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The Core Perspective: Matt Fox Of Shai Hulud

Shai Hulud x Manchester Punk Festival

Shai Hulud
Cover Photo: AB Photography

“The Core Perspective: Matt Fox Of Shai Hulud” – why is this relevant? Well, firstly, the Hardcore collective family known as Shai Hulud are a seminal and influential presence with the realm of Hardcore Punk-Rock music. Secondly, the band had planned to re-enter the live-circuit as of this month with two UK dates and four others across Belgium and Germany. Sadly, due to COVID-19, this has been put off for now. One of these appearances was to be a headline spot at Manchester Punk Festival.

This interview was conducted through March 2020 was initially set to be published at the beginning of April but as it would have been MPF this coming weekend, I thought it fitting to post it now as it was great fun to conduct. Before we get on with, it is important to make note that the organisers of the festival have something set up via the online arena this weekend, more information can be found at the end.

So, in the first, foremost and most abstract manner that comes into your head, who are you and what do you?

Well, as it’s been said to describe Zaphod Beeblebrox, I’m just this guy, you know? But to be a bit more forthcoming, my full name is Matthew Ian Fox and as it is relevant to the Manchester Punk Festival, I write music, words, and play guitar in the Progressive Hardcore band Shai Hulud which I co-founded in 1995. 

Ah, so you’re the infamous “This Guy”. I think that ties things up nicely! Thanks for your time!

You’d be so lucky! Anyway, so Shai Hulud, a quick and a maybe a few “whys” are in order. Where did the idea of choosing the moniker of a giant sandworm come from? And given the state of Punk and Hardcore a the time, fresh out of Post-Hardcore and in the midst of Pop and Skate Punk, what was the main stylistic reasoning and or catalyst?

A friend of mine turned me onto Dune when I was in high-school, and it was only a few short years later the band started. When we were originally talking about band names, I remember wanting something that had a literary background, and not just a typical, generic Hardcore name that merely attempted to sound tough. I thought using something from Dune would give the band automatic depth and set us apart from the pack.

Originally, I wanted to call the band “Harkonnen” after Baron Vladmir Harkonnen, a villain in the movie version of Dune whose impeccable portrayal by actor Kenneth McMillan was my favourite. And because it sounded mean. I guess sounding mean was more appealing to me than sounding tough. Harkonnen as the band’s name. However, was turned down by our original bass player because he felt it sounded too much like the word “Hardcore.” Then, after a miscommunication about creatures in Dune between the bass player and I, Shai Hulud was chosen. A curious name for a band, sure, but it was better than “Third Stage Navigator.”

I think the reason Shai Hulud sounds as we do is purely because of the bands we were largely influenced by at the time – to name but a few, JFA, Bad Brains, Chain Of Strength, Strongarm, NOFX, Burn, Metallica, Turning Point, and Voivod. Stylistically, no choice to sound any certain way, melodic or otherwise, was decidedly made that I recall. We simply wanted to be a pissed, emotionally charged Hardcore band that stood out, something just a bit different to separate us from the average band, and I think our diverse and off-the-beaten-path influences combined with our own take on those influences informed the sound we developed.

I can see your point regarding the whole tough/mean dynamic. It’s still very much the ongoing battle in naming Hardcore bands to this day, at least in the UK anyway. It can get a little, contrived. 

That’s a fair statement and ethos, allowing the band to morph into something intrinsically into itself rather than obsequiously bending the stylistic laws of the time. Are there particular releases that spurred or rather inspired the band that you yourself have considered seminal to Shai Hulud? Or to be honest, records that have had a profound influence on how you do what you do specifically? 

Off the top of my head I’d say the most seminal releases that led to the formation of, and continued inspiration to Shai Hulud would be the “ROIR Casette” by Bad Brains, the Burn self-titled 7″, “What Holds Us Apart” by Chain Of Strength, “Nothingface” by Voivod, “Dealing With It” by D. R. I, “The Advent Of A Miracle” by Strongarm, “It’s Always Darkest… Before The Dawn (CD version that includes the song ‘Broken’)” by Turning Point, “Master Of Puppets” and “Ride The Lightning” by Metallica, “White Trash, Two Heebs And A Bean” and “Punk In Drublic” by NOFX, “Untitled” by JFA, and “The Legacy” and “The New Order” by Testament.  

While we are talking releases, Shai Hulud spent some time with Revelation Records. So, bluntly, is there a record from said label’s history that stands prominently for you? I personally thought the latest effort from Battery was pretty unstoppable.

If I’m picking just one from Rev’s catalogue, it would be “Start Today” by Gorilla Biscuits. I’ll have to check out that new Battery though.

To say that what you’ve just listed doesn’t entirely own the rights to word seminal would be a big bad lie. And yes! Please do and let me know what you think of it!

Right, so, jumping back into the contemporary. You’ve just properly, publically announced a five-date tour. It’s been a while since Shai Hulud has been active on the recording and touring circuit. How are you feeling personally about the band, tour and what sort of place is Shai Hulud inhabiting in 2020? 

I’m feeling great about everything! We’ve got a solid lineup that pulls from our collective, or extended family, one I’m thankful to have. Since there are always questions about our lineup, I’ll detail who’s currently playing in Shai Hulud. 

Our drummer, Moe Watson, was with us the past couple years we were active; Europeans saw him drum for us when we were last over with Funeral For A Friend. On second guitar we have our friend Mark Gumbrecht who’s been both a friend and collaborator for many years, having filled the second guitar spot on prior American tours. Our current bass player is Eric Dellon who has been in the Hulud family for well over a decade, first appearing as a backup vocalist on our second album, “That Within Blood Ill-tempered” way back in 2003. We’ve collaborated with him throughout our many years of friendship, and he even sang for Shai Hulud for a brief time in the mid-2000s. Eric also writes music for, and is one of the two singers of our sister band, Zombie Apocalypse. And the question of the ages: Who the hell is singing for Shai Hulud? Well, we’re proud to have our longtime pal, Jay Pepito, former singer of Reign Supreme and current bass player for END, on vocals. We’ve always loved Jay’s voice, so much so, we had him do a guest spot on our song “A Human Failing,” from the album “Reach Beyond The Sun.” He rounds out the lineup quite nicely.

So, definitely, I’m very pleased with everything. We’ve got a great group of people in the band all working hard to make Shai Hulud the best it can be. I’m very much looking forward to slaying our upcoming tour dates with these fine fellas.

As far as what place Shai Hulud is inhabiting in 2020, I really couldn’t say. We’ve always been kind of homeless, not fully fitting in anywhere. We relate to few, follow our own set of rules, and typically ally with no one group or ideology which is why I tend to use the word “unincorporated” when referring to our band – it’s another way of acknowledging our autonomy. We’d love a home, but in terms of snugly-fitting in somewhere, it seems the nature of this band is to be a remote island unto itself. I think we’re ok with that.

That’s incredibly refreshing to hear! It seems Shai Hulud is that Island, that autonomous Hardcore collective many in the scene would likely want to learn from. Have you ever considered starting an X-Men style school? “Shai Hulud’s Progressive School Of Hardcore Survival” perhaps? You can use that name if you like. Cudos on the latest Zombie Apocalypse record by the way, just as a side note.

Thanks for the school name. Maybe we can actually make a living with the Shai Hulud School. 

Glad you like the new Zombie record; thanks for giving it a listen! For those unfamiliar, Zombie Apocalypse is Shai Hulud’s sister band who released a new record called “Life Without Pain Is A Fucking Fantasy” last summer. Check it out, I hear it’s pretty killer.

Speaking of these shows, let’s talk about the tour. Was there a particular reason the specific dates where chosen? How did the MPF date come about and what is it about the festival, from your perspective, that stands it’s in such increasing popularity and how aware of it were you prior to getting your slot?

The mini-tour all stemmed from Ian Robinson who kindly asked us to be a part of the Manchester Punk Festival. Between he and the fine people at Upsurge Booking, two shows in England were set up at the outset, one in London, and the festival being the other. Shai Hulud hasn’t been in Europe in quite a few years, so we wanted to do a couple extra shows on the mainland while we were overseas. The idea was always to keep the run short, just to test the waters so to speak. With that in mind, playing only three shows in two countries, Belgium and Germany, was perfect. We’ve always had good and enthusiastic crowds in Münster, Hamburg, and Belgium so we are very much looking forward to returning. And hopefully it won’t be years until we come back the next time.

I can’t say for sure, but I think I was first made aware of the Manchester Punk Festival the year Propagandhi played. And from what I can tell, the festival not only grows because of its great lineup year after year (Discharge and Guns ’N’ Fucking Wankers!), but also due to the fact the fest is run by good, organized, and ethical people. In this day and age, knowing your money is spent towards decent people is a strong selling point. We’re thrilled to be a small part of it this year. Couldn’t be happier to have been asked to play. We’re truly in great company.

You’re welcome to it, I’ll be along to do guest lectures on press-kits and how not to make a reviewers brain melt…

Ha, perfect! A very valuable asset!

Testing the waters eh? Interesting. Does that mean Shai Hulud will be back soon then? Live, educational or otherwise?

Definitely. We’d like to be back in Europe playing live again shortly after this run to hit the many beautiful countries we’re missing on this small tour. We have many lovely friends scattered across Europe who we’re always excited to share moments of music with.

I think “Truly Great Company” is a good description. Notwithstanding Discharge and Gun N’ Wankers, if you get time, who would you want to see?

To be quite honest, there are a lot of bands playing the fest who have very loyal followings that I am unaware of. Time permitting, I’d like to catch whoever I can see. Additionally, I’d love to be able to see The Flatliners and Off With Their Heads sets. Belvedere as well – we played with them once, almost two decades ago now. Great to see they’re still around, kicking ass.

Also, I recently learned there will be some comedians performing. I’d definitely love to catch a few of those sets. I’m sure we’ll all be game for a good laugh. The fest is going to be a blast all around. Really excited to both play a small part and be a consumer at the same time. Is it April yet?

The comedy and acoustic stage was great fun last year, so I’d definitely recommend it. I discovered a shit-load of new bands at MPF last year, it’s very much what the festival encourages, I’m sure you’ll love it! I’ve seen Off With Their Heads a few times and they’ve always been nothing short of excellent.

I have no doubt I’ll walk away from the fest having found some new bands to enjoy. Once again, if I haven’t said it enough already, I’m very much looking forward to it.

Well, Matt, this has been great! I’ll be sure to catch your set and come do that face-to-face interaction that I’m told humans often partake in.

“Face-To-Face Interaction?” Is that a new app?

Before you go, is there anything you wanted to say to the people reading this? Any fun facts about yourself or the band?

Hello peeps!

Can’t wait to have a rowdy time with all of you! In the meantime, if you want to know a little bit more about us, or have conveniently bite-sized communications with us, please visit our website and social media pages at the links at the end.

Fun facts? As I’m writing this I’m listening to Alice Cooper’s song “Under My Wheels” and really enjoying it – so much so, I had to tweet about it. 

Additionally, our name, “Shai Hulud,” comes from the science fiction novel “Dune” by Frank Herbert – a book I may or may not have read back in high school.

And me? I’m just this guy.

Excelsiors!

Well, that was “The Core Perspective: Matt Fox Of Shai Hulud”. Find all things gargantuanly sized Hardcore-Sandworms and Manchester Punk Festival below! The festival may be cancelled, but as stated above, the MPF team have something planned for this very would-be festival weekend. More info on which you can find below!

 

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