interview by Mike Hill, intro by BBG

Thou at Scion Rock Fest 2010 (more by Christopher Mumma)
Thou

You may know Mike Hill from one of his many escapades as an axeslinger, or as head maniac at Black Box Recordings. The former Anodyne frontman is currently going full steam ahead with his latest project Tombs, who released their critically acclaimed Winter Hours early last year. I liked it. A lot. Since touring the US relentlessly and taking a stop down to SXSW to play the Relapse official showcase, Mike sat down to speak with the Louisiana juggernaut known as Thou on the eve of their tour to the east coast. That tour comes to NYC at ABC No Rio on 4/10 with From The Depths, Stockade, and Wulfkrieg (get there!). The results from his conversation are below...

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The first time that I heard of Thou was when I saw them play with Villains at the venue Supreme Trading a few years ago. The main attraction then was definitely Villains, but a reliable source told me to show up early to catch Thou. The Lousiana band were setting up on the floor in front of the stage by the time I arrived and from the first, huge drop-tuned chord, I was hooked. Imagine, if you will, what it's like to be encased in amber and shot into outer space. Imagine the endless, black void punctuated by stars going supernova and engulfing entire solar systems. This is Thou, an experience not meant for the casual listener.

Aside from being a punishing entity in the live and recorded realms, the Lousiana band has a similarly unrelenting work ethic. In the five years since the band's conception, Thou has released 2 full-lengths, 4 EPs, 3 split albums, 2 split 7"s, a boxed set and 2 demos (all of which is downloadable for FREE), in addition to logging a respectable amount of tour mileage. And there doesn't appear to be an end in sight.

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Thou at the Southern Lord Showcase at Emo's Annex, SXSW 2009 (by BBG)
Thou

Michael Hill: Who is in THOU and what do they do?

ANDY: Andy - guitar, Bryan - vocals, Matthew - guitar, Mitch - bass, Terry - drums (though Terry's bowing out at the end of March and most likely the role will be filled by our friend Josh)

When was band formed?

ANDY: 2005, I think? It's hard to remember exactly. We played for a few years, recorded a demo, and then Bryan joined in 2007.

What city is the band based out of?

ANDY: As a band, we claim Baton Rouge, though Bryan lives in New Orleans. The rest of us have were born and raised in BR.

In a nutshell, how did the band form?

ANDY: We formed out of the ashes out of some old bands (none worth mentioning), started hanging out and listening to more doom-y stuff and then practiced nearly everyday for quite some time before playing our first show. I think it was a reaction to a lot of bands around here that just pop up out of nowhere. We wanted to be a little more rehearsed and calculated. The only lineup changes have been adding Bryan on vocals in 2007 and our current drummer exchange.

There is a strong visual continuity with the imagery of the records, website etc. Is there a concept behind the selection/development of the band's visual style?

BRYAN: I've been putting on shows for the last 13 years, so I have a pretty enormous library of images that I draw from for the flyers. Through the years, I've pulled a lot of stuff to the side, thinking it would be great to use on a record. Joining this band gave me the opportunity to use a lot of that material (and seek out new art), and make use of the fairly straightforward aesthetic I had shaped with the poster layouts. There's always a lot of thought that goes into the layout for each record. We always struggle to piece together something cohesive--sometimes from a lot of different sources--and something that reflects the themes of the music and the bands involved.
Really, the biggest thing for me is to put together something nice but that also has a really simple look--as opposed to a lot of these very busy, photoshop style layouts.

Thou at Scion Rock Fest 2010 (more by Christopher Mumma)
Thou

What is the songwriting process like?

ANDY: It varies. For some of the newer stuff, Matthew or I had the whole thing written before showing up to practice. In the past, we really lucked out with me having one half of a song and Matthew having another half of another song and the two just fitting together really well. That's how most of Tyrant and Peasant came together.

BRYAN: The rest of the band usually has the music written before I come in with the vocals, though we do go back and forth a bit over the lyrics before all is said and done. I'll usually get a little preview of something they're working on at practice and maybe offer my two cents about adding or changing parts. But I'm not much of a musician, so my suggestions are always like, "Make that part heavier" or "More black metal here," ha ha.

Do the other guys in the band actually comment or contribute with respect to the lyrics or are the lyrics your vision alone?

BRYAN: When I joined Thou, Tyrant was basically written. Matthew used to play guitar and sing, and he had a bit of the lyrics and vocals lines written-it was just a lot sparser. For that record, I basically just added to what he already had, sort of continuing some of the themes he had worked out. Since then, Andy's written a few songs as well. By and large, the lyrics are mine, but a lot of times the rest of the guys will have a line or two they want to include, or they'll ask me to write about a specific topic. Everything gets sent to the rest of the band before it's finalized-though they give me a lot of leeway in what I'm writing. I keep things ambivalent enough that there isn't much contention in the subject matter, it's more or less them helping me fix a weak line or two.

Thou at Scion Rock Fest 2010 (more by Christopher Mumma)
Thou

I hesitate to classify Thou as a doom band. The music is slow and painful sounding yet there is a subtle sense of melody. What is the overall emotional statement of the band? What ideas are you trying to convey?

ANDY: At our core, I would say we are a doom band. We definitely formed with that kind of mentality, although our early stuff was more post-rock influenced. Emotionally... I don't think the music is written with any specific emotion in mind. We just write what we want, and it happens to be alternately depressing/uplifting because of the nature of this kind of music. The lyrics, however, tend to color the music with a certain emotion, and that is definitely intentional. Which is a long way of tiptoeing around this: emotionally, our music tends to reflect a frustrated, miserable, but very self-aware outlook on life and our songs deal with radical takes on issues that effect us and people we know.

BRYAN: Artistically, this band has given me the opportunity to explore all kinds of emotions--to really push certain ideas or thoughts in extreme directions and then just delve deeply into a certain feeling or theme. We do not have a singular agenda, other than creating honest, personal music that we can all identify with on some level. That being said, I've been in a few other bands before this one that never really pushed me to write lyrics in the same "serious" sense that I write for Thou. The music just lends itself to tackling all sorts of concepts (anti-authoritarianism, technology, ritual sex magic, etc.) in a very visceral way. I think it's just the nature of the beast. I think if we tried to write songs about scene poltics or lauding drug use or about, I don't know, zombies or whatever!--I think that sort of subject matter would be somewhat incongruent with the music and we'd just come off as completely disingenuous.

Thou in Sheffield, Summer 2009
Thou

You mentioned "Ritual Sex Magic"; do you mean that in the Aliest Crowley way? Is Crowley and the occult something that plays a role in the lyrical imagery?

BRYAN: Less Crowley and Aquino and more Constantine and Morrison (Vertigo Comics - Hellbalzer), although I guess it's all wine from the same vineyard. That stuff definitely plays a role in some of the lyrics and themes-but no more so than feminism, anarchism, etc. I did, however, include a lot of quotes from Parsan's Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword in the new record, and we're working on a new song called "The Unnamed Path" the title of which comes from an esoteric discipline for homosexual men. That song is going to be on an EP called To the Chaos Wizard Youth, though the record only vaguely explores magick.

Hailing from Louisiana, do you feel influenced by local veterans like Eyehategod, Soilent Green, Crowbar etc?

ANDY: There's no denying that those bands paved the way for bands like ours, and we're definitely fans of those bands, but the influence is strictly musical.

What is it with Louisiana and heavy evil sounding bands? There seems to be an underlying arcane creepiness to a lot of the "metal" bands that I'm familiar with from that area. If you agree, would you care to elaborate?

ANDY: I would agree, but I think there's a bit of hyperbole at work with that myth. I've heard bands that hail from the least fucked-up, least backwoods areas of the world that sound like they were raised in the swamp off the Bonnet-Carre Spillway, and you would never know the difference. Take a band like Noothgrush... I mean, those are some of those greasiest, most slow-crawling riffs I've ever heard. And they were from the Bay Area, California. Though I guess the fact that we all ride on the backs of alligators to band practice probably has some influence on our sound.
Do you guys really ride on alligators? That's far out.

BRYAN: Well, Andy is being a little facetious. Riding alligators or flying in pelican mouths are luxuries mostly afforded by the aristocracy. Us working folk are generally stuck riding a small pack of nutria. Even with these great big bags of money Greg Anderson sends us every week, we're still scraping by with river rats.
Anyway, a band like Eyehategod is legendary for a reason: they're amazing. And I think their style definitely typifies things down here in a lot of ways. But that shouldn't overshadow all the other great bands from the area who aren't playing anything like that kind of music, but who still embody the spirit of the area--New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the South.

Thou, playing in a HALLWAY
Thou

I'm thinking mainly of the metal / extreme music bands.

BRYAN: Yeah, I think that's sort of the case for most people though, to focus on bands like EHG, Soilent Green, Flesh Parade, Crowbar, Goatwhore, etc. And, yes, those guys were all a product of this climate and this culture, but I think their development has a lot more to do with being of product or the peer group they group up in. One or two bands start playing a certain style, that style catches on, and soon people are either aping it or influenced to take it in a new direction.
I'm not sure I would call the music evil or arcane, but it obviously captures the spirit of decadence, misanthropy, and general apathy that permeates the South and New Orleans especially. But I see that just as much in the more punk and DIY bands and organizations around town, and especially in some of the more fringe musicians and groups.

Did Hurricane Katrina impact any of you guys in a profound way?

ANDY: Sure.

BRYAN: I moved to Oakland for about a year. I started a band out there with some New Orleans and Bay Area friends, but it sort of fizzled out. When I moved back here, I was pretty amped to start something new, and that's what sort of motivated me to hijack the vocals slot in Thou.
But I guess you're talking about more the personal experiences in relation to that disaster? I mean, yeah, of course it affected us profoundly. If you're from anywhere near here there was no way it couldn't. Ultimately though, the hurricane only served to highlight the complete ineptitude and unreliability of the government and law enforcement agencies--both locally and nationally. But for someone who's been listening to punk music since high school, that was no real surprise.

Thou at the Southern Lord Showcase at Emo's Annex, SXSW 2009 (by BBG)
Thou

Where do you record? What is the process like? Do you work with the same engineer?

ANDY: We've always had trouble finding a stable place to record, so nearly everything was done in a different spot. Practice spaces, apartments, conference rooms, Oakland, New Orleans, Baton Rouge...
Finally with this new album, we've found a great, comfortable studio called the Living Room in New Orleans that our friends Chris George and Daniel Majorie built and now run. It's an old church that's been completely redone and outfitted to the nines with a full analog setup. I think we were all really, really happy with this place and will be doing more work there. Our buddy James Whitten from Oakland is our usual engineer/mixing wizard/jack-of-trades--though Tyrant and Peasant were recorded by two of my good friends, Brennan Moss and Michael Talley.

BRYAN: We've been all over the place. Tyrant and Peasant were recorded at Brennan's apartment over a week or so. The stuff in between those records were recorded at James' apartment in Oakland over a couple of days while we were coming through the Bay on tour. The huge pile of EP stuff right after Peasant James did in a few days in New Orleans between our practice space and some friends' with a real piecemeal setup and all kinds of other bands practicing around us. And the latest thing was the easiest, recording the new full length at the Living Room Studio in Algiers over a week.

I've heard some rumbles on the wire about Thou and Southern Lord. Did you sign with them?

BRYAN: We haven't really signed on with Southern Lord full throttle. They're releasing the vinyl of our new full length, and we're working with them on a record-by-record basis. That being said, Greg has been incredibly supportive of our band almost from the start. At the behest of Andy Low (Robotic Empire), I sent Greg a copy of the Tyrant LP that we self released. He was into it and offered to repress it. After that, he invited us to play a couple of shows with Sunn O))) in the northeast, put us on the Southern Lord showcase at the 2009 SXSW, and has been throwing around some more ideas. Eddie from Southern Lord also put us on at the Relax Bar on our last west coast tour with Leech.

Thou at Snake Eyes Vinyl, SXSW 2009
Thou

There appears to be an anti-technology vibe running through the lyrics, would you care to elaborate?

BRYAN: There is that theme in a song or two, but there's also a PRO-technology theme in a song or two. We're not luddites, but we also acknowledge the drawbacks of a society that's obsessed with science as a new religion. Our songs are really about exploring a single, extreme view or emotion. Whether that contradicts what we write in another song is immaterial. We're not setting down guidelines and rules to live by; our lyrics do not dictate any specific philosophy or ideology. We're five completely different guys who interact with and view the world in very different ways. So it would really be impossible for us to put something in a song that would capture our beliefs on a whole. Likewise, I don't think I could articulate an adequate take on some of the larger issues we tackle in the short breadth of even a fifteen minute song. It makes a lot more sense for us to just create art that reflects how we might think or feel at one particular moment.

What are your views regarding society and the direction that you see the human race heading towards?

BRYAN: I would love to say that it's going straight down the toilet, that things just get worse and worse every year, that insurrection is just around the corner--surely, we'll see society dismantled in our lifetime. But I think that's really just a part of getting older, looking back and thinking the past was somehow better or more innocent. I feel like that would be ignoring things like feminism, anarchism, environmental responsibility--ideas of human interaction that are thankfully becoming a lot more common place. So I feel like things balance out in a lot of ways--maybe at best maintaining business as usual rather than moving in a forward, proactive direction. But in terms of global destruction or something like that, I feel like we've been on the razor's edge since the advent of the nuclear bomb. And environmentally, we've been on a downward slope since the industrial revolution. But, you know, bringing our race to the brink of utter destruction might be just what it takes to convince us to reevaluate the structure of society.

Thou at Scion Rock Fest 2010 (more by Christopher Mumma)
Thou

The last decade has given us incredible advances in communication technology, the internet, social networking etc. What are you views on this?

BRYAN: Again, I'd like to bemoan what a terrible plague myspace is, how I hate watching people texting in the mosh pit, how the expansion of modern medicine has halted a necessary culling of the population. But, really, I think technology can be a wonderful tool that can open all sorts of opportunities. The real problem isn't so much with the technology as much is it how we misuse it. Myspace and blogs and torrents are a wonderful way to find new music or people with similar interests--it doesn't have to be a homogenous, advertisement-polluted catalog of how many electronic "friends" someone has. Ask anyone who lived through Katrina and had a cell phone--text messages can be very useful. They don't have to be ADD, obsessive-compulsive, anti-communication Ebonics. So, really, I think it's all in how a person uses and interacts with technology that dictates it usefulness or harm.

If someone wanted to get in touch with you guys, check your tour schedule or just find out information, how would they go about that?

ANDY: Just go to www.noladiy.org/thou. It's your one-stop source for all our nonsense. We still have a myspace address, but at this point, it's really just a placeholder for our real site. Bryan's email is flyerstorm AT yahoo DOT com, and he handles most of our correspondence.

Thou

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Thanks to Andy, Bryan, Mike Hill, and THOU. Download Thou's entire recorded output for FREE and get down to ABC No Rio on Saturday 4/10 and catch them in the flesh!

Also: Tombs play Europa with Eyehategod, Brutal Truth, Nachtmystium, and Black Anvil on June 12th as part of a BV/Osiris production. Tickets are on sale.