Geoff Rickly is an artist who is constantly expressing himself. He rose to fame in his early 20s as the singer of post-hardcore band Thursday, and his energetic stage presence brought the quintet a wave of buzz as both intellectual rockers and an essential live act. Although Thursday broke up in 2011 after a string of critically-acclaimed records, Rickly has taken up vocal and songwriting duties in groups like No Devotion and United Nations — and even reunited Thursday a couple of times, including a recent run opening for My Chemical Romance’s arena tour and playing standalone shows and festival dates.
But Rickly’s newest project is a novel with plenty of grounding in the real world. “Someone Who Isn’t Me,” out today from Rose Books, is an autofiction dive into his struggles with heroin and treatment, and his deconstruction of self along the way. Rickly spoke with Variety about why this was a story he had to tell, the recent popularity of the emo scene, and the future of Thursday.
Your prose feels like a natural extension of your lyrics. How did you land on this style of writing for “Someone Who Isn’t Me”?
I had a friend who said, “The way you’re writing is, in a way, quite out of fashion with the modern literary movement,” which is very restrained and has a sort of quiet precision — the Rachel Cusk school of writing. And I love all that stuff. But he said, “I understand why you had to write this book in this style if you’re going to have a character of Geoff from Thursday: There’s got to be some sort of a dialogue with the lyricism.” I tried to do that through whether or not he was high. If he’s high, the character of Geoff is in the lyrical mode. When he’s in withdrawal, he pulled it back.
What made you want to tell this story through a novel?
Novels are the art form that I lose myself in the most. Pretty much from the time I started touring, it became novels, novels, novels as the way I passed time on tour. So I always wanted to take a stab at it, but I just never thought I had a story that felt interesting enough to be an entire book. At first, I thought maybe there could be a new Thursday album to come out of it. I have never been a fan of memoirs, but the more I wrote about it, I thought, “It’s going to be too obvious in the way that I’m writing about it,” so I thought, OK, I’m just going to make it really uncomfortable, make the character named Geoff.
What made you want to be so open and honest about your struggles?
I have an interesting relationship with vulnerability. I think people would say the best art that I’ve made is from some of the most vulnerable aspects of my life. There are things about my viewpoint on the world that were so raw and naked on display, talking about things that were so uncomfortable, and they just resonated in a way that I thought, “OK, it’s time to put everything into it.” With fiction, I could say, “Well, it’s not really me, it’s a character of me,” and nobody knows how true or not true this is. So many things I wrote and said, “That’s too much, I went too far — I’ll take it out later.” I just went back to it in the end and thought in for a penny, in for a pound.
There’s been a resurgence in the emo music scene, with the When We Were Young festival making headlines and groups like Paramore and My Chemical Romance going on arena tours. As the leader of a band who made an impact on that scene, why do you think it’s having such a pop culture moment?
I’ve read a lot of cultural commentary about how culture is stuck and instead of doing new forms, we’re repeating franchises, like blockbusters, right now. I think some people would see our wave as one of the very last waves that happened. So it’s sort of fresh and people like that it’s the newest thing that we’ve got, even though it’s 20 years old now. A lot of this music is still very vital and it feels like it it never fully cracked the mainstream the first time, but it became incredibly influential for rappers and pop artists.
Even the two biggest bands that broke through, My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy, they weren’t that big at the time. The very last My Chemical Romance tour, we went on it with them and it was playing places that Thursday had headlined when we were at our biggest. So it had to get digested by culture, where Taylor Swift is writing stuff that’s almost like emo, and Paramore has become part of the pop mainstream. It took a little time for it to bubble, and now I think that’s part of why it’s come back so big. The mainstream never really got a taste of it the first time.
Is there potential for Thursday to record new music together?
Thursday may have more music to come, but do we have full albums? I’m not going to push myself to write a Thursday album at this point in my life because I don’t want to fake it. I have a great catalog of work with this band that I love. I’d rather have anything that we add from here on is a true entry into that catalog, rather than an older guy pretending he’s still got the same amount of vulnerable pain and heartbreak that he did when he was a kid.
I’m always open to inspiration. If something great comes along, we’ll put it out. And if it doesn’t, we won’t, and I’m at peace with either of those things. That being said, I do want to get into more of a habit of writing with Thursday, just as an artistic practice that we can all enjoy because we stayed together for 26 years. We should let ourselves write and not judge the results, not discontinue the practice.
Beyond Thursday, what new projects are you hoping to focus on next — No Devotion? United Nations? Another book?
No Devotion is the one thing I know we’ll keep making because we just love it so much. I’m not holding out hope that someday people will discover it and be like, “Holy shit, how do we sleep on this band?” But it doesn’t matter — I love this band, so that’ll definitely keep going. United Nations, I’ve been starting to think like we should bring that back. I really enjoyed that band — it’s so carefree and fun.
I will keep writing, but I don’t know when another book will come because it took me five years to write this one. Five years, five hours a day, five days a week — something like six or seven thousand hours of writing. It’s an unbelievable amount of work, so I might take a year off from writing, just because I really feel called to make more music right now.