Texas rockers This Will Destroy You bring their intense sound to Hong Kong
Musicians who perform music as stirring as Texan band This Will Destroy You are usually used to seeing extreme reactions.
"I've seen some really intense things at shows," says guitarist Chris King. "People pass out and people cry. It can be very cathartic, almost something like a religious release. And it can be really intense for us playing."
There are certain periods in the band's discography that are especially intense, he adds, referring specifically to the group's second album, 2011's Tunnel Blanket.
Written at a time of personal turmoil for several of the band's members, the songs are "draining to play", says King.
"It's supposed to feel like being pummelled. It's relentless and very physical music."
Formed a decade ago, the band, who play at Hidden Agenda on May 20, produce contemplative, often ravishingly beautiful music that makes heavy use of the quiet-loud dynamic, from ambient washes to walls of squalling noise; employs open-ended structures often more akin to classical music than rock; and deploys effects pedals to transform guitars, turning them into a subtler, multilayered instrument of sonic texture.
In other words, they could fit the definition of a post-rock band, although it's one they themselves have rejected in strident terms. Heavier and darker than most post-rock, more akin to doom metal, their music also has a strong post-shoegaze vibe, leading them to semi-jokingly describe it as "doomgaze". Their sense of humour, perhaps unexpected in people who make such solemn, serious music, is also evident in their mock-portentous band name, which is usually abbreviated to TWDY.
In fact, the post-rock label best fits the band's early music, from mini album Young Mountain, initially produced as a demo in 2005 and sold after the band's concerts, and then again as a record in 2006, to their self-titled debut studio album in 2008.
With Tunnel Blanket and especially last year's Another Language, the band moved in a direction both more upbeat and heavier, cutting down on the crescendo-heavy approach to a more repetitive, drone-based one, with songs unfolding in unpredictable ways, and employing a far greater range of instruments. There's also a detectable influence from electronic-music production, something King also dabbles in with his ambient band Amasa Gana.
"I'm not like a guitar player by trade or anything, and guitar rock isn't interesting to me," he says. "It's a role I fell into. I'm more interested in making electronic music; when I'm at home making my own music, I don't really pick up a guitar. I'm happy that it's trickled into our recording process somewhat."
The free-flowing, evolving nature of the band's music means that jamming is their most natural compositional process, and King says that only on Another Language have songs started arriving fully formed.
"There were maybe three songs on the newest record that me and Jeremy [Galindo, the band's other guitarist] just recorded at my house, but for the most part it's collaborative: everyone writes their own parts. We've been playing with each other for so long that we know when something works without having to say anything."
The band have visited Hong Kong before, playing at the same venue in 2013, and the city left a positive impression on King. "It was like being in a really well-designed, futuristic environment," he says. "I really wanted to explore the city, but with touring there's never time."
Their Hong Kong date is followed by one in Taiwan and seven on the mainland, which was also part of their 2013 tour.
"It was extremely surreal my last time in China, riding on trains between cities, in this strange, smog-like light, like a sci-fi movie, and seeing these megacities with no one living in them," says King. "We're lucky enough to have a tour manager there who knows all these little hole-in-the-wall spots with such great food.
"Playing in Asia was a really eye-opening experience. People are so polite. The crowds there really appreciate you coming all the way over and playing, whereas in the US a lot of people are jaded because there are so many options."
Playing live, though, was never even part of the original plan. "When Jeremy and I started the band, our original interest was in scoring movies. We weren't really interested in making records — we made Young Mountain in a day. The whole band is influenced by film and film scores, and it's definitely something we're interested in getting more involved in."
They've had some success on that front already. It started when There Are Some Remedies Worse Than The Disease, from Young Mountain, was used in 2009's The Taking of Pelham 123, but the real breakthrough came when The Mighty Rio Grande featured in the 2011 Brad Pitt hit Moneyball — particularly when it got an unexpected airing in front of an audience that's bigger than the band's usual crowd.
" Moneyball was nominated for the best picture [Oscar], and the song was used in the best picture montage," says King. "It was really strange having Tom Cruise talking over it. It was just so unexpected — a few people texted us to tell us it was happening. It was a totally surreal experience."
This Will Destroy You, May 20, 8pm, Hidden Agenda, 2A Wing Fu Industrial Building, 15-17 Tai Yip Street, Kwun Tong, HK$240 (advance), HK$280 (door). Inquiries: 9088 8950