To celebrate He Is Legend's return, we caught up with vocalist Schuylar Croom and drummer Jesse Shelley for an epic chat about their new album, touring Australia, and more.
North Carolina's He Is Legend are returning to Australia this May with special guests, Hammers, hailing from the Gold Coast. Promoting their latest album, last year's excellent, eclectic Endless Hallway, the American rockers are coming back to our shores for the first time since Soundwave 2015.
“Australia is such a beautiful and magical trip; we couldn’t be more excited to be able to come to rip some gigs for you all," vocalist Schuylar Croom said upon announcing the forthcoming tour. "We have so many amazing memories made from our time spent on your stages; we are really thrilled to have the chance to make a few more. Come catch us this May!”
To celebrate He Is Legend's return, we caught up with Croom and drummer Jesse Shelley for an epic chat about their new album, the band's effortless mix of heavy metal, blues and Southern rock, touring Australia, and more. You can listen to Endless Hallway here.
KYS: I love the way you opened Endless Hallway - The Prowler is such a strong, no-holds-barred album opener. Does He Is Legend always intend to come out swinging? And how do you keep up that energy?
Schuylar Croom: We were actually just talking about this! We always want to come out swinging. Or at the very least, it has to be a clear juxtaposition from the album before it. We always have an opening song and a closing song, and the rest of the order is kind of arbitrary. Some songs may flow into the other songs, you can usually tell that on the album. But most of the time we will say: “This is a badass opener and this is a badass closer”. And everything else can kind of fill the gaps.
Jesse Shelley: It has to be apparent, and it has to be something worth talking about and sharing with somebody. Like, it can’t be: “Oh, here's a better song; let's put that first”. It has to get your attention. So, for this last album, we had to open this thing up and be ridiculously heavy.
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KYS: You had Beau Burchell mix the record - I spoke to him recently, and he was lovely. How does he complement the style of the band and how does he challenge you guys?
Jesse: He was the most fun dude to mix a record with of all time. And this spans not even albums I've been part of, I do session stuff, and I've worked with so many different mixers, and there are certain things they all kind of share in common, like jargon and hoops you gotta jump through. And especially the more successful they are - the more red tape you have to jump through to for even the slightest revision, it takes time, and there's X amount of things. It's like: “I'll give you two shots to get what you mean across to me”. And that's just what it is.
Beau was literally like, and maybe it's because we do have some history, but we were on a level where we were texting every day and calling each other on the phone and just doing stuff in the moment. We’d share screens and do it together in real-time.
There was no red tape and process where I was trying to do something, and he was trying to do something else. We were just trying to be like: “What are we both stoked on?”. He definitely brought something to every single song, and there were only a couple of times where I basically had to summarise: “Here are our four ridiculous opinions. Please take these and make something that makes sense”.
He was absolutely the most fun person who I've ever mixed a record with, and he definitely brought his own thing. I mean, I told him, he's basically our fifth member. From here on out, whenever he’s down - we're down.
Schuylar: Yeah, he was great!
Jesse: He definitely knew how to take four very ridiculously crazy guys and make sense of it, which is really hard to do.
Schuylar: We're all really particular in our sound, and, you know, it's everybody's craft, Adam [Tanbouz] with guitar and Matt [Williams] with bass, Jesse with drums and me with vocals - everyone is the master of or the leader of that and where that instrument is taken during the recording process.
So, in the mixing process, we're overly articulate about the way we want it to sound, and we know exactly how we want it to sound. Having somebody like Beau who's just open to it…because I was so particular about certain things and I was, you know, kind of cringe about things…he was like: “Man, you can just record it over on your Mac and just send it to me!”. I was like: “Nah, that's crazy!”. But yeah, he was so cool.
Jesse: He’s also willing to fight like we are. And it is still going on, believe me, how all albums are more or less getting mixed exactly the same. There are the trendsetters and the people who are putting out amazing software. Like, this is now the status quo, this is the industry standard tone pack, here's the industry standard thing. Beau mixes hundreds of things, and we’d had personal conversations when we got started, and he wasn't just entertaining my wanting to revolt against that.
He was like: “Thank you! Everything I mix, it’s like the same stuff; everyone wants it done the same way”. He was down, like: let's make something that has a shelf life and doesn't sound like some era of the 2000s. Let's make something that sounds awesome in, like, 10 years and something that sounds distinctive. I definitely didn't want it to be challenging to listen to, but it needed to be something where right when you hear a note - it's this record, and it's got its own vibe. And Beau wasn’t just entertaining us. He was totally on board with that, and that made it the most fun.
KYS: The balance of blues, hardcore, hard rock and heavy metal is really interesting to me; how do you feel the genres intersect?
Schuylar: I think heavy metal basically was the European equivalent to the blues or its answer to the blues back in the day.
Because if you look at what was happening with Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, you basically have all these short-haired white dudes from Europe singing Top 40s radio. And at the same time, you have this, what I would consider, heavy metal - and I do put Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath in that category. I think it was kind of an answer to the blues and an answer to conflict. It was in the time where, you know, you have these hippies in America at the same time there's assassinations and Charles Manson and it's all supposed to be like free love and a crazy time, right?
So, the blues coming out of a depression era and this heavy metal coming out of that era, and hardcore coming out of an era of like 9/11 and our angst and our youth from when we were young…those things all culminating, I think they fall under the umbrella of rock and roll. And we are lucky enough to be in this category.
But I think for us as a band, and I think even before Jesse was in the band, we were students of nu-metal, like the Deftones, Sevendust, and Pantera. And for me, I was way into Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, and all of these things were put into a blender. And then it’s mixed up with the fact that before we were in bands, we just looked up to Nirvana.
And I think Nirvana is still a token in all of our lives; we all still listen to Nirvana pretty much daily. I think those things, we're always gonna wear on our sleeves. I know Adam has a flair to his stuff, which I think might be kind of coming from a Southern aspect as well. But we all grew up with the blues of basically what the Stones and Led Zeppelin stole from the blues. I think that is what birthed rock and roll anyway, so it’s hard not to wear that on your sleeve. I think there's a little bit of blues in every rocker.
Jesse: Fans of music and all these genres you mention there - we're all legitimate fans of that stuff. And a thing we've been always open to with this band is that we don't shy away from like: “Oh, we can't do that because that's not He Is Legend”. He Is Legend is whatever we want it to be. And it's been a lot of things for a long time.
Schuylar: And as we grow, as the band continues to grow, I feel like I embrace more of these genres like metalcore, whatever you wanna call it, more than I would before. I used to shy away from the genre of “metalcore” or “grindcore” or whatever core. But now I find some decent stuff out there, I’m now trying to be open-minded about it and listening to stuff being like: “Yeah, we can fit in with that, or we can fit in with this”.
We've played with everybody from Attila to GWAR, so we kind of run the gambit of being able to slide into these areas and hold our own. And we're really lucky for that. But I think that comes from having so many multifaceted influences, not only in music but in film and in podcasts and comedy, just finding inspiration in all of that.
KYS: You performed at Soundwave 2015; you’ve always had a love affair with Australia. What keeps bringing you back, despite the long flights and expenses to come here?
Jesse: It’s the most magical place.
Schuylar: Yeah, we’re beach boys at heart. I mean, I grew up on the coast, and I'm a Pisces, so I'm drawn to it anyway, and you guys are just like one big island. And I've just really felt a kinship to the place, and to the places I've been. Like – I felt a kinship to Adelaide, I felt a kinship in Melbourne. It was all these places that felt kind of like I was home, in a place that was very familiar – but I'd never been there before and may not ever come back.
And I think also being so far away from home and being so welcome is obviously a turn on; it is just great to be over there, and happy people will be so into the music and so stoked to be able to see you because they know they might not ever see you again. It’s just this huge appreciation. So, why wouldn't we come?! If we're ever given the opportunity, we'll be back.
KYS: Finding momentum with White Bat and then having that shattered by Covid must have been devastating - how has this album cycle differed?
Schuylar: I mean – the format hasn’t really changed from how we record. I think the only thing that was different with this one was that the core writing sessions were infinite because Jesse and Adam really had no end in sight.
Jesse: For White Bat, it was: “You have three months to write an album”. So, me and Adam met up for 77 days in a row, seven days a week, went insane, and wrote an album all in that time. Then Endless Hallway was: “Your band's done. Go home, see ya maybe next year, who knows?”.
It was just shrugs and no money, no timeline and no real answers. It was like: “I don't even want to turn on the TV today because all it is gonna do is tell me something else that's going wrong”. So, there was absolutely no timeline. I wasn't being pessimistic. I was just being real with myself that the world has changed, and I'm not promised that it will ever return to what it was. And there was no idea that we'd even record Endless Hallway.
Obviously, we wrote it hoping we'd record it and get to play it - but there was no promise of that. I am 100% certain, and I think that's something to say about this band, is that even if I knew we weren't gonna record it and play it - I would've been meeting up with Adam to write music anyway. Because that was the only thing we were living for at the time.
But it definitely was a completely different process between those two records. And obviously, you know, the world and the industry has shifted a lot from then to now and how things are done. But I mean, more or less, we're just trying to do the same thing: get out and play! So, there's different challenges with that. The touring world went from being nothing to now being so oversaturated. It's so difficult to book our calendars because every club has a show going on seven days a week.
KYS: With Endless Hallway being the heaviest He Is Legend release in a long time, what vibe does the band follow next? Where does He Is Legend go from here?
Jesse: There’s no pre-designated path. I know we have ideas, like even before we did this last record, there were things we didn't say on the last record. And it’s like: “Well, on the next one, we're gonna explore that more”. We’re gonna go down some certain rabbit holes this next time around.
Schuylar: Yeah, Adam was even talking about how he had been writing. And I think one of the cool things about when we start writing, we said at the start of this, there's always an opener and a closing tune, there’s the hunt for those and the way that they organically kind of bloom and grow like a fungus. The closer for Endless Hallway, Lord Slug, has been on the shelf for like six years, with weird back and forth, like getting an iPhone recording of just like: “What are you thinking?!” (laughs).
There are certain things like that that will make it on the album and be a cool kind of Easter egg for the band because we have sat on it for so long. The opening on Endless Hallway was an intro that the guys would just play on stage before I would walk on, kind of an opener. And I've heard tons of kids call it out, like: “I’ve seen y’all play that!!” (laughs).
Jesse: There's not really a direction for the next one. It doesn't mean heavier, it doesn't mean faster, but I know we're going to just widen it, go further down rabbit holes. I've learned to speak or translate things Adam says to me before we even meet up to write something. He’ll always say: “I came up with something; you're gonna hate it”. That usually means I'm gonna like it, because his far-out stuff, you know, the more ridiculous he thinks it is - that usually means it has a lot of character and that's the stuff I instantly go for. We're very similar in our taste in what we like, but sometimes he'll think like: “Oh, this is way too metal of an idea for you to enjoy”. And that may be so…
Schuylar: But your flair is not metal. Because you have such an old rocker flair.
Jesse: It doesn’t matter to me what he shows me. If it’s like: “Oh, you’re gonna hate this”…that means it’s distinctive and it has character.
Schuylar: Then you’ll tell me, and you’re like: “Yeah, we wrote a riff, you’re gonna hate it” (laughs).
Jesse: It’s like, if each song has got its own character to it, and it's distinctive, and it doesn't blend in with anything - that's the stuff I think is just great. And I don't care what it is as long as it's like: “Oh, this has some pizzazz!”
Schuylar: Yes. And I think we're in a position now, I can say this because I don't play the guitar, but Adam has a flair all his own. I think even if you were to hear him solo on someone else's album, you could probably pick up that it was him, you know? He does have such a distinct tone and sound and style to his playing. And the same for Jesse, same for Matt.
I feel very blessed to have such immense talent in the band that it can be recognisable on its own, and I think that those things are what make our albums stand out. When it comes time to write those albums, usually there's a song where we're like: “This is the one that we may never play live, and it just shows that we can go places”.
Martini is a song we've never actually played, but it was just an interesting song. And while we may never have played some of those songs, we got to do something so far-out. And I think that’s why we are still allowed to do it because we never stopped doing shit like that.
Jesse: To answer the question most accurately: the next album will be the most He Is Legend record possible. Because at this point: we don't have to do this. And we don't have to prove anything. We've written a lot of stuff, so now the only thing to do is explore and really just express ourselves. And if it's not sincere - you will never hear it.
Schuylar: That’s actually pretty profound. I haven't thought about that. Now we're allowed to just be ourselves because we're old enough and we’ve been in the game long enough now that we're like: who gives a shit! We’re gonna be doing this anyway!
Jesse: And of course, with every album you're like: “I hope this is the best He Is Legend record”. Some people may say “This is my favourite one” or “I think this was the best one”. There are those, but I'll say guaranteed: whichever one is the newest is the most sincere because otherwise, we wouldn't be doing it. And we're the most developed characters yet.
Schuylar: And I definitely was shaking in my boots up until the day Endless Hallway dropped, just not knowing. You gotta constantly question your work. But yeah, the next one will be pure He Is Legend.
He Is Legend are touring across Australia this May. You can buy tickets from Beats Cartel.
HE IS LEGEND
AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2023 WITH SPECIAL GUESTS HAMMERS
WEDNESDAY 17 MAY 2023 - MO'S DESERT CLUBHOUSE, GOLD COAST
THURSDAY 18 MAY 2023 - THE ZOO, BRISBANE
FRIDAY 19 MAY 2023 - CROWBAR, SYDNEY
SATURDAY 20 MAY 2023 - STAY GOLD, MELBOURNE
SUNDAY 21 MAY 2023 - LION ARTS FACTORY, ADELAIDE
WEDNESDAY 24 MAY 2023 - BADLANDS, PERTH