Q&A with the Sword, Playing at Culture Room on Friday

J. Thompson

The Sword are a hard-hitting, sludgy, but epic quartet from Austin, Texas, who are preoccupied with very metally subjects like Norse mythology and the science fiction writings of George R. R. Martin. And irony be damned, they’re damned serious about it. “It's not a joke at all,” says the colorfully named drummer, Trivett C. Wingo. "You could say, like, how serious was Led Zeppelin when they recorded 'Immigrant Song?' They were pretty damn serious."

Taking the dirt-sifting textures of doom metal but giving them an amphetamine kick, the songs on the band’s second and latest album, Gods of the Earth, seem somehow crushed by the weight of gravity, but also about to break free from its grasp. For various reasons – perhaps its alt-heavy hometown, its relative good looks, its penchant for properly fitting clothing – the band has been, occasionally, tagged as “hipster metal.” Those who would wield that term, however, would be ashamed to use it in front of one of the band’s biggest fans: none other than Lars Ulrich, of Metallica. He’s just taken the Sword on tour with his band in Europe, and will take them through Metallica’s high-profile U.S. tour this fall. Who’s laughing now?

New Times caught up by phone with Wingo recently to discuss the band's latest album, its current tour with Clutch, and its upcoming opening slot for Metallica. The full interview follows after the jump. -- Arielle Castillo

Clutch and the Sword perform with Graveyard and Never Got Caught. Friday, September 26.
Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Ft. Lauderdale. Doors open at 7 p.m.; tickets cost $19.99 in advance. All ages. 954-564-1074; www.cultureroom.net and www.ticketmaster.com

New Times: You were just on tour with Torche, earlier this summer, and now you're out again nationally with Clutch. Is it normal for you guys to be on the road this much, or is this still in support of Gods of the Earth?

Trivett Wingo: We've been on the road because, of course, when you put a record out, you need to do some shows and promote your record. And then we continue to tour because the right opportunities present themselves and it makes sense. In this case we've wanted tot our with Clutch for a long time, so we said we should do that. And then we're gonna go on tour with Metallica, starting October 21st through February.

How did you get on the Metallica tour?

We got on that pretty much because Metallica, especially Lars, are big Sword fans, and they like to take out their personal favorites for their own entertainment. We've kind of been befriended by Lars, so I'm sure he was instrumental in booking us on all these dates. We just did Europe with them, a couple weeks ago.

How did you first hear that Lars Ulrich was a fan of your band? What was it like to learn that?

Actually, you hear rumors, but everything is taken with a grain of salt. But that was an interesting rumor. And then we finally met Lars, and it was all confirmed that it was, in fact, true. It's very flattering. He came out to a show in San Francisco, and he came out and watched the set and wanted to hang out and chit-chat. And told us that Metallica wanted us to come on tour with them.

What was it like playing for rabid Metallica fans?

It was awesome, because Metallica fans are people of taste, so they like the Sword. Those were the biggest shows we've played.

Was it hard to adjust to playing such huge venues?

You know as with anything, everything becomes normal. After a day or two of playing shows like that, you really come to expect there to be at least 20,000 people there if you're supposed to be going on.

There are a lot of references to Norse mythology in your music, and some of it seems pretty over-the-top. How much of this interest is serious?

You know, how do I approach this question.… It's pretty serious, you know. There's nothing jokey about it, so that's how serious it is. It's not a joke at all. You could say, like, How serious was Led Zeppelin when they recorded 'Immigrant Song?' They were pretty damn serious. But I think we're all kinds of into things of that ilk to varying degrees. J.D. [Cronise, the Sword frontman] is probably the most into mythology, but I also have my own interest in world religions and mythology as well.

What about the sci fi thing, especially the references to George R. R. Martin?

J.D. crafts all the lyrics, so some of those topics are things that he is into, specifically, and probably more so than all of us. But we're also all into those things in some way or some degree, but maybe not very specific things, you know. Everyone likes Tolkien or something like that, but maybe to different degrees. Or maybe we all like science fiction in a certain way, but we like different authors. But obviously the things that are in the lyrics are the things that are most interesting to J.D.

It's weird.... Lately I've been reading books about mass murderers and serial killers, just as a passing fancy. I read this book recently about the Black Dahlia murder called Exquisite Corpse. The premise is that the Black Dahlia murder was actually a surrealist art expression. It's non fiction and it's very well-written and well-documented, and shows a lot of parallels between the mutilation of the body and pieces of art that were very popular at the time.

To go back to your mention of "Immigrant Song," you recorded a version for the split album you did with Witchcraft. It seems like covering a Led Zeppelin song is kind of risky. How did you try to make it your own?

You know, I don't know…. We didn't change the arrangement, or do anything other than play the song. Of course the nuances of our individual styles and turns of instruments and all those things made it pretty Sword-y. But we didn't do anything revolutionary with it. It's an awesome song, it's a real heavy metal song, I can't think of a more quintessential heavy metal song.

It's got lyrics about Norse mythology. People that today question whether bands are serious, those are the origins. Those might have been one of the first heavy metal songs to deal with the Norse thing. Wouldn't it be funny if people read this and say, Oh, that's heavy metal? Yeah. Those are the beginnings right there. That song is a very potent seed in the music pedigree of the world.

Your latest album got leaked two months before its release date. How did you guys feel about that?

Well, A), we're not stoked. I don’t think any band is really excited when their album is leaked, because it's plainly rude. I don’t want to incur any legal liabilities, so I won't suggest specific tortures for people, but they need to be dealt with. They watermark these things, so people who put these up are usually total idiots, who somehow don't read the warnings on the CD. It was a press copy, and it was traced to a journalist who had received it for review. We found that person and there were some punitive measures taken. You put some watermarked material on the internet, we know who it is.

Why was the song "Frost Giant's Daughter" missing from the leak?

The promo copy of the album was not the same as the actual album. Not only were there additional tracks on the album, but there were also different versions of songs. So the promo and the actual album are two separate things.

Why is that?

We changed things after the promo, and it worked to our advantage, because thieves did not have the real record. We re-recorded that song "Fire Lances," "Black River," and "The Frost Giant's Daugher." We did that because we had just been touring after we had finished the initial recording, and we realized that we could do some better tracks when we got back into town, so we got off tour, went into the studio and redid that stuff.

"Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians" is a pretty epic song title. What is a hyperzephyrian?

[calling to Cronise, in the background.]Should I tell her?

I don't know if I can tell you.... Okay. It's not a word that's in the dictionary.... The hyperboreans in ancient Greece were people who lived to the north, or beyond what's to the north. So the hyperzephyrians are -- zephyrs are the winds that come from the west -- so the people who lie beyond the west wind. It could be America, or it could be in relation to the ancient Greeks.

Have you found that some of the earlier "hipster metal" criticisms are starting to dissipate with this second album?

Somewhat. That is one of those things that's like, you know, you see a cow in a field with some flies on its back, and it doesn’t really seem that phased. Occasionally it'll whip its tail at them, but it doesn’t seem to be agitated. That's kind of what all those little labels and the people that create them are like. Little insects that are very trivial, and they just really have nothing to do with anything. And that stuff just kind of floats around and is inconsequential. We don’t pay any attention to that. I've heard people call us hipster metal or indie metal, and… It's like, You didn’t listen to this, you just read some web site, so go get educated.

On the other hand, it seems like heavy music is getting really popular again, and your band is always name-checked with a bunch of other similar-minded bands. Do you feel like you're part of a particular movement or scene?

People talk about this "metal resurgence," but I don’t really ever recall when a period of time when people stopped liking heavy metal. What they're talking about is the press arbitrarily deciding that metal is cool and they wanted to start covering it again.

Metal has really not made a comeback. That's just something to write about, like the press is always trying to sensationalize something that is not even real. There are these bands that are part of this movement, but we don't have any overarching strategy. We're some bands who got together to kick out the jams. People liked our jams, so they started requesting our presence all over the world. We go lay out the jams, we come home, and go to sleep.

And to go along with your statement of not being part of a particular scene, you've done tours with really unexpected bands, like Lacuna Coil and Lamb of God. What was it like playing for those crowds, and do you ever turn down any tours?

We've turned down some tours -- quite a few tours. There are always a lot of different options out there, and some of the tours we choose are not the best ideas always. I think opening for Lacuna Coil was pretty pointless, because those were people who like Depeche Mode covers and sort of necessarily exclude themselves from being Sword fans. Not that we don’t welcome them. But those two don’t mix.

Trivium, their fans didn't really take to us. They tend to -- not to try to disparage anyone -- they tend to attract the attention of teens, and the Sword, for whatever reason, is a very different demographic. Our audiences are generally adults, with some younger people. I mean, the first show we played with Trivium was a venue at Disney World -- which, funnily enough, we're also playing on this tour.

What are your plans for after the tour?

We’re touring with Metallica until the middle of next year, and then I don't have a crystal ball. It's getting real foggy. I can't really see beyond that.

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