If you aren’t aware of the Texan four-piece entity known as The Sword, one thing that you should know about them is that they’ve been one of a handful of acts in metal that have not only revolutionised the scene, but also reincarnated the roots and ingenuity of 20th century music. After the big alteration on their sound through 2015’s “High Country”, The Sword have moved three years on and have made that same move with their sixth upcoming full-length “Used Future”. We spoke with the band’s main man on the strings Kyle Shutt about the quartet’s revitalisation of rock music, scheduling tours, and of course, the efficiency and work that was put into the final product of “Used Future”.
“It was really good for us this time, to be honest” he says. “When times past, usually, we would work on the entire album and have it ready to record when we went the studio and sort of had an end goal in mind. We’d have the big checklist, and we’d be checking things off as we were going by. With “High Country”, we wanted to sort of be a little more relaxed about it and make up more in the studio, and we did that a little bit, but we still pretty much had most of it already kind of mapped out. But with “Used Future”, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing, going in” he laughs. “We had about half a dozen songs, and just a bunch of other music ideas. So, I think we went in purposefully unprepared, so that we were forced to create while we were recording everything. I’m so happy with the end result because I don’t really like to record demos. Sometimes, you end up spending a lot of time on them and you sort of lose that sense of immediacy, which I think is really important. So I was really happy with the sort of spontaneous nature of making it.”
Considering The Sword had produced their first two records, they have also had multiple producers get involved with them album after album. The next producer that they were privileged to work with was none other than Tucker Martine, famous for his collaborations with Death Cab For Cutie, The Decemberists and R.E.M.. According to Kyle, Tucker was an absolute sport to join forces with in the making of “Used Future”.
“Tucker was awesome to work with. He’s just low pressure. We were all going to have a good time with him every day. Sometimes, things got tedious and a little boring, but that’s just the nature of trying to record something perfectly, or to capture a mood. He’s almost painless to work with, which is really saying something because the studio is just the right environment to just get really frustrated in and stuff. He had great energy in there, and he has a really good ear for picking the right moment to do something. He’s done that My Morning Jacket album “The Waterfall”, which was just awesome. It had this kind of cinematic quality to it and we’ve been a band that’s been writing soundtracks to movies that don’t exist, yet. That’s sort of what “Warp Riders” was, and even some songs off “High Country” for that matter. This was the first time where we were really able to work with a producer to great benefit.”
When 2015’s “High Country” was released, many had noticed how much had changed in The Sword’s sound. At the same time, it was all met with a highly positive response, much like their past material. From “Age Of Winters” up to “Apocryphon”, The Sword maintained more a metal sound than a rockier vibe, before they went into “High Country”. As they’ve manage to succeed with the reception of the latter in the same sense as their first four LPs, The Sword have felt that the change in their sound has made them rise even higher than before. At the same time, Kyle believes that boredom can change a band for better or worse. In this case, it’s made The Sword just as exuberant.
“When we started this album, I knew that I wanted to take what we did with “High Country” and just boil it down a little more. It was a long album, and we never did a double LP before, so that was a kinda fun thing to do. But, at the end of the day, we just wanted to make a shorter album this time, and have a lot more elements going on in shorter chunks than before. I try not to stay anywhere too long with a particular sound. I’m always messing with new pedals and amps like some people do. If I get bored with something, I usually move along pretty quickly. That’s why making albums is kinda fun, because it’s more than just a record or a song, it’s mainly about making something that you’re into at the time. We just kinda write the songs that we wanna hear. I try to force it out. If something’s not coming to us immediately, we usually abandon it.”
As the band’s record is entitled “Used Future”, Kyle states that the title is somewhat fitting, seeing as a majority of their influences came from between the 70s and the 90s. At the same time, The Sword have never identified themselves as any other genre aside from referring to their sound as just rock n’ roll, as opposed to those that have given them certain labels over the years.
“We’re just taking what the 20th century guys did and bring it in to the 21st. We’re pretty much, a modern band, and a lot of people say that we’re this retro-metal-stoner band, but really, we’re just a rock n’ roll band, here and now.”
It’s not just their sound that’s changed. But vocalist and guitarist J.D. Cronise has also altered his style of lyricism, as he has been well-known for inoculating his words with his fascination in Norse Mythology. Now, Kyle states that J.D. has written in a ‘prophetic’ way, compared to his more historical side.
“I think over time, he looked through veil more and more. The subject matter hasn’t changed that much when you get to the meat of what the songs are actually about. It’s just the film of imagery was getting thinner and thinner over the years. He’s just writing in a more prophetic way without using too many metaphors. Not everything is metaphorical, it’s just more direct and I like that.”
If you’ve been up to date with The Sword since “High Country”, you would notice that their tuning has gone up a step and a half. However, it’s not just their newer compositions that have been performed in E Flat, but almost all of their songs have been given the same treatment live. When bringing this subject up with Kyle, he says that it dates back to what some of the bands along with The Sword had been doing back in the day between the lower and standard tunings on your average six-string Gibsons and Fenders. At the same time, he wonders what the ‘what ifs’ were if The Sword performed and recorded in the tuning they originally intended to execute in their songs.
“A lot of the old songs before, that I had written were originally in the E tuning, then we tuned everything down to C for the aesthetic we were going for. Back when we started, and I don’t know if people realised this, but we were one of the first bands to be heavy and melodic. Whatever we were coming up with, it was not cool for your metal band to have a singer. Us, Torche and a lot of bands kinda picked up that torch (no pun intended) for bands like Monster Magnet, Fu Manchu and Orange Goblin and try to carry that to a new level of popularity. It was weird at first, but we definitely made a plate for ourselves and the heavy metal world early on by sounding the way we did. If we played those songs in E Flat, I wonder if we would have the same reaction. The only reason we tuned to C was because Sleep did. They were our favourite band and the heaviest we knew. But they were broken up at the time for ten years. Once Sleep got back together, we felt like we took playing in C as far as we could go. That’s why we felt like we gotta try something new. So, we tuned it up and just create this whole new direction for us like we did ten years ago. But, yeah I often wonder if we had the same reaction if we hadn’t tuned down.”
Even when they’re playing live, The Sword have found the differences of guitar tunings a bit better between their latest creations and their older material to be quite helpful. It’s not because of the less likely chances of changing guitars between songs, but it’s actually to enact a different vibe of themselves while remaining in the same key, between C Standard and E Flat.
“I think there’s more clarity and we don’t have to play with much over the top distortion, because we would try to push so much air through our speakers. But some of the songs we do straight up just transpose into a different key. One of the songs like Tres Brujas, we actually do play in the same key, but just move down the fret a little bit and play it in a different style. There are some songs we can do in the same key that they were in. Seven Sisters from “Apocryphon” is a good example because when we play that live, it’s still in the same key and we’re playing the guitars tuned in E Flat, but we’re playing in the original key. But with the song Maiden, Mother & Crone, we straight up just change the key and tune it to E Flat instead of C. It was an interesting choice to make, but it beats the hell out of switching guitars between songs. We’re not one of those bands and I don’t need to bring all my guitars on the road with me.”
So now, with “Used Future” ready to be shown to the world in a matter of weeks, The Sword are ready to execute it all live onstage, once again. With a massive American tour as part of their universal schedule, Kyle is hoping the band will make their way to Australia before they organise their European leg. With that being said, Kyle also wants to see him and The Sword performing with some bands that are far different from them to make the gigs just as exciting. Cypress Hill, for example!
“I know for a fact we’re doing some pretty extensive American touring at first. But, Europe actually isn’t looking like it’s gonna be a while, so I think we’re gonna try and come to Australia before we go to Europe during your summer time. It sounds kinda nice, and I’ve never done Christmas in Australia before, but I’ve heard it’s hot” he laughs. “I love it! But, yeah as far as touring scenarios, I always thought it would be cool to do it outside of the box and just don’t do the tour with five bands that sound exactly the same. Every so often, it could be us and Cypress Hill and just go and have a fucking party on tour. It just sounds like way more of a good time than just doing the festival where it’s a million degrees and water is twelve bucks. It’s so much more fun to do those public theatre shows where you put two bands together that have nothing to do with each other, other than just having good music.”