Whenever I am scheduled to interview a band outside my personal taste, I’m curious to learn a little more about the genre.
But that curiosity comes coupled with the insecurity of being completely out of my depth. My interview with Vulvodynia was no exception.
Kris Xenopolous — guitarist — and I meet up at a quiet Bootleggers in Sea Point. He’s got the long hair, the tattoos, and the painted nails that you’d expect from a metal guitarist, and the first thing he says to me is, “Oh my God, we’ve got exactly the same nail colour!”, a metallic silver, and it’s exactly the ice breaker I need.
I come clean and explain how metal isn’t quite my forte, that my first love is jazz, but he lets me off the hook because, “…jazz is metal’s less aggressive cousin,” he smiles.
With metal being as intense a genre as it is, I ask about his introduction to the music, “Okay so initially, I kind of started listening to metal through video games. Games like Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero. Literally when I first started listening to the real heavy stuff, I started listening to it as a joke, and I started listening to Cannibal Corpse, and I was like, “This is so funny’.”
We both burst out laughing.
While he was an avid listener, he never thought he’d ever actually be able to play metal guitar, that it was too complicated, so he accepted his supposed fate as a blues guitarist.
I ask whether he ever started any blues bands, and he laughs nervously, “I’m not gonna say the names because I don’t want people to look them up. It’s my cringe-y music that I made when I was a young teenager.”
Xeno backtracks to second grade, to when he first started listening to high energy music that wasn’t necessarily metal, Linkin Park being one of his earliest obsessions. Then Black Sabbath. Then Iron Maiden.
His formal musical education started in Grade 5, taking up music theory, starting out on drums and then moving to guitar. The portability of the guitar allowed him to practice everywhere. And as he started progressing and improving at the blues, playing metal became more of a possibility for him.
He attributes Cerebral Bore, a Scottish brutal death metal band, with laying down the foundation for what he now creates “If I didn’t get into that band, I don’t think I’d have ever gotten into this music.” They even had Cerebral Bore’s vocalist feature on one of their tracks, something that to this day blows his mind.
In Grade 9, he made the decision to drop out of school and attend a music college in Kwa-Zulu Natal, where he grew up. By the end of his three-year diploma, the bands he was involved in were picking up traction and touring was getting in the way of his studies.
I’m both impressed and exhausted by his crazy post-diploma gigging schedule, last year being a massive turning point for Vulvodynia, allowing them to pursue music as a full-time career.
“Last year [Vulvodynia] toured since May, non-stop. I returned from Europe two weeks ago, and I’m leaving for California on Monday. Before that, I spent a week at home after returning from Australia, and before that I was in New Zealand. Before that, I toured with the ex-guitarist from Guns ‘n’ Roses, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Bloomenthal.”
I interrupt Kris because suddenly I realize why he looks so familiar — because I’d spent a good two hours in Bumblefoot’s audience at Mercury Live (CPT), marvelling at their guitar virtuosity. I explain how I’d had the privilege of interviewing Bumblefoot on his 50th birthday ahead of the tour, and he says, very matter-of-factly, “I was the one who brought him down [to South Africa], and I also played with him.”
Nothing that Xeno has said has come off as pompous or arrogant. I ask him how he feels about all of this attention, all the touring, all the streaming successes. “Honestly, when something goes viral like that and it does so well, it’s hard to realize that these are real people. When we went on tour with the band, to all of these countries, it was crazy to see all of these people in real life. Because it was literally our first tour ever, and it was a headlining tour, and it was literally the most successful tour I’d ever played.”
Touring is intense in that all the comforts of your home life are stripped away, and you’re on the road for large periods at a time, with the same people, so I ask what the number one rule is for surviving tour. He responds, “Foot powder,” and I’m doubled in half. “When you’re touring and you bring one pair of shoes, it’s gonna be a disaster.”
Rule number two is all about being mentally prepared, “It’s not easy because you’re playing shows every day, sometimes for over a month. But I like that routine. I like that my life has this set plan every day. And the kind of team effort that goes into a successful tour, it’s just like this system that just works so well.”
From being banned from The Colosseum in Slovakia (seriously, check out this video) to fans getting Xeno’s avocado tattoo or signature five-legged cat tattoo inked across their bodies, Vulvodynia are exploding the world over. They’ve already built up a cult-like following, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
They’re set to play their first ever Asia tour this year. Luckily for local fans, they’ve just announced a 6-date Africa tour, kicking off in Pretoria on the 31st of January, all the way up to Botswana, and then ending off in Joburg.
Metalheads, take note of the above tour dates. These guys are hot shit and you’re going to want to catch them live.