On her birthday, “just chillin’” a few days before boarding a flight to Oslo with her boyfriend, Laura Pleasants is pondering what it means to get heavy—in more ways than one.
The guitarist for Savannah psych-metal juggernaut, Kylesa, has found some peace since the early 2013 release of the band’s sixth album, Ultraviolet, a record that—according to recent interviews with Pleasants and singer/guitarist Phillip Cope—was inspired by some very dark personal matters. But with Kylesa on the road until just a few weeks before her vacation, has revisiting the songs from Ultraviolet night after night re-opened old wounds?
“Really, the main catharsis for me was just recording that material,” Pleasants says. “Once I did that, it was like, ‘That’s out of me now.’ It’s something I needed to do. We haven’t played the whole album live and probably never will. We’ve played a handful of the songs, and that’s also a different kind of catharsis, playing that material live. Just playing in general is a bit of a catharsis. Music has always been an outlet for me, and I think, in general, everyone in the band. It’s a creative and an emotional outlet.
Playing it live, sometimes it’s emotional, sometimes it’s not. Just like most things in life.”
Ultraviolet’s difficult, vague impetus (Pleasants and Cope have politely yet repeatedly refused to comment on the details) is interesting when juxtaposed with the band’s last album. Hook-laden and verging on pop at moments, 2010’s Spiral Shadow showcased a versatility—and accessibility—absent from the band’s previous records. Exemplified by the anthemic “Don’t Look Back” (think: Foo Fighters’ “My Hero” on steroids, punching you in the face while you watch a blockbuster-movie montage), Spiral Shadow was an epic affair, earning praise from all over the mainstream music press.
Ultraviolet, by contrast, is more meditative, though it doesn’t seem like a conscious step back from the radio-friendly sounds Kylesa flirted with on Spiral. In its own, petulant way, the new album further defines the band as one not content with simple laurel-resting. “A lot of what we write is time and place,” Pleasants says. “I don’t think the next record will be a whole lot like Ultraviolet, except that we’ll keep writing psychedelic, tense, heavy-tinged music. It was just a record we needed to write. We got pretty weird in some of the areas and pretty dark in some of it. We didn’t have it in us to write pop-rock songs. We just didn’t want to.”
The music scene in Kylesa’s hometown of Savannah has become known in recent years for a trio of metal bands—Baroness, Black Tusk and Kylesa—and the success of these bands has led to a torrent of imitators. “A lot has changed in the scene,” Pleasants says. “It seems like there are more quote-unquote ‘sludge’ bands every week, which is a little played out at this point. There’s just too many bands saturating the scene. But I think we do a good job of keeping ahead of that, to keep from getting stale. But things in Savannah? Sure, everybody does their own thing. Baroness doesn’t live here anymore. The Black Tusk guys still live here. I see them around town every once in a while. Savannah’s a small town. I try to go to the local shows to support kids trying to start something because I think it’s important to do in a small town where there’s not a lot of city support.”
Perhaps tired of the media’s focus on their Peach State origins, Pleasants declines to offer any big philosophical ideas about what it means to be a Georgia band. Nevertheless, she doesn’t discount the state’s influence on her music. “I just live here,” she says. “It’s home. Just like anywhere is home for a band. I don’t think we necessarily have to identify so much with Georgia or our hometown. But to be fair, every artist or musician owes some homage to their surroundings. That’s going to affect your creative output. At this point, though, we’re all very well traveled. I can say that, overall, I like the weather here more than anything else.”
Well-traveled, indeed. Given the band has been globetrotting for years and consistently releasing powerful, stylistically varied hard rock albums, one might ask whether it’s all becoming a little rote; if the noisy, nuanced Kylesa is running out of ideas or inspiration. Pleasants, for one, isn’t concerned. “We’ve got some tricks up our sleeves,” she says. “I’m not gonna reveal too much, but we just had a meeting last night. We’ve got some creative ideas we’re gonna expand on real soon. The thing that happens with a lot of bands is that they run out of creative juice or desire or hunger. It hasn’t happened to us yet, and I don’t think it will.”
A GUIDE TO KYLESA’S LPs
by James P. Fahy
While there’s no doubt Kylesa is metal, its six albums reveal a band whose musical choices transcend the genre that’s made them famous. Their rhythmic complexity (complimented by a dual drum attack) and their penchant for psychedelic textures have allowed the band to create soundscapes far greater than your average pack of heshers. Sure, there’s plenty of sludgy glory, but each Kylesa album reveals an affinity for the avant-punk of Fugazi, Unwound and Sonic Youth, not to mention elements of shoegaze, the gorgeous gauze of the legendary 4AD label, and the goth pop of The Cure. Even if metal isn’t your thing, most rock fans will find something to love about Kylesa.
With every subsequent release, the band has gently tweaked and refined its approach, yielding fantastic and enduring results. Any of Kylesa’s albums are a worthy entry point, but should you need a little guidance, let this gently annotated discography be your guide.
Kylesa’s eponymous debut serves as the band’s boilerplate. The listener gets a taste of everything that makes Kylesa great: Powerful vocals, pummeling rhythms, strange samples and plenty of psychedelic tidbits meandering through the mix. Despite a reliance on “Cookie Monster” vocals (the deep, guttural singing that often characterizes doom metal), it’s instantly clear that Kylesa is not your average metal band—a point made salient by the menacing European folk that characterizes the album’s final track, “Parent’s Song.”
Kylesa’s sophomore release relegates the band’s psychedelic tendencies to the interludes between the songs so they may instead focus on straight-up pummeling the listener. This is easily Kylesa’s most brutal record—chock full of unraveling time signatures and heavy riffs punctuated by sharp blasts of noise. That’s not to say it isn’t without its mind-expanding moments (see “Motion and Presence” and “Welcome Mat To An Abandoned Life”). In what can now be reliably called a trend, the album’s closing track, “Crashing Slow,” hints at where Kylesa will go next.
The perfect amalgam of Kylesa’s heaviness and psychedelic flights of fancy. Taking nothing away from the albums that preceded it, Time Will Fuse Its Worth proves Kylesa’s unassailable greatness. The record was fueled by internal turmoil (including the death of a close friend) as well as the addition of a second drummer, giving it a powerful, galloping energy. But it’s not just Sturm und Drang; it’s a journey resplendent with ebbs and flows—a true masterpiece.
Static Tensions is more the sound of an army than a band. Drums flank both sides of the stereo spectrum, allowing the rest of Kylesa—now fused into a giant fireball of sound—to come blazing up the middle. After releasing their first masterstroke, Time Will Fuse Its Worth, this could very well be the sound of a band fighting against itself—forcefully pushing toward new ground. And with tracks like the shimmering “Perception” and the Black Sabbath-channeling “Running Red,” Kylesa can claim victory.
Kylesa cracks its sound wide open and lets its imagination elevate things to epic new heights. From a production standpoint, the band takes a similar approach to Static Tensions by panning each drummer hard left and right, but this time around, rather than have the other musicians barrel down the middle, Kylesa allows its compositions to breathe in unexpected ways. “Cheating Synergy” positively stuns and “To Forget” rides a Cure-like guitar line toward bold atmospherics and one of the band’s best melodies. Glorious.
Another masterpiece—possibly the band’s absolute best. Texturally, this is Kylesa’s most fully-realized album. More than ever, bassist Eric Hernandez steers the ship while guitarists Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope manufacture sheets of sound. Even the drummers are given a sonic overhaul. Opening track “Exhale,” finds Kylesa at the peak of its intensity, but the record gets really intriguing with “Long Gone,” “Low Tide” and “Quicksand,” all of which conjure the swirling guitars of bands like Lush, Slowdive and Cocteau Twins. By the time final song “Drifting” hits, your idea of what metal is will never be the same.