Since their first album, Age of Winters, was released in 2006, The Sword have been carrying the torch for good old-fashioned riffy rock and roll. After three albums on Kemado, the Austin quartet got new management and signed with Razor & Tie for their latest album, Apocryphon. The album debuted in the top 20, shattering sales records and expectations for the band. Currently on the road until the end of the year in support of the album, Metal Insider caught up with guitarist and founding member Kyle Shutt to talk about how the album did, working with producers that are also musicians, and hopefully the last question he’ll ever be asked about “hipster metal.”
Your latest album is not only number one at CMJ but is also the highest charting record of your career. How do you feel about that and do you think that’s due to anything in particular?
I don’t know if it’s anything in particular. I’m just shocked, man. Our last one debuted at 42 which I thought was fuckin’ tits. I was going to be happy with something in the 30’s, I didn’t really want to hype myself up for something that wasn’t going to happen. But damn dude, 17! That was a good phone call to get that day.
I’m sure. Do you think there’s anything in particular that led it to do that well like the changes you guys have made?
KS: Yeah, man. I mean, pretty much everything is different so we just kind of got a fresh start. So I’m just glad that it’s doing so well. A lot of bands go in and try to shake everything up but it might not work out as good or anything. But we got a new drummer, a new manager, a new label, just fucking cleaning up house, you know what I mean? [laughs] We’re a hard working band and we’re always out there and stuff. I think people have been waiting for a new record for a while. I’m just glad so many people went out and bought it and everyone seems to love it so far. There are always people that aren’t going to like it, but you can’t please them all.
Was there anything in particular that made you choose Razor & Tie?
KS: It was just the classic casting of the net and see who offers you the best deal that makes the most sense for your career and everything. So they offered us the best deal and we took it. And they have a really diverse roster much like Kemado , so they’re kind of like a Kemado part two for us, so to speak. They pretty much let us do what we want to do and trust us to deliver the goods.
You’ve had a couple different managers throughout your career right?
KS: Just one before. but now we’ve got Larry Mazer, and he’s awesome.
For Apocryphon, you worked with J. Robbins. How was that compared to working with Matt [Bayles] from the last one and producing the first couple yourselves?
KS: It was just more of the evolution of us learning to do things, taking what we know somewhere to somebody else who has what they know and making something new about it, everybody learning something and becoming way better for it. Every record we’ve done has been a different process, so there’s not really a way we do things, but there is a core feel that we like to have for our recordings. We just wanted to sound like how we sound, like we’re playing in a room with as much of the drums and rhythm section left intact from a live setting as possible and just building up from there. It’s just fun to hang out with dudes you respect and that you’ve always heard about. It’s funny because you spend so much time and sweat and blood and tears on it that you never even end up listening to the thing [laughs]. But yeah man, it’s fun. It’s always a different experience.
Are there any records in particular of J’s or Matt’s that you looked up that made you say “I can’t wait to work with the guy that helped make this record”?
KS: Yeah, I mean Matt did a lot of different work with Mastodon and Bryan [Richie] our bass player is a big Minus the Bear fan too and he recorded their first four records, so we knew he was a real diverse guy that could capture how bands sound and that’s actually the most important thing for us. Usually when we look for a producer, the guy that is a musician or was a musician at some point just understands how to deal with people like us. A less trained musician kind of does strange things to you and not everybody can really relate with you all the time or understand why you act the way you do. So it’s kind of important for us to have another guy in the room who understands where we’re coming from in that respect, but also has the engineering prowess to make the record that we’re trying to make. It was cool to hang out with Matt and talk about Minus the Bear stories, trading stories, and especially with J., with him recording a bunch of Clutch records or even Jawbox stuff back in the day. We’ve all been fans of J’s work, so it was great to pick him, hang out, and make a record with him.
That being said, it’s not like any of the four albums sound remarkably different from each other.
KS: Yeah, we like to experiment with things here and there but we’re probably not going to stray too far from the formula until The Sword Nine and that record is just going to be ‘whatever dude’ [laughs].
Warp Riders actually did seem a little bit more proggy or experimental than any of your others. Was Apocryphon an intentional effort to get back to basics?
KS: Not really in any overtly discussed way or anything. Honestly, the way we write songs is that we write ten songs at a time and we’re really good at self-editing and trimming the fat. Some people might disagree I guess, but whatever. We feel like we’re still growing songwriters and stuff and we just write the ten songs we write and that’s kind of the record. We don’t really talk about what we’re trying to do with this album or anything. We all just kind of know at this point. We’ve been in the band together long enough where we’re just kind of open to experimenting, but we also know what the people want and also what we want to hear on the other end of the speakers. We just play the songs we want to hear.
How’d the ZZ Top cover come about?
KS: We used to play “Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings” and that was fun. We did that as a bonus track for an Australian version of Gods of the Earth I think, but nobody really knew that one, so people didn’t know if it was our song or a cover song or whatever. And I can’t remember how it came up exactly but we just kind of started playing it and we learned it really well, we figured out the whole thing. And so we played it at a fest one time and it was an instant sing-along for the whole crowd. We did a summer festival tour one year and we just kind of played it. Even if people don’t know you, you go out there and play “Cheap Sunglasses” and everyone starts having a good time. It just kind of started from there, and while we were in the studio we just thought we’d just go ahead a lay it down while we were there.
On this tour, you have two openers from Texas who are relatively unknown. Is there any particular reason you chose those two bands?
KS: You always ask the other people if they want to tour together, but if it comes back a negative then we just do what we want to do. And we’ve had a lot of help over the years especially back when we were getting started in 2003 and 2004. …Trail of Dead took us on tour when we were nobody back in 2005 and we were just selling CD copies of our demos and shit. It was pretty bare bones especially with a band like Metallica where we’re literally just a blip on the radar. And for them to just snatch us up and take us around the world for a year is just wild. And we’ve had a lot of help in ways like that, so it’s important for us to spread the love to some people from Austin that deserve a chance and that are ready to hit the road. It’s so fucking hard for bands to get a start these days. Gas is like four bucks a gallon these days and when we started it was like $1.20. It’s crazy, I don’t know how bands do it these days. But we love Austin. We’re taking Eagle Claw to the East Coast and American Shark to the West Coast. They’re just really good friends of ours and great bands that deserve a fucking shot. They’re just bringing their own records and selling them at the shows just trying to get their name out there. Maybe a booking agent or something will pick them up and get some other tours for them.
How have they been going over so far?
KS: Really well! Eagle Claw has been going over great. Gypsyhawk is going over great too, but they’re from California and they’re on the entire tour. But everybody is loving every band so far. We always make sure that if we’re going to handpick a tour like that, it’s not going to be just some band that got thrown on there because somebody called somebody. It’s going to be bands will be picked out that we want people to see.
What are your thoughts on streaming services like Spotify and Pandora?
KS: Whatever, man. I don’t know [laughs]. As long as you’re not totally just stealing it, then whatever. Music isn’t as huge of a part of people’s lives as it used to be it seems like. It’s just ‘Oh, music! It’s a song that you have!’ People seem less inclined to actually go buy a record these days. I mean it’s better than them just bootlegging it I guess and then talking a mountain of shit about things they didn’t pay for on the internet. You just can’t win out there [laughs].
A lot of people became familiar with you through Guitar Hero. Do you play video games? Are you a gamer?
KS: I’m a hardcore gamer, I’m not going to lie. I’ve got my PS3 and I might as well marry the thing [laughs]. Yeah, that’s kind of what I do when I’m at home; I catch up on everything that came out while I’m out on the road. I didn’t actually play much Guitar Hero. I would play it at somebody’s house at a party or something, but it wasn’t until we were on the actual game and they gave me the controller with the game, that’s when I would play it. It was ridiculous man, it was like marketing rainstorm and we thought “Oh this is great because the kids have to listen to the song to get further in the game”. It was genius.
It’s a shame that it was just kind of more of a trend. It kind of came and went.
KS: Yeah, shit happens. But hey it was a wild ride man, good times. It got a lot of fucking people that would never have heard of us otherwise.
What games have you been playing more recently?
KS: Recently before we left, I was doing Borderlands 2 pretty hard. It was so excited about that one. And I’m a huge fan of those Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls games. That’s as good as it gets for me. Yeah, any kind of RPG’s or shoot-em ups. I don’t really do any Modern Warfare or Call of Duty or things like that. I like fantastical games or wacky games like Borderlands 2.
Lastly, I know when you initially came out you were sort of lobbed in with the “hipster metal movement”. Do you have any thoughts on whatever that is at all? Or do you just not give a shit and just play music?
KS: Yeah, that one. I just don’t care. Whatever a hipster is, I guess I’m hip [laughs]. I don’t even know what that means. I don’t wear a dumb haircut or wear spikes when I go onstage or talk in a gung-ho voice to the crowd so I guess I must be hipster. Whatever, I just don’t care.