Thou are set to release their collaboration album with Emma Ruth Rundle. In the run up to the release of May Our Chambers Be Full on 30th October, via Sacred Bones Records, we got the chance to speak to Andy Gibbs of Thou to discuss the project further.
Congratulations on the album. It’s a superb collaboration. What you bring as a band and what Emma brings, it’s a brilliant match.
Where and when were the seeds sewn for the album?
It really started off in Seattle. We were both playing a festival there and we were sharing a green room. We got to talking and kind of hit it off; we’re fast friends. We got to see each other play. We were both aware of each others music. So that was where the initial meeting was but when Roadburn (Festival) asked us to do a collaboration set with someone we’d already thought about approaching Emma anyway, so it gave us a perfect excuse to follow through with that. From there, when we got tougher, we decided that we were going to do this for real. Roadburn was the catalyst but we decided that we were going to follow it through with a ‘real deal’ album.
What attracted Thou to working with Emma Ruth Rundle? You’re quite disparate in your musical styles.
That’s the appeal really. In my mind, Emma could pull us out of our comfort zone and we could incorporate a lot more nuance and dynamic into the sound that we might not be capable of otherwise. We could use her raw style and emotion that she has in her music and pull that into our sound. Selfishly, it was a way of us doing a lot of things that I wanted to do with Thou but we aren’t able to do, usually.
Also, we run in a lot of the same circles and know a lot of the same people. We have the same approach to music and life. We wouldn’t have gotten together with someone that didn’t share our ideas and outlook on things.
Did you ever have any worries that the clash in style might work against you?
That’s a really good questions! You’re the first person to ask that!
There’s some amount of fear that goes into writing new music, period; even if it’s just me writing another handful of riffs for Thou for one of our albums! It’s a terrifying moment sitting there saying ‘Hey, check out what I’ve got,’ and the band are just looking at you, even though I’ve been doing it with the same people for about 16 years, whatever it’s been! You still worry that you’ve not going to get that approval.
Having such tremendous respect for Emma, and the seriousness she brings to what she does; sending the first demos off to her and the band definitely worried me! What if she hears it and it wasn’t what she had in mind? That was a fear. But I didn’t fear us not coming up with something because I think that she understands what we do pretty well, and I like to think that I have an understanding of what she does pretty well.
There’s a difference between something, and something great though.
Definitely. I would have been disappointed if we had only produced something that was OK. I don’t think any of us would have been happy putting that out.
How did you set about putting the album together? You mentioned sending the first demos off, but does it start with riffs? Do you have a set of lyrics?
There are about five or six songs that I wrote the bulk of. There are four or so songs that Emma wrote. There was one that KC (Stafford – Thou guitarist/bassist/vocalist) wrote the entirety of before we even got together. He’d had it for years and asked if we thought it would work. There were a couple of songs where I had a couple of riffs and Mitch (Wells – Thou bassist) and Emma had a couple of riffs that we put together at practise. The bulk of it was demos back and forth between Emma and I. Then, the idea was that we would all sit down and work on it together.
Not everyone is great at working that way so a lot of it was me and Emma sitting with Bryan (Funck – Thou vocalist) to work out lyrics. So it fell to me and Emma to come up with the bulk of it but when we got together and we brought those building blocks to practise then everyone had a hand in arranging it. That was all seven of us. We all had opinions n every song; how to end it, where to end it etc. That was a very rewarding thing but arguably he most frustrating thing in the whole process as having seven people with different opinions can be a hard thing to work around for sure!
Was it just the seven of you, or were there any extra players on the album?
There were really only two other people that were involved in the studio. We had one song I had written that Emma just couldn’t find the right vocal line to do the song so we brought in our friend Emily McWilliams to sing. The song didn’t actually make the LP.
We brought our friend Louie in, who is a prominent fiddle player in a Zydeco band in New Orleans. We ran into one of his band mate at the practise space as we were finishing up The Valley; we asked him to call Louie in to see if he could add something to the track for us. Louie came in that day having never heard any of the music and sat and improvised the violin parts on The Valley.
It really accentuates the mournful aspect of the song.
It really adds something to the album.
Emma’s vocals are always so emotional and Thou’s vocal work is just as emotional in a different way.
Lyrically, the album feels dark. When setting off into a project like this, do you have a vision for what the end product will be or do you let it grow organically?
I think that whenever we seriously started talking about this we ran up against some hard realities. One of the hard realities that we were going to be forced to contend with was that in our band there is screaming and Emma’s music is singing. We were just going to have to figure that out; a lot of that down to Emma and Bryan. They did a great job with give and take; sitting out when they needed to and stepping in when they needed to. We let them dictate where they wanted to do stuff.
You’d have to ask Emma, but at the beginning there were a few songs where Emma was laying back and would just let it be on the more Thou sounding songs. After we laid down all the initial tracks and it was time to do vocals, there were a few parts where she came in and said that it sounded weird having her come in for two seconds and disappear. So, she added some stuff later on that filled those gaps and brought the whole thing together.
That’s what’s so jarring about having the two vocal styles; you can’t have someone sing for a second that’s really clean and sits high above the mix and then disappear, especially given what our music sounds like with the distorted guitars. The frequency range of Bryan’s vocals screaming sits easily with the frequency range of the guitars. When Emma comes in, it’s really up front and over the top. That’s where I give credit to our buddy James Whitten, who recorded the album, for mixing it so that when Emma came in, it wasn’t so jarring. That was certinaly the greatest challenge of this project; making the vocals work, which I think they do.
They wholeheartedly do.
There are different examples throughout. There are call and response parts and parts where lyrics are sung together in different styles.
Yes. The only thing is, it’s still going to be an acquired taste for some people. There will inevitably be people who will say ‘it’d be great if there wasn’t any screaming on it!’ If that hadn’t been there, I don’t think that this would have sounding like a complete collaboration. It brought us to a point where there was a ‘catchy’ element to some of the songs but we weren’t compromising in our sound and we kept a raw edge.
Not compromising is great. I think that’s important. On the flip side, there will be people who will say ‘it’d be great if it was just screaming’ on the album. You will never please everyone! Art is meant to challenge!
Absolutely. There will always be someone criticising.
Looking back, we made it a real collaboration. We took everyones point of view on board. It was frustrating at times, and the distance between us was a pain in the ass. The marathon practices were hard. When I listen back to the album, I’m really happy.
When you’re in a band…have you ever been in a band?
I haven’t! I just listen!
Smart choice! I wish I had done that sometimes!
But, when you first start out in a band you do a take, maybe three takes of that song. You get really fucking tired of that song. When you listen back you might notice something small that isn’t right but you convince yourself its ok so just think ‘fuck it.’ As time goes on, you start to pay a lot more attention to those things. That’s how I feel about this collaboration. I’m glad we were so thorough. We didn’t skimp. I’m glad we had those marathon practices, even though in the moment, I just wanted to get out of there!
The cover art is incredibly striking and a little terrifying! Where did the inspiration for it come from? It’s a departure from your usual style as Thou, although your Bandcamp carries a cover image that fits with your aesthetic.
In my opinion, this cover art has been a long time coming. We’ve been slowly moving toward photograpy for a lot of years now and moving away from the woodcut thing, and old imagery. Once our friend Craig (Mulcahy) got his photography studio up and running here, it’s actualy from Nottingham (UK) and he played in a band called Moloch.
He did our press our photo for Sacred Bones. He’s a brilliant photographer in his own right. He does a lot of brilliant portraits. When we had him in place, we’d already toyed with changing up the visual aspect ever since our last album, Magus.
We got Ellen Jane Rogers, who’s a photographer we really respect and we’re obsessed with her work, on board with Magus; we really saw how her pictures really represented what we wanted to get across with that album and step out of our usual comfort zone with visuals. When that came together, Bryan and I agreed we needed to move more towards photography.
And so, Bryan had the general idea of the figures and the masks, and how he wanted it to come together. That vision mixed in with Craig’s photography style which is very stark; they’re very dark and have some very dark tones. You almost have to put the brightness up on your device to see it. His studio is very condusive to that style. The two of them working together is how it came together. Bryan had a whle list of influences he was trying to pull from; we also pulled from some of the conceptual stuff we’d discussed at Roadburn, too. He really wanted someone to make custom masks but we didn’t have the moey to actually pay someone to do this! We had to improvise with the burlap mask thing!
I guess that fits with the DIY style that yourselves and Emma both have? You talk of not compromising. You have a glorious album, but the cover is a DIY thing and very low maintenance.
Absolutely. The figures are just friends and people from the local scene around here. Craig is someone we met through that DIY thing. Everyone is involved is in our larger family. That’s how we do everything. Our recording engineer is a guy that Bryan has known since the early-2000’s.
Do you have any particular favourite tracks on the record? Some of the songs have towering, monstrous, emphatic riffs!
Yeah…I think that’s because we have four guitars playing on all these songs. You can’t really have four guitars playing four different things at full distortion. We ended up treating the three Thou guitars as a sort of Greek chorus, and Emma added some different embellishing. She plays with less distortion and plays in a different key.
You can identify Emma’s parts in the more harmonic sections for sure.
Looking at the track list; one of the songs that I came to love after a while was Out Of Existence. It was one of last things we wrote and it was a kind of ‘hey, I have a riff does anyone have anything’ thing. It came about on the spot. Emma went in afterwards and added a lot f vocal stuff. That really took it to the next level. It’s in my favourite two or three songs on the record. That’s the magic of the studio. You can hear it through different ears. I’d never listened objectively like that. When I’m playing it I’m just thinking about the riffs and whether they’re good enough. I wasn’t able to hear what Emma was adding to it. When I heard the first mix of the song I wished it would have been the first single. I was trying to petition everyone to make that the single. It’s funny how your opinion of songs can change over time when you get a little more distance from it.
Are you hoping to tour the album together? It would be some show if you both had your individual acts and played together to perform this album!
Oh yeah…that was the plan from the start. We were going to be touring this year and next year. We still have plans for next year. This year we were supposed to do a US tour culminating in Migration Festival in Pittsburgh. We might try to do that next year. We’re also looking at European dates for next year.
Please stick Manchester on the itinerary!
That’s a given! Our UK booker likes Manchester! We have to hope and wait to see if the venues survive through current events. Sadly, we’ve lost some venues in New Orleans already.
Are there any places that you’re really looking forward to returning to?
For sure! In a generalised sense, we were supposed to go to Australia this year and I was very excited to go and pay there and take this collaboration there. If were talking specifics…I hope that we get to return to Roadburn and play it again now that we can actually play the songs! Some of the songs have changed slightly, too.
We always really enjoy playing in Leipzig. I really want to play at UT Connewitz; we’ve never managed to make it happen. Lots of our friends have played there and it’s the place that has metal shows. I love that city so much!
There are places in America I’m excited to play again. In LA we usually play at this place called The Echo. It has great sound and it’s a really solid club. In New York, we usually play Saint Vitus and that’s the spot in New York for metal shows. When I go there I feel like I’m at home. We know the people there and we know what to expect. We know who is running sound and what the green room is like. Consistency on the road is good.
It’s funny to think about what makes places magical to play. The spot in Leipzig is just a little club, fairly standard; it sells alcohol and has good sound!
I experienced The Bay Strikes Back Tour with Testament, Death Angel and Exodus earlier this year in Berlin. The venue was Huxley’s Neue Welt where a few events had happened in the 1930’s. It was a fascinating place.
That’s what is so cool about playing Europe. The places have so much history and the buildings themselves are really very old and beautiful. That is something that is one of the stark differences between Europe and the US. Over here in America, you might have played a place that has been there for a hundred years, but more often than not, it’s a place that been shittily put together in the 60’s or the 80’s and it’s falling apart and sucks! It’s not romantic at all.
This isn’t the first collaboration project you have been involved in. Do you have any people/bands you’d like to work with in the future?
Certainly…there’s collaborations that would be great in my mind. But I think having done two Body collaborations, the one with Emma and our acoustic album last year which was essentially a collaboration, I’m really stoked to get back into writing some Thou songs.
Does the collaborative work renew the desire for Thou? Maybe give a little more focus?
Well, in a way, yeah. It open’s doors to other possibilities. It opens my eyes to what we can do and what things we can explore without having those collaborations.
Practically speaking, I don’t know who we would collaborate with. There are bands and artists that I really love but that’s not enough for me to want to collaborate now. You have to be able to make something that is better than your individual work. You need to really pull together something that is altogether different, and that is really hard. It’s not something you can know by just looking at someone’s music. You have to have a vision, although we didn’t have that going into other collaborations! But knowing how much work it is, and how much pain in the ass it can be, it would have to be with someone that I know would really put the work in and have a vision and the same desire. We’ll see who comes up!
It has to be right, I guess.
We have a lot of people in our world who are like, ‘You should totally collaborate with Lingua Ignota!’ We love her music, but when I listen to her music, she does not need us to collaborate. She is doing something so singular and so ‘hers’ that she doesn’t to collaborate with us. That’s just one example. There are plenty of people I feel that way about.
Just to flip it over. Are there any future collaborations you’d like to see in the Sacred Bones Alliance Series after the Marissa Nadler/Stephen Brodsky, Uniform/The Body and this one? It’s a brilliant series.
Wow. That’s a great question! Err…
I listen to a lot of electronic music. This year and last, that has been most of my listening. It wouldn’t so much be collaboration, but there’s an artist I love called Silent Servant and he’s done a lot of stuff on Hospital Records. I’d love to hear him take an album by someone on Sacred Bones and reinterpret it. Do something with it that was more danceable.
Although she already did one, I would love to hear Marissa Nadler, and this is maybe because I would love to do this; I would love to hear someone take the vocals from something like Marissa’s music or someone like Björk and re-appropriate that for some dark and droning electronic music. I want to do that! But I’d love to hear Silent Servant do something like that! He’s a singular artist. He does very cool of minimalist stuff. His last record Shadows Of Death And Desire, is fucking fantastic. It collides with our world a little. I feel that a lot of people that like our music would like it to; if they could get over their fear of drum machines!
Brilliant. Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you for the really thoughtful questions!
Many thanks to Andy Gibbs of Thou. May Our Chambers Be Full is a stunning album. Our review will be published shortly.
In the meantime, immerse yourself in The Valley from Thou & Emma Ruth Rundle, below.
ou can pre-order this amazing album here.