WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2011 – Most bands can master soothing or spastic music but rarely both.
Kylesa’s 2002 self-titled debut balanced this yin and yang expertly, their jittery metal frequently blossoming into moments of psychedelic serenity.
Eight years later, 2010’s “Spiral Shadow” finds the group wracking (and subsequently repairing) nerves like never before. I spoke with guitarist/vocalist Laura Pleasants before Kylesa’s Jan. 20 Washington D.C. gig at the Black Cat Backstage and found out what makes these Savannah metal titans tick.
Thanks for speaking with me before your concert tonight. Kylesa is an exotic name for a band. What does it mean and how did it end up as your group’s moniker?
Laura Pleasants: It comes from the Buddhist term “kilesa mara.” We changed the spelling for the purpose of having a different band name. It means “demon of defilement.” I guess if you were going to relate it to the Christian religion, it would be like the seven deadly sins. We thought it had a unique meaning and with the music we write it makes sense.
Your band calls Savannah home. Having visited there many times myself, I’d say it has a distinct atmosphere that’s all its own, even among other places in the South. How did starting off in Savannah affect Kylesa’s sound?
Pleasants: We’ve been together for about ten years and I’ve lived there since 1996. Your surroundings affect what you do, especially if you’re doing something creative, for better or worse. I don’t know how it has affected our sound exactly, but I do know that when I started playing with our other guitarist and singer Phillip Cope my style of playing changed a bit. He was coming from a very sludgy band called Damad and I was playing more punk rock at the time.
There’s been a heavy music scene in that town for a long time and it basically started with Damad in the 1990s. When I first moved down to Savannah to go to college I would see them play a lot and they influenced a lot of younger bands who were then high school students and ended up being in bands like Black Tusk and Unpersons.
Kylesa contains former members from many bands. How did all of you come together in today’s lineup?
Pleasants: Phil and I are the only original members. Our drummer Carl McGinley plays in Unpersons. I remember booking Carl’s band a long time ago. I was 19 and he was like 14. I used to jam together with one of our drummers – Tyler Newberry – for a while too. Before Kylesa started, we’d play together with Phil and that’s how Phil and I decided we were going to be in a band together once Damad broke up. It’s a small community – everyone would go to shows together.
You play guitar and sing in Kylesa. Which do you like better, or do you enjoy them equally? Why or why not?
Pleasants: I like playing guitar better. I didn’t really plan to sing that much when we first started the band – it just evolved over time. Our original bass player Brian Duke did a lot of singing but then passed away. We had to finish our first record (2002’s “Kylesa”) and Phil and I were like “we’ll just have to do the vocals.”
Your latest record, “Spiral Shadow,” arrived a little more than a year after 2009’s “Static Tensions.” Was it hard releasing two full-length records in that span of time?
Pleasants: We wrote “Static Tensions” in the late winter and early spring of 2008. We recorded it that summer but had to sit on that recording until March 2009 because that’s when our label at the time, Prosthetic Records, wanted to release it.
It had been a couple years since we’d written a new record by then and we were ready to write one. We did have a time limit for “Spiral Shadow,” like four months. That’s all we did – wrote and played music all day. I was extremely focused – I took all my energy and turned it into creative energy.
What’s the significance of the album title “Spiral Shadow?”
Pleasants: It ties into a lot of lyrical themes on the record. It’s funny how it worked out – I was working on the song “Spiral Shadow” at the time and when I came up with that title I had a guitar part that reminded me of the Black Sabbath song “Spiral Architect” and then I was jamming it out slowly with Carl on drums and he was playing a beat that reminded me of DJ Shadow.
I really liked the final name as it has some connotations for how I was feeling with the lyrics I was writing. The last year was personally a pretty hard one for me. Sometimes I feel like there’s this constant shadow falling over everything. That’s more metaphorical than literal, but there are aspects of life that are that way. When I write lyrics it’s a cathartic experience and how I get everything out.
Phil and I were talking about titles for the record and we were originally going to use the word “distance.” It was a theme that kept coming up in the lyrics. Despite this, Phil and me both liked the “Spiral Shadow” title and chose that instead.
How did that final album title manifest itself in the artwork?
Pleasants: The artist behind our album art – our friend Santos – kept drawing spiral illustrations without knowing we’d been talking about that title. We had discussed the artwork extensively and decided we wanted trippy, psychedelic art on the packaging, and a lot of that is spirals. We were talking to him about that and then life and time and change, and he came up with the image of a tree. It was great because I wanted to photograph a certain tree in Savannah. One thing that’s really beautiful about Savannah visually is these old, gnarled trees there that have a lot of personality and life.
Kylesa recently released a surreal, trippy music video for “Tired Climb,” the first song on “Spiral Shadow.” Any comment on what the concept behind the video was?
Pleasants: We had a concept we gave the director and then went on tour. He took what we had in mind and interpreted it.
Originally we were looking at a bunch of naked women painted like they used to have at the acid parties in the 1960s. We couldn’t have nudity so it morphed into these witch-y women in the forest. It’s pretty abstract. I think he did a good job.
What does the future hold for Kylesa?
Pleasants: We’re going to tour like all this year and into the next year. We’re going to Europe and eventually Australia. Our time in Australia is part of a festival – Slash from Guns ‘N Roses is playing solo.
We really want to do a live record and get together a DVD. It’s hard doing all that stuff when you’re constantly on the road. When we do another record, we don’t want to have a time cap on it, we just want to take our time.
For those not here tonight, come see us – our shows are intimate and loud.
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