Geoff Rickly is really easy to talk to. Like, really easy. So easy that my interview with the former Thursday frontman (which took place backstage before a show with his current band, United Nations) started out harmless and light-hearted, and soon meandered into a mountain range of topics, from enacting social change to creative capital to Slipknot to my father Rob Salek (amongst others). We laughed, we cried (okay maybe only I cried), and we gossipped about Shaun Durkan of Weekend. We also talked about United Nations’ aesthetic, and Rickly’s new record label, Collect Records, which has thus far released albums from Black Clouds, No Devotion (Rickly’s other band), and will co-release the highly anticipated Sick Feeling album on January 20th.
I didn’t cut it down, both because that’s cheating and because Rob Salek needs to show up in more articles on this site, so please enjoy our conversation in its entirety:
My first is round of questions comes via Hether Fortune.
Geoff: All right!
I don’t know what any of them mean. #1. Did you bring your Steamers t-shirt on this tour?
Geoff: She’s good. That is a deep question. So that was actually like my 6th grade soccer team? I played all the way through college, and only after I broke my ribs as a goalkeeper did I stop sports and start doing music. I would always wear that shirt for some reason. It got holes in it over time. Finally we played the main stage at Redding Festival and somebody ripped it on the shoulder, so I buried it under the main stage at Redding. (Laughs).
Can we just address the fact that you fit into your 6th grade jersey for that long?
Geoff: I wouldn’t anymore if I still had it. It was more that when I was a kid, I was super into baggy clothes, baggy pants and shirts. I was super into Tribe Called Quest and stuff like that.
Sure, sure. Okay, #2 from Hether. “Ask them about one of their record covers getting banned.”
Geoff: Oh yeah. So for our first record, I really wanted to do something that was copyright infringing and crazy. I had tracked down one of the members of The KLF, I was obsessed with his work and I had started buying prints from him. He would send them and then I realized they were mailed by hand, so I sent him a handwritten letter back. And he was great about it. He said as long as we said we stole it, if anybody ever came for us legally, he would do a record cover for us. So the cover of the record was the Beatles on fire, and the inside was Bugs Bunny blowing himself up and it said “That’s All Folks”. Nobody would carry it. The thing that was messed up is that one of the big retail chains bought like, 4,000 copies, which was the majority of our vinyl, and had a no return policy on vinyl. So they destroyed it, and sent us pictures of them destroying our records. We were like, that’s pretty much all the vinyl we made.
That’s just cruel.
Geoff: Yeah. But I love that the dude from KLF did the art.
That is cool. So Hether called your UN song titles “sassy and sarcastic.” How do you feel about that?
Geoff: (Laughs) Yeah I think “sassy” is a good description. Because they’re not really biting, they’re more like, hey, aren’t those punk kids so crazy. The whole band is really into accelerationism, and the idea of self-referential things eating themselves…
Geoff: Yeah! So I’ve kind of been obsessed with the way punk just turns over and over and over until it becomes just a cycle of anti-, anti-, anti-, anti-, anti-…with no center. So on our first record, the first song is called “The Spinning Heart of the Yo-Yo Lobby” and it was about politics and kid’s games and cruelty and punk rock, they are all kind of based on the same energy. It’s pretty negative energy.
One more from Hether: “Will there be any songs about the sassy spider that bit you in Florida?”
Geoff: (Laughs) I wish. We just played Florida, and no spider got me, which I was super psyched on. Actually my girlfriend’s parents, they won’t meet me, they refuse to, it’s been years, but they hold up as an example of what a bad person I am that I shared with the world that I had been bit my a spider, and might not be able to play the show. See? He’s obviously an attention-seeking bastard. Because I told people what happened. I was at the hospital.
Are they wrong though?
Geoff: They also thought I bit the head of an animal off of stage because they found a photo where my nose was broken on stage, and from the blood they assumed that clearly I must have killed an animal.
Just doing your own Ozzy. Well, my parents probably wouldn’t like you either. Anyway the next round of questions comes via Shaun Durkan, of Weekend, and an employee of yours at Collect.
Yes, I had to dig deep. Get the goss, the juice, the real meat of the issue. For example, what is your favorite Disturbd song?
Geoff: Let me think about this for a second so I don’t mess up…I think that’s um, is that the “bodies hit the floor song”?
Is it “ba wit da ba wit da get down with the sickness”?
Geoff: Yeah! “Sickness” that’s it. Extended version though. Where he talks about “mommy don’t hit me mommy why are you such a fucked up bitch mommy.” That one is priceless. That was a radio hit.
Yes it was. My brother was a big Disturbd fan. I dropped him off at Ozzfests and would wish him luck and pray that he would come back alive.
Next, what is your favorite goth t-shirt to wear to the gym.
Geoff: This one! (Points at his hoodie) This sweatshirt is actually my goth gym shirt. Shaun said that I’m the darkest dude at the gym.
You probably don’t see too many dudes pumping iron in an asymmetrical zip-up black hooded thing huh?
Geoff: No. He also said that I’m an extreme boss.
An extreme boss?
Geoff: Yeah, cause I bought him like a Gatorade or something when we were at lunch.
Oh. That phrase could really have so many meanings depending on which word you put the emphasis on. The next round of questions are actually mine, and I’m sorry they’re not as fun as the others because I don’t know any insider info about you.
Geoff: That’s okay.
Okay then. What was the most unrealistic part of keeping every member of United Nations’ identities a secret, as was the original intention? Besides yours of course.
Geoff: I mean, we couldn’t get some people out of their contracts. A few members were in these contracts they couldn’t get out of to do this project, and each label wanted the record for themselves, so we were like just trying to keep it a little under the radar. It wasn’t actually about anonymity, it was that we just couldn’t say who was in the band.
So it was more about sidestepping legality.
Geoff: Exactly. The hardest part of that was that our drummer at the time, who was in Converge also, has a very identifiable style. So people would hear it and think well, there’s only one person who plays like that.
It was a nice idea in theory.
Geoff: (Laughs) yeah it was a nice idea. And also we didn’t copyright any of the songs. We had some ideas of about trying to lift some of the chains of intellectual property and stuff like that.
Wow. Heady. Well since you couldn’t keep the band members a secret, can you tell me a secret about someone you know? Or it could be about yourself. But it has to be a real secret.
Geoff: Oh man. Let me think about some secrets.
How about a secret about Shaun Durkan?
Geoff: Shaun Durkan? He likes Finch. Is that a secret? No. He’s said that before. But I feel like it should be a secret. I better not even go down that path. Okay, he actually…well, that’s not a secret either. Everything that I should be able to say is a secret about him he broadcasts proudly.
What about something he might not know you noticed about him but that is embarrassing?
Geoff: I think maybe he wears eyeliner in some of his Weekend pictures.
Really? And not in a “hey I’m a guy wearing eyeliner way” but more like “let me secretly look more striking” way?
Geoff: Yeah, like I don’t know if you noticed but he has beautiful eyes. But I think he kind of highlighted them a little, and made this sulky face, which I was definitely into.
Okay, so there is a lot of joking that goes along with this band. In the lyrics and so on and so forth. How important do you think a sense of humor is to self awareness?
Geoff: I think it’s totally essential. I mean with Thursday, everything that we said that was about like self or politics or social issues was done so seriously and so to the point that it was really easy for people to dismiss in a lot of ways. I’m still proud that we did what we did in the way that we did it, but I think this band wanted to take a really different approach where what we do is leading in a lot of ways, you know? It presents the story in a sort of desperate, crazy, wild manner, but that’s to really highlight the things that are really desperate and crazy and wild about the world, and also to not force feed it down your throat, but to make fun of the fact that you already know this and you don’t care anyway because you’re an asshole, and we’re assholes too. And you’re left feeling like it’s funny, but it’s actually kind of sad too. It’s pretty dark humor, and it’s really meant to highlight things that aren’t funny at all. A lot of this is super troubling and fucked up. The first song even about white privilege and property and intellectual property and commerce getting in the way of message…I don’t have answers for any of it, but I think it needs to be talked about. It needs to be addressed. And this was the only way I could think of to get people to actually listen.
Let’s shift a bit. I don’t want this to be an offensive question because it’s really not meant to be…
Geoff: Oh no…
No, really it kind of goes along with the idea of privilege I guess. My dad, Rob Salek, who is a very smart man, he always says that the main benefit of money is that it affords you freedom. Do you feel that thanks to Thursday and that success that you had, that you’re able to have a bit more creative freedom in the projects you pursue now? Be it United Nations or your new record label Collect or whatever.
Geoff: Well, no I wouldn’t be able to, but I don’t think it’s as much a financial issue, because I don’t really have much financial cushion from Thursday at all. We kept doing it and putting ourselves into it for years and years and years to the point that the last four years we were barely breaking even…
Maybe you have more human capital then.
Geoff: I would say creative capital. It took me fourteen years in Thursday to come to that conclusion, but it was really at the end of the band that I thought, okay even if I agree with a critic that’s ripping me apart, I also know that I’ve had enough ideas in those fourteen years and people keep listening and I should stop being so hard on myself. I should just realize that I’m a lifer, and I’ve put my life and my heart into this, and it’s actually what I work on every day. I don’t come in for just a few hours and rip somebody to shreds because it’s easy, and I actually put my heart and soul and time into it, because I love it. And now I realize that I actually am good at a lot of the things involved in it. I think that experience is it. People’s attention, their willingness to listen to you, is the greatest capital you can have as an artist. And even not being self-conscious now of calling myself an artist came from that time put in. I know I am, I work on art all day. So that’s the amazing freedom that Thursday has given me. I’d rather be poor, middle-class, whatever, doing this than with any other huge amount of money doing any other thing in the world. I’d just be spending that money trying to find the freedom I get from making art in the first place. I do think that the one thing I want to keep pursuing for money is that freedom to make art. I don’t want to have to get a day job. So I have to be smart about what I do, what projects I pursue. And I think Hether Fortune, she’s a part of that. I think that’s a smart thing for me to pursue. (Ed Note: Collect will be releasing the next Wax Idols record)
Geoff: I guess when I think about this band, I never think about the music. These guys have that under control, and they’re great at it, and I’m glad that they’re great it, but I never obsess over the details of the music. My part of the music is just atonal screaming for the most part. So when I think about the band I think about the aesthetic of individual pieces. Whether it’s the lyrics or the way they are put down on the 7inch sleeve or instead of it being an album it being two 7inches, a 10inch, and a cassette, and the way that those work together to create a fake career arc of a band. Or I’ll work with Jeremy (Devine) who does Temporary Residence on doing a 10inch that has a split so a song can have two different endings. Things like that. I just want to engage people’s imaginations in a way that’s not directly related to the music. I find that really interesting. So even with all that misinformation about who is in the band, and what the band is about…there was that rumor that stand-up comedians had written the lyrics to the first record, which was totally a joke…
It’s in your Wikipedia (which I also looked at in the car outside before I came in here).
Geoff: Yeah (laughs). When Jonah’s sister (Vanessa Brayer) started introducing us at shows, she’s an SNL Cast Member, people started to believe that whole thing must be true. So that kind of narrative of making a story out of bits of real life…it was like wow, people are believing this to be a true story, and it’s almost totally fictional.
Last question, and this might sound a bit like an old person concern, but if you really want to enact change and have people really listen to what you’re saying, wouldn’t it maybe make sense to sing in a more pleasant, easily understandable way?
Geoff: I know, I know! I thought about that before. I also feel like if people can tell what I’m saying, and then have to look it up, when you read it, it makes much more sense. I think people will sing subversive lyrics to themselves all the time without caring what it means, because they’ve never checked. So I think it kind of cuts both ways. Unless you’re The Clash, who is amazing at that.