To some, 2008 certainly does not seem like very long ago. However, when examining the history and development of instrumental music, the landscape has expanded considerably in the time since. One band in particular took the world by storm that year, finding an audience that grew outward from the niche confines of post-rock. The album they released that year was one they never originally intended to make, but in doing so they expanded the audience for their brand of art-rock, reaching as far as the major studios of Hollywood, bringing textured, contemplative instrumental music to unexpected and exciting new territories.
That band is San Marcos, TX’s This Will Destroy You, and the album in question is their self-titled album, which was released 29 January 2008 and has informed much of what has come since in instrumental music. The band recorded an EP, Young Mountain, during their college years, and seemingly had every intention of moving on to other pursuits after graduation. However, they were approached by Magic Bullet Records to do a proper release of the album, then found themselves reviewed spectacularly by publications like Rolling Stone, Sputnik and Pitchfork, and ultimately the decision was made to begin work on what would become This Will Destroy You. Recording this album afforded the band the opportunity to work with John Congleton, the mad genius behind the criminally-underrated band The Paper Chase, and one of the unsung heroes of American studio production (bands he has guided include Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Ros, Swans and Modest Mouse).
In the years since its release, songs from the album have been featured prominently in major films, prompting a successful licensing venture for a band who almost certainly would not have found such financial reward through the typical grind of American popular music. Their success has allowed them to tour the world, and release two more boundary-expanding releases, 2011’s Tunnel Blanket and 2014’s Another Language.
Songs from This Will Destroy You have inspired innumerable artists since its release; from the crushing ambience of “Villa Del Refugio,” to the classic guitar-driven sound of “Threads,” from the electronics-infused “They Move On Tracks Of Never-Ending Light,” to the deceptively-simplistic majesty of “The Mighty Rio Grande,” their fingerprints are everywhere you look in 2017’s instrumental rock landscape.
We caught up with guitarist Jeremy Galindo to discuss the album and some of what has unfolded in the time since its release.
Arctic Drones: It has been publicized that the band members never really planned to pursue This Will Destroy You as a career. At what point did you all realize that this music was something special that needed to be further explored? Was it as simple as seeing the overwhelming response to the release of Young Mountain?
Jeremy Galindo: I’d say there were a few key moments where we were given inspiration, and saw the potential of doing this for a living. First being Brent Eyestone (Magic Bullet Records) talking us into releasing Young Mountain. The response was overwhelming and we were ready to start on S/T quickly. Second was having our first international tour being a success. It blew our minds that people were showing up for our shows in places we’ve never played or even heard of. Lastly, as we started licensing more and more music to film and TV, and doing a few scores, the potential continued to grow and it inspired us to delve deeper and sacrifice a lot to take this on full time.
AD: Tell us a bit about the making of This Will Destroy You. How did it materialize? What was it like coming back to songwriting after previously believing that the band had run its course? Did that make the process difficult, or more liberating?
JG: For most of S/T we were in the zone. Not a lot of people know that we were in multiple bands together before we started TWDY. We knew each other’s writing styles very well, and we believed we made something special. The writing phase was great! Recording that album was a little bit more of a struggle. But in the end we were all happy with how it came out. Surprisingly, I don’t remember feeling any sort of pressure from the success of Young Mountain. We were still having fun. We had no clue we would get to where we are now.
AD: Describe what it was like working with John Congleton. He brings some very unique sensibilities to the table. Where is his influence most felt on the record?
JG: Everywhere. We record a demo version of all our full lengths before going into the studio. John’s input and incredible talent almost morph the songs into something completely new even though we are practically recording all the same parts from our demos. Walking into the control room after John has finished mixing a song and listening to it through his ears for the first time is a very unique experience that only people who have worked with him can understand. He’s a genius.
AD: Not only was the record a success with fans and critics, but it also has made several crossovers into the world of film and television, most memorably in Moneyball, American Sniper and Room. Putting aside the opportunity to bring cash flow to the band through licensing, what is it like seeing your music attached to dramatic moments in major releases such as these (all Oscar-nominated films)?
JG: It’s surreal. I remember going to see Moneyball with Chris [Royal-King, guitarist] and we both had a stirring of emotions seeing the way they themed “Rio” into the film. Being a part of Bennett Miller’s next film Foxcatcher was incredible as well. We’ve been a fan of his work for a while. We thought Room‘s use during the escape scene was really beautifully put together as well. It’s always exciting getting to be a part of some great filmmaking.
AD: To piggyback on the previous question, instrumental rock music tends to be a very visual medium, at least in terms of what it conjures in listeners’ minds, as a result of the absence of vocals and the overall dramatic quality of the music. Do you ever have visual concepts in mind when writing; do you take any inspiration from cinema, or simply the world around you?
JG: Film is a huge inspiration for us. Our environment shapes the albums we make as well. Every LP we’ve made was written in a different location. Some songs have very strong ties visually for me. For example, “Burial on the Presidio Banks” was the first song I started working on immediately after a friend of mine was murdered. I picture him in my mind every time we play that song. We like that our listeners have the opportunity to internalize our music and translate it however they want. We’ve heard so many stories over the past 13 years about how our music has affected people.
AD: Which song is your favorite from the album, and why? What would you say is your favorite to perform live?
JG: I always have a hard time with this question. I really enjoy “A Three-Legged Workhorse.” Both live and on the album. “Mighty Rio Grande” has become bigger than the band though. And I didn’t see that coming.
AD: You’ve toured all over the world since the release of This Will Destroy You. Do you find differences in how audiences embrace what you do depending on where you are? For instance, are there any areas of the world that you’ve found to have opened themselves more willingly, or more quickly, to instrumental rock music than others?
JG: At first most definitely. International crowds were more attentive and respectful. But over the past few years that has changed in the US. We used to have to stop in the middle of songs, or just yell at people during some to shut the fuck up. That hasn’t happened in a while now. I’ve never understood why people would pay money to see a band just to talk over them playing.
AD: What has changed for you, personally and musically, since the release of the album? How do you view This Will Destroy You in relation to the rest of your catalog?
JG: So many things have changed. I have definitely changed. In some ways for the better and some for the worse. Touring with an anxiety disorder is a challenge. You find strength in places you didn’t know you had it. You find weaknesses too. Every time we hit the road it feels like a sacrifice to my mental/physical/emotional health. But, I’ve grown and learned a lot in all that time. Musically I’ve learned so much from doing this for so long, but also from my bandmates. We’ll always be looking to create something new and unique. S/T put us on the map in a different way than Young Mountain did in my opinion. That album opened so many doors into the entertainment industry. While working on Another Language, I tried to keep S/T in mind. I wanted my melodies to be reminiscent of S/T but with a new tone and grit I was very happy to discover with each song on the album.