You wouldn’t be wrong to call The Sword one of the luckiest bands in metal. As guitarist and founding member Kyle Shutt admits, with a few exceptions, the band seems to have had the wind at their backs since starting in 2003. Their friends and fellow Austin, TX, natives …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead brought The Sword on tour before they even had a proper recording. Clutch took the The Sword under their wing shortly after the band’s first album came out. Then the song “Freya” was used in Guitar Hero II and The Sword caught the attention of Metallica, who hired them as an opener for the better part of a year over 2008 and 2009. Now The Sword are legitimate headliners on their own.
In spite of their luck, The Sword has always worked hard, and there’s something to be said for putting yourself in a position to succeed. Not every band makes it easy for their friends to help. In the interview below, Shutt talks about the band’s humble beginnings, drummer Trivett Wingo’s untimely exit in 2010, new album Apocryphon, the band’s first since Wingo’s exit, and whether or not they’re tired of playing “Freya.”
I cut down my fanboy ramblings for the sake of you readers.
I know a lot of people are interested in the new record; it seems like more every time.
Yeah, man. Technically album sales are waning these days but we just seem to keep growing. Every time we go one tour it gets better and better. We’re really blessed.
It’s so hard for new bands. I don’t know how kids are trying to get out there and do this. We kind of lucked out, but we had a lot of help along the way.
Having been with you guys since Age Of Winters , I’ve loved watching people catch on. I saw you a few times opening shows and headlining smaller venues, then all of the sudden you were out with Metallica.
Yeah, man, they snatched us right up. They kidnapped us for like a year. We got a lot of help from those guys. We owe them a lot.
Do you think most of your growth was from those Metallica tours?
It definitely helped. Anytime you go out with a band and you’re supporting them you’re going to get in front of people who haven’t seen you before, and hopefully you can win them over.
[Metallica] took us from Perth to Istanbul and everywhere in between. It was pretty wild playing for those guys and all their fans. And people ate it up, man—everybody we played for.
I mean, if you see Metallica, and you don’t like The Sword, hey, man, it’s the best we can do.
As I was listening through the catalog this week, you seem to have gone through some serious changes as far as engineering and mastering go. Age Of Winters has a very distinct wall of sound, whereas Gods Of The Earth has more of a live sound, then the last two records are more studio slick. Are those things you talk about before going in to record?
Well, we never do anything the same way twice. We didn’t necessarily record the new one in the same fashion that Warp Riders  was recorded, but we used a lot of the same ideas. We have, like you said, a sound. We wanted to retain that but experiment in little ways that we haven’t before. You lay the foundation down with the bass and drums and then you put the guitars on top. Then you think what kind of fun things you can lay down that you haven’t before to make it different.
We all would have a powwow before we actually get in there, but that’s kind of the beauty of hiring a producer or engineer, because they’ve already got the knowledge to get what you want without having to talk about it to death…
We’ve been doing this for almost 10 years and we’re all on the same page as far as songwriting and knowing what kind of sound we’re going for. It was actually a pretty quick process.
Did you write with the new drummer?
Yeah, it was all written with Jimmy [Vela]. He fell right into place; he knew exactly what to do. We knew we wanted to have a drummer like that. We didn’t want to have a studio guy who just came in and did the record… We wanted to go into it as a band, as four dudes in a room.
How did you get in touch with Jimmy after Trivett Wingo left?
Trivett, yeah. He took a shit all over us about two years ago, a little over two years ago. We had a bunch of auditions and Jimmy tried out [initially], but we felt like it would have taken a lot of work to get him ready for tour. We canceled so many shows—like 60 shows—because Trivett just decided he was going to quit in the middle of a tour. [Drummer Kevin Fender] actually knew all of our songs and we could hit the road immediately. That’s why we went with Kevin. Then after about a year on the road with him, we were talking about writing some songs and we didn’t know if Kevin was the guy who was going to make the new record with us. So right before the Kyuss Lives! tour we made the change to Jimmy.
He had some more time to learn some songs and we really liked his drum sound and his attitude. We’ve known him for years, just because Austin [TX] is just that kind of town; anybody that’s in bands knows everybody else that’s in bands. It was real important for us to get a guy that we knew that was just an awesome guy, who everybody else respected too. It was really natural.
I think what a lot of younger musicians don’t get is that attitude is as important as skill or technique.
Yeah, [Clutch drummer] J.P. Gaster said it the best. He was like, “You got it or you don’t.” He got it.
Is there a concept behind Apocryphon?
There’s not really a concept tying anything together. It’s just sort of a collection of thoughts and reflections, really kind of about everything we’ve been through just in the last couple years. I think the fans, at least through a lyrical standpoint, will be able to find their own meanings within, maybe more so than on other releases… I hope people dig it.
You guys seem to be writing much more hooky songs over the past two albums; is that preconceived?
No, honestly, we don’t really talk about much when we write. Either J.D. [Cronise, vocalist] will come in with a song or I’ll come in with a song or we’ll come in with half a song each and make a song out of it. We’ve all been doing this for so long, we just kind of know when it’s right. It really doesn’t take a whole lot of discussion. Most of the discussion that happens is when Jimmy will do some crazy shit on the drums, we’ll be like, “Whoa, that was awesome. Do that more.”
It’s really not deliberate. The way I write songs is that I listen to the universe sort of and I just try to hear a song, and I try to play whatever I hear. We all try to do the same thing. Once we hear that song, the rest of it begins to fall into place. It’s sort of like divining it.
How did The Sword form? From my first listens to Age Of Winters, I always had this image of you guys just smoking weed in someone’s basement, playing Final Fantasy or D&D and just deciding to start a band.
Yeah, that’s not too far off from the truth (laughs). Instead of a basement, it was our bass player [Bryan Richie]’s house. We’ve all had our moments with D&D and things like that. I’ve played Final Fantasy 1 – 7. I’ve probably spent way too many hours playing that shit. The Sword was just kind of this thing that happened. There were all these bands, I was in some hardcore bands, Bryan was in a metal band, J.D. was in this party rock band; we all had kind of known each other from parties and our musical circle.
Me and J.D. actually made a Misfits and Danzig cover band for Halloween in 2003 and he had been talking about some band that he wanted to start. He had a demo CD that he gave me… and it was called The Sword. I took it home and listened to it and called him and said, “Hey, do you wanna do The Sword as a band?” and he said, “Yeah, I was hoping you would say that.”
Then we started practicing and in March of 2004, we played our first show. It’s been uphill ever since. It’s pretty wild that it’s been almost 10 years and we’re still doing this.
What was your first tour?
First tour was actually in 2005, opening for Trail Of Dead. Conrad [Keely] from Trail Of Dead came and saw us at Emo’s and we were talking. They had a big tour coming up and the theme of that tour was like taking Saturday night in Austin on the road… It was really cool of them.
Nobody knew who we were at the time. We were just selling our little demo EP on a burnt CD and one crappy shirt and we made enough money on that tour to pay our rent by the time we got home, which is a lot better than a lot of people do on their first couple tours. We knew we were onto something early on.
How much of a showing is the new album going to have in the set?
We’re gonna play a healthy chuck of it every night. We’ve been playing our other three albums to death. I could honestly say that I can’t—I mean how many shows have we played? Close to 1,000 probably. We’ve played “Freya” every single show. (Laughs) It’s like, “Here it goes again.”
We’re really proud of the new shit and we’re gonna play a lot of it. But fans need not worry; we will play all the old favorites.
Do you even practice “Freya?”
Every once in a while as a joke, cause we can play it in our sleep.
We actually retooled it a bit. We take a lot of inspiration from Zeppelin. They never played “Whole Lotta Love” the same way twice. We’re just gonna make “Freya” our “Whole Lotta Love” and just mix it up every once in a while, throw in some different parts. We used to actually do a jam where we’d extend a middle part in “Freya” and then the drums would stop and we’d go right into “Bring It On Home,” just for a little bit (laughs) and then bring it back to “Freya.”
At least you guys are still enjoying yourselves. When the Guitar Hero thing came out, I was pumped that you were featured in the game, but at the radio station I worked at—WSOU—that song was getting requested at least every hour. I was happy for you guys, but it was getting pretty old. I’ve always wonder how bands deal with having one particular immensely popular song.
You just gotta play it, man. People wanna hear that more than anything, especially if you play a festival or something. It’s part of the thing. It’s always fun, playing a show. That’s the part of the job that’s to die for.
You spent so much time worrying about merch orders and bullshit, hiring the right crew. So finally that last hour of the day, when you get to go on stage and forget everything and rock out to some songs that you wrote in front of room full of people—there’s just nothing that beats that. Any kind of boredom that you might have about any song that you want to play, the second you see the smiling faces of the audience when you start it, that all goes away.
The Sword’s latest album, Apocryphon, is available now via Razor & Tie. The Sword will play Union Transfer in Philly on Nov. 13 and Webster Hall in NYC on Nov. 14. For more information, go to swordofdoom.com.