For over a decade now, Southern metal/hard rock outfit He Is Legend have been one of the most underrated acts in the alternative underground. Across five, stellar full-length albums – which trace a path from the group’s early beginnings as purveyors of raucous metalcore-meets-post-hardcore, to the country-fried, blues/rock/metal chimera you’ll find today – the North Carolina four-piece have consistently delivered bangin’ riffs and soaring melodies, while continuing to defy genre conventions with their bold, risk-taking swagger. When Killyourstereo.com recently spoke with vocalist and Southern gentlemen Schuylar Croom from a green room in central Scotland, we managed to deliberate on all manner of subjects, including the release of their highly anticipated, fifth studio record, ‘few,’ touring across the European continent, letting their influences shine, 19th-century French poetry, and how to stay up on the latest in hip-hop culture.
Hello Schuylar! How are you doing dude?
I’m doing well Owen. How are you?
I’m well too. I only just woke up, but you know, I’m feeling surprisingly fresh.
Yeah, well I only just got off stage a few minutes ago. So, we’re feeling exactly the opposite—a little ‘un-fresh’. What is it, like, nine or ten in the morning there?
(Laughs.) Nope, it’s seven thirty in the morning here my friend.
Seven thirty in the morning?! Jesus. H. Christ.
I got up nice and special, just for you Schuylar.
Well, I really appreciate that.
No problem at all. Where did you guys play this evening?
We’re in Glasgow, Scotland right now. We just got off stage and unloaded a few minutes ago, so we’re going to go do some partying I think.
Sounds like fun. And how was the Glasgow show?
The show was good, pretty cool; I can’t complain. We’re playing shows outside of our own country, so what do we know? (Laughs.)
Fair enough. And how have the rest of the shows on your European tour been like so far?
They’re not too bad. You know, some are better than others. I think that’s just how things go with stuff like this. We had a really good time at a festival in Belgium called Groezrock. It was really cool, and we had a tonne of people watching us, so I think we got a really good slot. It was nice; we had a really nice time.
Awesome. And do you think it’s good for He Is Legend to play those shows outside the States, to get in front of different crowds and play to different vibes and atmospheres?
It’s a double-edged sword. Because it costs the band a lot to get over to these places, like Europe. Then at the same time, it’s definitely worth the exposure. I mean, we have fans over here, so the less you come over, the more they’re asking for you to come. You gotta do it occasionally. But yeah, I mean for us, we’re having a great time. The culture is a little different, but that just means you have to find ways to get around it all. It’s been nice, it’s been good, and we don’t have too many shows left.
Cool. And with your new record – ‘few’ – having its release only a few weeks ago, what’s the response been like to the new material?
It’s been great, man. Kids have been really receptive to it and seems like it’s the album that they were looking for. So, we’re excited to be able to deliver that. It was definitely the most important thing that we’ve done in a long time, and that came down to the fact that the kids gave it to us as a present, you know? By funding the record themselves they gave us the opportunity to record it, and in return, we took our time with it and made ourselves the best that we could be.
Absolutely. On a personal level, I’ve been a He Is Legend fan for many, many years, so when I saw that you guys were doing a crowd-funding project for the next album, I was straight in there to be a contributor.
And I guess now it’s come full circle too. I’ve had a copy of ‘few’ for a few months now, and I’ve really enjoyed it, listening to it front to back many times over. So, to see you guys succeed with crowd-funding, going well above your own original goal target, and then be able to put out a record like ‘few’ for those fans, is really something special.
Yeah, I feel exactly the same way man. And it’s because of people like you, that this is even possible. We obviously would have found a ‘Plan B’ eventually, but in the heat of moment, we weighed all of our odds, studied other bands that had done this before, and then we just had to figure out what the best application of this would be, for us to do it on our own.
When we finally decided to do it, we were really meticulous about looking at how other bands had done it because we didn’t want to go our own way, but we also wanted to use the ins-and-outs that we had seen. But yeah, it really gave the fans a chance to work with the band and to see what it’s like to make a record: how long it takes, and what goes into it. So, I think that was really special and cool for the fans as well.
That’s an interesting point you mentioned just now because I agree that it is somewhat difficult for your average music fan to get into the head-space of their favourite artists, and truly understand the full scope of what’s involved in making a record. So, on that note, what was the writing and recording process like for ‘few’ in comparison to your previous albums?
Yeah, we were kind of biting our fingernails, just waiting to see if we’d reach our amount and make our goal. We were all really confident that it would happen, but at the end of the day, you don’t know until you reach the mark. Obviously, we’d already been writing and we had music ready to go, but we also couldn’t really say go until the money was there.
So, we were really pushing to promote it, but also trying to not be overbearing and in everyone’s face about it. We took a lot of time, using our artist friends’ and their craft – like jewellery makers, clothing designers and what not – to help promote, and I think that really helped us a lot, in helping to make it more of a ‘special’ event and something that wouldn’t really happen again. Being able to collaborate with people, helping to push their name as well as push this possibility of getting a new album. So, when we saw it hit the mark and then go over, we were like ‘Ok, now were golden. Let’s get in the studio.’ The whole process didn’t really start until that point, and there’s a bunch of time between when you reach your goal and the time is over, until PayPal can transfer you the money, and Indiegogo sort out their end.
There’s a lot of red tape and it’s stuff that we as band members weren’t necessarily aware of, but also not really concerned about. We ended up sitting around, waiting for that money to transfer, and then me and Matty [Williams, bass] basically sat around and wrote a thousand cheques and the money was gone (laughs). Because it’s all pretty much spent already, by the time you get it, but that’s the beauty of crowd-funding: you know that you can pay for what you’ve put out there.
From there, the recording process itself was alike any other for us. We went to the same studio with our buddy, to make the album that we need. We had everything in our rehearsal space, pretty much mapped out. We work the same way we always have when it comes to recording; there were no new tricks. We were lucky enough to be at Warrior Sound with Al [Jacob] helping to produce the record, and the only real difference was that we stayed in a cabin about a good 25-minute drive away from the studio. That allowed us to congregate and take a load off at the end of the night, and we got to really reflect on what we were doing. Especially that the fans had really stuck their necks out for us, and had given us this opportunity.
That’s awesome. What types of influences and experiences were you guys pulling from for ‘few’? What were you trying to channel and zero-in on musically with this record?
Our immediate influences have always been the same. I guess it’s different for each person, but collectively, when we think about our band, we really have to bow our heads to people like Dimebag Darrel [Darrell Lance Abbott, Pantera] and Kurt Cobain [Nirvana]—people who really paved the way, to allow us to do the stuff that we’re doing. We pay homage to bands like that constantly. People like Layne Staley [Alice In Chains] you know, these influences that we have that come from… intense honour and sadness and respect.
For us, it’s not necessarily that we go into writing with those ideas – I mean, we wear those influences on our sleeve – but I think they definitely shine through a lot. We’re all well into our 30s now, and I think we’re now more than ever trying to reflect on where we came from and why we do this. So, bands like the [Red Hot] Chilli Peppers, Marilyn Manson, White Zombie, Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Slipknot are the things that we really grew up on and were super unique in of themselves. Even something like Korn for instance. I mean we grew up on nu metal, so part of it is an aspiration to be ‘that big,’ and to have die-hard fans like that. Which we do, and we certainly have a cult following. Of course, we didn’t sell out this room in Glasgow tonight, but the kids that were here were fucking stoked, you know? So, to us, it’s really important to notice that silver lining.
I think that ‘few’ is doing that for us now in a different way, and we’re coming up on this new movement of our band, gaining new fans and it’s important for us to remain positive throughout this whole thing. Ultimately, we owe it to these influences that shine through regardless, and I think our sound now is nailed down and pinpointed. ‘few’ sounds like a He Is Legend record, whether you like the band or not, but if you like ‘few’ you can go back and probably enjoy the other records as well. I think ‘few’ shows a little of all of our different records, in one entire, complete piece of music.
Absolutely dude. As a fan, I would agree with your last statement 100%.
Thank you, man.
You’re very welcome. Now, in terms of lyrics Schuylar, I’ve always found your lyrics to be one of the defining characteristics of that He Is Legend ‘sound’. For ‘few,’ were there any specific lyrical themes you were trying to get across and reflect on with this record? I understand that there was some inspiration taken from Gothic literature, particularly the works of Russian theosophist Helena Blavatsky.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, lyrically, I’m all over the place, just like I am personally (laughs). I was reading a bunch of esoteric things, but I only brought a couple of books with me to the cabin, mainly for lyrical references and trying to add an ‘esoteric’ flair. I liken a lot of it to a French poet named Charles Baudelaire, who wrote The Flowers of Evil (1857). I have a really old copy that was translated by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I hope I’m getting those names right. But Baudelaire was brought over to America, and he was a Parisian poet and essentially the Edgar Allan Poe of Paris—you know, a drunkard and what not. I took a lot of what he wrote, and you know, it kind of cheapens it a little bit, to be translated from French to English, but some of the translations were really cool and have been inspiring to me for a long time.
I never write lyrics before the music is there. I like to write lyrics for music that’s already been written and recorded in the studio, like a jigsaw falling into place. But even with this record, if I had written something before, the cabin where we stayed and when I was there alone, had some really inspiring moments and some really dark moments too. So, I used this little bit of literature I had with me, to reflect on some things happening to me personally and the inner workings of the band, and then trying to convey that experience through a song. Which to me, and in all of He Is Legend’s record, all I’ve tried to do is tell a story, tell it simply and relate it all to love, because I believe most songs are either written about love or the loss of love.
So, I wanted to do that, and I wanted to keep it simple and use words that were less than five letters long, and in the end, that didn’t work out the way I wanted it to (laughs). I’d heard about Thom Yorke [Radiohead] doing something like that, limiting himself to five letters. I don’t know if that comes from boredom or what. But I went into it with a process, and I wanted to have a process, and then at the end of the day, I found myself mixing entire poems that I had chosen or written the day before, and being like ‘No, I can’t do this,’ and just getting rid of them and writing brand new the day of. Just because of a feeling that I had, or of driving back and forth from the cabin to the studio, as I’m listening to the song that I’m going to go track, I hear a different melody and I pull over to write down a few words. That was happening to me left and right.
So lyrically, it was a different kind of record, because I thought I was prepared and I ended up being less prepared than ever. Just trying to be lax about it, and having a really tough time battling my own self in that, and I think a lot of that came out on the record. ‘Fritz The Dog’ was completely written, I walked into the studio and I did it in one night lyrically, whereas other songs were like ‘I can’t do this right now because I’m losing my mind over it.’ Yeah, it’s interesting, and I don’t know how anyone else does it, so I don’t have anything to compare it with. I’ve always kind of done it this way, but finding that alone time really made it something special for me.
That’s awesome. And I like that you mentioned ‘Fritz The Dog’ just now, because for me personally, that’s one of the standout tracks on the record. So, it’s cool to hear the story behind it.
Yeah, well that song happened to be one of those things where I knew where I wanted it to go lyrically. It’s such a whimsical song, and I think I recorded vocals on that first because I wanted to clear this cobweb-style situation I have in the studio, of wanting to be silly and to use my voice as a character. I think it gets me off in the studio, especially when I know that Adam [Tanbouz, lead guitarist] has written something like that. It’s a song that’s supposed to have a bit of a swagger to it; it’s intoxicated, it’s sexier than other songs, you know?
I think going into that, vocally, for me, it has to be a song that is a little bit silly but it also has to have that attitude. You have to be playing a show in your head, in a vocal booth, alone, which is very odd. You have to perform on record, and there’s no one there. So, I think that was a good song to get out of the way first because I wasn’t being myself and I was playing a character inside the booth, so it made it easier to get out the half-hearted things that I was going to put on the record.
That makes sense. And with the record being out now Schuylar, do you have any personal favourites from ‘few,’ that you guys are able to play live and bring to life outside the studio?
We play ‘Silent Gold’ at soundcheck sometimes, and that song’s really cool. ‘Sand’ we play a lot live, just because it’s really fast and it’s over quick. It’s just a really banging thing that we’ve got, so it’s nice to play, people want to hear it and it’s an easy song to remember. I mean, yeah, of course, they’re standout tracks to me, but those could be for personal reasons, or something that happened in the studio, or how we feel when we hear them ourselves. So something like ‘Sand’ is cool, because it’s the one that people have been hearing the longest, and I think we’re definitely in a position to make it the ‘rock’ track that people want to hear. Especially on this tour where the album’s fresh, and they can hear something that’s familiar to them.
Awesome. And with the band being on the road now, touring the new record, I wanted to ask what you guys enjoy listening to in your downtime between shows, to unwind? Are there any new records that you guys are into, or old classics that get a spin?
Man, that question there, is all over the map (laughs). We just jammed the new Mac De Marco [‘This Old Dog’] a couple of times, we really like him. The new AFI [‘The Blood Album’] is dope. We predominantly listen to a lot of hip-hop, we like the new Future album [self-titled] and obviously, we play Drake all the time too. We’re Southern boys, so we try to stay up on the hip-hop culture as much as possible. We do jam a lot of old stuff, but mainly I think every one person would have a different answer to that question. I really like the new Polica album, but I’m not quite sure how to pronounce it. The album’s called ‘United Crushers,’ and it has female vocals with electronic music and some real instrumentation. She [Channy Leaneagh, vocals/synth] has some of the most amazing vocal melodies I’ve ever heard, things that I’m jealous of hearing, and stuff we’re I’m like ‘God, I wish I wrote that!’ That album is really, really cool and I can listen to that all the way through. But yeah, we stay up on music pretty well. We like to consider ourselves as professional appreciators, and we’re always looking for that ‘new’ new, you know? It’s Atlanta-style, trap hip-hop that we really get down with, because you know, you need something different to put a vibe on us before a show.
So, there’s nothing really new that we’re digging. New Balance and Composure [‘Light We Made’]; they’re a super great band that we’ve been digging a lot. Citizen is a great band that we dig a lot. There are tonnes of great rock’n’roll coming out these days, and I think it has to do with the state of things, but that’s just par for the course I guess.
For sure. Now, my final question before we wrap up, I was lucky enough to see He Is Legend when you played here in Australia just after ‘Suck Out The Poison’ came out. I think it must have been 2008, maybe 2009… It was a while ago…
Yeah, we were also down there for Soundwave too, but I’m sure you saw a cooler show.
(Laughs.) Yeah, the show was great. So, with ‘few’ out and this newfound momentum behind the band, do He Is Legend have any plans in the works to come back Down Under?
We would love to. Obviously again, it takes a bit of money that we don’t have. So, it would take proper planning and budgeting, but fuck yeah, I would live in Australia if I could afford it. We would love to come back over, and I don’t anticipate that it’s not going to happen with this album. I think you can plan on seeing us soon, it’s just a matter of what we can schedule and what it’s going to take to get us over there. With proper planning and the proper bill, we’ll be there.
That sounds sick, and I can’t wait. Well, thanks once again for taking some time to chat with me after your show, Schuylar.
Thank you, man. We really appreciate it.
You boys go have some fun tonight, and enjoy the rest of your tour.
Hell yeah, man. You know it!
‘few’ is out now through Spinefarm Records/Caroline Australia, and you can find our review for the album here. Also, if you’re yet to experience the full-throttle joy and exuberance of a He Is Legend rock show in the flesh, then check out this video below of the band’s full set supporting Norma Jean on their recent US tour, where they open with ‘The Widow of Magnolia’ (my personal favourite track).