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All That’s Left: Dustin Kensrue In Conversation

by Jesse Richman

As Thrice’s erstwhile frontman for a decade, Dustin Kensrue is no stranger to center stage. Still, it would have been impossible to predict the starring role he would play in bringing down pastor Mark Driscoll’s empire, the Mars Hill Church at which Kensrue served as worship leader. Half a year later, Kensrue is back in his native California and back to more earthly concerns with a long-promised solo album, Carry The Fire, and a reconvening Thrice. Senior Editor Jesse Richman caught up with Kensrue at South By South West to find out what the future might hold, and how much of the past it carries.

I was surprised when I saw your name announced for SXSW. I knew that you had a new album coming out and that you had stuff going on, but for some reason I didn’t expect to see you here. So when was the decision made that you were gonna come do this?

Dustin Kensrue: Pretty early. I mean, I knew probably in September, maybe? I knew was going to make Carry The Fire and put it out sometime in the second quarter.

I don’t want to get into the specifics of what went down with Mars Hill [the controversial Church which employed Kensrue, and with whose former leadership he had a very public falling-out], but I’m curious about the effect it had on you, and that the fallout had on you. Did it accelerate your timeline for putting out the new album?  Was the album something that wouldn’t have happened if you had still been wrapped up at the church with a full time job?

It probably wouldn’t have happened soon, no. I mean, it’s something I’ve been trying to do for years and years, so sorry everyone if you were waiting for it. But yeah, it’s finally just like, “All right, I have the time now, I’m gonna do this.” I’ve been been working on it [for a long time] gathering ideas, but then there’s the point of actually finishing those songs and recording them.

Have you been stockpiling songs this whole time? Did it become one of those things where you had 50 songs to choose from?

Yeah, but not full songs. There were definitely some where it was like “yes, I’ve got to do that one” and then there were probably 20 floating around, ideas, like, “Ahh, which ones do I do?” Some came together really at the end. The way that I generally write is, I can’t finish songs unless I have a deadline. I didn’t know that about myself until later on.

Until five years of promising a new album? [Laughter]

I’m kind of a perfectionist, especially lyrically, so I spend a lot of time pushing it where I want it to go. I catalog ideas as I’m going. Some of them, I’m driving my car and I’m kind of humming, or I‘m playing soundcheck and I’m working something out. But in the end, it hits a point, like “what am i doing with this?“ Sometimes I’ve got a verse and a chorus, and I’ve got a bare idea of what the rest of it is doing; sometimes, it’s just a couple different ideas that I know I really like that end up coming together to make one song. “Back to Back” everyone’s heard, and that’s kind of an interesting one because it’s three totally distinct parts that I had and I liked all of them, and pretty near the end they all came together.

So it’s one of those things where the light bulb went off, “I should try these things all together?”

I don’t know what it was. I’ve always loved that riff in the beginning, but I never had a verse I liked with it. It was always like “I don’t know where this goes and how it gets into it,” like it never felt right. Somehow there was another idea, that worked as the verse, and that set it off. It was a fun record to make on my own but it was also kinda crazy at times, just not being used to having no one to push back on. Thankfully, my wife ended up giving me a lot of good feedback, and making a pretty significant impact on the record. She’s not musical but she has a really good ear.

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  • AltWire:How about signing things? Have you ever signed anything super crazy?
  • Sam Lee:I feel like I’ve signed a lot of things. I’ve signed CDs, Vinyl, posters, tickets, pieces of paper, cell phones, cell phone cases, shoes, faces, arms, shirts, pants. I feel like, I’ve signed more things than I haven’t signed, which definitely isn’t the case. Every time someone comes up to me, there’s always a different weird thing they want you to sign. Which is nice, and I obviously appreciate the dedication of the fans coming up and asking for your signature. It’s all been PG. It’s great to meet the fans, we love doing it and we try to do it after every show.

Noa Rosenberg

Where are you from?  It’s as hard to answer as “where are you going?”

How long have you been taking photos?  I was taking photos of my friends and myself and using self-timer since i was 12, for documentation, vanity, sharing, etc, but not till 2 or 3 years ago did I become more conscious of expressing myself visually and of photography as the medium to do so.

Do you have a favourite camera to work with?  My iphone, which is always with me.

Last dream you had?  I was watching an acrobatics routine and suddenly it dawned on me that I was next to perform with my partner, the light suddenly grew very hot and bright, the moment was arriving when my name would be called to the floor, and yet I had no recollection whatsoever of the routine I was to do or even the music. I could not even bring myself to remember the starting pose, I was not even aware of my own body or age in the dream, could not tell if I would be able to move my limbs when the time came, and still don’t know. I’ve had this dream more than once actually - pure anxiety.

Favourite films?  A few films I watched this week and enjoyed: the cult anime “Perfect Blue”, Ozu’s “Late Spring”, and experimental film “Sans Soleil”.

See more of Noa’s work here and tumblr here

“I find myself thinking about where us as a species will be in the future. One of the things I think about is infinite computer power. According to Moor’s Law, computers are contantly getting more advanced. Eventually we’ll be at a point where we’ll be processing more data than we can actually collect and at that point we can begin to find correlations between almost everything inside the universe. One of the main aspects of this is to reach hyper-effeciency–if we can monitor every aspect of the world and figure out how they affect one another. And then eventually, we’ll get to a point of abundance and there won’t be anymore poverty or hardships caused by scarcity.”

How old are you?