The Wolves and the Sheep

We're saying, "This is how we feel, too. We are with you in these feelings, and this injustice is not OK."

Photo by Andrew Holmes Photography

May is a month of great importance for the men of Denton, Texas’s post-hardcore crew Least of These, slated to release their most recent EP, Wolves. More importantly, they will unveil material which is the likes of career-changing quality. As they explore pragmatism in the culture of faith and modern society on the release, LoT goes in a most audacious direction musically, and the risk pays off.

The poignant lyrics and an ambient-tinted rock drive are complementary on Wolves in an almost interdependent fashion. There’s even dissemination of the occasional harsh scream — new territory for LoT — and it creates a heavier vibe that drummer and backing vocalist TJ Collins nostalgically states, “Sounds like 2003.”

With content that delves so far below the surface and a sound so unmistakably different from their prior work, I called Collins, expecting to converse chiefly with him about the impetus for the band’s creative direction. As it turned out, frontman Jonny Gore joined in as well, the three of us engaging in an honest, open conversation discussing the depth and breadth of the origins, inspiration, and meaning behind Wolves.

HM: Wolves is a great collection. It’s a strong, cathartic release, it seems like. Where you guys went with the content was in places that most people don’t want to go in music. What made you want to visit those topics?
JG: What the EP discusses is a lot of what we’ve always talked about. We’ve always tried to be very transparent as a band in presenting ourselves as who we are. I just wrote what we had been thinking, and a lot of what we had been paying attention to going on in society.

TJC: I love these songs. Everyone always talks about how you shouldn’t wear your own band shirt or listen to your own band, but, for me, that doesn’t make any sense. Why write it if you don’t like it? I’ve been looking at these over and over again, really sitting on the lyrics and meditating on them — because I didn’t write them. I texted Jonny one day, and was like, “Dude, these lyrics are so relevant and so perfect for how we both feel towards these things.” All of us are on the same exact page with what we think about in these lyrics.

From the first moment in “Creo,” I realized these are things I understand and have experienced myself. People in my life that aren’t Christians — those looking in at the Christian culture — and the subjects mentioned on Wolves are the reasons they don’t come in and shy away from our faith: because there’s so much hypocrisy and corruption.
JG: Another thing about the content is we are — as Christians and as band members — also part of that. We have areas in our hearts that are really dark towards certain cultures and certain people. So, as Christians — having to suppress that and say that prejudice is wrong and reminding ourselves daily that that’s not right — that’s what we’re doing lyrically. We’re saying, “This is how we feel, too. We are with you in these feelings, and this injustice is not OK. These things aren’t cool to do.”

You discuss a lot of misplaced judgment and a lot about being closed-minded on this EP. What is the remedy for those things?
JG: I actually don’t feel I have the authority to say what the official remedy should be. but I definitely have thoughts that I think could help in making these issues not so aggressive.

“I think there’s a fine line between being transparent and being undisciplined.”

One thing I see that really needs to get better is the amount of time we spend processing before we react. It’s a very reactionary culture right now — and, who knows, we may have always been this way — but I think having the ability to share what you’re thinking on your phone at any moment with no eye contact is creating a disconnect. When I was in high school and I got really mad at somebody, I had to wait to talk about until the next time I saw them or wait until I drove home, get my dial-up Internet connected, get on AOL Instant Messenger and then hope they’re on so that then we could talk about it. Now, you just shout your feelings to the world like a diary. I think there’s a fine line between being transparent and being undisciplined.

I think it’d be smart if, when something happens that affects us, we think about it for a second, we process what’s going on, then, instead of just reacting with an ‘us verses them’ mentality, we begin a discussion.

TJC: For me, I think the remedy — as cheesy as it is — is just loving people the right way. Not loving someone to get their love in return, but loving them even if they don’t love you back. Even if they don’t like you, even if they don’t agree with you. It’s so easy to go on Facebook and unfriend someone who disagrees with you, and then all you are is friends with people with the same exact mindset.

JG: Yeah, when people on Facebook say they went on an unfriending spree, but you “made the cut,” I’m always all, “Thanks? When do I cross the line to then get cut?”

TJC: But you can’t do that in a real-life conversation with someone. But sometimes that’s what people do. People at these rallies start fights because they disagree, people kill people because they disagree with them, and it’s so, so stupid. It just bothers me a lot to see that. But, at the same time, I also know I do that in different areas of my own heart.

In our culture, with people these days, it’s so easy to just say I hate you because, “if one person is one way, all of the people group is that way.” It’s angering to see that and how easy it is to shut people off. So I think loving them and really getting to know people and understanding other sides of the equation and not just your own side (is what’s important). You don’t necessarily have to agree with it, but just to have it and know creates empathy. It’s really easy to become sympathetic and empathetic for that person even if you disagree with them.

JG: There was a point in time when I realized I didn’t want to have to look at my phone when I was by myself in public. One night my wife and I were out to dinner and she went to the bathroom. It was so easy to just check my phone, so I stopped that and people watched. There was this guy eating by himself across the room, and I was looking at him and I was like, that’s so cool. He’s just eating because he’s hungry. I get hungry. I’m hungry enough to go eat; that’s what he’s doing right now. I began thinking to myself, “What scares him? When is he really afraid?” Then I started thinking, “What is it that he’s looking forward to, or is he distraught?” I started building all this empathy for the guy by realizing that my whole life, everything I know — I’ve got stories, I’ve got all these things I created — he has the exact same things, just different versions of them. When I start to get upset really quickly towards people, I try to remind myself of that guy.

It really changes how you feel. You want to see someone who’s upsetting you as the enemy, but it’s a lot harder to be upset when you realize that’s not just their opinion. There are a thousand reasons as to how they were raised, what influences they had around them, who they have around them now, what traumatizing experiences they did or didn’t have. It all leads to that one spot of how they feel about that situation. I can’t just look at them as someone who thinks that way and I’m like, “I can’t believe you believe that way.” I have to go, “How did you get here?” It’s done wonders for me to run these things through my head before I define how I feel about things. But I don’t know how to communicate it. I don’t know how to tell people they should be doing it. I don’t know if they should be. I think some of that can come out in the lyrics, the notion of “I don’t really know quite what to do, but I know that it’s making me really sad.” It’s just a weird time right now.

I commend you for saying that you don’t have the answers or know what’s right or wrong for each person. There’s not enough of that, and there are too many answers. People are afraid of not having the answers now.
JG: That’s because the next comment in a thread is that you need to be more informed. If you say, “I don’t think that’s the answer,” the next person is going to say, “Well then what is the answer?” And if you say you don’t know, you look ill-informed. I think that causes people to just pick something to be their answer so they look informed. But I think that some stuff is just not that easy.

TJC: We have a lyric in “Paradox” that is, “This tolerance, this tolerance is digging our own graves.” So many people have to be right in everything. These people preach tolerance, but don’t even come close to hashing it out with people who disagree with them because it’s automatically hatred. There’s no tolerance from the people that are preaching tolerance the most.

JG: When those people get to the point where they say, “This is how you’re supposed to be doing things to be a person in 2017,” and (they get) confident with a list of ways you’re supposed to behave… When someone doesn’t behave that way, and you lose it because they didn’t fall in line with your views, to say that they are closed minded is not the correct response to the fact that they are doing something different than you. It starts to really collapse in that argument.

Right. You kind of lose your footing.
TJC: It’s like, “Be open minded to my closed-minded thoughts, and we’ll be friends.”

Speaking of “Paradox,” are you familiar with Artifex Pereo? That song channels them so much, it reminds me a lot of their most recent album Passengers.
JG: We haven’t spent too much time being influenced by them, so it wasn’t deliberate. But they are killer musicians, so that’s cool!

From top to bottom, Wolves flows together like it’s all one piece and it collectively makes one story.
JG: I think that happened because TJ and I both really like musicals, and I love how they create motifs for certain characters. So, whenever they’re discussing Jean Valjean (of Les Miserables), you’ll hear a melody come in regardless of if he’s on camera, just somewhere in the song letting you know that’s in reference to him. So when we were writing this album, we wanted to do something like that. But instead of it being characters, it’s just subject matter. So there’s certain links that come around for certain subject matter and certain lines that come up.

I don’t know how much people pay attention to album art these days; a lot of them never see it because they buy their music digitally. But I really liked how the picture on the front had kind of a dual meaning. Like in the song “Wolves,” primally, we’re these harsh creatures by nature, being born into sin, and only by being covered by the blood of the lamb are we saved. I thought it was interesting, too, that you could look at it as we’re wolves in sheep’s clothing, walking around acting pious but, realistically, what we are underneath is not so pure.
I’m not deep into art and how it makes me feel, but hearing that is really cool, because I’ve never even thought about that. I just thought I liked that style. To me, it was just art, but Jonny had a deeper appreciation.

JG: When I saw the artwork, I was like, “Man, this is exactly what I would have wanted.” I don’t think I would have thought to do it that way. In the song “Wolves,” when we say, “We are the wolves,” one of my parents asked me what we meant by that because they were curious. The way I described it to them is similar to what you just said, that we’re born into sin, we’re these imperfect beings, and the only reason God can see us as righteous is because of Jesus. You always hear, “A wolf in sheep’s clothing” and think, “Don’t hang around with those people,” to watch out. When you really sit down and realize everybody’s messing up, you go, “Oh, I guess we kind of have to be wolves in sheep’s clothing,” because that’s the reason that we are made righteous.

Least of These was posted on May 18, 2017 for HM Magazine and authored by .