Interview: Thursday’s Geoff Rickly Talks Debut Novel ‘Someone Who Isn’t Me’

Marianne Eloise talks with the frontman and author about exploring themes of addiction in his newly-released book.

Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly is so self-deprecating that it could almost be annoying if it wasn’t so clear that he really believes it. When I talk to him, it’s the day of the release of his first novel, ‘Someone Who Isn’t Me’. It’s been devoured by readers, sits at a rare 4.91 stars on Goodreads, and Rickly has sold out events, appeared on podcasts, and had his first literary endeavour praised by people who have never even heard ‘Full Collapse’. Despite that, he talks like he’s on the lam, waiting to be caught out as a fraud.

The book, a fictional, psychedelic tale that follows a singer called Geoff Rickly on his journey taking Ibogaine to overcome heroin addiction, takes its name from a common acronym on drug forums, SWIM. It’s used as a way to deflect blame and conceal the author’s identity from possible prying eyes: i.e., someone who is unequivocally not them has a question about the heroin that they themselves do not take. The book has been in the works for a long time, and it is the first release from author Chelsea Hodson’s independent press Rose Books. Hodson has already done a third printing, he says now.

‘Someone Who Isn’t Me’ is a painstaking labour of love, a complete reimagining of the trip novel by way of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Geoff spent hours working on it every day for five years, inventing a new form from scratch. “I wanted the book to be a series of echoes, starting with one pure moment and the rest of it being this chasing the dragon of getting back to that pure moment of hearing music for the first time,” he says.

‘Someone Who Isn’t Me’ takes its readers on a very strange, dark journey, and it’s a huge literary accomplishment – just don’t tell Rickly that, unless you want to see him blush.

Rock Sound: Your book is out today, congratulations. How do you feel?

Geoff Rickly: I started it nearly six years ago, and it feels really surreal. When you’ve built something up so much, there’s no way to know how you’re going to feel. With Thursday, when we had a record hit the Billboard top 10 we popped champagne at a lavish party, and it felt wrong. ‘War All the Time’ doesn’t feel like a record people should be popping champagne for, but there’s no way to get it right when it comes to celebrating art. Chelsea and I have a sold out reading at McNally Jackson bookstore tonight and afterwards we’re going for dinner with our agent. 

RS: The reception to the book has been amazing so far. Are you surprised by how Thursday fans have received the book? 

Geoff: A lot of the early feedback has been from people who don’t know the band, and they were the ones I was most surprised by. Some Thursday fans are quite literate so I was interested to see their thoughts, but there are music listeners who aren’t big readers. I thought people would buy it as a keepsake, but the amount of people who’ve read the book in one or two days has been a huge surprise, and the feedback has been so overwhelmingly positive. I said to my friend, “things are going so well and I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.” She was like, “maybe there’s no other shoe.” My experience has not led me to believe that there’s no other shoe. Doom is always waiting just around the corner. I can’t complain, I’ve gotten through my ups and downs and I don’t mind that I’ve been through a lot of painful situations. I just don’t relish the idea of continuing.

RS: Do you feel that, now you’ve written the book, a lot of that pain has been processed and packaged?

Geoff: It definitely feels that way. I’d like to put that all in the past now, and maybe that’s a naïve thought on my part. I don’t know what I would write next. I spent everything I had on this book, and it’s going to be a while before I can even think about writing more. I’ve tried to write a few stories, and right now I just don’t have the amount of dedication that it takes to eviscerate everything you’re doing until it starts to work. I’m so tired. I loved that world and it was very hard for me to close the book because I knew that once it was done, that was going to be that for that weird, fictional life that I built for myself and got to live in for five years.

RS: Do you have any idea what you’d try and write next?

Geoff: I’d love to write something that has extremely sharp rules that I have to follow, like a noir mystery. Every time I start a new form of any kind, whether it’s a band or a genre, I go back to thinking, what right do I have to do this? What if this is where people finally find out that I’m a fraud and that I’ve never known what I’m doing? I find balance by just working so hard. I put so much into it that I exhaust myself. I don’t want to ever trust that I have a gift that somebody would want. I don’t know if that’s my strength or my weakness, I still haven’t figured that out. I don’t know if it’s a hangup or why I do a good job, because I do more work than I need to on every project. Or am I overworking things and they could be more natural?

RS: Maybe it’s better to question what you’re doing. Plus, you know you have a team who would tell you if something was shit.

Geoff: You’re probably right. Making art is such a strange thing. In the 12-step program you’re not allowed to sponsor people that you’re friends with, because you can’t be objective with them. You can’t tell them when they’re thinking like an addict. I always worry when I get so close with the people that I work with that they can’t see me objectively anymore because they’re my friend and they like me and they want me to do well. They can always see some part of the person that they like in the thing that I’ve made, so it biases them. I always get nervous about that because I want it to be good work, I don’t want to be favoured because I’m a friendly person. 

RS: You have to trust that the people around you want the best for you. Why did you decide to tell your story in this way?

Geoff: I knew I wanted to write about Ibogaine, because after experiencing it I thought, how does the world not talk about this weird thing? I started taking some classes, and pretty early on I knew it wasn’t going to be journalism, because journalism has the effect of distancing people from the drug. It makes it seem more outlandish, which makes it harder to imagine being in the situation of interacting with it. Fiction also has that effect of distancing. I wanted to do something that bridged that distance, but I wasn’t sure what. I took a memoir class with Wendy Salinger, and after talking about it, she said, “You don’t read memoir, but you love novels. There’s no reason you can’t turn this into a novel.” To have a memoir teacher tell me that was very freeing.

RS: Where did you start?

Geoff: After I had a few drafts under my belt my agent gave me a huge reading list of my contemporaries. I started going through the heavy hitters in auto fiction and the ones that made me reexamine the texture of reality were most interesting to me. They were fictionalising life in a way that made my own life feel more vivid, and that was something that I wanted to do with this book. When people say that it doesn’t seem fictional, that’s such a great compliment because making it look easy is not something I’m good at. I remember reading a review of Thursday and AFI playing in 2004, and they said it was a study in contrasts because AFI jump around and make it look like an effortless ballet, but I seem like a person who’s crawling across the desert on my stomach to get a drink of water. I make it look hard. That is an aesthetic choice in Thursday, but I would like to make something look fun and free and effortless.

RS: I think that memoir can be as stylised and exciting as fiction – Mary Karr is a great example. Do you think there’s another reason you were almost scared to write a memoir?

Geoff: Reading Mary Karr, it didn’t even occur to me that that is memoir and mine is fiction. For me, on a weird psychological level, I was able to be more true inside fiction because I knew that I could tell it as close as I remembered without wondering whether that was what really happened. In the past, my band members have said that when I tell stories onstage I don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. The story became much truer because I allowed myself to say things I wouldn’t have said in a memoir if everyone assumed it were true. I went deeper on the truth than I would have if I was telling people the truth.

RS: It feels like a level of defence between you and reality – like, here is a story about someone who isn’t me.

Geoff: That wasn’t the original title of the book, but in the section about SWIM, my agent underlined it and said, “title?” The book itself becomes that same dodge. I can get away with this because this isn’t me, even though it clearly is me and the protestation of it not being me makes it even more clear that it is me. Suddenly it started to feel like the only logical title for the book. I think you’re right about that. In every fictional novel, there’s always something that’s true and unsayable. Even though the next thing that I write would have to be so different, there’d be some character or some scenario or some feeling that would be related to a thing that’s really fucking me up that I can’t talk about. 

RS: Do you feel like being a lyricist affected how you wrote this book?

Geoff: Because I was writing this fictional character of Geoff who sings for Thursday, it was so important that I keep the lyricism in his voice. That was very hard, because I didn’t want to overdo it, but I couldn’t write about Geoff from Thursday and do it in a minimal way. That doesn’t work for the character that I have been at different times. I found that to be a very difficult tightrope to walk, and I tried to do it where when he was high he goes overboard, and when he’s in withdrawal he pulls it all back. The last half of the book tries to reconcile that with a muted, more precise romantic language.

RS: Do you approach lyrics differently now, too?

Geoff: Someone recently said that they could see the parallels in the imagery from the last No Devotion record. I was making them at the same time and I thought they were so separate, but I look back and I see certain themes popping back up. They’re not as separate as I want them to be. Maybe if this book was more of a fictional genre exercise like I think the next one will be, it would feel more separate.

RS: Did you find writing the book harder than writing music?

Geoff: Music comes much quicker because it’s collaborative and you can ask each other, “does this fuck or not? Does this shit slap?” That immediate feedback from each other, like, “this shit rules”, imagine having that for writing a book. 

RS: Working alone, did you find yourself comparing yourself to other writers?

Geoff: In some ways, but the things that interest me are so singular that even the stuff that I’m compared to I don’t really feel kinship with. I never felt kinship with the stuff Thursday was compared to, and when I was younger I found it quite isolating. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that, if the only people that liked us were the people who truly understood what we were doing, we couldn’t make a living. In the 12 steps, they say “compare and despair”. You’ve got to try and relate to other people’s experience as their own, but you can’t compare yourself to others. The only thing that comes from it is feeling less. Every time people have told me how to write a hit song, I think I could also be a dentist and make real money. 

RS: You don’t get into music or experimental fiction if you want to make money.

Geoff: When I was on tour with Sparta, one day the only place to eat was Jimmy John’s, this American sandwich shop. They had motivational signs on the wall, and one was a story about a guy who was fishing every day in a Japanese fishing village. He started catching really well and selling at the market, so he bought a boat. He was fishing more and he was able to feed his family, then this guy came along and was like, “I could buy you a whole fleet of boats and invest in you”. The guy is like, “why would I want to do that?” The investor says, “Someday you can retire and fish whenever you want.” The guy is like, “I already do that”. The thing you’re telling me I could do someday, the thing I love, I already do it. That’s how I feel about my life. Every day I’m allowed to do this thing that I love, I’m going to keep doing it the way I love to do it. 

‘Someone Who Isn’t Me’ is out now via Rose Books.

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