THE NOISE IN MY HEAD: An Interview with Kyle Shutt of The Sword

April 23, 2014     / / / /

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By Shawn Van De Peppel

While metal/stoner-rock icons The Sword were in Montreal, I met up with insanely nice dude/guitarist Kyle Shutt over a beer at Foufounes Electriques. The band were the final leg in support of their latest album, Apocryphon. It was successful album to date, cracking the Billboard Top 20 and launching the band through headline shows and prominent festival spots all over the world.

Radio Cannon: This is the last leg of a nearly two-year long tour, how would you sum it all up?

Kyle Shutt: Wow! (laughs) Every album cycle is always a learning experience. You refine it a little more, and we’re not the best band in the world by any means, but we kep learning. We’re getting to the point where we’ve been a band for almost ten years now and going over the hump of doing dumb shit (laughs) and we’re more grown up and we take it more seriously. But we’re always having fun.

Radio Cannon: And for the latest album, I understand some of it was recorded on analog?

KS: Parts yeah. It was kind of a mish-mash. The drum and the bass we recorded to 2-inch tape and from there we doctored it up recorded and put the guitars and vocals on Pro-Tools. From there we put everything back to 2 inch tape and mastered it from there. It was a bit of a weird process, but it sounded great.

RC: I had read you said that your album Warp Riders was a more technically-perfect album, was this a reaction against it?

KS: No, that was what just what J. Robbins, the producer, wanted. Sometimes producers start ripping your songs apart, and create something you didn’t originally intend to do. Others are just fantastic engineers and just allow musicians in a certain mindset to accomplish what they want to, and that’s sort of J. Robbins’ style.

RC: Exactly, and James Robbins produced so many diverse albums, from bands like Against Me, Murder By Death, Clutch… And when you hired him were you more interested in the actual sound of the records or is it more about digging the records he’s produced?

KS: I think we chose to work with him because we know he’s the kind of producer that just makes you sound as good as possible, and not put any crazy ideas anywhere. Sure he’s gonna pitch in some ideas but he’s more about capturing the songs. He really does just engineer he recording and makes sure that everything represented well.

RC: And for mastering, you guys got Greg Calbi! He did Born To Run!! That’s another one I wasn’t expecting to see.

KS: Yeah! That was James’ suggestion. He said it was always his dream to work with Calbi. You know, you get a budget for mastering and he was saying “Well, Greg Calbi’s gonna cost this much, so maybe we can use that guy instead”, and we just said, well, who do you wanna use James? And he just said “Calbi, it’s always been my dream to work with him”, so we said alright well let’s do it man, that’s what the budget’s for!! Let’s make some dreams come true. But yeah, the record sounds great, and it’s not like I listen to it, but we’ve been touring it for 1 and a half years and I love those songs to death, and it’s great. I mean, we hd some pretty tough blows on the Warp Riders tour. We learned a lot. And it’s our biggest album to date.

RC: Yeah, you got Top 20 on the Billboard.

KS: Yeah we were blown away. I mean everytime you put out an album you wonder how it’s gonna go. I get nervous, but I don’t wanna worry about it. But when I got the number that was a shock.

RC: And do you notice a difference in the touring cycle from the beginning of it and at the end, as far as the dynamics, the crowds and whatnot?

KS: I mean, crowds are different everywhere…But the tour itself, it’s kind of timeless, like you start and you get in this weird rhythm where everyday is different so you don’t feel like time is passing, really. Like the world is spinning under you when you’re waking up at all these different places. It’s when it’s over that it gets kind of weird, like “Oh shit, I guess we’re going home now”. Then you get home and just stay at the same place for seven days and that’s when you feel like time is passing by. So it’s weird when you go out for two years and you grasp, “Oh,it’s 20-14 right now?!”. That’s just kinda mind-boggling.

RC: I have to ask you a question which might sound really cliché, but I’m really curious. We’re talking about time passing by, and since you started, so much has changed in the metal scene. How do you feel like the metal scene has evolved since you started?

KS: It’s funny because I think when we started people reacted differently to us because the metal scene was dominated by these macho, wrestler-looking types, screaming at you, etc… And bands like that are dying out. It’s becoming a lot more rock ‘n roll. And I also notice that heavy metal journalism in the last ten years is so much more positive compared to when we started. It was so negative back then. And you gotta have haters, you know what I’m saying? It’s just that there used to besome serious debates about us on message boards where people would try to figure out what we did and have these crazy theories that we were like, this pre-packaged band. It was so hateful for no reason, and nowadays people are so much more accepting. I think music just got so terrible for a while and so many shitty bands got shoved down people’s throats by record labels throwing money at record stations and I think people just started looking past the bullshit and are much more open minded now, with awesome bands like Graveyard, and Bombus. Or American Sharks, from Austin. Just cool heavy bands getting exposure.

RC: I can’t help but comparing American festivals and European festivals, like Hellfest. Here, it seems like the fests are becoming a bit more mainstream, but do you get that impression actually playing these fests?

KS: Oh absolutely. I think the American scene has a long way to come. The bigger fests are the ones that are mainstream here, like Austin City Limits. We were the heaviest band that ever played there. And we’re on the light side of heavy! It’s not like we’re death metal. I mean, they got Jack White getting booked every year. Whatever sells the tickets! But in Europe, I guess they’re more open with what they want. You can draw fests with bands like Pig Destroyer and Enslaved and there’s like 30 000 people, and you try to have the same festival here and a few thousand people are gonna show up, but it doesn’t compare. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it’s different for sure. I mean, look at Metallica’s Orion Fest. Metallica’s a band I’m proud to say are good friends of ours so I don’t mind saying his, but they had to cancel that fest, it was a financial disaster. And they had bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Arctic Monkeys on the same fest! And it’s amazing to me that even with that you can lose millions and millions of dollars. I think they’ve been doing it in Europe for so long – Europe has years of experience on us – and I think they know how to do it right and have a more well-rounded lineup.

RC: Speaking of Metallica: You’ve gotten to tour and meet what are probably a lot of your childhood heroes. And I have to ask, is there any particular moment that sticks out in there or is it just “This is my life!”

KS: Yeah, you’ve been doing it for years, so it’s like I said, it’s all pretty timeless and it’s all happening. And sometimes you’ll have a break and you’ll start thinking o the last four years of your life and you think “Woah, that’s such wild shit!” (laughs), but it’s hard to say…We’ve done everything from staying with Dutch squatters on houseboats to playing in front of 65 000 people with Metallica…To going to Australia for the first time, there’s so much…and… ok, actually yeah that was one! Ok, so we were on the Metallica tour, and at the end of it after about a year (because Metallica gave us an open slot and we could open for them for as long as we wanted), but after a year we were like ok, we gotta stop now but when are you guys going to Australia? They said it wouldn’t be for another two years. So we said, ok we gotta quit the tour now, but you gotta take us there! And thy said, “Ok, we’ll do it”. So we took some time off to do the Warp Riders record and then th called us up and they “Hey guys, we’re going to Asutralia, we promised you!” And after everything they’d already done for us they still kept their promise. They’re just genuine, awesome people and knowing them’s been a highlight of my life.

RC: A bit of a change of subject, but one thing I love in your band is the guitar interplay between you and (singer-guitarist) JD Cronise.

KS: (smiles) Thank you so much.

RC: As a guitarist, how do you come up with your solos?

KS: I play a lot of video games, read a lot of comic books, travel the world and I just stuff all these things in my head. It’s all this static noise in my head. And when the tour’s over and you stop worrying about the shows, about the merch, and I can just sit down and think of the noise inside my head and let it all just fade away till what I hear is music, whether for a song or for a solo and I let it come out. I don’t know, it’s very natural, for me. It’s hard to explain.

RC: Sounds like you’re jamming but you know what’s coming up ahead as well?

KS: Yeah I guess I just know how to listen to what it needs. A lot of times, you start playing something and you think ‘Shit, the solo just wrote itself!’ But I’m not that good so I’m not sure (laughs)…But at the same time you feel like this exactly what the part needs to be for the song, now I just need to know how to play it and not fuck it up in front of people. And sometimes you do, and it doesn’t matter, you go on and shit happens!

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