Interview: Kylesa Guitarists Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope Talk About Touring, Next Album and Gear
Kylesa is a metal band that hails from Savannah, Georgia.
"Metal" is really the only accurate description I can come up with, because they incorporate an amazingly diverse range of influences and genres into their music, giving rise to a sound that's truly unique and all of their own.
During the past ten years, the band has released five studio albums, along with several EPs and split releases, and with each release they have reached new heights of musical excellence. Besides the music itself, they present their ideas and create a mesmerizing atmosphere with their live performances.
The latest album, Spiral Shadow, is solid proof of what this band is capable of; it's an incredible composition that combines psychedelic rock, sludge and even crust punk in varying degrees. The band has been actively touring since the release of this album late last year, and they are not about to take any rest whatsoever, even now as they near the end of this cycle and gear up to write the next one.
Just a few hours before they took the stage at the Troubadour here in West Hollywood for the first of six shows on this short West Coast tour, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope to talk about a variety of topics including tours, albums, art and gear.
Read the conversation below, and check out the band's official Facebook page.
Tonight is the start of a six-date tour. It's a tour, but not really a tour. How are you feeling?
LP: Great! It's a beautiful day to be here in California.
PC: Yeah, really happy to be here. I feel that the Troubadour is a perfect setting for your kind of music, and it should be a great show here. I've seen a couple of shows here and I really like this place. I'm glad we've been able to work it out and do a show.
Is there any difference in preparation as compared to when you go out on a longer tour?
LP: For me it's just packing last minute. Because it's a short tour, and specially because it's on the West Coast, it's almost like a vacation. I mean, it's still work, but we've got several days off, hanging out here in California and getting to see a lot of friends, so it's really nice.
I was checking out some of the comments on this tour announcement, and a lot of people in the places you are not hitting on this tour were asking about when you are going to play in their cities.
LP: These will probably be our last shows till next year. It will be a while before we do our next run of shows because we are going to focus on writing the next record.
So the touring cycle for Spiral Shadow is coming to an end?
PC: Yeah, it's a little earlier than we actually planned, but we're excited to start writing for the next one.
Have you already started writing?
PC: Well, I've started. But we'll eventually start writing together as a group and throwing in ideas.
Talking of Spiral Shadow, it's a fusion of many different genres. So would you say you really took it to the next level with that album, in terms of your musical style?
LP: I think we have, yes. It was a personal accomplishment for us as a group. We tried out new ideas that we wanted to do, but I think we've really kind of come into our own sound with the last couple of records. But there's no telling what the next record is going to sound like. It's not necessarily going to sound the same, and it's not necessarily going to be a 180 degrees different, either.
One term that's thrown around when people talk about your music is "stoner metal." I'm not sure whether or not it's an accurate description of the music. What do you feel?
PC: At this point, there are so many different terms thrown around. I guess different people hear different things, and think different things about our music, and they come up with their own terms. We've never really put a term on it.
LP: I wouldn't call us stoner metal. I mean, you can smoke weed and bang your head to our music, so it's not completely off the mark, but I guess people need to label you with something.
PC: I can understand why, and I get why people would like to do that. But it's just not something we're into. We just like to be us, and not worry about what it's called.
LP: Yeah, I think we just sound like Kylesa.
You've toured with Mastodon in the past. Have they been any kind of an influence on you as a result of that? In general, do you learn from such bands when you tour with them?
PC: Well, some of us come from a scene that was before Mastodon and Kylesa. So there's a group of people from Georgia that have been doing this kind of stuff for years. So they [Mastodon] were the band that people kind of caught onto and they got big, but there's lots of stuff going on and not just them. One thing that's cool is to see your friends get that big and how they handle it. That was a big influence, to see the work ethic and how hard they were working, seeing them entertain these bigger crowds and seeing how they took it. So that was very cool to see.
LP: Yeah, I think that had more of an impact on us than the music. I love them, they are great. But I wouldn't say they've been an influence on my writing.
Talking of gear, before you start recording a new album, do you experiment with new gear? I mean, has your gear changed over the past few albums?
LP: Oh yes, totally!
PC: It's constantly revolving, and growing too. We went into our practice space the other day before this trip. When you've been a band for so long, you acquire stuff over time. That room is just getting bigger and bigger, and there's so much gear now that we couldn't even bring all of it on this trip. Our driver we hired was like, this is not going to happen (laughs).
LP: But it's fun. We love sound, and it's fun to experiment with different sounds, just nerding out on different kinds of gear and playing and trying them out.
PC: I feel like I should play just so that I can get gear (laughs).
As you just said, sometimes you can't bring your whole gear as on this tour. Does that affect you at all in your live performance?
PC: For us, energy is first. We don't use gear as a crutch. We come from a punk rock background, so we understand what it's like to not have any gear, be broke and you're using energy to entertain people and create some sort of environment at the show. So, gear is not a crutch for us, but it's fun.
LP: Yeah, I mean, if we are playing different amps than the ones we are used to, the sound can vary and change. Is it going to sound different when I play Amp A versus when I play Amp B? Yeah, it could sound different, sometimes vastly different. But I don't think it affects our overall vibe or sound.
You did the Metalliance tour this year with bands like Helmet, Saint Vitus and Crowbar. Did that open you up to a newer kind of audience or was it pretty much your usual crowd?
PC: Some of both. Some were definitely familiar faces and some were people who had never heard of us before. It's been like that on pretty much any tour we did, really. We've tried to go out with bands from different genres and kind of spread it like that. So yeah I'm sure there's a few people who got into us because of that tour.
That tour had a great lineup and everything, but I don't think it was commercially very successful, was it?
PC: No (laughs). But it went over good enough for them to do another one. I don't know it for a fact, but I heard they were planning to do it next year and asking people who they want to see on it. They are trying to build it up.
Coming back to Spiral Shadow, one thing that I also liked about it was the two-disc, 180-gram vinyl version. I'm a huge fan of vinyl. What about you guys? Do you listen to it or collect it?
LP: Yeah, we are huge vinyl people. Our first release was a 7-inch, years ago. So we've always been advocates of vinyl. And we definitely have collections (laughs).
PC: I have such a huge collection and I'm having to move now, so I don't know what I'm going to do! I can't let them go, but there's just too many of them.
LP: Yeah, it's so tough to move vinyl. The first thing that comes to mind while any of us are moving is, "Oh, the vinyl!" But that's just a small price to pay for it I guess.
The artwork for that album looks great on the vinyl. Who's the artistic brain in the band when it comes to that aspect?
PC: Everybody is kind of artsy in their own ways, but Laura does a lot of art for the band; so out of anybody in the band, she has done the most. And then we've had a lot of friends that are great artists, and they've done a lot for us too.
LP: Our buddy John Santos has done the cover for Spiral Shadow and we've been working with him for a long time. He's done tons of T-shirt designs for us as well.
PC: He's very close with the band.
LP: Yes, he understands where we're coming from.
So when you get used to working with somebody on that level, do you just leave it to them or also give your ideas?
LP: Oh we definitely give ideas. We give our ideas to all of our artists we work with, generally.
PC: Yeah, generally (laughs).
LP: Specially for a record cover. May be a bit more leeway on the T-shirts.
PC: T-shirts is not such a big risk but on your album you really need to make sure.
Plus, people are going to buy T-shirts anyway.
PC: Well, yeah (laughs). And we know it's going to be good because of the people that we work with, but it's definitely fun to be surprised sometimes.
The previous album, Static Tensions, came out in 2009 and Spiral Shadow came out last year. Was it just a case of having the songs already written and holding back the release, or did you actually write songs quicker for Spiral Shadow?
LP: We busted ass to get that record done (laughs). We spent months doing nothing but write all the time. I really enjoyed that process, really diving into it and writing, and not doing anything else but the music.
PC: We pretty much lived that album for those few months. The back-to-back writing periods for the two albums got a bit intense though.
LP: Yeah when there's a hard deadline like that, it really does get intense.
So we can expect a little bit of a gap between this one and the next one then.
LP: I don't know! We'll see.
PC: We'll see how long it takes for us to write it. I'm not going to say anything about when we'll get it done, because if we don't do it, everybody will be asking us about it (laughs).
Finally, I wanted to ask you about social networking. How much are you personally involved in the band's Facebook and Twitter accounts?
PC: We're learning (laughs).
LP: We're very involved with our fans. We keep it to a pretty small group of people working for us. It's not like a bunch of people and a huge company or anything. It's all in the family, and it's a small network of people.
Andrew is a Los Angeles-based writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, reviews and pictures on his website -- with the help of a small group of people. Besides being hugely passionate about heavy metal, he is an avid follower of jazz music and recently started a blog called Jazz Explorer to pursue that interest.