Unspoken: An interview with Phillip Cope of Kylessa

Through the years, Kylesa has grown in leaps and bounds as measured by each of their successive recordings.  With Spiral Shadow, released 2010, the band focused their chimerical energies and ascended to new heights, satisfying long-time fans and achieving a broader recognition at the same time.   It’s been almost three years, but the time has nearly come.  The Bone Reader speaks with Kylesa’s wide-eyed visionary, Phillip Cope, on the eve of their of their upcoming release, Ultraviolet.

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TBR: First off, thanks for making the time to do this. Needless to say, I’m excited to talk about the new album, Ultraviolet, but first, I’d like to set the table and hear about what’s lead up to it. To my ear, Kylesa has always been, among other things, a vehicle for reflection on life. If we can agree that there are lessons to be learned through life and the creative process, what would you say that the Spiral Shadow taught you personally and collectively as a band?

Phillip Cope:  The main thing I think it taught us and myself as a songwriter was to to trust our guts a bit more. We weren’t certain if we were pushing too far away from what we had done in the past but we went with it anyways which at the time was a risk because it was coming right off of Static Tensions which had been pretty successful for us.

TBR: You also released From The Vault, Vol. 1 a few months back which gives a great . What was it like going through your back catalogue? Did you have a clear idea of what was lurking there or were there any unexpected trips down memory lane waiting for you? 

Phillip Cope:  It was fun and interesting, I had an idea what was there but it had been a long time since we checked a lot of the older stuff out. It was cool to kind of have an overview of our progression, it was obvious listening to older stuff, even though we were trying our best at the time we still had a ways to go.

One funny story that comes to mind is about the song “Inverse”. When we originally started working on the song, another bandmate put the idea in my head that it sounded too much like some sort of redneck mosh metal, and I can remember getting some laughs from that.  As a joke, I recorded some terrible vocals over it and was going to try to convince everyone I was serious, but I think I ended up only letting Carl hear it for a laugh, but anyways going back to it, I realized that it could be a decent song and maybe we should finish it.  I just didn’t do much vocals on it.  Haha!

 

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TBR: It’s been said that lyrically or thematically, Ultraviolet touches on places that are a bit “colder and darker” than your previous work and a sense of loss. How did you guys arrive at that sort of place as a basis for the songwriting? Was it inspired by goings-on in your own lives, observations about the world around you or just a spontaneous creative impulse? 

Phillip Cope:  I think all the above.  We used personal experiances as a basis for lyrics, but we try to write in a way that others can relate to, I think a lot of what we write about is just part of the human experience and are things that everyone no matter what their background will have to face or go through at some point in their lives. Musically there was both planned out and spontaneous moments.

TBR: It’s always struck me that Kylesa has an interesting balance between having a very spontaneous, “jam band” kind of feel and also having a very thoughtful, deliberate nature. If that’s true, how has that aspect of things evolved over the course of writing Ultraviolet? 

Phillip Cope:  The thing is we don’t have a particular way we write songs, sometimes songs can be jammed out, and sometimes they can have a deliberate way that it has been written and other times it can start with just one persons idea.  In most cases however at least Laura, Carl, and I have all added something to the songs by the time they are done.

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TBR: Once again, you took the helm in producing Ultraviolet. Although the guitars, drums and other instruments are up-front in the mix with Kylesa, you also seem to use the studio as an instrument at points and places. Do you really enjoy the recording process or is it just a means to an end? Would you say that there’s more of this sort of thing with Ultraviolet or it is more consistent with what we’ve heard in the past?

Phillip Cope:  I really enjoy the recording process and I definitely see it as another way to be creative.  With Ultraviolet we didn’t hold back on that end because over time we have learned that we can usually find a way live to recreate most of the ideas that pop up in the studio.

TBR: I’ve only heard the first two tracks, but in spite of the title and the aforementioned warning about going into deeper waters on this album, “Quicksand” actually feels quite upbeat. Some deeper sort of contrast or ironic contraction?

Phillip Cope:  Neither really, It was kind of interesting the way it came out, originally I had written the song on keyboards and it had a much darker vibe, I asked Eric to jam to it and try to find a bass line.  He laid down a few and Jay (Jam Room) and I went through it and kind of edited it into what became the main melody.  I liked it a lot so we took the low end out of his bass track which also had a chorus and octafuzz on it which helped give it more of a guitar sound.  Then Jay – who happens to be a great bass player as well – added some extra bass for low end and I just put down some extra guitar tracks over it to thicken up the melody parts.  Then on the other riffs put down a bunch of theremin as well.  The keyboard tracks ended up being pushed back very low in the mix and the song ended up with a completely different vibe.

Laura put down what is probably lyrically some of the darkest stuff on the album.  Her lyrics were based off a recurring dream she was having on tour and I think it fit the song perfectly.  Even though the song sounds a bit poppy, her vocals help keep it grounded to the overall vibe of the album. We really weren’t thinking Smashing Pumpkins as a lot of people have suggested, but I totally can see some resemblance now, and it certainly doesn’t bother us as we are fans of theirs.

 

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TBR: Realizing that all of a writer’s songs are like their children, do you have a particular song that you particularly enjoy or want to call our attention to when we get our mitts on the album?

Phillip Cope:  I am real happy with how “Low Tide” came out.  That was real personal to me and a bit different than what we normally do.

TBR: What sort of things inspire you most – either as it relates to the songwriting on Ultraviolet or in a more general sense. Are you much of a reader and if so, please let us know what you’ve been reading these days.

Phillip Cope:  All kind of things inspire me.  When it comes to writing music, mainly it is just living life.  I do read a lot, but what, depends on how much I have going on.  Right now I am super busy, so it’s been light reading.  I have been enjoying Rue Morgue’s “200 Alternative Horror Films You Need to See”.

TBR: One of the things that interests me most about the bands that I love is the chemistry between the members. With Kylesa, it’s really interesting given the configuration of the band – two different vocalists and guitarists between you and Laura, two drummers, a keyboard player…  Obviously, being the end result, the music is the most important but I’m dying to know more about the personalities and how they interact. First, in terms of the songwriting as well as the personal aspect, tell me a bit about the relationship between you and Laura?

Phillip Cope:  Well, Laura and I were friends before we started Kylesa and we used to just jam for fun.  When Damad ended, I knew her and I had a good musical chemistry already so it made sense for us to start a band together.  We both have our own ideas about things but in the end we work together to make those ideas turn into a whole, which is Kylesa.  One thing over the years I have found interesting is that when it comes to lyrics, Laura and I have always been on the same page.  I can tell her an idea I have and she will be thinking the same thing as well, and vice versa.

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TBR: Drummer jokes are at the heart of what rock and roll band is all about, but in all seriousness, I’m hear about how it works between two drummers – creatively as well as the two personalities. Does one take more of a lead role in writing/tracking the song? How is the work shared?

Phillip Cope:  Carl is Kylesa’s main drummer and he helps Laura and I out with structuring some songs as well.  He has been doing the double drumming thing for awhile so he is good at both giving space for the other drummer to play with him and also at times coming up with both parts himself.  Eric has also gotten good at coming up with his own parts as well.  On Ultraviolet they actually did some songs each where they played both kits by themselves coming up with both their own drum parts.

TBR: In doing a bit of research leading up to the interview, I was surprised to learn that longstanding member Corey Barhorst (bass/keys) is no longer with the band. Hopefully, all is well… Was he involved with the writing of Ultraviolet before his departure?

Phillip Cope:  He has a history of being on and off with us. He didn’t play on the first album but he was on TWAMC and TWFIW but wasn’t on Static Tensions, and then he came back and was on Spiral Shadow.  Confusing!  Haha!  He has been gone again for awhile and didn’t have anything to do with Ultraviolet.

TBR: You’re often credited as one of the driving forces in the band from a creative aspect, but it seems like a pretty open creative environment in the band. I’m curious to know if there isn’t a member who’s somehow acts as a sort of catalyst or “secret weapon” during the creative process and if so, how their contributions are felt.

Phillip Cope:  I think one of the interesting things about Ultraviolet was that everyone in the band at some point was a secret weapon and could be a surprise at anytime. Laura surprised me with her bass playing, Carl surprised me with his incredible speed at improvising, Eric surprised me with his guitar playing and I think I surprised everyone with my synth playing.  Also Jay at the Jam room and the rest of the staff came up with some great ideas.

On this record everyone in Kylesa played at least more than one instrument and everyone had plenty of ideas. I was given the roll of Producer which in a lot of ways I acted more as a Director.  Somebody had to watch over everything that was being thrown out there and worked on.  I had to make sure it got put together in a way that made sense.  I did some engineering but over the whole process we had four different engineers come in and help – Jay being the main one – and of course I had input from everyone in the band especially Laura.  However inevitably somebody had to be in charge and control the chaos.  Haha!  To sum it up, I think we had a lot of secret weapons.

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TBR: Even where Kylesa has a very different sound, your delivery as a vocalist can be pretty forceful and sometimes take me back to other vocalists in punk or hardcore that I enjoy. I’m pretty certain that you’ve got some roots down in those areas. Can you shed some light on the influence of punk rock in your life? 

Phillip Cope:  Punk and hardcore has been a huge influence on me over the years especially early on – playing in bands, booking shows etc.  however, the biggest (influence) would be lyrically.  When I was younger, I could relate more to lyrics that had an honest real approach, rather than fantasy or fiction.

TBR: As a former studio rat, I can’t help but go back to a few questions about the recording process on Ultraviolet. Were there any particular songs that you’re especially satisfied with from a recording standpoint and if so, why?

Phillip Cope:  I am happy how Unspoken came out, recording-wise. I think there are some cool tones on that one and Grounded as well.  There is some pretty crazy stuff going on in that song!  Guitar solo verse thermin solo etc.  It was a hard one to mix but I think it sounds pretty weird in a good way.  Haha!

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TBR: Were there any particular pieces of kit that were especially useful or reliable through the recording process? The mixing desk, new guitars, outboard gear or effects? 

Phillip Cope:  I guess the work horse of the recording was an older SM7 mic.  We used that on a lot of things.  There are plenty of mics available at the Jam Room, but I dig that particular one a lot.  Also pedal wise I used the Neunabar Chroma Chorus and Wet Reverb the most out of all the pedals I have.

TBR: Last question: Are you guys ready for it to blow up big with Kylesa? My hunch is that you’re on the brink.

Phillip Cope:  People have been saying that to us for years now, but that is not our main concern at all.  If it happens I’m sure we wouldn’t complain much.  Haha!

Laura and I have always looked at the band like we are trying to run a marathon.  Our goal has been to keep the band going for the long run.  Bands we really look up to are the ones that have managed to hold on to long careers and stay interesting creatively.  Bands like the Melvins or Neurosis, for example.  They have been around for a really long time and continue to put out good records no matter what the musical climate has been.

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Kylesa’s Ultraviolet will be released May 28th on Season Of Mist
CLICK HERE TO PRE-ORDER!

Special thanks to Hugo Redriguez for his amazing photographs

http://arte-factos.net