Kylesa's Laura Pleasants: 'We're Not a Hipster Metal Band...That's Fucking Bullshit.'

Kylesa's Laura Pleasants: 'We're Not a Hipster Metal Band...That's Fucking Bullshit.'
Geoff L. Johnson

Kylesa's success has been a long time coming. Coming from Savannah, Georgia (the same city that's home to the expertly moody likes of Black Tusk and Baroness), the band has spent nearly a decade rigorously working to carve a name for themselves in the psych-metal scene.

An unexpected sense of subtlety remains key to Kylesa's moody work, as it perpetually attempts to make anger sound both primal and refined. A formidable amount of percussion (two full drumkits) is presented alongside growling, psychotic guitars (guided at the top by Phillip Cope) and a mess of vocals--the most notable of which is Laura Pleasants' sinewy but feminine tone.

A key track on Ocotober 26th's Spiral Shadow (Season of Mist) demonstrates Kylesa's ability to tinker with convention: amidst all the thundering and fits, "Don't Look Back" is a spry, hooky thing poised to appeal across audiences.

Kylesa (whose name is pronounced kai-less-ah) will stop by The Glass House in Pomona on Thursday, Sept. 30 for a show alongside High on Fire and Torche. Before that date arrives, we caught up with Laura Pleasants to discuss her opinions on hipster metal and how Kylesa has evolved since 2001.

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OC Weekly (Reyan Ali): 2009's Static Tensions, Kylesa's fourth record, garnered the band a lot of positive attention in the press. How much of the feedback on the album's sound did you take into account when putting Spiral Shadow together?
Laura Pleasants: Well, if we were to totally pay attention to that, we would have written Static Tensions Part II, which we did not. We took some ideas that we worked on on Static Tensions and took them further, in addition to going with new ideas. It wasn't like some super-conscious decision to go, "Okay, let's go with this specific style." 

We just started writing and this is what was was coming out. We did talk about themes of distance. Phil and I have been doing this band for almost 10 years, and we've come a long way in several respects. We knew that on the record, some songs were sounding a bit different, but at the same time, we were like, "It would be a lie if we tried to rethink what we've already done."

What we were doing felt right. As far as talking about stylistic direction, we wanted it to be very headphone-friendly. We wanted to do a lot of cool stuff in the mix when you put on headphones or [if you play the record on] a stereo when you've got speakers all around the room.

The reason I asked that was because something like "Don't Look Back" doesn't sound much like the prototypical Kylesa sound.
We've always wanted to have catchy guitar parts and catchy vocals. We've done that on some past songs, but with "Don't Look Back" in particular, it's definitely a nod to '90s alternative rock we grew up listening to. It takes what we do and pushes it further into a catchier, poppier mode. We didn't just want to write slow, sludgy, dark songs.

Speaking of '90s alternative rock, Phillip mentioned in another interview that you were really into Built to Spill while making Spiral Shadow.
That is true. I really got into their newest record, There Is No Enemy. The guitar work on that record is really killer, and I like the vocals as well. I just like that band in general. To be honest, I just wasn't listening to a lot of metal when we were writing this record.

What kind of influence does it have on a resulting album when you isolate yourself from the rest of your genre?
I try not to listen to bands that have a similar sound to us because I don't want to fall into any clichés or sound like another band that might be in our peer group. [A record's sound] really depends on what is influencing me at the time. Whatever those bands might be has an effect on what I'm writing at the time.

In a past interview with PureGrainAudio.com, you said, "We're really into experimentation. We're into pushing boundaries within the confines of heavy music." How has that interest in experimentation played into shaping Spiral Shadow?
This record is more controlled. We did do some experimentation in the studio, but it was mainly controlled. I experimented with different amp tones. One of the big things we wanted to have [was] a lot of dynamic tones. It makes for a more dynamic record.

In June, MetalSucks posted an interesting blog entry called "Kylesa Get Ready to Beguile Hipsters with Mediocre Metal Once Again."  What are your thoughts on the idea of Kylesa being identified as hipster metal?
I think it's fucking bullshit, and I think people who are saying that don't know what the fuck they're talking about. I think we saw that post when were in the studio. We're not a hipster metal band. I think that's stupid. We've been around a long time, before this term was even around. I don't see hipsters wearing our T-shirts. I don't think that there's anything that warrants that kind of comment.

Do any bands qualify as hipster metal?
I mean, I guess? I don't really think about it that much, to be honest. It's kind of a lame term. I don't know what the fuck hipsters do. They listen to dance music; I don't think a lot of them listen to metal. It's a dumb comment and I would not classify us as hipster metal.

Some years back, all of Kylesa lived together in one place. Now you all live in separate places--was that ultimately for the better or worse?

I would say it was for the better. We couldn't live together forever. We would have driven each other nuts. We have a lot of good memories from the time we did spend together. We had this one room that was our music room. It was full of all our vinyl and amps. We were always listening to each other's music. It was a cool thing, and when we first started out touring, we were doing everything ourselves. We had no financial backing from a label. We were booking ourselves. Everything was word of mouth. Financially, it was hard so [living together meant that] we could come home to a cheap place and be able to afford food.

Now that you guys don't live together anymore, how has that affected the band's interpersonal relationships?
The inner workings of the band are always interesting because you spend a lot of time with these people. It's kind of like having a boyfriend or a girlfriend but without the emotions or sex or whatever. It's very much a relationship. It's a creative relationship, it's a business relationship, and you're spending a good amount of time with people. It's interesting the way things develop over time. We've certainly had our ups and downs.

What are the biggest of either of those?
The biggest down by far would have been Brian's [Duke, bassist] death in 2001. [As far as the biggest up goes,] one of the biggest moments for me was when we were flown to Greece for the first time to play a big festival. We played with Mastodon, Down, and Slipknot. It was the first time we had been flown to a show overseas and since it was Greece, it seemed just that much more foreign to me. That was really rad.

I imagine a lot has changed since you started the band almost 10 years ago. What's an idea or element that's stayed the same along the way?
Our attitude about what we write. Phillip and I agreed from day one that we would not pigeonhole ourselves musically and would not restrict ourselves to a certain genre. We wanted to be able to create music in a limitless way. That has stayed the same.


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