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Interview: Shai Hulud – Matt Fox and “Reach Beyond The Sun”

Posted by morganyevans on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 6:28 PM (PST)

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Florida turned Poughkeepsie, NY legendary true meaning of metalcore band Shai Hulud are back with their first music in nearly half a decade. REACH BEYOND THE SUN (Metal Blade) finds the band teeming with life against the odds in a world of naysayers, downcast souls and hate mongers. From the opening, oppressive salvo of “The Mean Spirits, Breathing” to the march of “I, Saturnine” (which morphs into the somber and melodic, heart wrenching yet bold type of riffing Hulud is famous for) to the awe-inspiring “Medicine to the Dead”, this is perhaps destined to be Hulud’s finest hour to date.

That is hard for me to say since I love their old records so much, but Fox and company really knocked it out of the park here. Reuniting with original vocalist Chad Gilbert (New Found Glory) to produce a magnum opus, they nailed it. This is maybe the apotheosis of their lengthy and storied history of examining the demonic and corrupt tendencies of human kind contrasted to hope, courage and dedication. Let’s face it, the headlines from around the world make at least a plausible case for pessimism, but the music of Hulud is a vital way to retain lucid focus and demand better from life, remembering potential.

I talked at length with my friend Matt Fox about the new record, looking for a permanent vocalist, gang vocals, Rev 25 and the awesome power of Chain Of Strength, which Anthrax singer we each prefer and much more. Click HERE to Reach Beyond The Sun!

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What are you up to tonight, man? You said you were working with a vocalist? 

Matt Fox: We don’t have a singer so I have a fill in. He and I were working out some of the parts he’s having trouble with. Never a dull moment. Can you believe? How long have I known you now and the shit has never changed. We have changed many vocalists.

You keep going, though. That’s what’s important.

The band has plenty of life in it. I have tons of new ideas for songs and everything, but I don’t wanna keep showing new people the same thing. We’ve gotta get to the point where we find somebody who will stay with the band.

It’s gotta be really frustrating.

I’m still pushing forward. There’s gotta be some point where something has to work.

You have to find the right voice for the band’s sound, also. I think it is amazing work in that despite different singers on your various releases, the albums still sound coherent. 

I think so. It’s a very specific voice we want that’s simply not as popular today as it was. It still sounds good but it’s just not the voice that most people active in the hardcore scene are doing. Times change. It makes it tougher but we keep going.

Who is filling in for you now?

My friend Justin (Krauss). He sings in a band called With Life In Mind. We played a show with them and became friends. We needed some back ups done on the record and he did a lot of them. As we were doing them his voice was awesome. I always kept him in mind and when it turned out we didn’t have anyone to do some shows he was the first person I thought to ask. He is committed to another band and it is important to him. He is considering trying to make both work because he loves Hulud. We have a lot of stuff lined up and he wants to get out there and live a tour life. He wants to do it. He’s thinking about what he can do, so we’ll see. He’s not used to some of the rhythms. He likes the songs but it’s totally removed from the style of music that his band plays. That’s also a factor. We’re working it out. First we’ll get through these shows and see how they go.

It’s funny you were just talking about different singers. While I was waiting for your call I was just looking at footage of John Bush doing “The Four Horseman” with Metallica on Youtube. I guess James Hetfield originally wanted him to sing it before James thought he was good enough to sing himself. I am bugging out because I just found out Antrax is covering Journey’s “Keep On Runnin”. I think that will actually be good with Joey Belladonna’s voice. I have just been going through which vocalist I like better in Anthrax and I think I like John better but I can’t decide.

I don’t know who is a better singer, John or Joey. I can tell you that the music they did with John was a hell of a lot weaker, so it is really hard for me to say that I like him better because I wasn’t so in to what they did with him. What little I’ve heard of it, none of it ever hit me the same way. I feel bad saying that.

He sounds best on the live stuff where he is singing all eras of the band, though. I really just like his energy and vocal tone. 

We actually played with them in Italy over five years ago. John Bush was singing and he did the old stuff. He was killing it. I did not miss Joey. They did “Metal Thrashing Mad” which of course was Neil Turbin. They did a lot of AMONG THE LIVING STUFF. I think John is a pretty awesome singer but again, the stuff they did together never really hit me.

That was a tangent and my fault, but let’s get into Hulud! I was listening to the title track online and it sounds so great. You worked with Chad again. That must’ve been rewarding to work together again after many years.

The funny thing is, I said this before in some interviews, but…the last time I did anything creatively with Chad he was a kid. He joined the band when he was 15 years old! The last time I was in the studio with him he was 18. Now, he’s a man. He has been in a successful band and produced successful albums. He has his own thoughts and ideas and they are good ideas. Sometimes we disagreed, like everyone does, but he was interesting to work with again as someone I knew as a young kid. It was interesting to hear his ideas of what he thinks works and doesn’t work. He’s in his thirties now. He leans towards making things catchier and cohesive. I lean towards making things weirder and progressive. It was a tug of war.

We hit a really good point somewhere in the middle where we could keep the progressive nature of Hulud but maybe be a little more digestible than they have been in recent years. When left to my own devices or especially when paired with someone who likes the progressive side like I do, put me in that situation and you are giving me free reign to be as weird and crazy as I want. We should always maintain our progressive nature but I can take it too far. I listen back to certain songs on some albums and I simply don’t even know what we’re playing! (laughs)

“I don’t understand what’s happening. What the fuck did we do?” Working with Chad and our bass player Matt Fletcher feeling we went too far on MISANTHROPY PURE, those two things helped keep us in check. We created an album that is comprehensive after less than three million listens.

The title track feels like it is, not so much streamlined, but it has elements of stuff you’ve done over the years but it sounds new at the same time. You get to the awesome, massive bridge riff…I thought you must have been psyched when you pulled that part off. 

I was! That was one of the first things I wrote for the new album. That may have been the first thing I wrote. I love to take advice but sometimes when I am certain of something I go with it. Some people I showed it to said ,”Oh, I don’t know about that.” I was playing around with it and I harmonized it. I thought it was incredible. When people heard it all done with the vocals and everything they said ,”Pretty good call. That was awesome.” Y’know? (laughing) So I was really excited. Fletcher said to me it sounded like a hardcore version of Megadeth! If you say that to me…Fuck yeah! I’m in.

I wanted to ask you about the album title. I was thinking about the great “Four Earths” from the last record and how it had a sci-fi thing going on. This does a little bit in look and the title could be interpreted that way as well. If you kind of dig into it a bit it also has this feeling…like the “A spark can reignite the sun” lyric. It seems like similar Hulud themes of the past how passion and drive can get you through bullshit. I was thinking of recent events like The Arab Spring where people started protesting around the world, or Occupy. There had been a lot of apathy in world protests for some time, at least what was being reported. It seems like lately things have kicked up a notch again. I was wondering your thoughts?

I agree that we talk and write about what we write about. the topics never change. There are a lot of new elements on this record. The core of my personality and what I want to put to music, those are my thoughts and beliefs on things. Typically they are how people interact with each other. That’s always gonna be there. If we totally changed people would think ,”Aww, really”? We’ll always maintain that. That is what Hulud’s about. No need to change it. You’re also right. There is a story aspect to it. That wasn’t even the intention but it came out that way.

On a side note, I’m rarely in control of my ideas. I have an idea and it pulls me where it wants to go. I wish I was the kind of guy where I could write stuff and force it into the manner I want but more often than not I have an idea and it will warp and change and take me along with it. I have to help it grow. In regards to the story aspect, “Reach Beyond The Sun” stems from the idea that the Sun has been blackened by human misery. The second song is called “I, Saturnine”. It is a wanderer acknowledging his situation. “I am around crazy people. Miserable people. Murderous people.” The direct line in the song is ,” Misery has blackened the sun.” ShaiHulud-ReachBeyondTheSun

So the idea that the collection of human misery, just like you can pollute the sky, human misery polluted the sun. Instead of shining down brightly it now is sending down despondence. At the end of “I, Saturnine” after the man or woman acknowledges their situation they decide they don’t want to live like that. It is a prelude to the title track and then that’s where the idea of “Reach Beyond The Sun” comes from. He or she is now saying that you can re-ignite and not live that way. That’s where the prior Hulud themes come into play. It was a happy accident. It pulls me along and then I think,”Ahh, now I can do this.”

Isn’t that cool when that happens?

Yeah. I really admire anyone that is in control, a comic book writer like Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore. You read Sandman or you read Watchmen and you think, “Ok, he was in control the whole time.” It might not be true but the story seems so laid out and perfect. Whether that is true, again, I don’t know. I have never been able to write like that.

I have tried to use outlines before but it ends up feeling like homework. I wish I could, when I write fiction or whatever. Instead, I agree, it has to be a discovery process.

Yeah. I’m not complaining. I’m ok with it, but it must be interesting to operate otherwise! I wonder what it must be like. That takes deep intelligence. I tend to go into everything blind. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing! Here we go”!

How was it playing Rev 25? I was at the Chain of Strength/Sick Of It All show, so I missed your night. I thought the lady I am with was going to get killed that night from trying to take pictures during all the insane stage diving. But, yeah…how was your experience playing that?! 

It was awesome, man. We’re about to go on the Soundwave tour. Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Sick Of It All. That’s fucking crazy. If you would have told me at 13 years old or sixteen or seventeen when I discovered Sick Of It All that I would be doing a tour like that or be friends with Sick Of It All, I would have never believed it. Where am I going with this? Oh, Rev 25…having the opportunity to share events with Sick Of It All and having been friends with them for almost ten years, that’s still incredible. And Chain Of Strength, I thought that was an untouchable thing that I would never see. There are some bands you think one day you might have an opportunity to see. Danzig with most of the Misfits did the Legacy Tour, for example. Essentially it was the Misfits. That would’ve been cool for me, but I got to see Chain Of Strength! It was one of those bands on another level and they were never coming back…but they did. I don’t know if anyone was as excited about it as I was. Not even that they were playing but that they were coming back. Getting asked to play with them was awesome. The night I saw them they were completely on it.

Everyone always talks about Chain Of Strength…I’ve been hearing it for years. “Aww, those guys aren’t straightedge now and weren’t even really when they were playing.” I don’t know if that is true and I didn’t give a shit. When they were onstage, everything they said in the moment was as real as fuck. What they did five minutes before or after the show, whether have a can of coke or snort a line…onstage it was Chain Of Strength and they delivered it as passionately as they ever had. It was awesome. I’m actually wearing my Chain Of Strength beanie that I bought that night! IF they aren’t straightedge, who fucking cares. They gave me something I never thought I’d be able to experience live. That’s what they shared with me, something totally legit. To see a poster that says Chain Of Strength, Sick Of It All, Shai Hulud…that was unreal. Holy fuck! Really, really cool. What a great night that was.

People have different paths in life and hopefully no matter what it can be positive. It is important to have dialogue and not point fingers as much. If people are open minded lifestyles can gravitate to a more healthy direction overall, you would hope. I like what you said. 

That would be nice. To segue-way into the whole straightedge thing, I’ve never done anything my whole life. I drank when I was 13 or 14, I mean, I tried a couple wine coolers and tasted a beer or two. I have never been drink. I have a problem with addiction like everybody else. I over eat. I over sleep. I over jerk off. I over watch TV. Y’know, I have my vices like anybody else does, but mine are luckily less degenerative. Relating it to art, there is the straight edge slogan “If you’re not now, you never were”. I do understand where that’s coming from, but despite the fact I understand it doesn’t take away any sincere things that you did. That was a big item of contention when Chain Of Strength was coming back. People said ,”Really? Over the hill SXE guys coming back who aren’t edge anymore, singing straightedge songs? No thank you.” Once again, when they sang those songs, nothing else mattered. Maybe if I knew them personally and knew them intimately, it would be different. I don’t mean fooling around with them…

Wow, you are a fan. Just kidding.

Yeah, you know I am now. Chain Of Strength, if you are reading this I have no interest in fooling around with you. Not that you aren’t all very attractive gentleman. If I knew any of them closely and saw them smoking crack before a show and then get on stage and sing an epic straight edge song, maybe it would be different. I think everyone’s relationship to an artist is their own dynamic. Purely as fans, I don’t think there was one person in the crowd who wasn’t totally thrilled and totally sold the whole night.

Talking about people you DO know well, let’s discuss all the guests on the record? Did you just have bros hanging out or people you invited specifically?

As always I can’t just do a straight answer and have to give you a story. Shai Hulud has always, always wanted humongous back ups on our albums. We come from the hardcore scene and just like everybody in hardcore we love gang vocals. We just never had the time because of small budgets or we never went in prepared. Because Chad was involved, he was really bent on us getting the gang vocals we needed. In fact, it was a miscalculation on my part because he said,”Hey man, all the guys from Terror are coming in and can do gang vocals.” I thought it wasn’t a good idea and we had to be finished in a week and could always do gang vocals anywhere. Chad pushed that it was important and we had to do them. I thought it made no sense to focus on gang vocals before guitars were done. He put his foot down. Not in an aggressive way, but “this is what we’re doing.” He was right.

The gang vocals came out awesome. As far as who did it, I know the Terror guys. Chad is from California and is good friends with them. They hang out on a regular basis. So them being Terror and sounding what they sound like, he said those were the guys we needed to do the backups. What they did was fantastic. He also brought in the singer of Alpa & Omega, who I’d never met. I always thought the band was cool but I’d never met them. He came in to do gang vocals and his own part.

I brought some of my friends. I knew from the very outset I wanted Jay Pepito from Reign Supreme on there. I love his voice. The demo version of the song he did, I fucking loved it. I said ,”Ok. This is your work. We’re gonna give you this part.” The part he does was written specifically for him. It was cool because sometimes you hear a writer…Tarantino wrote a part for an actor who ended up playing it. This is the closest I’ll get to that. And…we were friends with The Ghost Inside from years ago, before they had the success that they had. I have always loved John Vigil as a person and extremely respect his views and his purpose for music and making that band. Unless I’m mistaken, he wants to inspire and make a difference. That’s what we always wanted so having him on the record was a no brainer.

Justin from With Life In Mind was a happy accident. He was friends with a friend of mine from Jersey and I needed someone to help texture vocals and my friend suggested him. He ended up all over the record. First and foremost is Chad. usually on all our records the secondary to the singer is me. I didn’t even do one back up on the album, thankfully. Justin started doing it and he sounded great. He’s all over it, so it worked out great.

Sean Paul, our friend…this is what I was trying to tell Chad back when we were gonna track gang vocals over guitars, I told Chad I had a friend Sean Paul (Pillswoth) back in Poughkeepsie that could do gang vocals. Chad ended up doing it out there and I am glad we did because it came out great but there were still parts we needed to finish. I went to Sean Paul, who is in the band Nightmares For A Week, as you know. He engineerd the rest of the back ups and had one of the best voices out of the bunch. Sean is extremely talented and his voice, especially from being a pop-punk/indie rock guy, had such a strong scream. So, we had a bunch of people all over this thing and I am really happy about it. I think it’s great to finally have the gang vocals we always wanted.

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What do you feel about hardcore and metal today? I have seen you work hard over the years and to be frank, you’ve had a big impact on kid’s lives. As grim as you get sometimes, there is also encouraging messages. The same as a band like Hatebreed. A lot of their songs are ,”Motivate yourself through all this shit” type songs. “I Will Be Heard.”

You nailed it, right there. There are bands that say things aren’t that bad. That’s rarely my approach. Mine is saying ,”Yeah, this shit fucking sucks”! That’s what “Saturnine” means, sluggish and gloomy. Humanity is fucked, but that said, it doesn’t have to kill your spirit. Relating it to our new song “A Human Failing”, one of the lyrics is ,”a human failing let’s its’ heart die”. That’s what it is. I love realism. I hate blind optimism. Being optimistic is great. You need it to keep your spirit alive. This band is never about giving up hope. That’s Hatebreed, too. Not saying we’re one and the same but it’s a similar theme we have. It’s not saying it’s not as dark as you think it is. It might be fucking darker than you think it is! The point is to create hope where there is none and stay in control as best you can.

I hope it’s not totally foreign for me to mention Woody Allen. He feels life is pretty bleak and miserable. There’s an interview he did that I saw where he is an atheist and is talking about how the Universal Toilet will flush and everything is gone. All of Shakespeare. All of humanity. Martin Luther King. The most important woman. The greatest music. Mozart. For me, Metallica. It will all be gone. The purpose of life is meaningless, in his words. But he feels it is the artist’s purpose to create hope in a hopeless universe. You can’t live out your life being miserable or it is a waste of your life. That’s the approach I take. Stay realistic and still be hopeful. Be strong more than optimistic.

That’s a good choice of words. I’m a big fan of the Irish band Primordial. They get lumped in with folk and Pagan metal a lot but they aren’t really into metal as escapism or unicorns and shit. I love power metal too, but for them it should be more about realism. They talk about religious persecution or imperialism or atheism. Telling stories so people can’t deny the truths of history, I’d wager. I listen to them and it makes you feel strong. You guys have that also. You can pick yourself from the mud and dust yourself off.

It’s funny you say that because it is the cover art of REACH BEYOND THE SUN.That hand is rising up. “Upon lamentation I reconsider my manner to exist among this chaos.” That’s a person not neccesarilly hopeful or optimistic but he rises out of the mud when there is absolutely no reason to. If there is nothing here redeemable, what do you have to do. Inner-strength. Reach beyond the sun.

 

XXX

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4 Comments

  1. magic_jon3/19/2013 6:39 PM | Permalink

    I kinda wish Chad had taken a bit more of a back seat with things though, Misanthropy Pure is such a good album because of how far they push the boundaries of what they can do. Its a shame to see such creativity reigned in for the sake of making things more ‘catchy’. I still love the new album though so its just a minor criticism.

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