Donovan Jones of This Will Destroy You on the state of post-rock and why he resists the term
Although often lumped into the category of post-rock, This Will Destroy You (due tonight at Larimer Lounge) from San Marcos, Texas, is more rooted in outright instrumental rock music with more than its fair share of an experimental edge. When the band first emerged, the post-rock designation made a bit more sense, as This Will Destroy You's visceral, emotionally sweeping music kind of resembled that of the best of the bands in that milieu.
With its latest release, Tunnel Blanket, however, This Will Destroy You has entered the realm of denser, darker atmospheres without losing a sense of expansiveness and wonder. The cinematic quality of its earlier material is more in focus on Tunnel, and if the music has become heavier than before, it is in the same sense that the quietly building intensity of the most psyche penetrating ambient music can be said to be heavy. We recently spoke with bassist and keyboard player Donovan Jones about the serendipity of band's song titles and the current state of post-rock.
Westword: How is it that your band became connected with post-hardcore bands of the last decade through touring?
Donovan Jones: We like heavy music. It definitely influences our approach to making music sound powerful. We like playing with bands like Boris, and we're trying to tour with them in the fall. We'll tour with anybody. We'd tour with DJs if we could. We just like to mix it up.
What kind of music did you play when you were younger, and what lead to your developing as a musician into the sort of thing you do today?
When I was younger, I was always at church with my parents, because my dad was a navy pastor, and my mom directed choir. So I grew up with organs and learning how to build the music up and make it more intense, so people would be jumping around. I started watching TV. I didn't have MTV, but I got BET, so I was really into R&B and rap. But I've always been into instrumental music.
How did you end up joining This Will Destroy You a few years ago?
Our drummer Alex Bhore, before he was in the band, he tour-managed This Will Destroy You. Alex and I have known each other since we were in high school, and we were in jazz band together. We've been on tour with other indie bands. He told me they needed a bass player. He said, "They're going to Europe; they might be going to Japan." And I said, "Alright, I'm in." Then I tried out and that was it.
Would you consider Stars of the Lid and other Kranky acts as an influence on what you do now?
Stars of the Lid definitely. I love Stars of the Lid and the Refinement of Their Decline; that's a good record. Chris King has another band in Austin called Amasa Gana, and they just played a show with Brian McBride from Stars of the Lid. It was in a Presbyterian church and there were six projectors shooting all over the walls.
For your new album, Tunnel Blanket, your band said in interviews that it would be darker and heavier than past efforts. Why did you aim for that sort of thing and do you feel you succeeded?
Because we could! [laughs] I mean, we know how to make this shit bang, and we know how to make it really heavy, and no one's doing that much in rock music. When I hang out in Dallas -- when I'm at home -- I listen to rap music in my car, because it's really bassy. You've got to use that sub-bass shit on some rock music. I was itching to get on this new album and make it accurate to what our musical taste is now and the line-up change. It was very natural. It wasn't like we actively tried to make a new sound. We just got altered and sat there listening to drum beats for ten minutes, and then we started writing the music.
The song titles on your albums are evocative and suggestive. Do you have a concept for the titles, or does the music suggest a title when it's written? Is it a more serendipitous process than that?
The songs will set a mood, but we're always reading and throwing around weird word names and creepy shit. Sometimes some of the names work, and sometimes they're super pretentious sounding. It's a fun game, though. Chris usually comes up with some funny shit [laughs]. I've been reading a couple of books about Voudon in Haiti, and a lot of the words in that book have been helpful. Specifically, The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis. If you read for three or four hours you end up with a lot of words floating around in your head.
You've rejected the post-rock label for your band, and rightfully so. Why do you feel the label doesn't fit at this point?
I'll be completely honest. My friend Patrick plays drums at a church to make money. And he was like, "Check out this song I recorded the other day." I checked it out and it sounded like some weak-ass post rock song from England or something. Because it's super high-def over there, and they're really into tremolo picking. Evidently, in praise and worship music now, all that shit sounds like all that cheesy post-rock. It's too easy to make that sound. You can make a post-rock sound really easy.
There are elements people are so used to hearing. And we don't do things the same way. All I listen to is classical music, and people who are dead that used to make music [laughs]. That's all I've been listening to. Music from South America, old Catholic masses, some cool hypnotic experimental music, and we've been using that in some of our sets. I don't keep up with current trends and bands and whatnot. I'm weird.
You've been playing in the band for a few years. How has your gear set up evolved as the sound of the band has evolved?
Chris has always had a pretty well-put together gear set-up. He used to run the guitar through Ableton Live and do bit-crushing distortion through there. It keeps changing. Personally, I've been adding cassette players that I found that were made for blind and handicapped people. They've got crazy speed control, and I can play tapes in reverse and it's got tons of outputs on it so I run it through my sampler. I've got lots of stuff I still want to set up, but we're still ironing out the kinks. There's still stuff I need to get but I can make this work for now.