Interview: Donovan of This Will Destroy You

Photo courtesy of Dustin Cavazos

Photo courtesy of Dustin Cavazos

This Will Destroy You have held on to the rare accomplishment of being one of the few instrumental post-rock (as annoying as I sometimes find that tag to be) bands that have stood out from the hordes of clones birthed this past decade. They were always adept in the game of cinematic, emotionally engaging guitar pieces, but 2011’s Tunnel Blanket marked a directional change that would secure their place as one of the modern age’s premier ambient music acts. I was excited to hear that they were working on a live album of a performance in Iceland, especially once I heard that it that would include material spanning their career thus far. Those of you who are familiar with the textural, undulating power of Tunnel Blanket (and the minimalisim of post-rock in general) might be thinking of this as a strange choice for a bass-centered interview, but that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to do it. The way one approaches bass guitar in ambient cinematic music such as this is completely different than most other genres of music, and This Will Destroy You are marking new territory sonically that should demand the world’s attention. Donavon isn’t as much of a traditional bass player as he is a low-end transmitter, and he uses his instrument’s low frequencies to sonically move and effect the listener in ways that they may or may not even be able to notice/comprehend. I grilled him about some things in the following interview.

Was this your first time playing in Iceland?

It was our first time playing in iceland. we had an amazing four days there. made a lot of friends as well.

What made you choose it as the location to do a live recording?

I dont think we played in Iceland solely for that purpose. we were really excited to play Harpa and we found out that there would be an extensive recording of the show. we all assumed that it would sound good, but it ended up being the best live recording we had heard thus far and we had all the stems from the recording as well. we all feel that our live performances vary greatly from the presentation on our albums so it seemed like a great idea to release the material as a live album.

I’ve heard that European audiences are usually more receptive and appreciative to instrumental, cinematic music, does your experience reflect this?

It is true in most cases that when we play abroad there is more respect and appreciation for instrumental music. my conclusion is that Europe and its surrounding countries have been creating and appreciating instrumental/classical music since the dark ages which would explain why many people hold it in high regard. North America is getting better about it, but our culture in general tends to have a low attention span.

Had you already been playing older material on recent tours or was it all from Tunnel Blanket until this performance?

We try to address two or three songs from every release so no particular fan is left wanting, but closer to the release of Tunnel Blanket we were using half our set to showcase those particular compositions.

I think that Tunnel Blanket contains some of your strongest compositions and I love the stylistic shift sonically. Did anything in particular bring about this change or did you gradually just begin working your way towards more ambient and lush sounding material?

Tunnel blanket is the first album we have created with our current line up. i joined in 2008 and Alex joined in 2010. we both came from a different school of thought concerning music performance and composition which has proven to create an interesting dynamic within the group. we all wanted to create something more orchestral and dark while letting melody be subtle and open to varied interpretation. some of us were in a very dark state during the writing process due to loss of family and friend while touring. we achieved our goal in pursuing the darkest and heaviest sounds we could create and it proved to have a very cathartic result. I can recall just sitting in headphones on my friends porch one night bawling my eyes out listening to Little Smoke. Once the art was made, then it had to be listened to. I think that was the hardest part for me.

How do you approach your role as a bass guitarist in this band?

Less is more in most cases with ambient music or just minimalistic music in general. any good bass player will tell you to “fit in the pocket” which is generally what I go for, but one can definitely be too “in the pocket” especially if there is not much going on melodically at the time. it really just takes time to fit oneself into that frame of mind. I generally want to be as heavy as possible, not only to be heard, but more felt. the musical experience involves so many senses that we try to address as many as we are capable.

I battle a lot of ambient, reverbed-out guitar tones in my current band and sometimes it’s a struggle as a bassist not to get lost in it. Any tricks or advice you would recommend?

Well first off having a drummer helps immensely! on certain ambient tracks we send a click signal to a headphone amp that jeremy and I can both share. We do this a few times during our current set. practicing on your own time with a metronome will also help you hone your internal timing and rhythm.

Tell me about your current rig

At home I play a 5 string American jazz bass paired with an Ampeg SVT3pro and an Ampeg 8×10. Overseas, particularly Europe, I like to use a Mesa Boogie 6×10 with a Mesa Boogie head. when not touring, i use a 2×12 Roland jazz chorus with keys/sample stuff. I don’t sit around playing just the bass ha. Lovely amp.

Do you think that the world will continue warming up to music that’s often described as post-rock?

It seems that there a lot more fans of this style of music now than there  were at the end of the last decade but it’s also getting harder for bands to get noticed.  im sure people that enjoy that type of music will continue to turn their friends on to it, but i predict that it well then get more and more diluted as most niche music does when it becomes more accessible and appreciated by the general public.

Any special plans or anything cool coming up you’d like to tell us about?

We are working on a new album right now. dont really have a set release date yet, but we are making headway. it is not quite so dark as Tunnel Blanket. that’s all i will say about that. we are also doing a North American west coast tour this march.

I want to encourage everyone to check out This Will Destroy You’s beautiful new live album Live in Reykjavik here:

I also want to thank Donovan Jones plus Liz and Dave at Earsplit for hooking me up with this interview!


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