Interview With Laura Pleasants From Kylesa: Spiral Leads Outward

Savannah, Georgia, five-piece Kylesa are fast becoming one of the most pivotal bands in modern heavy metal. Following successful touring for 2009’s excellent Static Tensions album, the band signed on with European label/distro specialists Season Of Mist for the release of Spiral Shadow, an album the progression of which seems unlimited. Guitarists/vocalists Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants both have increased the melody in their songwriting and begun to explore influences above and beyond the band’s sludge-laden past.

Spiral Shadow was one of my favorite albums of 2010, and the band’s headlining tour with Zoroaster that brings them to Santos Party House in NYC this week seemed the perfect occasion for a phoner with Pleasants to talk about the record and more.

Have you noticed a reaction to the newer material from the crowds at shows?

The reactions so far have been really positive from the people who are familiar with the record. When we were touring with High On Fire, it wasn’t out really until the end of that tour, and then I think it took a little bit of time to digest, but now that it’s been digested, it’ll be cool to see what the reactions will be when we play some of those songs. In the last set, we did three new songs, and I think in the new set we’ll play maybe five new songs. Five or six.

You guys have a bit of a catalogue going at this point. Do you still play older stuff?

We’ve been talking about pulling out some really old material for this tour. Maybe something off—I don’t know if we’ll go back to the first record or not, but certainly off the second record and maybe one of the really early EPs and some of the earlier records. Because we’ve got such a catalogue, we can pull from all our records our favorite songs to play or the crowd’s favorite songs, and really have a nice collection to pick from.

That seems like it would be a cool opportunity to revisit and maybe even rework some of those songs.

Yeah. And we generally do that. We’ll rework some of the songs. We used to tune a lot differently and just for ease of going through the set and setlists, we’ll have to alter some of the songs to a different tuning, but when I see one of my favorite bands play, I want to see—even if I really like the new album—I want to hear a collection of tunes from all of their records. We’re gonna try to do that for our fans.

How do you feel about the way the band has grown? Even Static Tensions to Spiral Shadow is a huge leap in sound.

Yeah, I know (laughs). It’s hard to explain. I don’t think a lot of it is super-conscious. I mean, it’s obvious if you listen to our band that we’re fans of different kinds of music and lots of different kinds of music. Different things filter in and out over the years. What I’m into now is a little bit different than what I was into 10 years ago. Even though I still keep those influences under my belt. But yeah, there was about a two-year period between the writing of Static Tensions and the writing of Spiral Shadow. Even if the release dates are pretty close together, the actual writing period is a decent amount of time. Two years is enough time to grow and change and want to try new things.

Apparently, yeah.

(Laughs) But that doesn’t mean that our next… The thing with our band is that when we started, we made this pact, Phillip, Brian [Duke] and I did, about wanting to play heavy music, play in a heavy band, but not within the confines of any specific genre. Even if we kind of started out in the sludge and the punk scene, we knew that our influences were within that scene, but also outside of that scene, and we wanted to incorporate as many ideas and experiments as we wanted to. For me, a big part of joining up with those guys and playing with those guys, is that, “Okay, cool, we can start a band together, play heavy music, but if I want to throw in a surf lead or something totally out of the blue, it’s okay to try and we can try it out and we can include it.” That reflects in our records. They tend to be all over the place sometimes as far as if you’re trying to pinpoint a specific genre or influence.

At the same time, going into Spiral Shadow, was there an intent to bring out the melody more and maybe a more progressive side of things?

Yeah. It’s something that Phil and I had talked about for a while. We love aggressive music, and I love Static Tensions—it’s definitely one of my favorite records that we’ve done—but it was still fairly aggressive overall. Also, with the recording, and I know that personally, I wanted to delve into more mellow or psychedelic territory and more melodic guitar parts and vocal parts. And Phillip was on the same page.

It seems like a lot when into the vocal arrangements between you and Phillip. How did that process get sorted out? You’ve played off each other before too, but it seems like it really became a central focus on this album.

Most of that happened—well, all of it, really—happened in the studio. The songs were done first, and then we each had vocal parts that we had written out, and we would lay some of the tracks down and it would be apparent that, “Okay, I think you should sing here, you should sing here, let’s try this,” and we just approached it that way and did some experimenting. “Okay, it would be cool if you did some backing vocals here,” and that sort of thing. Once the songs came together in the studio, it was easier to envision what the vocals should do and where they should be and how they should sound. Although, the majority of the vocal melodies were written before the studio.

To be able to say, “I think you should do this,” or “We should have this here,” and that kind of thing—that seems like dangerous ground to walk on. I imagine a situation where anyone has any sort of ego whatsoever and that turns into “fuck you” really quickly.

(Laughs) It’s not always a perfect scenario in the studio, that’s for sure, but it works out overall. I guess most of it was worked out before the studio, but some last-minute additions were done in the studio. I know for the song “Don’t Look Back,” I was walking through and Phillip said, “Can you do some backups here?” and I just went to the mic and did it, and we moved them around and then I was like, “Well, let me also try this part here, let me try something real quick,” because I had an idea in mind on the fly and we tried it and it sounded good. It’s stuff like that too that happens in the studio that isn’t necessarily always planned that can be magic. And it happens on guitar and the other instruments as well, those unexpected accidents and surprises which are fun.

Tell me about signing to Season Of Mist.

We were ready for a change, and they were one of the labels we had been talking to. It was fairly simple. We liked that they had a diverse roster, that it was metal and rock, it wasn’t just a certain kind of metal. We liked that they’ve got good European distribution, being that they’re over there. We tour a lot in Europe. And we liked the guy that handles all their stuff in the U.S. [Chris “Pellet” Pelletier]. We’ve known for a while, and so we felt comfortable with him and with them and what they had to offer, so that’s where we went.

Is there any time set aside for writing new stuff this year, or is it all touring?

It’s all about touring this year, and next year we’re gonna take some time off to write and not put a time limit on it. I feel like we’re always short on time because we have to set these deadlines, and we’re just not gonna set one for the next record and really put in the proper amount of time, whatever it takes to write the perfect Kylesa record. This year we’re busy just touring, and we’ve decided the following year we’ll take some time off. Plus, we’ve got a lot of projects we want to do that are so hard to do when you’re touring all the time. We’ve pretty much been a band for 10 years at this point, in 2011, so we want to get together a special 10-year anniversary box set of sorts. We’re toying with different ideas of what to do with that. We want to get a DVD together, we want to record a live record. There’s all kinds of stuff we want to do. Stuff that we need time off of the road to accomplish.

Kylesa will be appearing live at Santos Party House in NYC on Jan. 26 and the North Star Bar in Philly on Jan. 27. Spiral Shadow is available now on Season Of Mist. More at