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Interview: SHAI HULUD's Matt Fox on Correcting Past Mistakes

"Reach Beyond The Sun was predicated on correcting past mistakes, namely over-thinking, over-writing, and deliberately over-complicating."

"Reach Beyond The Sun was predicated on correcting past mistakes, namely over-thinking, over-writing, and deliberately over-complicating."

The world of metal and hardcore is flooded with a seemingly endless litany of genres and stylistic offshoots. And with the explosion of metalcore and it's many derivatives (deathcore, djent, easycore, crabcore and god knows what else), it's tough to keep track of where everything started. Shai Hulud is an indispensable part of that story. Through much of extreme music's body of work, there is an undeniable strain of Shai Hulud's dramatic and bombastic DNA.

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Matt Fox has been the central character in the band since its formation and his innovative guitar work and compositional style has proven to be way ahead of its time. I'd maintain that if 1997's Hearts Once Nourished With Hope and Compassion came out today, it would still sound fresh. With last year's Reach Beyond the Sun, the band continued to move and evolve, something I asked Matt Fox about in our interview below:

Metal Injection: Hello Matt, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us! Reach Beyond the Sun was definitely one of my favorite albums of 2013, do you feel like other fans have reacted positively to it as well?

Matt Fox: Hello kind sir, and thank you for thinking of Shai Hulud. We are avid readers of Metal Injection.

It’s crazy to think of “Reach Beyond The Sun” coming out nearly two years ago now. Where does the time go!

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It’s always meaningful to know something you helped create made someone’s best of list. That’s incredible (hey, remember that TV show?). That someone listens impartially is in itself a huge compliment, so thank you again for spending enough time with the album to allow it to make an impact. Very humbling.

I do think people who follow our band took to “Reach Beyond The Sun” quite well. The songs have gotten a great reaction live, and we’ve received requests to play every one as well (we’ll get around to that we swear). There’s not much more a band who has released several albums can ask for than requests to hear new songs live rather than what may be considered “classics.” “Reach Beyond…” seems to have been warmly embraced. And we’re not even wearing our rose-colored glasses today.

For me, the big highlight of the album was "Man Into Demon", especially with that rousing chorus! What can you tell us about the subject matter of the song and what went into its creation?

Oh wow, such a cool choice! I was really excited about that song when we wrote it; it’s definitely one of the more unique, or at least out of the box songs for Shai Hulud thinking of our catalogue of music. “Man Into Demon” was also Metal Blade’s pick to start off the album. And we have yet to play it live! We’ll have to change that.

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Truth be told, the subject matter for “Man Into Demon” was the last component added to the song. One of my favorite bands, Fishbone, has a song called “Iration,” and in the lyrics it reads “And their faces are twisted with the pain of living.” For years I wanted to use that lyric to name a song. Up until the song we now know as “Man Into Demon: And Their Faces Are Twisted With The Pain Of Living” was committed to tape, many new pieces of music were prototypes named after Fishbone’s lyric purely because I was absolutely dying to incorporate it as soon as possible. After unsuccessfully attempting to forcibly impose the title on a number of songs, it finally found its home, though still with a little force.

The subject matter inevitably came to fruition upon asking the question “What the hell is a song called ‘And Their Faces Are Twisted With The Pain Of Living’ about?” Thus born the concept! Many people either can’t help, or simply invite and allow, mundane misfortunes from changing – warping, rather, their otherwise (hopefully) well-adjusted thoughts, feelings, and views; e.g., a plumber crashes into your car, hence all plumbers should have their driver’s licenses revoked. Ha! Clearly the song has nothing to do with plumbers, but the notion of even the most everyday setback negatively affecting someone’s core so deeply that it manifests physically became the basis of the song.

I really love the lyrics to “Man Into Demon,” plus it allowed me to harken back to an older Shai Hulud song, “Given Flight By Demons’ Wings” (which I LOVE doing), and quote Fishbone, Carl Sagan, and Lawrence Olivier playing Zeus from the original (and only acceptable) Clash Of The Titans. Tell me that’s not a blast!

Musically, the initial “riff,” and skeleton of the song’s structure was born of the idea “Pick up the guitar and play something. Don’t think), and that’s exactly what I did and didn’t do. From there the music of what would now be the verse materialized, followed by the rough structure, and then… of course, a whole lot of thinking.

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On this latest album, Shai Hulud definitely has more of a verse-chorus-verse-chorus approach, was this done to make the songs easier to remember? (And thus easier to play live)

I’m confident, and proud, in saying we’ve never intentionally written a song to be easier to remember or easier to play live – though easier riffs often allow you to rock out more, making them more fun to play; no denying that.

The entire approach of “Reach Beyond The Sun” was predicated on correcting past mistakes, namely over-thinking, over-writing, and deliberately over-complicating. Demos for our first Metal Blade album “Misanthropy Pure” were a lot rawer and organic before they were recorded for the album. This, particularly, left our longtime bass player, Matt Fletcher, underwhelmed. Upon discussions about “Reach Beyond…” we decided to stay raw, and never lose sight of the initial organic flow of the songs. Things always evolve and develop into more structured, thought out end results, especially in this band; speaking for myself, it’s my nature to ask how any creative project I am a part of can be improved and given just a little more. That being the case, we bravely (bravely… I was terrified) allowed the songs to be what they are. Again, that’s not to say rewrites and brain-wracking didn’t occur.

To boot, my writing style has become more focused over the years. I now find myself preferring to keep songs musically themed (always allowing for surprises and unpredictability, of course); building upon a riff or two (or three) – laying out any song’s entire direction within those ideas. This comes more naturally to me these days, whereas in the early 2000’s I couldn’t wrap my head around that idea at all. Still, take a song like “Think The Adder Benign” from “Reach Beyond…,” that song was very organically written, yet it has only one repeating part that bookends the song.

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All the above acknowledged, this worked extremely well with Chad Gilbert’s approach to song writing. We wanted to keep things natural and thematic which is his preference as well. When we sent him the original demos, I think that’s what caught him initially, very catchy parts, and what the hell? We play them more than once in a song! Out of all the records we’ve ever done, this was the one he was supposed to be a part of – not that fate or kismet had anything to do with it. It was a mere phone call.

The band has had a lot of lineup changes over the years. When I saw you guys with Earth Crisis, you ended up using two drummers! Has the lineup stabilized a little bit since then?

Who, us? Surely you are thinking of another Shai Hulud…

Two drummers, you saw that, eh? They both did a great job. We are very grateful to Chris Enriquez and Fran Mark for coming through the way they did.

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Our lineup did stabilize since then, and then it didn’t, and lo, then it did again. Such is life. Especially if you are playing in full time in a band that does not make enough money to pay its members’ bills. People will leave. No question. No rocket science degree needed. Add to the mix the potpourri of complications every human being thrusts into any endeavor, and voila! More member changes than you can shake a stick at. If a good percentage of marriages where the partners screw to release tension end in divorce, it should be with no surprise that most bands rotate members regularly.

A lot of time passed between Misanthropy Pure and Reach Beyond the Sun. Will we have to wait as long for another Shai Hulud album?

I sure hope not. We do have a little something-something planned for next year, but it’s not a full length, though the tentative goal is to enter the studio for the next album the winter of 2015 – unless, of course, I wake up tomorrow and it IS the winter of 2015. You laugh, but that’s happened to me more than twice. I expect it will happen again.

Joking aside, most creative endeavors, or any endeavor that requires more than napping, saps my energy. I put a lot into most things I do, even this interview, which took me a good six months to write. The sad irony here is that I hate work. I hate work equally as much as I hate releasing something subpar. It’s difficult for me to involve myself in most things without giving the sum of my heart, mind and soul. And that’s fucking exhausting. This is a major factor in the delay between records. That said, again, we do already have something ready to show the world soon, and I do have a good amount of ideas for the next full length. With any luck, and some solid effort, the tentative plan of recording next winter will come to pass. I’m pushing for more of the former.

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Excelsiors, friends!

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