THOU: an ode to the past – an interview with guitarist Andy Gibbs and singer Bryan Funck

12 mins read
THOU by @reidhaithcock
THOU by @reidhaithcock

After four years of pushing through confusion and pulling out certainty, Louisiana’s prolific sludge band Thou, returns with a beautifully destructive record entitled, “Umbilical”- a ten song album that is built from their inner strength and organized by their collection of methodical chaos.

Thou’s powerful sound is no secret; however, the way this one is crafted depicts their magic as they mix nostalgic ingredients with present-day madness to construct this sonic narrative.

Umbilical” brings back Andy Gibbs and Matthew Thudium’s quintessential heavy guitar riffs layered over the thick rhythm section provided by Tyler Coburn’s sharp drumming and KC Stafford aggressive bass: all garnished with Bryan Funck’s sinister vocals as the ensemble finds new speeds and styles inside their distorted canvas.

Their single, “I Feel Nothing When You Cry,” demonstrated the violent velocity that equally matched their intensity. As the single paved the way for what’s to come, and now you get swallow the whole fucking thing.

Recently, I spoke to Funck and Gibbs about their creation. As they described the intricacies of putting this body of work together, this project had its challenges as they took on several projects while making “Umbilical.”

From the inception process of organizing the sound to employing their instincts with consideration to their genuine intentions, this record was assembled inside of a distorted framework that illustrates the sheer ambivalence of the past and the present.

As Gibbs eloquently put, “I think the whole record, even musically, is in dialogue with our younger selves in a lot of ways,” clearly is an ode to the past. However, the complexities that bring about this type of body of work require a lot of introspection and instinct, which I believe Thou perfectly executed.

Here’s what they said:

Name and position?

Guitar – Andy (A)

Sings – Bryan (B)

B – What’s your position though, head honcho?

A – Hated, fascist dictator.

B – Hi, I’m Bryan. I sing. I’m in Yuma resources.

When do y’all start writing this record? I know what one starts writing a record, you never know when you actually started it.

A – We definitely knew we had started this one. I guess it started back in 2020. We had the idea of the record, but I started writing the first songs in 2020. Then a lot of stuff happened. During the pandemic, we did a record with our friend Liam that took a long time. Some of the songs we were kicking around were around for a long time, so we were working shopping them for a while. Our drummer doesn’t live here, so we would fly him in to record some demos. It was a 3 and half or more years process of writing, practicing, honing the song, demoing, reworking the song again, demoing again while having several commitments to other shows, tours, etc. Yeah, it was a long process.

The intention of a record was there, so y’all just chipped away at it little by little.

A – Yeah, it was a longer process than normal. We knew we were gonna make a record called, “Umbilical” that would have some sort of similar sound than what it ended up having. Even before 2020, we knew that this was going to be the next thing. We’re always just doing the next thing. When one record is finished, we just start working on the next thing. It never stops. However, we haven’t put out an LP since 2018.

B – The stuff on the Norco soundtracks is basically an LP’s stuff worth of material, and honestly, if we had sat on the NORCO stuff for a couple of months it probably would have ended up a lot more meatier than what we ended up doing. That’s the thing, we started this record in 2020, but we immediately got sidetracked by the Liam and Norco records that had hard deadlines, so it got pushed to the side. We had a bunch of music that was being categorized between Umbilical, the Liam record, and the Norco record. Some of the stuff that we pitched too Liam got poop pooped, so we put some of that stuff into the Umbilical category.

When you start writing a record and you have this specific intention or concept, do you feel that because of all the intricacies and the shitstorm that happens in life, the evolution of the meaning goes in a different direction or did you stay on track with the same concept and feeling?

A – Naw, we’re not very good at staying on track with the concept. I think it goes off the rails. It ends up being what it is and being loosely informed by the beginning concept, at least for me. No matter what I set out to write, whatever comes out of my guitar, comes out of my guitar. I’ll try to steer it in a certain direction, but sometimes that specific direction doesn’t produce results, so you have to go where the results are coming from. It’s good to have a general goal in mind, but we rarely hit the mark. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad. It produces interesting results that way. You can’t be married to the original idea because it’s hard to stick with it.


Is it the same for the Lyrics?

B – I usually have a general or very broad theme that’s broad enough where I can stick with it because when I go to write stuff, I’m sort of writing about extremely particular things that sort of fit in the theme. Then, I just craft it in a way that it leads to open interpretation. I don’t know if I’m that good of a writer, but that’s the hope. So we have a vague, overarching concept that we all talk about, maybe agree on.

So the concept is a collective concept, where everyone creates a unanimous decision?

B – It’s more like I’ll say something and everyone is like, “sure, whatever.” Then I’ll get stuck in that lane and start to figure out how I want to write about it. Whatever is interesting or whatever I’m thinking or dealing with at the time, I try to channel it into that theme. In some ways, this chunk of stuff was a little easier on me because we had three separate records that all had big themes, so as I’m writing I knew that “this” could go here and “this” could go there. That made it a bit easier for me.


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How did y’all come up with the name UMBILICAL? Why that name?

B – I feel like I just saw the word somewhere, and just got stuck on it. It was just a working title for a long time, and then we just settled into it. The record is supposed to be a mission statement or something; it’s supposed to be a throwback to youthful ideology or getting back to one’s core ideology. Sacred Bones also said we had to do something around the “Umbilical,” or they were gonna drop us from the label.

A – I think the whole record, even musically, is in dialogue with our younger selves in a lot of ways. That was the way I thought about it with writing. In another interview, someone asked me, “what guitarist am I influenced by for this record?” I had a really hard time answering that question because I think a lot of what I was writing for this record was a reaction to other stuff that we’ve done, and trying to revisit certain parts of what we’ve done or try to break some of the conventions. I think that fits in with the theme perfectly too. It’s very much like, what record the ‘me’ of fifteen years ago would write today in 2024? What kind of riffs would he write? What kind of quality of stuff would he be producing? We’re really trying to not be treading any ground in a way that is tiring. Making sure that we’re not slowing down or doing something that is cheap and easy to do, and keeping fresh and exciting.

So y’all invited nostalgia back in and played around with what that meant to you as a band, now in this position in life .

A – It’s pretty easy to get sick of these lumbering big riffs, but if you break too far out of convention, it sometimes feels good to go back to the basic tenets of our sound. I just have to make sure that it’s being done in a way that is still exciting and interesting, and maybe something we would have not thought of doing. It’s kind of a blend of nostalgia and pushing forward.

THOU by @reidhaithcock
THOU by @reidhaithcock

Do y’all believe it can get ambivalent in that case, where you can get confused about the material you’re writing because you don’t know if the part you’re writing is it or not.

A – Dude, that describes our band practice to a T because someone will write a riff and someone else will say, “ah, naw man, that just sounds so typical Thou.” Then someone else will say, “Yes, it does! That’s good.” We’re conflicted by our own legacy.

I guess at that point, when you’re coming to term with whatever part, do you employ instinct?

A – Yes! I think it’s easy to over-intellectualize some of the stuff. We end up talking about, “why does this riff need to be here?” Then it becomes a rhetorical argument of “why” the riff deserves to be there. It’s like arguing philosophy of form and structure and how they come into play, when sometimes it’s as easy as that part feels right. It’s always a push and pull between the high-minded and the “fuck it” let’s just do this thing that feels good and basic.


Yeah, it’s definitely a push and pull, but I think this segues into the next question. While I was reading your press release, I loved that question that y’all wrote, “Are we not ourselves constrained to our own rigid morality?” I find that question to denote the utter ambivalence that we’re talking about. Is this the theme of the sound and lyrics?

B – The judging eye of your 21 year old self. I mean that like, I don’t wanna say the theme, but the framework of how I crafted the lyrics. I wanted to touch on how my 19 year, hyper-ideological self would look at decisions we’ve made as a band; or I’ve made specifically of how I treat people; or think about things. Then think about how I would judge those compromises you’re sort of forced to make in order to keep the machine rolling. That’s essentially the framework that I’m writing the lyrics in. I’m not sure if that engaged much with the sound of the record, other than my input of always pushing us into more of the “hardcore” realm. But even then, when I’m making suggestions at practice, I’m just thinking about what sounds cool.

A – I think the music does follow that same logic, but I do think that coincidental. I didn’t write with that concept in mind, but it is the same idea ofc

B – For me, this record feels like such a departure. It’s hard for me to say if it’s a better record, but I love this body of work. It’s super fun, and it’s definitely different than what we normally write.

A – It’s hard to tell when you’re in it cause we’re in the bubble. To me, this album feels like a departure, but totally see if someone cues up this record and can tell its Thou record. I would understand where they’re coming with that. Especially, since there’s moments on the record that are harking back to older stuff, so I can see it. To us, it’s a departure because we definitely did it differently even tempo-wise or the level of aggression and I think that this leads us to believe that it’s a departure.

B – That’s the thing about this band, we always have big, grandiose plans and it always gets filed down once we get into the framework of how we interact with each other or how we think of the band or the band is supposed to sound.


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Who did y’all record with ?

A – Our buddy, James Whitten at Hightower Recording. He’s done all of our records except for one since 2009.

Did he mix it as well?

A – We did it with him. He takes a first pass, then we take notes. There was a third pass, and some stuff after that. This one was pretty involved because we have people spread out all over the place. Our drummer was in Australia during this period. We also told James to go nuts with it since the production was overblown. Having everyone listen to that in the mix required us to make specific assessments to know what we needed to change. There was a lot more to deal with than some of the other records, where we asked him to make it sound like a “Thou” record – a process he already had dialed in. Also, because making this one had more of an experimental type of production, there was a more nuanced we had to work out and get everyones appetite for how fucked up they were willing to let this sound and see if the sounded good.

What were those experimentations?

A – Main thing was, an addition to having distorted guitars and the crazy guitar overdubs with super fucked up stuff, we ran the drum mics through some level of distortion and there was a separate bus that I think everything got sent to that had multiple distortions before it hit the master. There was essentially a veneer of distortion, and it was way more intense. The initial mix had the drums way more blown out, which was cool, but it led to some weird overtones. He also went crazy with vocal effects like random delays all over the place. The vocals also got way more distortion than what we usually do. That really blended well with the rest of the distorted elements in the mix.

What were you y’all listening to during the process?

A – I don’t know. I was in different phases, so my answer varies. I don’t really listen to a lot of metal and hardcore these days. I think I was listening to a lot of Goo Goo Dolls.

B – I work at a record shop, so all I listen to is whatever I’m playing testing. It’s usually not super fun. It’s just all over the place.

Is there anything you were listening to that was indicative to the record?

A – Not that there was anything indicative, but there were nods. Like in the song, “I feel nothing when you cry,” there’s a direct inspiration of “Bodies” by The Smashing Pumpkins. Also, “Panic Stricken,” that song is a direct nod to “Angry Chair” by Alice In Chains.

Do y’all feel more attached? Is there something more special to this piece of work than your previous releases?

A – I think I’m still working out how I feel about it. I think it’s good and I’m proud of it. Because I’m not far away from the experience of making it, it’s hard for me to see where it fits in the pantheon. I don’t really understand how good our records are until way later down the line and I go back and listen to it. The thing with not being too far away from the experience, I can still picture my hands playing the songs; I can picture us in the studio; and I can picture us playing it, so I don’t get to experience the music for what it just is. That takes a lot of time. I do think it’s good. I’m very proud of it. I think we pulled off something that I didn’t think we were going to be able to pull off.

B – The songs are really fun to play, and that was something we were trying to get out of it, having more fun songs to play rather than 10 minute slow, punishing songs. I’m really interested in seeing how people respond to it. Good or bad, I just enjoy seeing how the public takes it in.

A – I’m curious to see how people respond to the production because we did go in a different direction. We might get some haters.

THOU by @reidhaithcock
THOU by @reidhaithcock

What’s next?

B – We have a split with ZAO and Uniform. Maybe finish that secret electronic record. We also have a West Coast tour, and We’ll be doing some dates in Australia with FULL OF HELL.

Shout outs?

B – Silver Godling, MJ Guider, Belong, Lesion Industries, and Slowhole.

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John Rojas

John Montoya is a musician, producer and a writer who grew up in the LA DIY punk scene. Since the early 2000s, he has been playing in several bands to engineering bands around town. His reverence for the hard work of being a musician and DIY ethos led to his co-founding of Bridgetown DIY, a collective that has been running since 2013 - one of the longest running DIY spaces in the San Gabriel Valley (SGV); located in his hometown of La Puente. He lives by his belief that supporting your local music scene is not always easy, but whatever one can do is better than nothing. Catch his band, Machinekit, live and online, and check out his recording studio MachineHouse Audio located in Orange, CA.

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