Exhorder – A Hallowed MourningSunday, 8th September 2019
Legacy often lends credibility in a metal scene steeped in history and tradition. In a current volatile industry, many flock to reliable musicians who have proven their worth and value. Usually resurrecting first on the live front, eventually the creative itch lurks in the shadows – vying to push forth new ideas to the faithful, and hopefully adding some newer followers to the fold. Exhorder finally unleash their third album Mourn the Southern Skies – twenty-seven years past The Law. And it’s featuring the same southern groove meets thrash viciousness that put them on the map – while taking advantage of better production tools to deliver as crushing of a record as you’ve always wanted from this New Orleans-based act.
We reached out to vocalist Kyle Thomas, who was happy to bring us up to speed on the activities for Exhorder. You’ll learn about the natural apprehension and thoughts behind the development of the latest record – their live show, discussion on the New Orleans scene and his vocal training in high school/college, and his natural worries about evil lurking close to home, plus what the future generation may inherit from the world.
Dead Rhetoric: After three reunion attempts, this is the first time you’ve gotten back together with guitarist Vinnie to resurrect Exhorder again since 2017. Why do you think this will be successful to stay around versus the other attempts?
Kyle Thomas: That’s a good question. To be honest with you, it seems like every time that we walk away from this band and come back, the interest has grown and grown. We’re scratching our heads, we don’t know why we’ve been so blessed with that. It’s just a fact. It could be that we never did complete the job before so to us it’s a personal challenge to finish what we started. The fact that there are people there that want this to happen, has us feeling really lucky, that’s for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: The third studio album Mourn the Southern Skies comes 27 years after The Law. Did you have any apprehensions about making the new record this many years away from the scene, and at what point in the process did you know everything was going to be just fine for Exhorder?
Thomas: I can’t say that we never did say, ‘well how do we go about this?’. We did – I’ve stayed active throughout the years and Vinnie has played his guitar ruthlessly every day, but hasn’t recorded any albums between then and now. We had a moment or two where we thought about how to do this, but it’s kind of like getting back up on the bike and ride. The first handful of shows, once we got back out there and beating out the old songs again, it brought back a comfort zone and a familiarity that we had long forgotten.
We really just went forth with the formulas that we used before which just was letting it out and see what happens. We scrutinized over (the material) tremendously to make sure it was worthy of being under the Exhorder name and logo. There were moments of great sounding music that didn’t sound like it fit so we scraped it and went back to the drawing board until it sounded right.
Dead Rhetoric: Which songs do you believe came the easiest to write and record on the album– and what tracks maybe went through numerous revisions or changes to get to the final cut?
Thomas: Let’s see. The first one that we collectively worked on was the title track, and that started in 1999/2000- but the version on the album is different, it had been tweaked quite a bit over the years. There were a handful of songs that Vinnie had written musically and tucked away on reserve, I’m not sure which ones they all were, but he also wrote newer ones to complete the album. For me – the first one that I received in the new batch of songs was “My Time” – and it was so easy because the song is inspired by being frustrated when you are stuck in a day job and you belong somewhere else, which was the story of my life at that very moment. That gelled together quickly. A lot of times I bounce around with songs.
The ones that we scrutinized over the most might have been “Yesterday’s Bones” and “The Arms of Man”. We tweaked those out a few times because there were things about them that we felt vocally and lyrically that became more outstanding and profound. With “The Arms of Man”, I wrote some lyrics and we felt they didn’t really fit the Exhorder thumbprint as much. We went back in the studio, I had (producer) Duane (Simoneaux) listen to me, and we made a vocal approach that sounded a lot more appropriate in the end I think.
Dead Rhetoric: You mention the song “My Time” which happens to be the first video track from the record. Can you tell us about the video shoot, and was it an easy process to decide which song to premiere first?
Thomas: We definitely decided that song was going to be the first one before the rest of the songs were even written. We had that one pretty early, we loved it, our management loved it, and Nuclear Blast loved it, so it was a no brainer.
As far the video shoot – it’s literally art imitating life. The actors in the video, the guy portraying the worker is a guy I’ve worked with in my day job that is also a professional actor – he’s been in television shows and commercials. He’s a legit dude in that regard, and the guy who plays the boss is my nephew, my sister’s son. He came along to do it for kicks and ended up surprising us. He did such a good job. The whole thing is meant to give the overall feel of a hot, sweaty, nasty job that you have to do. There’s the guy working, hating his job and having to deal with an unhappy boss. And then with the parts of us playing live, that was shot in a warehouse in New Orleans in the middle of summer – it was miserably hot with poor circulation, we are all having to take cool down breaks as we were sweating like pigs. It was hard work but in the end I think it encapsulates the song for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you believe the response has been to Exhorder now compared to the first go around in the 80’s and 90’s, especially on the live front?
Thomas: The live thing has always been consistent. People who have never seen us before, when they see us it’s a special thing because that’s one thing we’ve always taken great pride in is the live show. It’s usually been the bread and butter of what we are because of the fact that we felt that we didn’t capture the live sound on the first two albums. The first two albums, they are hailed by some people as classics, and if that’s how they feel about that, that’s for them, that’s not for me. To me, it’s just a work of art that I did many years ago. But the new album we feel captures the live sound and feel of this band. I’m sure we are going to have some mixed reaction to it being sonically different as well as structurally different in some ways, but it’s pretty true to where we were going to be when The Law left off had we continued back then. The fact that we were finally able to get that album that we feel captures the energy of the live show, that’s something we are very proud of.
We find most people, there’s a handful of people that are tethered to the past and don’t want to let go of it, and that’s okay. I don’t fault them for that or dislike them for that. The response we are getting from new fans or old fans that love it, it’s been overwhelming – so we are very hopeful that this album will do very well.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to groove-oriented thrash metal, how do you approach the execution without losing the intensity or ferocity, while still maintaining those hooks that just make bodies move?
Thomas: Ibuprofen, gymnasiums, and lots of sleep! (laughs) There’s really not much else to say for guys in their forties and fifties that are playing a young man’s game. It’s a lot different than any other band I’ve ever played in. In order to really deliver that Exhorder sound live and performance it takes a lot of physical wear and tear and energy. We do the best that we can, wrap ourselves up in tape and kneepads and just do our best, calisthenics before the shows. You have to be careful, we’ve got old man problems to think about with heart attacks and strokes. We get out there and do the best that we can, and hopefully it’s as good or better than what we’ve ever done.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences between how business was conducted during your time on Roadrunner and how things are now with Nuclear Blast? Have you had to adjust your strategy in terms of promotion to keep up with the times?
Thomas: When we were on Roadrunner, I don’t think we were one of the favorite bands on the roster. I know Monte Conner believed in us greatly, and a lot of the staff did as well. I don’t think ownership were terribly into our whole thing, and we didn’t seem to get a lot of love from them. It’s been a lot different with Nuclear Blast. Having Monte Conner over there has absolutely meant the world to us. He believes in us and he wants to finish the job just the way we do. That said, it seems like the label across the board is in solidarity with him as far as believing in this band and giving us an opportunity and a platform to do the things that we do. They’ve done a tremendous job of promotion on the album, in a way we’ve never experienced with this project before. That’s been hopeful, it helps that we are a legacy band that people want to see, a cult following to begin with. It’s a lot easier to build upon than a project that’s coming up from the ground.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you define success at this point for Exhorder – and has that changed from the early days to now?
Thomas: Not dying, that’s definitely a daily success! (laughs). If we can stay healthy enough to get out there and play the amount of shows that we need to play to make this thing grow the way it’s supposed to, the way we feel it deserves to. There’s different measures of success, musical success can be from the financial side. In that respect, as big as it would get, I’d be happy and thrilled with it- but I’m thrilled to my toes if I could come home from tour and not have to work and wonder how I’m going to pay my house note or my electric bill, that would be a big help.
As far as success for the songs reaching people. Every once in a while, someone tells me that a song or an album I’ve done has helped them get through a dark period in their life. At that point, to me that’s a bigger deal than just me – that transcends me as a person and the other band members as well. That’s when the song becomes something all powerful. If something that I created helped somebody get through a dark day or a bad period in their lives, then I’m humbled beyond recognition. I don’t want to revel in glory, I’m grateful that somebody else benefitted in that in a way when they were down. That’s the best success you could hope for.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ll be touring North America soon with Kataklysm, Krisiun and Hatchet – do you enjoy these types of diverse tour packages where each band sounds a bit different, and hopefully in turn help expand the draw?
Thomas: Absolutely. I would rather play with bands that sound different from each other. You look back in the 70’s and 80’s and they would have these day of rock and roll concerts where you might have REO Speedwagon, Ozzy Osbourne, Heart, Ted Nugent, The Rolling Stones- all these very different types of bands. Sometimes even funk bands like Kool and the Gang would play these things. I would love to do stuff like that again, but it doesn’t seem to happen anymore. It always seems to come back to genre. With this package you have different subgenres and it’s still extreme metal. Everybody has a little bit of a different twist and flair, and I’m looking forward to it. I only know a couple of guys from Kataklysm that we met when we did a festival show together in Germany. I hope everybody ends up working well together, it ends up running much better and making for a much more pleasant tour package.
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