Kylesa got its start in 2001 when former members of sludge-metal band Damad teamed up with guitarist and visual artist Laura Pleasants. From the beginning, this Savannah, Georgia-based band has shown no loyalty to a specific genre; as a result, the outfit's discography has been fascinatingly varied.
Since forming, Kylesa has been more or less at the forefront of a small wave of more experimental sludge metal bands like Black Tusk and Baroness. The latest Kylesa record, Ultraviolet, is, in some ways, its most forward thinking album yet. We recently spoke with multi-instrumentalist and engineer Phillip Cope about his own turning point toward sludge from punk, shoegaze and his lifelong love of horror movies.
Westword: You were involved in punk and hardcore earlier in life. What was the catalyst for your getting involved with the sort of music you've become known for these last couple of decades?
Phillip Cope: It goes pretty far back. The early sludge I could really relate to. I was booking shows and saw bands like Buzzoven and Eyehategod. There was one particular show that I helped put on that was Buzzoven and Neurosis together. Neurosis had just released Souls at Zero. It was at that show that I realized: this is what speaks to me; this is what makes sense to me. That was really, I think, I huge catalyst about where I am now.
At the time there wasn't a lot of well-known Southern punk and hardcore. Sludge just represented kind of the attitude of a lot of punk. It was kind of nihilistic and felt like a Southern version of punk to me at the time. I just really liked it, and the nihilism of it spoke to me. I've gotten over that with age.
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You named the band after a Buddhist term. Why was that a good name for this band?
It is essentially the Buddhist version of the seven deadly sins. We're not Buddhists, by any means, but really, like the idea of how you have to kind of walk a path between both good and evil. You can't really have one without the other.
You're known as an engineer and producer as well. What got you started with that sort of thing?
Just really helping out some other local bands. I started when I was in Damad. There were some new bands popping up at the time, and a lot of them were kids, and I offered to help them out. That's how I got my start. I had had experience recording already. I talked to Jay [Matheson] at The Jam Room and told him I wanted to do it, and he said, "Alright, bring your own projects up and you can."
He helped me out and taught me along the way. I'm still doing it. Unpersons was one of those bands, and the members of which went on to Black Tusk and Kylesa. Some other ones are Two Days of Freedom and other Savannah bands people may not know. After a while, I got better and did Baroness and Black Tusk and then out of town bands like Dark Castle, Fight Amp and Withered.
How did you get hooked up with Dark Castle for their Spirited Migration?
Actually, I was doing some side work working at a club, and they just happened to be in town, and recognized me at the club, and we just started talking, and I offered to do it, and that was that. I thought they had their own take on the music. They weren't really doom or really sludge, but they had elements of all of it. They had a really cool take on it, and I like the atmosphere they created. I like how they incorporated the samples and some of the weirder stuff. It was a fun session to work on.
John Baizley did the artwork for Static Tensions. How did you meet him, and what do you like about his aesthetic?
He lives in Savannah, and we met him before he started Baroness, or he had just started it, and they hadn't played out yet. He would help Kylesa out a little bit. He drove us to shows up north. We had van problems and he came to the rescue.
And just hanging out, he kept telling us about his band, and sure enough, he had a pretty badass band, too. I like how he mixes different styles together. It was kinda cool when he was mixing [Alphonse] Mucha and Pushead influences together. In a way, a lot of stuff he did for Baroness captured that style.
The term "shoegaze" has been floated around about a certain aspect of the sound of your new record. Do you feel that's a valid comparison?
I don't know that it's necessarily bad. I can see where people are coming from. I'm definitely a fan of shoegaze, and I don't take it as an insult at all. Really, we were just trying to experiment with sound. Hopefully we've taken that and done something a little different. I don't think you could really put us up against My Bloody Valentine or Ride or Lush, or something like that, and it would the same.
But I can say why people think that's an influence. And it is to a certain degree. I spent years listening to that album Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. I really like how all the strange effects on the guitars [in that music]. I could go on and on about that. It doesn't bother us to be compared to that. But we're obviously trying to do our own thing with it as well.
From "Steady Breakdown" onwards on Ultraviolet the sounds of the songs is pretty different from that of the first half of the record. Was that intentional?
Not really. They weren't all recorded in order. That came with the sequencing later. But there are certain songs that have a certain style over some of the others. A few have more spacious production coming on. Some are loaded down with tracks and it's super thick. A song like "Steady Breakdown" is left pretty open. Even though it's pretty trippy it's actually not as layered with tracks as others.
"Drifting" sounds like it might have some of those layers.
Yeah, that's actually one of the same ones that was done that way.
What kind of flanger do you like to use these days?
We use flangers. As in we have a few. We have an arsenal of pedals. The SubDecay flanger was used a bunch on this album. Also MXR Flanger.
It seems as though Laura Pleasants sings a little more on Ultraviolet. Why do you feel her voice suits some of these songs especially well for this album?
A few of them are extremely personal to her. As we were going along, I took on a more muti-instrumental role on this album, on top of producing it, so I was really, really busy. I asked her to go ahead and go first with the vocals. As I was listening back, I just didn't think I needed to do vocals on certain songs. I felt that she had it covered and that it wasn't really necessary.
We've never had this thing where we both have to be fifty-fifty. It's what's right for the song. I'm doing other things in the song, so I may not be as noticeable, but I'm still there. I felt it was good enough. We don't have a particular way we do vocals; we just kind of go for it, and it was time for her to take the lead on some of those songs.
As guitarists you've had some great chemistry from early on. How would you say your styles are different from each other?
That's hard to answer because as soon as I think I could answer that, I would have to stop and think, "No, because both do that, too." I think, for the majority, I'm into the weirder guitar playing, and she's more into the solo-y guitar playing. That's not to say she doesn't do some weird atmospheric stuff, and I do some solos, too. It's not strictly that, but I would say, overall, that's probably the biggest difference.
You did an interview with Unspoken and you mentioned having read Rue Morgue's 200 Alternative Horror Films You Need to See. What are some of your favorite horror movies that fall under the aegis of "alternative horror" that you've seen lately?
Definitely ABC's of Death. I loved it. I thought it was a great idea, and it was cool to see all these different directors together going at it however they wanted. I really liked Kill List. That one really surprised me.
Did you see V/H/S?
Yeah, I liked that one, too. I liked it more than I thought I would. I can't wait to see the sequel. I loved John Dies at the End.
What is it that you like about horror movies?
I have never really put that much thought into it. I came up at an age that a lot of people reminisce about these days, where I was a kid that on the weekends, my parents would take me to the video store and rummage through the horror movie section and pick out what I want. I think it was the art on the boxes, just this visual thing and not having the Internet back then; you had no idea if it was good or not. You just judged by the box. So growing up, I saw crazy stuff like Evil Dead. It was way more interesting to me than any other genre.
One of my all time favorites is The Thing -- John Carpenter's remake. I saw that when I was a kid, and it scared the hell out of me. And the classics like The Exorcist. I can still remember the first time I saw Re-Animator. I didn't see that coming. I was like, "Whoa! What is this?!"
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