Exclusive Interview: He Is Legend On Kubrick, Hiatus, and ‘Heavy’ Darkness
If 2009’s It Hates You was the first championship win for He Is Legend, then Heavy Fruit (out yesterday) is Adam Tanbouz, Schuylar Croom, and team flush with that blank, matter-of-fact confidence inherent to reigning champs. They’ve set out to master more, to add to their strengths, to plug any leaks, to vault to a higher level from an already towering plateau. So riffs don’t just bludgeon and chords don’t just shimmer, they wield bats (“ABRACADABRA”), swing scythes (“Be Easy”), and crash a car into your house in order to commence a firm, friendly chat (“Spout Mouth”). Songs seem established in the first seconds, but seem to conclude behind where they started — and suffer a few jarring turns en route. This is the Tanbouz-Croom tandem’s mastery of melody, harmony, and dynamic; it’s what qualifies He Is Legend for a ten-year tour with the Deftones, Jane’s Addiction, and Faith No More. In short, an awesome band has gotten awesomer at being awesome.
Stream the new album and read on, cuz Croom and Tanbouz phoned us a couple Tuesdays ago for a rare chat about coming back from hiatus, new drummer Sam Huff, the “art” of track order, “four-igies,” and if He Is Legend’s heaviness is heavy enough.
What’s it like to be in He Is Legend right now, closing in on the release of a hiatus-breaking album ?
Schuylar Croom, vocals: We’re kinda livin’ it up on tour, man. Grillin’ out every day and trying to stay in the sun, and hang out with the kids. Things are pretty good right now. You don’t look to far ahead when you’re on tour. You live day to day. But we’re stoked about the new record, for sure.
Adam Tanbouz, guitars: Yeah.
Are you playing new songs in concert?
SC: Yeah, we’ve released like five or so songs on the internet. We’re playing all those.
One of the things that He Is Legend is awesome at is arranging an album’s track order. Can you explain your strategy for that? Is Heavy Fruit chronological, like a story from start to finish?
SC: Nah, that’ s just the magic of music-making. We usually will listen to the songs we’ve recorded afterwards, and decide the order. There are songs that are meant to go back-to-back. But as far as the whole album, there might be a banger on there that should be closer to the beginning that you’ll move up when you’ve listened to it enough times.
AT: From the writing aspect, like Schuylar says, some songs are “sister songs” that go together. They have similar themes, feels, and vibes. Usually it’s just the magic of putting together some songs and seeing how they fit together.
So it’s something you’d do by feel?
SC: All things by feel.
You must’ve been happy with the sound of the previous album, cuz you brought back the same team for Heavy Fruit.
SC: Hell yeah.
SC: I love Mitch [Marlow, producer], love Al [Jacob, producer]; they’re warriors. We did It Hates You with them, and obviously Heavy Fruit too. Anything we do in the future, hopefully we do it with them as well.
AT: We found that Mitch is our “six member.” He knows our sound. We don’t really have to blow it out on certain things; he knows what we’re gonna be about, what’s going to come out. It’s really comfortable. You have to find that. We fought for that for a long time, and now we got it. It’s good that we hang on to it.
It was tough to get that across to guys you worked with on the first and second albums?
SC: From the beginning, we knew that we wanted to record with Mitch. He was in bands that we were on tour with, and the bands that they recorded — and even their own band, Classic Case … That sound was what we wanted. We liked the way that Mitch recorded. I think we fought for it from the beginning. But that’s the way the industry kinda works. Sometimes you have to fight a little harder to get what you want.
AT: We like to keep it in house, like a family as much as possible. If you have a comfortable rapport with whomever you’re working with, it’s always better that somebody who’s just doing a job.
AT: Of course.
SC: You take a band like ours, at certain times, and put us in an environment that we’re not comfortable in, you’re going to get a different sound on the album. Maybe some bands go for that. I like to be near the beach, or in the woods, rather than being cramped up just to be in L.A. or whatever.
When you listen back to Heavy Fruit, do you notice a lot more ear-grabbing bass parts on the album? It seems like a big album for Matty (Williams, bassist).
SC: [To AT:] We need to get Matt in here —
SC: He’d say, “Aw shucks, no way man.”
AT: We try to write music where there’s no real one shining star. Everybody kinda shines together in different parts. The main thing … To me, awesome music is when all parts are working together to create something bigger than what the actual parts are. If you kinda analyze each individual part, they’re pretty simple; they’re nothing crazy or anything. But then you put ‘em together, like Schuylar said, the whole thing we’re about is to create a feel, a vibe. We’re not the heaviest band, not the most technical band, but we just try to create a cool vibe. Something that moves people.
SC: I get what you’re saying. The album is a bit deeper, and it is certainly a bit more bass-driven on a sonic level. It’s a dark album for sure.
Really? It doesn’t strike me as dark.
AT: I would always consider our music dark because we’re really dark individuals. But there are many definitions of darkness …
We can agree that at least one moment is quite dark; I’m thinking of “The Carpet,” whose lyrics borrow from that old movie The Shining.
SC: That old chestnut.
We’re all adults, we understand the freedom of language and expression, but that song is violent.
SC: Well, I think that movie is one of the greatest pieces of art to ever grace this planet. Rather than playing homage — I mean, how do you talk about it? — I felt like, if you’re talking about the darkness of that scene in the movie — cuz that lyric is just a direct quote from the movie … I don’t know, man. It’s one of the greatest pieces of cinema ever, and that song to me sounds like that carpet that haunts that hotel.
A documentary came out last year about that movie. Did you see that?
SC: We could talk about Stanley Kubrick [director of The Shining] all day, but your magazine would turn into a different kind of magazine.
We’ll save that for another time. [laughs] Anyway, what was it like the first day that you guys set about creating Heavy Fruit after your hiatus?
AT: When we took a hiatus, we all kinda [pauses], I guess, went our separate ways for a while. Everybody was doing a different thing. Our drummer [Steve Bache] went to college out of town; he’s pursuing that career now, so we had to find a new drummer [Sam Huff]. Everybody else was working on the side. I had moved to a different town; I was working. So basically, we weren’t seeing a lot of each other. I kept writing, obviously, cuz that’s what I’m going to always do. Me and Steve tried to sorta formulate a little bit but it never really came to pass; finally, he got engaged and quit.
So it was pretty much me and Matt getting out in our practice room — once Steve quit — and hashing out these ideas — they weren’t songs yet, just ideas — and recorded those to see how they sounded. Finally we found Sam, an amazing drummer, our drummer now; he’s been drumming for us for more than a year. He tracked on the new record, just an incredible drummer. So that helped out a lot. But still it was odd to have most of this album pretty much written by me from 2009 to 2013 — and then get together with Matt and Sam to try to piece it together. We did some pre-pro[duction] and showed Schuylar …
AT: It’s been a long, strange journey, but [pauses] —
SC: [sings] “It’s been a long, strange trip …”
AT: We think it’s fuckin’ well worth it. We’re really happy with how the album came out.
SC: Stop and smell the roses, man. We just did that. Things are really awesome.
There must have been a measure of suffering to have been writing songs during the band’s hiatus, and to not know for certain where they’d end up. Did that stress you out?
SC: Yeah, man. It’s different for me. I don’t think I’d just sit down and write “could-be” lyrical things. For Adam — not to speak for him — but he was writing that whole time knowing that one day we would be creating music. This music would come out to people — [it] just had to be finished.
AT: Yeah, kinda like compiling ideas to use eventually.
SC: I don’t know another guitar player I’d rather work with. I don’t think I’d want to … I mean, we’re a team. That’s why we’re here talking to you.
AT: Know how many times we’ve been doing this? It’s interesting; it’ll happen. If there’s a song, it’s gonna be a song. It’s just a matter of when. That’s all the red tape of things that we don’t like to discuss.
Let’s microscope some of Heavy Fruit’s songs. You guys mentioned that some of its songs are meant to go back to back: Am I crazy, or do the fourth and fifth tracks — “I Sleep Just Fine” and “Beethozart” —
Does the coda of the one recur in the next?
AT: Of course! Yeah, you nailed it, dude. We try to throw things like that in there for people who, like, give a shit about music. I like to link things up like a story; it’s all about creating a vibe. Again, it’s not all about being technically proficient in our band. It’s more about something that sounds a certain way, that we all think “There’s something to that.” But yeah, those two [songs] are totally meant to go together. Also on It Hates You: The ending of “Stranger Danger” kicks off with the beginning of “Don’t Touch That Dial.” And we had a trilogy [across three albums] of “China White,” “China White II,” and “China White III,” all adding a story element to our band to make it a little bit more creative than [just] writing heavy riffs or something.
SC: Fuck yeah, dude. We’re all about fuckin’ psychedelic … How things interact, music and art. Art is one of the most fascinating things. If you think about a human brain … How do you even begin to explain art? But I guess we get off on that, we dig it, and we try to [pauses] capitalize on it.
He Is Legend is really good at it.
I don’t really think it’s the function of a good writer to have a cause, to push a band as some sort of personal mission. But I come pretty close with He Is Legend.
SC: Thanks man!
AT: We appreciate it. [laughs] It’s a struggle out here. The struggle is real.
SC: [laughs] We’re loving what we’re doing. We’ll shake your hand one day, and hopefully rock your dick off.
So, there’s no fourth installment of “China White”?
SC: The fourth movie is always stupid.
Like Lethal Weapon.
SC: There’s no good … What would you call it? A “four-igy”? No.
Wait a sec — What about Alien 4? That was great.
SC: Yeah, but that’s a franchise. Alien is always gonna be good. When it gets franchised — after the trilogy, I believe — anybody can make one. The guy that made the fourth one is that French guy. What was his name? The one who made Amelie and The City Of Lost Children.
SC: So there’s a few exceptions. There were four Indiana Jones … No, that one sucked. I stand by my statement.
[laughs] Did something happen to the song “Something Witchy”? From its release as a single to the album’s track list, the title grew to “Something, Something, Something Witchy.”
AT: It doesn’t matter.
SC: [The new title] was what was said from stage. Then, we were just kinda in a mad dash to release a track on tour. So were were like, “It’s called ‘something, something, something Witchy.’” It’s funnier when you actually say it out loud.
AT: It’s also for Steve. When I told him that’s the name of the song, and Steve said, “It better be that way on the album.” So it had to be. For Steve.
What do you miss most about Steve not being there?
AT: Steve’s with us in heart.
SC: Yeah man, we’re happy for him.
AT: He’s happily married and kicking ass in Houston.
SC: He knows what this shit is like. He knows what we’re doing, we know what he’s doing.
AT: We’ll probably see him more now — Well, that’s not true cuz he’d be in the band. We’ll see him more where he is, than if he were in North Carolina.
Adam, is He Is Legend heavy enough for you? Have you ever aimed to do a side project, something heavier?
AT: It’s funny you say that! I actually have a black metal band coming out with Clint from Sevendust. It’s gonna be awesome.
AT: Nah that’s not true, man.
AT: Nah man I don’t know. Yeah man, we’re heavy enough. Are we heavy enough for you?
SC: Have you seen us live?
AT: Are we heavy enough for you?
AT: You want more breakdowns, dude?
No not at all.
But yeah I have seen you live!
AT: I’m just fuckin’ around. Nobody will ever be as heavy as Pantera.
SC: Fuck trying that shit.
I feel ya. Plus, He Is Legend would work great in a stadium.
SC: Yeah we should be playing arenas.
AT: Yeah, where do we sign?