Jay Rollins talks with Kyle Thomas about Exhorder’s Resurrection, ABBA, and Heavy as Texas.
Around 15 years old, a time when Dimebag’s every riff fed my soul, it was devastating to learn that Dime and the boys were not the instigators of groove metal. None of the 10+ record shops in Halifax at the time carried Exhorder. So, like any diligent metalhead I ordered the, Roadrunner Records: Two from the Vault, double disc reissue in from my favourite shop Renegade Records. Then called Cd Heaven. Starting with the second disc in the pack; the grating riffage which opens “Soul Search Me,” was thereafter soldered into my psyche. Exhorder is one of the definitive thrash bands who helped shape the sound that carried metal through the 90’s. In 2008 fans saw the first real spark of a full reunion since there 1994 disbandment. However, with the passing of bassist Frankie Sparcello in 2011 the band once again went on hiatus. It is with pride and reverence for their lost friend that Exhorder is about to release their 3rd album. Bear in mind, Kyle does remind us that they’re, “not spitting out Slaughter in the Vatican II, we’re just not doing it!”
Kyle Thomas called in the other day to fill us in on Exhorder’s resurrection:
We are here with the snarl of Exhorder, Kyle Thomas, thanks taking time out for Metalheads Forever!
Thank you Jay, appreciate you having me as a guest.
We’ll start with a question about you personally, it was when you were first learning to play bass that you decided a music career was the life for you. When did you transition into becoming a vocalist?
It really was a bit of a slow process because what was happening was I was playing in garage bands with people, I was in two Garage bands with Jimmy Bower of Down and Eyehategod. I was about fourteen or fifteen years old and playing the bass. Bass was my passion, my heroes were Steve Harris, Geezer Butler, and so on. We would learn songs by Judas Priest, Metallica, Iron Maiden, and play ‘em at parties, or school fairs, or whatever. Just to kinda help with the backups, I was singing along, I learned a song or two. Eventually the more I played with people the better my singing got, and one day it just kinda seemed that I was starting to get phone calls, “hey, we got a vocal spot in our band” and I’m like “well I’d love to play the bass too,” “well we have a bass player.” It seemed that bass just kept getting’ squeezed out and there were opportunities being presented for me to go front a band. Well, I wanna say maybe May or June of 1986 I met the guys that eventually became, Exhorder. I met them at a DRI gig, and found out that they had a vocal spot available.
It’s interesting that you went from playing what’s traditionally known as, you know the bassist kinda in the back a little bit, to the vocalist fronting a band just due to circumstance and opportunity.
Never in my life did I ever dream of becoming a singer, and I never sought it out, it found me. By the time I ended up auditioning for the job with the guys that eventually became Exhorder, I ended up taking a chorus class in high school, just to help myself get better fundamentally. Lo and behold, I ended up really excelling in chorus and in my senior year I was voted outstanding singer. Then went on to sing with the chorale at the University of New Orleans and performed Beethoven’s Ninth with the New Orleans Symphony.
Oh wow that’s nuts, I knew you were a great vocalist but that’s some wild credentials outside the metal realm!
I can promise you that singing standing behind a sixty something piece symphony in a packed house to people with tuxedos on and evening gowns is a much different experience and probably the most incredible musical experience of my life.
Over the years Exhorder reared its head at numerous festivals, including Maryland Deathfest and Rock Hard. Now this year you are billed as a main attraction for Decibel’s Metal & Beer Festival, plus a few other festival dates have been announced. I personally suspect you are already slotted to play some of the band’s biggest gigs to date. Are you surprised at all by the reaction to Exhorder’s return?
It’s so bizarre how in demand we are after releasing only two albums twenty something years ago. For whatever reason those albums spoke to people. And you know, dynamically, sonically, in our eyes, they could have been so much better. They hold their own, and with the small budgets that we had they were good. But it’s crazy we’ve got people bringing their children out to see us play. There are so many twenty somethings out in the crowd that love it. It’s a whole rebirth in a way of thrash style music.
I’m thirty and I found Exhorder when I was in high school through a magazine that published some picture with Phil wearing an Exhorder shirt. Then that was it, I found the band and I just fell in love with that sound. It’s interesting that you say that coming from the band, knowing the ins and outs, that you’d like it to sound sonically just a little bit better. But for me I think it might be that rawness and organicness that still speaks to me to this day. I love it, I think that adds to the timelessness in a sense.
I can’t say I disagree with that and I think one of the things that is the allure of this band is that we’re not really of the upbringing of a bullet and belt, leather and chains, kind of band. We just never were. We were welcomed first in the punk rock community in New Orleans, so that’s where we played and our music has a lot of punk flavor. We also have the heritage of the New Orleans funk/groove kind of stuff that bleeds into our songwriting.
I asked my manager why he thinks people are connecting with (the music) so much, and his first answer was, “cause ya’ll are real and everyone can see it.”
And with your resurrection we get, what I assume is a new true-blue thrash banger. What has it been like in the studio after being away so long?
It’s amazing, this album sounds so good. With the technology that we have today and the knowledge that we have of what not to do this time around, I can’t wait for people to hear this. I think it’s really going to knock people’s socks off, to use an old dad term ha ha. Vinnie’s producing it and he’s doing an amazing job, he’s really just tirelessly worn himself out. To the point where I’m scared that one day he’s just going to go running down the street screaming and never come back, ha ha.
Ha ha, bust through the wall.
Ha ha, it’s a lot of work it really is, and at the end the result is worth it, I can’t wait to see the reaction that we’re going to get. We’ve got a lot of old school style songs, we’ve got some thrash on there, we’ve got some groove type songs that were prevalent on The Law, and we’ve got some new spins that feature the growth that we’ve had musically and personally. I think that most people are going to like it, there may be some that don’t because they’re expecting just a regurgitation of the old stuff. We’re not spitting out Slaughter in the Vatican II, we’re just not doing it.
I think every band almost faces that when they enter into a studio, it’s almost just the nature of going back into the studio. Some people love what you did previous so much that, while that’s flattering and that’s great, you can’t let that box your favourite artists into creative stunts. You’ve gotta be able to grow with the bands you love.
Sure, sure. It has our thumbprint for sure but when we first started writing this stuff I looked at my wife and I said “I’ve been wrestling with how I’m gonna write angry young man music at forty something years old.” I figure it out, I’m just gonna write angry old man music.
I’ll be able to relate to that now. I just had my second child and I’m just getting older exponentially. Vinnie La Bella mentioned in a Facebook video that he is using riffs that he has had stored up for over the span of 28 years. You’ve always delivered hard-hitting lyrics, what subjects are you addressing on the next release?
It’s definitely still a lot of controversial topics that I’m addressing. It’s real world problems that we all face day to day. You’ve got people fighting over their beliefs on gun laws, you’ve got school shootings, you’ve got families in disarray to the point where people are doing horrible things that they probably would have never dreamed of in the beginning of their marriages. The world is a beautiful place and it is just as unforgiving and ugly. It is not easy to talk about sometimes but we’ve gotta talk about it, it’s not going anywhere, it’s real life.
Absolutely and if we don’t talk about the issues and express them somehow, how is anything ever going to get better? Any problem I’ve had in life has never gotten better by ignoring it.
That’s the truth.
Are they lines you’ve collected over the years or is it all fresh material? Do you have a notebook that you just write lines in for lyrics because you know you’re going to be needing them at some point?
I usually like to take a piece of music when it’s presented to me and just go fresh and get an idea. I get my vocal patterns going first and then I find a topic that I think would probably fit in well with this particular piece. Then I just start finding words that fit into the vocal patterns.
I was reading an interview where you mentioned that you didn’t listen to a lot of metal when you were on tour back in the day. My buddy Brad from Dumpster Mummy said the same thing about when they are touring Canada. What are you listening to these days?
There’s nothing funnier than a bus full of hairy old men barreling down the highway listening to Michael Jackson, or Abba, or the Grease Soundtrack, but that’s what happens. When I was in Alabama Thunder Pussy we toured with Obituary. I hopped on their bus, rolled into the next town with them, hanging out, drinking beer, and that’s what we were doing, singing along to Abba. I think what happens is most bands, with musicians, they’re more than just players of a genre. They’re musicians, they’re artists, so there’s an appreciation for things that you don’t necessarily listen to. I’ve been backstage with guys listening exclusively to like Hank Williams Jr or Patsy Clein before they get on stage to play a Death Metal set. It’s not that uncommon and I think it probably helps break the monotony. For one it helps you to ease your mind away from everything. It also helps me with my writing because if I listen to nothing but the style of music that I play then chances are those bands are gonna bleed in and influence what I write. I don’t wanna sound like my contemporaries. I don’t wanna sound like my peers. I want to stand out from them and be an entirely different flavor than what they have to offer. I think it’s better for the listeners if we’re not just sitting there, fist in the air, listening to heavy metal or punk rock all day long.
Lastly, your other project with Marzi Montazeri, Heavy As Texas, has premiered the “To Keep A Promise” video and your debut album is out on Crunchy Western Records. What can you tell us about up and coming plans for Heavy As Texas?
It’s funny that you say that because I just got home today from a three day stay in Houston, Texas filming the next 2 videos that are coming soon for that album. We’ve got a really great lineup finally. James Goetz on drums, from War Curse. Len Sonnier is playing bass for us he’s an [Indiana boy] that’s lived in Houston for a long time, played with a lot of bands. His family has a pedigree in music to say the least, he worked as crew for Kings X so he’s lived his whole life in and around music. He’s a good singer so I’ve got some vocal help with all the multitracking and harmonies. Marzi just presented me with eight outstanding songs, there were two or three songs that he had ideas on already and lyrics. We finished it up together and he said, “you just do your thing to it,” and he loved everything that I did. We didn’t really tweak too much. Jokingly, when people ask me what it sounds like I say, “it kinda sounds like Van Halen on meth.” Not that I’m a user of meth, or an expert on it, but the reference there is just that it’s kinda chaotic. The songs are drastically different from one to the other, to a degree. We’ve got some really aggressive ones, we’ve got some really melodic ones, at the end of the day I think it’s more like a heavy rock record than just a pure metal album. Although, there are some blast beats. There’s some aggressive thrashy type vocals, and more than anything, we just focused on making the best songs that we could.
Interesting it kinda sounds like there’s drawing on a lot of inspiration across the whole rock genre and subgenres to make good music.
Yeah, we as musicians, tend to write songs that we want to listen to, and that’s really how it started with Exhorder. At the time we were all thrashers and punks. We weren’t thinking we need to write an album that, 25 years later, is going to end up in the Decibel Magazine hall of fame. You don’t think like that when you’re a young man, you have a voice, you have something to say and you just want to write songs that you feel like listening to.
Thanks again Kyle from all of us at Metalheads Forever! It’s been a great interview and I cannot wait for the new album.
Awesome, I really appreciate you taking the time out man, it was a pleasure.
Check Exhorder out at:
MHF Magazine/Jay Rollins