Interview: Matt Fox of Shai Hulud

Shai hulud Tour posterSome bands look forward to a day off on tour. Do a little sightseeing, check out a new city, or sleep off a hangover in the van. But not Shai Hulud. The veteran metallic hardcore crew used their day off from supporting Funeral For A Friend’s final Euro tour to treat Glasgow to a special headline show.

We sent Ryan down to the G2 to catch up with the band’s founder, leader, and guitarist Matt Fox, where they chatted about the tour, the band’s tumultuous lineup, and what it takes to survive for twenty years in the international hardcore scene.

Hi Matt. Is that you setting up your own merch?

Yeah, we actually had a merch guy but he had to leave around this time. No big deal, I can manage.

Keeping it DIY?

When you’re broke, all you can do is keep the DIY ethic.

So are you having fun on this tour then?

Y’know, me and the word fun don’t typically gel. My idea of fun is sitting down, watching a movie, having a conversation over dinner. Anything more than that is too fun for me! But it’s been really cool going out with Funeral For A Friend. It was so awesome of them to do this for us, which they didn’t have to do. That makes it both really fun and really special for us. There’s only a million bands in the world and they asked us specifically to do their last tour. It’s pretty crazy, we’re pretty flattered. So yeah, I’m having as much fun as I can have, haha!

So how have you been getting along with Funeral For A Friend? And their audiences?

With Funeral, we’re getting along very well. Their fans are very receptive. it seems the crowds were a little warmer than they have been in the UK, I don’t know if that’s a thing? But I would say Manchester felt a little strange. I felt it was the coldest audience we had had. there were some points at some songs where we would end the song and people would usually clap, and I had to go to the mic and say ‘Manchester!’ and then maybe a few people [would join in]. But for the most part the crowds have been very warm and receptive. The past two nights there’s been a little crew of Shai Hulud diehards singing every word and letting everyone around them know how important Shai Hulud is to them and that’s so important to us – fuck yeah Glasgow!

How are you finding getting along with this touring lineup? I did a wee Google before I came out to see what you’d been up to and as soon as you open ‘Shai Hulud on Wikipedia’ it’s a big list of band members… So how’s this touring lineup been?

One little comment about that. It’s just funny because the Wikipedia page literally has friends who, if somebody in the band couldn’t make the show, we’d say ‘Hey, Joe, can you play this show?’ ‘Sure, I’ll fill in for you’. Now he’s a ‘member’, according to Wikipedia. So that’s to be taken with a fuckload of salt. To me a member is either somebody who joins for a length of time or contributed to the sound or the style or an album in some way. I would say that more than half the ‘members’ listed on Wikipedia weren’t members.

As far as this lineup. Unfortunately we have fill-ins. The singer is our friend Matty Carlock. He used to sing for a hardcore band back in New Jersey, he’s now doing his own solo stuff. And when the guy we had singing told us he could no longer do the tour, just six weeks before we were set to leave, we found ourselves in a pretty tricky position, and Matt’s somebody I knew could do the job well and he happened to be willing and available. So he’s here, but unfortunately this is the only tour he’ll do with us. We’ll stay friends and do stuff later on but as far as him fronting the band, he’s got his own career he’s working on. And my friend Stefan, he’s here with us playing guitar. He likes us, he likes the music, but as far as him joining the band it doesn’t make very sound income. It’s not feasible for him to join the band. And then the drummer and the bass player, Dustin and Mo, have been playing in Shai Hulud for a year and so I think that lineup is pretty steady. But as always the only thing I can guarantee is as long as I’m breathing I’ll always be there. There are plans for a new record and I know Mo and I have been working on it pretty steadily so, in theory, the rest of the lineup is secure.

You’ve been doing this for about twenty years. How do you keep doing it?!

I’ve been much more comfortable saying this now than I have been in the past twenty years: you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger fan of Shai Hulud than me. I love Shai Hulud. I wanted to continue for my own personal reasons. It can be a very big source of stress and heartache, which it often is. I guess you can say it’s an abusive relationship, because in addition to that there’s a lot of pleasure that I get from it. There’s a lot of things in the band, within everything that happens, it kind of tears away at my soul. But there’s a lot else, the words and feelings expressed by other people that do so much to build me up personally. I don’t know if that’s something I could give up. It’s hard to say for sure, but if everybody in the world stopped caring at one point, who knows what I would do the next day?

But now, with the constant positive feedback we get… We hear things, and it’s horrible to hear that these things have happened, but I’m thankful that we were there, some people say the music saved their lives. I’m horrified that anybody has to be in a position to have their lives saved by music, but I’m happy that ours did it and, fuck yeah, that’s great. And I have a friend that created a board game that is now being marketed and sold and he said it was Shai Hulud that got him through it. So these things definitely push me forward. I have a friend who say that Shai Hulud got him through medical school. These things make me feel good and make me want to continue. I still have a lot of ideas, and as long as there are ideas why not put them to use.

On another side note, talking to Funeral, when I asked them why they wanted to end it rather than bring it down a  little bit, they said they had run their course creatively with each other. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened to Shai Hulud yet. If it does, it might come to an end. But I’ve got a lot of material ready for another album, so I’d say we’ve got another five years. After that, who knows?

New album? I’ve been listening through your back catalogue this week and I’m amazed at the different sounds you have on each album. So will this new stuff be in another new direction?

This is kind of a vague answer, but the only thing I can say is we’re bringing new ideas. What does that mean? Shai Hulud isn’t really a hit-making band, so there’s no real pressure for us to… I don’t know, the first thing that’s coming to mind is ‘Hey Jude’ by The Beatles. We don’t have to write ‘Hey Jude Part II’. Any song that we have that people resonated to, it’s on such a small level, so we have the luxury of not thinking ‘we have to write another one of these, we have to replicate that’. I enjoy that and that keeps things open just to keep generating new ideas. And I have a lot of new ideas. Like you said, the albums definitely sound different, but I like to think there’s a thread running through all of them where you can say ‘Is this Shai Hulud?’. There’s a certain style, whether it’s a ‘melodicism’, structural choices. So you’ll always know that it’s us, but we definitely have no interest in repeating what we’ve done before.

I think the older i get the more progressive I want to be, the more i want to make things a little more challenging. When I was younger the way I used to write songs was I used to write in a linear fashion. It would just go from part to part to part and things wouldn’t repeat. I don’t know if I got smarter or dumber but my songwriting isn’t like that anymore. Now each song is comprised of two or three parts and they morph into each other and that was more apparent on our last album Reach Beyond the Sun. We’re taking those more progressive ideas and putting them in more progressive song structuring. For lack of better ways to put it, that’s what I’d say you can expect from the next record.

I guess one more thing I should say. I guess Shai Hulud has always been steeped in hardcore. We started out as a hardcore band. Me, I grew up listening to thrash metal, that’s my favourite music ever. But when I started playing guitar, it was all Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains and then later Sick Of It All, Uniform Choice, Chain Of Strength, Burn. That’s ingrained in the sound of Shai Hulud, but that said, especially at this stage in my life, I’m not afraid of more metal sounds. I think we’ve always straddled that line between metal and hardcore. I think we’ve always straddled that line, and I don’t think that’s ever gonna go away.

But I can say the songs we’re working on definitely have an ‘epic feel’. But I think that’s something that people who enjoy Shai Hulud will gravitate toward. But that’s something that I find appealing.

That’s really interesting that you mention being a thrash fan, and how your music consequently straddles that line between metal and hardcore. Because we have a lot of bands in Glasgow that do that. Deceit, who are opening the show, are one of them. Do you have any advice for new bands playing your sort of style?

Man, I have absolutely no advice. I really don’t think I do. You know what advice I got? I was probably about twenty-three, working in a record store, and there was this old guy (I say old, he was probably as old as I am now). He used to come into the store and we used to talk about hard rock and metal and such. So one day he came into the store and I told him ‘hey, my band just recorded’. So I gave him a copy of the demo, he came back, he didn’t like it. But he said ‘I didn’t like it, but it doesn’t matter that I didn’t like it’, and I can’t tell you how much I try to stick to these words: all he said was ‘write music for yourself’.

And it didn’t make any sense to me then cause I said ‘well who else am I gonna write for?’. But as we put out our first, second, third records and certain magazines would say ‘well what I like less about this album…’ and I would pick up my guitar and say ‘well I’ll show him!’ And I found that at certain points I wasn’t writing for myself. Again, if I had to give any advice, I would pass on his words. that didn’t make any sense when I was twenty years old, but hopefully in twenty years time they can look back and think ‘that Matt Fox guy was right’…

That said, I do try to keep the audience in mind too. I try to make the audience happy. I think some bands are lying when they say we never care what the audience thinks. i think you should write for yourself, but if somebody likes something about your band, give them some of that. I think there is a degree of consistency that a band has to often, while writing for yourself. it’s tricky huh?

I don’t know if I can give advice to anybody. If anybody can give me some advice help me out!

So beyond the new album, what’s next for Shai Hulud? Where would you like to see the band go now?

I’d like to see it go as far as it can go. Our bass player, who’s not on tour with us. I remember some years ago, around the time we were working on Misanthropy Pure. And he said, ‘I’m still trying to get as big as Metallica’. And I was blown away by that. We’d been in the band for over ten years at that point, and I remember saying ‘we’ve been in the band for ten years at this point, do you think that’s even possible?’ And he said ‘If I’m not going for the biggest thing out there then what am i going for? I’m writing shit to do the biggest things I can.’ and that was an inspirational thing for me, cause I started having smaller goals, just keep doing what we’re doing. So if I’m still writing music then yeah i’m going for the biggest I can go. It means if I’m gonna give a little I’m gonna give everything. All of my heart, all of my mind, everything I’ve got goes into the music. I’d like to push that to the biggest level possible. Even after twenty years I’m still pretty hungry.

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