"If it makes it easy for somebody to call us metalcore, then we’re metalcore. Really doesn’t matter to me. You can call us fusion-polka."
Shai Hulud have been manufacturing their unique brand of heart-on-sleeve metallic hardcore for over a decade now, first turning heads with the classic Hearts Once Nourished with Hope and Compassion in 1997. Though the band’s lineup is constantly changing, guitarist and songwriter Matt Fox and former-guitarist-now-bassist Matt Fletcher have maintained (and some would say bettered) the Shai Hulud sound over the course of two more highly anticipated albums. They’re now touring in support of their latest, Misanthropy Pure, which came out last year on Metal Blade Records. Matt Fox was a cool enough guy to take an hour out of his day to chat about the current tour, the “Shai Hulud curse”, and basically anything else that popped into his head.
First off, how’s the tour going so far?
The tour’s going pretty well, except that every day is a new vehicular problem. Right now our muffler’s hanging low, and we were rear-ended while we were driving yesterday so our trailer hitch is… Actually, hold on one second. I just noticed the muffler is hanging again…Yeah…Sorry for sounding so distracted, but like I said I’m just noticing this now.
Do you guys have a place you love to play most on tour?
Speaking for myself, as exotic as it sounds, I’d say Japan. Japan’s like the closest you’ll ever get to jumping into the future or being on another world. It’s just always very welcoming and warm. People are very kind and receptive, so that’s what does it for me. Everything’s just so – pretty much what you’re used to, but slightly different, so it’s always like a new and unique adventure. Even going into a 7-11 is a lot of fun.
I saw you guys last winter here in Chicago, and you’re still on the road – makes me wonder how long you guys have been touring in support of the new album?
Well, we did intend to tour for a good six months. Once the album came out, we went straight to Europe and Canada with Comeback Kid, so that was fun. That’s two months worth of touring right there. But the rest of the year got pretty screwed up. We had a six week tour with Full Blown Chaos that was really supposed to be the American support for the album, and that tour got shut down within a week. All the bands except for us had financial problems and van problems – all of them dropped off one by one, leaving us by ourselves. The promoters and the record label and everyone told us to just go home, which was really hurtful for us and for the album. Luckily we picked up a few months later with Born of Osiris, which is probably where you saw us. So yea, we’ve been attempting to tour consistently for the past year, but a couple of our attempts have been thwarted. We were also on for six weeks with New Found Glory, but we were asked to leave the tour after two weeks.
Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that tour. I went to the Chicago show specifically to see you guys, but when I got there you’d been replaced by Fireworks. What happened?
Well… we’re not exactly sure. There were a lot of things that were said to us and things that we’d heard but at the end of the day I think it was pretty clear – and everyone was acknowledging it, both on the tour and the people who were going to see the tour – that we weren't right for the lineup. As far as exactly why we were asked to leave, there’s so many reasons flying about that it’s probably best not to say anything just to make sure that I don’t say something incorrectly. Even though it would have been a great opportunity for us, and we were thrilled to be on it and we would've loved to have finished, we just weren't the ideal band for the tour.
Let’s get into the music itself. On AllMusic.com, you guys are defined as a “positively themed metalcore band with… Christian leanings.” I know you’ve said previously that the “Christian” tag doesn’t apply to the entire group?
Nah. Back in the day we had Chad [Gilbert, on vocals] who’s now in New Found Glory, who was and is Christian. One of his first tattoos was a big cross on his leg. So that was definitely something that people took notice of, and that’s what gave us the “Christian leaning”. Then our drummer at the time, Steve [Kleisath] was also in the ministry-based band Strongarm – still to this day one of my favorite bands. They were overtly Christian; the purpose of their band was to minister. So the fact that we shared a drummer was understandably how we got pegged with being Christian.
Right, makes sense.
With the personalities in the band, we've always gelled very well with Christian bands and Christian people, though no one in Shai Hulud currently is Christian. But for whatever reason, just because we have similar minds or similar hearts, I tend to feel comfortable around Christians. I find them to be warm and compassionate, and more often than not very reasonable.
So then what are your lyrics actually about?
Really every song has a different meaning. For Misanthropy Pure, the first song on the album “Venomspreader” is simply about people that are so full of spite that the only thing that satisfies them is to bring others down. Then there’s a song on the album – “In The Mind And Marrow” – about person-to-person violence, about what goes through somebody’s mind, what goes through someone’s heart when they’re pummeling someone senselessly within inches of their life. We were at a show a couple years back and we saw a brutal fight where someone was just getting the crap kicked out of ‘em. And then somebody went to grab a chair and smash it over the guy – luckily it didn't happen. As I was watching this I just remember thinking like, What’s going through some of these guys’ heads? Where I don’t have – at least, I hope I don’t have, I think I don’t have – that type of disconnection from humanity where I could just beat somebody that I didn't know for no reason... I think the guy was moshing incorrectly. You would have to do something a lot worse to me that mosh incorrectly for me to want to take serious blows at you.
I mean I could go through a million songs and tell you what they’re about, but Shai Hulud has always been about thinking and feeling. We write about things that come into our hearts…social injustices, personal injustices, and a myriad of other topics. So to tie up the question neatly, it makes sense that Allmusic calls us Christian – it’s not something that offends me at all.
How about the tag “metalcore”? And how do you actually define your sound?
It’s interesting, because 10 years ago we used to make shirts that said “Metalcore” on them…’cuz we thought it was funny. We thought we were just being silly, like a bad joke. We were rooted in the hardcore scene, loved hardcore bands, but the music we grew up listening to and that defined us was metal. Metallica, Nuclear Assault, Slayer – all the really harsh thrash bands. So what I would write was a mixture of those influences with hardcore and punk influences, which I thought made for a pretty unique sound. Well. [Laughs.] It also made for kind of a shitty genre tag.
Yeah, but you invented the shitty genre tag.
[Laughs.] Back when we were calling ourselves metalcore with our tongues in cheeks, we didn’t [see it as] a serious genre! Now metalcore has a distinct look, a distinct style, a distinct sound, and I don’t think that what metalcore currently is has anything to do with Shai Hulud. I’ve been misquoted saying that I’m really against metalcore and I hate it, but that’s not true – there are some bands that are doing some cool things [with it]... but more often than not it’s just people pretending to be metal rather than really appreciating the cornerstones of [the genre.] I’d say Shai Hulud is a hardcore band with a serious metal influence. If it makes it easy for somebody to call us metalcore, then we’re metalcore. Really doesn’t matter to me. You can call us fusion-polka.
Even out of the Shai Hulud discography, Misanthropy Pure is a particularly intense and unpredictable album. Looking back on it, can you hear that difference yourself?
Thanks man! When [2003's] That Within Blood Ill-Tempered came out, people said, “It’s cool, but it’s just so different from Hearts.” And my response back then is the response I have now, which is: “Really? Is it that different?” I don’t feel that it’s different. I was thinking the same things writing my contributions. I hadn't really learned anything new – maybe I understood a little more about music, but my approach in writing was no different.
Actually, the only thing that was different was that Hearts Once Nourished was written because we were told we had to have an album out. That one was literally thrown together with very little care or thought or attention. But Blood Ill Tempered was written for all the right reasons. We wrote an album that we wanted to be awesome. We wanted people to feel and to relate. But yeah, outside of the time that we put into it, there was no difference in the approach. And the same thing goes for Misanthropy Pure. If there was a difference, though, it was that the goal for Misanthropy Pure was to have the most raging, pissed off, aggressive Shai Hulud album to date.
Well I’d say you guys definitely succeeded.
Yeah, well a lot of things had happened to the band. With the constant member changes, and some people reacting poorly to Blood Ill Tempered, all the financial problems – just all the trouble that we’d had… But mostly we just write riffs that move us, that we’d want to hear, and that’s the way that we've always written all of our albums. So I think it’s great that you find it so unpredictable – that’s something that I really really love. That’s something that I love about a lot of my favorite bands.
I always found Nuclear Assault or Voivod, or more currently Propagandhi, to be unpredictable. Particularly on Propagandhi’s new album, Supporting Caste, you never know what kind of song you’re gonna get. For us, that wasn't something we specifically attempted on Misanthropy Pure, but I’m glad that it came off that way. Did I even answer your question about the approach? I have a tendency to ramble.
There’s an answer in there somewhere!
I’ll tell you this though: the next album that we’re working on now is definitely going to be a culmination and combination of all of our material – extremely heavy and raging, fast and pissed, and extremely introspective and melodic. It’s going to go in a lot of different directions, and if any album is unpredictable, it’ll be this one that’s coming out next year.
That’s a lot quicker than the last one. Misanthropy Pure took five years!
Yeah, well the reason for the delays between albums is that Shai Hulud has been seemingly cursed since day one. The “Shai Hulud curse”. I mean we didn’t even have a drummer for like the first year and a half of the band, and there’s just always so many problems we run into, whether we create them ourselves or they just happen to follow us. The gaps between albums were just us trying to get on top of things so that we could sit down and write the best albums possible. We’re in no different position than we've ever been – we’re still in between singers, we’re still dealing with the same financial issues that we always have, but… maybe we’re just more used to it, or just that we wrote so much over the past few years that we have a good stronghold already to start working on the next album. We don’t want to wait five years again. We’ve got a lot of really quality material – I’m actually really surprised at how much stuff we have.
[Another thoughtful pause]…
You know, a lot of the time when a band releases an album every year, I’m always a little skeptical, thinking, oh, this band is just gonna fart out something new because the last album’s selling cycle is over. Band’s got to put out another one so they can sell something else. I’m skeptical of that, and I’m proud that we've never just turned out a bullshit album just to do it. I mean if we ever had, it would be the first one Hearts Once Nourished, the one that most people will tell you is the classic! Which is funny.
Going back to your singer dilemma, how’re your vocals?
Aww, jeez, my vocals are terrible! You know, every once in a while I can get a really good scream or growl, but consistently, screaming is just not something that I can pull off. I have like one gem on every album. On Misanthropy Pure, on “In The Mind And Marrow”, this one section halfway through the song where there’s a guitar stop, and somebody really deeply screams “LIFE!”… that’s me and that’s my shining vocal moment on the album. [Laughs.] But yeah, to do a whole album or even just a song, I just don’t have the vocal pipes for that.
If you were the critic, how would you rate Misanthropy Pure on a scale of 1 to 100?
Ahh, see you’re setting me up here ‘cuz it’s just gonna make me look like I’m full of myself! I really think the album’s great! I mean, I don’t listen to Shai Hulud…I don’t because it more hurts me. For me to listen to Shai Hulud is like going into a brightly lit room and staring directly into the mirror. I can see every fault, I can see every impurity, everything I hate about myself. But when I have to listen to it to teach a new member, I say, “You know what? This is really a pretty damn good album!” It’s fast, it’s pissed, it’s heavy, the sound’s great… Is it the best Shai Hulud album? I dunno. Is it the worst? I dunno. But I’d have to give it at least a solid B… I’d probably want to give it higher! We’ll say an 83 out of 100? Really a pretty decent album!
I think I gave it higher! I’d call it close to if not the best.
Yeah, I mean I don’t know if we've ever set out to write the best album. Bands always have to say their new one is their best, and I’m hesitant to say it because I don’t know what my best is. Maybe my best is behind me. I hope not, and I don’t think so, but who knows? It’s so subjective to [the listener.] My favorite Slayer album is Reign In Blood, but there’s somebody out there whose favorite Slayer album is Diabolus In Musica.
No there isn’t.
[Laughs.] No, no one says that? Okay. Or Seasons In The Abyss, which I didn’t even give a chance to. Maybe it depends on what time in your life that you hear something. When I was 13 and I heard Master Of Puppets, Reign In Blood, Peace Sells… these are my favorite albums by these bands. But Metallica goes on to records their Black Album, Slayer makes Seasons, Megadeth did Rust In Peace. These are a lot of people’s favorite albums, but not for me, because my time for those bands was when I was 13 and it had its impact. It’s all subjective. And I've definitely met people who say that Shai Hulud’s best moment was our first demo and we’ll never be able to top that. I met a 16-year-old kid last night who said that so far, Misanthropy Pure is his favorite album that he ever heard. So right now, that kid is on-board with Shai Hulud. Three years from now, when we release a couple more albums, he’s gonna tell his friends, “Yeah, I dunno, I don’t really listen to Shai Hulud anymore. I couldn’t get into anything after Misanthropy Pure.” Know what I mean?
So it’s just funny the way that works. But going back to it, I’m glad you like it, and we are all very proud of the album. We did a really good job and it even turned out better than we expected.
It was definitely a welcome surprise in the realm of heavy music, for sure! Thanks for your time Matt – look forward to seeing you guys again.
Sure, hey sorry for talking your ear off!
Didn't get to see these guys at HOB in Orlando 'cause, for whatever reason, they disappeared from the lineup of the NFG tour. Depressing, but, caught them in West Palm a few days later. Really cool guys. Great interview, too.
foxy is one of the humblest dudes ever. best guy! Misanthropy Pure is a seriously great record and IMO the BEST hulud by far. everyone needs to give them a fair chance. theyre some real deal shit and take the essence of what "hardcore" is supposed to be and used for, to its full potential. Theyve been grinding for a long long time and never seem to get the attention or credit they actually deserve. youd like to think great people, great attitudes, great songs, a hard work ethic and a friggin decade would get you there, but clearly not so. its totally wrong and ass backwards!
pick up the CD, go to a show, come home with a new state of mind.