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Interviews   

THE MAGIC AND (L)AURA OF KYLESA


What a challenge it was to schedule an interview with Laura Pleasants! Not that the lady, who officiates as a guitar player and singer/screamer for Kylesa, is totally unavailable or completely recalcitrant to interviews. It was simply a matter of bad luck: our first attempt was cut short after only a few minutes because of a dreadful connection, and the interview was then postponed no less than four times (!) by our correspondent for reasons beyond our respective controls. We were starting to wonder if we were ever going to be able to do this interview. But here at Radio Metal, we’re the stubborn type, especially when an interview holds so many promises. Static Tensions and Spiral Shadow, the two latest releases of the band from Savannah, are real masterpieces, and we just knew (don’t ask why or how – we just do) that behind these records are truly smart and fascinating musicians. Our intuition didn’t lie.

In the end the interview did take place, and Laura turned out absolutely charming and rather talkative on the phone. There’s no doubt to us that the fans of the musical UFO that is Kylesa will be in seventh heaven when they read what the lady had to say. Not only will they learn much about the band’s latest album, but they will also discover several details pertaining to the band’s past, the story of his creation and what drove them to welcome two drummers – among other subjects.

But enough talking. It’s now time for the artist to express herself.

« Our attitude has always been that we keep moving and try not to look back and harp on our mistakes.« 

Radio Metal : Static Tensions was released last year and now you’re back with a new album already. Did you want to take advantage of the momentum created by Static Tensions or was it just that you felt really inspired?

Laura Pleasants (guitar/vocals) : Well it was a couple of different things. We had toured for Static Tensions but we were also changing labels. So in order to get support from our new label and get the ball rolling, we needed to give them a record. Plus we were ready to write new material. Even the release date on Static Tensions was March 2009, we wrote that material in late winter/spring of 2008. So it had been a while since we had written and we were ready to get going. We did kind of feel inspired. I know that at that time I was really amped to start writing again.

With Static Tensions saw the band made a big step up in terms of popularity. Would you consider this album as a corner stone in your career?

Yeah sure. I think that we gained a lot of new fans with that record and it was a big step up from our previous one. Yeah I agree.

The song “Unknown Awareness” has become a very popular song amongst the fans thanks to it catchiness and strong sense of melody. It is a song that is also very hypnotic, and while listening to the new album Spiral Shadows I am under the impression that you took this particular song as a starting point and then further developed this particular direction. So was “Unknown Awareness” a kind of base reference for the band when you started to write new music?

That’s interesting that you pointed that out. Not many people have mentioned that, but I think that you are somewhat correct. We really liked the way “Unknown Awareness” came out and the way it happened was a bit of a fluke as it just kind of came together. It ended up being one of my favourite songs on that record. I definitely wanted to go in a mellower, psychedelic, kind of trance-like direction with the new material. So yes we did take some of the ideas from that song and branched out a little for the new record.

Compared with other albums, the band has greatly developed its melodic and psychedelic side while putting aside a bit of the raw aggressiveness it had on the previous albums, especially earlier in your career. Is it maturity that has pushed you into that direction?

Well I think that if you’ve been in a band for a long time and that you want to evolve as an artist or musician, then you are going to change a little bit. I still love aggressive music and aggressive riffs but to be honest now I listen to a lot more rock based material and psychedelic rock than maybe I used to. I always loved psychedelic music, since I was in middle school, getting into Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and stuff. We just don’t want to write the same brutal riff orientated songs over and over again. I don’t think that it would produce a very interesting record if we just tried to write the same first record over and over again. We are going to evolve and mix it up. There are still some face-punching riffs on the new record. We knew that we didn’t want to get rid of those because we enjoy them and we know that our fans like them. We did want to branch out a little bit though.

Could we say that the experimental side is more controlled now than before?

Certainly. I think that we are better song writers and I think that we know to work with our influences rather than just having them spattered all over the album. I think that it is a lot tighter and more concise in terms of rearing in our ideas.

We can hear many hopeful and peace moments in Spiral Shadow. For example the song “Don’t Look Back” is quite positive musically but also in the chorus as it keeps repeating the phrase “keep moving, don’t look back”. Does this mean that you have grown wiser and that you take things with more philosophy now?

(laughs) Sure, I would say that we are a little wiser than when we first started. I mean we have grown a lot as a band and as people. We took this record thematically, meaning that Phil and I had been discussing it lyrically before. We wanted to write about the theme of distance because that theme has many different connotations. There’s physical distance, there the distance where we started with point A in 2001 and where we are now in 2010, and there’s that emotional distance as well. So yeah it was kind of summing up what we have been through as a band as well as individuals. Our attitude has always been that we keep moving and try not to look back and harp on our mistakes.

One thing that is striking on Spiral Shadow is that you sing more than you scream on this album which is mostly evident on songs like “To Forget” and “Tired Climb”, where your clean vocals are more assured than they were before as well as in the mix. Is your melodic singing something that you wanted to develop and improve?

Yeah it was something that I wanted to develop and improve. It’s something that I never really experimented with that much in the past. I was fairly content with just screaming my head off. When we covered a Pink Floyd song a few years ago and I sang the song, I really liked the way it turned out. Then that gave me some ideas and the confidence to start singing on Static Intentions. And that was a whole experience in itself because I didn’t have the vocals worked out before I went into the studio for that record. With Spiral Shadow, I had melodies worked out in my head beforehand and I worked on my vocals. I am foremost a guitar player and I don’t consider myself a vocalist and I never really have. We just always sang because we didn’t want a front person so we decided to do it ourselves. I felt more confident about singing this time. Also with the music, it is an important point that we develop the vocals after the music is finished generally and the song often dictates what kinds of vocals need to be there. So for a lot of the stuff I’m singing on, it’s because I didn’t think that the screaming would be a necessarily fit for some of it.

Did you take any singing lessons to be more at ease with your singing?

(laughs) I did. I had never taken lessons in my life and I took some for about a week. Basically I just learned some basic warm up exercises and a way to get a wider range. It helped a lot.

« Basically, Phil was going to disband Damad to start a new band and he wanted to start a new band with me, so he said ‘why don’t we just put both of the drummers together and it could make it like super heavy’. This is because at the time we were mainly concerned about just being heavy.« 

You have released the video for “Tired Climb”. It has a very mystic and shamanic feel to it. What was the main idea behind this video?

We had some basic ideas and a basic script that we wanted to use; we gave it to our friend and director David Brodsky. He did the video while we were in Europe and it was pretty close to what we gave him. He had his own artistic take on it, so it wasn’t exactly what we had envisioned but it did come out pretty cool. We wanted to have these weird, witchy, naked women in the forest (laughs). We wanted to make it really trippy and psychedelic. And also the idea that two people meet, who might have known each other somewhere in their past but they haven’t met and then they finally meet.

Many drummers have come and gone in Kylesa; this year Tyler replaced Eric Hernandez. What happened with Eric?

Eric was designed just as a fill-in, but we were so busy that year and he didn’t have a lot of prior obligations so he decided to do the tours with us. Then we asked him to be on the record and he said “sure”, so then he ended up being with us for a lot longer than expected. Which was cool, but then after about a year and a half or so, he decided that he wanted to go back to school and that he didn’t want to tour as much as we wanted to, so we said “alright”. We’ve known Tyler for years actually. Tyler and Carl have known each other since they were about 14. Tyler also did a few tours with us back in 2007 as a fill-in and then he emailed us right around when Eric didn’t want to do it anymore so it was really good timing. He said that he wasn’t doing much and that he would like to jam with us again if we were into it. He was living in another town at the time but we called him and told him to come back to Savannah so that he could tour with us. The tours turned out pretty good and fun with him so we decided to put him on the record. He has been great. I’ve known him for years and it’s good to have someone in the band that you’ve known a long time and have a history with.

Kylesa is one of the few bands that to use two drummers. It has been the case since the album Time Will Fuse Its Worth. How did the idea of having two drummers come up?

Originally the idea came up when Phil and I were talking in his backyard back in the year 2000. He still had his old band, but he and I were jamming. Actually at the time, I was jamming with Tyler and occasionally Philip. Basically, Phil was going to disband Damad to start a new band and he wanted to start a new band with me, so he said “why don’t we just put both of the drummers together and it could make it like super heavy”. This is because at the time we were mainly concerned about just being heavy. Then we asked Tyler and Christian to do it. Christian was down with it but Tyler was not really into the idea and he had another band so he was busy. So we just canned the idea for that time and we started the band with Christian as the only drummer. It wasn’t until 2005 when we had a load of drummers come and go that our second drummer quit so we were looking for a new one and we were jamming with Carl. At the time he was already in a band called Unpersons and also going to college. We were only jamming with him at the time since he couldn’t tour because of school. We kept jamming though so that we could continue to write and as we were playing with him, we were also trying out drummers. These were mainly drummers from other towns because they weren’t that many drummers locally. As we were jamming with Carl, we got this guy Jeff to come down from Detroit to try out and he seemed like the best. We wanted Carl to be in the band but he just had all of these other commitments, so we thought that maybe he could come on tour with us when he was not busy with school and he could do some percussions on samples which he agreed to. Then we got Jeff to come and it was around the time that Jeff arrived to town that Carl decided that he wanted to be in the band (laughs). So we were like “ok then let’s just get both of you guys up there and see what happens”. We had two kits at the practice base and we went through some songs together with the both of them. It sounded super fucking heavy and thunderesque, so that was when we decided, “Alright you’re both hired!” (laughs).

But were you sure at the time that two drummers would be useful from a creative point of view?

Yeah. We had talked about it in the past. The way we look at it is that it is like having two guitar players. They can both play rhythm or they can veer off from one another. I think that the ideas that we had were plentiful.  We thought it would be cool to try it out as we have always been a band that likes to try new things. We definitely wanted to try it on our record and I enjoy playing with two drummers.

Do you think that you are now able to use more efficiently this particularity? On Time Will Fuse Its Worth, it was harder to dissociate the drummers compared to on Static Tensions. So do you think that you have mastered the use of two drummers better now?

Yes absolutely. It has been a big learning process and a learning curve as well. We really figured it out on Static Tensions and I think that we are continuing to evolve with it on Spiral Shadow. I mean, I specifically wrote parts in songs for the drummers to do their thing. I kept it in mind.

Kylesa has two drummers, two guitar players who also sing, so have you ever thought of having two bass players?

(laughs) That is a joke that people have said before. I think that if we had two bass players it would sound like complete mud and there would be too many people on the stage.

« When something gets popular and recognized, then very often there’s a threat of a bunch of other bands coming and watering it down and making it uninteresting.« 

Rick Smith from Torche told me that you guys had a non-stop touring and recording schedule and that you were pretty much on the road all of the time. Is this true?

Not totally true. We toured really heavily last year and we are going to tour really heavily in 2011 but after that we will probably slow down.

When you are an artist, is being all year long far from home a price to pay in order to gain recognition?

Oh yeah. What we do is a huge sacrifice. People say “oh your life must be so great, what you do is so wonderful”. In many respects it is, but you have to sacrifice a lot of what you would call a “normal life” to do what we do. I don’t have a lot of things that other people have because I am on the road all the time.

I actually asked Rick if he would like to put together a collaboration between Torche and Kylesa. In short, what he said was that you were always busy and hard to catch. From your point of view, do you think that this could be something interesting to do since they also very much into experimentation?

Yeah, I mean I love those guys. We have probably toured with them more than any other band. I love their music and I love them as people. They are good friends. He’s right, I doubt that we would ever have time to do a collaboration but if we did I think that it would be pretty badass (laughs).

It looks like there is a very creative psychedelic sludge scene that has been burgeoning for a few years and that is beginning to get a lot of recognition lately. I’m talking about bands like Baroness, Torche, Black Tusk and of course Kylesa. How do feel about this?

It’s interesting because we have been doing this for almost ten years and Torche have also been doing this for a long time. Baroness has been around for a while although not as long, same as Black Tusk, but we have all been doing it a while. I don’t really know what to say about this recognition. In many ways I think that it works for us and in some ways I think that there will be some kind of backlash against us as well because that’s how this shit always happens. When something gets popular and recognized, then very often there’s a threat of a bunch of other bands coming and watering it down and making it uninteresting. So we will see.

But actually, Baroness, Black Tusk and Kylesa all come from the same city, Savannah. What is so special about this city which that all these great psychedelic sludge bands emerge from it?

I don’t know. It’s something in the water.

Do you think that these bands have a true creativity that has been lost in the other styles of the metal genre, although their music is quite uncommercial?

Well I think that heavy music has been around for something like thirty years now and it has been pushed to all of the extremes that you could possibly think of. As a music lover, guitar player and song writer, I want to keep it unique and interesting. I don’t want to copy other bands. I don’t want to sound like another band. I want to present something that is original and something that evokes feeling in the listener. That’s a hard thing to try to accomplish. I’ve always felt like we had our own thing going; especially when we first started out. No one was playing metal crossed with psychedelic or punk or anything. We were very much on our own and a lot of people were confused by what we did. It was either too punk or too metal or too weird, too this or that. It didn’t fit into a specific category. So now there is a lot of cross-pollinisation with bands and I think that is cool but it’s going to be a challenge to keep it interesting, because as with all genre of music, when a million bands start doing it, it becomes a little stale.

« we definitely have a dark vibe to us except that we are always trying to find peace and balance within ourselves and within our music.« 

I heard that at one point you guys lived in the same place, which is not the case anymore. Has it affected your relationship?

Well when we started touring Corey, Philip and I lived together for a few years and then we had a couple of drummers live with us as well. Those years were fun. We had a really big place and it was cheap. We had a room that was just full of records and musical equipment where there was always music going on. It was a cool creative environment. But you don’t want to live with your band mates forever because you would drive each other crazy after a while. We all kind of moved out after a few years but it was a cool experience and I have cool memories of those days.

Do you think that the fact that you are no longer in this type of environment has had an impact on Kylesa’s music whether it is good or bad?

We wouldn’t be able to live together again now so I think that it would be good.

The name Kylesa comes from a Buddhist term. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

It comes from this term “kilesa mara” and all the “maras” are kind of like the demons of Buddhism and the “kilesa mara” are the demons of defoulment . These are things like greed, aversion, delusion, ignorance; things that hinder you from reaching a state of balance or a state of enlightenment. I think that it fits our music very well because we definitely have a dark vibe to us except that we are always trying to find peace and balance within ourselves and within our music.

Is Buddhism a philosophy that you are into?

None of us are religious. If I had to affiliate myself with any religion, then I think that Buddhism would be the closest. But we definitely thought that it had a cool meaning and we didn’t choose it for religious reasons.

Do you think that music can help you to reach spiritual enlightenment?

Absolutely. It has certainly helped me over the years.

Spiral Shadow is your fifth album and with the fact you are such an amazing live band, don’t you think that it is the right time to record a live album?

Yes. We are going to try our best to record it in 2011. It’s definitely on the forefront of our minds. We have been talking about doing it and we will try this year.

Interview conducted in october 2010 by phone
Transcription : Isere & Saff
Myspace Kylesa : www.myspace.com/kylesa



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