Illustration by Samuel Nigrosh
This article initially appeared in AdHoc Issue 20.
Earlier this year, Thrill Jockey released Many Waters, a 33-song compilation to benefit the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank in the wake of the flood that swept the area in August of last year. The label enlisted the Baton Rouge, Louisiana doom metal five-piece Thou to help curate the release, which featured local groups from Louisiana alongside experimental metal heavyweights like Old Man Gloom and The Body. After more than a decade of touring, releasing music, and musical community-building in their home state, the band was more than up to the task.
Thou vocalist Bryan Funck in particular has tirelessly supported the Louisiana scene. After starting booking local shows in the mid-’90s, Funck founded the website noladiy.org in 1999, which features an impressively long, constantly updated list of shows, bands, venues, and promoters in southeast Louisiana. We spoke to Funck about the origins and ethos of NOLA DIY, and how some of those impulses filter into Thou’s heavy, metaphysical music—a new offering of which, Magus, is slated for release via Howling Mine, Gilead Media, and Robotic Empire later this year.
Thou plays Brooklyn Bazaar on June 28 with Cloud Rat, False, and Moloch.
AdHoc: How did Many Waters come about?
Bryan Funck: When [Thrill Jockey founder] Bettina [Richards] heard about the flood down here, she asked if we were interested in doing a benefit. She coordinated with a bunch of metal bands who were friends with Thrill Jockey, and then asked me if there was anybody from New Orleans or Baton Rouge I wanted to add—so I started rounding up all the good New Orleans and Baton Rouge bands that could contribute.
How did you get involved in organizing within the Louisiana scene?
I got into booking when I was like 15 or 16. I went to see a band made up of some guys from my high school, which opened me up to spots that I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise. After that, [the band was] always looking for shows. At some point, I thought, “Oh, I could just put this show on.” That was 20 years ago—at the time, there were a lot of shows that were going under the radar. I would drive out of town to go see bands I liked, and I’d say, “Hey, come to New Orleans!” And they’d say, “We just played New Orleans, but no one was there.” Whatever social clique the band was in, those people were passing the word along to their friends, and they would be the only people at the shows. So, in 1999, I got an Angelfire domain and made a text website that listed every show I could find [in and around New Orleans].
Eventually, I moved the website from Angelfire onto Loyola University’s servers, since they gave students a certain amount of free web space that you could use for whatever you wanted. A good friend of mine from high school showed me web coding stuff, and at some point—2001 or 2002—he also offered to recode the site and move it to one of his servers. We bought the NOLA DIY name and stuck with it. It’s got the same PHP code he wrote 15 years ago.
It was always supposed to be a tool where you could get all the information you needed and run with it. People have tried to get us to post more pictures and make it fancy, but I don’t do it, because I don’t want people wasting time on the internet. I want people doing stuff like going to shows, playing in bands, or writing zines. I don’t wanna fart around on the internet when it’s not gonna make any impact out in the world.
How does Thou’s music come together?
It’s not anything crazy. Andy [Gibbs] and Matthew [Thudium], our two guitar players, write 99% of the material. Usually one of them will come to practice with either a fully formed song or a handful of riffs. Or one of them has a few riffs and the other has a few riffs, and their riffs match up. Those guys have been playing together since they were teenagers, so they kind of have a mind-meld as far as writing and being able to play together. That’s basically it: they’ll show us a song, we’ll play it through, move things around, and figure it out pretty quickly. We’re not the kind of band to jam. If we come together with a riff or two and jam it out, it usually doesn’t go anywhere.
What about lyrics?
The lyrics are written by me. When I first joined Thou, [the other members] had already pretty much written Tyrant . Matthew was singing at that point, but it was way more of an instrumental thing, with very sparse vocals. Since then, it’s been mostly me. Lyrically, our new record is supposed to be the other side of the coin of Heathen . Where Heathen celebrated physicality and the sexual world, the new record, Magus, is going to be about esoteric theories, thoughts, and feelings. The record before Heathen, Summit , combined the physical and the esoteric in this anarchist proto-verse. When we were writing Summit, we were talking with Southern Lord about a three-record deal. And when we were talking about that, in my head I was like, “Alright, let’s do the three-record thing, but let’s have an idea of how [the three albums will go].”
It’s interesting that the concept has been gestating for a while.
That’s a big thing. The five of us all get along with each other and sometimes have similar ideas. We’re all progressive types, but we also have drastically different life-philosophies. My approach with Thou has always been to air out whatever is in my head, with a lot of abstraction and symbolism. The lyrics can then be about whatever people want them to be about––even the people in Thou.
It’s also important to me to be able to write stuff in a way where we don’t sound like we’re proselytizing or or anything. Early on, we were often seen as promoting this anti-civilization, luddite, anti-technology [mindset]—and that was because I was writing about those things, reading about those things, and it was something I cared about. But at the same time, I’m not an extremist. I wanted to have some kind of balance, and my way of balancing things within Thou was to have polarizing attitudes about something, to express both sides in different songs. I mean, I’m 37, and the older I get, the more I see contradictions in people’s nature and behavior, especially my own. I like to celebrate those things. It’s part of living.
The lyrics are very self-aware, even self-critical. I think those are important qualities to have as a DIY artist.
The DIY approach for us has always been a practical approach; we’re still very actively involved in every aspect of this band. When I joined the group, we were doing house shows, playing shows on the floor; we kept doing it because it was fun. Those things only change when it doesn’t make sense to do them. It doesn’t make sense for us to go to Seattle and play a house show where only 40 people can fit in a room, when the show we’re playing at the local DIY space will can accommodate 200-300 people. Now, for better or worse, we have to keep other things in mind than just our pleasure. We do try to keep the people who support us in mind.
And has that drawn criticism?
Not really. The only criticism we’ve ever really received, surprisingly, was when all the [discontinued Toyota marque] Scion stuff was happening a few years ago—they were sponsoring a lot of bands. We played a fest in Ohio, in Columbus, and got tacked onto a list in Maximum Rocknroll that was like, “All these bands deal with Scion—corporate bullshit. Boycott these bands.” But we played the fest, and it was kinda dumb. I wasn’t super into it, but they paid us a certain amount of money. Then, a few months later, our friends from the punk band Moloch came over from the UK. We did a tour with them, and at the end of that tour we had that money and were like, “Here you go. Here’s the money we made off this fest, so you can pay for all your plane tickets.”
With the Maximum Rocknroll stuff and the punk stuff and the DIY stuff, I get it. I’m glad people are still very militant, but I’m also a point, at least with this band, where I want to experiment. If there’s some opportunity where we can take what might be an unpleasant situation—or an unpleasant thing to do or people to align ourselves with—and turn it into something interesting, I want to do that.
Back when the Scion stuff was happening, they had even asked us to do a record, and everybody in Thou was like, “Nah.” We couldn’t do it anyway because of time constraints: they wanted it in a month, and it wasn’t gonna happen. But I was like, “Let’s write a record that’s very anti-oil company and very anti-car and commodity culture, like totally overtly against those things.” This was right around when the Deepwater Horizon thing happened—the BP oil spill—so there were all these images coming out of pelicans in tar pits and stuff. We were gonna say, “If you drive a car, if you pay for gas, this is all your fault.” The idea was to be really critical of these things while at the same time taking their money and having [the company] pay for it. At the time, we were also trying to convince them to pony up and put some money into some of the organizations that were cleaning up those spills. That kind of subversive stuff—I still wanna do stuff like that. It’s what always engaged me with punk and DIY.