually don’t think Thrice were successful in making a follow-up. The album didn’t really give Thrice the same radio-readiness, and AllMusic, in their review, posed the question as to whether of not this follow-up would be an album meant only for a devoted few, a Thrice fan club. They were kind of right. But Vheissu was a direct reaction against TAITA – Thrice reacting against being forced to make a well-produced product too quickly and too methodically. The album felt compromised to Thrice, and so TAITA sent the quartet on a long cycle of experiments: Vheissu, an experiment of new sounds and inspirations and instruments; The Alchemy Index, an experiment in self-production, self-recording, and playing in completely different genres; and Beggars, an experiment in blues, groove, and jam-rock. And while some of these experiments were more successful than others, none of these were really straight-forward rock albums made my artists confident in the exact project they were creating, (at least not in my opinion). It wouldn’t be until 2011’s Major/Minor that the experimenting would come to an end and Thrice would finally release a confident rock album that knew exactly what it wanted to be, making an album that was both similar to TAITA but that brought together the influences and lessons-learned of the three albums in between.
What is the legacy of TAITA?
I think the legacy of this album is huge in two ways.
One, a huge amount of Thrice’s fans first heard of them with this album. As I said, it’s their best-charting and highest-selling album, and I’m not the only one who hopped onto the bandwagon here: plenty others discovered Thrice and have been buying every album and going to every concert ever since.
Two, this album gave Thrice some of their most fun and iconic live numbers!
How did TAITA change Thrice’s future?
Okay, I’ve already satisfyingly answered this question, so I’ll answer another questions: how did The Artist in the Ambulance change my life?
Remember how my brother accidentally turned me into a fan of this song? Well, that small incidental event was as a matter of fact the catalyst of my brother and I actually being friends. We had spent my entire life up to that point being bitter enemies in a classic sibling rivalry. We were two very different people, and Thrice was the very first thing that gave us any sort of common ground together. Now we had a common interest, something to talk about, something to do together. I became my brother’s musical disciple, as he would begin showing me many other bands that would become huge influences for me: The Receiving End of Sirens, Mae, Emery, Gatsbys American Dream, Number One Gun, Forever Changed, etc.
(The Receiving End of Sirens)
The same year that I became a Thrice fan, I began writing rock music – (just lyrically and vocally, but hey, that’s a start). I then began a quest to find a fitting instrument for me, which led to me being awful at drums, disliking piano, being bored by bass, and ending up with a guitar in my hands in 8th grade. Ever since then, I have been a passionate guitarist, and I actually progressed very quickly – quickly enough that my brother would ask him to join his band in early 2007. He and I have now been playing together and writing music together for over six years, as hard as that is to believe, (and we’ve been best friends for at least five of those six years!).
(my brother singing, our friend Marcus drumming, and me playing guitar from a 2007 performance)
I have also often played music with my best friend, Trey, and a fellow love for Thrice is one of the things that has kept us together over the years, (a love of Christ being the biggest thing that has made us best friends for nearly 3 straight years, and we actually met ten years ago this coming August…another decade celebration!) Trey and I love covering Thrice songs together for fun, like “Anthology,” “Disarmed,” and “Come all You Weary.”
Loving and studying and writing about rock music passionately.
Being best friends with my brother.
Living the life I have right now.
It all seems to come back down to The Artist in the Ambulance.
Can you really ever say that any album is just an album?