Interview with vocalist Schuylar Croom | By Joshua Maranhas | Photographs By Joshua Maranhas
The latest release from North Carolina’s He Is Legend, White Bat, is the next album missing from your collection. It’s available for preorder from Spinefarm Records ahead of its release on June 28, and it’s more He Is Legend than the band have ever been.
On White Bat, they’re comfortable, and they’re tight. There’s an evolved confidence in themselves, a positivity about their creativity, and an energy in their presence. “I feel like we’re at home with each other and with the sound that we’ve created,” lead vocalist Schuylar Croom says. “When [drummer] Jesse [Shelley] joined the band, everything kind of grew a little.”
White Bat builds on a 15-year storm of releases, from their 2004 debut LP, I Am Hollywood, to 2014’s Heavy Fruit and forward to 2017’s few to recall, well, a few of their albums. He Is Legend have relentlessly released music every two or three years since their inception in 2003. White Bat is their sixth full-length, and Croom, Shelley, guitarist Adam Tanbouz, and bassist Matt Williams combine to make songs full of growth from one album to the next. This latest, it can be argued, is their best work of collective and complete art to date.
“I’m a big horror movie buff,” Croom says. “I like true crime. I like the darker side of all of those kinds of things, and I tend to gravitate toward that style of music as well. I’ve always related to the music that Adam brings out of his mind and, you know, brings to the table—the skeleton that’s built. I’m there to put the skin and scars and things over the skeleton of this music and paint a picture.”
“This album was—I knew, conceptually, I was being inspired by a certain true crime case that kind of, it was kismet,” he continues. “It was a chilling kind of story.”
White Bat is full of storytelling. Jumping right out of the gate with the title track, it grabs the listener by the neck. The alarming growl of Tanbouz’ downstrokes sets the pace for Croom’s lamenting tales. His description of the “white bat” stokes the imagination and paints a deeper picture. Croom’s lyrics are literary in their own right, but they begin with a book, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer,” by Michelle McNamara. Croom takes inspiration from the book’s title, as well as its inspiration: the titular serial killer who once told a victim, “You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.” This becomes the song’s chorus, a line that’s chilling, haunting, pounding, and melodic all at once. It sets the tone for this record—it’s a rock record.
After starting quick with “White Bat,” this rock record gets faster and faster until it’s coasting at top speeds. From the second track, “Burn All Your Rock Records,” a real anthem that will have listeners’ fists in the air, to the eighth tune, “Uncanny Valley,” a beautiful modern ballad, the songs are all poetic and take the listener on a journey. There is finally a chance to breathe around track nine, “The Interloper,” and White Bat finishes tight and banging with “Boogiewoman.”
“I’ve always tried to write fairytale-style lyrics,” Croom explains his inspiration further. “I’ve always tried to relate it to love or loss, which is—you know, most songs are about longing and, I guess, pop sensibility. I feel like the best songs are about something that everyone can relate to. You kind of have to push, not being too vague. I’m a fan of short and sweet; I like the alliteration. […] Little things like that.” Croom adds that he tries to escape the mindset of “This song is about me in my life” or avoid being overly specific “if the song’s about someone who we are aware of or we know.”
“But look through a lens of someone else, and I guess you get unlimited possibilities,” he says.
White Bat was demoed and recorded in studios from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Atlanta to Hollywood. By the time the recordings made it to California, Croom was ready to lay down vocals. Croom self-produced the vocals on few, but it was difficult, and he chose not to do it again. “You’re by yourself, and you’re trying to sound like the most passionate you’ve ever sounded live. I mean, you’re supposed to sound as live as possible, but it’s exactly the opposite,” he relates. “It’s intimate, and it’s embarrassing sometimes. It’s a crazy thing to be in a studio by yourself, trying to evoke this emotive response and prove it.”
Croom and He Is Legend “prove it” on White Bat. It’s a perfect on-record performance and a complete album, with obvious singles, that begs to be listened to from the needle drop on side A to the last crackle and pop on side B.
It’s a beautifully crafted work of art right down to the cover, a collaborative effort between illustrator Matt Ryan Tobin and Croom. “We worked hand in hand with some of my cruder drawings, things that I’ve done over the years, plus his attention to detail and his graphic design work,” Croom says. “He knocked it out of the park and pushed me to work harder in a different medium of art. I was thrilled to be able to do that and for him to be like, ‘This needs to be more about you and less about what I’m doing,’ which made it really cool.”
He Is Legend’s 15-year career is like a TC Electronics Hall of Fame reverb pedal. Everything they put into writing their music translates to their recordings, and their new work always comes out infinitely better than their last effort, going back to the moodiness of Heavy Fruit, the self-produced and crowdfunded few, and now, White Bat.
“On White Bat, it was just like everything was tingling,” Croom quietly exclaims. “Everyone felt it. So, I think that’s a sign that you have something good, but obviously, you don’t want to jinx it. We just continue to power through and continue to write and record. At the end of the day, it was like, we’re in a position now that we’re going to be golden. I’m just happy with the way everything turned out, really happy with the response, and I just can’t wait for people to hear it.”
White Bat is an effortless representation of He Is Legend’s live show and the combination of every strength they’ve built, note by note, on each album. It’s obvious that they work incredibly hard. It’s a two-year labor of love written from the road to their fans, both old and true and the new listeners just catching on as their momentum continues to swell, bloom, and sustain.