The Long Road: A conversation with Andy Gibbs of Thou
If there is a band that we absolutely love covering is Thou. Owners of an incredibly potent and crushing sound, Thou is composed of a sextet of amazingly talented individuals from Baton Rouge and New Orleans that have had a keen interest in refining and redefining the sludge and doom genres since the band’s inception back in 2004. Two years ago, we spent some time chatting with guitarist Andy Gibbs about Thou’s then brand-new collaborative release with Emma Ruth Rundle, May Our Chambers Be Full, and since then, the band has been immensely busy, releasing not only another tremendous collaborative record with Mizmor, entitled Myopia – a record they presented live for the first and only time at this year’s edition of Roadburn -, but also working on the soundtrack for Norco, a Southern gothic point & click narrative adventure that immerses the player in the sinking suburbs and verdant industrial swamps of a distorted South Louisiana.
In just a few days, Thou will be heading out on their first European tour since the pandemic started, a trek that will take them to festivals such as Hellfest and Supersonic Festival. With their impending return to Europe in mind, we checked back with Andy Gibbs to talk about the return of live shows, as well as the creative and recording process behind Myopia and the Norco soundtrack, and what the future holds for Thou going forward.
Now that things seem to be returning to their usual normality, Thou have been performing quite a few shows lately. And despite your recent knee injury, you performed with the band at Roadburn in four distinct sets. How was the experience like returning to the festival and to live shows?
Well, I was a little worried about how that might go. And this is interesting because I haven’t really thought about any of this stuff and I haven’t had a single interview, so you’re just going to get my off the cuff kind of thoughts. I apologize if it’s not very coherent. [laughs] I wasn’t sure how it was going to go being on stage; we played a local show in January and you know, there was maybe around a 150 people there. And that went fine, I wasn’t nervous or anything. Roadburn actually went pretty well, we did what we usually do which is overcommit ourselves by doing four sets. It was way too much stuff and so, I was a little worried that we weren’t going to play well but I think we mostly played well. The Black Sabbath set was a little rough but it was fun, so it didn’t really matter. The rest of the sets actually went pretty well and I didn’t get too much stage fright or anything like that. It definitely felt weird; I struggle with this anyway but it was hard to feel connected on stage sometimes because I tend to go outside myself. I’m just thinking about stuff while I’m playing and analyze maybe a little too much of what’s happening. Especially when you play in a big stage, like the main stage at Roadburn, you’re a solid 30 feet from the crowd with a big barrier, that can be kind of weird. But it went really well.
The other factor for me is that, because of my injury, I had stopped drinking because I was on medication and then, when I got off the medication, I decided to just stick with it. And in the show we played in January, I actually wasn’t drinking either. I mean, I’ve played sober before, but not at Roadburn, and these were some of the first truly sober playing experiences for me, so I didn’t have that element to kind of loosen me up a little bit or quell the anxiety. It was a very raw experience, but it went really well. I was very happy to do it; I wasn’t sure if it was going to be something that was exciting for me, but Roadburn definitely was super fun, absolutely.
“It was a very raw experience, but it went really well. I was very happy to do it; I wasn’t sure if it was going to be something that was exciting for me, but Roadburn definitely was super fun, absolutely”
When we were talking before the start of the interview, you mentioned the anxiety you feel about going to the Smashing Pumpkins show because of the amount of people that will be there. Did you feel the same way when performing at Roadburn, especially on the main stage, or did you feel more comfortable with it because you were playing and not just attending?
I was just thinking about all this the other day when we went and played Oblivion Access in Austin, Texas. The thing about Roadburn is when you’re performing, you have a lot of your own space; they have a dedicated, huge backstage zone that, if you need a place to be, you have a place to be. We had a green room and my hotel was down the street, so if at any point at Roadburn I was getting overwhelmed, I could just go back to my hotel room. And playing the main stage, there’s so much room and plenty of space, and it was totally fine, but when we played in Austin, which was last weekend, the venue we played didn’t really have a very big green room and there were a lot of bands playing, so we were sharing it. It was all friends and we were hanging out, but as far as finding my own space, that was tough and I found myself getting pretty overwhelmed. I actually had to take some anxiety medicine. The other thing is that when I was in the crowd and I think it was before the band even started, I forget who it was; we were just trickling in, there was a band sound checking on stage outside, there is music playing inside the bar at the same time and then, there is always people from out of town that I haven’t seen in a long time that are saying hi. It was just a lot all at one time, I had to take a step back from that, but I think part of that is easing back into it. I’m a pretty social person, I’m pretty good at handling myself in social situations but the pandemic has just changed my brain chemistry in the sense that, I like to be somewhere where things are a lot more focused now and having so many things can be a little disorienting. It’s not so bad but if you are also trying to accomplish something like playing a show, finding your bandmates, deciding what songs you play or double check something with the gear while all that is happening, that’s pretty tough.
Speaking of Roadburn, one of the performances was the debut of Myopia, the collaborative record between Thou and Mizmor. How did this collaboration come about and how was the entire writing and recording process?
This will be tough for me to remember because I haven’t honestly thought about any of this. I think the idea came about, I want to say that Liam [Neighbors] was the one that suggested this, but I really don’t remember how this came about. It was just something that floated and we were like, “yeah, we could do that”. And the thing is that Liam, he is a lot like me; he is like, “okay, you want to do a collaboration, alright cool, I’m going to start working on it, here are all the ideas I have”. It was awesome for me; he took the reins in a big way on getting the ball rolling and organizing the ideas. He sent us a ton of ideas on the Dropbox folder, just stuff that he had been working on, stuff that he wrote specifically for it and little snippets of stuff, and was just like, “do something with this”. And we had a lot on our plate already, like we always do. So, I was already feeling kind of unsure if I was going to be able to pull good material out and come up with something. I was in a rut, you know? Matthew hasn’t been really writing anything, KC [Stafford] and Mitch [Wells] are starting to but still getting a hang of how their style works with Thou because it’s been me and Matthew writing the songs for so long. So, Liam really came in strong with ideas and then, me and him started having some Zoom calls where I would listen to some of his stuff and be like, “I like this and this, teach my how to play that”. He would teach it to me and then I would bring it to practice with Thou and teach them how to play it. And then, he came down a couple of times for three or four days, and we would just write. We basically practiced all day, you know, he would have a song and I would have a song, we would be like, “let’s move this here, let’s do this here”, and after the day was done, we would go down the hall to our friend James [Whitten]’s recording studio, where we do all of our stuff and we would just record demos. So, we did a couple sessions of that and that’s how we had all the material. And then, he came back in and we recorded the album after that.
For me, it was a huge change because, historically in Thou, I’m sort of like the conductor, in a way. You know, like keeping an eye on who’s playing what and kind of suggesting what the agenda will be for the practice and writing a lot of the music. But Liam does that for his band, so we both got to do that and it took some of the weight off my shoulders having to do that because, like I said, I was kind of in a creative rut and overwhelmed with stuff, so having someone come along and do that was a massive help. And the stuff he wrote was great and fully-formed. I mean, when he came in with the songs, it was like, “here is the song, here is all twelve minutes of it, it’s already ready to go. We can change a thing here and there, but I already kind of have it worked out”. So that was definitely a big help for me, obviously.
It ended up being less challenging for you than previous Thou records because you had that opportunity to share that leading role with someone else.
Yeah, definitely not as difficult as a typical Thou album in that regard just because I had more help. You know, we’ve been working on a lot of stuff for a long time now and, like I said, KC and Mitch are starting to write stuff but it still mostly falls on me because Matthew hasn’t really been doing it. So, I’ll come to practice with music and since I’m the only one that is bringing stuff, if people don’t like it, now we don’t have a new song. [laughs] Which is fine if they don’t like it, I mean, I can only turn out so much consistent material. But yeah, it’s been a big help. We recently did the Norco soundtrack material and KC and Mitch both brought songs for that, which was awesome and a good change of pace, but even when that happens, it’s still collaborative. You know, Mitch had a song for that that was cool; I thought it sounded a little too post-rocky and a little too happy, so at practice, I was basically like, “alright, let’s switch this note to that, let’s move this riff here and let’s add this riff here”. But even just him coming up with the idea was helpful.
Like previous Thou records, Myopia was recorded by James Whitten at Hightower Recording. How is it working with Whitten and what do you feel he brings to the table in terms of recording and production?
I think the past two collaborations, this one and the one with Emma [Ruth Rundle], really showed me what he brings because while Emma had some strong opinions but for the most part, was pretty go with the flow. But Liam, he is a producer on his own right and he records and produces all of his stuff; he has a home studio and has a lot of strong opinions about production. So, I was a little bit worried as to how that was going to go because James and the band, we have our way of making Thou records and at this point, it’s almost like an assembly line; you know exactly how to do it, we plug in all the right things and it sounds like a Thou record. And you have to consider we also have Bryan [Funck], who has very strong opinions on how things should be, thrown into that mix. So, me, Liam, Bryan and James, all four strong personalities with strong opinions, trying to make the same thing. But the thing with James is that he is very adaptable and he records a lot of different kinds of music, so if someone has an idea that deviates from the usual Thou thing, he kind of knows how to do it. The thing is, and especially working with us for so long, I can be like, “I’m looking for a sound that sounds like this”, and he knows what to pull up and isn’t afraid to experiment with it. The other thing is that he is a true professional, so getting things fixed or things not sounding right, those were easily solvable issues. It went by pretty quickly because we were working with him in his space, so he already knows what his room sounds like, he knows what all his mics sound like, he has experienced getting sounds in that space. So, that went pretty quickly. But he has really elevated the sound in terms of the mixing, honestly. Like, knowing where to place the guitars; with this record and the other record, that’s a lot of guitars, but he found, not just panning wise, but in terms of EQ, he found good spaces for everything, which kind of results in that wide but really full sound that we’re looking for. So, it’s not a wall of sound but you can actually pick out the differences in the guitars and stuff like that. So yeah, sonically, the albums sound bigger than they ever have and then, as far as working together, it’s just very seamless because we kind of already have a language that’s there, so it just makes it really easy. If we were to go into the studio with someone we never worked with before, it might be pretty difficult. The only records of ours he didn’t do would be Tyrant, Peasant and the second The Body collaboration, You, Whom I Have Always Hated, which we did with Seth Manchester at Machines With Magnets, but he has done everything else. As much as we’ve learned about being musicians, he has learned about being a recording engineer and producer; the better our riffs and songs sound, the better his recording sounds, so it comes together for a full product. And you can hear the growing pains in the old records on both sides too, there’s some weird funky shit and some bad notes on the older records, for sure. [laughs]
Do you ever think about re-recording those older records or do you just leave them be?
I want to leave them be; once I’m done, I never want to touch it again. Bryan is always like, “we should re-record this and this”. The thing is, my emotional attachment to the thing diminishes the further I get away from the records, so I can’t even imagine trying to get back into the headspace of where we were when we recorded Summit. You know, trying to get myself back into that place, I can’t imagine. Especially, you got to figure that Summit was twelve years ago or something? I can’t even; why would I do that? I would rather look forward, whatever that is.
“As much as we’ve learned about being musicians, [James Whitten] has learned about being a recording engineer and producer; the better our riffs and songs sound, the better his recording sounds, so it comes together for a full product.”
On our last interview, we talked about how video games are or could be a medium of inspiration. And as fate would have it, Thou actually worked on the soundtrack for a video game called Norco. How did that whole experience come about?
Well, Norco wasn’t even called Norco at the time, but the idea for this game is very old, as I’m sure anyone that has read interviews with the developers can see. We first heard about this in, I want to say maybe 2016 or 2017, and the developer, which I’m really going to do my best to use the name that he’s been using in interviews and not his actual name, Yuts, he and a friend, Breonne [DeDecker] collaborated on this project before the game called The Airline Is A Very Long Road. They basically went around and did a lot of photo documentation of post-Katrina New Orleans and surrounding areas, and then, they were writing essays on climate change, disaster capitalism and all these different themes. We had talked about an idea of doing some kind of collaboration of us making music to go along with the photo essays and I still have a bunch of these soundscapes on my computer. I basically took like five or six photos and just tried to create a musical mood around them; we had this very ambitious idea for some kind of art exhibit/music experience that would go with it but it was way too ambitious, and in the meantime, Yuts was already thinking about doing this game. When it came time for the game to actually get together, he and I had talked about me contributing some music in an 8bit kind of style, and I created a bunch of stuff. I created like a overworld theme and maybe three or four other tracks, and as I would create a track, I would send him and he would be like, “this is great”, but he didn’t have the game fully developed; he just had environments and a really sparse demo version, so there wasn’t much to work on. Also, he had had our other friend, who’s real name I will also try not to use, creating music officially for the game. The idea was that I would just kind of supplement some stuff, while our other friend would be doing the main soundtrack. Then, as the game progressed, there is this idea of still getting Thou involved but the thing is, the game was nearing completion and was pretty much done, and we didn’t know how it would work with us incorporating our stuff into it but it was something we still wanted to try to do. So, we ended up taking some stuff we had been working on to kind of repurpose it to fit with the game. And also, the older song that is on that soundtrack, “View of a Burning City”, that is a song that lyrically has themes that kind of tie in with what Norco is all about in terms of the pillaging of the land at the benefit of the oil companies and stuff like that. The initial idea was that these songs would each get their own vignette, like a small piece that would go along with it but the timeline was just not going to work with that. But that could still happen.
It’s this ongoing thing that has happened in the New Orleans DIY scene, where there is this idea to get as many people involved that are from the community as possible. The game itself, for instance, there is a big brain trust full of people and friends that contributed dialogue, backstory, general ideas and who were all basically beta testing this thing; there is a whole Discord server full of people that were doing that. So, us getting involved was another tie in to the area to get as many local folks and folks that come from that community involved. It’s a little weird because our music doesn’t quite fit with the original soundtrack stuff but thematically, in the tie in with New Orleans, there is definitely a thread there. And I ended up contributing one original song of my own to the game, that’s in there somewhere. So, that was really cool for me to hear something I made actually in the game. And the game itself is just fucking insane; it’s the most emotional experience I’ve ever had in a video game, it really tore me up, honestly, just because of what it says and what it implies about the south of Louisiana is just so insightful and profound. I can’t encourage people enough to check out that game. It got a lot of attention and I’m hoping that it eventually gets a Switch release, which would make my day; I just want to be able to hear my song on a Switch game. [laughs]
This June, Thou will be going on a European tour with Portrayal of Guilt, and my next question depends on whether or not you will you be on the tour, considering your injured knee.
Yeah, I’m going! I mean, the Converge tour that I had to sit out, I think I broke my knee about three weeks before we were supposed to leave and the doctor was like, “yeah, absolutely not, you are going to be endangering your life if you do that”. I mean, I was truly immobile; I was limping, at best I could take five steps in my house before I had to sit down, so it was just not going to happen. And I was on an insane amount of pain, I had to have surgery. But this upcoming tour, yeah, I’ll be on it. It’s coming up so soon and I don’t feel very ready. But I didn’t feel ready for Roadburn either. [laughs]
I mean, if it works, it works, right?
We’ll see if it works! There is a lot of big festivals. I mean, if you want to talk about the anxiety, Hellfest is going to be like… Even the backstage area is so full of people because there is so many bands playing, you know? [laughs]
I was actually going to ask you about that because you guys are returning to Hellfest after ten years and you will be performing at Supersonic Festival for the first time. What are you most excited about visiting both festivals and countries?
For Hellfest it will be cool just because last time I had no idea what to expect and it was pretty overwhelming. I mean, I look back on it now and it seemed we had been a band for a while, but we had only been touring for five years at that point, so now it’s very hard for me to be fazed by any kind of show situation as far as like… I mean, I’m still fazed in the sense of when I get on stage and there’s that many people, like the Misfits cover set, stuff like that is crazy. But as far as being overwhelmed by like, where do we go, what do we do, who do we talk to, I feel way more comfortable with that, so I don’t even think about it. The scale of Hellfest is pretty insane and from what I remember, last time it was just very quick paced; it felt like we got there, hung out, played and then went home. I’m excited about that. I’ll have to look at the schedule but I think it works out to where we can see Metallica. It’s interesting because people will be like, “oh well, whatever, Metallica in 2022”, but like, if I go and see them play “Disposable Heroes” or whatever, there is still going to be a ten-year-old kid inside of me that is going to be flipping out, even if I can’t watch it on the side of the stage, even if I have to go in the crowd to see them because God only knows what their protocols are. [laughs] That would be incredible, I’m hoping that I can catch that. Honestly, there are so many bands playing, between that, Oblivion Access and Roadburn, I’m having trouble keeping track of who’s playing what, so I don’t even know who else I’m excited about. I don’t even know who of our friends will be there; there might be a lot of people we are friends with. Also, we agreed to Hellfest I think over a year ago, so I didn’t even think this was going to happen, I was like, “oh, everything is going to get cancelled”. So, we’ll see how that goes.
I’m very much looking forward to Supersonic. The last time we went to the UK was really good and we had a very positive experience. The UK has always been hit or miss for me in terms of whether I enjoy myself or not, but the last time was so great and I’m just looking forward for that. I’m looking forward to some short drives, that’s for sure. [laughs] You know, when I saw the route for the Converge tour, I was like, “good luck y’all, I’m glad I don’t have to do that because those are some marathon drives”. [laughs] Whereas, when you go to the UK or even in Europe, it’s just five hours, who cares? This tour should be pretty solid and also, this will be our first tour with a new booking agency, so we’ll see how that goes, it should make everything way easier.
After this tour, what does the future of Thou look like? Is there a new record coming up in the near future?
I have to think about what has been announced and what hasn’t been announced. There will be stuff. [laughs] We’re going to play shows, there will be a festival, at least one. We don’t have a record right now; we have songs but I don’t know, I’m reevaluating those songs. Honestly, we are at a bit of a crossroads. I mean, we’ve been a band for a long time and I don’t mean to sound ominous, but the record we did with Mizmor, I always say it was the most conservative record we’ve made thus far, in terms of, it sticks to a very specific style and it doesn’t deviate very far from that style. Initially, I wasn’t terribly excited about that because I like to push as much as I can, but that was kind of what we were working with. The whole idea was to take it back to Peasant era or something and kind of mine some of that ground again. The way I was thinking about it was what are some riffs, some chords and some sounds that I wish I would have thought of back then that I can incorporate to kind of get what I think are the final thoughts on this very conservative and traditional style? So, that doesn’t mean that we are going to start doing radically different music after this, but I would not be terribly excited to make more of the same music. [laughs] I mean, you got to think about it, the very beginning of this band was in 2004; that’s like eighteen years of playing more or less this niche subgenre. And we’ve done a lot of other stuff within that but how long can you just play heavy slow riffs without repeating yourself? I’m trying to keep that in mind, I don’t want to make anything that people will listen to and feel like its treading the same ground or that there is another band out there already, a newer band that is doing it better than us. You know, I want what we do to push the envelope, if we can do that. But what that looks like, I don’t really know. Picking up my guitar eighteen years later, using the same tuning and the same everything, cranking out another slow heavy riff, not particularly exciting for me. I’m curious to see how we all manage that and the ideas that come from wanting to keep things fresh, so we’ll have to just see what it looks like.
But I do have music, I have a lot of ideas and riffs, but I got to make sure it’s good. Our pace has been breakneck and there is a lot of stuff that we do that I’m like, “damn, if we would’ve spent maybe two more weeks or a month on that, could’ve really been something”. [laughs] Not that I regret anything but I like to take my time. We keep saying this, we don’t have a deadline, no one is pressuring us to put a record out right now; Sacred Bones doesn’t hit us up every year and be like, “where’s your record”, you know? Whatever we want to do, we can do it, so I want to make sure that we are spending our time wisely and putting out something that we are really happy with. So, that’s kind of the plan, but there will be shows. We’ll play more shows, there are some that are already in the making. I don’t know about more collaborations, maybe. For me, more collaborations; for the fan, I don’t know. We played a few songs with Lingua Ignota, everyone was like, “oh, you guys are going to do a record together”, wouldn’t that be predictable? [laughs]
You know, I actually thought that could be the secret collaboration you mentioned two years ago.
I mean, it could still happen! I love Kristen, I love working with her, she is great to work with, she is talented. She is someone that I feel has such a unique style and is masterminding her own sound in such a way, that I’m just like, “why would you want to involve us to fuck that up?” [laughs] You don’t need to get us involved; you got your thing going. But personally, I do thrive on that, so, I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about, maybe outside of Thou, I would collaborate with folks and do more of that. But with Thou, we haven’t put out our own full-length in a long time, so we should probably look into that.
“We keep saying this, we don’t have a deadline, no one is pressuring us to put a record out right now; Sacred Bones doesn’t hit us up every year and be like, “where’s your record”, you know? Whatever we want to do, we can do it, so I want to make sure that we are spending our time wisely and putting out something that we are really happy with”
Interview by Filipe Silva
Photo by Craig Mulcahy, courtesy of Thou