EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH KYLESA’S LAURA PLEASANTS AND ERIC HERNANDEZ
Kylesa’s not new to the millennial metal underground, but one would not be surprised if their fanbase grows exponentially in the wake of their fucking fantastic new album, Static Tensions. Tighter and more coherent than its predecessors, it shows the band flexing a muscle they’d been alluding to throughout their career. This is not to dismiss their previous successes; the band have been an intense and wonderful blend of sludge, crust punk, doom, trad metal, and otherwise from the beginning.
A big part of the band’s artistic success is Laura Pleasants, the group’s acid-throated vocalist/guitarist. Her sinewy leads provide a metal ying to guitarist/vocalist Philip Cope’s punk rock yang, a thorough stirring of the band’s hybrid stew. During a recent show on Mastodon’s Crack the Skye tour (where, if they didn’t blow the headliners off the stage, they certainly equalled them), she and drummer Eric Hernandez (who also deserves credit for keeping Kylesa’s two drummers from devolving into a masturbatory percussion fiasco) discussed the composition of Static Tensions, Kylesa’s place in the metal world, their penchant for playing cross-genre shows, and why Laura being a woman in metal isn’t really as big a deal as it may seem.
How’s the tour going so far?
Laura Pleasants: Great.
Eric Hernandez: It’s okay.
You guys have been out with Mastodon before, right?
LP: We’ve played with them before, but years ago. And we never toured with them.
Have things changed playing with them at all?
LP: Yeah. I’d say that things have changed. The landscape of music has changed. Their popularity has changed. We played our first show ever with them in 2002.
LP: Mmmhmm. Then we played like a handful of more times over the years. We played a festival with them in Gainesville with them in 2003. Then we played a 666 party with them in Atlanta. There might have been a few more times, but I can’t recall.
Has their success changed how your two collectives interact or is it still kind of the same as it was a few years ago?
LP: I haven’t seen those guys in a long time. They live in Atlanta and I live in Savannah, and they’re on the road all the time. I just haven’t seen them in awhile. We’re still friends. I haven’t seen them in awhile because they’re busy.
How would you say being from Georgia affects your sound? Do you think it gives you a different edge?
LP: People ask that question all the time. It’s interesting that there are a bunch of heavy bands from the North. Kylesa has been around for a long time and so has Mastodon. Before Mastodon, Brent and Troy had a band. Before Kylesa, Phillip had a band, and those two bands used to play together. It goes back, but it’s only getting recognition now. The heavy music scene in Georgia goes back a long time. I think Southern bands generally sound different than say a band from California or Boston. Our music definitely reflects our surroundings. You can’t help but be influenced by what is around you. The South has a very different quality to it that is very different from anywhere else.
Considering your sound and the diversity of it with cherry picking different kinds of styles, have you had difficulty finding audiences on tour and stuff like that?
LP: Because we mix different styles, we don’t play a certain kind of music, we’ll blend a lot of things and we’ve been able to play a lot of different scenes for that reason. We’ve got punk fans, metal fans, indie rock fans, and rock fans. It runs the gamut because we mix it up. We don’t play to just one particular crowd. I think it’s a harder road to take initially because you aren’t easy to pigeonhole and aren’t easy to label. Sometimes people feel more comfortable when they can label something. The way music is now, it’s changed so much, there’s so much more cross pollination then there was ten years ago that it is more accepted for people to mix up a bunch of shit and see what comes out and be accepted. I think that’s great.
Do you guys think that that has sort of contributed to the influx of attention you have been getting the last couple of years?
EH: Definitely. When we did that tour with Pinback and Skeletonwitch, we got all those different flavors and blends in there. It makes it easy to play with other bands, I guess, that you wouldn’t normally play with. You get to know those dudes and get to meet all those people who listen to that one type of thing.
LP: Yeah we try to keep it interesting. I think it would bore us and bore our fans if we toured with the same kind of bands all the time.
EH: From a band point of view, it is definitely refreshing to play with different kinds of acts at different places.
Playing with a band like Pinback, was the crowd receptive to it?
LP: Yeah it was. Not 100% of them were, but a lot of them were because as we found out, a lot of people who are fans of Pinback also like heavy music.
I like Pinback.
LP: I do too. It kind of worked out that way. Their fans, for the most part, were fairly open minded and dug it.
Shifting gears, Static Tensions is sort of less heavy than Time Will Fuse Its Worth but it’s a lot tighter too in a lot of ways. Was that a conscious decision or did that just happen?
LP: I think it’s actually heavier sonically. Yeah it is tighter and yeah it was a conscious decision. I think we just took a lot of the ideas that we had in the past and applied them and cut out a lot of the filler that was in some of the songs before. We made sure that all the songs were structured the way we wanted them to be before adding texture or going too crazy and tripping out too much. Eric actually joined us on this record. I think he added a lot too it as a drummer and fellow musician. He and Carl gelled really well together. They pretty much laid down the foundation of the record. In the studio we were all having a hard time laying down the tracks together because we were all in the same room and the mixes were weird. Basically they were like, “Man, we cannot hear anything.”
EH: Pretty much. It would be all of us in a room, and me and Carl had a wall kind of thing. So we couldn’t really see each other some of the times, but then we couldn’t hear each other when everyone was playing too. So we tried a take with just me and him doing one of the songs, and we nailed it perfectly. We were like “alright we’ll just record all the songs like that”. We did most of the record with just me and him playing.
LP: They would lay down the foundation. We would go over it a few times, and then they would track it and lay it down the tempos. Then we would go over it. It was easier to hear that way because it was so loud and there is so much frequency going through, especially with all the drums. We did record the drums in one room with just a separation wall.
What exactly possessed you guys to get two drummers?
LP: It was kind of an idea that we had in the beginning. I was jamming with some people in town, and Phillip had his band Damad. They were still around. He dissolved that band, and then he and I were also kind of playing together. So we were going to join forces and start a band together. It was his idea. He was like “you know we could really push the boundaries of heavy music if added another drummer. It would make it super heavy.” So that was the plan, but the other guy I was jamming with didn’t want to commit to it. We were like “well that’s fine we’ll just have one drummer.” The opportunity kind of arose again in 2006, and we were able to do it. We thought at that point we’d be able to pull it off, and we had people who wanted to do it.
As far as composing stuff with two drums, on the record having two drummers brings to mind The Allman Brothers, big drum circles and stuff like that, but it’s actually very tight.
LP: Yeah it’s not very loose and jammy. It’s very much song structured. When we wrote the songs, we definitely wrote the songs with two drummers in mind. I remember when I was composing certain parts to certain songs, I’d be like “this is the part where Eric and Carl can really go off, and I’ll keep it simple on the rhythm guitar and not have much vocals or guitar overdubs and let the drums do the work”. The placement was planned out, and then of course we gave them time in the studio to get creative and do some fun overdubs and stuff. Eric lives in Miami, so he wasn’t able to be up there when we were writing 100% of the time. He would come up on the weekends to jam out some ideas. Carl would lay down the basic beats but knowing in the back of his mind that Eric can add something on top of this. So he would kind of lay back and not get too crazy with his drum parts until the two of them got together, and then they would work out a lot of their ideas.
EH: One thing that I wanted to bring up about the drums is when you say two drums, a lot of people think The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers and stuff. There are bands like Swans and The Boredoms and stuff like that.
LP: Butthole Surfers. We’re more of that kind of side.
EH: Those drummers were always like straight. It was always drummers pounding primitive stuff, as opposed to The Allman Brothers who just jammed and went off. Our view is more of like a heavy force with the double drums. We are hitting simultaneously for some stuff and break up every now and then. So it’s kind of like one drum set and then we come back together. We both throw in and jam and do primitive/tribal stuff.
Would you say that a lot of your work as a second drummer is to kind of emphasize certain beats or something like that?
EH: It’s definitely like that. I’ll come in and see what Carl’s been doing. Carl usually keeps it pretty simple too.
LP: Yeah, he does.
EH: Just for that reason. I can go in and start messing around. Then when I get something down, he’ll start messing around over me and then we’ll start overlapping and then finally coming to one final thing. It just ends up being one big drum kit.
LP: Yeah when we were writing with Carl, he was keeping it real simple. We were just getting the structures of songs down. It was just like “when Eric comes in” and they would play off of one another and really build up their parts.
EH: A lot of the times before we go on tour or record, me and Carl would just get there early and play for two hours. We would mess around and come up with some stuff on our own, and then everyone would come in and we would work on all the songs and get everything together.
Lyrically, where is Static Tensions coming from?
LP: Well there are some general themes to the lyrics. Phillip and I write all the lyrics. We wrote them kind of individually, but because we’ve worked together for so long, we’re generally on the same page. Our approach to writing lyrics is the same. We just sit down with a notebook and write. I won’t lift my pen until about 4 or 5 pages later, and then I’ll go back and go through what I was writing and feeling. We write the lyrics after the songs are written. Depending on the song and the theme, I’ll go back and knew what part I wanted to sing and think “What does this music need, what kind of feeling is it invoking?” For the most part, the lyrics are all a stream of consciousness, but our lyrics are about the human condition. They’re about our personal experience, our surroundings, and they’re very personal. Tension was one of the things that kind of surfaced a lot. There was a motif of light and dark. When we were getting the album title together, I read through all the lyrics and came up with Static Tensions. It was kind of a metaphorical way because a static tension of something is like a breaking point. That kind of made sense and worked with it because that was definitely where we were coming from personally.
Just like a sense of tension.
LP: Yeah, there was a lot of tension in our personal lives, socially, economically, in our country, and in our city. It was a direct reflection of how we were feeling at that time.
Being a woman in metal, do you find that you are treated differently in any way?
LP: I’m asked this question a lot.
LP: So I guess “yes.”
Especially in your case, typically women in metal are gothic operatic singers in corsets.
LP: Yeah, there is definitely a lot of that. I’m definitely not that.
Having a very big steak in the band compositionally and playing guitar but not looking cute and playing chords in the background. You’re very much up front. Has that every weirded people out or…?
LP: Not so much in my face. I have no idea what kind of shit talk that goes on behind my back. I’m sure there is some, not my band mates, but the general public. I’ve never really looked at it from a gender specific angle. I’ve always been in the music. I’ve always been into the guitar. I grew up with a lot of my friends were guys. It didn’t really strike me as that unusual except that I never really had any role models growing up who were guitar players. They are mostly guys. I do think that women overall are portrayed in an unfair manner in metal especially. You look at a lot of the glossier magazines and it’s like airbrushed women with fake tits, scantily clad…
EH: With the cones on.
LP: Yeah, and it’s like that’s not how I want to be portrayed at all. My band mates wouldn’t want that either. We just don’t come from that. We’re just not into that. We’re musicians. I don’t know. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I wear a corset on stage.
EH: From in the band, the whole female in rock thing, when I came in the band I was like “Okay, this girl plays the guitar and cranks it up. That’s good. This guy plays the guitar and cranks it up too. This guy plays bass and there are two drummers.” As long as everyone is on the same level, it never really matters what gender a person is.
LP: Yeah, I never thought of it as a gender thing.
EH: We might have to do all the heavy lifting.
LP: I can’t life the bass.
EH: She never lifts the bass.
As a guitarist, who do you admire?
LP: From early on there were many, but at an early age it was Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath was the biggest one. Greg Ginn of Black Flag, Josh Homme of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age are probably some of my favorite players. There are a lot of bands like Fugazi and The Melvins are usually interesting and unique as players, but it probably goes back to Black Sabbath.
As it should. As far as drummers, what influences you and your style of playing?
EH: I definitely grew up with all kinds of heavy music. It would go from John Bonham to Tim Alexander of Primus and stuff like that, Matt Cameron of Soundgarden and drummers around today who play heavy music. It can be solid and be heavy like John Stanier who I grew up on in middle school. I bought the Meantime and was like this is the best drummer. I also played bass and stuff. I got my influences from all those heavy bands and a lot of hip hop.
LP: I think it’s awesome because there is a lot of hip hop on the new record. If you listen to it, Carl is all about the hip hop beats. He can lay down those hip hop beats.
Metal and hip hop are meant to go together, and that’s never gone wrong.
LP: Oh yeah, right.
Where are you guys headed? Are you already thinking ahead to the next album or are you just going to concentrate on touring for awhile?
LP: We have to because of how scheduling is, you have to think six months in advance. We are going to tour probably through the winter and then we’ll probably start writing again in January.
Are you guys going to make another big stylistic shift or something like that?
LP: I can’t tell you, man. I don’t think it’s going to be something drastically different, but we’re kind of a band that’s always progressed, and I think we will continue to progress. We’re not out of ideas. We still have a lot of fresh ideas, and there’s still a lot to be done with the double drums. There is still a lot we can do. I don’t feel like “oh man I can’t write another record”. I feel like I still have a lot of creative energy. I think everyone else feels the same way, and that’s awesome because this is our 4th record and a lot of times bands run out of steam. I feel like we have the most momentum going that we’ve ever had since we started.