In just over the past decade, one of the most prominent bands to come out of Savannah, Georgia’s renowned music scene is sludge metal group Kylesa. Their unique approach to songwriting, incorporating practically boundless influences, has gained them notoriety and respect among the metal and underground rock community. The quintet is set to release their seventh studio album, titled Exhausting Fire, through Season of Mist on October 2. The band recently came through St. Louis on tour supporting this upcoming record, where they played The Ready Room on September 5, 2015 with Caustic Casanova and local openers Path of Might. Around that time, we arranged to have vocalist/guitarist Phillip Cope to answer some interview questions via email. Now with some down time in between tours, he was able to respond to our inquiries and further inform us about Kylesa’s approach to music and recording/producing, their upcoming album, and their experiences in their career in music, including the uniqueness of experiencing the Savana music scene, then and now.
You’re touring in support of your latest, upcoming album, Exhausting Fire. How is this album different from your previous work, in terms of sound, writing, recording, and production?
With every album we change things up some, and also try and bring some things back with us, we don’t really put too much thought into it as far as style goes. We just write from our guts and kind of let that guide us. With Exhausting Fire I wouldn’t say there were any big changes in how we go about things other than it was just Laura [Pleasants, vocals/guitars], Carl [McGinley, drums/percussion], and I doing all the writing. Production wise I would say the biggest difference was after experimenting a lot on Ultraviolet, I decided not to experiment too much recording wise with the new album and mainly use techniques I knew worked for us, of course there was still some experimenting but maybe not as much as in the past.
Kylesa has always had – and continues to have – a diverse and eclectic sound and style. How do you approach your songwriting with all of your various influences? Do you try to change song by song or album by album?
We are influenced by all kinds of music and I think that affects how we write. We don’t necessarily try and force different styles of songs they just kind of naturally happen that way.
Tell me about the music and metal scenes of Savannah, Georgia. Especially when Kylesa first formed. What was the climate of the music community like years ago compared to now?
Savannah is a pretty transient town, lots of people come and go, so the music scene is constantly changing, which I happen to like, I think it keeps it interesting. Savannah has always been pretty supportive to all styles of music, when we first started it wasn’t quite at its peak yet or least not with all the metal bands Savannah is known for but those early years were a really fun time as well as the ones before, that Damad existed in. As far as metal and other styles in Savannah goes it kind of comes in waves. Right now I would say punk has one of the bigger influences over the city with a lot of great bands and shows.
In my research, I learned that you, Phillip, had been called the “godfather” of the Savanah scene, due to both your performing with bands as well as booking concerts. Do you feel this is an accurate title? Did it have any impact on your career as a band?
That was from an article a good while ago and I am assuming that came from mainly that I produced early records for a lot of the heavier Savannah bands like Baroness, Black Tusk, Unpersons, etc. as well as Kylesa. Honestly though there was a whole group of people that had been around for awhile that I think had a huge influence with what the Savannah metal scene became. I think my experience probably helped Kylesa more than any reputation I had. I would say though over the last ten years or so with Kylesa being as busy as we always are and the fact in my spare time I work with bands at The Jam Room studio in Columbia, South Carolina. I have had very little time to put into the local scene as I did years back, but I still work with local bands. Two recent bands being Crazy Bag Lady and Wet Socks. Also, our label Retro Futurist has put those records out and helps put on a few shows a year.
Drums seem to be an obviously integral part of Kylesa’s sound and identity. How did the use of two drum kits come about as an idea? Was or is it difficult to put into practice, in terms of writing, recording, and performing?
We really just started it to be heavier. Over time we have tried to think of a broader way to utilize extra percussion and improve on it. Mostly it is not a problem. Recording it is still the hardest part though.
In addition to the two drum kits, the other members also incorporate drums into the Kylesa’s songs and performance. How did this come about, and how do you approach these “drum jams” to make them your own as a part of your music?
We don’t do that too much anymore, it was just part of our experimenting and having fun.
Kylesa has had several lineup changes over the years. In fact, the recent promotional photos I’ve seen for Exhausting Fire feature only three members rather than your usual five. Has there been another change recently? How have these member changes over the years affected Kylesa as a band and as musicians when making music?
For about ten years now Laura, Carl, and I have been the main songwriters. Other members have come and gone at their leisure. Live we are still a five peace, but the core of the band is and has been, for a while, the three of us.
There have always been plenty of stereotypes and clichés surrounding and projected upon metal bands that include female members, but usually (it seems) in subgenres other than sludge or stoner bands like Kylesa. Have you yourself experienced any impressions or predispositions from fans or audiences because Kylesa has a female member?
Sure, we have in many different ways but Laura has handled it well. When the band was forming we wanted her to join because of her drive and talent period. I just wanted to play guitar with someone who I felt I gelled with. Laura and I had been jamming for fun while I was still in Damad and we seemed to have a good chemistry that worked. No agenda other than being musicians that had a common bond.
Kylesa has toured with all kinds of bands over the years. I remember one tour in 2004 where you shared a rotating slot with Cattle Decapitation opening for Darkest Hour, Between The Buried And Me, and Fear Before The March Of Flames. Do you have a preference in what kinds of bands you tour with based on past experiences?
We have pretty open minds when it comes to the bands that we play with, but over the years we have learned that it does have to make some sense.
Kylesa’s albums have always featured fantastic cover art. It always seems to match the style and tone of your music. Is this something you think about when producing and releasing an album? Do you get to choose what artist and/or theme of the artwork goes with your albums?
That is something that is very important to us and we do put a lot of time and thought into it. We would never purposely put ourselves in a position where we don’t have control of that.
Kylesa’s seventh studio album, Exhausting Fire, will be released on October 2 via Season of Mist. Catch them on their upcoming tour dates throughout October and November 2015. Check out the rest of our own Nick Licata’s photos from their show at The Ready Room in St. Louis here. Special thanks to Phillip Cope for answering our questions, Season of Mist, and Abby Ruetzel for setting up the interview!