Restaurants, Rest Stops & Red Bulls: Geoff Rickly of Thursday

A column about what musicians are eating on and off (but mostly on) tour.

Music Features Restaurants, Rest Stops and Red Bulls
Restaurants, Rest Stops & Red Bulls: Geoff Rickly of Thursday

I think we learn a lot about people by the food that they eat. When I was a kid I was kind of obsessed with McDonalds, so much so that I applied to work there when I was 13 and they told me I wasn’t what they were looking for. But I think food—especially fast food, or food we eat on the go—is important and an integral part of our lives. The simple pleasures and the easy urges and the decisions we make when time is short and need is urgent.

It’s something I think about a lot with bands on the road. How do they eat, what are their habits, how does eating on the road factor into their lives. It’s not on the internet anymore, but I wrote a piece once titled What Your McDonald’s Main Says About You, where I replaced the astrological signs with McDonald’s burgers and it was surprising to me just how many people felt seen and read by that post.

The food we eat, even the stuff we order in value meals or off the rack at a gas station, defines us in strange, funny and surprising ways. Last month, we caught up with Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem. Today, Restaurants, Rest Stops & Red Bulls returns with Geoff Rickly of beloved post-hardcore band Thursday, and recent author of Someone Who Isn’t Me, a beautiful, powerful and moving book that portrays a fictionalized version of Rickly and his life and takes an honest and realistic look at addiction.

There wasn’t enough room to print so much of what we got into with this conversation, a journey that travels from $5 meals and hot dog buns with mustard to Noma in Copenhagen, words of wisdom on the side of a Jimmy Johns to the Outback Steakhouse with many stops for coffee on the way, but we did our best to include the many restaurants and coffee shops that Rickly mentioned over the course of an hour. You can purchase a copy of Someone Who Isn’t Me from Rose Books.

This conversation has been trimmed and edited for clarity.

Paste Magazine: I listened back to your episode of 24 Question Party People with Yasi [Salek], so I know to talk to you about Samiam a lot.

Geoff Rickly: You know, it’s funny. I hadn’t thought about them in a really long time. And then, since that interview, I mostly kept bringing them up. There’s a song that I’m working on where the chorus is extremely Samiam and that’s very funny to me, because now I’m like Is this because I’m thinking about them too much?

This is such a funny question to ask, given the context of the interview we’re doing, but is there anything that you’re like, I don’t want to talk about this?

I don’t think so. Not in the food world anyway.

Can you imagine if this was the controversial interview where it’s like, and then 35 minutes in, Geoff just hung up the Zoom and blocked me on Twitter. We’ll never know what happened, all she did was ask him about pizza and it just got so heated, they were just screaming at each other.

My views on pizza could probably get me canceled.

Okay, well, now I need to know: What are your views on pizza?

I don’t like tomato sauce.

You just don’t like tomato sauce at all?

Yeah, I don’t like it on pizza and I don’t like it on pasta. So I have a really hard time, the less intrusive that a tomato sauce is on my pizza, the better I am. And if I can get a white slice, I’m in heaven.

What about, like, a pesto. Do you like a pesto and flatbread pizza?

Yeah, I think I can do pesto. It needs to have cheese for me to feel like it’s fully a pizza slice with pesto. Otherwise, it does feel more like a flatbread to me.

Have you always been this way?

Yeah. When I was a kid in New Jersey, I had a babysitter who made only two dishes every night. One of them was pasta with red sauce and one of them was pizza with red sauce and, after a couple years, I just was like I can’t do this anymore. And then weirdly, as an adult, it seems as much as I sing, you know—and when Thursday was first touring, we would do 11 months a year of touring. I would lose my voice, so I had to be really careful. One of the big ones is no onions, no tomatoes. So red sauce was right out the window right away, which…it was not a sacrifice for me.

So you’re, like, decidedly not Italian?

Yeah, I’m more on the—if you have to go into the New Jersey dichotomy—Irish side of the spectrum, which ranges from Italians to Irish [laughs]. It’s interesting, my relationship with food has changed so much. My current partner—who I’ve been with for 12 years, or something like that—she works in food and is such a food person that now, when I tour, friends that she’s done stories with or opened a restaurant—so there’s always somebody who wants me to come try something now on tour, which is a lot different than when we started touring. And it was all about like, you know, cup of noodles at a gas station over and over and over again until we were finally getting ramen packets and boiling them and adding all kinds of different things, condiments some nights.

And you know, some nights we would pan-fry them on a hot plate with cinnamon and sugar, that’s the closest we can get to a dessert. We were so broke back in the very early days, the ‘90s Thursday. The 2000s Thursday, we could afford some food, we just didn’t have good taste. And now, since the band has been back together, I get to go and meet up with Sean Brock at Husk or something like that and have some kind of a crazy meal. And I really have to hold back because I don’t want to, you know, throw up on stage or something.

Is there a part of you that sometimes misses the disastrous simplicity of like, we can only afford $1.50 worth of food? This is what $1.50 of food looks like.

We used to do this thing that we got from Q and Not U that was called $5 days. And $5 days is every day, each member of a band gets $5 to live on and that was how we managed the money. There would always be creative combinations, people would team up and say, I’m getting a thing of bread today or we’re teaming up and doing pizzas or something. And do I miss that? Not really. I think the reason that I don’t really miss it is because the combinations that some of my other band members would come up with would be so disgusting. Tom, in particular, it’s actually in the book [Someone Who Isn’t Me]—but one of his moves was he would do these barbecue Fritos twists, and he would wrap them in gas station salami slices and dip them in mayo.

And in a hot van in the middle of summer, you just can’t imagine anything more—just to see it happen in front of you is so repulsive. I remember there was one where Tucker couldn’t find anything vegan, and he was just eating mustard and hotdog buns. That was super depressing to see, as much as I want to romanticize it because we were young and everything’s better when you’re young. It’s something that was so gross, but then you’d stay at somebody’s house and if they could actually cook it was like a revelation. Where have you been all my life? You can cut fresh vegetables and put them in a pot to simmer with some oil? [laughs] How’d you do it?

Do you remember anybody in particular that was your little oasis on tour, like Oh, we stayed at so and so’s house and they made salad?

Yeah, I remember. Like Kathy Hersh’s [Victory Records publicist] house, she was our Victory mom. She would make stir fry with tofu and stuff. It was unbelievable to us to have something that didn’t taste like everything else we had ever eaten. I had a friend who I had grown up with that was a short-order cook in Louisville, and he had us come to his diner and made us everything and it was really Southern. I remember it was the first time I tried biscuits and gravy and I was like, wow. I remember eating the whole meal and half the band at that point was vegetarian and we were like, This is so good I’ve never even had potatoes this good and he was like, Yeah, we cook everything in bacon fat, it tastes good. And the vegetarians were like, Uh, what?

There’s always adventures like that. And then friends who were fans of the bands like Danny [Bowien], who opened Mission Chinese food, having him come to the show with catering tins full of four or five different dishes where each one of them is the best one you’ve ever had until you have the next one. That was something else. And the fact that Danny, even even before he was writing vegan cookbooks, insisted on having vegan versions of everything on the menu. He didn’t want there to be a separate menu, that was really exciting. Especially for Tucker who was strictly vegan. He’s still basically vegan, but every so often he won’t be as militant. That was really something, when our friends and fans started growing into some of the best cooks in the world.

You’re the foodie band.

I’ve become one because, when you have a partner for long enough that has a James Beard Award, you suddenly start to develop a palette of your own, much to the chagrin of my family. Before I met Liza, the joke was that I’m the one in the band with the sweet tooth. So the rest of my band—whenever we go anywhere, whether it was IHOP or Denny’s or whatever—they’d say You want to see a dessert menu? and the whole table would always look at me to the point where my band members called me “sweet edge.” That was my nickname. And then, eventually, I have this—let me see if I can show what I’m saying. [Rickley stands up in front of the camera and shows me a tattoo on his calf] It’s a cupcake with crossed candy canes in front of it and it says “sweet edge.” Look, you’ve got to stand for something.

When I woke up this morning, I did not think I’m gonna see the greatest tattoo I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It’s like the exact opposite of Moby’s animal rights tattoos on his forearms.

I know, and the tattoo artists tried to convince me that I should get an olde English flowing banner around it that says, instead of “true ‘til death,” “true ‘til diabetes,” but I felt that was really tempting fate—given that my diet is not great.

I’m gonna have a recovery period after this from all of this information that I’ve just gained. So, what’s your go-to sweet thing?

Well, when we were still doing basement shows and stuff, some nights Applebee’s had half-price appetizers after midnight. We would all go and get the half-price appetizers, but my thing was the walnut blondie skillet. It was a blondie with ice cream on top of it, pecans crushed on top of that and then some kind of drizzle of white chocolate sauce—in the skillet. So the whole thing’s frying, and that was probably my first sweet love. Now on tour every day, I have on the rider “one big bag of assorted candy”—and that’s for everybody, it’s not just for me. But, I always pray that we’re gonna get a Reese’s bag—because then you get the pieces, you get the cups, you get all the different Reese’s treats. I love Reese’s.

There’s a dividing line here between Canadian and American Reese’s, I feel like it’s something slightly different in Canada than it is there. You get a bag of every different kind of Reese’s variation?

Yeah, it’d be like many little bags of Reese’s Pieces. And then small-size Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and then, maybe, little individually wrapped Take Fives. And then there’s also sort of a Hershey’s/Reese’s miniatures bag too, which would throw a KitKat in with it as well. There’s crossover events that happen in my life. And then, as far as favorite sweet things now, as such a highly refined gourmand, something that I love is sticky toffee pudding, which isn’t that far removed from the walnut blondie skillet experience. It’s very caramelly, dense and rich, and it has ice cream to cut through the sweetness.

Did you have that in Ireland for the first time? What’s the country of origin of it?

I think it might be the UK but, for me, my country of origin with it was Australia. I used to be married to an Australian, and she introduced me to the wonders of sticky toffee pudding. And that was revelatory. Also in Australia, the other thing that I love over there that I got my band members hooked on are Tim Tams. They’re just the best thing ever. I’m not a chocolate person, but they have this—it’s two chocolate cookies with chocolate cream wedged between it all wrapped in chocolate. And the chocolate is somehow more of a Nutella-ish type of chocolate. So it appeals to me more. It’s not like cocoa-ey chocolate, and they’re long and rectangular. She had showed me a thing called a Tim Tam Slam, which is [when] you bite off the corners long ways and then you suck either a coffee or a creamy tea through it—and the whole thing starts as a straw but then, eventually, it erodes and the whole thing sucks up into itself as a mushy, chocolatey delicious treat. Unfortunately in the US, they’ve been licensed to Pepperidge Farms, and they’re not the same. The American version is not the same. It’s a heartbreaker.

You should have people import them for you and then, if you have a special event, get everybody to come over for dinner and then We’re just gonna do Tim Tam Slams until we pass out.

I used to, but after getting divorced it’s like, well, we have to remember to tour Australia. When we’re there, we’ll all indulge heavily.

Do you plan tours around food?

Yeah, a little bit. It’s a tough one because Germany and the UK are not my favorite food destinations, and that’s where Thursday is the biggest in Europe. Whereas I really want to be big in Copenhagen, so I can go drink all the delicious coffee. And, even though I’m not supposed to want to anymore, I’ve always wanted to eat at Noma because it sounds so strange. As a boy who didn’t grow up with money or resources or fancy food or anything like that it seems so alien and fun. It doesn’t seem like something that my family would have done. It sounds really fun. So yeah, I’d love it. If we were so big that Claus Meyer was like Come eat at Noma!

I mean, my goal with this is to get musicians either some sort of brand sponsorship with a food brand, so we’ll pitch this to Copenhagen specifically.

Yeah, yeah. And maybe Reese’s will come to want me to be an ambassador.

This is perfect. It’s all coming together perfectly. You mentioned coffee. And I know you reviewed coffee for a little while.

Yeah, for my partner’s food site. Because I’m such an obsessive about coffee, it gave me something to pour my energy into [when I was] sober. You know, coffee is such a great sober drug, it’s one of the ones we’re allowed. I really love all the different preparation methods of coffee, and I really love third-wave coffee—because it’s a little lighter. You can taste so many different strange notes. Especially really floral tea-like coffees black, I really enjoy those. Another fun thing about going around the country is, if you go somewhere super fancy, a coffee will be like $7. So it’s a really nice way to try something super specialized and over the top. I guess, for me, that’s my Noma—having a really great cup of coffee that’s not going to bankrupt me. But every different city will have its own little gem that they love. And in the last two years, the biggest discovery for me is a place by the Knitting Factory in Boise.

It’s right around the corner, called Slow By Slow Coffee and it’s unbelievably good coffee. They’re one of those places that do micro-roasters from all around the country, they’ll have different visiting favorites and they’ll recommend to you what’s great and what preparation method is great for right now. And sometimes they’ll say You might not want this, it’s actually it’s fermented and The pourover brings out whiskey barrel notes. Sign me up, let’s do that. You know, the more adventurous [the] coffee, I’m in. It’s one of those ones you know; you hear someone say Oh we’re playing Boise, is there anything to do in Boise? Then it’s There’s this amazing coffee shop…

What’s the blend between wanting to be adventurous on the road and wanting to be like We’ve been on the road for a month, I just need something that feels familiar?

I think it depends on how long you’ve been out [on the road]. At the beginning, you’re so adventurous and, by the end, you’re DoorDashing Starbucks to the bus or whatever. I did a tour with Sparta this summer—they have three members of the band and no crew in a van—and I was in the van with them, so I was like their fourth member, even though I was playing solo and all three of them didn’t drink coffee. If I didn’t get coffee before we got the van call, it meant there was going to be three or four hours ‘til the first gas stop and no coffee. So, every morning, as soon as I woke up with the alarm, I’d hit DoorDash to get the coffee brought to me.

What’s your Starbucks order?

I usually do one cold brew and one latte.

[laughs] That will wake you up in a heartbeat. Holy shit. What about coffee on the road? Do you bring gear with you?

I used to bring gear! I used to bring an Aeropress. But the problem is, I really feel like, to get really good Aeropress, you also need to bring a burr grinder with you. And then, once you bring the burr grinder, you also need a scale. And once you’re on the road, moving the scale becomes one of those things and it’s just such a production to get the coffee going every morning. I just would rather find either a local place or suck it up and drink at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks or something. But at home, I go crazy for it.

Who’s the most foodie band you’ve ever toured with? Do you go into it with people where you’re like, Oh, we can bond over ‘Hey, we’re in this city, I know these three spots, let’s try to hit them’?

Yeah, there are people out there that are really good like that. I think, in general, solo artists are more willing to indulge themselves because they’re out on their own in their own little adventure. And so, whatever they’re into, they go deep into it. I mean, Cursive, it’s interesting—because there are people like Cursive who own a bar, or there’re people like Murder By Death, who have a beautiful restaurant in Louisville. So those people are really interesting to go out with, because some of them are like, Oh, how did they do this dish? It’s really strange, it’s not our style of food, but I like it. They get on that level, and that’s really fun.

Do you also like to indulge in Today we’re just gonna have Taco Bell?

Taco Bell is the hardest one for me because I am, as my partner’s family reminds me, a gweilo—which, I think, loosely translates to “white demon.” The spice gets me. I have a hard time with spice. I know we’re talking about Taco Bell and not some real real authentic place but, even the regular cheese quesadilla has some sort of spicy mango-type thing. It doesn’t sit well with me. I really have to avoid the Bell.

You run from the border.

I’ve got to tell you, there was a place—and I don’t know if this is a franchise thing where they’re allowed to diversify the decorations at Jimmy John’s. I was reading something on the wall outside of one where I thought That’s actually super deep and I’m going to remember this [laughs], which isn’t something I ever think of with a Jimmy John’s. There was this story about a man in a village in Okinawa, or something, who gets up every morning and fishes and brings home food for his family and he starts supplying the local markets. He’s just doing his thing and, at some point, he buys a fishing boat—or someone buys him one—and, then, he’s getting even more fish. Somebody says, I want you to buy more fishing boats, and then you can build up your company and, in 20 years, you can sell it. He says Why would I want to do that? [They say] So you can retire and peacefully go fishing on your own boat. And he says, I already do that. It was the moral of the story, the idea that I already live the life of my dreams, so why would I want to build that up and be part of the capitalist machine? I’m already at the end goal here. Sometimes I think, in music, I forget that I already have my Goldilocks life.

I’m not uncomfortably well-known that I can’t walk down the street in any city. The most uncomfortable it ever gets is, sometimes, you get somebody saying Hey, I like your band. Not crying, just Hi and, yet, I can still make a living traveling and playing music and seeing friends. If I was in a pre-birth state and you offered me any life, this is the life that I would want to have. So whenever I get frustrated about X, Y or Z goals that I had and I didn’t reach, it’s important for me to remember those goals don’t actually mean that much in the scheme of things. I get to keep doing this. I just love playing music.

That paragraph started with Jimmy John’s and, somehow, I’m moved to tears.

[laughing] That’s what I’m saying!

It’s like a spiritual awakening at a Jimmy John’s.

I feel like that’s a really good subheading.

I Have to change the title of the series, and it’s gonna be “Your spiritual awakening at a Jimmy John’s.” Do you have a fast food of choice? I’m weirdly obsessed with fast food, because McDonald’s turned me down as an employee when I was 13 and I’ve been obsessed with them ever since.

It’s kind of disappointing, since we’re going back to the full circle here, but I like Domino’s Pizza’s flat crust.

I can’t eat Domino’s anymore, because it’s very reminiscent of when I was in the worst of my alcoholism and depression and I was ordering enough Domino’s for seven people and eating it by myself in a bathtub until the water ran cold. It’s so tied to that in my brain. But I want to load up that app! I want to watch that bar fill up!

And cinna-sticks, I was obsessed with cinna-sticks.

I mean, if you don’t like cinna-sticks, I think you should be separated and studied. Two very important questions and I’ll let you go, because I know you’ve got important things to do. If you could be sponsored by a food or beverage brand who would it be?

Like many of my peers a decade ago, we were given a Taco Bell box back in the day. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to being sponsored by somebody. If I can be sponsored by anybody, if it was any coffee—and if they expanded more in a couple places—there’s a place called Devocion. It’s a Colombian spot and I think they’re partly owned by the Colombian government, so they have some initiative where they get the coffee into the states in a record time. And it’s so fresh, it’s so good. But, let’s see, if I could be sponsored by anyone…I guess Outback Steakhouse—maybe just so I could go in and get my bloomin’ ‘onion whenever I wanted. I went there last night. I can’t lie, I had a bloomin’ onion last night.

Just a bloomin’ onion, then you’re gone.

No, I stick around. Their cheese fries as well are out of control. They serve them with ranch and stuff. They’re so good. Also, their sweet potato with cinnamon sugar and butter is so good. So yeah, I’d probably be real trashy and say Outback Steakhouse.

I’m not shook, but I’m surprised at this answer because I was not expecting it. I appreciate it. And I like it. And also what would be the signature Geoff Rickly meal on the menu at the Outback Steakhouse. What vegetable are you bloomin’?

They started doing shrimp and bloomin’ chicken, which is insane, too, I don’t know if you know that. But I’d probably do a Tim Tam sticky toffee pudding.

Oh! Over the course of this conversation, I’ve really gotten to know you as a food person and I feel like this is extremely in-line with a person who told me you don’t like chocolate and used the word chocolate no less than 1,000 times.

[laughs] I know, right, isn’t that funny?

I hope that some festival out there that brings Thursday out, or brings you out for a solo thing, or a literary festival that brings you for reading for your book—I hope they invent this and bring it in for you.

[laughing] Right, do my reading under an Outback Steakhouse banner that I’m contractually obligated to rep.

You should do a reading in an Outback Steakhouse. I feel like it is the perfect synergy of these worlds.

The tour of only Outback Steakhouses.

NPR called you the voice of a generation, but I also feel like you’re like the second-coming of Anthony Bourdain for this very reason.

I don’t know if you noticed, but that quote from NPR says, voice of his generation.

Niko Stratis is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in outlets like SPIN, Bitch, Autostraddle, Catapult and more. Her work primarily focuses on culture, the 1990s, queer/trans topics and as often as possible where all those ideas intersect. Niko lives in downtown Toronto with her fiancé and their dog and 2 cats. She is a cancer.

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