We've witnessed numerous band re-unions over the years and have heard many amazing comeback albums. Very few have created as much buzz as Exhorder's new release though. "Mourn the Southern Skies", out 27 years after their last LP, shows the band in top form and to put it simply, kicks ass from the first note to the very last. With the core song-writing team of Kyle Thomas (vocals) and Vinnie LaBella (guitar) still in the band, all the ingredients that made Exhorder's music so tasty in the past are still there. Being very positively surprised with the album, I had to ask Kyle a few questions about it.
When you decided to return to the scene two years ago, how did you know the time was right? Was it some kind of coincidence that led to the re-union?
I don't know, really. Time just passed enough to heal some wounds and feelings; I suppose. It's never sat well with me that we never completed the job we set out to do, and I know Vinnie feels the same way. We're not getting younger, so we just took a chance and said why not. There wasn't any strange coincidence or anything, but our management company did approach us around that time, which was what made it seem possible and appealing. We never had management before, so it was very enticing at that point.
Weren't you surprised with the fact that there was still such a huge demand for your music and live shows, even though you hadn't had a new release out for some 25 years?
I keep joking that this is the only job I will ever have where I can walk away for seven plus years and come back with a raise! It definitely is hard to understand at times that we get more popular even in dormancy. That's rare and definitely the exception to the rule. We are absolutely blessed to be in that situation.
When writing new music, I suppose you set out to find a middle ground, to make the new album sound up-to date, yet still stay true to the Exhorder identity, at least that's how "Mourn the Southern Skies" sounds to my ears. So, how did you go about that?
You're probably giving us way too much credit. Sure, there was some sort of thought process in that area, but mostly we write songs to please ourselves first. Hopefully people like what we've created after that. We did put some thought into how to make it all worthy of the Exhorder logo otherwise, mostly regarding delivery and sound quality. This is the first album that truly captures our live sound and feel.
You produced the album yourselves. Why didn't you go with an external producer? I mean, isn't it hard to produce your own album, to get the right perspective?
I've co-produced several of the albums that I've appeared on, so I don't find it hard at all. Nobody knows what you want and expect your album to sound like more than you do. In all fairness, Duane Simoneaux was a co-producer on this one, and it would not sound the way it does without him. My knowledge and experience contributed greatly to the vocal production, though I wasn't concerned with any special credit for that. My thumbprint is all over my tracks, no question, but I did rely heavily on both Vinnie and Duane for their opinions on my efforts, as well as outside ideas that I may not have thought of. That's what makes an album special and different from one I might record with other people. In the future we may record with a producer, but there really wasn't any need for one in this set of circumstances.
"My Time" is a perfect choice for the single and video-clip, one of my fave songs on the new album. Seems to be one of your faves as well, since you picked it to promote the release with?
It just spoke to everyone immediately. It's got our signature sound and attitude, and it's loaded with hooks that people remember. Who can't relate to a song about being frustrated with your job and the problems that arise from the very need to have one?
You re-recorded "Ripping Flesh" from your '86 demo. Out of all tunes you wrote in the '80s/early-'90s, why this one?
Because it was the only one left that never made it to an album, really. It wasn't even our idea, to be honest. Our manager suggested it, and it turned out to be a great thing. I don't regret it one bit.
Apart from "Ripping Flesh", are any of the songs or maybe riffs or lyrics leftovers from the early days?
The title track goes back to late 1999 musically, and vocals and lyrics first appeared a year or two later. It is a bit different in its final version on the album than it was back then, but a lot of the original ideas remain. Other than that, a few songs were pieces that Vinnie had laying around, and probably three or four are completely new. Aside from "Ripping Flesh" and "Mourn the Southern Skies", all of what I did was new work.
Hammond organs aren't something you usually expect from a thrash band, yet you used them in the closing song. Was it just an idea that struck you, or are you big fans of Purple or Heep?
We are absolutely fans of that old stuff, but Mikey Burkart and Vinnie played together for some years before, anyway. On top of that, the Hammond is a signature instrument in traditional New Orleans music, so it just makes sense to us. We're not a pure thrash band. Never have been, and never will be. We like being different. Different is good.
Social issues have always been one of the main topics you write about. As a sharp observer, aren't you scared watching which direction this world is heading towards?
The world is as frightening as it is amazing. I don't believe it's really any worse than it's ever been, we just have access to more information at a faster rate than ever before. Either we will survive it, or Mother Nature will flush the toilet like she did with the dinosaurs. It is arrogant to believe that we are ruining the planet. The planet will survive with or without us. That's how it's always been. But that's just the beliefs of some guy that sings awful things. What the hell do I know at the end of the day?
OK, when you returned in 2017 you added some extraordinary musicians to the line-up. Were you searching for new bandmates within your friends' circle, or did you just advertise or hold auditions?
I was already working with Marzi in Heavy as Texas, and the others were all together in a project called Year of the Tyrant. That project was shelved, but we merged the two bands to make a new Exhorder. One or two other guys were a consideration, but this is pretty much what we set on from go.
Did you approach any of the previous band members at all?
Chris Nail simply was not available. Jay Ceravolo told me he had no interest. With Frankie no longer being with us, that left us with no choice but to assemble a new team.
You've had a few re-unions before, the last one in 2008-2011, but after Frankie Sparcello's passing you went on hiatus again. Why didn't you want to continue without Frankie?
We actually performed just a month or two after Frankie passed with Jorge Caicedo on bass. Not long afterward Jason returned to the picture, as we worked with him briefly in the '90s. We stopped shortly afterward due to internal struggles within the band. Frankie was our brother and we miss him greatly, but he replaced Andy Villafarra, and the band goes on without him as well. Until Vinnie or I are done with this, we just keep rolling.
OK Kyle, as far as I know you started out as bass player, so how did you end up singing?
Technically, I started out as a trumpet player. After five years I graduated to bass and singing kind of found me by accident. I never chose it, nor did I even want it. But sometimes life chooses you. It turns out I'm not a terrible singer, so they keep asking me to sing. I guess I should be happy about that, but sometimes I miss playing instruments as much as I used to.
I remember reading somewhere years ago that you had some classical singing training? Is that correct?
Yes, I sang for two years in my high school chorus, and at the University of New Orleans in the chorale. I performed Beethoven's 9th Symphony in 1989 with the New Orleans Symphony for two sold out performances at the Orpheum Theater. It was truly the single most incredible musical moment of my life.
And how did you land the gig with Trouble? I mean their stuff is quite different to what you do with Exhorder...
I met Ron and Carol Holzner while I was in Floodgate, and we became great friends. I was already a Trouble fan, and they invited me to sing for a one-off gig while they were without a singer. It was so special for me to do that as a fan, and eventually they invited me to join the band. Exhorder is the most different thing I've done from every other band I have been in. I grew up on stuff like all of the other bands.
A lot of thrash bands admit that punk rock had a big influence on them. Was that the case with yourselves as well?
Without question, yes. We listened to it and were welcomed into their community at a time when the metal community in New Orleans didn't even know what to do with us, much less even want us. Hair metal and glam were the big thing in New Orleans back then. That simply wasn't us one bit. It was the punks that showed us a loving home first, and we'll never forget that.
On the other hand, many of thrash, post-thrash and crossover bands that came after you mention Exhorder as one of the bands that had a big impact on them. Do you find it flattering?
Sure, I guess, but it doesn't pay my bills or make me a better person. I just say thanks and keep working on getting better at what I do. I'm not rich, so I suppose I had better keep working hard.
OK, it's a wrap. Now that you're back, with a new release, can we expect you to stay with us for longer?
We are back to finish what we started. Touring and more albums are in the plan!