After a series of tour dates with Funeral for a Friend, Shai Hulud played a show in London’s Borderline, on 16 April 2016. Lance Marwood arrived early to share some words of wisdom (and general misanthropy) with Matt Fox, the band’s guitarist, backing vocalist, and sole remaining founding member.
So first of all I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
Fox: Aw man, are you kidding? The fact that anyone’s interested in Shai Hulud is a hell of a lot. So the fact you’re willing to do it, I appreciate that very much.
That’s an interesting thing to say considering you guys are easily one of the progenitors of one of the most popular subgenres of hardcore in the last 20, 25 years.
Fox: Tell that to the rest of the world. I mean, I’m not going to say whether or not that’s true, I don’t know, but… that’s certainly not the prevailing opinion. Again, the fact that anyone’s willing to talk about Shai Hulud is pretty flattering, and I’m pretty happy to do it.
So you believe you’re not a big deal?
Fox: God, well…I don’t know how honest I should be. But as you’ll notice with tonight’s turn out, which I’m sure you will, I couldn’t imagine, we’ll get lucky if we get 50 people. Our turn outs wouldn’t necessitate calling us a big deal by any means. I think the band made an impact. I’m somewhat certain of that, and that feels nice. And I’m proud of that. But, you know, to call the band a big deal, especially anyone within the band who sees the modest turnouts and sometimes shows being cancelled due to poor advance ticket sales, you’d have to be a real – you’d have to be full of yourself and be in Shai Hulud and say that you’re a big deal. So no, I wouldn’t ever say that. I’m proud of the band, and I’ve been saying this a lot lately, that I’ve never been comfortable with saying before but now I feel like it’s worth saying: You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger Shai Hulud fan than me. So it’s not to belittle the band and it’s not to say the band’s not important or that it’s great, because I feel all of that, but in the eyes of the masses and especially in the industry, I don’t even think we’re a blip on the radar.
I mean it’s pretty amazing to hear from yourself that you’re its biggest fan, and that’s a great way of looking at it and that’s what keeps that going. And I’d say to that, that there’s an ethos that goes with what you’re doing from the very start (…) I mean, just that release in ‘97 alone has helped define an entire genre alone.
Fox: Well, that’s a very kind thing to say. Again, I wouldn’t be so bold as to confirm or deny that. But I think it’s fair to say, that even if that was a fact, what you said, that it would not be acknowledged by a majority of people. So it is what it is.
So what’s been the highlight of this current tour?
Fox: The highlight has been the Funeral For A Friend dates, in a different way than one might expect, and maybe it’s more expected than I think it is, but…not because we’re playing for a thousand people, not because we were given that opportunity, but because simply being asked to tour with Funeral For A Friend. And the reason is, we didn’t know the guys. I think the singer sent me an email once back in 2003 because he liked our album That Within Blood Ill-Tempered. And I didn’t respond. And then I think I met him once a couple years ago in passing. So we weren’t friends, and I don’t say this in any disparaging way, I wasn’t familiar with the band. When I go home, I will probably become a fan of Funeral For A Friend. Especially having met them and seeing them play for the past couple of weeks.
But when we were asked to tour, I was not a Funeral For A Friend fan. I could not have told you what the band sounded like. I’m a diehard metalhead, and I like the hardcore and punk that I like. So they never really made it onto my radar. So that being the case, that’s why it’s so incredible. Talk about a bunch of selfless guys. It’s almost like living in a neighborhood and knowing that somebody lives down the road, never having met them, and one day they knock on your door and they’ve just got gifts for you. And they say, “Just because we respect you. We’ve noticed you, we’ve lived down the street from you for ten, fifteen years, we’ve never said hello, we’ve never had an opportunity to sit and talk, but we’ve always loved and we’ve always respected you.” Here… and that’s what they did for us. […]
I can sense how impassioned you are about it, and I have to say about touring, it can really give you that feeling. But it can go the other way too.
Fox: Oh yeah, and I think every tour has its fair share of brutality.
Has there been any brutality on this tour?
Fox: Some sickness. I managed to get sick twice. I don’t get sick often, but I’ve got a couple fill ins, a couple guys who aren’t seasoned to touring. I’ve been touring for twenty years and about fifteen years ago, after having toured for a few years, I learned what has to be done, how you take care of yourself, how to contain your sicknesses so others don’t get sick. And I find that I’m touring with other people who aren’t as conditioned, sickness tends to spread little easier. So I managed to get sick twice which can be pretty brutal. And as you can tell my voice isn’t exactly where it [should be]. It’s a little shot. It’s better than it was last week, oh my god. I feel great compared to last week. […]
How’s it been touring with the guys?
Fox: It’s been great, everyone does a killer job on stage. But you know, in the van, what do they say? The more you know about someone, the more you can pick on ‘em. You know? The more you know somebody, the more you expect the things that will annoy you. That goes for me, that goes for the other guys, towards everybody. So there’s some days where everybody wakes up and we’re all pal-ly and then there’s some days, everybody wakes up and the smallest little thing can snowball into something else. But everyone’s fairly mature so if anyone gets in the mood, which has been happening thankfully, everybody will just tune themselves out and take a nap, take a rest, or sink into their laptop, sink into their headphones. And then when they come back things are a little more easy to deal with. Speaking for myself, I know I’m a particular person. And that’s not only difficult to live with in this body that demands these preferences, but I think it’s also difficult for other people who are doing their best to cater to those preferences. So, you know, creature comforts and individual quirks, tossing all of them together all into one closed vehicle and driving for ten hours a day…thankfully we haven’t had to do that that much. But you know, driving for hours a day doesn’t necessarily always make for the most comfortable situations for everybody. But it’s always been like that, and again I’m so used to touring that I think I know how to deal with it.
I think most musicians would agree with you. I think every musician would.
Fox: Of course. I can’t think of any examples- well, actually the band Jawbox comes to mind. I think that I read somewhere and I may be wrong so if this is incorrect feel free for anyone to correct me, but I think I heard at one point the drummer, either on one or two tours or maybe all tours, had a vehicle to himself because it was too difficult. And you hear that about other, bigger bands. But truth be told, my god, if we were in a position where I could do that, I would do that in a heartbeat. […]
You do tend to find people who are either/or, though you do tend to find people who are on more of a spectrum and can really quickly change from one to another.
Fox: For me, I have moments where I wanna hang out, but this is totally not relevant to the band, so I won’t stand on it too long, but a little anecdote: I remember being in like kindergarten or first grade, getting on to a school bus with a friend of mine, and I notice the school bus was packed. And I remember saying to my friend, “Hey let’s try to find an alone seat,” and as we’re walking along I already saw that he was sitting with a bunch of people, and that I was walking alone to an alone seat by myself. And I realized early on that I like to be in the company of like one or two people, privately. And I also noticed throughout the years that there’s not many people like that. I don’t want to say there’s not many, but the majority of people that I’ve met enjoy being in large company. It’s never been my thing.
I think it goes with music as well.
I mean, you go into music through social means, it’s a form of connecting, and sort of attracts extroverts.
Fox: And that I do love. I love, absolutely love, another highlight of not just the tour but our band, is connecting to people through music. And honestly I would rather keep it that way. That’s how I feel that I communicate best. And if I was fortunate enough to find someone after the show that wanted to sit down quiet and either have a meal or a drink, that would be great too because I love dinner and conversation. But if I’m going to communicate with a mass of people, let’s do it over loud music, everyone screaming and yelling at the same time. After that, then for me, I like nice relaxing, quiet time. And somebody’s always welcome to join me, and this might be the story of my life and frustrating for other people, but it always has to be on my terms. In a place where it’s quiet, no smoking, not loud music. So like I said, I’m pretty particular and that can be off-putting, I can understand.
Check out the song “Colder Than The Cold World”
In a way though, I think that’s better to know that about yourself rather than tolerating other people’s expectations and finding yourself on edge at all times.
Fox: Yeah. I think I might be anyway. (Laughing) […]
In previous interviews you’ve mentioned that you feel that when you put your mind to something, you’ve said in the past, “I’m a particular person, I know what works for me, I know what doesn’t”.
Fox: I think that’s fairly accurate.
I think that same approach could be easily applicable to your career. If you were ever going to do it, you need to be ready to dedicate all of yourself to it.
Fox: I have definitely dedicated all of myself to it. That’s very apparent. Hence the forthcoming bankruptcy. [Pause] I’m not kidding. (Laughs)
Fox: That’s okay.
It’s…you’ve obviously put all of yourself into it.
Fox: I certainly have. I’ve put everything that I am, and everything that I have into Shai Hulud. No question about it.
And you’d ask that of other people that are in the band?
Fox: Well…that’s a difficult thing…I don’t know what’s more difficult, receiving it, or asking for it. It’s hard for me to ask for anything so completely, knowing that there’s very little return. At least return in financial compensation. If there was somebody that really loved Shai Hulud and their father or mother was independently wealthy, and making money was not an issue to them, then maybe I could ask it of them, because maybe their heart was in the right place. […] It’s difficult not to ask somebody who’s in an extraordinary circumstance where they don’t have to worry about anything where they have to dedicate themselves so completely. I couldn’t do it. And the sad thing is that for a band that’s attempting to do what we’re attempting to do, it almost requires that. But I’m not going to find that. I found it a couple times in the band’s life time, most notably in 1999 when Matt Fletcher who’s our long-time bass player who’s still in the band, but just doesn’t tour anymore. But you know he gave up everything, gave up his friends and family and school in Oklahoma to move to Florida to tour and suffer with Shai Hulud. I don’t know that since then that anyone’s given up their lives so completely the way I have to do it. And again, at this point, I’m 42, I’ll be 43 this month. It’s…knowing what I know about the realities of life, it would be difficult to ask somebody to do that. I find that even what I do sometimes ask of people, is even probably more than I should. So it’s scary. And it’s just scary only in that I want to continue the way I want to continue, but the realities of life and the realities of what this band brings in monetarily prevent people from joining, the way the band needs someone to join. And that’s the reality of it. I’ve met plenty of people who say, ‘Yeah, sounds great. We’ll do this, we’ll do that. How much a week?’ And then that’s where everything falls apart. Uh, I dunno man. I gotta see what our budget is, and I gotta see how many shows fall through, and how many promoters flake out. You know what I mean? So that’s when the conversation tends to break down.
Fox: Heh. This is probably turning out to be a little more somber than either of us expected. Sorry about that. […] That comes out of me pretty naturally. Even though in general I’d say I’m kind of a fairly happy person. But sometimes it doesn’t seem like it.
Well looking at just the nature of the music that you’ve produced in the past 20+ years is indicative of a mindset that…it’s an early cynicism and jaded attitude that occurs with youth in this society, this world, especially as an American, you can see this entire superstructure just on the horizon. It’s an early frustration with a lot of those processes in place.
Fox: Of course.
Kind of a fancy pants way of putting it. But frankly that’s the way it seems and it’s always the impression I’ve gotten from your music. And further to that I wanted to ask, whether you think you’re more hardcore punk or more metal, but it seems to me, that question answers itself with the questions you provided. It’s more hardcore in a way. You live a life that’s not about a fucking guarantee.
Fox: I mean I would love to have that.
Of course, but it’s not a demanding that luxury up front. It’s about committing to yourself wholesale regardless of the consequences may be.
Fox: You’re absolutely right. And it could be argued that that is the definition of hardcore. And I think that’s the dictionary meaning of the hyphenated word hard-core, to give yourself over so completely that you are hardcore. That’s why I think this style of music adopted that style, or that name. It’s like, people were playing this kind of music and somebody saw it and said, “That’s hardcore.” But not talking about a genre of music, thinking of the word, cause that’s what it reall is, it really is hardcore. So I would say in essence Shai Hulud is a hardcore band in that regard. Muscially, not so much, I would say that the band has hardcore elements, ethically and stage presence steeped in hardcore, but my first love is thrash metal. That is my love.
Fox: Oh yeah, that’s my love. If I had to give up…if I had to pick one style of music to live off for the rest of my life it would be thrash. […]
So you mean if you had to pick a favourite band, it would be like…like Anthrax or…
Fox: Yeah, but if I had to pick a favourite band, it would be Metallica.
Just, straight up, 100 hundred percent?
Fox: Yeah. That’s the band. There’s no album on the planet that changed my life or impacted my life than Master Of Puppets. There are probably albums that I listen to and maybe even like more these days, you know, thirty years later. But no album hit me harder than Master Of Puppets. I heard it when I was 13. And from there, from Metallica, I went to Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, and then the second tier bands, Testament, Exodus, going all the way down to the most obscure bands like some bands from the UK, like another one of my favourites, Acid Rain. So from early 80’s to early 90’s thrash metal, that decade is my favourite music ever.
It’s incredible, too, because I see those as being almost diametrically opposed, in a way.
Fox: Somewhat. I think that thrash metal took a lot of cues from early hardcore punk and early hardcore bands. There’s a documentary I saw, can’t remember the name of it was, I watch a lot of metal documentaries, and I was watching one about where the guys in Exodus are talking about how they were influenced by G.B.H. and Exploited.
What the fuck? That’s crazy.
Fox: It makes sense though. When I got into Exodus and those other bands, Slayer, Metallica… I know about the Misfits because of Metallica, and I fell in love with all of the hardcore punk bands because of the metal bands. Jeff Hanneman used to have a Dead Kennedys sticker on his guitar. Even the German metal band Kreator, they were good friends with this thrash punk band called Excel from California. There was a year when Excel recorded what might be my favourite album, The Joke’s On You, Kreator did all the back ups, so for a year of interviews where Kreator were doing interviews, they were all wearing Excel shirts. And I remember thinking, ‘What’s Excel?! I gotta find out about Excel!’ And when I found them they became one of my favourite bands. So I think the thrash metal guys took a lot of influence and paid a lot of respect to the hardcore scene. Every thrash band loves Suicidal [Tendencies], still does to this day. But trying to get back on topic, in essence we’re a hardcore band but we also… I could never deny the impact and my undying love for the thrash metal I grew up with.
It’s interesting hearing an outfit like Exodus being influenced by the likes of G.B.H. and Exploited.
Fox: Well I just remember in the documentary the drummer of Exodus, Tom Huntington, mentions Exploited by name. And I fucking love The Exploited too. But I wouldn’t have known about The Exploited if it wasn’t for all the thrash bands. I mean that’s how I found out about hardcore were those bands.
It’s interesting, because how I found out about Shai Hulud, in the early 2000’s, before metalcore became overly saturated.
Fox: Yeah overly saturated. And shittily saturated.
Yeah. I mean, basically if you’re a metalcore outfit starting today, I don’t know that it’s going to be the same sort of flavour obviously, but the stuff that led me to Shai Hulud and the stuff I explored afterwards…it’s interesting to hear you say all that, in that we can find our path on things, in this search to find more and more intense music. And it’s interesting to hear you take the same path.
Fox: And yeah, I mean I don’t know how far you want to get into it, but…I’ve always gravitated towards the heaviest things I could find. So before Metallica all I could find was Motley Crüe. You know, Shout At The Devil was my favourite album ever until I heard Master of Puppets. Before I heard Motley Crüe my favourites were Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot. Before Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot was Def Leppard. So like you said, baby steps. My first favourite band was probably KISS, but not because of the music, but because there was a guy who was dressed up as a demon.
Check out the song “Sincerely Hated”
Fox: And from KISS, I went to Journey, I bought Journey’s escape. My first favourite band because of the music was actually Men At Work, believe it or not. I loved Men At Work. And then from Men At Work I probably found…yeah, right around that time that was when I started learning about Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot and Def Leppard. Def Leppard came before those other two for me. The album Pyromania was huge. I mean I had my mom buy me a British flag shirt, not knowing that it was a British flag shirt, thinking that it was a Def Leppard shirt because that’s what Joe Elliott would wear. I mean I still have pictures of me at ten years old, at an orthodontist office, posing outside with what I thought was a Def Leppard shirt. No one else knew it was a Def Leppard shirt, everyone else is like, “Why is this kid wearing a British flag shirt?” But yeah so my trajectory was on an incline like that too. And once I heard Metallica, it was game over, there really was no turning back at that point. […] When people ask me why I don’t like Guns N’ Roses, I say, “Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction came out 1987. Master Of Puppets came out in 1986.”
So you guys have put out a new EP.
Fox: Yeah, through No Sleep Records. Metal Blade approved it.
What are some of the ideas that you’re trying to convey on the album? Has the lyrical content changed?
Fox: Yeah, I’d say so. On the early albums, having started writing the songs in my early 20’s, the missteps of love and lack of achieving love was a big inspiration for me back then. Not so much anymore. Not that I don’t think love is important, I think it’s very important. But I think typically love songs are written by the young and idealistic. Maybe not exclusively, but largely. Now I’m much more concerned with critical thinking. Equality. Things that are more of a social political nature that are more on my mind, rather than a person that I have a crush on that might not be interested. Not that that doesn’t mean anything, but gay rights is more important. And thinking critically about what is really happening in the world.
I’d argue that’s maybe a larger love song. To reduce our prejudices and bigotry and allow one another to love in the way that they want. I think that’s quite a love song.
Fox: Yeah, and those topics are seeping in. It kind of snuck in. I didn’t realize it. I don’t know how in detail I should get…but why not? I found out even though I always kind of knew it, but was trying to deny it, about ten years ago I found out that I’m a pretty staunch atheist.
(Laughs) Just ten years ago?
Fox: About ten years ago now. And along with atheism, comes the concept of critical thinking, and with thinking critically comes basing things on evidence and not just on things you wish would be true. And when everything clicked for me in my early 30’s, I mean it clicked and it never went back. And those mindsets and those thoughts have been seeping their way into Shai Hulud. Not necessarily atheism, because I do try to keep Shai Hulud fair play. We have tons of Christian fans.
I have noticed that in the past as well.
Fox: And I do not want to alienate them. And that’s not just for business purposes. Truly, if you love the band, I don’t care what you believe, if you relate to a song, I don’t want to take that away from you by saying what I think you believe is silly. You know what I mean? Even though Matt Fox may believe that, I try to keep that out of Shai Hulud. The closest that we’ve gotten to it, which you’ll see conveniently plastered across all of our merch [points at merch table he’s been setting up during interview], Sincerely Hated, that song is about forcing truth on people who don’t want to acknowledge it. And that can be in regard to anything. That can be in regard to telling your boyfriend that he’s a piece of shit and he doesn’t want to hear it. Or it can be telling somebody that what you believe is based on your whim, it’s not based in reality. But to quote the chorus, “If you impose bitter reality, prepare to be sincerely hated.” So those lyrical concepts of critical thinking and evidence-based thinking, has much more of a lyrical focus now and in the future than it ever has been. It didn’t make it into Shai Hulud’s motif ten years ago, but that’s where I’m at now.
And then still classic themes of, I don’t understand why people treat each other the way they do. And that’ll never go away. Because every day, something strikes me and I think, whether it’s something in my life, or outside, this person would not have that problem if they did not do that. This, especially when you’re observing, ordeal or aggression is unnecessary and could be solved if this person could just concede. Or think. And those kinds of classic themes will never die within Shai Hulud. As long as humanity continues to be thoughtless and insists on being aggressive, I’ll always have those classic themes to write about. What I’ve noticed is that people are less likely to listen. Hence Trump. Hence a lot of crazy-ass people. And I’m not even talking about things on that level. I’m just talking about within my personal life. My personal life tends to be pretty drama-free. The song Misanthropy Pure is basically: stay the fuck away from me, you’re nuts. So my life is pretty drama-free. It’s also pretty fucking lonely.