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Shai Hulud Guitarist Matt Fox Looks Back at Each of Their Studio Albums (EXCLUSIVE)

Photo: Joe Calixto

I've been having fun putting together the site's Album by Album interviews as of late. While I definitely have some cool ones in the works, I'm excited to share today's entry to the series.

Matt Fox of Shai Hulud is an old friend and one of the nicest people I've ever met from the hardcore/metal community. I previously interviewed him on No Echo back in 2016, but I wanted to dig further into Shai Hulud's full-lengths, and get his thoughts about each.

Shai Hulud had planned to do stuff together this year, but COVID-19 put a halt on all of that. They're currently working with vocalist Jay Pepito (Reign Supreme, Full Contact), so fingers crossed for new music in 2021.

For now, enjoy the latest Album by Album installment!

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Hearts Once Nourished with Hope and Compassion (1997)

Hearts Once Nourished with Hope and Compassion came out through Crisis Records, an imprint of Revelation Records that Rob Moran of Unbroken had reactivated while he worked there. How did you guys land on the label's radar?

We were put in touch with Rob after we sent our demo to a Rev employee, Jeanne, who I became friendly with through phone calls while working at a record store in South Florida. Jeanne was kind enough to pass our demo along to Rob who in turn was kind enough not to hate it. I then received a phone call from Rob from Crisis/Revelation.

I was certain someone was playing an elaborate joke on us — like our band had any business talking to Revelation Records about anything. 

Working with Revelation during that time was quite easy; they were a great, enthusiastic, and proactive team who treated us very well and made us feel valued — like we were special or something. We’ve never had any issues working with Revelation; we are still strongly affiliated with the label as a band, and, more importantly, maintain lasting friendships, some that span over 20 years. Jordan Cooper and I like to chat about the '60s Batman show, old-school video games (see our Space Invaders themed below), and pinball machines upon occasion. 

Available at RevHQ.com

It's always refreshing to hear about a band/record label relationship that doesn't go sour.

Following the A Profound Hatred 7 inch, everything was quite smooth — there was that slight hiccup on Profound with our name spelled incorrectly (shai hAlud) on the spine of the first 5000 copies of the CD, of course, but after that, all smooth saliing. As we had absolutely no visual ideas or concepts in mind, all artwork and the layout on Hearts Once Nourished… was created entirely by Revelation.

Rev did a great job capturing the tone and mood of the album in photographs, especially having been given no direction by us whatsoever. Regarding the production aspects of the album, things went very smoothly with Hearts Once Nourished… all thanks to Rev.

A lot has been made about vocalist Chad Gilbert’s age during his time in Shai Hulud. What do you remember about working with him in the studio on that first album? You guys were tracking at the legendary Morrisound Studios in Tampa, a hallowed place for people like me who worship ‘90s death metal.

Even though Chad is nearly a decade younger than the rest of us, we were all young kids back then; just a bunch of goofs. Truth be told, either my memory of recording Hearts is just completely gone or it was as uneventful as I currently remember.

There was, however, a story about Glen Benton, singer/bassist of Deicde, who was recording in Studio A while we were in Studio B or C, doing a chicken dance around the table we were eating at as some of our members ate Chik-Fil-A. I wish I, myself, remembered this encounter.

Regarding Chad, specifically, what I do remember mostly is worrying about him losing his voice, screaming as hard as he was. Chad was giving it his all; I even recall our engineer, Steve Heritage (Assück, Jud Jud), looking at me incredulously, saying, "He’s screaming his lungs out." 

In one of our previous chats, you said the following: “[Hearts Once Nourished with Hope and Compassion] is an album rife with flaws and uncertainty, it is as equally sincere, and a true document of young men doing their best to create something lofty with only fragments of clues as to how to do so.” Can you explain what you meant?

To put it simply, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing — at least I didn’t. We all wanted the album to be unique and special, but really had no clue what components made for such a record. Appropriate planning could have helped. Not throwing together a couple songs at the last minute would have been a step in the right direction as well.

Alas, there was little to no planning, and we built two songs out of leftover riffs only days before we leaped headlong into the studio. 

Of course, it’s not just pre-production and planning that makes an exceptional album. A lot of my favorite records are merely full of heart and soul and good ideas. And in our defense, we had the heart and soul. We may have even had a couple good ideas here and there. Some planning wouldn’t have hurt, however.

Found on HardcoreShowFlyers.net

Since it's Shai Hulud's first full-length record, how do you feel about it today?

When listening back, speaking only for myself, I distinctly hear our attempts at creating something different. The result, to my ears, but touches on ideas that are full of potential — moments Matt Fletcher, Geert, and I wanted to broaden, expand upon, and bring to full fruition when writing our second album — but more about that in just a bit.

I’m genuinely ecstatic Hearts resonated with people as it has. I just wish I could hear it the way others do; I hear the attempts, lack of preparation and practice, and many missteps.

Like I’ve said in numerous interviews, after my first listen to the mixed version of the album on cassette in my Walkman in 1997, I thought to myself, "Well, whatever 'career' we have is over now." Given those feelings I had, the fact Hearts has the life it has with others is truly gratifying.

What is your favorite song on Hearts Once Nourished with Hope and Compassion?

"Solely Concentrating on the Negative Aspects of Life" might be a close second, but probably "A Profound Hatred of Man."

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That Within Blood Ill-Tempered (2003)

Since we’re only covering full-lengths for this piece, I’ll skip over the splits Shai Hulud released with Indecision, Another Victim, and Boy Sets Fire. That said, I’m curious to find out what your creative mindset was going into making the That Within Blood Ill-Tempered album and how the previous releases informed the material.

We were at a creative spike during the writing of That Within Blood Ill-Tempered. We had more of a sense of how to create better melodies, and really learned the magic and depth of emotionality harmonies bring. Structurally speaking, we were adventurous and took many progressive turns.

Back then, our friend, Jay, then the drummer of When Dreams Die, who now sings for Mindforce, upon hearing a few of the pre-preproduction recordings called us "Legacycore," which really was an accurate description based both on the more "epic" nature of the songs we were writing, and how intent we were in obliterating any limitations and boundaries put upon us having come from the hardcore scene.

As pretentious as it sounds, the truth of the matter is we really were on a musical journey. 

Without A Profound Hatred and Hearts Once Nourished there would be no That Within Blood Ill-Tempered. That Within Blood Ill-Tempered was quite literally born of the nascent and burgeoning ideas from all the releases that preceded it. Every progressive musical idea and/or lyrical concept not fully fleshed out or realized on everything before Blood Ill-Tempered became solidified, resulting in content we were genuinely proud of.

While Blood Ill-Tempered is not my favorite Shai Hulud release, it is the one I, and I believe I speak for Matt Fletcher as well, take most pride in. It was a breakthrough in personal creativity, exploding parameters, and exploring ideas that were certainly not traditionally embraced by hardcore.

The vocalist in the band for this time period was Geert van der Velde, a European musician you met during a Shai Hulud tour. What unique touches did he bring to the table and the songs on That Within Blood Ill-Tempered. Was he comfortable in the studio or did you have to help him a lot through the process?

Geert was always seemingly confident, and I don’t recall him ever showing any hesitation in the studio on any of our recordings. He definitely did not ask for our help, but I’m sure that didn’t stop us from giving it to him [laughs]. As I recall, he took the reins of his vocal ideas while recording, while Fletcher and I surely offered plenty of ideas of our own, ad nauseam most likely.

Geert brought a lot of personal touches to the songs on That Within Blood Ill-Tempered, actually. In fact, the very first melody you hear on the album, in the song "Scornful of the Motives and Virtue of Others," was written by Geert, who is truly a very creative person with a lot of good ideas.

Aside from contributing musically, Geert was also always quick to offer up ideas lyrically as well. Whereas I tend to write a lot and generally orchestrate everything, Geert certainly put his stamp on quite a few songs, particularly "Willing Oneself to Forget What Cannot Otherwise Be Forgiven," which not only did he title, but the song’s concept is his, as it relates to something he was going through in his personal life at the time.

Geert is also responsible for one of the album’s most popular lyrics, "Only thunder gives me rest’" in the song "Whether to Cry or Destroy." Neither last nor least, adding the idea to reference both Camelot and Atlantis, which I personally love, in the song "Let Us at Last Praise the Colonizers of Dreams" was Geert’s. He definitely brought a good bit to the table of That Within Blood Ill-Tempered.

Shai Hulud during the That Within Blood Ill-Tempered era (Photo courtesy of Revelation Records)

What’s the story behind the amps not working correctly on this album? You briefly mentioned that to me before. Are you not happy with the overall sound of the album?

Simply put, the amps hadn’t been serviced in quite some time before recording. I can’t say now exactly what was wrong with them, but I do recall they needed a lot of work and new tubes, all of which we learned after recording the album. This was no one’s fault but our own. I can only imagine freshly serviced amps would have made us at least somewhat happier with the overall sound of the record — which I think we all think is generally lacking in quality. 

In terms of touring the album, did people embrace Geert as the singer and the newer material?

Geert was definitely warmly accepted as a front man, and we played quite a few songs of the album to mostly decent response. We were certainly grateful for that.

What’s your favorite song on That Within Blood Ill-Tempered?

That’s a tough call as I am really proud of all the songs. That said, I’ll go with "Given Flight by Demons’ Wings."

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Misanthropy Pure (2008)

Another album and another vocalist. This time you had a singer by the name of Matt Mazzali in the band. How did he come to join Shai Hulud and what was it about his vocal style that you knew would be a great fit for the band?

We had a mutual friend that knew Matt. That friend thought Matt had a voice that would fit Shai Hulud, and we agreed once we saw Matt play his last show with his then band. To this day I think Matt has a killer voice; heavy and very pissed, in theory, exactly what Shai Hulud has always sought after for its vocals. 

There’s a directness about the material on Misanthropy Pure album that I really enjoy. I also love that Andrew Gormley (Rorschach, Kiss It Goodbye) plays drums on the record. What was the writing process like for this one?

Working with Andrew was awesome. He had killer ideas of his own, and could execute whatever we asked of him. I can’t speak for Andrew, but I had a lot of fun writing the record with him. 

As far as our writing process went, it was similar to what we had always done, either Matt Fletcher or I would come to practice with an overall concept for a song, and we would piece it together with Andrew, who would usually write his own drum parts, and make suggestions on the song’s structure. I remember it working very well during the initial song structuring/writing process.  

This was the first album Shai Hulud went with a cleaner, more ProTools-friendly approach during the recording process and you said because of that, you think Misanthropy Pure sounds “too perfect” for your liking. 

All the guitars on Misanthropy Pure were played slowly by me and sped up digitally. The result is somewhat inhuman sounding; I certainly don’t play that cleanly. The recording approach was admirable in theory, but in hindsight I don’t think it ultimately worked for Shai Hulud’s sound.

We went the route we did because the co-producer really wanted all the rhythms and leads to be heard clearly as opposed to how muddied some parts were on That Within Blood Ill-Tempered. Like I said above, the concept was admirable, in the end though, a bit of a misfire.

Misanthropy Pure was the first record Shai Hulud did with Metal Blade Records. Outside of that being a dream come true for a former teenage metalhead, what was the reasoning behind going with a label in that arena over a more hardcore/punk-leaning company?

Aside from Metal Blade just being a great label generally speaking, they were doing so well with so many of our friends’ bands at the time; The Black Dahlia Murder, Into the Moat, The Red Chord, and Unearth to name a few. We felt Shai Hulud signing with Metal Blade was taking the band to the next level.

Having been somewhat stagnant in the hardcore scene for a while, it seemed like the logical next step for us to try to bring our music to a broader audience. 

What’s your favorite song on Misanthropy Pure?

It would be the title track "Misanthropy Pure," with "Venomspreader" as a follow up. Bringing up the rear in third, "Cold Lord Quietus."  

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Reach Beyond the Sun (2013)

The big headline on Reach Beyond the Sun was the return of Chad Gilbert to the vocal department. Now, by that point, he had already had massive success as a member of New Found Glory. Since he also produced the sessions, it must have been a trip to work with him again, especially in that capacity. What are some memories that stick out about the recording sessions?

Chad coming back as both producer and singer was a turn I don’t think many saw coming, not even myself. Working with Chad again was really like working with him for the first time because when we last recorded together he was so young. The Reach Beyond sessions marked the first time I worked with Chad as an adult, and as a seasoned producer and recording artist.

Overall we had a blast. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work and there were of course some bumps and disagreements along the way. Like the Hearts Once Nourished sessions, the tracking was mostly uneventful, and again I was worried about him losing his voice; I think that expressed fact annoyed Chad a bit. 

Did Metal Blade get involved with the pre-production/recording process at all? You know, the whole A&R thing and all that stuff?

Metal Blade was mostly hands-off during pre-production and tracking, though Vince Edwards from the label did come to the studio a few times to grab some promotional content. Outside of Vince quietly videotaping some of the proceedings, there was no interference from Metal Blade at all. Working with Metal Blade on our two records was quite easy. No trouble at all.  

Since you knew Chad was committed to New Found Glory and he wouldn’t be able to become a full-time member of Shai Hulud, were you apprehensive to bring him in to handle the vocal duties for Reach Beyond the Sun? I imagine he would have still be down to produce the sessions even if he wasn’t singing on the record.

We weren’t apprehensive about bringing Chad in at all in that regard. I think the fact he was in New Found Glory made it pretty obvious he wasn’t rejoining Shai Hulud. People knew this was just a special one-off event, and that Chad would not be seen touring with Shai Hulud again. I’d go as far to say Chad agreeing to sing on Reach Beyond saved the record.

Initially, Chad signed on to produce the album when we had a singer so, yes, he would have produced even if he wouldn’t have sung on the record.

I’ve told you this before, but Reach Beyond the Sun captures every sonic aspect of what I love Shai Hulud better than anything else in the band’s discography. If I were using typical rock critic speak, I would say it’s the Shai Hulud album where “you’re firing on all cylinders.” 

Thanks, Carlos, I appreciate that. And I agree with you 100%. I feel we were indeed "firing on all cylinders" on Reach Beyond. It only took us 4 full-length albums to reach that hallowed place. [laughs].

Reach Beyond the Sun is indeed my favorite Hulud record to date. I think it features all of the best aspects of the band, and finally on a record that hit the sweet spot as far as production goes.

Everything came together nicely on Reach Beyond Beyond the Sun. The songs and their structures are (mostly) coherent and cohesive, rather than overwritten and overcomplicated — a tendency I have to actively work at to keep in check; Chad surely helped in that respect.

What’s your favorite song on Reach Beyond the Sun?

Really tough to pick favorites from this record, but I’ll go with the title track again, "Reach Beyond the Sun." Second place might be "To Suffer Fools, but "A Human Failing" is high up there as well. "At Least a Plausible Case for Pessimism" is also in my group of favorites from this record. 

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Last question: Is Shai Hulud a metalcore, hardcore, or a metal band? 

I think the most accurate way to classify us would be as a progressive hardcore band.

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Tagged: album by album, shai hulud

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