Matt Fox has dedicated a large portion of his 40-plus years on the planet to music. Through a variety of musical styles, the guitarist and songwriter has been writing, recording, and touring since the '90s. As prolific as Fox has been, he's best known as the driving force of Shai Hulud, a band that has always masterfully married the worlds of hardcore and metal in their material.
Throughout the years, I've kept in touch with Fox and always cheered on his various projects. So, with Shai Hulud taking a break from the road after 26 years of steady touring, I thought it would be a great time to chat with Fox about the band's career. During our conversation, we also touch upon his other musical endeavors, and his love for film.
I don't think I've ever asked you this, but you're originally from Long Island, right? When did you move to Florida?
Correct. I was born on (or near) Long Island, in Smithtown, NY way back in 1973, the year KISS officially formed. I lived in Little Neck, NY until I was 5. As my father left my mother shortly after I was born (what a mensch, right?), she ended up moving to Florida with her parents when my grandpa got sick. The four of us moved to Pompano Beach in 1978, the year Annie Hall won the Oscar for Best Picture, and Superman with Christopher Reeve was released.
Was your mom a music head when you were a kid?
I don’t recall my mother or grandparents playing any music in our house, or ever being passionate about music at all. Mom had an 8-track player and a few cassettes she never played - I remember seeing Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, Billy Joel’s Glass Houses, and an ABBA cassette. Grandma watched Lawrence Welk and liked jazz standards, but as far as I could tell, only casually; it’s fair to say I was not raised in a musical house. Apparently, as I was later informed, my father was musical to a degree having been some semblance of a singer at one point and a clarinetist, if I recall correctly; Note, my father had no influence on me, outside of genetics, whatsoever as a child, or as an adult for that matter, neither musically nor as a parent or person.
Were you drawn to music at a very young age?
I would definitely say I was drawn to music at a young age. Around the time I was in kindergarten KISS was my first musical obsession, but for all the aesthetics and not because of one note they played. I don’t think I actually heard the band until years later. Having fallen in love with the imagery of KISS, I asked my grandmother to buy the album Hotter Than Hell for me because one of my friends had a sheet of KISS tattoos that came with a KISS album. Not knowing which album had the tattoos, I randomly picked Hotter Than Hell hoping that was the right one. It wasn’t. There was also that one time I scrawled “KISS” onto the door of my friend’s father’s brand-new pick-up truck. That one didn’t go over so well. In my defense, we were told we could play “KISS” in his truck.
Without any real concept of what “heavy” or aggressive was, I tended to gravitate to the heaviest and most aggressive music an adolescent me could find. The first cassette I picked out and bought for myself with my own money was Escape by Journey. Shortly thereafter I found and became enamored with Def Leppard’s Pyromania, and thus began traversing through the “heavy metal” available to me the only way an only child living in a home without avid music lovers could, via the newly founded music network, MTV. Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister were my first my gods. The likes of Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin, and W.A.S.P followed, but when I happened upon Mötley Crüe’s Shout at the Devil all prior gods were dethroned. And then 1986 broke thrash metal. Master of Puppets changed my entire musical trajectory, putting me on a path I didn’t know existed. Onward and upward.
How old were you when you started playing guitar, and who were some of the guitarists you looked up to at that point?
I started off playing drums, picking up guitars only sporadically. At about 13 my friend Joe (who years later formed and played guitar in Tension from South Florida) taught me a power chord, explained how it worked, and how to use it; I expanded and experimented from there. When I started regularly attempting to play guitar a few years later I was getting pretty into hardcore/punk, and my favorite bands at the time were my teachers and inspirations. I practiced to Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, Misfits, Descendents, Minor Threat, and Dead Kennedys records, and became a modestly competent player in regard to moving around the fretboard with some semblance of ease in power chord shapes.
Without question, Dr. Know, guitarist of Bad Brains, and particularly his work on the ROIR Cassette is what honed and refined my playing. Whatever style I developed directly came from relentlessly mimicking Dr. Know’s hyper, manic strumming on that record. His style defines the sound of hardcore/punk; it’s the pinnacle as far as I’m concerned, and easily the foundation of my guitar playing. Though he is certainly hailed as a player, I don’t think the good Dr. gets enough praise and recognition.
What was the first band you ever played in?
My first band was called EvilAlive! We got the name from KISS' Alive album, the vinyl of which was laying on my floor, upside-down from where I was sitting while my friend and I were trying to come up with a band name. Reading it, I suggested “Evila,” and then promptly followed up by asking how about “Evila… LIVE?” Sold. This was much better than one of my original submissions, “FireKnife,” which I had already drawn a logo for.
EvilAlive was thrash metal, and we didn’t play any proper shows - unless you count Connie Seneca’s birthday party - but once we changed our name to Unwillful Demise, we did play a handful, notably with South Florida’s Raped Ape who went on to become PainGod, one of Century Media’s earliest bands; Malevolent Creation before they were signed; and Amboog-A-Lard, a thrash band whose guitar player, Geordie White, went on to play bass in Marilyn Manson as Twiggy Ramirez.
SEE ALSO: Amboog-a-lard, "Edge of Darkness," from 1990 Demo (Self-Released, 1990)
On your Wikipedia page, there's quite a few bands listed that you played in during the early '90s that I'm not versed on. Could you give me a quick bite about each of the following?
My first band. Thrash metal. Started with two guitar player friends of mine. I played drums. We had a song called “It’s All in the Wrist;” it was about murder. I wrote the lyrics. Here’s the first verse:
“It’s all in the wrist, simple deed to fulfill / Slam the knife through, go in for the kill / See the body drenched in blood, feel the fucking guilt / Men are murdered easily no matter how they’re built.”
A hardcore/punk band started with my friend Josh Colbert who went on to form both Strongarm, and later, Further Seems Forever. Our singer was Mike Hurley who went on to form Tension with my friend Joe. I played drums. We had a song called “The Symbolic Song” which was about loving science-fiction; within it we barked the words “Spock Rocks.” We were a straight-edge band who proudly covered “More Beer” by FEAR.
We originally called ourselves “The Fabulous Murrychesstoes!” We were a hardcore/punk band that evolved from Planet X. When Josh and Mike, whom were devout Christians, decided they wanted to be in a band that was ministry-based, Planet X split into two factions. The Fabulous Murrychesstoes was the secular faction. We continued on with Planet X songs. We got our name the day Planet X disbanded when our bass player rearranged baby blocks on a shelf at Josh’s house originally spelling “Merry Christmas” into “Murrychesstoes.” “Fabulous” was thrown in for good measure. Or something.
A ska-core band from South Florida we were all friends with. After playing guitar in The Murrychesstoes for a couple years, I joined Bingo Mut on drums when they parted with their original drummer, my friend Pete Carreno, who is now a brilliant tattoo artist. We recorded two 7”s, released one, and played a lot of great shows opening for the likes of Less Than Jake before they were signed, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Toasters, and Green Day just as Dookie was being released. We covered Sheer Terror and Minor Threat songs.
If I remember correctly, my friend Ravi, Bingo Mut’s founder and guitar player, called me with “good news and bad news:” The “good news” was Epitaph Records was interested in signing us. The “bad news” was he quit. And that was that. It was never confirmed if Epitaph had really been interested.
Phase 2 of EvilAlive. I was pushing for the name Traumatic Chicken, but would have settled for Traumatic Death. No such luck. I was kicked out and replaced by a much better drummer named Eric who a few years later played drums in The Murrychesstoes for a stint.
I also noticed that you did some time in a straight edge band called Tension which my other friend, Nick Dominguez, also played in.
I believe I played bass in Tension for a few shows after Nick left - why Nick left I’m not sure, and how many shows I played I can’t exactly recall; it was a fill-in situation for roughly a handful of performances. As much as I loved playing those songs, they found a much better bass player in AK Ray Rodriguez who went on to play in Skarhead and Vietnom.
SEE ALSO: 2016 interview with Mike McTernan (Damnation A.D., When Tigers Fight).
How did you come to play drums in Strongarm twice—1994 and 2000—and how was that experience for you?
Strongarm was/is a huge influence on me, musically and personally. The members that comprise the band, though I do not share their spiritual beliefs, are some truly lovely people. Having been friends with these fellas for years, when they found themselves without a drummer for one show in 1994, I was asked to fill in. I remember the show being a total blast and having a great time - how well I played, however, I have no idea. Incidentally, at this show in Tampa, FL is where I first met Steve Kleisath who joined Strongarm as their drummer shortly thereafter. Steve also ended up playing drums in Shai Hulud for a few years as well.
The aforementioned Tampa show in 1994 was the only time I played a full set on drums for Strongarm - I believe I also filled in on guitar for one full show around the same time as well. The other two times I got behind the kit for Strongarm was purely for fun and out of friendship: once at their final show at the Cornerstone Festival, and then again at their reunion a few years later at the first Furnace Fest in Alabama. Both times I played their song “Trials,” and much, much too fast. There is video evidence of this.
I love playing drums, and filling in for Strongarm was an honor; being acknowledged by these guys as capable enough to be a part of the band meant a lot, and that I was invited and welcomed into the fold was also special on a personal level. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Here’s to hoping we see another Strongarm reunion at some point.
1995 saw you form Shai Hulud and record a debut demo which also featured bassist Dave Silber, vocalist Damien Moyal, guitarist Oliver Chapoy, and drummer Steve Kleisath. What did you guys set out to do with the band? Did you have a definite writing style you wanted to pursue right from the start?
Like most kids who start a band, we all genuinely wanted it to be something special; I don’t think any of us had any idea as to how to accomplish that or what we could bring into the band to make that the case. Having only loose ideas, e.g. misanthropic lyrics screamed over impassioned hardcore, the best idea I had was to take (read: steal) our name from something that had inherent weight in effort to both inject the band with gravity, and to differentiate ourselves from the pack at the outset: Dune, a movie and book I fell in love with roughly 5 years earlier, while still in high-school.
We were all largely interested in writing what could be characterized as emotive, melodic and angry Hardcore, combining various direct musical elements inspired by the likes of Burn, Strongarm, JFA, SFA, Turning Point, Sick of it All, Chain of Strength, NOFX, Sheer Terror, and only about 1000 other bands we loved. With that blueprint of melodic yet “pissed off” hardcore in mind, we wrote organically, allowing all our ideas, good, bad, and ugly, to materialize into songs we would later sift through, culling the best from the aimless and missteps.
In the end, we did manage to give the words “Shai Hulud” a musical and lyrical heft, despite the fact we stole the name. Thanks for not suing us, Frank.
Rob Moran of Unbroken heard the demo and signed Shai Hulud to Crisis Records, the Revelation Records subsidiary he had at the time. But soon after that happened, Moyal quit and future New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert took over the vocal spot. Why did Moyal leave the band?
After some months of creative and personal differences we felt it best to part ways with Damien. We remained great friends throughout the years.
SEE ALSO: 2016 interview with Damien Moyal (Culture, Shai Hulud, As Friends Rust, Morning Again, On Bodies, Damien Done).
What was it about Chad that made you believe in him despite the fact that he was only 14 at the time?
Chad was as passionate about hardcore as we were. He became part of our group of friends, and despite his young age was deeply involved in a lot of projects—his own bands, and other bands we were friends with. His sincerity and dedication to music was unquestionable. And, bloody hell, what a voice on that kid!
The first official Shai Hulud release on Crisis Records was the A Profound Hatred of Man EP in 1997. Listening to it today, how do you feel it captured where the band was at that point?
Even in retrospect I'd say it captured us fairly well. In addition to the recording being of decent quality (something at the time we had no concept of how to influence), the songs were very indicative of who we were, and a great foundation for us to leap from in regard to what we wanted to become. While that first EP established the band as something slightly different from what was prevalent at the time, those three early songs, ("Hardly," "If Born From This Soil," and "For the World") also showcased two of the main musical characteristics of what we hoped Shai Hulud would encapsulate: melodic and mean.
Shai Hulud's debut album, Hearts Once Nourished With Hope and Compassion, came out later that same year. You've been critical of this record in the past. What are the issues you have with it? I listened to it today and I think it holds up really well.
Personally, I wasn’t thrilled with many aspects of the recording or the overall sound of the album - I actually vividly recall telling myself whatever wave of positivity we were riding was over while listening to the final mix because I thought it was so very clearly terrible, or at least embarrassingly sub-par. From my vantage point it was a surefire “career-killer” (without actually having a career to kill).
I also didn’t feel the album’s content was too strong. We were kids and literally threw songs together, without really having many thought out ideas, just to meet our recording start-date deadline. In many instances, our attempts at melody were limited to octave chord leads often merely mimicking the rhythm guitar’s chords underneath, in the same key. Additionally, some of the lyrics were hurriedly written and just slapped onto songs for no reason other than they needed lyrics. Vocally, having only 5 days to track everything, Chad blew out his voice after a few songs leaving some tracks with a very hoarse sound that was much too apparent for me.
If what we now know as Hearts Once Nourished With and Compassion would have been preproduction work, the resulting album could have been much stronger. Generally speaking, I’ve come to realize the concept of Shai Hulud is ambitious, and to achieve the level of quality we feel the band requires both live and recorded, practice and proper blueprinting and planning is needed. In full disclosure, there is more evidence of a lack of practice and planning out there than I am comfortable with.
To be fair, "Solely Concentrating on the Negative Aspects of Life" and "A Profound Hatred of Man" are solid songs that I am proud of—songs that even I can acknowledge have weathered fairly well. As surely as Hearts Once Nourished... 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. The brief moments in which I am able to accept the album for what it is, and not what I would have liked it to be, I can be modestly content that it exists as it does. That it resonated with anyone on any level is more significant to me than anything. I'm grateful it found an audience, and that some of the songs hold meaning and import to any number of people—very, very grateful.
Chad, Oliver, and Steve all quit Shai Hulud after the split EP you did with Indecision. You obviously didn't throw the towel in, but did the thought ever cross your mind at that point since it was still pretty early on in Shai Hulud's career?
If the thought crossed my mind, it was only fleeting. Around this time Matt Fletcher moved to South Florida and joined the band. He and I were both very passionate about Shai Hulud. We were both driven to push forward, stronger than we had been before.
In 1998 some of the members of Shai Hulud brought in vocalist Ronen Kauffman (Try.Fail.Try) to form a side project called Zombie Apocalypse. You recorded a demo but didn't release something official 'til 2003's This is a Spark of Life.
Our original idea for Zombie Apocalypse started in 1999, the concept being a fast, melodic hardcore/punk/metal band—somewhat of a "crustier," quirkier Shai Hulud with shorter songs that got their points across as quickly as possible.
In name, Zombie Apocalypse started as a joke. Matt Fletcher loves horror films, and he was the first person I ever met who particularly loved zombie movies—namely Romero's original "Dead Trilogy," long before there was the pervasive "zombie culture" that even had Marvel Comics zombify its universe. Note: while typing the former sentence I initially put the word "zombify" in quotation marks because, you know, it's not a real word. But apparently now it is and no longer needs quotes surrounding it. Like I said, pervasive "zombie culture." Bloody hell.
As mutual mixed media lovers, Fletcher and I used to regularly go shopping at a store in South Florida called All Books & Records, which sold all sorts of used fun stuff: books, records, CDs, DVDs, VHS cassettes, and comics. We would often call out to each other various titles of things we thought the other would be interested in. One day in the book section, I said I just found a book he might like and rattled off a title not dissimilar from Wasteland Warrior in the Zombie Apocalypse, touching on his love for both zombies and The Road Warrior. Needless to say, he freaked out, and was more than mildly disappointed to learn I was only trying to get him fevered up. Right then, I think I suggested we start a band called Zombie Apocalypse—which, essentially, there in All Books & Records with Fletcher still coming down from the frenzy then disappointment of not reading a book called Wasteland Warrior in the Zombie Apocalypse, we did.
We thought the name "Zombie Apocalypse" was ridiculous, utterly; of course it was available as a band name! Searching the internet, we only found the band Mortician had an EP called Zombie Apocalypse. Shocked such a silly term had already been used, albeit once (pre- the pervasive "zombie culture"), notably, that we could find, we claimed it as our name, an awesome and totally asinine name.
Circa 2000 Shai Hulud played with Try.Fail.Try and were totally blown away. Awesome band. I thought Ronen's voice and approach was so unique that he would be perfect to front Zombie Apocalypse. We asked him to join us at a diner somewhere in New Jersey.
As I recall, there was no demo, just our first EP, This is a Spark of Life, in 2003. We followed that up a couple of years later with a split EP with the UK "zombiecore" band Send More Paramedics called Tales Told by Dead Men. Fun stuff.
When Shai Hulud parted ways with Geert, our singer from 1999 - 2003, Fletcher and I wanted to focus on Zombie Apocalypse for a bit. We were already writing an album, and wanted to hit the road pretty full-on. As Ronen wasn't able to tour the way Fletcher and I wanted, Zombie Apocalypse was gently put aside while we rebuilt Shai Hulud. Zombie Apocalypse remained dormant for about a decade, until not too long ago. We plan on recording a new EP sometime this year. And hopefully, in theory, limited shows to follow as well. We didn't stay dead. That's what zombies do, right? Not stay dead? To quote George Carlin, "That's the problem with zombies, they're unreliable."
Okay, back to Shai Hulud. Vocalist Geert van der Velde made his recording debut with the band on the A Whole New Level of Sickness split EP you did with Another Victim in 2000. Where did you find Geert? What was it about his singing style that appealed to you?
We found Geert on our first European tour in 1999. Essentially, we traveled to Europe without a singer. Yes, you read that right. In brief, our singer, Chad, had taken leave as New Found Glory just got signed, not to mention his apprehensions about traveling abroad. We found someone to fill in which didn't work out so well, putting us in a position to move Fletcher from guitar (his original position in Hulud) to vocals. Though Fletcher stepping up to front the band was admirable, it wasn't ideal—Hulud is definitely a dual guitar band, and to effectively sing for Shai Hulud you have to be both passionate about the band and well-practiced. Fletcher had the former, not necessarily the latter.
At our second show, our first show in the Netherlands, I met Geert. He really loved the band. We had a great talk for quite a while before the show about music and Tolkien, and I was taken aback by how well and fluently he spoke English, and with an only subtle accent on certain words.
Two days later, if not the next day, at a venue in Germany, the promoter came into our backroom saying there was a phone call for Matt Fox. That's me! I didn't know anyone in Europe! It was Geert. He asked if he could come on tour with us. Just to help, and for fun, to be on tour with a band whose music he felt strongly about. I remember saying, "Sure, you can even try singing," an idea he dismissed on the phone. Next thing I knew, he was borrowing his mother's car and traveling around Europe with us for a month, singing for Shai Hulud.
Fletcher sang the show the day Geert joined the tour. I asked Geert to try some vocals at sound check with us the next day. His first scream even turned the head of our then-bass player, Dave [Silber]—who, as I was later told, was only on the tour to see Europe, and very clearly disinterested in Shai Hulud, essentially out of the band.
Geert's vocals were exactly what we always wanted. Exactly. He had that natural, pissed-off person sound, like someone yelling out of desperation, not dissimilar to how you might yell to warn someone whom you wanted spared from life-threatening danger. He had the perfect mid-level tone, a beefiness, and ample and natural vocal distortion. We were all sold after that very first yell. Soon, Fletcher would return to guitar, and Geert would front Shai Hulud on his own. He saved the tour.
The band left Florida in 2001 and set up Poughkeepsie, NY, a city about two hours away from Manhattan, as the new home base for the group. My wife grew up there, so I know it really well.
Truth be told, we didn't choose Poughkeepsie, Poughkeepsie chose us in the form of a drummer, partially. Allow me to explain...
In 2000 we had a new lineup all of who relocated to South Florida from other places: both a guitarist and bass player from Oklahoma, and our new singer from The Netherlands. We were still in need of a drummer, and who we thought was a great and available candidate out of the auditions we received lived in—you guessed it—Poughkeepsie, home of the legendary and still going strong, All Out War. Said drummer was not willing to relocate to FL, and ultimately we relocated to him. But this decision was three-pronged: First, we found who we thought was a strong and solid drummer in Poughkeepsie, who additionally found an affordable house for the band to rent complete with a basement for us to practice in; second, if perchance we ever needed a new member, or even a fill-in, being in Poughkeepsie allowed us to pool from various areas in virtually every direction if the need be, and that need definitely, if you will, ‘beed (sic);’ third, as I mentioned above, every member at that time left their homes (and country), and moved to mine to play in Shai Hulud.
For me to do the same was not only equitable, it showed my commitment to the band, and more importantly to the members who gave up their lives to devote everything to the band. Having everyone relocate, myself included, for the same purpose, created solidarity—a good foundation for Shai Hulud to reboot from—and it truly was the best decision for us, as difficult as it was to physically leave the South Florida hardcore scene.
Shai Hulud's next album was That Within Blood Ill-Tempered in 2002. I love that record. The stuff definitely got darker at that point.
I'm thrilled you enjoy it! Upon its release it seemed to polarize some people, but like with most bands' new albums, they catch on a few years after. Curious how it often happens that way, and unfortunate.
I think the progression between the two records came simply from getting older, learning more, and understanding more about harmony, and particularly true melody—not just octave chords played over power chords in the same key and rhythm, a crime we were very guilty of. In addition to personal maturity and learning, we simply tried harder. A lot harder.As I stated above, Hearts Once Nourished...—not to take anything away from it—was mostly thrown together save a couple of songs. The music to the song “This Wake Myself Have Stirred” (Note: Damien Moyal wrote the lyrics) was written while I was on the toilet. So, it could be argued I was taking two shits at once [laughs]. But I digress…
Even before the outset of the writing process for Blood Ill-Tempered, the goal was to write something deeper, something, for lack of a better term, special. That you find the songs to be darker is some vindication for us, especially after we received a review from an English magazine stating the album was “emo.” That killed us. And that statement alone, the word “emo,” specifically, practically dictated the direction of our follow up, Misanthropy Pure - “We’ll show them emo, alright.” That’s another story.
Last little bit about That Within Blood Ill-Tempered... I don't recall us attempting or meaning to be darker, necessarily, but we certainly wanted the album to be very "pissed." In fact, that's why we named the album That Within Blood Ill-Tempered, put simply: the content of very angry people. Though there are some bright-sounding moments and positive lyrics (as always), the vibe we meant the album to give was a deeper "profound hatred." We'd said during writing the record someone should immediately sense a pang of its deep anger just upon first holding the physical album in their hands, like it was alive with hatred, and maybe should be put down and not trifled with. Kind of like how I felt when I first held and heard Master of Puppets, Earth A.D., and Reign in Blood; granted, I was 13 years old then. In any case, the songs feeling darker may very well be a product of our intention to inject the album with very intense emotion.
Wasn't there some kind of issue with the cover art for the album?
Simply put, we care deeply about our band and everything that is released under the moniker "Shai Hulud." Because of this the album was delayed as artwork was being finished. With all the thought and emotion that was put into the music and lyrics, the artwork needed the same attention and consideration. It took some time to elevate the art and layout to where we felt it complemented as seamlessly with the album's content as possible.
Such care on our part often, regretfully, causes frustrations. Alas, this is often the case for anyone who doesn't simply create, but bleeds out their work (sounds corny, I know). Invariably such people are stigmatized. It's the price paid by anyone who really appreciates the impact creative works can have.
Geert parted ways with the band after That Within Blood Ill-Tempered and for a time you were going to change the name from Shai Hulud to The Warmth of Red Blood to start over fresh. You also asked for prospective vocalists to audition for the frontman spot in the group by sending in a demo of themselves singing the song "Whether to Cry or Destroy." How many people tried out, and how much of a nightmare was it? I'm assuming you got some horrendous entries.
When Shai Hulud and Geert decided to pursue separate paths we had no idea what the hell to do. Even when we "officially" announced the name change we were extremely uncertain we made the right choice, hence not sticking with our decision. Those with business/branding acumen told us to change our name, our hearts said keep it. We tried to listen to and take the advice of people who had better "industry" sense than we did, but some things to some people just mean too much to simply let go. The 13-year-olds who were bashing away on "Angel of Death" in 1986 had more invested in Shai Hulud than a potential career. We let those kids ultimately make our decision. Crazy, I know. Since when has integrity ever paid off? But, yet again, I have digressed...
Yeah, it was a nightmare. Finding members almost always is, singers and drummers, particularly, but truly, finding anyone, with or without musical ability, you can gel with who isn't an asshole, a drunk, or drug addict, who can duly weather the many trials and obstacles that come with touring with a small, passionate, hard-working band for less money than McDonald's pays... is a nightmare. It was then. It still is now.
I remember receiving quite a few auditions, more than we anticipated. And some were indeed pretty horrendous, of course. At that time, the vocal trend was sounding like, what we called, a "snake demon." That was a very popular sound in "metalcore" [he wants that word in quotes] in the early '00s. All we ever wanted was a no bullshit, natural-sounding, pissed-off person screaming in genuine anger and desperation. You'd think that would be easy to find.
SEE ALSO: Igor Cavalera on His Favorite Drummers, Early Sepultura Work
In 2006, you ended up staying with the name Shai Hulud and signing with Metal Blade. Matt Mazzali became the singer and the band recorded the aforementioned Misanthropy Pure album with him in 2008. I remember thinking it sounded much more "metal" than your previous records when Kelli Malella from Metal Blade sent me a copy.
I completely understand why you or anyone thought it sounded more metal. To answer your first question directly in a word: yes. I do agree with your assessment. Misanthropy Pure sounded the way it did for various reasons, some I am pleased with, others not pleased at all. I'll try to briefly explain them.
Starting with what Matt brought to the table, the obvious answer is his voice, which I love, when he screams naturally, the way one might if he or she were trying to warn someone in the middle of the street they were about to get hit by a truck. Simply yelling, like I mentioned above, out of anger and desperation. Matt's original vocal takes for Misanthropy Pure were exactly that: pissed, desperate, clear, and natural. Speaking for Matt Fletcher and myself, we were extremely pleased with those takes.
The vocals were redone in an effort to sound "more pissed." To be clear, I love Mazzali's natural voice; I was pretty vocal at the outset against the re-recorded takes, the ones that made the final cut. The vocals you hear on the record are certainly more "metal" sounding than the approach we had always taken—you know, the more organic, anguished approach akin to hardcore. I think the vocals being as they are is one of the reasons some people felt Misanthropy Pure sounded more metal.
Another reason for the "metal" claim is that Misanthropy Pure, which I briefly touched on above, is in almost every way a response to the album that preceded it, That Within Blood Ill-Tempered. The recording on ...Ill-Tempered was not crisp or dynamic, partially because our amps weren't working properly as we found out after... we're pros, I tell ya [laughs]. In addition to the guitar sound, and what we just think is a poorer-quality recording overall, the content on That Within Blood Ill-Tempered was also taken in a lot of new and progressive directions; I think the sum of the aforementioned facts resulted in an album that didn't sound as we intended, hence the English magazine referring to it as our emo record!
Because of this we wanted our next album, Misanthropy Pure, to be relentless. I made sure each next song started in less than a breath after the song before it ended—every new track meant to be a brick to the skull; just as you thought you would catch your breath upon a song ending, it's another fucking blow to your brain before you have a moment to process anything.
Additionally, due to the muddled sound of That Within Blood Ill-Tempered, it was agreed that the approach to tracking Misanthropy Pure would be more modern, employing methods to obtain an extremely clean production. I was excited about this approach, to finally have all the ideas we put into our songs clearly articulated, audibly legible, and on display. The approach, however, in my opinion, was taken far too far; the record is flawless, and I mean that truly. Not flawless in that it's a great record, that's a subjective decision for any individual to make, rather, literally flawless; there are simply no mistakes. And as much as I'd love to credit my guitar playing, I can't, because it's due to meticulous tracking and editing. The guitar you hear is not at all indicative of my guitar playing. On my best day, after 100 years of practice, I couldn't play guitar as cleanly as depicted on Misanthropy Pure. Truth be told, nor would I want to.
There you have it: why Misanthropy Pure is our "metal" record.
Why did Matt quit Shai Hulud in 2009?
Matt and his girlfriend were having a child together, and we simply did not make enough money on the road to justify his absence, not to mention he wanted to be with his family.
You can't argue with that. For the next Shai Hulud album, 2013's Reach Beyond the Sun, Chad Gilbert not only produced the sessions, he also came back to handle the lead vocals. That is my favorite album you've released to date. What was it like having Chad in charge of the recording sessions? After all, the last time you had worked with him in a studio setting, he was still a teenager!
Being in a band who has a few releases under their belt, hearing our newest is your favorite is like receiving a lifetime supply of chocolate. Thank you, Mr. Wonka.
It's my favorite as well, but that's no shocker, a band's newest album is supposed to be their favorite. It will most likely always be that way with me. That I am often the primary writer, I wouldn't release something new if it wouldn't eventually become my favorite. I say "wouldn't eventually" because directly after I have finished a record, I hate it for at least a few months. After some time of banishing it from my ears, when I finally hear it again I tend to think, "This isn't as bad as I remember it. It might even be my favorite yet."
Working with Chad was fun for sure. We've been friends for a long time so it was easy to fall into old grooves. But work is work, and friends or not, people are people, and we always come with traits and quirks that don't always gel with others' peculiarities all the time. And in a work environment, it often gets tense, especially when creativity is involved—its nature being so nebulous and subjective despite different parties' claims their perspective is in objectivity. Thinking reasonably, we all know it never is. It can't be.
You're absolutely right, last time I worked with Chad he was 16; when we did Reach... he was in his 30s. Big difference. I was getting to know someone as an adult that I knew as a kid; in some ways it was like meeting someone I'd never met before. We had a great many moments of smooth sailing, likewise, other moments of contrary opinions and clashing personalities. Reach Beyond the Sun came out the way it did because we both cared as much as we did. And it's very fair to say we both gave in to the other more than we would have probably preferred, but I think we both knew we would have to do that at the outset. We know we naturally veer in opposite directions, nonetheless, we met in the middle to work on this project. Could it have been better if it leaned more one way than the other? Depends on who you ask. But that doesn't matter. The album as it is, Chad and I both agree, is great. And it's the result of our collaboration.
The band's most recent release is the Just Can't Hate Enough x 2: Plus Other Hate Songs EP.
The record was in the works for almost 10 years. We've known what covers we were doing, and had the originals planned as well; even the title, "hate" concept, and art ideas had been formulated. We were waiting to use the release to introduce a new singer, the same way we did with A Whole New Level of Sickness which introduced Geert in 1999. It didn't stick as well this time. Matt Mazzali came back for the release, and the original intention was to re-introduce him as our new full-time singer with his natural voice on a raw, short, fast, EP that meant to serve as a solid hammer-smash to the face. I love the songs, they smash faces, and Matt's voice came across just as I knew it could: human-sounding, organic, and pissed off, but after its release and a tour or two, we had no singer (and still don't). I won't pretend I am not annoyed (to put it mildly), but I will say I'm sure Matt genuinely intended to be in the band longer than he was.
But let's focus on the more fun aspects of the release...
The EP is meant to be... fun! Believe it or not. The title came about simply because we wanted to cover "Just Can't Hate Enough" by Sheer Terror. From there, of course, I thought let's record it and include A Chorus of Disapproval's song of the same title. You can see how the rest developed, you know, "hate" and all. If the EP was to be a rollicking good time, what better way to have a rowdy good time than by inviting your friends to play with you!? At the risk of boring the pants off of you, I'll briefly (I hope) tell you about the songs and why we invited along who we did.
Fletcher had written the basis of this song years ago. It was consummately Shai Hulud: fast and melodic, and stuck more so to our hardcore roots than our metal roots, something we like to showcase from time to time, you know, just to remind naysayers who we are as opposed to who they like to peg us as being. Originally we were going to include it on Reach Beyond the Sun, but I knew the song was special, and given the right lyrics it could be the flagship song for the EP. It works perfectly. Though had we released it on an album it would have gotten more attention, which I feel it deserves.
I had the title "Sincerely Hated" for years without knowing what the song could possibly be about. It ended up being about being hated for telling uncomfortable truths. I think this is extremely important, as lonely as you may end up doing such. But since when is what's right easy or comfortable...
Rachel Aspe from the French metal band Eths does guest vocals on this song. She and I became e-friends, respected each others' work, and talked about collaborating somehow for a couple of years. Ultimately, I would have rather given her a featured spot, even still, she's all throughout the song kicking ass backing up Mazzali nicely, providing an awesome texture and tone Shai Hulud had never had before. I'm sure she and I will do something again in the future.
"Colder Than the Cold World"
Easily one of my favorite Shai Hulud songs, odd as that may seem. It was written way back in 1998. As we got more progressive we felt it didn't fit well with where we were going. It sat in limbo for years (waiting to be recorded as a Zombie Apocalypse song) until a time when playing something that could be considered "regressive" for Shai Hulud became a progressive move. Not entirely sure why, but we referred to it as the "Killing Time" song for years, mostly because of the heavy, NYHC-influenced breakdown at the end.
"Colder..." is also one of my favorites because I love the lyrics to this song; some of my best, I think. In a nutshell, it's about observing humanity's collective negative, cynical thoughts and behaviors, acknowledging we are not being the best we can be, and how we should rather be thriving by keeping our hearts open and warm. I'm really proud of these lyrics.
For years, I wanted Chaka [Malik] from Burn to do the guest spot at the end of the song—hell, they were actually written for him, his vocal style and cadence in mind. As Burn hadn't been active in a while, I didn't reach out to him, but I will for a future guest spot. Hopefully he'll accept. With Burn in mind, I then thought of Armando [Bordas] from Fahrenheit 451—they covered Burn, and Armando's voice just rules, not to mention he is good friends with Tom [Sheehan] of Indecision who was also to be on this release somewhere; they were going to bang out spots the same day at the same place; unfortunately it didn't pan out.
For the guest spot, I definitely wanted a strong contrast to Matt's voice. That's how Mike Perez of No Bragging Rights came to mind. No Bragging Rights is a killer band who lived in a different scene than Hulud, which I really liked, and Mike's voice was strong and an excellent contrast to Mazzali. I thought having Mike on board representing No Bragging Rights, a band that on the surface is seemingly far removed from us, would add to that rollicking good time I talked about before. As I had become friends with No Bragging Rights' guitar player (Hi, Daniel!), and they as a band had always been so kind and complimentary to us, asking Mike to participate made sense, and was just a fun and cool thing to do. Upon asking Daniel if Mike would be interested, we received an almost immediate positive response, and the rest, as Gene Simmons would say, is KISStory. I'm really happy to have had Mike on board; I hope he can do his part with us live one day.
"How Hates the Heart—Or: The Fucking Silence"
This one, musically, came together quickly, practically no thought at all. Fuck, I love when that happens. And it rarely does. It serves as both a bruiser and a rager fitting in with the release nicely.
Lyrically, I love this one, too, because it hits so close to home. Having been in bands most of my life I've seen and been involved in too many situations where a person decides to cut another off entirely, abandoning all communication leaving no hope or means to remedy whatever the matter is. This is the fucking silence. If you want to hate and choose to hate, you will hate. We humans do that exceptionally well. Very truly the choice is your own. It's unfortunate. Happens far too often. It's bad news for everyone.
Andrew [Neufeld] from Comeback Kid was one of the two people we wanted for guest vocals on this song. Him and Brendan [Murphy] from Counterparts. Brendan wasn't available. Andrew took over and fucking ripped. He added unexpected melodic nuances that were not only cool and clever, but also a first for us. Andrew has a great understanding of what vocal styles work on different parts; he knows what to do and when with no direction. He rules. Comeback Kid rules.
"A Profound Hatred of Man"
If Shai Hulud has a "standard," it's this song. Including it fit within the "hate" theme, and it was the perfect song to reintroduce with a revamped lineup. But... oops.
I asked one of my best friends, Big Chad Neptune [Further Seems Forever, Strongarm], to return for guest vocals here. Chad originally did backup vocals for "A Profound..." in 1997—actually, he did all the backups on Hearts Once Nourished...; I don't think we had anyone else aside from members of the band. We had to have Chad back, and this time he had more of a featured spot. Chad has been instrumental to Shai Hulud in many ways throughout our entire existence. Having him return meant a lot. And it's only fair seeing how we rip off his band, Strongarm, as often as we can, to the best of our pathetically limited ability.
Also, in an impromptu appearance, Ricky [Armellino] from This or the Apocalypse, with whom we tracked some guitars and vocals, jumped in at the end of the song backing Matt up screaming the title of the song. Something about Ricky's voice makes that last bit sound extremely desperate and emotional. Give it a listen; it gives me chills. It adds a deeper emotionality to the song than it has ever had.
"Just Can't Hate Enough" (Sheer Terror)
Not much of an explanation needed here. I love this song, and I love Sheer Terror, and as I said already, this song is really the reason for the EP to begin with. Long live Sheer Terror.
I met Shawna [Potter] from War on Women on tour with Propagandhi. We were all blown away by War on Women, as most people who see them are. I wanted her to appear not only because I love her voice, but I love her hard stance as well. She makes her voice heard and thoughts known; I can't love that enough. Her appearing on a Sheer Terror song makes a statement and creates what I think is a refreshing contrast.
"Just Can't Hate Enough" (A Chorus of Disapproval)
Matt Fletcher and I are huge X Chorus X fans. Myself, I've been covering various A Chorus of Disapproval songs in various bands for years.
We played a fest in Florida that X Chorus X played. I was fucking thrilled to finally see them. Seeing Ike [Isaac Golub], their singer, sitting at their merch table, I just devolved into the quivering fanboy I truly am and introduced myself. I was more excited than I let on when he said he would appear on our version of his band's song. This was no less than two years before we even began recording the EP, like I said, we had the idea for a long time. The cool thing about the delay is that I had Ike texting me regularly asking when it was happening. No big deal, the singer of A Chorus of Disapproval texting me. I told you I'm a fanboy. When the time came to finally record, Ike totally fucking killed it. His appearance is probably the most talked about on the EP. He did a beyond stellar performance, sounding even more furious than he ever has, if you can imagine such a feat. Fucking legend. One of my favorites. And listen past the last song on the EP for an easter egg courtesy of Ike.
"Blaze Some Hate" (Excel)
Excel is one of my all-time favorites ever since I first heard The Joke's on You in 1989. I checked them out because Kreator was always wearing their shirts—this is why I always plaster the bands I love on my chest and guitar. So, obviously, you've got a perfect fit with the "hate" theme again, and it's also a killer song, a secret track on the CD version of The Joke's on You; one of the CD's best. Aside from being a perfect fit, I've wanted to cover this for decades. Awesome we finally got to do it and have it fit in so appropriately. I don't think we had a chance to include any guest vocalists on this one. We did, however, have our backup crew, some good friends of ours: Mark Darnobid, Jeremy Comitas, Jake Collins, Justin Bell, Tom "The Annihilator" Sciro, and some jerkoff who goes by the name of Matt Fox.
"Hate, Myth, Muscle, Etiquette" (Propagandhi)
If you follow Shai Hulud even remotely you know we love Propagandhi. You know why we chose this (hate), but you didn't know it was one of three songs we were picking from, the other two being "Wall of Hate" by Killing Time, and "World Full of Hate" by Sick of it All. We almost didn't go with Propagandhi because it required too much fucking thinking. I hate thinking and avoid it when possible. It hurts. We went with it mostly because it was out of our wheelhouse, making it more fun, so thinks us. We bit the thought bullet and made it work as best we could. I think we did a pretty killer job, personally. Not sure what Propagandhi thinks. Hopefully they don't hate us for it, but they very well might. We'll love them eternally regardless.
Circa 2008, Stick to Your Guns asked us to accompany them on a tour. They named that tour How to Power Clean Everything. I found out their singer, Jesse [Barnett], and I were both massive Propagandhi fans, so when we finally committed to covering this song, he was the absolute first and only choice to ask to join in. Like always, Jesse rips. Him and Mazzali on a song together was a great double fuck.
I think I bored myself to death with all that information you didn't need. If you haven't been bored to death yet, keep reading, only a little bit more to go...
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The more insider info, the better! Okay, moving on, it seems like you've been touring nonstop as of late. How hard is it to keep hitting the road so hard as you get older? What kinds of sacrifices are you making in order to tour so much?
Funny you say that, I hear an equal amount of the time we tour a lot, and we don't tour too much. I hear them both so frequently and equally I don't even know how much we tour.
It's definitely difficult to continue, but maybe not for the reasons you would think. Sure, money is an issue, as it always has been. But, you know, as a 43-year-old man-child, I find it increasingly more difficult to stay on the couch of someone's parents' house. The parents are often not much older than me. I can't deny that has begun to make me feel uncomfortable. But you do what you have to do.
As far as other sacrifices, money, again, as always, and with that, stability as well. That said, I will probably tour in some capacity for the rest of my life, knock on wood. I have no problem with that. At some point, being able to rent hotel rooms after the show will be necessary, otherwise: "Hey, mom, can my 65-year-old friend crash on our couch tonight?" Good grief.
Who is in Shai Hulud in 2016 and where are you based out of?
I guess Shai Hulud will be based out of wherever I live. Right now I live in South Jersey, and have for the past few years. We are a South Florida band, however. That's pretty important to note.
The mainstays of Shai Hulud are myself and Matt Fletcher. Fletcher no longer tours; he does still contribute music and ideas therefore he is "in." My friend Eric Dellon, who sang for us for a year before Misanthropy Pure came out, who also sings and writes music with me in Zombie Apocalypse, has been pretty integral in keeping Shai Hulud alive. I consider him more of a member than some of the fly-by-nighters who jumped on a tour or two and performed badly.
Outside of that core who has been and will always be involved in Shai Hulud, we have a drummer who has been filling in on such a regular and extended basis, I consider him in the band. His name is Moe Watson, a drummer from northern New Jersey. He's involved in many different projects, most notably playing with John Ginty, and also a band called Vagus Nerve featuring Doc Coyle from God Forbid. In addition, he consistently does live and session work. Recently he was featured in a Redman video. Moe has been with us for over a year now, and we've sounded nice and tight with him holding everything down.
For the past couple of tours, Mean Pete of X Bishop X, Ether, and Remembering Never has been filling in on vocals. I've always loved Pete's voice, and he's been involved with us on a peripheral level for over a decade. Even if we do tours without him on vocals, I think it's pretty safe to say you'll find him involved to some degree for years to come.
As far as live bassists and guitar players, we don't have anyone we can say is a committed member. Thankfully the band has many talented friends full of passion for who we are and what we do. They are willing to fill in when they can as often as they can. Only life constraints prevent them from officially joining as a member. We love you, Mark Gumbrecht. You are good gnash.
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I know we've talked about working together for years, but do you have any other projects you're pursuing outside of Shai Hulud as of today?
I'll be talking to you about that soon. But let's leave that on the down-low for now...
Do people still say "down-low?"
Aside from Shit Ha-load, just our side, sister band, Zombie Apocalypse. I think I mentioned we have been working on a new EP. It fucking rips. Hoping to have that out by next year.
What are the misconceptions you think people have about Shai Hulud?
My god, the interwebz isn't big enough...
Off the top of my head, regarding Shai Hulud, specifically, I think we are often thought of as being softer than we are (remember, we're an emo band after all). We do like to create different emotions with melody and progressive structures, we don't encourage the crowd to destroy each other, and our lyrics aim to have depth, meaning, and substance, but the nature of the band is hard and aggressive first and foremost. I've been told, "You're a lot angrier than I originally thought." That may be due to the fact we never pretend to be "hard" as people. Because we're not. That's some goofy nerd shit. And not Star Trek, Planet of the Apes-loving, cool nerd shit, but real dumb-dumb nerd shit. Never mind the fact that I incessantly say "motherfucker" on stage.
I think there are more misconceptions about me, personally. I've heard on more than one occasion, "You're actually really nice. I heard you were an asshole." Additionally, I think some people think I am a lot smarter than I actually am. I'm no smarter than any other person with a below average intelligence. I value intelligence and wisdom greatly, and merely try to be more like what I admire rather than the bumbling nincompoop that I am in actuality.
And I don't practice guitar multiple hours a day. I don't even practice guitar multiple hours a year.
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You're a huge Metallica fan. If you had to pick one song from the band that you think deserves a bit more recognition, what would it be and why? What else would I ask as the last question with you?
Tough question! But why should the last question be any different than the 75 that preceded... Just teasing, love.
I don't think there are any songs from Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets that aren't already highly-recognized and lauded. If I were to pick one from said albums, I'd probably pick both the instrumentals, "The Call of Ktulu" and "Orion," respectively. But like I said, I don't think any of the songs on either album goes too unsung. I'd probably pick something off of Metallica. Strange, right? I know it sold a dicktrillion, but still, it seems to be equally disparaged as well, particularly by people my age. I should know, I was one of the disparagers for a full decade until I saw the light. You, too, can see the light.
I'll go with "Of Wolf and Man." It's such a killer song with classic riffs à la Hetfield. And, holy shit, it's about werewolves. Fucking werewolves! I think that's exceptionally cool. Great song, and a great album that's unfairly run through the mud by as many—if not more—detractors as those who give it deserved accolades.
Head to Shai Hulud's official website for more info on the band.
Tagged: hardcore, interview, metal, shai hulud, zombie apocalypse