I was lead back stage of the Underworld to meet Matt Fox, one of the masterminds behind Shai Hulud, a notoriously influential band to the whole melodic hardcore scene. As I was giving him a general introduction to our magazine and where we came from, he told me they actually played a show here in Denmark last year, and that he dedicated the set for King Diamond but nobody knew them, which he found shocking, as you'll also find out in the later part of this interview. Overall, Matt is one of the nicest chaps I've had the chance to interview. He gave me long and thorough answers to every question, clearly trying to deviate from whatever he has told in other interviews in the past, putting in new angles to to his stories and actually predicting a lot of my questions, leading into massively long answers. But everything he said was interesting, and I now wish I had some more questions, even if that would mean another three pages of length to this interview. But I won't hold you back any longer, enjoy the interview which revolves around their new album, old material, what Shai Hulud is all about and generally what's going on with the band for now.
RF.net: Hi, and thanks for doing the interview. Can we start by having you introduce yourself?
Sure. My name is Matt Fox, I play guitar for Shai Hulud.
RF.net: And you are one of the founding members, is that correct?
RF.ne: So you've been in the band for what, eleven, twelve, thirteen years?
Matt: Oh I can't even remember. It started in 1995 so...I guess that's about thirteen years since we started really messing around with the name Shai Hulud.
RF.net: So how are things in Shai Hulud at the moment?
Matt: Right now we're recording a new album so that's been a slow and busy process. But morale is pretty high because we have eleven cool new songs that we're excited about. We've been playing a lot of the same old songs for a while. Everything is going pretty well, seeing the fact that we're in the studio and still able to go out and tour at the same time. But that's what we're busy doing, we're gonna finish the album up in January, and then it's all tours next year.
RF.net: I was looking on the internet for any details about your vocalist, but I couldn't find anything anywhere.. I mean you had so many in the past, who is your vocalist right now?
Right now the guy that's with us is a guy named Matt Mezzale(?), and he's a friend of us from back home. We found him around singing for local bands. He's got a great voice, cool guy. We've been holding off of making type of announcements just because we know how things change so often. In the past, when we thought we had something situation, due to circumstances out of our control, things would change, and then we would get criticized for it. And it just really sucks because the core.. being right now myself and Matt Fletcher having been in the band, myself since '95 and him since '99. All the questions and all the criticismism come back to the core. And we're the ones trying to keep it together. We don't wanna switch members every tour. We wanna get things work. But this guy's got a kid, this guy's a complete asshole, this guy has a drug problem, you know, this guy can't stand being out on the road for six months, so there's all these consistent problems. It's very hard to find the right members.
And so given all that, when we decided to go with Matt, our current singer, who is recording our album with us, so we hope he's somewhat permanent.. you know we have every intention of it being, but you just never know. We didn't make an announcement, we figured that Shai Hulud is an entity of itself. And I think anyone that's familiar with the band recognizes the fact that all the music comes from a core element that has a similar nature, it has a heart and a spirit, and a level of intelligence, however low or high that intelligence may be, probably very low, but it all comes from the same core. And rather than announcing every three minutes that we have a new guitar player, new drummer, new singer, a new flute player, a new saxophonist, we'd rather just say Shai Hulud is busy working on a new album. Shai Hulud is going on tour. We just find it easier, and it makes our morale higher, rather than answering a lot of questions "what happened to this guy? I really liked him. What happened to this guy? So what did you do wrong with this guy?" It's just never a question of that. There's so many different circumstances that lead into members coming and going. And to answer your question directly, sorry for talking so long, that's why we haven't made an official announcement, because I KNOW, as soon as I make the official announcement, two minutes later something's gonna happen, and it's gonna be different. And then I'm gonna have to answer 30 million emails as to why things changed right after I made the annoucement. "Well that didn't last long, they only made the announcement yesterday, he was only in the band for a day!", you know what I mean? It's just that dealing with that kind of stuff is just too stupid.
RF.net: You've obviously had a lot of vocalists like you said, how does that impact you as a band, because a lot of people do see the frontman as the front figure of a band?
Always, always. You know, we haven't probably had as many singers as you think. We've had a couple people fill in on tours, but on releases, our first demo was done by a guy named Damien, who is in As Friends Rust. Then we had Chad who obviously went onto New Found Glory. Geert, who I think a lot of people consider the bulk. He was in the band the longest. After that we had a couple of people fill in for shows and such, but the next album, "Misanthrophy Pure", is being sung by Matt. And that's how we judge, who sang on a release. So that makes Matt our fourth. But as far as how does it impact the band? I think the fact that we've just been around for as long as we have, and the fact that we don't release albums every six months, has had a more of a negative impact on us than the singer. Because I think the very few, and there are very few, people that are into our band know that the core.. I don't necessarily think that they know who the core is, but they know that if I go to listen to a Shai Hulud album, I'm getting a Shai Hulud song. It's not gonna be... they're not gonna turn tough guy, they're not gonna turn emo. They're always gonna get a mix of.. a very conscious blend of metal and hardcore, a mix of melody and aggression. Which is what it has been since day 1, and what it is today, 11 years later what have you.
But again to answer your question directly, I don't think the change in singers has much of an impact on the band, because we choose our singers pretty wisely. We make sure that he's very crowd friendly, you know, make sure he participates with the crowd. We make sure he is very open, and we make sure he's got a great voice. And I think so far, everyone that we've had, has been a great Shai Hulud singer. And whether this guy we have now is somebody's favorite or least favorite, I don't know. I can't concern myself. Whereas someone in England might say "I can't be bothered, I can't be messed with, I can't be fuzzed with that", because we're trying to keep our band going because we still feel we have music to write and words to say. So as long as we have somebody willing to do it, we're there to give him a band to front!
RF.net: You mentioned just before that you didn't think there were a lot of people that cared about your band, but at the same time, when I was going through a bunch of reviews about you guys on the web, and what I've heard from other people as well, every time I hear things like "oh this is seminal band, they're highly influential". What do you think about that yourself?
Matt: If that's true, that's great. That's really cool. People have said that to me and us before.. I don't see it. All I know is that we still play shows for twenty people and about one and a half people in the crowd care. You know what I mean? So it doesn't matter how long we've been around, we're still playing shows for very few people. Sometimes we have a great crowd that's going crazy, but a lot of times we play for a small crowd, for people who have absolutely no idea who we are, and if someone is there who knows who we are, he just couldn't care anymore. So I'm hoping that will change once we come back out with a new album, and tour more frequently, but we've never been the kind of band that thinks that the scene or the world revolves around us. We've put out a couple of albums, when I listen to them, I say to myself "that's pretty cool. It's not terrible, I've heard worse", you know. Shai Hulud wouldn't be in MY top 500 favorite bands, but if it's in somebody else's, we are all thankful. So I'm glad to have an impact, if in fact we do, but we certainly don't go to bed at night thinking, "wow, I'm in Shai.." [laughs]. You know, sometimes I think about Harrison Ford, and I think "Wow, he must go to bed at night thinking 'Im Indiana Jones! How great, that's cool!" or James Hetfield of Metallica going to sleep at night: "I'm James Hetfield of Metallica"... I don't give a shit about who I am, you know what I mean? We definitely don't feel that way. But we hope we do make an impact, of course.
RF.net: So if we move onto your new album, you named it already, "Misanthrophy Pure". What are you conveying with the title of the album?
Matt: The theme of our band since we first started has been the title of our first CD, which is "A Profound Hatred Of Man". And.. here's an interesting thing, I have a tendency to go and talk in different angles, so I hope you don't mind. It'll make for a long interview. Hopefully no one will get bored! Lets see. On our last album "That Within Blood Ill-Tempered", the goal with that album was to be exceptionally pissed. The word that we wanted to convey was "seething", you know. I remember telling the artist for the album: "As soon as somebody picks up the album I want him to feel like just.. something is so pissed off inside this CD that it's brooding and you are feeling it". Obviously that's not gonna happen but that's what we tried to convey with that album. A lot of the music was very very pretty, and a lot of the lyrics were very very hopeful. Which is cool, because what's attractive about Shai Hulud is certainly not its members or faces, but the combination of the hope and the bleariness. The fact that there is no fucking hope, but at the same time, there's a lot of hope. So that came through on that album. But the goal again was to make that album so insanely pissed. Like I said, I'm not remotely upset with the way that that came out, I'm very thankful, and I think some of the more hopeful songs touched some people, or so I was told and that's great, but we still wanted to make that really pissed album. So we decided "what can we do to make this just fucking furious, that these guys are so pissed off at the war, and just violence in general, stupidity and ignorance, what can we do?".. So "A Profound Hatred Of Man". That's what we've always been and that's what we are always going to be even if we do go into the hopeful thing. So basically what we try to do is to come up with a title that was just as effect and just as poetic as "A Profound Hatred Of Man", and all that said, you know, equalled into "Misanthrophy Pure". And that's how we got the title and that's how we came up with the music and the lyrcis for this new album.
RF.net: So tell me a bit about how it sounds like?
How does it sound? The sound.. it's hard for me to answer it accurately, it would be better to ask somebody who is listening to it. If you ask me, when I listen to "Hearts Once Nourished.." our first album, I think it's very rhythm based. It's very very melodic, but it's definitely more rhythm based. When you listen to "That Within Blood Ill-Tempered", it's clearly more melody based. Much more guitar oriented, and the song structures revolve around the notes all working together like a really intricate jigsaw puzzle. One of the complaints that we got on "Hearts.." was the production, and also that the songs didn't have the emotional impact that people wanted. Some people got it, but some of my friends, whose opinions I really really respect, said to me that "Yeah the songs are good and they are like almost delivering emotionally, but not enough. Rhythmically they deliver, but not enough emotionally". "That Within Blood Ill-Tempered" ironically was also commented on production, and the fact that it just wasn't rocking enough, what I heard from my friends. My friends said "when I really want to listen to it and when I wanna understand guitar stuff, and really feel, I listen to 'That Within Blood Ill Tempered'", and what I gathered from all my friends.. you know we listen to everybody who tells us things, but there's a few people that I really trust, whose written music for.. bands like Further Seems Forever, a good friend of mine is in that band, he also wrote for a band called Strong Arm, and when he tells me something, when he suggests something to me, I listen, because I love what he does. So I respect his opinion. Something that he said and some of my other friends in another band that we respect called With Honor.. so a lot of my friends said: "If you guys could combine the drive, the rock, and the aggression of 'Hearts', and the structuring, the melody and the intelligence of 'That Within Blood Ill Tempered', you might have my favorite album of all time".
So again, because I can never answer a question just directly, to answer your question directly, what we try to do is combine both albums. We wanted to make it smart, and heavy, we wanna make it sound great. We wanted to give something to people where they could groove along to it and rock for more than a second and a half without changing, but we also wanted to maintain some technical intelligent aspect, and the melodic nature of our last album. So if you take both those albums, throw them in a blender, I think you might have something that resembles "Misanthrophy Pure"
RF.net: That's good to hear. So the second part of the question, how did you write it then, what was the writing process like?
The writing process for us is very slow. Probably because we are lazy. If I have
to do anything, I don't wanna do it. It doesn't matter what it is. If I had to sleep with a beautiful girl, I probably wouldn't wanna do it. It's just my nature. This is what you have to do, it's fun! I don't wanna do it. So it takes us a long time. The way it usually works is: I write a lot of riffs, and I'll go to our bass player Matt Fletcher and say "Hey does this suck?" "No that doesn't suck" "What about this?" "Nah that sucks don't use that". So we go through riffs and we decide.. sometimes we'll write a riff and just say "I don't know if this really fits within Shai Hulud" and sometimes we'll say "Yeah you know what it doesn't. Lets start another band and we'll use that riff for that". Sometimes we'll say "you know what, it doesn't fit in Shai Hulud, but it's not so far out. Maybe we can throw it in, put it under the name Shai Hulud, and expand our parameters a little bit". And that's how we decided on what songs. We had a whole bunch of different riffs. For example, the first song on the album is called "Venom Spreader". And I have long hair now after 30, or I had long hair when I was 18, but after 15 years I have long hair, and we're now on Metal Blade. So we were writing this album, which is a Shai Hulud album, a combination of metal and hardcore. Not metalcore, by any means, but definitely a hybrid of metal and hardcore.
So the reason I bring up the hair is: we had all this stuff, and it just seemed like everyone thought "Okay, Shai Hulud's gonna be a metal band now". And we said "you know what? We're not a fucking metal band". We're influenced by Metallica and Testament, just as much as we are influenced by Chain Of Strength and Uniform Choice. So we said "Lets write a fucking cool short fast hardcore song to start off the album, to set the tone". I wrote the riff and it's probably a little more punk than anything we've ever had, but I showed it to Matt Fletcher, and asked if we could use this, and we're both listening to it and we said "Fuck yeah we can use this, FUCK YEAH!", and it expanded our parameters a little bit. And it gave the album a new cool defining characteristic. So that's one of the ways. There's so many different varied songs on the album. The guy that's recording it for us right now, who is filling in on second guitar, he is the engineer for all the guitar tracking, he said what he likes the most about this album is that every song has its own identity, whereas he felt that the last album did not. I feel that songs had an identity on the last album, but he didn't think so. He said some of them blended together, but he said there's no two songs on this one that sound alike. There's a raging hardcore punk song, then there's a classic, if there is such thing, a classic Shai Hulud song, and then you go straight into a very slow, metalish type of song.
And that's how it was written. Just going back and forth with riffs, "Can Shai Hulud really get away with this? can we really do this? Yeah, fuck it, of course we can!" and that's the long way. Then we had our friend Andrew fly out who has been doing a lot of tours with us, he's no longer playing with us because he just had a kid, which is what I was saying earlier. But he flew out, and we took all our riffs, put them together, and that was how the full writing took place. Sorry for such a long answer!
RF.net: So far we've heard a rough demo which is on your Myspace obviously. When do you think we will hear some new songs?
Matt: Ohhh I don't know. We're playing a new one tonight, but as far as the post on the internet... I would say maybe.. I don't know. It's probably up to Metal Blade. If it was up to us I'd post some things now. In between you and me if you wanna hear anything, I have stuff that you could hear, later, on my computer. But to post it, we'll probably have to wait until... I don't know how Metal Blade works. We're still new to them, and I know they're a real record label, and they have a very set way of doing things. So I would say just keep checking our Myspace page and something will pop up eventually.
RF.net: I wanna talk a little bit about your two re-issues that you released last year, obviously the "A Profound Hatred Of Man" EP and also the "Hearts Once Nourished.." album. It's now been about 10 years since the release of those two records - how do you view them today?
Like I told you before, when I hear some of the old stuff I think "Yeah, I've heard worse". That's usually what comes to mind. I've heard a lot better, and worse. It's cool, it's good to have "Hearts Once Nourished.." sound like a real album now, because I always hated the way it sounded, and I think I even said it in the liner notes, as soon as we got the original mix of the first album, I thought "alright well, whatever quote un quote career we possibly could've had, it's over with this. This SUCKS." The songs on "Hearts Once Nourished" were thrown together. Talk about the writing process for that? Geez, we need a song, what do you got. Literally in the studio, throwing things together. Terrible. So when i heard that album combination between the songs and the production, I just thought "okay, well, we are done, that's over". So when I hear it now it sounds cool, I'm glad that it sounds like a real album. But, you know, I don't really have too many feelings on it. I'm proud, I'm happy, like I said before, that some people have found something to enjoy in it. But it's no Metallica, it never will be.
RF.net: So you wouldn't say your opinion has sort of changed over the years or?
Matt: I would say it's pretty much the same. Like I said when we first got it, any recording I thought this is so bad there's no way anyone's gonna like it. You know, you give me about a five year lapse, and then I can listen to it, and I think: "Yeah I've heard worse, it's not bad, it's not bad". That's pretty mcuh it.
RF.net: The on the re-issue of the EP, you the NOFX and Bad Religion covers a and Metallica cover - how did you guys choose exactly these songs?
The NOFX.. Trustkill had contacted us when they liked us as a band. They contacted us and wanted us to do something with them, because they like the band so much. That's a long time ago. And we were excited because somebody liked us, so we said okay we can give you a three song EP, ended up being a split. We had one new song and really didn't wanna give them two or three new songs, because we were also working on our album at that point. So we asked "It'd be a fun release with a band doing a new song and a couple of covers". They agreed and we thought what could we do. The obvious influences would be Burn, or some of the more modern hardcore bands that we love. But we thought, you know, that we like so much different kinds of music. We love rock, classic rock, punk, we love metal, we love instrumental, you know there's classical, there's so many different types of things, lets try to think of something. At one point we even wanted to maybe cover a Movie Soundtrack, I was figuring out the Robocop soundtrack. I thought "Maybe that would be cool to put on there", but that wouldn't have worked. So instead of giving them a new song, and instead of giving them a song that we thought would be very typical for Shai Hulud to cover. So we said "what could we possibly do?", and we just happened to be listening to Bad Religion that day. I said "how awesome would it be to hear Anesthesia, you know, pissed and angry and real fast?" And Fletcher, who was the guy that was around at that point, he said, that'd be great. I said, "what if we covered Linoleum too?", you know. And like I said, Shai Hulud's parameters are here [shows with his hands]
, and you wanna cover Linoleum, it's out here
, but it was kind of like 'fuck it'. And then no one thought twice. Maybe the first person that sees it says "Shai Hulud's covering Linoleum?" and now a year no one thinks.. "Yeah, Shai Hulud covers Linoleum, they love Metallica, Burn, Chain Of Strength and NOFX!" So that was just a unique choice. We wanted to throw something out that would be cool and interesting for people to hear. We all love NOFX and Bad Religion, Descendents, Circle Jerks, million different types of bands.
RF.net: So are you gonna play them live at any point?
Matt: We've been known to play Linoleum, we've been known to play Linoleum yesterday [laughs] so there's a good chance!
RF.net: When you were recording those covers, did you also record some other covers that you perhaps haven't released yet?
Matt: When we did the "Set Your Body Ablaze" sessions, if you will, we recorded "Fearless Vampire Killers" by Bad Brains in that too..
RF.net: That's also on the record.
Matt: Something that's outside of the record? No. I think that to date, everything that we have, is on that.
RF.net: Do you reckon that you'll perhaps in the future, you know..
Matt: ..do another cover? I love covers, I love doing different covers. So if I have my way, then yeah, certainly. There's a million different songs that I always wanna try.
RF.net: You've been on tour in Europe for a few days, how have the shows been so far? What kind of response?
We're with a couple of bands that are a bunch of shit heads. [other bands laugh at the background]
I just said this yesterday, as far as the bands are concerned. We've toured with a lot of bands before, and this is one of my favorite tours, because it's only four days in and I know everybody's name, I like everybody's company, there's nobody that I think is a douchebag.. well, some present company excluded.. nah, kidding! It's a fun tour. Everyone's been hanging out downstairs talking at like six o clock in the morning, just hanging out and shooting the shit. And that doesn't happen, at least with us, because we're kind of real picky guys, we hate everybody, we think everybody just kind of sucks. So the bands that we're on tour with right now are really cool, and it's only four days, everyone's getting along. Who knows, maybe if you did this interview a week from now, I would have something completely different to say. But as of right now, everyone's great and I'm pretty sure that it's gonna be that way to the end.
As far as the response, it's like I told you earlier. Shai Hulud is really rebuilding. It doesn't matter how long you've been around. It's almost like the old mentality "what have you done for me lately?". We haven't put out an album in five years, we haven't toured regularly, we haven't had a consistent lineup. So that doesn't sit well with fans sometimes. Not that I like to use the word fans, but people who like the band. So that said, we play, and there's some people there that know the songs, but it's not what we've had in the past. It's sometimes better, sometimes worse, but it's a product of what we've given. We've given for the past few years incostistancy, not a lot communication, no new releases, you know what I mean? So the fact that we even have the opportunity to come to Europe and someone wants to watch us to begin with, even just to gave us a chance to redeem ourselves if we have to, or if we ever had, that's a big.. that's something that we don't take for granted, because I have plenty of friends bands that say, man we've been around for 10 years and we still haven't had the chance to go to Europe. So if we play for five kids and nobody cares, at the end of the day, I'm in Europe doing that for five kid. And like I said, I have plenty of friends who don't have that opportunity, that would love to be able to play in, lets say Belgium, for five people. As much of a pessimist I am, I am also very optimistic. I really feel confident with the new album, and I think that even if everybody that's ever listened to our band before decided: "Piss off guys, I'm not interested in anything you have to do anymore", I'm very confident that new people that are around and getting into heavy music... if you like somewhat smart, heavy aggressive music with a point and a message, I really couldn't understand why you wouldn't like Shai Hulud. And that said, like I said, if everyone that has ever liked us decides to abandon us, I really feel that there's a new crop of people, that are gonna find something really cool to relate to with Shai Hulud. So that's my answer to that.
But so far, the tour, everyone's had a fairly decent night. No disasters yet.
Well, I have only one more question left, it's a bit of an off topic question actually. We spoke about Chad Gilbert
a little bit before and New Found Glory, I've always been curious, what do you guys think about his band, now that he's not in the band anymore?
Matt: About his band? When he first started New Found Glory, you know, I made fun of him. Here's a little story, I don't mean to keep talking for a year, but when I first met him, I couldn't stand him. I think I met him when he was fourteen, he joined the band when he was fifteen, he might have even been thirteen, I don't know, he was very young. And at the time I was what, 23 or 24, something like that. We're eight years apart so however old he was and however old I was. But the point is, I didn't wanna be around kids at that age. And he was really good friends with our friends in Strong Arm, because he was also a Christian, I think he still is, he was Christian, and was getting into hardcore and stuff. I played in a pop, no I wouldn't say pop punk band, I played in a ska punk band called Bingo Mud (?) back then, and he loved the 7" that we put out, which, just to add on, is a great 7". I love that record. So anyway, he liked that record a lot, and like I said, it went more into the punk side. So when I would see him, he'd say "hey do you like Green Day, do you like Blink 182" he would ask me about all these bands I just didn't care about. I never liked Blink 182, I never liked Green Day. I grew up on Metallica, Chain of Strength and Burn, you know, this is the music that I love. It's hardcore, metal and punk. I don't like, to this day, I'm not into Green Day or Blink 182. So he'd always ask me these questions, and I'd be "God leave me alone, I don't like that stuff, I don't like that stuff!" So then when he joined the band and we became friends, he would always in the van put on Green Day or these light poppier bands, and everybody in the van would just moan "oh God, please, somebody put on Black Sabbath, put something else on, get this out of here!" At one point he said "we've decided to start a pop punk band with my friends". We all gave him a little crap and laughed at it, and when he played me the stuff I said, you know what Chad? It sounds really cool, you got a couple of cool note choices, and I could see where a lot of people are gonna like this, but it's not my thing. And it's still the same thing to this day. I think New Found Glory has a lot of really cool ideas, Chad's a very smart guitar player, he has a lot of really cool ideas on guitar, and when I listen to it, I think "oh yeah, that's pretty neat, I like that", but it's not something I'd listen to. It's just that style of music, typically, I'm sure there's maybe an exception here and there, just doesn't move. But I think New Found Glory is a very cool band, and obviously they've done a killer job of making themselves known, and making a presence of themselves in that genre of music. So hey, more power to them for that. I don't think they need any more power, but hell I'll give whatever little power I have to them. More power to you [laughs]
RF.net: That's all I have for today, thanks for the interview. Any last words for the readers and the fans?
For anybody in Denmark? Listen to King Diamond! Right? [to the other bands on the background]
Some other dude: Yeah, I love King Diamond. I have a King Diamond tattoo!
Matt: He's from Denmark!
The other dude: Oh yeah, you like the King?
Matt: I was telling him, that we were in Denmark, and I said our whole set goes out to King Diamond, and there was either no reaction or a boo. Like no one cared, so I'm telling his friends, everybody in his home country, listen to King Diamond!