We are very pleased to offer Blow The Scene readers around the world an in-depth and exclusive interview with front-woman/ guitarist Laura Pleasants of Southern sludge-metal titans, Kylesa.
With less than one week since Kylesa released Ultraviolet on Season Of Mist, it’s sixth studio album to date, Pleasants is kind enough to to share insight into the writing and recording processes behind the new record. Pleasants gives a detailed look into her personal demoing phase all the way through studio tracking at The Jam Room with guitarist/engineer Philip Cope, she shares new equipment picks, long term goals for the band, and much more.
Without further ado, let’s hear from Laura.
Joshua BTS: Greetings. Thank you for taking a few moments with Blow The Scene readers from around the World. Let’s kick off this interview by having you introduce yourself and musical weapon of choice with Southern rock mainstays, Kylesa.
Laura Pleasants: My name is Laura Pheasants and I play guitar and sing. My main weapon of choice would be my Les Paul Goldtop.
Laura Pleasants: Couple of years ago was when it started, but I did the bulk of my writing last summer and fall.
Joshua BTS: And what does the process look like for the band? Is there a central figure that spearheads the direction and then everyone contributes from there? For those unfamiliar- What does the process look like as far as crafting the songs?
Laura Pleasants: Philip [Cope] and I pretty much craft everything. We’ll have a discussion about our thoughts and ideas, about what we want to accomplish. Then, we start formulating our ideas into basic song structures. Once we have a basic sound, we can expand on our own ideas. It’s not until we have the basics down that we get other people involved.
Carl [McGinley] is a pretty important part. I like writing with a live drummer, I can flush out my ideas better if I have someone behind the kit rather than dealing with the shitty drums I have on Garageband or whatever. (Which helps, it’s always good to have a meter.) But ya, Carl is important in that sense.
Then the ideas just come together, we just throw them back and forth and work on each other’s as well.
Joshua BTS: Do you demo everything before you go into the studio or do you let some things happen organically once you’re in the studio with Philip? Or is it more of a loose process given that Philip is in the band- More going in and recording parts, listen to them, and revise? Or do you try to stick with the traditional studio approach?
Laura Pleasants: I think it was a lot of both with this record given that Philip was living up in Columbia. He could do a lot of that- Record a little bit then pick it apart and revise. Personally, I demoed most of my material with Carl with a simple tracking into my iPad. Then I build from there. So ya, it was both.
Joshua BTS: Kylesa is a band that at this stage in the game with this being your sixth full-length album, you have been making music for over a decade, you’re widely known in the underground community.. Do you consciously, or have you collectively evaluated and established and end goal. There are only a few bands at this level where at the top of the underground but not quite yet mainstream. Do you feel there is a next level for bands that are in your position and still maintain the artistic integrity you’ve built your reputation upon?
Laura Pleasants: Ya, I mean without sacrificing a lot of our integrity it’s hard to break through into mainstream because then you have to hire big time management company and you have to get all this corporate power behind you and I think some bands break through that way, but then you have to think, ‘At the end of the day is it really worth that?’
I think what is most important for us is stability and longevity. I look at bands like Clutch and Melvins who are long-time players but they have their fans and they have much respect and are able to do it.
But to answer your question- It’s hard. It’s a constant struggle to stay afloat in this day and age with the way this music industry is and the way that popular mainstream culture is in the United States.
Joshua BTS: Which leads me into my next question- How is your relationship with Season of Mist and do you work with them closely on how you want the album to be promoted?
Laura Pleasants: It’s pretty good. We control a lot of what happens and also we give them free range to do certain things. So it’s very much a give and take relationship but it’s a healthy one.
Joshua BTS: Now as far as the artwork- I feel that Kylesa is one of those bands that artwork is synonymous with the music. How closely do you work with the development of the art as a band?
Laura Pleasants: Very closely.
Joshua BTS: Do you plan what the art will look like before the music has been written or this something where you let the music inspire the art?
Laura Pleasants: We let the music inspire the art. As lovers of art, Phil and I both graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design, our art has always been important to us.
As music fans and vinyl lovers as we were growing up, a lot of us were buying records because of the art because it was curious looking. Back in the days of pre-Internet times, we were buying records because the art looked cool. So ya, the artwork is important to us and it should be I think. Why not? Tons of good artists out there. You’re going to be putting out a record that is going to be around forever potentially, you want it to look good too.
Joshua BTS: As far as this forthcoming record- Does the artwork play into any of the lyrical motifs or any other motifs related to the album? And what are some of those lyrical motifs you touch on in the album?
Laura Pleasants: We did. We worked closely with Shawn [Beaudry] and gave him free reign to draw what he wanted to, but we gave him some of the lyrics and we told what the record was about and ultimately that it was about loss and various motifs that we conjure. So he took that and he took some lyrics and he came up with some mini-illustrations and he did a good job.
Joshua BTS: With this being your sixth album about to come out- Do you feel that there was anything about this recording process or the writing process that you went out of your way to challenge yourself on? Of the few songs that have come to the surface from this record, they are quite different from one another. Was that something as artists that you really wanted to do and spread your wings a little bit?
Laura Pleasants: We’ve always wanted to do that with every record. Our mission statement as a band when we first started was to push the boundaries of heavy music and push the cliches out of the way and advance beyond that, but stay true to our roots. I think that we’ve accomplished that with this record and ultimately with every record we’ve done for the most part. Some are more successful than the others, but I think this one is pretty successful in that right.
The recording process we did a little bit differently and I think it was really successful. Because we have a close relationship with The Jam Room and Philip was living up in Columbia, we were able to just record the record in different sessions rather than everything in one big session. That gave us time to reflect which I think is important as an artist to be able to do. I think the material comes out more successfully that way when their is a little bit of time to reflect and revise. So I really liked the way we did this record.
Joshua BTS: To touch on the forthcoming touring cycles- One of the first tours that has be announced thus fars is you’re going to be hitting the road with Blood Ceremony, White Hills, and Lazer Wulf this Spring. Did you hand pick the lineup for this tour?
Laura Pleasants: Absolutely.
Joshua BTS: If you don’t mind- Could you touch on why you picked those bands and what you like about their sound?
Laura Pleasants: Ya. Blood Ceremony is great, they are from Canada they do a kind of doomy stuff. They have a new record out and they are a great band. White Hills are cool they’ve got like the whole space rock thing going on and we’re big fans of space rock. I think people are really going to like them. Lazer Wulf are great- they are from Atlanta and Philip has worked on their recent record, and it’s just like crazy tech, mathy kind of metal that is very frenetic. I think the line-up is going to be really fresh and really good together. It’s not all of the same thing but it all shares a common thread. I think our fans are going to dig the show as a whole.
Joshua BTS: Sounds like it is going to be a killer tour. Kylesa, apart from just headlining shows you have supported some of the best bands in the underground and all over the world. What are some of the challenges you face as a headliner as opposed to supporting some of the larger acts you’ve toured with?
Laura Pleasants: Oh man, I think headlining is easier than supporting. [Laughs] I guess the challenge would just knowing that you can’t slouch. People are ultimately there to see you, you don’t want to disappoint them. So you’ve got to just give it 120% and make sure the show goes over well and that all of your ducks are in a row and that you can entertain people for over an hour.
Joshua BTS: I’ve spoken with John Baizley of Baroness and other musicians about this- That when they tour, they often like to try out new instruments, give themselves a challenge when they are on the road and just try new things. is that something that you do as well? Do you experiment with different axes, or different heads, or pedals or anything like that?
Laura Pleasants: Yeah. You get more space and time when you are headlining so there’s more room to challenge yourself and experiment. I’ve redone my entire library, so I’m excited to road test that and I’m going to be playing a couple new guitars as well. Bringing a lot of new stuff to the table, so I’m looking forward to it.
Joshua BTS: And if you don’t mind perhaps sharing what a couple of those new toys might be?
Laura Pleasants: Yeah, I got a new head which is really cool, it’s a Bilco amp and it’s this fella out of Charleston, South Carolina, who I guess hotrodded a bunch of Marshalls on the 80s. He built these fantastic heads based on old Marshalls or old Fenders. So I managed to find one and pick one up used because they are ridiculously expensive. But I found one used and it sounds fucking awesome. So I’m stoked to play that head and I’ve just kind of redone my board so that I’m dancing around a lot less.
I got some new pedals for the record and haven’t played them live. I love pedals, they’re like an addiction. [Laughs]
Laura Pleasants: Yeah, I mean I got- I don’t want to give too many secrets away [Laughs]
Joshua BTS: [Laughing] Ya, I hear you. It’s like asking a cook the secret recipe.
Laura Pleasants: I am happy that I finally got a looping station which allows me to have all of my effects in specific banks which just makes it way more organized and a lot less dancing around. When you’re singing and playing and having to dance around all your pedals, it’s like there’s no time or space to like rock out. So, I am able to move around a little bit more with this setup which is cool.
Joshua BTS: When you are not busy with Kylesa– How much time do your other art endeavors take up in your life?
Laura Pleasants: I’m pretty busy with Kylesa, but other thing I focus on is I take a lot of photos and mess around a lot with photography.
Joshua BTS: After this tour- What does the rest of the year look like for Kylesa? Do you have the rest of the tour cycle planned out.
Laura Pleasants: It’s roughly planned out. We’ll have most of July off but we’ll be touring heavily on this record.
Joshua BTS: Any places that you’ll be stopping that you haven’t been to before?
Laura Pleasants: I really, really, want to go to Brazil. I’m sure how it’s going to happen. [Laughs] But I am going to try to make it happen.
Joshua BTS: We at Blow The Scene really appreciate you taking a minute with our readers as we look forward to covering the record and the forthcoming tours. Any final thoughts as we close out?
Laura Pleasants: Just that we hope that the readers come out and support us live and enjoy a damn good rock show.
Joshua BTS: Right on.
Laura Pleasants: And that they buy the record of course. [laughs]
Interview by BTS’s Joshua T. Cohen