The Sword barrel down the highway bludgeoning passers-by with thick southern riffs, warped Sci-Fi, and a groove that may hit your feet as hard as your head. The band gained critical acclaim with their epic concept record, Warp Riders, showcasing a storytelling not found in such jarring music. Guitarist Kyle Shutt is a founding member of The Sword, and recently sat down with Scene Point Blank to discuss their new record, Used Future, why Metallica is so generous, and the bands recent foray into the realm of hot sauce.
Scene Point Blank: The Sword have been around since the turn of the century, how did the band come together?
Kyle Shutt – Halloween of 2003 is really where we got our start. J.D. (John D. Cronise) had a bunch of songs that he had been working on for some time and we were a Misfits cover band for Halloween. We played a house party, just a neighbourhood party in North Austin and he gave me a burned CD with a bunch of his demos on it. He wanted to be in a heavier band, because he was in this party rock band, and I wanted to be in more of a riff-rock band, because I was in more of a hardcore band at the time.
At the time, most metal was Cookie Monster kind of stuff, screaming and stuff, and no melodic singing. Everything on Relapse Records at the time was super intense. We were huge fans of The Melvins and Sleep, and Carp, and fans of bands that didn’t play that much. We kind of wanted to be the band we wanted to see, because there wasn’t anything out there at the time that was club level that we wanted to see on a regular basis. Soilent Green came through all the time and they were sick.
Scene Point Blank: Your hometown of Austin, TX is a very eclectic city, how do you think your location growing up influenced you as a musician?
Kyle Shutt - It’s funny you ask that, first off, it’s affordable, if you can believe that. Coming from a real, small town, if you couldn’t afford to move to LA or New York to play music, Austin was pretty close. It was known for all kinds of music, and I was into this band called Employer, Employee, they were from Austin.
Growing up in the small town where I’m from there were no record stores. I think we had a Circuit City, or a Wal Mart, so you knew about some stuff. But one day I got my hands on a Converge CD, and I absolutely didn’t know you could make music like that. I really got into a label that, at the time, was called Robo-Dog Records, and it became Robotic Empire Records. I was just blown away that there was a band, in Texas, that was making music like that. It was crazy, you could be in two bands with two jobs, and it would all work out.
Everything changes, by the time I got to Austin it had changed a whole lot. You stay anywhere long enough and it’s going to change. There are more clubs and bands than ever, it’s crazy. When you live here, you forget that not every town has a million clubs within walking distance of each other, with great bands playing all the time.
Scene Point Blank: Used Future is out March 23rd, how did the writing and recording of that record come together?
Kyle Shutt - It was good, all of our songs were kind of already written, we had a very clear vision of what we wanted to record when we went in the studio. With High Country, we tried to branch out from that a little and not try to polish all the songs, it was crazy. It was a very long album, but it was definitely a different album for us. I think we went in this time a little half-baked with 6 songs, and then another 4 that were ideas, and then a bunch of demos. We really worked on what we had pretty intensely. We really tried to make a more concise version of High Country.
It’s not like we sound like any of the older bands that I referred to before, but like…the band Yes, and the album Fragile, it’s really only got like 4 songs on it, but it has 11 tracks, because they were just in the recording studio jacking around. We really just wanted to go in there and play with all the toys in the studio, and make some cool noises and see what we come up with. It was a totally different approach than anything we had ever done before.
When we went to Baltimore to make Apocryphon… we were living there, and it was literally like The Wire every day. It was a totally different experience than going and renting a house in Portland, and chill the fuck out for a month, where there is legal weed and great coffee. A totally different vibe. We went to the studio 6 days a week and just kind of hung out. We really just would focus on one song, and then move on, and pick it up a week later. I actually have to get off the phone here and learn how to play the fucking thing before we go on tour.
"Metallica called us up and asked if we wanted to go on tour with them, so we had to cancel everything. Cause you don’t say no to that shit."
Scene Point Blank: I noticed that the song titles are very rooted in the elements, and not as science-fictiony as past records, seemed a bit more grounded, was that intentional?
Kyle Shutt - Warp Riders was a fully fleshed out story, that J.D. had written. That album is really a stand-alone piece. Apocryphon, we had lost Trivet (Wingo), and I had felt an urgency to come back with an intensely heavy album, and it certainly is. I think that was one of the reasons that High Country wasn’t heavier. We were just like... who cares… I just want to make some noise, it was just crazy solos, but a very…let’s move along to something different now, vibe. I just wanted to move on and not get trapped to where I am competing with myself, like AC/DC or something.
The Sword has always made records that we want to hear, we really don’t care what other people think… I mean, it’s awesome when they love it, but if they don’t, I can’t worry about that. I need to feel satisfied with it first, rather than being OK with other people liking it.
Scene Point Blank - The Sword lends itself very well to storytelling with the science-fiction themes and motifs behind albums like Warp Riders, will there ever be a graphic novel to parallel that record?
Kyle Shutt - Sure, do you have $100,000? Honestly, we’ve talk about it with people… I’ve got a space for it on my shelf, no joke.
Scene Point Blank - What was it like writing a concept record like Warp Riders?
Kyle Shutt - We were coming off the Metallica tour, so we just played 100 shows with Metallica over the course of a year. At that point, we had been on your for like 5 years straight. We didn’t take much time off between Age of Winters, and Gods of the Earth. The Age of Winters tour, we didn’t even know it was a world tour until we were done with it. We went to Europe twice, did 5 laps around the States, went to Japan, and looked at each other were like ‘holy shit’.
So, when we got to Gods of the Earth we just booked a world tour. And 2 weeks later, Metallica called us up and asked if we wanted to go on tour with them, so we had to cancel everything. Cause you don’t say no to that shit. After that… everyone had their eyes on us, like….’what are they going to do next’… are they gonna be the heaviest band ever?
We had always made our own records, so this time we called in Matt Bayles so… number 1, this was the first time with a producer. We got a place in South Austin that is no longer there called The Wire, it was the first time that we had really been drilled to get meticulously perfect takes over and over again. Our drummer hated it, he was super-miserable all the time, but it was really the best performance in the fucking-world. It’s a Matt Bayles record when you hear it. It’s squeaky clean. I think it was cool, it was the first time we had used any real synths on the record. We had used stuff before, but it was the first time we had really started incorporating it into our live show. Now he has a whole creation station and shit over there.
Scene Point Blank - Metallica gets a bad rep sometimes, but it must have been an eye-opening experience. What was it like opening for them?
Kyle Shutt - They made it as easy on us as possible. I will tell you this, people can say whatever they want about Metallica, they are the most generous mother-fuckers in the music industry. We became friends with Lars in 2006, and he was just a fan and would show up to our shows. He helped load our van and shit, he was just a super-nice guy. He kept promising to take us on tour, and we never thought about it. They put out Death Magnetic and called us up. They told us we could have the first of three slots for as long as we wanted and it was a 2 ½ yearlong tour. About a year in, we were like ‘guys, we can’t do this anymore’, and they said they thought we wouldn’t last 6 months. It was all hugs and smiles.
We didn’t know anything about being on a tour like that before. Lars seriously sat us down and asked us ‘what do you need… how much do you need to make this happen?’ And we were like ‘I don’t know, like a thousand dollars?’ we really had no clue. They helped us figure out all that we needed and how much it was going to cost, and made sure that we had enough to cover it.
They didn’t have to do that, a band like that could tour by themselves forever, they don’t need to take anyone on tour, let alone pay them anything. The fact that they were so generous without us asking for anything… I’m never going to ask them for a fucking thing for the rest of my life. I would never be able to repay that debt. Those guys are a class act.
"Music was made by different kinds of people back in the day. Back then you weren’t concerned with so much shit."
Scene Point Blank - The Sword has their own brand of hot sauce…. As well as your own beer….
Kyle Shutt - We do!!
With the beer, we don’t have anything in regular rotation, but we have been one to collaborate on something for a party or what not. One time we did this party in Austin at a friend’s venue, it felt like a house party, and we played there. We did the same thing in San Antonio, but we didn’t have to buy out a venue there because we aren’t that big in San Antonio, so we just played a regular show, but it was a lot of fun.
The hot sauce idea came from the guy that works at our old record label Kemado Records. We had a song called “Tears of Fire” on Warp Riders that we were doing a single for with a picture disc. He had this idea to do a hot sauce with the disk that called “Tears of Fire”, and we chuckled at it. It was sort of a mythical merch item because you couldn’t purchase it. We couldn’t sell it because it wasn’t approved by the FDA or anything, but then we got approval for it and started selling it at our shows and it became this underground hit.
But then Anthony Bourdain had us on No Reservations, and it was like a free commercial for our hot sauce. People have had it, and it is delicious, they get addicted to it and buy a case of it at a time online. Check out our shop in downtown Austin called Tears of Joy on 6th street.
Scene Point Blank - Who are your biggest musical influences?
Kyle Shutt - My dad was really into Ozzy Osbourne… I was into Ozzy before I was into Black Sabbath. Skid Row was a hit with me. AC/DC… I was into Back in Black before I went back and discovered Bon Scott and “Dirty Deeds” and stuff like that. I used to come to Austin and go into record stores and find all these old AC/DC record for a buck. Over the years I’ve adopted different things. I don’t find myself listening to as much music as I used to, but when I do it’s a lot of old soul and funk kind of stuff. Music was made by different kinds of people back in the day. Back then you weren’t concerned with so much shit, and clubs used to stay open until 9 in the morning with real bands playing all fucking night… You don’t get that dedication to a craft anymore. I feel like you can do anything you want these days and it’s hard for people to focus.
Scene Point Blank - What got you into playing guitar?
Kyle Shutt - Cause it was the only way out of that shithole town. I knew that I wasn’t going to swing it in college or anything like that. I didn’t give a fuck about school, and the guitar was the only answer.
Scene Point Blank - What’s next for The Sword?
Kyle Shutt - World Tour…You can only book so many shows, and then other things come up. I’ve learned to really trust the process, as dumb as that sounds, we’ve been a band for so long that… it just comes down to playing some shows and seeing what happens. Do some shit we’ve never done before. We’re playing The Fillmore this time… that’s one place I’ve never played before. The Bay Area has always taken care of us.