There is a unique emotional process that comes with a personal and vibrant record like He Is Legend’s late 2017 release, Few. As their first crowdfunded album, it will hold a special place in the hearts of the band members and their fans. When the band announced the crowdfunding campaign, they put the fate of the album in the hands of the fans by including an “all or nothing” clause; if the goal isn’t met, they’d hang up on the release. As they put on their IndieGogo campaign: “After spending our career on a record label, our fans now have the opportunity to solely support us.”
Once their goal was set, fans almost immediately exceeded the band’s expectations donating an extra 24% more than was pitched, and the album was set in motion. After such a direct relationship with their fans led to the album, He is Legend can now appreciate the significance of creating a record more than ever before. “We gained such a newfound respect for the people that have been on our side forever,” vocalist Schuylar Croom said to me.
The good news is it shows. Few is a raw and carefully crafted piece of art. Each song is handled amazingly with both He-is-Legend-style recklessness and a mature meticulousness. Each tone is dialed in, layered with the band’s incredibly emotive delivery, embodying both excellence in their craft and passion for their art.
Croom talks me through the season of writing Few, a process they undertook in a literal off-the-beaten-path manner recording in a monastic retreat from the world. In this instance, turns out silence and solitude produce really great music. Croom speaks with awe about the sacred haven that was carved in the wilderness of North Carolina where he wrote the album. From the title to the producers, Few is a hand-crafted self-portrait of He Is Legend, a rare and beautiful experience for any fan. The combination of the introspective writing process and the community that stood behind them produced what could be the band’s most personal album to date.
What have you guys been up to lately?
Well, we did a big support tour for Gwar at the end of 2017. That was an eight-week huge, grueling tour. So, after that, we’ve been kinda fielding some tours, you know. We’ve also been writing recently, just jamming and getting stuff done while we are at home.
We did a cruise at the end of January. That was the last thing we did, a ship rock cruise with Seether, In This Moment, and Stone Sour, which was really fun. There were a bunch of bands there, too, a bunch of our homies. It was nice, ya know, it was cool to get out. But we’ve just been putting some ideas down on a page so we can have them when the time comes to get in the studio. We’re just kind of waiting to see what’s going to happen in the summer.
Like festivals or recording?
Yeah. Right now, we’re just reaching the end of our last cycle with Spinefarm (Records), so we’re just kind of waiting. We don’t really want to headline at the moment. We’re just trying to figure out support tours and whatnot, but recording will be something that we’re going to be talking about. We got a couple festivals that will be coming up: Rockville in Jacksonville, FL and then Carolina Rebellion is also on the horizon in Maine. So we’re just waiting for those, getting ready, writing, rehearsing, stuff like that.
So with the album cycle kind of winding down, looking back on it, how do you think it went in comparison to other albums?
This was a very interesting cycle because we crowdfunded. It gave us more of an opportunity to connect with fans and having a legacy that we do. It was an interesting way to go about it. We were at the end of our contract with Tragic Hero, and there were a couple of ways we could go about it. But we did a lot of research and tried to figure out what our best options were, and it seemed like the right way. We looked at a lot of different ways people went about this – like other bands that have crowdfunded before and other crowdfunding sites. It was an interesting thing. We learned a lot; it’s way different than dealing with a label.
In what ways?
You have to do all the hands-on things that are usually delegated to other people. We were deciding and approving designs for t-shirts and merch and working with artists that were either fans or local from our home base to produce perks and whatnot. Everything – from the recording process where normally you check in or have demos sent into the label to approve – it was all hands-on from the band.
Do you feel like it gave you more freedom?
Of course. Yes, absolutely. It also gave the fans an opportunity to be a part of the process. We gained such a newfound respect for the people that have been on our side forever. Raising and going over our goal, it was humbling. We had the all-or-nothing clause in our terms; if we didn’t make our goal – which was, essentially, us just breaking apart the recording budget and having whatever cost it would be to do perks – then we weren’t going to do it.
It was an interesting thing, and, you know, bands don’t usually want to be on the money-side-of-things going on. It’s tough for people who aren’t left-brained. That’s something we all try to distance ourselves from, being on the side of the numbers. You don’t want to put a price tag on creativity. But it’s more about us just getting behind the budgetary thing and knowing where everything is going, all the bits and pieces. We had to be there for every little thing that happened, whereas, normally, a label would work through some of that stuff. I don’t necessarily know if we would ever do it again, but it was certainly a learning curve for us. There were a lot more speed bumps, but I think we are smarter and better for it.
Do you think it changed the writing or recording process knowing the fans were so involved?
No, not really. Our recording process has always been pretty seamless. Our writing and recording have been the same way since we started. Me, Matt (Williams, bassist) and Adam (Tanbouz, guitarist) have been the core members for the entirety of the band. I think it gave us a little more freedom because, having gone over our asking amount, we were given a little headway to dump a little more money into our recording process, the mixing and mastering process, and we could take a little more time to make sure it was exactly what we wanted. Whereas a record label might give you “x” amount of dollars to record and then it needs to be done by this deadline, it was a very low-stress process for us.
What was your goal for it sonically? Did you have a goal in mind?
We don’t really go into the writing process with a sonic goal. None of us are really saying, “It needs to sound more like this band,” or, “It needs to be more aggressive or lighter.” I think those things happen naturally with the weight of what’s going on around us, depending on how we’ve been strung out on tour for six months straight or if we’ve been at home and are itchin’ to get back out. Those things might shine through, but I feel like we would assume we were pigeonholing ourselves by sticking to a theme or a tone. Normally, what happens when you’re writing, in general, that organic process, is what we’ve always loved.
“Few was an important album. It was important for us to prove that we could do this on our own.”
Yeah, I find most bands say the same thing.
I think there are a lot of us that will take our last work into consideration. So, in our writing now, we would listen to Few and ask ourselves, What is it lacking? What might we have done differently? And I think we might have done that with Heavy Fruit. We’d listen to it and understand what we didn’t like about the process and what could be changed. But none of it really was meant to say, “This isn’t right. This is right. This should be done differently,” because, normally, we are very prepared and we know what we have when we’re going into the studio. I don’t think there’s ever a point where we say, “I don’t like that.”
We never release anything that we don’t 100% get behind. So, with us, it would be more like Heavy Fruit was more pointed in this way and Few should be pointed in this way. I think Few was way more aggressive and had an angrier edge than a lot of our previous records. Heavy Fruit had a little more soul than Few did. Few just had this passion that was different and it was also an important album. It was important for us to prove that we could do this on our own.
Right. And you all recorded it in a cabin in the woods, right?
Well, it wasn’t in a cabin; we didn’t record in a cabin. We recorded where we record all of our records, but we were staying in a cabin. So we were off the beaten path, and my vocals were all written and rewritten and completely scratched and built and rewritten again in the cabin. I got a lot of inspiration from being there, but the recording process was done at Warrior Sound where we’ve done the last three records.
Gotcha. Very cool. But you mentioned that the cabin influences you a lot with your vocals and maybe even the sound or the lyrics you came up with.
So I read (the part about the cabin) and then I listened to the album again, and – I don’t know if its because I then knew – but I feel like I heard it. A lot of your lyrics sound like they’re coming from an outside perspective. It’s really interesting. It almost reminds me of a Stephen King novel or something, where the house is in charge and you’re being observed inside it. Can you tell me more about that influence?
Yeah! You mentioned Stephen King, and he’s a huge influence on my writing in general. I’ve worked in film for years, I think there’s a visual aesthetic that you have a duty to portray in music when you are a lyricist. There’s a difference between trying to write very poignant-but-simple love songs. I think most music comes back to either love or loss, at least the good music. Most of it can be turned into those two emotions. I like to personify things and try to really act as a storyteller as much as possible. My favorite artists growing up were people like that.
So I was alone at this cabin in the winter, getting snowed in, and I would just have animals around. There were dogs that were always around and cats. There was one cat that was always coming up to the house, but it was a deep experience, and it was very personal, and I was going through very personal things at the time, too. I had a moment of deep reflection. But the day I started tracking was the day after David Bowie died and all these things from my childhood were coming up. My father was also going into nursing care for Alzheimer’s disease, so there were a lot of interesting things that had happened and it showed its face throughout that period; I was trying to maintain positive thoughts but also reflect on a lot of negatives. So, I think the cabin gave me the distance from my natural, waking life and allowed me an opportunity to see how that played out through a very real lens.
And I wouldn’t take it back at all. I loved it. The people who owned the cabin were very gracious and nice to me. Their animals, I think they could sense that I was not necessarily in any amount of turmoil, but just at a different place and in a different headspace. Animals are great at that. They know when things are awry.
Do you think you would go back and do another record there, or do you think it’s served its purpose and now it’s time for something new?
You know, I was recently thinking about this, and I would absolutely do another record there. I think that place is pretty sacred to us now in its existence. We made an album there. We didn’t necessarily record anything there, but it holds this crazy, ritualistic bond to what we’ve done. Just the fact that we are friends with the people that own it, and they really gave us such an interesting perspective on living out there… I don’t know. It was just nice. I think it’s one of those things where you have to see it to understand it. It was something else.
I think I would definitely go back. I have been back just to visit and get out of town – just showed up and visited with the owners that own the place. There is a 150-year-old little building that they used as a wine cellar. The cabin was almost 100 years old. It’s, like, this ancient relic in this beautiful part of North Carolina that really needs to be explored creatively, because there’s a lot of untapped wealth and inspiration around that part.
Yeah, definitely. You used a lot of second person lyricism, and I wondered if that was intentional, or if it was something that came out of your experience there.
I think I do that on a lot of records. I think that comes from having a film background and being a reader and wanting to portray a story and talk about things from a different perspective. Playing caricatures is always really fun in music. A lot of music these days gets lost in being very serious, and I’ve never wanted to have a political slant or anything like that. I don’t think there’s much of a place for that in our music. Of course, “Air Raid” has some environmental hints to it, but I’ve never really put forth a voice of my own personal views. I’m writing songs for four other dudes. We’re all there, but with the music and lyrics, I try and paint the scenery behind the door that’s created, you know?
Yeah, for sure. Can you just tell me briefly about the premise of the record? Like, the influence of Helena Blavatsky?
That had more to do with the title. In one of her books, she dedicated it to “the few” – it was like, “the few that followed the path” – and she was the godmother of the occult and she had an interesting life. So the influence was mainly from the dedication. I felt like we were doing the same thing by crowdfunding. It is a bit of, you know, whether you call it “black magic” or “the secret” or “the laws of attraction” or “prayer,” whatever you wanna call it, any sort of meditation. But I think that what we were trying to accomplish was putting out this piece of sonic artwork and us asking others to come forth and help us. I think that dedicating it to the “few” people who knew that we were doing this, it was a very interesting thing to me. That dedication that she gave, it just spoke to me in such a way. At that point in time when her book was written, it was harder to get information out, obviously, with no Internet and whatnot. And I felt like we were doing the same thing, because we were under the radar on it, and there really was a core group of fans who were getting behind it. So it made sense to me. And, of course, I pull influence from things that I’ve read. But thats a constant part of all of our records.
What was it like working with Nolly?
Well, we were never in the same room at the same time, you know? I’m pretty sure he was working on that from overseas. It was more emailing back and forth. We were pretty dialed in, as far as the mixes were concerned, so he just added that Periphery punch to it, which was what we really enjoyed. I think it really helped out in the end. He’s got an ear for it.
You know, I have all faith in Adam and Matt when we’re in the studio. We’re usually working out those mixes really heavily beforehand. So when we get our tones, they’re pretty much the way we want them to sound like on the record. So it’s really about mastering and mixing. But yeah, I think that worked out well with him because not only did he know what we wanted, but he knew the band already, he knew the sound, so I don’t think it was really a problem. What needed to happen needed to happen, and it didn’t take too long to get to the right sound. At the end of the day, he’d be like, “Yeah, sounds tight, let me just tweak it up.” It wasn’t a huge drawn out process. I would love to work closer with him in the future, I think it would be awesome.
Do you have a favorite song on the record?
Yeah, that varies for me. I really like “Gold Dust” because I think every He Is Legend record has one of those songs that we might try to work with again, and there are some of the songs that we know might evoke a new style or sound. Like, maybe, “Dinner with a Gypsie” or “I Am Hollywood,” a song that you wouldn’t expect us to touch. I think “Gold Dust” is kind of in that vein. It has a very interesting vibe. I think those songs sometimes are my favorite, but they’re also ones I would never really want to visit on stage.
I think it shows where we can go and how we always try to push and pull our boundaries, but it also may or may not be something we ever visit again. That’s why I dig those songs, when we have a stand out track like that. There’s also a track that we didn’t put on the album that I really love. It just didn’t seem to flow well in the whole theme, so we may be releasing that in the near future just to see how that goes.
What do you listen to in your free time?
Oh, I listen to all sorts of stuff. I’m a true appreciator, I guess. I don’t know, I like a lot of avante garde EDM kind of stuff. Fever Ray is one of my favorite bands. I grew up on dark wave dance music. I like Joy Division and whatnot. I was really into the Misfits and AFI when I was growing up. I still love those bands. I love hip hop. I love shitty hip hop music; I like Gucci Mane, I like Young Thug, I like all that stuff. But also, today I’ve been jamming some Les Paul and listening to old country. I grew up in the rural South, so I think we all really have a good place for southern hip hop and also, you know, I grew up with western outlaw country. I’ve had so many influences. My mom was into disco, my daddy was into the hip hop era, and then my stepfather was a country/western kind of guy. I got it from all of them.
He is Legend was posted on April 25, 2018 for HM Magazine and authored by Nao Lewandowski.