The Kylesa Interview Exclusive with Phillip Cope
By Andy McNeil, Staff Writer
Phillip Cope, guitarist and singer of Kylesa, sounds exhausted, yet the southerner’s ongoing flurry of activity shows that he is anything but lethargic.
The double drummer darlings of Savannah’s sludge metal scene recently returned from an extensive European tour with Converge and are already set to hit the road this week to support their upcoming album Spiral Shadow (available October 26 on Season of Mist records). The title of the first track released (“Tired Climb”) from the new album even hints at his battle against the daily grind.
“Man, it’s been ‘go’ for almost two years.” Cope says. “I don’t think I’ve had a day off since like the day after Christmas.”
His hectic schedule hasn’t broken his spirits though. It’s Cope choice to pack his agenda full of projects – an example of the workhorse mentality that helped to drive Kylesa over the last decade.
“I did have time off, but I used my time off to go produce records for other bands,” Cope says.
His voice shows signs of new life when talking about some of the albums that he helped shape in the studio. Spend a few minutes speaking with Cope and you’ll pick up on the sense that he genuinely cares about all of the music he produces – not just his own.
“[I’m] real stoked on the Mockingbird EP that just came out – I think they’re a great band,” he says. “The new Withered album – coming out the same day as our album – I think their new album is just amazing and not because I worked on it.“
Cope explains that he actually took the backseat role in producing the new Kylesa record. He had to play guitar, track vocals, and run to studios at the same time, which required him to seek outside help.
“We had three different engineers that we worked with, but I was more or less the director of it,” Cope says. “My presence was definitely felt within the mixing.”
Part of the challenge with mixing the new album was figuring out how to blend together the thunderous beats of Kysela’s drummers, Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry. Cope developed a method for panning the different drums to the left and right speakers that allows each drummer to be heard independently. He honed this technique while working on the last album, Static Tensions.
“Some of the engineers weren’t sure that that was a smart thing to do,” Cope says. “And I see where they’re coming from, but I was like ‘Well, we just have to do it. Whether it’s smart or not – we’ve got to figure this out.’”
The gamble appears to have paid off. Despite minor issues with the process – Cope says he is extremely pleased with the album.
“We ran over time and we ran over budget. It was actually a really, really intensive project especially for me and I didn’t want to go out until I was happy with the way everything was. Of course, now there are a few things I would go back and try to do better, but overall I’m really happy with everything on there.”
To date the band has only released one track from the new album – “Tired Climb” – which begins with a building drum intro (reminiscent of “Scapegoat” – the opening track from the last album), which then smothers on the crunchy guitar sauce and rumbling vocals that fans have come to expect. Cope and company stay true to their heavy roots, but he hints that this record may be a little different.
“I think there are definitely some new directions in there as well. I know it’s the absolute hardest we’ve ever worked on a record,” Cope says.
He explains that the band takes influences from a broad spectrum of music. The impact of Black Sabbath’s stoner riffage makes its way into tracks from Static Tensions like “Running Red” while the thick sludge soaked sound of Neurosis finds its way onto songs such as “What Becomes An End” from Time Will Fuse It’s Worth.
“We basically just all let each other put our personal influence in a big pot and just kind of stir it up,” Cope says.
Kylesa’s range of muses runs wide, however, Cope admits that he is a bit puzzled by Relapse Records (who are releasing the LP version Spiral Shadow) description of Kylesa as “world’s heaviest indie rock band.”
“We’ve been pretty up front about having what I guess you’d call indie rock influences as well,” Cope says, without a hint of ingratitude. “We appreciate everything that they’ve done for us and I do see where they’re coming from.“
Cope says that Kylesa has always had trouble defining their sound on paper. He also said that some confusion lies in their decision to use two drummers. He wants to clarify that the Allman Borthers – who were also from the area – were not a major influence on the creation of their rhythm section.
The choice to use two drummers was actually shaped by the small venues and basements that the band packed with their massive sound in the early days.
“We were always bringing just tons of amps and people would always complain that they couldn’t hear the drums. So we were thinking – we’d start with two drummers and just be super fucking heavy,” Cope says.
The double-dose of pounding skins has become a signature touch that helps to separate the band from related acts such as Baroness or Black Tusk – who have equally assisted Kylesa in carving out a blossoming music scene in Georgia’s sweltering heat.
“When I was growing up there really wasn’t much of a scene [in Savannah],” Cope says.
He says that despite the tiny scene he got to see some phenomenal bands. Cope credits seeing Fugazi (while he was in high school) as one of the shows that changed his life. The other was a bill split between Neurosis and Buzzov•en at a show that he helped book in Chicago.
“We booked a lot of good shows around that time period, but that was one that just blew everyone away that was there. No one had seen anything like it,” Cope says, speaking of the Neurosis show.
He sounds as equally excited while talking about his band’s upcoming tour with Torche and High on Fire – both bands that Kylesa has toured with before.
“I think this is one of the first tours we’ve done where we know all the bands on the tour beforehand. And we’ve gotten along with both of them great – we’re all good friends. So I’m actually really looking forward to it,” Cope says.
With a new album dropping just before Halloween (October 26th) and an upcoming tour with friends launching this week – Cope is flying high regardless of his intense schedule.
“I am tired, but I am stoked.”
Brand New Trailer for forthcoming Kylesa LP Spiral Shadow