Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
By the time the members of Southern California screamo outfit Thrice rolled into the Roxy early last year for their first gig at Los Angeles' fabled Sunset Strip club, they had already begun to make some serious noise on the major-label A&R front.
The act had just issued its sophomore disc, "The Illusion of Safety," on the tiny Sub City label, and its devoted followers were multiplying with each gig.
Before the sold-out show even began, Island A&R man Rob Stevenson knew he wanted the band: He brought New York-based label bigwigs Lyor Cohen (Island Def Jam chairman/CEO) and Julie Greenwald (Island president) along to show them why.
The gig proved pivotal for both band and label. As soon as it was over, Greenwald says she was convinced that Island should sign the group: "It was the most intense show -- every kid had their hand in the air and knew every word," she says. "We were like, 'Oh, my God, they're stars.' "
"The show was so over the top," Stevenson recalls, before stopping and adding with a laugh, "Lyor actually sent me a page on my two-way pager during the show, saying, 'Sign this band or don't come home.'"
Hailing from nearby Orange County -- and used to seeing mostly O.C. kids pressed against the stage during its Los Angeles gigs -- Thrice's audience had morphed somewhat that night, vocalist/guitarist Dustin Kensrue says.
"It was just the perfect show, just amazing," he says. "There were all these kids there that we had never seen before singing every word. It was just kind of an extension of people; for a long time, I was seeing the same people over and over. We had just gotten back from our first European tour, and it was fun to see all these new faces."
Ever since, and especially this summer -- after playing the main stage on the Vans Warped tour -- Kensrue, guitarist Teppei Teranishi and the sibling rhythm section of drummer Riley and bassist Ed Breckenridge have been playing to thousands upon thousands of new faces.
And that seems certain to continue over the next year, following Island's July 22 release of the band's lauded debut for the label, "The Artist in the Ambulance." The set debuted at No. 16 on The Billboard 200.
Although Thrice's ascent to such exposure has been quite steady -- the band marks its five-year anniversary this month -- hearing the track on Los Angeles radio outlet KROQ and seeing the video on MTV is still a bit surreal for Kensrue: "It's just like, 'That's not really there, nobody else is watching that, it's just a special feed for my TV or radio.'"
Founded by fellow guitarists and skaters Kensrue and Teranishi, Thrice took shape while both were finishing high school in the infamously suburban Orange County city of Irvine.
Melding classic and modern metal, hardcore and SoCal punk influences with Kensrue's affinity for everything from Screeching Weasel and Radiohead to Counting Crows, the group quickly built a following with its high-energy local and regional gigs as it bounced among the emo, punk and hardcore scenes.
By the time of the Roxy gig, the band was on the road and manager Nick Bogardus was holed up in his college dorm, calling the band to say that "every label, every label is calling," says Kensrue, now 22.
Among those on the line was producer/American Recordings chief Rick Rubin, who was drawn to the act's "heavy metal precision within the context of the kind of emo, punk world.
"That really separated them from all of the other bands that they would probably be on tour with," he says. "There was this kind of extra, added, higher sense of musicianship. And the lyrics really touched me and appealed to me. I just felt a connection to it, both musically and lyrically. It felt really special. I think they have huge potential."
In early September the band will open some European dates for Rancid before returning for more roadwork in the U.S.
Excerpted from the Aug. 30, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
To order a single copy of the issue, visit The Billboard Store.