In Conversation with Bryan Funck of Thou

This piece was originally featured in our fourth issue, available here

The artists who make the most impact are often those who draw upon unconventional influence. Borne out of a DIY ethos shared by the prevalent hardcore scene present around their hometown of Baton Rouge, and with a sound that perhaps owes more to ‘Sabbath, Nirvana and Soundgarden than it does their sludgy Louisiana brethren in Eyehategod and Crowbar, Thou’s desire is simple – to play music that’s heavy as fuck.

Indeed, Thou are far more than just a band. Between an almost endless list of collectivised collaborators and the immeasurable impact their near-flawless discography has had on the modern heavy‘n’slow movement, Thou are a central driving force within whatever the fuck scene you might want to put them into. The group have been through thick and thin since formation, with fans growing especially anxious during the nearly three-year gap in releases that followed 2014/15’s flurry of creativity.

Any worries regarding what the band had been up to have well and truly been quashed this summer, though, most particularly with the coming of their latest full-length, Magus, which sees the band’s heavily collaborative ethos exemplified through a deep pool of influences. As one social media commentator put it, the pool of influence surrounding Magus is akin to a riff-laden Megazord and an excellent example of the versatility of the modern doom scene from a band arguably at its forefront. In a characteristically against-the-grain move, Thou preceded Magus with a trio of EPs each expanding on elements of the LP’s expansive sound, be it the noisy crawling emanations of The House Primordial, the down-tempo, dulcet tones of Rhea Sylvia or the ethereal melancholy of Inconsolable. And, topping off an insanely prolific year, the band ended 2018 releases with splits with Ragana and HIRS.

Following such a successful spell, Thou are a band teetering on the verge of iconism, and frontman Bryan Funck has been instrumental to that success. Their mouthpiece both on and off stage, it was through his joining in 2007 that the band became the powerhouse of crushingly innovative sludge that they are today. We were lucky enough to catch up with the man himself, amidst last year’s Summer of Thou, to get to the bottom of the group’s recent onslaught of creativity.


How’s it been coming back together as a band after so long?

It’s been awesome. Andy [Gibbs, guitars] just moved to New Orleans and we have our friend Stacey filling in for Mitch [Wells] on bass, so we can play shows around here now or do tours or whatever, whenever Mitch can’t get off of work. We haven’t dug too deep into writing new stuff or getting into too tight of a practice schedule yet, and our drummer Tyler [Coburn] lives in Nashville so we haven’t made it a big thing – plus we just got through all this writing, so we’ve taken a little bit of a break over the summer. It’s a lot easier to get stuff done now, Andy and Matthew [Thudium] are the chief songwriters so having them together has been great.


Tell us more about Inconsolable, were you involved with the lyrical content?

I wrote everything except the first song, which was a Rhea Sylvia thing and a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover. I came up with the vocal lines, with some pretty rough ideas of harmonies and where I wanted things to go but I’m not on that record at all. Instead, there were a bunch of people like Casey Stafford who plays bass and guitar with us who are on a couple of the songs, as well as Emily McWilliams who’s been on a ton of Thou stuff. They’re on most of the songs. Melissa Guion is definitely on one of the Nirvana covers and Nicole Estill from True Widow is on it too. We just thought of people who were our friends, who could sing really well and who we knew would be into it.


How are you going to incorporate all of this material into your live show?

I don’t know if we’d ever play Magus in full. It’d be too long of a set. We’re usually doing two or three Magus songs and maybe one or two other songs so, yeah, we’ve already been playing those. At this point I’m almost sick of the Magus songs *laughs*. Once Casey stepped in for Mitch on bass, they only know three of the Magus songs, so we gotta relearn some of the other ones that we haven’t played in a while for the release shows, so we’ll see how it goes.

As far as the other stuff goes, like the acoustic stuff, it depends on when we have the people ‘cause we have played a couple of songs that are kinda heavier-ish, with me and Casey singing them. It’s better acoustic than heavy, it complements the song. It’s still fun to play heavy but probably better acoustic, so we’ve been toying around with ideas about how we could do an acoustic tour or something – I think it just depends on the tour we’re on or the show we’re playing or who we’re playing with, who we can bring out with us to make it happen and how much time we can spend rehearsing to get the songs down. I would imagine a standard Thou tour with heavier sets – we’d probably play a bit of Magus and a bit of a mix of older stuff.


There were a lot of comparisons between The House Primordial and The Body’s material. Were those fair?

Most of those came from me *laughs*.


How did the relationship with The Body come about?

Andy did a show with them in Baton Rouge and I did a show for them in New Orleans. We have a lot of mutual friends – people we know from Little Rock, people that have known them for years, people who get on with them. When All The Waters [Of The Earth Turn To Blood, 2010] came out they started touring a lot more and at the time me and Andy were doing a lot of shows. We both love that record and we hit it off immediately, so we started touring and doing more shows together. Us and them, we’re cut from the same cloth, our sense of humour is the same, all that stuff – we’re the same people.


You guys all came from the punk side of things…

Definitely. As far as current metal bands we actively listen to and like, the majority of it is people we get along with – it’s people from the punk scene. All the people from Salem, Oregon, that whole scene are punks who got into metal. There’s lot of black metal stuff that’s mixed in with punk. Ragana who we’re doing a split with are like a straight-up punk band, HIRS who, even though they’re like this techy grindcore band or whatever, are true punks.


Ragana as in You Take Nothing Ragana? How did you guys come across them?

We played with them at Oakland, someone just put ‘em on the show. I think it was maybe Estella from Negative Standards was booking them and we loved them. We played with them a couple of other times and I’ve been following them ever since. We need to tour with them ‘cause we don’t get to see ‘em very often, but yeah, they’re great – they’re one of the best bands around as far as metal stuff goes.

You should check out the older stuff too, the earlier album they did and their demo are great. They’re like punks, their approach to things isn’t to become a hugely successful band, they just do what they wanna do.


What’s your approach to success regarding Thou?

It’s definitely the same, or similar. We’re at a very comfy place where we can write and put out records and it’s pretty easy for us. We can do tours and not come home and be financially debilitated. We’re branching out to a global audience. When we first started touring, and probably because I was booking things a certain way, we were playing to a more punk and hardcore audience. Maybe there was a bit of crust/metal crossover, but over the years we’ve lost a bit of that and it’s a predominantly metal crowd that comes out to see us. There’s nothing wrong with that, [but] we’re nuanced people, so it’s a bit more interesting for us if we’re playing with bands outside of the metal spectrum and getting people onto the shows who are outside of that.

I feel like we get a lot more creative input when we’re drawing from a lot of different places. Apart from the classic stuff, I don’t even know how much we’re even really drawing from metal.

Part of it was a big reason why we wanted to do the full-length on Sacred Bones. I guess in the past we toured with some bands and it worked for us because it was people with similar values, but I think now we’re trying to push out more because sonically we’re getting to be very different [to metal stuff]. We never want the band to become a business that we live off like a job. It’s a creative endeavour and we want to create art that people that will like.


What would you think of turning the band into a business?

I think if we could do it in a way in which we didn’t have to compromise artistically, or how we release things, i.e. how the records look and that stuff. When it becomes a job you lose the pure motivation for doing it – we don’t want it to become that. Our music’s not something that’s going to get played on the radio. Thou is inaccessible, but by industry standards it’s a niche kinda thing. We don’t want to tour for three years straight and sonically we don’t sound like a band most people like. We‘re not too bothered how we look or how we’re presented and we’re not very malleable, and there are things we’d do and things we’re not interested in doing. I don’t think we’ll ever have that option. It would be nice not to have to have a job to pay my bills but whatever.


How does playing larger venues work, given your DIY background? How does bringing that ethic onto stage work at somewhere like Roadburn?

I don’t think it’s that different. To be honest, in terms of how we approach it, it’s strange for me. It’s generally a bit less fun than playing a house show. Part of why I’m less interested in the live shows is just because our fanbase is so tame – even when playing smaller shows it’s not quite as exciting. The types of people we’re playing to seem to be reserved, record-collecting metal nerds, but maybe it’s because we have a rep for trying to tame things when they get a bit too violently rambunctious. But all of our shows, I feel, are pretty tame, almost to the point of being boring for me. Our approach when we get up there isn’t much different, a lot of it is getting into my own headspace with it so I’m not so concerned about the audience, but we still do a mix of both. If we got bigger though, we’d still play smaller shows for the fun of it.

The last few times we’ve gone on tour in the states, we usually book like two shows a day. So a lot of the time we’ll do a tour and play a matinee show somewhere, then play a show in the evening, get up, do the same thing the next day. We tend to just pack them in when we’re on tour, and playing those matinee shows we get the opportunity to play in those intimate spaces – it’s more fun. One of the shows we’re about to do in New Orleans is at a local t-shirt design company and we’re playing at their shop. It’s tiny, maybe it’ll be like fifty people but that’ll be a fun show, but that’s what we do when we can in this band. We’re doing it because it’s enjoyable; we’re going to do the stuff that’s fun for us.


It’s always a bit of a balancing act…

For us, a big thing is finding where that balance is, like not getting too drunk before a show – we’ll drink, but also we’re not doing everything we get offered. I’m still learning stuff about what I like and don’t like. Over these past tours, I’ve learned I’d rather do this thing or not to do this thing or do that with this band. Thou in all aspects is a great experiment in figuring out what I like and what I don’t like.


Is there a consistent narrative throughout your discography at all?

There isn’t a story I’m trying to tell lyrically. As the years have gone by, there’s been a clearer focus with each record. As far as what we’re trying to get by lyrically and the issues I’m trying to touch upon. There’s definitely an issue of alienation and despondency, typical punk/goth/metal and very general feelings that I’m trying to dig into but that’s what I’m inspired to write about. If I’m writing about a particular situation, if someone or something is upsetting me, I’m more likely to write about it so I can be hopeful and happy about it.


Does that help you overcome some of the negativity, is it a cathartic process for you?

I’m not sure how cathartic it is really, it helps to put things in a certain perspective and just kind of get it out. But I’m not sure how I’d get through those issues without other people and stuff in place to help me out, it’s not just the music. Really, I’m more motivated to write about things that move me deeply and unfortunately, that’s of a more negative nature than a positive thing, but maybe that’s my personality obsessing over stuff. Maybe it’s got to do with trying to fix things and find things.

I don’t wanna say catharsis because it’s not like I get up on stage, do the song and instantly feel better about stuff. It’s definitely a helpful process, but nothing’s fixed or changed as a result of it, it’s taking something negative and finding a positive use for it. It’s not fixing the situation but the band itself can be a source of frustration and pain.


Why is that?

We’re all different people. It can be a bit difficult to get stuff done. We’ll get stuff done but someone’s dragging or for instance now I’m in a bit of a personal crisis, there are some big things I’m dealing with. Sometimes it’s like people don’t realise you’ve got that stuff going on –  logistical stuff – because for better or worse, we take care of ourselves, we don’t have management. That can be unpleasant – nothing horrible – there has been some horrible stuff but we’ve dealt with it.


Obviously there’s been a lot of political strife in the US in the past few years, did you detail that on Magus?

Definitely, in a more personal sense and self-searching, self-critical sense. I don’t know how anybody could be in a band and not in some way be writing about politics, unless it’s real kitschy BS like Satan and pentagrams and weed.. Usually when I write I have a broad set of themes and in each song I’ll hone down to one particular issue, and from that I’ll hone it down to one experience of mine and write about it – take one smaller thing and broaden it. So if I was going to write a song about immigration issues or something I would take it from a very focused point and write a song from that point of view.


How do you envision things being better?

I think there would need to be a dramatic Ayn Rand-esque upheaval, like firestorms and the world falling apart before we get to a point where people could rebuild from scratch into something that socially makes a bit more sense – where things from a very young socialisation standpoint were totally reinvented and there were no world powers vying for control over how things go. The best we can do is be working from a very focused community venture – what’s the phrase? Think globally, act locally.


For further reading, check out our round-up of Thou’s discography and last year’s Summer of Thou.

Words: Richard Lowe

Photo credit: Teddie Taylor, IG: @teddiestaylor

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