Interview: Thou

I had a rough idea of what I wanted my songs to sound like, but you never really know what itʼs going to be like until you actually sit down to write and let the ideas flow. I think all of us kind of knew where both Emma and Thouʼs strengths are.

Thou have just released a much anticipated album with the great Emma Ruth Rundle and the album, which is entitled May Our Chambers Be Full, is a majestic and sublime listen which sees both of thee artists involved complementing each other tremendously. Gavin Brown had the chance to talk to Thou’s Andy Gibbs and Bryan Funck and we got the full scope on working with Emma on May Our Chambers Be Full and how the collaborative effort came about as well as working with photographer Craig Mulcay on the project, playing Roadburn, the Misfits, the follow up to their Magus album and what they are working on next.

E&D: Your collaboration album with Emma Ruth Rundle, May Our Chambers Be Full is out now. When did the idea for this collaboration take place?

Andy: Basically it stemmed out of Walter from Roadburn asking us to a collaborative set at the festival. We had already thought about collaborating with Emma, and this was a good excuse to follow through with the idea.

E&D: How did the creative process and recording of the album go?

Andy: We sent each other songs remotely over email, then met up for a few 2-3 day marathon practice/writing sessions. The actual recording took about 3 days if I remember correctly; we played all the songs live together then went back and did overdubs and touch-ups.

E&D: May Our Chambers Be Full has a very ethereal and epic feel to it, was that always your intention with the album?

Andy: I certainly wanted there to be an ethereal component to the songs I wrote, yeah. I was listening to Victorialand by the Cocteau Twins a lot during that time, and that inspired me to leave some room in the songs for Emma to really shine while I focused on “atmosphere” or just big, hanging chords.

E&D: Did you work together on the lyrics and what subjects do the songs take on that you can tell us about?

Bryan: Emma had lyrics for a few of the songs she brought. I wrote lyrics for the rest of it. We both just riffed off what the other wrote. I think her parts mostly focused on mental crises, whereas mine were drawing more heavily from the ecstatic tradition, specifically the existential dance movement of the early-mid 20th century. I guess I tended to focus more on excitement and exuberance.

E&D: Did you have an idea of how you both wanted the album to sound at the start of the process or did it just happen organically?

Andy: We didnʼt really discuss it beforehand. I had a rough idea of what I wanted my songs to sound like, but you never really know what itʼs going to be like until you actually sit down to write and let the ideas flow. I think all of us kind of knew where both Emma and Thouʼs strengths are, and knew what kind of stuff would come off as cheesy or out of place.

E&D: How did you first come into contact with the music of Emma Ruth Rundle and what are your favourite albums/songs by her?

Andy: I first heard her stuff in in 2012 or 2013 when I was working a job in a kitchen, a coworker put on one of her records. It wasnʼt until I saw her live that I really went deep into her music, though. Maybe itʼs cliche, but ‘Real Big Sky’ is still my favorite of hers. Instant cryfest.

E&D: You worked with New Orleans photographer Craig Mulcahy on the visual aspects of the album. Were you familiar with his work beforehand and what did he bring to the visual aspects of the music?

Bryan: We’ve known Craig since 2010 back when he was still in Moloch. Me and Andy have been in bands with him here in New Orleans. So, yeah, we’re pretty familiar with his work! He shot our “bio picture” for Magus and the accompanying EPs and helped out enormously with the lighting for ‘The Changeling Prince’ video. He’s also helped me a ton with some design and layout work. Originally, I had recruited him into this project to recreate a few photos of Mary Wigman’s dance troupe. But once we dug into it a bit more, it was clear that his creative eye was a lot sharper than mine, so we just let him run wild with the photography. I’ve had some long conversations with him about the images all through this process that really clarified and articulated a lot of my feelings about where the aesthetics fit in with this record. Those ideas have also had a big impact on where my brain is going for the next batch of Thou material; namely, I want to move away a bit from the nature/primitivist/actvist cliche I think that we–along with so many “metal” bands–have been mired in. I should also point out that Craig has literally saved our asses on the backend of this collaboration record. We ran into some printing issues (which are going to see the physical release of this thing delayed a couple of months), and Craig stepped up well beyond his role as the photographer to sort out some really deep and nasty technical problems. I can’t thank him enough for doing that. In my mind, he saved this record. It’s been an especially trying few months for the both of us dealing with the production issues, and he really did the bulk of the work and took the lion’s share of the pain. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out some of his other creative works. He did a short run print zine called “Rebellion” recreating the 1811 German coast uprising. I’m hoping he does another run of those; the pictures are amazing, and I think they’re all on his website. Craig has also recently shot our friend Melissa Guion for her most recent MJ Guider record Sour Cherry Bell for Kranky, and he helped out with one of the videos; he’s just recently done some incredible photography for the next Silver Godling record that Emily McWilliams is wrapping up, but I don’t want to give to much away there. I’m hoping we haven’t burnt him out on Thou because I’d absolutely LOVE to get him on some more records.

 

E&D: Are you happy with the feedback for the album youʼve had?

Bryan: To be honest, I’ve been so mired in the printing issues for the last few months, I can’t stand to even look at the record online. I haven’t really been able to enjoy any of the response. Maybe in a few years when the stress of it is just a vague memory, and I can laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Andy: Right after the whole thing was done, I sent the final mixes to a couple of people I trust and they both gave me positive feedback. Beyond my trusted peers and friends, I donʼt really take many peopleʼs opinions to heart. I hope people like it of course, but if they donʼt I wonʼt be losing any sleep.

E&D: Are there any plans for you and Emma to work together again in the future?

Andy: Touring, hopefully. Past that, Iʼm not sure. Sheʼs got her own busy schedule and weʼre going to focus on Thou stuff for a little bit so if we do something, it probably wonʼt be anytime soon.

E&D: Emma joined Thou onstage at last year’s Roadburn Festival during your set of Misfits songs. How much fun was that?

Bryan: That Misfits set is, unfortunately, the standard by which I’ll now judge all Thou sets. If it’s not that pleasant, then it’s not enjoyable at all. It was great having Emma on a couple of those songs with us. We also had Nate Newton, Melissa Guion, and Adam Bartlett up there. Kevin Bergeron from Waxwork Records even jumped on guitar when we did the set locally in New Orleans last Halloween. For Roadburn, Kristin Hayter was supposed to join us on vocals for all the songs, but she gave herself a bad concussion in the Lingua Ignota set the night before. But, yeah, that set was a total blast. I imagine that’s what being in an emotionless Avail or some other hardcore band would be like. I really do wish people responded to Thou in that way, but I guess we’re playing too slow, and I use too many unintelligible, big words.

E&D: What is your all time favourite Misfits song and how did you discover the bands music?

Bryan: ‘Where Eagles Dare’. I got turned on to The Misfits by my old pal Steve Wiegand in high school, who probably found them through Metallica. He was one of two people who made me mixtapes when I was a teenager and got me into punk.

Andy: ‘Hybrid Moments’ is my favorite, just some really cool chord changes in there.

E&D: You have brought out two covers albums this year too. Blessings Of The Highest Order where you cover Nirvana songs and A Primer Of Holy Words where you cover bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Black Sabbath and Minor Threat. How fun was recording these songs and bringing them out as collections?

Bryan: Those are both digital compilations of material we’ve released on various records over the last twelve years, so I guess recording them was probably about as fun as whichever session they were wrapped into, haha. Collecting them all in one place is mainly just me trying to consolidate our back catalog of material.

E&D: You also cover Agents Of Oblivion who are from New Orleans, being a Baton Rouge band, how big an influence were bands like them, Acid Bath and Dax Riggs as well as Crowbar, Soilent Green etc?

Bryan: I don’t listen to any of those bands. The New Orleans “heavy” bands who’ve had an influence on me are The Faeries, Gathered Here, Rat in a Bucket, Haarp, As They Wept, and Indignation.

Andy: Acid Bath/Agents Of Oblivion were a big influence on Matthew and I. Acid Bath was probably the first actually “extreme” music I ever heard. The fact that they were from near where I lived was endlessly cool, in my mind. That Agents record is still incredible, too. I listen to it often.

E&D: What is the Louisiana extreme music scene like at the moment and what bands could you recommend for us to check out?

Bryan: Special Interest is probably the only “extreme” local band I’m actively following. RIP Mystic Inane. There are a few other solid heavy-ish, hardcore-ish bands like Romasa and Crossed that are tight. I think Gristnam is still kicking it. My friend Grizelda from Short Leash has an “industrial” band called Joy that’s supposed to be amazing, but I missed the couple of shows they played. James Whitten at Hightower just recorded them. Who knows what the landscape will be on the other side of this?

E&D: Was and is there still a big hardcore/punk scene down in Louisiana?

Bryan: Punk, yes, but it’s very ephemeral and mostly contingent on whatever’s en vogue with the most recent crop of transients. Hardcore, no, never. The scene here for those things has always been very underground and, unfortunately, mostly very clique-ish and trendy.

E&D: How big of an influence is hardcore and punk on Thou and what bands do you draw influence from the most?

Bryan: It’s definitely a huge influence on me, lyrically and aesthetically. The Earth Crisis, Gorilla Biscuits, and Culture reference are abundant. Graphically, I think you can trace a clear line from the mid 90s vegan straightedge layouts, Zegota, Tem Eyos Ki, Ebullition Records, Crimethinc, etc.

Andy: I donʼt know if it has really influenced my actual music writing for Thou very much. Itʼs more of an aesthetic thing like Bryan said. My favorite punk/hardcore stuff is stuff like Poison Idea, No Trend, 2000s Florida punk/hardcore like Slavescene/Diet Cokeheads/Neon Blud, weird no wave stuff, etc. Anything thatʼs really chaotic and weird is usually my jam.

E&D: What is the best hardcore show that you ever ever been to and what made it so memorable?

Bryan: Avail the last time I saw them in New Orleans at Southport Hall. FUCKING INCREDIBLE, and I’ve probably seen them 10 times or more; amazing every time. Pg99 the second time they played Dixie Taverne in 2001 is close behind; the pit was like a swarming pile of maggots–exactly what I wish a Thou show could be like!

E&D: You toured the UK with Moloch last year. How did that go and what were some of the highlights of the tour?

Andy: God, weʼve done so much touring that it tends to run together! That was a good one though. I particularly enjoyed spending some time in Manchester and really loved playing Soup Kitchen. I donʼt know, we never really have time to do a ton of stuff on tour. Mostly I was just glad to get to hang out with Moloch because theyʼre our favorites.

E&D: I caught your matinee show at a tiny venue in Nottingham on the tour which was incredible. Do you love doing those smaller punk rock vibe shows whenever you can?

Bryan: I prefer it.

Andy: I like it. Itʼs good for showcasing one part of Thou, namely the more energetic side. I donʼt think those tiny venues are particularly good for hearing our more expansive or intricate songs because you typically canʼt hear everything well. I like a good mix of venues.

E&D: When are you looking at getting out and hitting the road again when things get back to something resembling normality?

Andy: No clue, itʼs really impossible to tell right now. Hopefully next year?

E&D: You have said that there is another album of covers that you will bring out later too. Can you tell us a bit about this?

Bryan: It’ll be just like the others, a collection of previously released material. We’ve released covers of Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bad Religion, and Black Sabbath most recently. We have a couple of O Paon songs coming out soon on a tribute to Geneviève Castrée. And there are a couple of other things in the queue.

E&D: You released your collaborative live set with The Body earlier in the year too. How was it revisiting that live set and can you tell us about the experience of playing the songs live with The Body?

Bryan: We’re not really into releasing live recordings, but that one gave us an opportunity to showcase some photography from our good friend Teddie Taylor, and we got to use some of the stills from the backdrop video our buddy Mike Wilkinson (Marker) created for the set. Surprisingly, we got asked back to Roadburn the year after that collaboration, so there was also some impulse to get the record out and available at Roadburn since we were coming back; there was a feeling of symmetry to it. But most importantly, it gave us the opportunity to show some support for the Electric Girls project in New Orleans, an educational program that provides young girls with electronics and computer programming skills. I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE people to check that out and lend them support if you’re able. 

E&D: Have you got any plans to do anything with The Body again?

Bryan: Outpace them with releases? Write more emotionally despondent records than they do? Do three or four collaborations with Full of Hell to beat them?

E&D: What are your plans for a follow up to the Magus album?

Andy: Weʼre not really sure yet. Writing has been slow going, and the pandemic has slowed it down even further. Iʼm definitely working on material though, and so is Matthew. What it will actually sound like is still anyoneʼs guess.

E&D: How else have you been keeping busy during these strange times we are living in with this pandemic and what records have you been listening to?

Andy: Iʼve been keeping real busy with other projects. I did a couple of original film scores for Four Chambers, worked on a couple collaboration records with people, and released a solo tape of electronic stuff. Iʼve been listening to MJ Guider, Minuit Machine, The Necks, Vyva Melinkolya, Zanias, Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, all the Desertshore-era Nico records, and The Bulgarian State Television Female Choir.

Bryan: Silver Godling Ravel; MJ Guider Sour Cherry Bell; Special Interest The Passion of; Zao Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest and Splinter Shards the Birth of Separation; Mos Def; A Tribe Called Quest. I watch every episode of Cartoonist Kayfabe. Because of that, I’ve been digging into comics more heavily than normal, but I’ve also got a stack of “homework” books I need to get to. Ask me again in six months.

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