Like fellow Georgians Mastodon and Baroness, Kylesa have been pushing the boundaries of heavy music into weird and fascinating places for over a decade now. Each album has seen them embrace more and more otherworldly textures and their latest, Ultraviolet (out May 28th), seeks to be their trippiest yet, with songs that pummel the psyche as well as the eardrums. I chatted with founding member Phillip Cope about the new album, the upcoming tour, and the ever-encroaching presence of social media in the band-fan relationship.
BG: Ultraviolet is your sixth full length in more than a decade. When I heard Time Will Fuse Its Worth back in 2006, I remember being blown away by the unique mixture of heaviness and the psychedelic, almost indie stylings. Nowadays it seems like more heavy bands are incorporating unexpected sounds into their work. Do you think the divide between heavy music and indie is breaking down?
PC: I think it is, definitely. I think there’s a lot more people out there who want to try all kinds of things. I think there’s an audience for bands that want to do that type of thing now too, so it helps that there’s a lot more people doing it.
BG: Absolutely, the music audience seems a lot more accepting to listen to things not quite as standard these days.
PC: Oh yeah, definitely. I remember when we started doing this kinda stuff, it wasn’t really quite that way yet.
BG: Have you noticed a change in the live show audience over the years?
PC: I mean, all I can really do is base this off of Kylesa. I go to all kinds of shows and to be honest, most of the shows I go to, if I go to a punk show its mostly punk kids, if I go to indie show it’s mainly indie kids. There’s still a lot of that. But at Kylesa shows, over time, there’s become a mixture of people.
BG: I personally think its great that all these different crowds are coming together to enjoy their mutual enjoyment for you guys.
PC: Well I think its the open-minded people from all those crowds *laughs*. We’re getting huge, bigger crowds because of it. I think we just have a pretty open-minded fanbase.
BG: Very true. Anyway, lyrically, Ultraviolet feels a lot darker than your past works. I’ve read in previous interviews that this is due to a darker period of your life after Spiral Shadow. Do you feel as though the process of recording and touring for Ultraviolet will act as a means of catharsis for you guys?
PC: It definitely already has. Making that record, it was good for both Laura [Pleasants, co-founder of Kylesa] and I to vent some of our frustrations. That being said, we didn’t want to make a ‘woe is us’ kinda record. I think the things that we were going through, everyone has to go through. It’s a part of the human experience. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, these are common life struggles. Even though its a bit darker and based on personal experiences, we wanted to write in a way that hopefully people could relate to.
BG: It definitely seems just vague enough to be able to reach that moment of solidarity with anyone experiencing downtime.
PC: Right, right.
BG: Speaking of Laura, she picks up a lot more of the vocal work on this record. Was this a conscious decision on your part or was it something that organically came about?
PC: It was definitely organic, it wasn’t something that was necessarily planned out. I took on a much bigger role as a multi-instrumentalist on this record, playing a bunch of different instruments and laying down a bunch of different tracks and I just kinda stayed focused on that. As the songs were getting finished I would hand them over to her and we were talking about vocals, I was just like, do whatever you want. When she’d come back, she’d have all these ideas and I thought they were great. I’ve never felt like we’ve had to be equal with vocals, it’s not something we’ve ever talked about…
BG: Its just something that’s come into being.
PC: Right. And I think we both felt she was inspired, she was on top of it, I didn’t feel like I needed to go in there and scream over everything *laughs* you know? Or go ‘ooohh I need that part!’ I felt like I had enough space to say what I wanted to say on the record.
BG: The addition of the more melodic vocals on her part are a great addition to the band’s sound.
PC: Thank you!
BG: Would you say that your production work for other bands has changed the way you produce for Kylesa, or would you say it’s more of an inverse relationship where your production for Kylesa has influenced how you produce for other people?
PC: I think the main thing is that it’s helped my technical skills out over time. But other than that, I try to approach each record with its own sound, I try to encourage bands to come up with their own sound. I wouldn’t work with a band and come up with something and take that and give it to Kylesa, that wouldn’t be right. And I don’t give too many Kylesa secrets away either *laughs*. I look at the process and try to find an original way to approach it with each record. But I mean, it does help, with each Kylesa record that we go in to, because I’ve been working with other bands before that, my technical knowledge has improved. So that’s been a huge help.
BG: Practice makes perfect.
PC: Yeah, exactly.
BG: I have to ask: Kylesa records have always had pretty trippy album art but I’d have to say Ultraviolet takes the cake for being the most fucked up *laughs*. Can you explain what exactly is going on with the artwork?
PC: *laughs* Yeah, sure. It’s done by Sean Beaudry, and we gave him a certain amount of his own freedom to do what he wanted. We’ve always found that’s a good idea with artists, if you give them freedom, they do their best work and put themselves into it as well. But I did have a couple ideas I wanted for the front cover. The scarab…that’s some imagery that, lyrically, we’ve used in the past, but we’ve never actually used it for album art before. I thought that it fit pretty well with this album, you know, just kinda look at it as scarabs basically being dung beetles that make things out of shit.
PC: We kinda had a huge pile and we’re making an album out of it. There’s other symbolism like that on there as well.
BG: The art really fits the psychedelic feel of the album, that’s for sure.
BG: You guys begin touring on May 10th, and its been a few years since you guys have embarked on a major tour like this. Are you looking forward to it?
PC: Oh yeah, definitely. I’m really looking forward to it.
BG: Have the logistics of touring changed for you guys since you started out?
PC: Well, other than taking a little bit more time off than we normally do, not really. When we started the band, Laura and I agreed that touring was gonna be a huge part of what we do, we were gonna play as many shows as possible and we have since day one. I don’t see that stopping any time soon.
BG: The last two tracks on the new album, “Quicksand” and “Drifting”, are some of the most melodic and beautiful arrangements you guys have ever crafted. Do you think this is in any way indicative of the band’s future?
PC: Uh…it could be? *laughs* It’s hard to tell right now where we’ll go next. One thing that seems to be is that each new album will have a new idea slightly put in place. We have a tendency to take that new idea on the following album and expand on it more. If you look back on all the albums you can kinda see that. For example Spiral Shadow had a bit of, like, cold-wavey influence to it, and we expanded upon that more on Ultraviolet. So you know, its kinda hard to tell right now. I’m sure we’ll expand on something from the album. But who knows, maybe we’ll end up being a heavier, more brutal group…I just don’t know at this point.
BG: This leads into my next question about the electronic influences on the record. What influenced your decision to include all these subtle electronic undertones?
PC: A lot of it was just learning how to do it. We spent a lot of time touring for Spiral Shadow, so a lot of times late at night, when we’re just driving through the night, I would just mess around on the computer and learn a little bit that way. Then when Corey (Barhorst) left the band, somebody needed to take over keys so I got a keyboard and just started learning. I fell in love with the whole thing. And as well playing the theremin a couple years back, I kinda took that on, and messing around with all that, I really found that I enjoyed it and it was an interesting way to write besides just playing guitar or whatever. I think just having some time messing around with that stuff and learning it, you get influenced by it.
BG: It definitely adds a really cool vibe to the band’s sound.
PC: Right on, thank you. One thing is, like, stoner rock and that kinda stuff generally has warmer tones, and I think the electronics help with this album giving it a colder feel to embody the lyrics. That was one of the intentions as well
BG: Makes sense. Anyway, I’ve heard from a lot of bands that the drummer is easily the most obnoxious member of the group. Kylesa has to deal with two of them. So would you say the rumours are true and if so, how do you guys put up with them?
PC: It’s not true at all actually *laughs* Carl is probably the farthest thing from obnoxious. He’s really chill, you can always count on him, all the things that you hear, all the drummer jokes, Carl is none of them.
BG: So you don’t believe the hype is what you’re saying.
PC: At least not as far as Carl’s concerned.
PC: It was actually a lot a of fun. We weren’t really prepared that we would get that many questions. We were pretty low on the typing, but we tried to go as fast as we could. But yeah, it was cool, I hope we can do it again.
BG: It’s a neat interface that allows for that direct connection between the fans and the band. I think with social media heading in the direction it is that this is gonna become more and more of a common thing. Do you think this is the case?
PC: I think it should be. I hope it is. I mean, it’s great for us, and I think the other people involved enjoyed it too. I think its pretty awesome, I’d definitely be up to do it again.
BG: I think you guys did a great job with the last one.
PC: Cool cool, thank you.
BG: Alright, last question. The music scene and industry has changed a lot in the past twelve years or so, since you guys started out. What advice would you have for anyone trying to break into the heavier music scene these days?
PC: Do it because you love doing it. You’ve gotta really like what you do, because it’s gonna be a hard road, it’s not gonna be easy. So, I would say, make sure it’s what you really wanna do. And if it is, then you’ll figure it out.
Tour Dates / Pre-Order Ultraviolet here
iTunes Pre-Order here