Interview: Exhorder

We're very excited about it. I think this is going to be an album that that has a little bit of something for every Exhorder fan.

Exhorder, the New Orleans masters of grooving metal have just returned with their new album Defectum Omnium and it sees the band on blinding form with a collection of anthems that take in elements of hardcore, punk, doom, thrash and metal, all delivered in the classic Exhorder way. Gavin Brown caught up with Exhorder vocalist/guitarist Kyle Thomas to hear all about Defectum Omnium as well as discussing the band’s new lineup that now features ex Cannibal Corpse axeman Pat O’Brien, Exhorder’s early albums Slaughter In The Vatican and The Law and his other musical endeavours with Floodgate, Trouble and Alabama Thunderpussy.

E&D: The new Exhorder album Defectum Omnium is out now. How excited are you to be back with the record and what can fans expect from the sound of this record this time around?

Kyle: It is nice to finally have this thing to see the light of day because really, it all started coming into pre production right as soon as lockdown happened. During the pandemic in 2020, we were on tour with Overkill, and the last two shows of the tour got cancelled because of the lockdown, everybody went home and we just all started writing remotely, we get back together and start putting the pieces together, throwing everything to the wall, see what sticks, getting rid of what doesn’t, and now here we are in 2024. The album recording was completed eleven months ago and we’ve had final products since the end of last summer but it doesn’t really make sense to release it until you can tour. So we just said let’s release it when we can tour and here we are. We’re very excited about it. I think this is going to be an album that that has a little bit of something for every Exhorder fan, but we did take great care to put a foot back further in our roots than we did on our last album Mourn The Southern Skies, that album had a moment or two of thrash and hardcore, more thrash but this one, we’ve definitely gone back into the punk side. That’s where we started, we did not start on the metal scene in New Orleans, we started in the punk scene so it just seemed fitting that we stick a leg back to that. There’s a doom element too, that started on The Law album, on ‘(Cadence Of) The Dirge’. We wrote an album that we wanted to hear with well structured songs, that’s been the desire for all of us. We wanted to make a rollercoaster ride of an album much in the way that the Beatles, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin used to do on their albums where there’s a soundscape and peaks and valleys of emotion, that’s what we went for and I think we achieved it.

E&D: What had the reaction to the new album been like so far?

Kyle: We brought out ‘Forever And Beyond Despair’ first and it’s been strong. The YouTube video views are higher than we’ve ever seen in our career. Everything is trending upwards. We’re excited about this album, we hope you like it to but also, if you don’t great, no problem, you know, you’ve got other albums to listen to!

E&D: How does it feel to have Pat O’Brien in the band on guitar and how was it working with him on the album?

Kyle: Pat is just one of my favourite humans to be honest with you. I knew Pat casually before he started working with us, I always liked him and we always got along nicely, but he’s definitely not what he’s been painted out to be throughout his struggles. We all have our struggles. Pat is a kind, gentle guy. When the four of us are together, it’s the most peaceful that this band has ever been, and that, to me, is something you cannot put a price on. We all work together with each other to take the loss of control, under control if that happens, and then everybody comes back down to earth very quickly. He’s an incredible musician, and he’s been extremely instrumental in encouraging me to continue to strive to be the best guitar player that I can be. My goal is with having one of the world’s greatest guitar players in my band in Pat O’Brien, my challenge and my goal is to become the world’s okayest thrash guitar player. I’m getting there!

E&D: With Pat being in Exhorder for a while now, and you, Jason and Sasha even longer, does this line-up feel a lot more stable with each other?

Kyle: Well, it’s definitely exactly what we needed to be for right now, and moving forward, I would be thrilled if it stayed this way permanently. When Pat first stepped in, I think maybe his confidence level wasn’t so high because of all that he had been through. He even questioned Jason when Jason invited him to come play like why do y’all even want to mess with you, I’m damaged goods and Jason just told him “Nah, dude, people want to see you, I’m your friend, man, don’t come for an audition, just come jam with us, and that’s what happened. At first I think he was a little on guard. He was worried that we were going to try to get him to come in and write an album, but we were like, Nah, we pretty much got it written. We just want you to come in and help make it more special, and that’s essentially what happened here.

E&D: How have you recent live shows gone and are you looking forward to hitting the road again?

Kyle: Yeah, we just did this Latin American tour, which was amazing. I’ve never been to Latin America to play, so didn’t know what to expect, and what I found was a land full of amazing people who are very passionate about the music and the audiences are young which is really promising. Just some of the most genuine, down to earth fans who are very polite, but when it comes to showtime, they’re crazy. They go nuts. It’s great. I haven’t played shows that insane and chaotic in a long time and it was a really welcomed, refreshing change, for sure.

E&D: Did you play a lot of new material and how did that go down?

Kyle: We only played two new songs. When we started that tour, we were about a week away from the release of ‘Forever And Beyond Despair’, but we just said, You know what, let’s play it. It’s a great live song, and we’re looking more towards the future. So many of the songs we’ve been playing live. I was a part of the writing process of these songs back in 1985/86. I was 15/16 years old. I’m 54 now let’s, get some fresh wine!

E&D: Do you look back on those early days of the New Orleans extreme music scene with fondness?

Kyle: Yeah. Exhorder have been a band that has been plagued with inner conflict for almost its entire existence. That, to me, has always been the biggest damn shame about this band. It’s not to say that I didn’t ever enjoy myself in the company I kept. We had great times, we had great shows, and we made great music together, and those early days, when we were putting things together, bit grew very quickly, we were teenagers and playing to like 500 kids, it was really amazing. Not unlike what happened on the west coast for the thrash Bay Area thrash bands out there, or the New York scene, it’s just, back then, before the World Wide Web, and, being so accessible to everybody, we just kind of grew it from a grassroots level until we forced the rest of the world to pay attention to it.

E&D: What are your main memories of making your classic Slaughter In The Vatican debut?

Kyle: Well, when we made the demo in 1987/88, it was a really fun experience. It was our first time in a real studio, and the songs were fresh. I think that was where the real magic and fun happened, but  making the actual album was a nightmare because we didn’t have a lot of budget, we we had problems from the initial sessions and what ended up happening was everything got re-recorded on the album to where the only thing that remains is from the beginning of the album sessions is the tempos and those were too fast. So we play the songs a little slower live, because when you play stuff that has a groove to it too fast, that kills the groove. There were moments during the recording of the album that were fun and cool when it was our first album. But I think, really, none of us were completely satisfied with how it came out, and maybe back then, that was a bigger deal than it is now because to me once the album’s out, and it belongs to the public, it’s no longer just our property. It has been hailed as a classic album, so the people have spoken, but for me as an artist, I could continue working on an album for the rest of my life and feel like it’s never finished, at some point, you kind of have to cut the cord and say it’s finished walk away from it.

E&D: Have you had the chance to visit the Vatican?

Kyle: No, I have not. They probably don’t want me to do that anyway! For me it’s tongue in cheek. I have no interest in harming the pope or anything. It’s horror music really, and the Vatican and the Poke, for me was simply a metaphor for any of the hierarchies in religion that exploited people’s faith for personal gain and to control the masses. That’s always been my big thing. I wouldn’t mind going to see the Vatican, but are they going to be mad if I show up there? I don’t know. I don’t want to find out!

 

E&D: Was the follow up album The Law a more enjoyable experience for you? That’s a very underrated album.

Kyle: That one’s probably even more of a disappointing nightmare to me. To be honest, when we began recording that album, we were not finished writing it, so we did a lot of writing in the studio, we did some experimenting with guitar tones, that should have never happened and that should have been all ironed out before we got in there. We got behind schedule, I ended up with only eight or nine hours left to record my vocals. We had a small budget and we were inexperienced, and no access to a home studio, so I did the best that I could and we actually lost half of the original guitar tones from that  because they were just so unusable and unpleasant to the ear, so what you hear on that album is really only half of the Exhorder guitar tones, but again, there’s a lot of people that feel like that’s a classic album, I’ve had people in very successful bands tell me they moulded their career after that album.

E&D: Have you had a thought about any new material at all?

Kyle: Oh yeah, we’ve got plenty of new ideas. Jason’s got quite a good bit, and I’ve got some as well. Pat has said that he would like to present songs and if we liked them, have us use them. So I’m happy, that’s always been the beauty especially in the very beginning of this band. We all wrote together, and for me when it’s a collaborative effort, it makes it more magical. I’ve written a lot of material just by myself, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but  when you write with other people, it gives it a proprietary edge that is different from everybody. When I work with Trouble, it’s different from everything else that I do because I’m writing with those guys, when I work with Exhorder, it’s the same thing that won’t sound like any of these other things. Then my solo stuff, it’s a little more of a pure reflection of me, and what I’m, bringing to the table as a writer. I do a lot of collaborations with other people as well, and I enjoy it, man. I went a lot of years without recording enough music, and I’m an artist, I’m a songwriter. and I’d like to get more into the production side over time. I’m not finished, and really I feel like I’m just kind of getting started at this in a way.

E&D: Does it make you feel good that you can come back and still be doing this even bigger all these years later?

Kyle: Yeah, I mean, back then, you look at the records you buy as a kid and you always dream of being like your heroes. I don’t know that any of us really expected it to unfold the way that it did, and here we are, we’ve got an opportunity to take it to the next level and we’re blessed and lucky that there’s enough people interested in what we’ve been doing over the course of our career, even with a twenty seven year absence, that it just keeps growing and it keeps getting bigger. So that’s a blessing for sure. I really don’t know that I expected it to happen this, as a young kid, I think people when they’ve never done it, they think that it’s a glamorous lifestyle, and it’s a rock stars lifestyle. Let me tell you, it’s a grind, it’s physically taxing, you don’t get a lot of sleep but the payoff is playing great shows.

E&D: Do you have good memories of being in Floodgate and doing the Penalty album? That was a big album for me when it came out.

Kyle: Yes, Floodgate was at the very end of The Law era with Exhorder. I was extremely unhappy in almost every way with with being in Exhorder. I was ready to put my own stamp on things, and really looking to return more to what was my earliest development in music which was, 70s rock. So my brother and I put that thing together and it started growing very quickly for us. There was a lot of interest in the album, we went out and did big tours of Europe and the UK with Sepultura when they were doing the Roots tour. It was an amazing experience. I think what happened was nu-metal was coming around and doing what eventually became stoner rock, I guess. I just think that the path of least resistance for Roadrunner, our record label that we were on at the time was to just start putting money into With the nu-metal bands, and we just went from being the favourite child to the the puppy that you got after Christmas that nobody wants to look after, so they took us to the pound.

E&D: What other music are you working on at the moment? As well as Exhorder you are the vocalist in Trouble and Alabama Thunderpussy as well!

Kyle: I’ve got a lot going on, I’ve been working on a solo album since the pandemic started as well. I just have so much going on. The new Trouble album is under construction right now. We’ve got to tour to support this new Exhorder album. But at some point I’m going to get in the studio and start on the solo album and it will be very different from Exhorder or Trouble. There’ll be moments in there where you will hear similarities but I want to start experimenting with a lot of styles of music that I haven’t been known for and playing things that I enjoy listening to that tie everything in my influences together. You know, I performed Beethoven’s Ninth with the New Orleans Symphony when I was 19 years old, two nights in a row, so there’s a lot more to me than just being a rock and roll guy.

E&D: Do you want to your solo material to encompass everything you’re into?

Kyle: The beauty of a solo album is there really isn’t any expectation necessarily. You can kind of do what you want to do with it. So yeah, I’m looking forward to just being able to kind of do it without much expectation.

E&D: With being in so many bands as well as your solo material, do you find it a challenge balancing everything?

Kyle: Yeah, the scheduling becomes a nightmare, and now I’ve got Alabama Thunderpussy active again. I’ve also got local bands at home that I work with so juggling my calendar is a nightmare, but  I’m at a point right now where I’m able to do what I love doing the most, maybe I don’t make as much money as I did when I had a day job but, but it’s a lot more pleasant and I enjoy my workday a lot more!

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