- Tiana Speter
INTERVIEW: He Is Legend & Hammers Chat Live Music Memories & More Ahead Of National Tour
The world "cult' can be thrown around vigorously when it comes to bands of a particular vein or sonic flavour. But when referring to the supernaturally talented North Carolina band He Is Legend, cult-like is the most accurate description one can apply to the sonic witchcraft this hard-hitting group continue to impart since first unleashing their debut EP in the early 2000s.
Recently unveiling a brand new album, the ferocious 2022 full length Endless Hallway, it's now been almost eight years since He Is Legend has performed here in Australia, with the pandemic and multiple other factors roadblocking one of the most beloved and mysterious rock exports from taking the endlessly long plane ride back down under since last appearing here at the final edition of Soundwave back in 2015 (a fact that resulted from a well-timed tweet, as was revealed last year in the final episode for Season 2 of The Soundcheck's podcast Behind The Soundcheck).
Now locked and loaded for six shows this May in Australia, visiting the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, He Is Legend will also be joined by Gold Coast heavies Hammers as national support, with a sea of locals also lined up to make these nights even more unforgettable for rock'n'roll fans around the country.
For both He Is Legend and Hammers, the pandemic tested and changed the various roadmaps each respective band had for their own trajectory, with touring off the table and new releases dropping amid the lockdown years adding insult to injury along the way. But with live music and international touring now firmly back on the menu, the world is undeniably opening into a veritable oyster for both He Is Legend and Hammers, and ahead of the upcoming tour kicking off in mid May, The Soundcheck grabbed Schuylar Croom (He Is Legend vocalist), Jesse Shelley (He Is Legend drummer), Lucas Stone (Hammers guitarist and vocalist) and Ryan "Ruckus Lucas (Hammers drummer) to dive into some of their own favourite touring memories, explore songwriting and sonic identity in the strange, and unpack the bizarre and occasionally beautiful world that is the modern music industry.
Favourite Touring Memories
He Is Legend
SCHUYLAR CROOM: I'd still say Sevendust is up there for us.
JESSE SHELLEY: And we toured with GWAR, that was so much fun.
SCHUYLAR: Yeah, GWAR were insane.
JESSE: It wasn't even like: oh, what a cool band. It was just like: what a silly thing we're doing right now (laughs). The challenges each day was about how we could fit on the stage with all their props and stuff. And the people who came to the shows don't listen to music - they just wanna run around and get sprayed in blood.
SCHUYLAR: With their fanbase, it's like going to a Comicon
JESSE: It was more like a circus than putting on shows. It was such a great change of pace though, and it will always stick out for just having to continually roll with the punches. There's so much onstage, like I'd be hard stage right and the rest of the band would be way over somewhere else.
SCHUYLAR: We played in a line like The Beatles (laughs). There was one show where I played on the floor in front of the barricade. The band was on a six foot stage and I was in front of the barricade. Like, not even between the barricade and the stage?!
JESSE: For so many of those shows his hip could touch my hi-hat.
SCHUYLAR: Jesse's still finding GWAR blood on his drumheads.
LUCAS STONE: We've done a handful of internationals, but I'm partial to some of the Australian acts that we've got here who...well, they don't get forgotten about, but they're amazing and not talked about enough, We've got a band called Karnivool over here, over the years I've had some amazing shows with those guys. And there's another band called Cog. They were based in Bondi originally, and most of the guys are up our way now. But they're definitely a highlight, just a really cool experience live. They do the whole thing really fucking well. Their stuff has a decent political message and an Australian roots kind of message for our indigenous culture and stuff like that too. That's pretty epic, and they just play so well. And we also did a festival in the centre of Australia last year, right in the middle of the outback, proper desert. Blacken Open Air was incredible.
Songwriting & Connecting With Your Art
SCHUYLAR (HE IS LEGEND): I never want to put my bandmates in a position where they think that something I've said lyrically wouldn't come from their own mouth. Creatively when I'm writing lyrics or melodies, most of the time I try to think of where we're all at in that point of time, or what state the world is in. But I'm also never trying to put my finger on how or why it became that way. And especially with our last record, Endless Hallway, it was made in a weird, dark place with a lot of angst. And it mainly came from us having the rug and guts pulled out from under our last record, White Bat. But even with White Bat, there's some level of silliness and comedy that will bring the people in, whether it's silly wordplay or Jesse falling apart on the drums or something like that. That's the stuff I live for on records, I love that shit.
LUCAS (HAMMERS): You've gotta do what the song needs, ultimately. Sometimes you push too hard and you think you're gonna achieve something - but then it doesn't end up that way at all. And sometimes you'll end up back at the original idea or head somewhere totally different. I think we're similar to He Is Legend in terms of writing, I'll sit in with a bunch of sessions with Ryan and get the structures down for the riffs and a basic overall idea. Then we fuck around with it as a band, and then Fish [Leigh Dowling, Hammers vocalist] will go through vocals with me and fuck around with ideas. And from there - you never know where you might end up!
RYAN "RUCKUS" LUCAS (HAMMERS): I love that process as a drummer too, we'll work through the riffs and work through the songs, then I kind of go away and I don't know what the song's gonna sound like. I have no idea until I come back and hear what they've done.
JESSE (HE IS LEGEND): It's funny too, you can do 10 different things on a verse, but you know there's always gonna be that one, like: oh, that's what it's supposed to be. And sometimes you resist it, thinking it's lame or whatever else. There are definitely moments on Endless Hallway that I absolutely would not have done the previous album, purely on principle. But because the last album wasn't able to get to where we wanted, we didn't get to tour on it as much as we wanted...with the state of the world being what it was when we wrote Endless Hallway, we didn't even know if we were gonna finish that one. So we just wrote, because that was the only option we had. We were literally just guys in a room writing a song being like: let's write it this way, who cares! As far as we knew at the moment, nobody was ever gonna hear it.
SCHUYLAR (HE IS LEGEND): That really gave us a freedom that we probably didn't have before. The uncertainty was just huge. And it's still very surreal, it feels like it was one big giant year, and one big month lasted two years.
JESSE (HE IS LEGEND): I hear some of the songs back now and I can still hear the stress we went through during recording. There wasn't a pressure really, because we didn't know if we were even gonna get to tour Endless Hallway at that point. But personally, the weight of the world and in our minds, not having any money because we had no jobs and so much going on...there was a freedom in one sense, but it was also the most confined we've probably ever felt in our timeline.
LUCAS (HAMMERS): If it's any consolation, it's a fucking tough album. I think we all, whether you're a tattooist or a musician, whatever you are, you attach memories to things. It's like a timeline, you write a song or you're doing an art piece or something like that, and it represents where you're at in that moment of time.
JESSE (HE IS LEGEND): And that can all make for good music too! We can all look at our favourite bands who are now 10 albums in, that kind of thing...and usually their best stuff is from when they were pretty down on their luck. Once bands get to a certain amount of riches and fame - you don't have to work, you've got no worries. And as a result, you're not really writing about anything.
SCHUYLAR (HE IS LEGEND): At certain times during recording for Endless Hallway, I was so worried because I'm critical of myself. I mean, I knew the music kicked ass, but as far as myself, I can't listen to that album and be like: I kicked ass on that. It's a personal thing, it's like hearing your voice on an answering machine. I was genuinely worried up until the day the album came out, like: are people gonna hate it? Did I ruin the band?? So, it was a nice breath of fresh air that people dug it.
LUCAS (HAMMERS): Isn't it funny, almost the kind of curse...well I wouldn't say curse maybe, but the position that you're in as someone who makes music, you never get to really experience it fully. I mean, you have moments throughout the process of conceiving an idea right through to playing it live and recording it where you can enjoy it; but you never truly get to hear your own music the way you hear other people's music. I've got off on Soundgarden, for example, I remember running through Badmotorfinger when I was about 14 or 15 years old. And I remember going: fuck, this is the greatest thing I've ever heard. I still don't think to this day that I've ever been able to enjoy that feeling with the creation of my own shit. I don't think you're supposed to though, you go through that process where you're always analysing either the processes to get there or what you fucked up to get there. But there's glimmers throughout it where you get those feelings, whether you're sharing it with your boys on stage, or you get that moment in the studio where you've just got that fucking peak level sound and everything's exploding.
JESSE (HE IS LEGEND): Yeah, the affirmation you needed.
LUCAS (HAMMERS): It comes in moments, I reckon, you have a couple of those explosive moments where you're like: fuck, we're in it right now!
JESSE (HE IS LEGEND): That right there is all we're ever chasing when we're writing. And it's so funny, Adam [Tanbouz] and I will meet up when we're writing more than anyone, just because we're always throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. When we wrote White Bat, we spent 77 days in a row together writing, seven days a week, every single day. And it would be like: we haven't struck gold in five days. But then that one little moment happens where something comes out and you both look at each other and it's just like: okay that ruled, I'm good for five more days. You can just be digging, finding nothing then you find that one little thing. It's just chasing those little highs.
Sonic Identity & The Industry
SCHUYLAR (HE IS LEGEND): With Endless Hallway, Adam [Tanbouz] brought in some metal shit, and I'm like: what the fuck do you expect me to do? Because my credo is just like: I have nothing to scream about anymore, you know? I'm in a band with my homies and I'm an old man now (laughs). It's also, for me, a huge fucking puzzle game, because I get a full fucking song where one chorus is half the size of the first chorus, just because we're weirdos. The structures are all so different, like: there's a pre-chorus before this chorus that doesn't come back again in this song. Why is that? Because we're He Is fucking Legend. We can do what we want, who cares!
JESSE (HE IS LEGEND): It's difficult to explain to someone outside of the band why something works until they hear the entire body in context.
LUCAS (HAMMERS): It's funny with that stuff, I'm also a big fan of those single passages that just come in, and they make up a large part of the song. You'll have people say: fuck, what? Why doesn't that happen three or four more times? It's like: well, you wanna listen to it so much because of that one part.
SCHUYLAR (HE IS LEGEND): Exactly! And to a guy who's trying to tell you how to make a hit (laughs) he's like: that's not formatted the right way! But it's like: dude, this isn't going on the radio. And if it does, it deserves it!
JESSE (HE IS LEGEND): It's so funny, we all listen to the radio now and you hear these Pink Floyd songs and all these things that are bona fide hits, and it's just like: if I brought that to you today and you've never heard it, you'd be like nope. Nope. Doesn't work! But it's only not working because you say it's not working. I mean, you have to have a good chorus with good lyrics, there's certain things you have to hit because if you don't have 'em - you don't have a song. But let's talk about the formula because we could look at the Top 40 list and all of these songs that have been on, like: we've been listening to the songs on the radio for 40 years and you're saying they're not written how it's supposed to be? Fucking shut up.
LUCAS (HAMMERS): It's like with Stairway To Heaven or Bohemian Rhapsody, imaging bringing that to a producer today...
RUCKUS (HAMMERS): (laughs) Being like: guys, hear me out!
JESSE (HE IS LEGEND): Those people are so full of it too, I won't name names, but I work for this one band who had their biggest song, and one label said: no, that's not a single. And then that song went on to become their biggest song. Those same exact people came back with the next album and said: do another one of those that you did? Oh, you mean the thing you told me not to do, the thing you said wouldn't work and the song we fought over?!
SCHUYLAR (HE IS LEGEND): Suits, man.
JESSE (HE IS LEGEND): The only people who are truly in charge are the people who make the music, and the people who enjoy it. They're the true judges. But we've got all these chuckleheads in the way telling you what something is before it's even been done.
LUCAS (HAMMERS): I think, like you said, it's that environment where people end up inserting themselves into all of that for whatever fucking reason, and they just shouldn't be there. Like: what have you actually got to do with this process?! I think most bands worth their salt end up back at the beginning just doing their thing with each other anyway.
SCHUYLAR (HE IS LEGEND): Yeah, that's 100% true. I think COVID kinda separated the men from the boys a bit, you see these legacy bands coming back harder and stronger than ever, back to their crafts seamlessly. And then you have some of these bands who go out on tour for a few days and are just like: fuck this, I'm out, sorry it's a new world. I think we did a good thing, the core three of us who have been here for 20 years, Matt [Williams], Adam and I have been friends since we were 16 years old, and Jesse is the fastest friend I've ever made, we've been thick as thieves ever since. We're in a very good position now to have just come out of some major worldwide turmoil and the fact that we're still all here and still doing it is a very good thing. And we can't wait bring that and tour with you guys in Australia.
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BY TIANA SPETER