Thou is a band that needs no introduction to the fans of the sludge/doom genre. They are one of hardest working bands out there, and their thus-far impressive output testifies to their immense talent. Their latest album, entitled „Summit” and released by Gilead Media, received much praise from the fans and many accolades in the press, earning spot no. 8 on Decibel’s Top 40 Metal Albums of 2010. We sent a few questions to the band about their latest releases, upcoming European tour, as well as other interesting aspects. Here is what Bryan (vocals) and Andy (guitars) answered.
Muzikamagika: When you chose the title “Summit” for your new album, did you intend to point out that you reached a creative peak or you had other reasons?
ANDY: The original idea behind the album was to incorporate more sprawling, uplifting, and epic ideas into this album, both musically and lyrically. All that seemed to work well with the title „Summit,” even though it ended up sounding a lot different than how we originally envisioned it. It also fit in with the singularity of the titles of our other full lengths („Tyrant” and „Peasant”).
BRYAN: It doesn’t really have anything to do with our creative output — though I think we’ve all been really surprised and thrilled with the positive response we’ve gotten to the record. „Summit” just worked as a title that encompassed our overall concept for the record, growing out of the major themes of the other two full lengths: outsider and fringe groups shrugging off the chains of the middle and lower classes and confronting the whips and vices of the ruling aristocracy. It’s about trying to reach a higher level of consciousness and striving toward being more pro-active in how one interacts with the world.
MM: On the new studio album, you included several interesting musical elements, such as piano, windpipes, and choir, which expanded your sound a bit. Do you intend to continue on this path and include more experimentation in your music?
ANDY: Honestly, at this point I have no idea what the next release will sound like. If the music lends itself to having more orchestral instrumentation, then I’m completely open to it. I actually really like what The Body did on their newest record, integrating a full choir into a few of the songs. But we definitely wouldn’t force that kind of stuff onto the music.
BRYAN: Part of adding those elements to “Summit” came out of the ideals of inclusiveness that we draw from in the punk scene. A few of us are really big fans of Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship?, so it seemed natural to try and fit them into one of our projects – not to mention that the sort of droney, durgey music they play, albeit in a completely different genre, seems to strike a similar chord to what we do. We had also worked with Emily McWilliams before on the Leech and Salome splits, and we all loved what she did with those records. Her vocals on the chorus of “Grissecon” and her piano work at the end really push that song to the next level for me. And Daniel Ray who plays trombone on “Prometheus” is also a strong supporter of our band; he comes out to a lot of our New Orleans shows, and he’s put us on a few shows he’s involved with. So integrating all these people on “Summit” just seemed really natural. The EP we wrote and recorded a couple months later was a lot more stripped down and straight forward, so we ended up keeping that one with just the core Thou members.
MM: Could you describe the lyrical concept of “Summit”?
BRYAN: Overall, we were trying to capture a feeling of transcendence. In a social or political sense, it’s about defying the suffocating class system that grows out of modern day capitalism. On a more metaphysical level, it’s about overcoming the limitations of physical and emotional oppression, self-imposed or otherwise.
MM: You released a limited rough-mix version of “Summit” for the the US tour with Moloch (UK). Were you so eager to share it with your fans?
BRYAN: We have a pretty limited amount of time available for touring, and our schedule for writing and recording new material can sometimes hamper getting a release out in time for a specific tour. While we try not to focus too much on getting a record done for particular shows, we also have been outpacing a lot of releases in terms of what we end up playing live. Basically, by the time we’re out on tour, we’re already on to a new batch of songs that we’d prefer to play live to keep things interesting for us every night. So for that tour, we really wanted to have a new release with us that would include at least some of the music that we were playing every other night. And, yeah, we were all pretty pleased with how the record came out, and we were excited about getting it out. There were some frustrating issues with the recording that slowed down the official release — namely, this was our first time using analog to record and the process of converting that master copy of the recording to digital in order to get it mixed and mastered was full of mistakes and missteps on our end. But that tour version of the CD is actually a fully mixed and mastered version. The mix is only slightly different than what Adam eventually pressed to CD, and there’s some almost indiscernible background noise that our obsessive natures compelled us to go back and fix for the final, pressed version.
MM: I noticed that much of your cover artwork is based on Medieval imagery. Do you have a particular interest in this historical period?
BRYAN: Only in the sense that we’re interested in how the artists of the day captured images and ideas and how well that aesthetic works in expressing a certain facet of the music we create. Obviously, I’m talking about people like Albrecht Dürer and other artists who concentrated on woodcuts and engravings, and subsequent masters like Gustave Doré, Edmund Dulac, Melvin Peake, Aubrey Beardsley, Harry Clarke, etc. A lot of these guys focused their craft on the Medieval, the biblical, the strange and fantastical. I think images of a stark, sometimes violent, sometimes grotesque world add another component to our music, echoing the timelessness of or acting as a symbolic reference to some of the major thematic elements we try to incorporate.
MM: What’s the story behind the title of your split EP with Moloch? Was it inspired by a line from the Alice in Chains song “I Stay Away”?
ANDY: A running theme with us is taking other band’s/people’s lyrics, quotes, song titles, etc. out of their original context and throwing them into our own weird little niche. The Alice in Chains reference, at least to me, is more of a nod to the music we all grew up listening to: Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, etc.
BRYAN: I’ve always been drawn to the methods of detournment used by the French Situationists, the Weathermen Underground, the Crimethinc umbrella, punks in general. The idea of taking some title or quote and juxtaposing it with a new image to create a completely different meaning, taking some lyric that I’ve been singing along with since I was a teenager and putting my own spin on its meaning — these are clear, direct ways for me to impose my creativity and my will on art or history that has had some impact on my life. I think for an outsider too, it can act as sort of a Rorschach test for how we view the world.
MM: You have released most of your materials only on vinyl and tapes. However, you made your back catalog available for streaming and download on your official web site. Do you intend to release sometime a discography box-set on CD format, similar to the tape box-set “Kingdoms”?
BRYAN: At some point we’re going to release a double CD that will include all of our EP and split tracks (minus the cover songs). We’ll probably also do a triple LP or split that into several volumes collecting the out of print tracks on vinyl. That’s probably a little ways down the line though. We’re going to let the splits run their course and then put a little time between them going out of print and us re-releasing them on vinyl. Gilead Media will be helping us with those releases.
MM: Are you planning a comprehensive European tour for this year?
ANDY: I’m not sure about „comprehensive” since Europe is so big, but we’re planning a three week tour and are in the process of booking it right now.
BRYAN: It’s hard for us to do any kind of comprehensive touring anywhere with our jobs and financial situations at home — not to mention the fact that we usually enjoy tour more and get along better when the traveling is more abbreviated and manageable. But that three week Europe tour [this] summer should cover a good bit of the mainland, most focusing on Germany, and we should be able to do a couple of shows in the UK on the way in and the way out.
MM: Will you ever consider making a video for one of your songs or it is something you reject out of hand?
ANDY: Normally I don’t like to speak for everyone in the band, but I think we can all agree that doing a video would be pretty silly. My main gripes are how they essentially become little commercials for your band, and how they tend to hype up a band’s image. We aren’t really concerned with either of those things.
BRYAN: I think Mitch and Josh would probably be into making a video just for the fun of it. I could see maybe doing something if it was at the same level as, say, those early Tool videos, something that was an extension of the music and was bringing another level to the art. But without having connections with people who could do that sort of thing for nothing, I think we would have to make a lot of concessions that none of us would be comfortable making. And at the end of the day, I feel the same way about music videos as Andy and just see them as kind of pointless. I think that same line of thought — straddling the line between creating art that you’re proud of and just creating something you can brand with your band name — I think that is what’s led us in terms of our records and shirts and whatever else we do to use less and less of our logo and not having an abundance of text pasted over the images we choose. We’d rather let the music and the artwork that surrounds it speak for it, rather than whatever people have tied into our band name or might infer from images of us.
MM: Considering your already extensive back catalog, can we expect the release of a full-length live CD or a DVD in the foreseeable future?
ANDY: It’s doubtful that we’d use a live performance as an official release, but I guess anything is possible. I think our plan is to slow down on the releases and spend more time on each one. Plus, these days it’s easy enough to get on YouTube or whatever and see what we’re like in a live context.
BRYAN: We did contribute a live version of “Smoke Pigs” from an old Oklahoma City show to a local compilation, and a live version of our cover of Born Against’s “Well Fed Fuck” is on a bootleg split cassette with The Faeries. I could see us putting out some live material in a limited, single-press, fan-only release, like we do with the tribute records. We did an on-air performance on a radio show in Los Altos Hills, California last summer, and we have some similar plans for that sort of thing. I guess if we had some stuff like that and it sounded good, we might release it in some low-run capacity. Chris Donaldson from Drugged Conscience and a few other folks have expressed interest in putting out stuff like that. It’s a nice document to have for the hardcore fans and mainly for us, but in the same sense that we eschew putting live photos of ourselves in records, I don’t see us releasing anything live on a large scale. If people want to know what we look like or experience the live performance, they need to be coming out to shows or using their imaginations. As much as we all enjoy archiving what we’re doing in Thou, we’re trying to stay grounded in real interactions and experiences, and I think a live DVD would just seem sort of out line with that idea and generally kind of pompous.
MM: How much more room for growth do you think there is for the sludge/doom genre?
ANDY: Potentially, tons of growth. I’ve seen hundreds of bands doing the same boring riffs in front of a wall of expensive amps, with an unenthusiastic metal guy growling up front. I’d like to see less smoke machines and Eyehategod riffs and more raw energy. Less macho attitude and more hardcore/punk influence. Dystopia comes to mind as a band that’s doing it right. That said, I can definitely appreciate the bands going for more subtlety, like Om or Yob. Those are two bands that can write 15-minute songs and still make it compelling. A lot of bands don’t realize that just being really loud and tuned really low isn’t enough. You have to learn how to write compelling music, too.
BRYAN: There are some bands out there doing some really amazing things. I think The Body would be at the top of that list. “All the Waters…” is probably my favorite record of 2010. I think they’re really pushing some creative boundaries and bringing a lot of energy to the genre. I think our friends in Moloch have a really amazing sound, sort of pulling out the best parts of Eyehategod and Dystopia and putting together some really straightforward, brutal, punk music. Kowloon Walled City does sort of the same thing but with more an Unsane or early Neurosis vibe, giving it more of a sludged out hardcore feel. I just heard a recording that my friend Stef’s band Resister did, and it sounds great, kind of a looser version of Kowloon Walled City, maybe a little more melodic, a little more Refused. I also really like what Velnias and Coffinworm are doing.
MM: How would you describe the current American sludge/doom scene or community?
ANDY: We don’t really operate too much within the sludge/doom scene, as strange as that sounds. Even in Louisiana, we don’t attract the same type of crowd that Crowbar or Eyehategod does. We tend to play shows within the DIY/punk community, which to me seems pretty alive at the moment. Though we’re definitely the odd band out a lot of times, we’ve received a tremendous amount of support and have encountered some really inspiring bands/people in our travels.
MM: I read on your official web site that another tribute EP is in the works. Could you give us more details about it?
BRYAN: It’s called “You’ll Know That You’re Right,” and it’s a tribute to Fiona Apple, an artist who has sort of been a lynch pin for us a band. Though there’s a lot of overlap, we all have pretty divergent tastes. But she has probably been the one artist aside from Pearl Jam who we can all agree on. We’ve only just started working on this record, and it’s actually been a little difficult for us. Obviously the strength of Fiona Apple’s music mostly lies in her piano playing and the delivery of her vocals, so when you strip the songs down to guitars and add a lot of distortion and one note screams, you tend to lose a bit of the magic. We’re still working on this though, so we’ll see how it goes. We’re not on any real deadline constraints, so we’re trying to just take our time — something new for us. This might not even happen at all if we can’t put something together that we think sounds good.
MM: Given that you are an environmentally- and socially-conscious band, I would like to know what your thoughts are on the environmental and economic disaster caused by the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which gravely affected, among others, the state of Louisiana.
BRYAN: It’s just completely depressing and draining on a scale comparable to the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. Only in some respects it’s even more frustrating because it’s a completely man-made catastrophe, and you can see the people responsible getting away almost free and clear — sadly typical of the Louisiana and United States government, I think.
Live photos used with kind permission of the band
Matthew Thudium – Guitar
Andy Gibbs – Guitar
Mitch Wells – Bass
Josh Nee – Drums
Bryan Funck – Vocals