Vulvodynia are one of the more popular extreme metal bands around right now. Their 2016 album Psychosadistic Design was really the album that put them on the slam map (though they have plenty of choice material to choose from), and you really have to hand it to a band that managed to gain such a worldwide audience from their home base of South Africa.
Guitarist Kris Xenopoulos stopped by to dish on the band’s new split EP with Acrania, their upcoming album, and what COVID-19 has meant as far as impacting the band at large. Read on for more.
Editor’s Note: This was originally planned to be a podcast with Kris, but due to poor Wi-Fi connections, I wasn’t able to salvage much of the recordings to be aired as a proper podcast, so I transcribed the interview to an article format instead. Kris Xenopoulos is the lead guitarist of the South African based brutal death metal/slamming deathcore band Vulvodynia. Vulvodynia has been rising to the top of their genre for the last few years, playing shows and touring with bands like Beneath the Massacre, Despised Icon, and Suffocation.
T.J.: Hey, how’s it going Kris? Congratulations on your success with the release of the split EP you did with Acrania, Societal Lobotomisation.
Kris.: Hey! And thank you, I appreciate it!
T.J.: The new EP sounds incredible, and it seems like you guys have gotten more in depth with technical playing. What was the writing process like for that, and does it reflect what the future of Vulvodynia will sound like?
Kris: Okay so this EP, we wrote at the beginning of last year, around March. I remember recording the songs, and yeah me and Luke pretty much wrote the songs together. Then I tracked everything at my place and Duncan tracked at home. We all had to track at our houses because of COVID, and I think it’s a good introduction for where we’re heading with our new sound for our new album, which we’ve been busy recording and have been working on for the last year now. I feel like the new album is more tech inspired, and the lead playing is crazier, and we’ve been perfectionists about everything, spending 8 hours a day, everyday, for 30 days to get the rhythm guitars done because we’ve been such perfectionists about it. We’re on lead guitars now, and we still have cleans and acoustics to record, but we have to finish this month. It’s our first time using real drums on this album as well.
T.J.: It sounds like you guys have been hard at work! So it seems like you guys are departing from the slam sound into a more technical death metal style, and creating what could be a redefining record for Vulvodynia?
Kris: Well I think, in our opinion, it’s definitely our best work yet. I wouldn’t call it a slam record, but our roots will always be in slam, and we write everything with the slam mindset. But, we take so much influence from so many different genres, that we don’t want to box ourselves in anymore. We just want to write the coolest music we can make, I think it would be wrong calling us a strict slam band, but our roots are from slam, and we will always have slams in our record. We’re venturing off more into the technical death metal, progressive side of things, with some djentier vibes here and there. Just being more articulate with the guitar work and paying more attention to detail when it comes to melody, trying to create strong melodies that aren’t cheesy and work in a brutal death metal setting. With this next record we’re trying to be as melodic as possible while still retaining that heaviness we’ve always had.
T.J.: It sounds like you guys really found yourselves musically and know where you want to evolve from the groundwork you’ve laid down in your previous records.
Kris: Well, you know I don’t think we’ll ever stop evolving. If we just made the same record over, and over, and over again it would get boring. I know a lot of our fans want to hear another “Psychosadistic Design” but I feel like if we tried to do that it still wouldn’t be what they wanted, and it wouldn’t be true to ourselves. We’re just making music that’s true to ourselves. I think, that’s really gonna resonate with other people because it’s passion music, not for anyone else besides ourselves, and I think you make your best work when you just let yourself be free.
T.J.: Have you guys been tracking this remotely as well or together?
Kris: When we were doing the EP, I locked myself in my bedroom for 16 hours and that’s how I’d record a song, but now I’ve moved houses and have a good home recording studio, so Lwandile have been slaving away over here and we tracked the drums in a really cool studio. And we’ve actually been recording together at our drummer’s studio. We’ve been meeting up as much as possible. When we wrote the album, we met up at our bassist’s studio everyday refining the tracks until they were perfect. We’ve been a bit more free since the beginning, and got to play two shows, but now everything is locked down again.
T.J.: Speaking of the lockdowns, how has COVID-19 affected you all as a band, what have you guys been doing other than the Vulvodynia album during this time period?
Kris: We’ve really just been working on new music, I’ve written and recorded a solo EP for later this year, working on the new album nonstop. We had multiple tours cancelled to Europe and Asia last year, and touts are still getting cancelled and moved. We were only able to play the two shows mentioned and then everything got shut down again. It’s hard to know how to feel about it because we want to play shows but we also don’t want people to gather and mosh. It’s an awkward situation, but we’ve been doing the only thing we know how to do in this time, and that’s just write music.
T.J.: What do you think life will be like after COVID for you all? How do you think it’ll affect the live music scene after the world goes back to normal? Are there any concerns that it would be any different?
Kris: Well, of course there are concerns because as a South African band, there’s a huge amount of costs for visas, and tickets so we need to make sure the tours will be worth our money and time so we don’t fuck ourselves over. So we don’t know what to expect, we’re just focused on making the best record we can make right now, and we’ll just have to see what happens when everyone becomes vaccinated and the world becomes normal. It’s so hard to predict because nothing like this has ever happened, and we don’t know what to expect, we don’t know if live music will be the same for a very long time, we’re never going to stop playing live music, so we’re going to continue doing it however we can, we just need to figure out things in the post-COVID world, if there even is a post-COVID world. It’s a very hard question to answer, because really no one knows what’s going to happen.
T.J.: You were talking about being from South Africa and having to make your money back, what’s it like establishing a name for yourself coming from an area of the world like South Africa.
Kris: Well, honestly there’s not many bands doing what we do, I think we’re the only full time metal band in Africa. It’s not really a thing here. It’s crazy, the things I’ve done in my life, someone from South Africa, you don’t really expect big things because you don’t see anyone around you doing big things. South African bands were always like, B-Grade compared to the rest of the world. You didn’t get good bands from here, and it’s changed! You get good bands from here now, and yes there’s been good bands throughout South African history. But just like the majority of the time, it wasn’t as up to par with the rest of the world, and it’s developing, it’s getting better! As a kid, whose dream was doing this, I never thought it would be able to happen, and that I’d be able to tour the world, and meet my idols, and play music with my idols. So it’s been crazy honestly. I couldn’t have expected any of this, and I’m very grateful for it. Every time I take a step back, and look at all I’ve done, it just seems crazy for a kid from South Africa.
T.J.: What were some of your big influences growing up, and who have you gotten to work with and meet?
Kris: Guthrie Govan has been my biggest influence when it comes to guitar playing, and I’ve got to hang out with him and I brought him to South Africa and took him around the country for five days, and being able to spend that time with him and talk about music, everything else was the coolest thing that ever happened. Same with Bumblefoot, and I’ve even played in his band, that was crazy. With Vulvodynia, Cerebral Bore really got me into death metal and when we got Som on one of the songs, “Castration Mutilation”, I tried so hard to get a hold of her on the song, and wrote it with her in mind, and getting her on it was the coolest thing ever. With Technopath I’ve worked with Bryan Beller who plays in Guthrie’s band The Aristocrats, and Nick Johnston who’s a virtuous guitar player, and Matthias Eklundh who’s also been a huge influence on me. Touring with Despised Icon, I remember when I was 14, going around school, thinking I was the coolest kid around because I was listening to the heaviest music, and I was so like cool, you know? Being able to tour with them was crazy because I was listening to them since I was 14. Meeting people through Ormsby, and staying with the Ormsby crew like Dino Cazares, and going to his house and meeting his dog, and y’know chilling with Rusty Cooley. There’s an endless list to these people I’ve worked with, and Vulvodynia has so many guest features, and everything single one of them has been a dream vocalist to work with. Like Don from Waking the Cadaver, or like Adam from Oceano. All these dudes, it’s just mindblowing. I don’t know, I can keep listing them, but I’ll leave it at I’m very grateful, and excited to work with more people. The point of music, I think, is to play music with people, for people.
T.J.: Wow, that’s all really awesome! We’re coming to a close on our time here, and I appreciate you giving us some time to sit and chat about the future of Vulvodynia and your work. Hopefully when the world goes back to normal we can catch you here stateside with your band, and I’m excited to hear the new album once it comes out!
Kris: Of course, thanks for having me!