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Metallurgy 

Kylesa forges heavy music using the 'no rule' rulebook

Voting ends Jan. 31 in Spin magazine’s online Readers Poll. There are seven nominees listed under Best Metal Band – mostly well–known international veterans of the headbanging wars.

And then there’s Kylesa.

“Being among Danzig, Ozzy and Iron Maiden is pretty wild,” says the Savannah–based band’s Laura Pleasants, “considering I’ve been listening to all those bands my whole life. It’s kind of odd.”

Not so odd when you consider the mag’s 2009 love letter to Savannah’s heaviest bands, a story called Metal in the Garden of Good and Evil, or the rave reviews bestowed upon the two most recent Kylesa albums, Static Tensions and Spiral Shadow.

This is a band unafraid to take chances: Molten hardcore darkness is soldered together with classic and stoner rock riffs and trippy psychedelia, sonically dense with textured inlays of abrasive, rhythmic punk and subtle but catchy pop sensibilities.

Kylesa is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2011, and for that reason the band is playing its first local show in a year, Jan. 14 at the Jinx, before heading out for yet another of its marathon tours of Europe, Australia and all parts beyond.

“Really, when it comes down to music, there are no rules,” says Kylesa’s founder, singer, songwriter and guitarist Phillip Cope. “My personal tastes lie in all different genres. I love music, and I love all styles. If I find something that hits me, I like it, I don’t worry about where it comes from. I might listen to Miles Davis in the morning, and then when I get my car I’m gonna blast Slayer. I don’t find that weird. I have different moods throughout the day.

“But I also like brutal music, too. And I like mellow music. It depends on my mood, and it also depends on where I’m at in my life. I can go through phases where I’m not feeling anything but dark and depressing music. Then I snap out of it and I want to listen to something happy.”

Still, Cope concedes, many fans still swear by the pure sludge and black hammer of early Kylesa records. “And I think you have to be really respectful to your fans, and understanding of that. Maybe something you do hits them at the perfect point in time. I think it’s completely natural to want more of the same, if you find something you like.”

To that end, he and his bandmates are still doing many of their old songs in concert — albeit with the benefit of hindsight and 10 years of growth.

Said Pitchfork in its wet kiss to Spiral Shadow: “They still admirably deliver when it comes to metal’s air–punching, meat–and–potatoes riffs, and they want to keep the energy as high as possible, which is perhaps why they’ve been able to hold onto much of the no–bullshit–allowed hardcore crowd, even as their music has become less uncompromisingly abrasive.”

Cope chalks it up to a restless nature, maturity and an intense desire not to repeat themselves. “It’s not necessarily something we’re doing on purpose,” he explains. “It’s more ‘What do I want to discover about myself as a musician? What haven’t I heard yet that might be cool to try? What can we offer people that maybe other bands haven’t done yet?’”

Raised in Savannah, Cope spent much of the 1990s as the lynchpin in a savage, proto–metal band called Damad that made two records and ruled the local roost for seven years.

He worked tirelessly to bring hardcore and punk acts to the city — indeed, he is sometimes referred to as “The Godfather of Savannah Metal” — and when Damad split, he immediately began thinking of how to re–cast his musical vision.

“I had a job working construction, and I remember this guy telling me ‘Savannah could be the next Seattle!’” Cope laughs. “He wasn’t talking about our kind of music. And I said to him ‘That could never happen.’”

Enter Laura Pleasants, from Greensboro, N.C. Although she came to SCAD to study photography, she was mostly interested in live music. She’d started playing guitar, and bass, in high school, and upon her arrival here started a surf/punk garage band called the Flys.

Pleasants first met Phillip Cope at a Damad show; the band was sharing a bill with Extreme Noise Terror and Grief. He was wearing a Black Sabbath T–shirt — her all–time favorite band — which she complimented him on.

They began jamming together, and with other friends. In fact, their first public performance was at a “free–form” concert ... at Red Lobster. Recalls Pleasants: “He said ‘You don’t seem that scared in front of crowds,’ and I was like, well, it was the Red Lobster employees. I don’t know how scary that is.’”

From the start, there were no concerns that having Pleasants in the band – as second ripping guitarist, and dual vocalist – would upset the traditional boys–club balance. Although there were, and are, women in metal bands, in a lot of cases they’re considered eye (and ear) candy, icing on a classically masculine cake.

“I never really took this angle of ‘OK, I’m going to do this now because I am a chick, and this is my cause,’” says Pleasant. “I just wanted to play music.”

Adds Cope: “That’s one of the reasons I asked her to join. ‘OK, here’s this chick, we can put her in the band and have this angle.’ There was no angle. She played guitar good. Our styles gelled, and she could’ve been anybody. It didn’t matter that she was a woman.”

Pleasants gets asked about it everywhere Kylesa travels. “Do I get sick of being around guys?” she laughs. “Yeah, sometimes, but I’m sure they get sick of being around me. And I’m not even talking about my bandmates – I’m just talking about men in general.” She will confess to growing a little tired of the occasional boorish catcall. Things always level off once she starts slashing power–riffs on her guitar.

“She knows how to take care of herself,” Cope smiles.

It was on the third Kylesa album, Time Will Fuse Its Worth, that Cope and Pleasants began to probe deeper lyrical abysses, and to finesse their band’s music with as much melody as crusty caveman stomp.

On this record — released in 2006 — the band began to use two drummers. “Honestly,” Cope explains, “that was a pretty simplistic idea. It was just to be heavier. Back then, we were using lots of amps. We were really loud. And the place we were at as songwriters, we were still just trying to be this really heavy band.

“It was really just ‘OK, we can’t bring any more amps. We can’t tune down any lower — our strings are flopping off the guitars. What can we do to be heavier?’ And I thought ‘Let’s do two drums. It’ll be even louder.’ Now, we’ve had time to think about it a lot more.’”

Cope himself produces the records, at the Jam Room, a recording studio up in Columbia (he also produces Baroness, Savannah’s other world–renowned metal band, and numerous others).

The band, which also includes drummers Tyler Newberry and Carl McGinley, and Corey Barhorst on bass and keyboards, finished a massive tour last year with fellow Georgians Mastodon. They’ll be on the road for most of 2011.

Which begs the question: Why do they still live in Savannah?

“You have to call someplace home,” says Cope. “Even when you’re out as much as us.

“We formed the band here, and it’s a beautiful city. We do have a lot of good friends here, friends we’ve known for a long time. And even if you’re only here for a week, it’s nice to be somewhere comfortable.”

There won’t be time to write and record a new record, although a live set is under consideration. One thing’s for sure, though: Kylesa will continue to ignore whatever musical boundaries are laid in front of them.

“I think we could go wherever we want to go,” Pleasant says. “and it would make sense.”

For Cope, it’s all a continuing evolution. “Laura and I were lucky to have enough foresight to know that, as we grew older, our tastes were going to change,” he explains.

“We knew we weren’t going to want to do the same thing over and over. That was a pact that we made.”

Kylesa

With Zoroaster, Fight Amp

Where: The Jinx, 127 W. Congress St.

When: At 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14

Tickets: $10 advance, $13 day of show

Artist’s Web site: kylesa.com

 

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Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung

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Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.

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