By Natalie Zina WalschotsShai Hulud have been a respected name in metallic hardcore and punk since they were founded in 1995. Named for the giant sand worms that appear in Frank Herbert's legendary Dune novels and known for frequently referencing high fantasy, comic books and classic films, Shai Hulud also have a deep relationship with geek culture. Built around core members Matt Fox (guitars, lyrics) and Matt Fletcher (bass), they have at once struggled with the logistics of never having a permanent, dedicated vocalist while still managing to maintain a sense of aesthetic integrity and consistency across their records. Their latest release, Reach Beyond The Sun, is their only full-length to feature a vocalist who also performed on another LP: Chad Gilbert, who also produced the record and is best known for founding the pop punk band New Found Glory. The collaboration between Fox and Gilbert has paid off on Reach Beyond the Sun, resulting in an album that features sophisticated lyrics and complex emotional registers along with slick production and incredibly hooky, sing-able choruses, especially on the tracks "To Suffer Fools" and "Think The Adder Benign." Coming off three days of doing press, Exclaim! was able to talk with the exhausted but still enthusiastic guitarist and songwriter of Shai Hulud, Matt Fox.
So, is playing music a passion or a compulsion for you? I would say passion. The only compulsion that I have are motor ticks.
I was wondering if it was pure Superman love that drives you, or if you are a little more like Rorschach in your devotion, "we do it because we're compelled." I think it's more Superman than Rorschach. I almost wish that is was more Rorschach but that's not accurate.
Well, he doesn't seem terribly happy, and doing something out of desire instead of craziness is probably a better state to be in for your own health. A good point.
I have always found it curious that, despite being the primary lyricist and songwriter, you do not sing. No. I don't typically have the right kind of voice. Every once in a while I can access it for like a word or two, but it's not consistent. Typically I sound pretty bad when I scream.
You've said that before when talking about Shai Hulud's search for a vocalist, that you are looking for a specific kind of voice. What is that kind of voice? I think it's just a pissed-off person sound, straight up. What seems to be popular these days is kind of a more manufactured sound where there's a lot of posing or a lot of fabrication to it. I think that my band comes from a school where it should be... like, somebody you love is about to get run over by a car, and the only way you can save them is by yelling to let them know that there's a car coming. That's the voice we're looking for.
So you're kind of going for something between anger and panic? Panic? Wow, that's an interesting way to put it, I wonder if that's the case. If you could equate panic with a sense of urgency which I guess you could, that is what we're looking for. With the advent of metalcore where you've got your pig squeals and you've got your really high highs, that kind of vocal showboating — a lot of people who have been sending in auditions, that's kind of what they do. Instead of somebody who just kind of picks up the mic and yells because there's something in their heart that they simply can't speak. It's more important than that, and that's why they yell it. I don't know if I'm painting the wright picture, but that's what we're looking for. And those voices are there, and I think even the people that send in auditions that don't sound like they have those voices, they may very well, but it's just not the popular approach. I don't think that it's an approach that a lot of people are doing today.
You're finding that most voices are more considered and affected than raw or emotive? Exactly. Affected is the best word. That's exactly what seems to be prevalent today and that simply doesn't work for us.
The need for a very honest voice is certainly necessary for all your work, but particularly on Reach Beyond the Sun, which hinges on emotional authenticity even though the ideas can be quite sophisticated. On each track you get the sense that what is there couldn't be duplicated, that what is there will never happen exactly that way again. That's a good way to put it. I think also you could say that's partially a sense of urgency too, where it couldn't be duplicated exactly, whereas with a more affected vocal style, it's something that you could replicate over and over again.