Kyle Thomas of Exhorder: Mourn the Southern Skies

Exhorder is a metal band from New Orleans that formed in 1985. In 1990, they released Slaughter in the Vatican, followed by The Law in 1992. Kyle Thomas (singer) and Vinnie LaBella (guitarist) have always been part of the band. In 2017, Exhorder reformed with 3 new members to help with a new album. In 2019, they released Mourn the Southern Skies on Nuclear Blast Records.

Recently, Thomas spoke with AQ about the writing of the songs “My Time“ and “Mourn the Southern Skies, as well as what it was like growing up in New Orleans as well as exploring the French Quarter.

Exhorder will be at the Wellmont Theater on Saturday, March 14,, with Overkill, Demolition Hammer, Hydraform, and M.O.D.

What was it like growing up in Nola as a young music fan?

There is no shortage of great music that comes from New Orleans, or Louisiana, in general. We have multiple styles that are rooted here going all the way back to the birthplace of jazz, what New Orleans is known for…. Louie Armstrong was born here. Zydeco music, which is a strange cross between folk music and country [was born here]. It is [an] accordion-based, washboard, sort of thing. Cajun music is what they call it. There is a lot of funk here, and a base of heavy metal bands. When I was a kid we used to go to the parades, and they would be playing all kinds of music on the soundsystem. There would be balloons, marching bands, and floats with actual jazz trios. It was pretty amazing to see as a child. It gets in your blood. 

How often would you check out music in the French quarter?

It’s suited for people who are a little bit older, especially at night. There are night clubs up and down Bourbon Street. There are street performers that play on the corners. On the other side of the French Quarter, there is a neighborhood called Marigny, where Frenchmen Street is. There are a strip of night clubs, in one may have a blues band, a funk band, and that is just how it goes down here. There is no shortage of live music in this town. 

Can you tell me what the New Orleans scene was like for the local metal bands in the eighties and early nineties?  

In the early eighties for heavy metal, it was more along the lines of what eventually became glam metal/ heavy metal. The first big band out of here was Zebra. Zebra eventually moved to New York. They became a successful band signed to Atlantic Records. They always returned here and claimed New Orleans as their home. Other bands followed after that; Lillian Axe was one. Then there  were multiple bands underneath them like Razor White. Phil Anselmo of Pantera sang for Razor White, Kirk Windstein of Crowbar was in Victorian Blitz. My first two bands I was in was with Jimmy Bower of Eyehategod and Down. Eventually we started to hang at the punk rock shows. Then we listened to crossover; there already was a burgeoning punk rock scene when we formed Exhorder. That’s where we started since the metal scene was so much about spandex and teased up hair. We were just a bunch of ugly regular dudes. The punk rockers welcomed us in and that is where we started. Eventually we anchored our own following. We made it an everybody’s welcome thing. 

What was it like when you guys started doing shows in Texas?

The Texas shows were fun. We first started in Houston, at the Axiom. We played with a lot of local bands. We became really good friends with DeadHorse. We played grungy, sweaty venues in the middle of the summertime. It was super hot, but the fans were always great and loyal. We eventually went to Dallas, [and] Fort Worth, and things really got bigger there. There was a time when Dallas [and] Fort Worth might have been as big, or even bigger, than the following we had in New Orleans. That was the one that rivaled it for sure. Texan metal fans are definitely die hard! 

Were you aware of your influence on Pantera’s decision to move from a power metal act to a more aggressive form of thrash?

A lot of that had to do with Phil’s presence and influence. He was from here and sang with Razor White, and [then] joined Pantera. Even before they made their change with Cowboys from Hell, the Power Metal album was a significant leap for them (laughs)…. It’s probably my favorite Pantera record. He was also a big fan of ours, but also instrumental in helping us build our popularity in the Dallas/Fort Worth area because he was such an influential person there. He listened to our demo. He turned a lot of people on to us, I’m grateful to him for that. We remain friends to this day. There is a mutual respect, and an influence that we probably have on each other.

You had Vinnie [LaBella] produce Mourn the Southern Skies. What were the most important things he had to say?

We knew what we didn’t want to do. With our first two albums we didn’t have much of a budget. We were limited based on the technology. It’s a lot more affordable now than it was back then. We came right out of the gates, and we [were like] ‘[we don’t] want to sound like this.’ ‘We don’t want to make this mistake with [the] guitar tones…’ We painstakingly went through the process of writing and re-writing songs, rearranging them, and changing the lyrics. After we wrote the initial versions, it was a much more detailed production than it was back in the old days, [and] resources had a lot to do with that.

I heard “My Time” was the first song you recorded. What was it like recording again as Exhorder?

It was a little different at first. [“My Time”] just fell out of my mind and my pen instantly. That song was sitting in the can when it was handed to me. It felt instantly to me like an album opener. It had every quality about old Exhorder, with a fresher, modern feel. The lyrics—anyone who’s ever had a job can relate to that song. You don’t always love your job and you don’t always have a great day at your job. Anybody who has ever experienced those two things can say ‘I know what that dude is talking about.’

What was the inspiration behind the song “Mourn the Southern Skies”?

That is the oldest of the newer songs. Musically that song started being put together in ‘99/2000.  I started piecing vocals and lyrics to it in 2001. It is a little different now in the final version than it was then. The majority of that piece ended up on that album. I was going through a really tough period in my life personally. I remember one day I was outside in my yard with my kids, they were like 2- and 5-years-old. It was a beautiful day outside, [but] all I wanted to do was cry because my life was in shambles. I couldn’t believe I was so unhappy under such a beautiful sky. That inspired the title, the lyrics touch on the personal experiences I went through. I try not to make it too personal where it only applies to me. I try to write lyrics so people can relate to it in their own way.

What was it like rerecording “Ripping Flesh” with original drummer Chris Nail?

Chris is a phenomenal drummer. There are very few drummers that are quite like him. Chris played in the marching band in his high school and at Louisiana State University, and the jazz ensemble there. He reads and writes on sheet music. He told me the whole time we were touring that the only drummer he ever met that also read and wrote sheet music back then was the drummer from Helmet.

What would you say the wildest show you ever performed with him was?

Probably the Milwaukee Metal Fest in ‘92. That was a pretty amazing show. That was our introduction to the big stage. That was the biggest stage we had played to at that time. That venue was probably a 10,000-seat hall. The floor was half-full and the seating area was half-full. When we got on stage it was like somebody had pulled the plug and everybody came down from the seated area, and the floor was immediately full.  It was like 3 to 5 thousand people. We had never played a big show like that before.

What is your most hallowed possession when it comes to something Exhorder related?

I still have my master copy of the Get Rude demo. I have some posters from our first European tour. I have one with Dark Angel. 

Final words?

We are grateful that people still care. Not many bands come back 27 years later have this much public interest, and we are absolutely blessed to have it.

Be sure to catch Exhorder on March 14at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ!