Ambient post rock act This Will Destroy You play music to calm you down and help you contemplate the deepest parts of your soul. They fill their songs with layers of emotion without lyrics and can touch your soul without saying a word. I was fortunate enough to talk with their guitarist Chris King about their current tour with Cymbals Eat Guitars, their newest album and how fans have reacted to their music thus far.
SLUG: Hey! How’s it going?
This Will Destroy You: Just trying to navigate around Austin right now with SXSW going on. We’re leaving on Monday. We kind of do an annual thing where we leave on purpose to not be here. For the people who live here, it’s pretty awful. It’s fun doing all the seeing shows and friends stuff, but as far as the logistics of going to the grocery store or something, it’s … something.
SLUG: Are you guys playing any shows at the festival before you head out?
TWDY: No, we’ve just had really unpleasant experiences with the SXSW organization in general. You’re basically just promoting corporations for free—you’re not getting paid. I dunno. I think it’s great for certain bands, but it’s just not something that we’re necessarily interested in doing anymore.
SLUG: Right on. Well, to change gears a little bit … While I was preparing for this interview I decided to read through some of your YouTube comments—generally not a great idea—but this time it yielded some interesting observations. Instead of being filled with people having inane arguments, your fans have left some genuinely heartfelt, weird, and thought–provoking comments. Many of the comments center on listening to your music with various … substances. Do you advocate for listening to your records under the influence, or do you recommend a clear head? Is this something you’ve ever really given much thought to?
TWDY: That comes up very often, actually. People have talked to us about listening to our music on drugs, while they’re on drugs at our shows, so it almost comes full circle to that extent! It’s kind of relative, however people want to enjoy the music is fine by us. I get that certain substances probably enhance the experience … and there are definitely correlations to that, specifically on Tunnel Blanket. The title and some of the themes on the record kind of came about from some experience and thinking about death and other things that kind of pertain to [drug use], so I can see how people would gather from some of the sounds on that record. I get why people might associate the term stoner rock, psychedelic rock or whatever with our music. Those are kind of paired with substance use usually, but I feel like people can enjoy it completely sober as well. It’s all very specific and unique to the listener. It’s not something that I would openly encourage because that would be incredibly irresponsible of me, but I’ve heard from people that it’s pleasant!
SLUG: On the flip side of that, one commenter credited your music with helping him through rehab. Have you ever had fans express that your music has helped them through rough times, be it emotional, drug related, etc?
TWDY: We have definitely had people come up to us and tell us stories relating to that, and I think that’s fantastic. It’s really inspiring to hear people kind of overcoming personal grief through our music. We had someone that came to a show, they had a mother that was in hospice care, and the last thing they did before they basically “pulled the plug” was listen to the Self Titled record, which is probably the heaviest thing I’ve heard relating to the band. It kind of gave me chills. That is about as intense as it could possibly get. I just felt honored that we could help in a situation like that in a positive way.
SLUG: Wow, that’s powerful stuff. Did you ever imagine your music might come to hold such meaning for people? Do you think that changes the meaning of the music?
TWDY: It would be kind of egomaniacal to be like, “we’re gonna create this revolutionary this that is going to alter the way people _____” … that sort of mentality. I hope it would help people, and I’m glad that it has, but that’s never been a direct goal. The fact that is has helped people has kept us going for this long, but I don’t think it’s something we set out to do. We had no expectations starting a band, so it’s kind of hard to gauge.
SLUG: Kind of along those same lines, I’ve read some artists express that they believe their songs become something else, or no longer “belong” to them when they release them to the world. What do you think of the idea that songs can take on a whole new meaning/life once you put them out into the world?
TWDY: With the music being instrumental, it’s definitely open to interpretation, and however people want to interpret the music is fine with us. Everyone has different belief systems. We have ours but we try to not let it affect the way we write music. Without lyrics it definitely is open to interpretation and that’s kind of the great part of playing instrumental music is the fact that it’s so universal and open—that’s what’s kind of beautiful about it.
SLUG: You’ve done quite a bit of work with John Congelton throughout your career. How did you initially connect with him, and what has it been like working with a producer as high profile and prolific as him?
TWDY: Initially John hit us up to do the Self Titled record with him. We were familiar with him at that point, and really flattered that he was interested in working with us, so we jumped on the chance to do that and it’s grown from there quite a bit. I think everyone has mutual respect for John, he has a very unique approach to music and I think that’s what’s made him so prolific. He’s beyond talented, and also he’s Alex’s boss so we use his studio a lot. I think he’s going to be involved with anything we do at this point. He knows all of us personally so well that it’s kind of a no–brainer. We trust his input on anything; we don’t even question it, even if it seems completely weird and off–kilter. He knows what he’s doing—we have 100% faith in his decision making and production, and it’s been shown to the world now with winning the Grammy, which he absolutely deserves. I think that was years coming. It’s surreal; I’m really stoked for him. It’s great to have that, but it’s not like he needs that push. People know how innovative he is as a producer and engineer. He’s a really talented guy, feel super fortunate to work with him and use his studio all the time
SLUG: What’s the process like working with him?
TWDY: He hasn’t been a part of any of the writing process. It’s been more, if anything, arrangement suggestions, like, “maybe cut a bar out here” or “why don’t you play this part a little longer” or we’ll find some weird part that wasn’t played properly and he’ll bring it out in the front. He’ll pick out little nuggets of gold that seem like mistakes, but when they’re brought out in front of everything, it makes sense somehow. He’s really good at nitpicking those kinds of human elements that really make it sound like an actual band is playing. His role has been super integral in developing the band’s sound in the studio, and even live.
SLUG: Your new record, Another Language, which John produced, is about 13 minutes shorter, and one track longer, than your 2011 album Tunnel Blanket. Was it a conscious decision to write more concise tracks this time around? How did this songwriting process for this record play out compared to Tunnel Blanket?
TWDY: I think we were in different mental states for both records; it’s pretty obviously even just listening to the tonal quality. Tunnel Blanket was kind of a darker period for everyone personally, and that definitely manifested itself in the music. That record was purposefully very themed and congruent to the point it seems like one piece of music, to the point of choosing to cut all high frequencies, even something that specific. Another Language has more of the band, with Donovan and Alex being fully involved. Tunnel Blanket was their first record with me and Jeremy, so we were still figuring certain elements out. I’m still really proud of that record, but we were still growing at that point. I feel like with Another Language, we wrote 1 or 2 songs and we felt great about it. It just clicked. Everyone is in their proper role doing what they do best and I feel like it worked really well.
As far as being conscious of it being shorter, we were definitely aware of trying to go for—I don’t know if I’d call it more of a pop format—but being aware of people’s attention spans. Also, I think a song is way more powerful if it’s 4 minutes and the dynamics are that much more dynamic if you can pull it off in a shorter amount of time. At least it keeps me interested immediately when that does occur, and there is more variation so it’s just more of a pleasant aural experience to have options and not be limited. I like to think the newer record is a little more universal and having shorter songs definitely keeps it open-ended in a good way.
SLUG: What made you decide to go in a more melodic direction this time around, as opposed to the more droning quality of Tunnel Blanket?
TWDY: I think a big part of that was just the band growing as people, artists and musicians, being aware of each other and wanting to tap into things that worked well on the older records—kind of putting a new spin on it and diving back into melody, finding a new way to approach and put a spin on it and finding a formula. Once we found that, it just started working. It’s mostly about growth and personal outlook too. I feel like, overall, it’s a much more positive record emotionally.
SLUG: What is your live show like now with these shorter compositions, compared to the material from your prior albums?
TWDY: It’s been pretty seamless putting everything together—we try to play consistently from each recording. Planning transitions and having everything be seamless has always been important in a live context for us. It’s just like watching a film, there’s ups and downs, there’s intense moments. I think keeping and controlling the dynamics is important, especially in a live context where you have a literal control over the sound and the way it affects people. Just thinking that through and making the set seem seamless is important, but having really dark moments is important. It’s great to have contrast—it makes things interesting and flow. After playing over 10 years, it’s interesting to sift through the material and choosing what to play. I feel like the new songs fit in really well ‘cause they’re kind of in the middle, so it’s been nice throwing them in there as far as the emotional scale of all the material. I feel like they fit in rather nicely.
SLUG: What are your goals with your live shows as far as fan experience?
TWDY: Personally I like to be immersed if I’m going to pay money to go to a show. Hopefully it’s a sort of escapism for people, because it is for us. We like people to share the experience with us, and we’re not gonna be like an asshole band and put up signs to not use cell phones or cameras. I feel like that can take away from the experience—and from someone else’s experience that doesn’t want to be involved with that—but that’s just personal preference. I think it’s great that people want to share experiences too, so it’s kind of a weird middle ground. I love to just be fully immersed in the experience if I go to see music; those shows are the ones that have stuck with me over the years, where you just kind of lose yourself.