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A Quietus Interview

Spiral Tap: Kylesa Interviewed
Neil Kulkarni , October 13th, 2010 05:20

Psychedellic metal overlords Kylesa repeatedly punch Neil Kulkarni in the third eye. He surrenders to the spiral...

Inside the earth you hear music. November is the month of sacrifice. You wait next to your dead lord under the hill. You will accompany him to the afterlife. That was the dream I had. The music cut the cobwebs, dispersed the dust, sharp, sunken, scissoring, serious. Kylesa was the scream I couldn’t emit, the word I woke with hot on my forehead and that’s no accident, the music they make is witchcraft, reanimation, a warning to the curious, a hex, a galdr, all that can help you now.

Kylesa - 'Tired Climb' by theQuietus

Last years' Static Tensions LP was my first scalding baptism. I'd given up on guitars sounding this up in you and at you again but there was something about Kylesa's sound that refused to be background, refused to step back, rather came roaring outta the backwoods of Savannah, Georgia & pulled you by the collars, snarled it's fire & smoke in a lethal point-blank blowback to the lungs that made the capillaries in all 3 of your eyes entangle themselves in a red-knot frenzy around yr irises. Go find the track 'Scapegoat' now and see/hear what I mean. Contact-high shit, shred & surge & seethe & simmer shit, instant addiction. The more Kylesa do what they do the better they're getting at it: new CD-length cantrip 'Spiral Shadows' keeps that intrigue and hold for 40-odd magnificent minutes but just clocking the sleeve draws you in before you've heard a note. I like how the spooky branches (with eyes) yield to a real-purdy flower in the centre (perhaps hinting at the redemption this record offers despite the gnarly way you’ve gotta get there) and I love the way the (un)natural forest-grain textures of the drawing are framed by a totally psych Bridget Riley-style spiral behind it, hinting at the mix of the feral and pharmaceutical within.

“The artwork is very much a part of the whole” affirms guitarist & vocalist Laura Pleasants, who together with founder, guitar & vocals man Phillip Cope and drummer Carl McGinley forms Kylesa's creative nexus (although 2nd-drummer Tyler Newberry and bass-vocalist Corey Barhorst are a big part of the band's sound). “We talked at length with John Santos about the themes of the record and what we were looking for. We always give the artists we're working with some direction so that the music and the visual representation of the package are absolutely synonymous.”

Getting that locked down vibe has entailed sacrifice – their self-titled début from '01 was delayed for over a year waiting for sleeve-legend Pushead to finish the artwork - Kylesa's myriad line-up changes over the years and nigh-on incessant touring means that when music has to be made in the studio the process has to be clear, direct and entirely free of the stoner-slack looseness you might expect from Kylesa's distant relationship to southern-rock.

“We wrote the songs in Savannah, GA from January to April” says Laura. “Then we went on tour in Europe for a month, came back, wrote one or two more and hit the studio. I came down to Savannah in January to write with Carl and Phillip. They are not road songs. We don't have time!”

How planned-out is the Kylesa process? Even though some of the sounds are epically wasted & sprawling, it never feels like anything but ferociously bolted-down.

“Well, Phillip and I write everything with Carl. That is, we jam the raw ideas out with him. For the first month or two, I brought my material to work on with Carl as did Phillip. Then the three of us got together and shared ideas. It grew from there.”

So, long-assed bifta-passing journeys into the night then?

“Not at all! The recording process was actually a little hectic. We didn't have tons of time and we were multi tasking at every moment in order to stay on course. We had pages and pages of notes prior to going into the studio. We knew what we wanted to accomplish sonically but it was a whirlwind getting there.”

Where 'there' is, is a unique meld of math-rock, metal, melody and magic wherein you can hear influences flashing past like finger-traces across the oil-slickkkkkkkk-rainbow of an hallucination – Fugazi, Janes Addiction, Sepultura, June Of 44, Mercyful Fate, Pixies, MBV, AC Temple (particularly when Laura sings lead) all crop up in my mental rolodex alongside the stoner/sludge touches that Kylesa sprung-out from - but really what you're hearing is something beyond those sources, a uniquely disciplined yet gloriously pan-optic firestorm of sound that's jammed with hooks and as mind-meltingly tight & free-of-fanny as all the greatest pop. Less-is-more applied not to the sonics (which go, with control, EVERYWHERE) but to structure.

“It was important for us to keep making our songs better, try and lose habits of the past.” says Laura. “The most important basis to a good song is it's structure. If a solid foundation is not there, then building upon it can be difficult. You can always add to a solid foundation but if the foundation is shaky, then adding to it isn't necessarily going to cover up its faults. That's what we've learned over the years and I think 'Spiral Shadow' is us achieving that, getting songs down to the bone so that anything can be added to it.”

The words are also key in Kylesa music, as both perfect reflection of the wide-eyed wonder inherent in the noise they make, AND the black & blue depths of their Savannah environment. There's a simultaneous dislocation from their base, yet demoniac-possession by it conjured throughout - MY favourite line is where Phil barks with both military-zeal and a refugee's fear: “KEEP MOVING. DON'T LOOK BACK."

Laura: “Words work in two ways. On the one hand Phillip and I write all of the lyrics and they generally come after the songs are written. So, the song dictates the lyrics and vibe. However, we talked about what we wanted to write about prior to writing any of the songs. So, in a sense, the lyrical themes did drive the writing of the music. It's true in that we are influenced by many different kinds of music and you mentioned a few that have impacted us. I generally am influenced by what I am listening to at the time - but not fully. I think overall, it's a refection of our musical upbringings which are way more varied than people think. On 'Spiral Shadow' that's more apparent... More than ever I can't predict who'll be into us cos Kylesa's music can 'appease' a wide range of musical tastes. We cover a lot of ground and because we are free to do what we want musically within the realm of Kylesa, none of feel the creative urge to start a side project even though we've been going a decade. That's not to say that that won't ever happen though...”

For now just relish a band old enough and smart enough and searing enough to immolate their roots in the white heat of what's new, a band relaxed & isolated enough to know they can blast themselves to infinity in any direction and still stay Kylesa. In a year in which metal has blazed past indie-rock in terms of making guitars believable objects of innovation and intrigue again (Nachtmystium, Ludicra, Stargazer) Kylesa burn brighter than anyone else out there. Surrender to the spiral.