Letter Kills: Positive and Hopeful Rock

Sitting in a small, white, one-story building are a few members of a rock ‘n’ roll band. Although the outer shell of this structure looks more like a private business than a church, Calvary Chapel in Temecula draws an eclectic congregation, including a young tattoo artist and a tall, long-haired biker. While struggling to find a name for their band, singer Matt Shelton and bassist Kyle ‘Harley’ Duckworth found out that they just had to wait for the name to find them.
In the middle of his sermon, the pastor reads a passage from the Bible that includes 2 Corinthians 3:6. The excerpt reads, ‘… servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.’
It was like two cartoon light bulbs appeared over the band members’ heads that day, and from then on, Matt and Kyle, along with guitarists Timothy Cordova and Dustin Lovelis and drummer Paul Remund would be known as Letter Kills.
Considering that every band member is Christian and that even their name is deeply rooted in religion, it is no surprise that Letter Kills’ message in their lyrics is a positive one. Shelton and Harley both agree that the hopeful tone of their lyrics is a refreshing one in a world full of cynical bands.
There won’t be any songs about wanting to commit suicide because of a broken bicycle. No, as Shelton emphasizes, ‘We know that bad things happen. They happen to everyone, but so many bands focus on the negative things.’ Harley, who gets his nickname from riding Harley motorcycles across the country, nods in agreement as Shelton continues. ‘We just want to give the people that listen to us something to hope for.’
Shelton, who wears a perfect salon haircut and a black bandanna around his neck, describes the music they write as ‘just rock ‘n’ roll, you know?’ Harley adds, ‘To someone who has never heard of our band or even our kind of music, I think we would just sound like rock ‘n’ roll to them. When you hear rock ‘n’ roll, whatever you think of, that’s what we sound like.’ He pauses for a bit, and confirms with a nod, ‘Just rock ‘n’ roll.’
Forming in the summer of 2002, Letter Kills’ aggressive guitars, along with the foundations provided by the bass and drums, sweetly complement Shelton’s on-point, throaty vocals and gut-wrenching screams. Shelton and Harley seemed to be hard-pressed to find an adequate way to describe their music since ‘all of our songs just sound so different, so I don’t think two or even three songs can be representative of what our band sounds like,’ Shelton said.
Their music carries elements of pop-punk, hints of metal and a good ratio of screaming to singing. Unique in their own subtle ways, they sound like a band that you would expect to tour with The Used, Story of the Year and maybe Finch.
When a band can get signed to a major label on merely a demo, they have to be doing something right. With the help of friends from the pop-hardcore (yeah, I just made that up) band, Finch, Letter Kills was able to get help from Drive-Thru Records in their quest to find a home.
Drive-Thru, in turn, hooked them up with Island Records, thus making them label-mates with the likes of Thrice, Elvis Costello, The Bronx and PJ Harvey, to name a few.
Out now is a three-song EP that the band simply calls the Letter Kills EP. Although it cannot completely embody what Letter Kills sounds like now, listening to it can give you a better idea of what they’re about. All of the songs can be streamed from their Web site at www.letterkills.com or bought at one of their shows.
Letter Kills plans to come out with their full-length debut album tentatively called ‘The Bridge’ on June 22. Written mostly at home and on the road, ‘The Bridge’ was produced by Jim Wirt who also worked on Incubus, Hoobastank and Something Corporate records.
Letter Kills likes to write songs with deeper meanings for their fans; this is also true for the title of their album. The name of the record is what they want their band to do: bridge the gap between the fans of the underground music scene and those of the mainstream crowd. As Shelton succinctly explains, ‘We just want to take people somewhere with this album. That’s why it’s called ‘The Bridge.”
Once ‘The Bridge’ comes out in the summer, Letter Kills will finally conduct a headlining tour to support it. Until then, they will be touring with the likes of Sugarcult, Story of the Year, play on the Warped Tour and film a music video for their first single with Quinn Allman of The Used.
While on the road, Harley likes to queue up all of the Radiohead albums on his laptop, set it to ‘random,’ and relax. Shelton, who Harley calls ‘the art guy,’ likes to draw and has been known to practice his art on his bandmates. ‘A few times I’ve given my guitarist tattoos while on the road.’ Sensing some confusion, he calmly continues, ‘In the van. And sometimes we’d go over a bump and a part of it would look sort of funny, but he thinks it looks fine. I just tell him not to tell anyone it was my work.’
On stage, Letter Kills’ calm demeanor quickly changes to a flailing display of microphone acrobatics and bouncy riffs. Whenever he’s not singing, Shelton tosses his microphone 20 feet into the air, swings it around and catches it with precision, making you wonder whether or not he’ll hit one of his brethren.
Much of the crowd happily sings along to the radio-friendly ‘Radio Up,’ as Shelton crouches over his microphone, serving a high-pitched scream. Their live show carries out in this energetic display without waning. So even if you end up not liking their music, they’re definitely a fun band to watch.
If you can’t wait for the summer and the Warped Tour, Letter Kills, along with The Used, Sugarcult, Goldfinger, Story of the Year, A Static Lullaby and about 15 other bands will be coming to Irvine. On March 28 at The Oak Canyon Ranch, this eccentric lineup will be playing to benefit the Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty organization. And if rad bands and a good cause aren’t enough for you, the event will be guest hosted by the Alicia Silverstone.