A couple of months ago I found a YouTube channel in which the gentleman on camera reviews new albums. Out of my own curiosity to seek new music to listen to and expand my own musical palette, I watched reviews of rap artists I’ve never heard of before, sophomore efforts from indie rock bands, and reviews of metal acts. My introduction to metal began a few years ago with an interest in acts like Mastodon, Baroness and, of course, growing up to the classics like Black Sabbath. One band lead to another and I discovered Kylesa, a sludge metal outfit from Savannah, Georgia.
Kylesa is composed of two drummers, a bassist, and fronted by singer/guitarists Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants. I was able to sit down and have a chat with Cope, who also produced the newest release, Ultraviolet. He discussed his use of the theremin, Kylesa’s roots, and the different processes involved with being the producer. Check out what he had to say below:
Kylesa is a band that progresses with every release. Is it sort of something that just happens, or is there specific experimentation that leads to this progression?
I think it’s a bit of both. A lot of it just happens. We just write and whatever comes out comes out. We also do some experimenting, like trying out different gear. In the end, we just try to push ourselves to be better.
What was your favorite thing while experimenting?
I had a lot of fun playing the theremin on this album. It’s the first record I got to play it on. I’ve had it for a little over a year and I figured it out while playing it live. I was excited to try it on the album. I had a lot of fun with keyboards as well.
As an artist, do you look forward to the new directions these experiments take you in?
Yeah, of course. It keeps things really interesting for us, or else we would keep repeating the same things over and over and get really bored. I think that would really show. I think each album is what it is because we went from our gut, and it just makes sense to trust ourselves.
How do you think being labeled as a sludge metal band affects the experimentation?
For the most part, whatever happens happens. We know where our roots are, we know where we come from, and we really appreciate our fans and the people that stuck by us. We wouldn’t want to experiment in a way that would take us too far away from where we come from.
Do you think being labeled as a sludge band pins you down creatively?
You know, if we sit there and say, “Yes, we’re a sludge band,” there are going to be people who say, “No, no you’re not a sludge band.” If we said we were death metal, people would tell us that we are not. We’re not going to sit here and tell anybody we are anything besides Kylesa. We aren’t concerned with how we fit in to all of that, we just write what we want to write. We are fans of sludge of course. I love heavy guitars and Sabbath-like riffs, and all that stuff, so it makes it into our records.
We just play things that we like, and we like all kinds of stuff. From our first record on, there are little hints, here and there, of different things that we listen to and like. It’s not always noticeable though. No one would ever consider us a death metal band, but some of my favorite records are death metal records. In small ways, I take influence from that.
This is another album that you were at the helm on. Do you have a different approach on an album when you are both the producer and songwriter?
I mean, I have to set my jobs apart a little bit. As a songwriter, I write what I want to write and then I try to get others on board with me there and like what I’m doing. As a producer, I have to be open to others’ ideas and help them get their ideas out without thinking they’re wrong. I have to remember that I am working for everybody and not just myself. So I try really hard to remember that and put as much attention on everybody and not just myself.
Seeing as how you’ve been producing the records, are you ever tempted to bring someone else in to produce an album?
We have worked with other people before, it’s never been said that I strictly have to do it. There may be people out there that technically know more, or are able to make a slicker record for us, or whatever. We kinda feel like things have been going in the right direction since I started producing and things are coming out closer to how we really want them. That being said, it’s not out of the question to ever work with somebody again. There’s a lot of people I’d love to be in the studio with and see how they do things. It’s not written in stone that I have to be the producer.
And there’s a more personal touch when you’re at the helm.
Yeah, and it helps that I am there through every bit of the process. When we’re writing, I can kind of tell people what I think would work in the studio. I think I have the ability to say, “Oh, I don’t think that’ll work later on and this is why…” I think it helps that I am there throughout the whole process.
What was the process like working on Ultraviolet?
Well, there’s a lot of processes I guess. We were off and on for about two years. The studio sessions for me lasted about two months, while the rest of the band came and went when they were needed. It would be a very long answer to your question if I went through the whole thing (laughs).
Was there something different in the process for Ultraviolet as compared to Spiral Shadow?
Yeah, with each album we try to keep what we think works, and improve on things we think we can do better. The way we recorded drums was slightly different than the way we recorded them in the past. Especially with Carl [McGinley] and Eric [Hernandez] both writing their own parts, sometimes for two kits. There are several songs where the two of them are on the same song, but they actually wrote two different beats and they hopped on the kits to play them. That was different. Some of it was also done live when they were both playing. It kind of depended on both the situation and the song.
There are a lot of references to loss on this record. Was this a personal album for you and the band?
Yeah, it definitely was personal, but most of our albums start on a personal basis. This one definitely has a theme of loss and a lot of it was based on personal experiences that Laura and I went through in the last couple of years. We try to write in a way that is not just about us, we hope others can relate to as well. We don’t mean to write a sob story or a “woe is us” kind of thing. The things we go through is something we think other people go through in some point of their lives. We just try to write in a way that everyone can relate to.
Is there any song in particular on Ultraviolet that you are looking forward to playing on the road?
We are playing a few already and there isn’t one in particular that I was looking forward to. I have to say that I have really enjoyed playing “Unspoken” live so far. I find that to be a really fun song to play.
If there is one album you wish you could have produced, what would it be?
Oh wow, that’s a great question, but very difficult to answer (laughs). If it is an album I love, there is no need for me to produce it because somebody already did a great job. And if it is an album that I don’t think is good, I don’t want to bust somebody else (laughs).
What are the plans for Kylesa this year after the tour?
Right now, it’s just to keep touring. We don’t have a lot to do besides that.
Kylesa will play the Northside Festival at Music Hall Of Williamsburg on June 14 in Brooklyn. They will also play at Underground Arts in Philly on June 18. Ultraviolet is available now. For more information, go to kylesa.com.