Prolific doesn’t quite begin to describe Thou‘s catalog. On paper, it might look like they only have seven full-length albums, including their new collaborative album with Emma Ruth Rundle, May Your Chambers Be Full. But once you start factoring in the seven-inches, EPs, cassettes, splits, collaborations and live releases, the number of releases in their catalog starts to stack up to the dozens, ranging from the sludgy hardcore of their earliest releases to the more melancholy and atmospheric doom metal approach of their recent albums.
While Thou isn’t a band that has “hits” per se, there are a number of live staples in their repertoire, like “Smoke Pigs,” and the diversity of their catalog has, in recent years, yielded material ranging from an acoustic EP to a full set of Nirvana covers. We reached out to Thou to ask their perspective on the best songs in their discography, though the results proved interesting, and potentially rewarding for those who’ve dug the deepest into their body of work. While they didn’t ignore the studio full-lengths, a lot of their selections were deeper cuts. (They didn’t choose anything from May Your Chambers Be Full, but it does have a specific disadvantage—almost every track they discuss here can be tied back to years’ worth of live shows, which haven’t been happening this year.)
Here are the 10 best Thou songs, according to Thou. (Answers told to Thou’s Andy Gibbs.)
“Into the Marshlands”
from Heathen (2014; Gilead)
Mitch Wells: What’s that song? It’s from Magus, it’s got that slow ending? “Marshland,” right! Wait what? Oh, it’s on Heathen, OK. I didn’t like that song when we first were learning it, I thought the change (at the end) was too abrupt, but something clicked and now I love it. What I didn’t like before is what brings me in. I think that’s a good life lesson for people.
from Heathen (2014; Gilead)
KC Stafford: Emily [McWilliams]’s [vocal] parts are gorgeous, I really love the melody. It’s haunting. I really like the way it hearkens back to classical music, where there’s a theme and variations on that theme. Every riff in that song makes complete sense with every other riff. It’s well composed.
“By Endurance We Conquer”
from Summit (2010; Gilead/Southern Lord)
MW: I like the opening of it, the feeling of people getting hyped when we play it live.
Matthew Thudium: When I write certain riffs, some things make me feel really satisfied before we even play them in front of anyone. And then when we record them and I hear them with the whole band I think, “oh that is exactly what I wanted to happen, that’s what i was going for.”
MW: What is that “thing” that happens?
Andy Gibbs: It’s like when we’re at practice, and we nail something for the first time, or when we have an idea and we try it and it works. And everyone looks at each other and is like, “yeah we like that.”
KCS: Again, fun to play. The melodies are really interesting. It has this weird juxtaposition…it sounds happy to me when I’m playing but I don’t think it’s overtly happy. It’s a Gemini of a song [laughs]. As someone who’s performed it on both bass and guitar, the bridge is completely different on the two instruments but both really to fun to play, and that’s cool.
Tyler Coburn: It’s really dynamic.
“Fucking Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean”
From Tyrant (2007; One Eye)
TC: First time I saw Thou was when my friend and I saw y’all at the [Sunno)))] Grimm Robes Anniversary show in New York. I had no idea who y’all were. Bryan was doing the whole mic cable noose thing, eyes popping out of his head, etc. After the show we bought a bunch of stuff, and Bryan gave us that Southern Lord CD compilation that had “Chained” on it. We had a portable CD player and a headphone splitter and listened to it over and over again. And at that show I gave Bryan my MySpace in case y’all wanted to book a show in town, and he hit me up a couple months later. So that’s kind of how this whole thing started really!
“The Song of Illuminate Darkness”
From Our Enemy Civilization (2009; Vendetta)
Bryan: It was the first time that we put a lot of different ideas in one song—the acoustic intro, the outro, the string thing that Emily composed. It was the first time I feel like we got really ambitious, and I thought we pulled it off. One of the first songs for me, lyrically, where I had an idea and pulled three or four things together and pulled it off. To me, that song set the stage for how we tackled Summit.
From To the Chaos Wizard Youth (2011; Vendetta)
AG [to KC]: Damn you’re picking all songs that I wrote.
KCS: Well, we’re fairly similar people as far as taste goes. It’s fun as fuck to play, that’s it. It reminds me of Korn. You could say it’s Korn-y. It’s like, silly and kinda ridiculous. It
almost sounds sarcastic to me.
AG: Matthew came up with that tuning for To The Chaos Wizard Youth, and we just
wrote this song as well as the Witch Cunt at practice.
KCS: I’ve never listened To The Chaos Wizard Youth. I never listen to my own bands unless I’m feelings really nostalgic.
AG: You listening to Thou records you weren’t a part of…how does that change your
perception? Or influence the way you listen to them? How do you judge their worth?
KCS: The first metaphor that popped in my brain is that it’s like your partner’s kids from a former relationship. You can get to know them but you didn’t make them. But it resonates more now that I’ve gotten to know y’all and how you think and why you write the way you do, it hits on a deeper level than it did before. It’s the difference between a one night stand and fucking someone you love. Publish that.
from War is the Force That Gives Us Meaning (2011; Vendetta)
BF: Super fun to play, and [along with Skinwalker] the closest we’ve gotten to having a
hardcore song. My contribution to both of those songs was kind of like that classic “stabbed me in the back” or “fuck the boss” hardcore stuff, but I wrote it in a way where, in my mind, I think it kinda transcends the content of those kinds of songs. It opened my eyes to like, “oh I can write about a specific thing” but I can mangle it in such a way where it’s ultimately not about that, it’s a springboard for the kind of feeling I’m trying to get out of the song. I love the music, and I feel like on my end I pulled off what I was going for, lyrically. There’s very few things that we do that I don’t look back and think “oh, I would change this or wish I’d done that.” I don’t look back on “Skinwalker” or “Millstone” and think that.
“Here I Stand, Head in Hand”
From We Pass Like Night, from Land to Land (2008; Gilead)
TC: I had the Leech split tape and jammed it in my car all the time. Then, I was at SXSW in 2009 and saw y’all play outside Snake Eyes Vinyl. I asked y’all to play that song and then y’all played it. Playing it live, I can now pick up on the subtleties and the looseness in the song. And it tends to sound better the slower we play it.
“Voices in the Wilderness”
From The Archer & The Owle (2011; Robotic Empire)
BF: For me, it was the first time where we could pull in different [genre] elements into the song and pull it off. It could still be heavy, and not be cheesy or silly. Disregarding the genre restraints. If we want to have some weird intro, we can do it.
From Thrive and Decay (2009; Gilead)
KCS: It’s really fun to play, I dance when we play it. It’s the hit.
AG: I was specifically interested in you and Tyler’s take on all this, because you have the unique experience of being on both sides of the band.
KCS: I was not a huge Thou fan before learning how to play the songs, had trouble differentiating the songs. I liked the song before, but I love it now. All the songs i like a lot more now, now that I know how to play them. All my favorite Thou songs are ones I know how to play.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.