Whether it's been with a guitar or bass in his hands, Rich Thurston has been part of the hardcore scene since the early '90s. Beginning with Ego Trip and continuing today with Treason, he's been either on tour or recording with various bands on a pretty consistent basis. In this new interview, the outspoken straight edge musician talks about his life in hardcore and shares his opinions on some hot-button issues that will surely piss some people off, but I've left Rich's thoughts in here exactly how he expressed them.
Where were you born and raised, and what did your parents do for a living?
I was born in Boston, MA in the year of our lord 1973. I lived there until I was ten then we moved to New Jersey. After a couple year sin New Jersey we moved to Florida where I spent the better part of 20 years. I came from a upper middle class family. My dad worked for IBM. I lived in a nice neighborhood. Went to the best school, etc. My parents, although extremely over protective, were very loving and for the most part very supportive. They adopted me when I was like 10-weeks-old or something.
I wasn't a "troubled" kid but I did get into trouble from time to time. School was a nightmare for me. I didnt really fit in. High School was the fucking worst. I was full blown into punk and hardcore and the administration had not a clue how to handle me.
What was your first musical love?
I was way into metal. I had every Iron Maiden poster to date. I would put on concerts for my parents with a tennis racket and light show, which was just a flash light I made my sister turn on and off [laughs]. Music was a major part of my life, as early on as age 5. I had a KISS 45 of "Detroit Rock City," and one year for my birthday, my parents got me a KISS guitar. That thing was sick! I started off listening to hair metal. Soon after I started listening to heavier shit like Slayer and Metallica. Once I was introduced to skateboarding is when I started getting into punk.
What was the first show hardcore you ever attended and what do you remember about that night?
The fiirst show was December 31, 1987 at the Cameo Theater in Miami Beach, FL. It was Agnostic Front and Verbal Assault. It changed my life forever. I was scared to death. I was just a 16-year-old kid that lied to his parents to go watch these maniacs smash each other to this insane music. They would have died if they knew. As scared as I was I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
When did you declare yourself straight edge? What inspired you to go that route, and did you ever go through a drinking phase?
I drank and smoked weed twice in my whole life. The first time I smoked weed I clearly had no idea what I was doing because nothing happened. The second time? Holy shit! I got high as fuck [laughs]. Not going to sit here and say it wasnt a blast. It was great. I just knew it wasnt for me. I did this at an early age. That lifestyle just wasnt what I wanted for my self. Once I found Minor Threat, I knew what I wanted.
I always wanted to be able to place the responsibilty of success and failure on myself with no excuses. I heard a lot of "Aww man, sorry, I was so drunk" and that just didnt sit well with me. I have been straight edge now for over two decades, closing in on three. It was the absolute right choice for me.
Let’s get into the band stuff, cause there’s a lot. Ego Trip was the first group you played in, which was in 1991. You guys put a record out on Youth Bus, which was a label I remember from the Beyond Reason 7” with the graffiti logo.
Ego Trip was a band I started when I was still in high school. I was a terrible guitar player back then — and you can argue that I still am [laughs]. For some reason or another, this dude from California wanted to put our record out on his label, Youth Bus Records. He had a lot of interest in what was happening in South Florida hardcore, actually. Being stuck way down there you are isolated from the rest of country. Shit, it takes like 16 hours just to get out of the state from Miami. That's stupid. Ego Trip was my first experience in a recording studio. It was a wild time. I also played in another band during that time called Timescape Zero. That was very short lived. It was fun though. I dont even think I played a show with them now that I think about it.
A lot of folks probably know you from your time in Culture. When I interviewed (Culture vocalist) Damien Moyal in 2016, he told me that you had originally been singing and playing guitar in the band but you wanted to concentrate on the latter.
I think I started Culture in like 1993-ish. I had moved back from Richmond and was essentially homeless. I stayed at this dude Mark's house and he knew a kid that played drums named Josh Williams. We just started jamming one day, just the three of us. I didnt really have any idea what we were going to sound like. I think looking back we didnt sound like anyone. It was a weird mix of so many other bands that it just sounded different. The day before we were supposed to record our demo, the singer quit, so I decided to sing. I wrote some silly lyrics about a chick that dumped me and the demo was born.
In the same interview, I mentioned to Damien how much I enjoyed the Culture album Born of You. He said that while he’s come to be proud of it, he initially wasn’t happy about its production values. What are your thoughts on that album?
The Born of You record from the lay out to the production was straight garbage. There were so many members early on but finally we ended up with the Born of You cast. As Damien has said over the years, I too have come to embrace it. I think if we had toured more in the States, we could have been a bigger band. Europe was always good to us. It was just a strange time to be in a band for all of us. Coexisting with 4 other dudes that all wanted to be "in charge" was taxing. Born of You to me is a classic example of pure song writting. We didnt listen to any bands and go "yeah lets do that." It was very organic.
From your estimation, why did Culture break up when it did?
Culture ended for me when they kicked me out [laughs]. Utimately, I think what ended the band was that there were too many chiefs and not enough indians. That and Damien started drinking...so... [laughs]
You next played in Blood Has Been Shed for a year. How did you end up in the band since they were based in Connecticut and you were in Florida, and was it always meant to be a temporary kind of thing?
After I was relieved of my duties in Culture, I wanted out of Florida. I had enough. I almost played in Despair for a minute since Scott and I were talking. Eventually, Despair broke up and he invited me to move to Buffalo and play in the new band he was starting. I didnt. It was Buried Alive. I am an idiot. So, I went to Ohio. I had friends there and it was an easy move.
I had a friend that played in Blood Has Been Shed and they needed a bass player. I moved out in 1999 and started playing bass. Eventually I moved to guitar. I really learned how to be a musician playing in Blood Has Been Shed. I learned how to play better. I learned how to dial in a good tone. I learned a lot about music. I'm glad I had the opportunity.
You were in Diecast for a spell.
I played in Diecast for like 2 months. I played like 4 shows with them. Probably would have been longer but I lived like 2 hours from the rest of the band. It was just too much.
One Nation Under was a metallic hardcore band you handled guitar duties in for some time in the early ‘00s. I’m not too familiar with that one.
One Nation Under was originally called Broken Glass Everywhere. We played a way more metal influenced sound at first. Then I went on tour as a roadie for Walls of Jericho to the West Coast. I heard Throwdown. One Nation Under then turned into the Throwdown of the Midwest [laughs]. We played Hellfest in 2001 and 2002. We put a record out on Alveran Records, which at the time was partners with Eulogy Recordings.
How did you go from One Nation Under to joining Terror?
One Nation Under was a fun band but I had the opportunity to go play bass in Terror and I wasn't making the same Scott Vogel mistake twice in one lifetime. I learned the songs off the demo plus one or two more on my own, met those dudes in Buffalo, had a real short practice then did three shows in Canada. Right after that, we recorded the Lowest of the Low record. All good things must come to end though and after about a year I wasnt in Terror anymore. Between actually moving to California and Todd Jones being a fucking dick (I was equally a dick, I'm sure) it was never going to work. My last show was the Reach the Sky farewell show at the Palladium in Massachussets.
What’s the story behind Still Crossed?
Still Crossed was started right after I was done in Terror. I had some riffs and I linked back up with the One Nation Under dudes. It was pretty easy. I sent Dave [Mandel] from Indecision Records the demo just because we were friends and I wanted his opinion. He ended up putting it out.
On Bodies found you reuniting with Damien Moyal. He told me you had initially started writing the material for that project and then invited him to collaborate. What did you set out to do with On Bodies, and what’s the status of that project today?
On Bodies was really just me writing some music with just the intentions of recording it by myself for my self. I asked Damien to sing on it with the idea that it would never be anything but just a studio thing just for fun. Once we recorded, we decided to maybe find a label that would be interested in putting it out... still with no intentions of playing any shows, etc. At that point, it was just Damien and I. Eulogy put out what we refer to as "The Demo." Then Irish Voodoo came along and [label owner] Joey [Fitzgerald] really got behind us. He put a lot of money into our layouts and promotion. We played 4 shows total in the US and somehow got to do 5 shows in Japan. I think if we had the time in our lives, On Bodies could do some really cool stuff. Right now, we have four more songs that are 95% done and will be on another 7" through Irish Voodoo shortly after the new year.
For Walls of Jericho, you filled in on bass for some touring. What was it like coming in for a role like that? Was it kind of liberating to just play, or did you long to do your own thing again?
I filled in on bass for Wall of Jericho on their first tour in Europe. I hadn't been back there since Culture, so it was a fantastic opportunity. It was a difficult tour. Lots of bickering and in-fighting within the band. I stayed out of it for the most part because it wasnt my band, but Jesus, it was rough! Most of the shows were great though. While I was in Italy, I got an email saying I was out of Still Crossed [laughs]. Story of my life.
Justified Defiance was more of a recent project you were involved in where you handled lead vocals.
Justified Defiance was just supposed to be for fun. Myself and this dude Zach just wrote some songs and recorded them for a demo to pass out at This Is Hardcore one year. We gave one to Dave from Six Feet Under Records. He was into it and wanted to put it out, so we needed to find other members [laughs]. We did and we played a few shows and put that 7" out on SFU. That was another short-lived project, because being in a band is hard [laughs].
That brings us to Treason, your latest band. New Age Records founder Mike Hartsfield said this about you guys when he signed you to his label: “We haven’t had many heavy hardcore bands recently on the label. Sometimes people forget New Age was the foundation for bands like Unbroken and Mean Season.”
I had a bunch of riffs. I wanted to record them, so I got a drum set and practiced the drum parts I had thought out for it. I recorded a 4-song demo. I played all the music (just like in Justified Defiance). My dude Chris who was the original singer for One Nation Under and also in Suffocate Faster did vocals on it. I sent the songs to Mike, not really thinking anything of it. He was way into it so boom... 12" EP on New Age Records. That for me was a big deal. I loved New Age Records for so many years and they brought so many great bands to my attention. It was and is an honor. Treason is a band that is really just for fun.
How far would you like to take Treason? Do you guys have the time to dedicate to touring a lot, or do you assess each opportunity and see how you can make it happen?
Now in my mid-40s, I needed to approuch being in a band differently. I cant go on tour... I have a family and a job. Playing in front of 10 kids for zero dollars doesnt make as much sense now as it did when I was 20. We do weekends. We got to play This Is Hardcore last year. I just want to have fun and not sweet the silly stuff. Just five dudes jamming and having a good time. If people want to listen cool. If not, it's cool, too. I found a group of dudes that are edge as fuck and like to mosh so I feel pretty good [laughs].
Earlier this year, I hosted a panel centered around Tony Rettman's Straight Edge book here in Los Angeles. When I posted about it on Facebook, you were critical of some of the panel members being part of it despite them not being straight edge anymore. Can you clarify what you meant?
I have been straight edge for about three decades now. I've seen a lot of people come and go over those years and the last thing I want to hear is one or two of those faces telling me anything about straight edge or their feelings on it. In 2018, I truly don't give a shit what [Shiners Club, No For An Answer singer] Dan O thinks about straight edge. No one should. Just be happy you are mildly relevant still and enjoy it. Curt [Canales] from Chain of Strength is another one. Just be happy that kids want to see your band. Stop with your silly Facebook rants. I don't care if you are pushing buttons for fun or not. I loved your band and now you are making me hate it.
In my younger years I would get bent about people selling out. It would infuriate me. Now, at 45, I can see it with a bit of a different perspective. It bothers me when someone decides to not be edge anymore. It truly bums me out. More often than not, these people spiral out of control for a while. Some can pull it together and others we lose forever. My main issue with someone selling out is how it seems to be the norm to put down straight edge with shitty jokes or to belittle it to make them more comfortable with their decision easier.
I am cool with bands that used to be very straight edge getting back together and playing shows. Culture did it. We had a blast. What I am not cool with — and what no one else should be cool with — is said bands printing merch with Xs on it. Don't give me your "legacy" or "nostalgia" bullshit. Have some fucking respect for what got you to where you are. Don't mask it with "those songs werent about straight edge" just so you can feel ok singing the lyrics. Perhaps I am taking it too seriously. Hell, perhaps I am taking myself too seriously. I just wish some people would sit down and shut their mouths. Just be happy that there a few people that still give a shit.
Treason's No One Is Safe EP is available digitally on Bandcamp and on vinyl via New Age Records. The band will also be part of the New Age Records 30th Anniversary show in Garden Grove, CA on Aug. 25. Tickets are still available at this link.