It’s hard to believe that Savannah, Georgia’s Kylesa have been recording music and playing live for close to 15 years now. The band is on the verge of releasing their 7th studio album this fall, and while they would never peg themselves as champions of a single genre, they are promising to deliver a heavy record to their loyal fans for this one. The road to their next release includes one very important stop on the West Coast for an exclusive live performance. Kylesa has joined 50 other bands from around the world to play Thief Presents Psycho California from May 15-17. We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Laura Pleasants to discuss the new album, what to look forward to at the music festival this weekend, and how two Kylesa albums completely changed her life.
Rabbits Black: Get us caught up with the world of Kylesa right now. How is the new record coming along?
Laura Pleasants: Yeah, we are in the studio now. We’re recording and its going well, so that has pretty much consumed my life for the past few months.
Rabbits Black: Is there a different approach to recording this album compared to your last release, Ultraviolet, in 2013?
Laura Pleasants: There’s a little more cohesiveness with this record, but of course Phillip and I wrote all the songs. We had Jay Hugh as an old friend and owner of the Jam Room playing a lot of bass on the record, he’s a great bass player and he’s got this old school playing style that fits with us fairly well, so its just more focused in that way because its just us doing it you know. It seems heavier… that’s like the main difference I think, musically its a little heavier than the previous record. All the elements of Kylesa are there… the psychedelic element is definitely there, the heavy sludge element is there, there’s some metal moments and its heavy and it sounds good. I think the songs overall are probably stronger as an album than Ultraviolet, so that’s good.
Rabbits Black: Your approach to the new album is very similar to how we approach Psycho California and booking the festival- we want to be able to touch many genres with what we do. Did the band go into recording with this mindset of not sticking to a specific type of heavy music for this record?
Laura Pleasants: Generally with us, there’s kind of an unspoken chemistry and just because we’ve been playing together for so long, it just kind of happened that both Phillip and I were writing heavier material. It just organically happened, we definitely did not say hey let’s do this, all of our records generally come about in an organic way where we just write songs and we start to get them together and formulate our ideas and it generally comes out of what’s been going on in our lives personally and what we’ve been really into artistically and creatively, what we’ve been listening to. I don’t want to ‘kiss you ass’ or anything but the festival was like the perfect festival aesthetically for our band because… just the aspects of heavy music… Doom, Sludge, Psychedelic Rock… and more like Hard Rock, Stoner Rock… all of those sounds were a part of Kylesa so its just an appropriate fest for us to play because we incorporate all of those sounds into our band.
Rabbits Black: We think Kylesa is the perfect fit for what we are trying to achieve with Psycho California as well.
Laura Pleasants: It’s really great especially for a band like us because we’ve played — maybe not in the United States but especially in Europe — we’ve played at so many different kinds of festivals from like really mainstream poppy kinds of fests to very, very, very metal or hardcore to Psychedelic fests and we’re always a little different than the majority of the bands. There’s really only a handful of fests out there that cater to… just kind of heavy music but not pigeon holed, you know, into strictly doom or metal or whatever. Kudos for that.
Rabbits Black: Have you gotten a good response from your fanbase and followers after announcing that you were playing Psycho California?
Laura Pleasants: Yeah, just my friends alone were freaking out, they were like ,”oh man I really want to go out there”. And its cool because I think with us, we don’t have anything else booked around that time, so I think I’m going to just go out there for the whole thing (laughing) and enjoy. It’s been a while since I’ve spent some time in Southern California so I’ think I’m just going to go for it.
Rabbits Black: This is the only concert date that Kylesa currently has booked. Will you be going on tour this year to support the new album?
Laura Pleasants: We’re doing the record on Season of Mist and they want to do it in the Fall. They generally don’t like to do summer releases because they’re based in France and everyone in Europe in the summer is on vacation and its typically not a great time to release a record. So they want to do it in the fall which is fine by us, so we’re going to lay kind of low on the touring circuit until that record comes out. So the Southern California show for us will be our only appearance out West until after our record comes out sometime in the Fall.
Rabbits Black: As you know, we have over 50 bands coming out to Psycho California from around the world. Are there any bands that you particularly have zeroed in on and want to see play this weekend?
Laura Pleasants: Yeah its very cool, it kind of reminds me line-up wise like Hell Fest in France. Every time I go there its like a family reunion of some sort, I see a bunch of people I know and have played with, and I see a bunch of bands I wanted to see, so its kind of similar as far as the more underground bands. I’ve never seen OM so I’m looking forward to that very much… and BANG! That should be amazing. I saw that and I was like no shit, wow. Those records are old! SubRosa is really good. I’ve never seen Cough, I like Pallbearer… actually I like all of these bands! It’s going to be fun, just hanging out and seeing all of these bands.
Rabbits Black: When you are not recording or performing as Kylesa or being a fan of the music in general, you also run and operate your own music label, ‘Retro Futurist’. How involved are you in the record label on a daily basis?
Laura Pleasants: Very involved, its Kylesa’s label. Its me, Phillip and Carl, who run the label and we do everything, so very involved. Its definitely a labor of love, we started officially last January of 2014… and we’ve got a lot of great upcoming releases for this year, the big trick has been scheduling it all out because it takes forever for vinyl to come out these days. So scheduling has been a challenge but we’re excited about it you know, its been fun to do and I think it has potential to grow, its very time consuming but its been fun.
Rabbits Black: It’s clear that you definitely went out a recruited bands from various genres and regions of the world.
Laura Pleasants: Yeah, see we’re just fans of music you know and especially underground music, whether its Heavy Metal, Punk, Indie Rock, Psychedelic Rock, whatever… we kind of love it all and so we didn’t want to just do a Metal label or a rock label, we really just wanted to do a label with bands that we like artistically and aesthetically. We’ve worked with some friends and we’ve worked with some people that we don’t know and you know of course we become friends. But yeah we have bands like Lazer/Wulf which is a crazy instrumental metal trio to Wet Socks which is like garage punk, and Sierra who are from Canada and they’re like Hard Rock, Stoner Rock bands and we just signed this band Niche from Savannah, Corey used to play bass with us, use to play keys in that band and they sound like a mix of Steely Dan, Thin Lizzy and Pink Floyd (laughing) its very 70s Rock and its great and Caustic Casanova from DC they’ve got their own kind of unique sound going.
Rabbits Black: Caustic Casanova has put out some interesting material already. It’s chaotic stuff! Reminds me a lot of Horse the Band actually, you really don’t know which way their songs are going to break.
Laura Pleasants: Yeah they’re cool, I’ve seen them a couple of times, they opened for us at a show somewhere in Virginia a couple years ago, that’s basically how we found that band and met them and they gave us their first record and we’ve just been in touch with them. We wanted to work with them and they were really stoked about it. They played in Savannah with Wet Socks, they stayed at my house and we just listened to a lot of music and they’re just as excited about music as I am. Its fun to work with those kinds of people and they’re a little younger so being kind of an elder statesman on the scene. It’s cool to work younger people who are excited and have that excitement and energy when you’re starting out as a band. I certainly remember what that was like.
Rabbits Black: Hard to believe, but Kylesa is sort of an elder statesmen in this scene now. Is there any specific advice that you find yourself giving to new bands and artists when you work with them?
Laura Pleasants: Yeah definitely, a word of advice is to get your business end taken care of and to think straight from the get go, because it gets to be a fucking nightmare if you don’t. When I started I was still in college, I was like yeah I will do this band for a few years and I’ll get a real job. So I never really thought about it as a business and just kind of rolled with it and that’s kind of how we rolled for a few years. Had we known what we know now then I think things would’ve been more streamlined, so I definitely tell bands to get their business end of things straight from the get go. It will make their lives easier down the road. Also, as far as advice, just about sticking to your guns and keeping to your vision and to HAVE a vision. A lot of bands I’ve run into I’ve seen copying other bands and that isn’t going to be good for you in the long run you know. They might be hot for those couple of years that whatever they’re copying is in style, but in the long run its best to have your own unique vision and I think that’s key to Retro Futurist as well is when we sign bands and work with bands they either already have their own vision or are working closer on a vision.
Rabbits Black: Is having that vision an important aspect that you recruit for on Retro Futurist?
Laura Pleasants: Yeah I don’t want to sign a band that sounds like some other band. They have to have some sort of originality or like a band like Sierra, for example they’re very young, they’re like 21 years old and they put out a very promising first LP you know, its hard rock, its got some grungy star rock elements to it too and while its not like the most original thing you’ve heard in your life, these guys are 21 years old, they’re going to put out a stunningly good record. You can see the potential.
Rabbits Black: There’s room to grow of course and especially with someone like you as mentors. I think that’s really an amazing position for a band like that to be in.
Laura Pleasants: Yeah and that’s not very common. I mean you know everything ‘has been done’, so it’s difficult to have your own vision but I think it’s very important as an artist to have that, that’s what has kept Kylesa going. Its because I think we’ve always had a unique vision and it’s been ours you know. I mean I know if I were starting out, in my early 20s, if had an older band giving me advice, I’d be pretty stoked. I think we have a unique position because we are a band and we’ve started a label so we can see both sides of the coin but we also want to keep it very fair for everybody.
Rabbits Black: Is there something that a band needs to do in these early years to help them get to that vision?
Laura Pleasants: To kind of grow together, everyone has to put work in for the band to be successful. I think many of the bands that don’t last are the bands that aren’t putting in the work because these days you have to really hustle, you have to work.
Rabbits Black: And you have to be on the road. It’s a grind these days, but a lot of the hard work goes into touring and keeping the band and music out there for people to come and see and experience. The days of simply releasing a record and collecting check is over for most bands.
Laura Pleasants: Yeah… and that’s what we’ll be doing once again when our album drops, we’ll be hitting the road hard because that’s ultimately how we make our money.
Rabbits Black: With the way digital music distribution works today, touring is how many bands survive. Its selling the T-shirts, its being on the road, in front of fans and being able to connect to them. Music is easily accessible but on the other end not all bands themselves are easily accessible. You have to make that bridge from recording and releasing music to engaging with fans by touring. That’s something that Kylesa has done a great job of over the years.
Laura Pleasants: Well you brought up a good point, all of that is very key and connecting to our fans is very important. Our fans are very loyal and we’re in turn loyal to them. Its really important to have a good relationship with your fans, absolutely.
Rabbits Black: You said that when you started you thought ‘hey, I’m going to do this for a few years and then get a real job.’ Was there a moment when you said to yourself ‘ this is what I’m going to do, this is going to be my career’?
Laura Pleasants: Yeah there was a moment because I had toyed with the idea of — its probably around 2008, 2009 — I seriously considered changing gears and I was going to move to New York. I went to Savannah College of Art and Design and I got a BA in photography and graphic design. And then I worked for a little while in New York as a photographer’s assistant, so I was still in school and so I seriously kind of toyed with the idea of going up there and changing careers and then a bunch of things happened in my personal life, I had a sick family member and then the economy kind of tanked, and so I was like well I’m not going to do that right now. And then ‘Static Tensions’ came out, it did well, we toured and then we did ‘Spiral Shadow’ and that did well and that’s kind of when I was like ‘alright… this was what I’m going to do you know’. I’ve been in it for a long time, I love playing, I love writing music, I love touring, this is it.
Rabbits Black: You get to do what you love. You’re a lucky person.
Laura Pleasants: Exactly, not many people in this world can say that so I am in that respect very lucky in that I do something that I love. I a working musician and its hard as shit to be a working musician, no matter what kind of music you play. I have some friends here in the Philharmonic Orchestra in Savannah and its a totally different ‘ball game’ you know with the kind of music that they play but they’re working musicians, it’s the same thing, its still hustling and you’re still working, but its great and I love it.
Rabbits Black: Thanks Laura for the insights here. We are proud and excited to have Kylesa on the bill for Psycho California. Anything you want to leave us with?
Laura Pleasants: I’d love for people to check out our record label and the bands that are on that label because I think a lot of the concert goers who are going to the Psycho California generally like heavy music but are also very open minded music fans. They probably would like some of the stuff from our label because it runs the gamut from really heavy and brutal to very garagy and surfy, it’s all over the place.
Kylesa plays the Grizzly Stage as direct support to Sleep on Saturday, May 16th at Psycho California in Orange County. You can check out all of the bands on Retro Futurist on their website here. Thank you to Laura Pleasants for the time and being an amazing fan of the music she plays and supports.
Only a few 3 DAY GA passes remain for Psycho California this weekend. You can buy those tickets at the link below.