By: Rob Cavuoto
South Carolina hard-rockers Crossfade have just released their third studio album, We All Bleed, after three years in the making. The record delves into lyrical themes of betrayal and isolation—a Crossfade trademark—but there’s also more than a hint of renewal and resolution. It’s the voice we remember with the dark songs brought by the arrival of co-writer and co-producer, guitarist Les Hall to the core.
Ed Sloan, vocalist, admits that the experience with his last label choked his creative momentum: Coming off the success of the first record, they lost their way after the sophomore release, Falling Away, consumed with self-doubt and self-medication.
Enter Hall, who had been friends with Sloan since junior high school. He and Sloan reunited in 2006, when Hall toured with the band to support their second album.
Highlights on the album include the dark, dissonant title track, a signature Crossfade force field that will leave listeners heaving for air, the hit-worthy “Dear Cocaine,” a slow burner that deals with shedding addiction. “I Think You Should Know,” offers a deceptively temperate arrangement behind a lyric about escaping reality by retreating into sleep, and “Killing Me Inside,” a straightforward assailing rock ‘n’ roll anthem, albeit with a touch of crafty orchestration.
I had a chance to speak with Les Hall to talk about the new CD and about helping a friend.
Rob Cavuoto: There is a tremendously back story story to Crossfade’s latest release, We All Bleed. It’s one of friendship and perseverance. Can you tell me a little bit about how that all came about?
Les Hall: Eddie probably spent six months to a year of traveling the universe on his couch before I moved back from L.A. to write the record and decided to do Crossfade full time. I was just in writing mode, working 16 hour days hanging out in the studio. Slowly pulling him in, getting him inspired and back into music.
I think from hearing some fresh material it rejuvenated Ed’s soul. He would come in and join me later on at night. We’d sit there and brainstorm all night long, workin’ on riffs and melodies. It was a long process getting there and through the first song. Once we got to that point, the train started rolling.
Rob: It seems like a good thing that came out of a dark time. Helping a friend him with the power of music and creating a solid rock CD.
Les Hall: Yeah, I think I naturally write dark music. I write most of the stuff on piano or acoustic guitar. I write a lot of orchestral music as well. I’m a big Danny Elfman fan, so I kind of always have written dark music but it just seemed to work at the same time for how he was feeling.
Rob: Tell me a little bit about your friendship with Eddie and how you guys write songs?
Les Hall: Well, we’ve known each other seventh grade and he was always into heavier music. I toured around, played with other musicians. Used to play with Trey from Phish back in the day, and when I finished up with that I joined the band and toured the second Crossfade album.
For the writing process, a lot of it was me starting out with an idea and sitting in the room and recording it, programming drums for the stuff, kind of getting a basic palette for it. We’d see if it was something that inspired him. If we both were into it we would start brainstorming back and forth. Some of the songs started off with just a lyric and melody attached that just popped in my head and wrote the music around that. But the majority were having a sound or a riff or something and documenting that and playing it for him, or vice versa. So we’re happy with it.
Rob: For somebody who maybe hasn’t heard the first two Crossfade CDs, how does this one compare?
Les Hall: I think there is a constant throughout all the Crossfade’s CDs and that’s Eddie’s big badass voice up front and center. He has a very recognizable sound and I think that and possibly some of the melodic stuff as well is similar.
I would say it differs in that there’s a lot of layers on this record. I think it’s a heavier record and of course I play keys as well, so there’s a lot of synthesizers, programming and electronics on it. It’s a thicker and more modern-sounding record. Obviously it’s been years since the first one came out, but it’s definitely darker, thicker and more layered. It still has that recognizable voice up front that people identify with.
Rob: How would you categorize your music?
Les Hall: I have no idea! [Laughing] I used to make a joke back in the day when I joined the band that it was breakup music. All these comments about like “You guys saved me from this relationship,” and all that kind of stuff. I just kind of crack up about that. I definitely wouldn’t call it that for real though.
To be honest, I think it’s heavy rock, but I think there’s a lot more character and soul in this stuff than most heavy rock. It’s a little more complex, not prog by any means, although there’s a nice 10 min track on the album and whatnot. It’s a hard one for me to pin down. Definitely wouldn’t call it heavy metal.
Rob: It seems like you’ve got a lot of creative juices going for this new CD, but what have you brought to the band personality-wise?
Les Hall: Oh, God. Absolute chaos. I feel for those guys every day for putting up with me. Personality-wise, we’re all brothers and we live in tight quarters and love each other to death, but I think I tend to go a little insane on the road.
Rob: I read that Crossfade was a bit of a gamble for you. There were other opportunities out there, but you really felt that this was the best place to go. Has it been meeting your expectations so far?
Les Hall: Yeah, when you’re doing the hired gun thing and you get off the road, your job’s over. But the thing that sucks the most about it, I guess, is that you’re not playing music that comes from your own soul, you’re playing other people’s songs. You might as well be in a cover band, although at the end of the day I do love playing music in general.
With these guys, they felt like family. We bonded so well and had a great time on the road and on stage playing every night. Also, I had a lot of music in my head that I wanted to get out. I decided it was time to stop hopping ship, plant myself in one position, and do something that is meaningful to me.
Rob: What were some of the bands you were in before, prior to this?
Les Hall: I’ve played in a ton of different bands. I used to play keyboards with a fusion band, the Robert Newton Group. I toured with a pop artist playing guitar and keyboards, a guy named Howie Day.
Then I joined Trey Anastasio for his solo project playing keyboards. Then he found out that I played guitar and did a little of both. I went from that to Crossfade. Other than that, a bunch of bands in LA, playing in like five bands at a time.
Rob: Let’s talk a little bit about your guitar influences and your style. I was watching some of your videos on YouTube; you’re really an incredible guitar player particularly the with finger picking. Tell me a little bit about some of your influences and how you got into the finger picking.
Les Hall: I appreciate it, and I have no idea where that came from. I’m kind of a slop-fest. I’m not really a shredder by any means. I dig the whole cup the pick with the first finger and play with the thumb and the “bird”. I use the pick for all the riffs because it cuts through. You get the top end that way; it’s a little duller when you use your fingers. The pick flies back and forth between being cupped and using my fingers. It’s something that maybe came from acoustic guitar, or somewhere. I really don’t know, it’s not something I ever worked on. It’s sort of a natural thing for me. I feel like I can do more having multiple fingers than I can with a pick.
Influence-wise, I’m a huge Zappa fan. I’ve spent a year of my life listening to nothing but Frank Zappa. Also, David Gilmour and Jimmy Page, which allowed me to rationalize my slop. [Laughs] Randy Rhoads was my first guitar idol. I’m a huge Jane’s Addiction and Dave Navarro fan. Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins. I’ve listened to a ton of different people over the years
For me, I’m usually into music because I like the overall band, not just the guitar stuff. Back when I was a kid, it was more about having the ripping guitar player to idolize. If I have to say who I took the most from, it would probably be Zappa, with his phrasing. I was blown away by that. And like I said, I listened to him for a year, so it kinda got stuck in my head.
Rob: Tell me about a little bit about Crossfade’s touring plans. What’s on the horizon for you guys?
Les Hall: We’re out with Pop Evil right now and finish up with them on June 28th. Then we’re gonna take a little bit of a break. I think August 24th we’re gonna be hitting the Rock Allegiance Tour with Papa Roach, Buckcherry, Puddle of Mudd, Redd, and P.O.D.
We’ll probably have about ten warm-up dates before the first gig. It’s gonna be a blast getting out there and playing the bigger shows.