The Sword: The Times Are A Changin’

Austin’s The Sword seemed to come out of nowhere. In early 2006, they unleashed Age of Winters (Kemado), a debut record which rocked like a mofo (that’s a technical term). Although their style, which drew heavily on the likes of Black Sabbath was by no means new, the record had a certain freshness to it-like the pimply-faced kid writing songs in his bedroom came into his own, got the girl, and won the high school talent show — or set off a dozen stink bombs in the auditorium if he didn’t.

Just days after releasing Age of Winters, The Sword rolled into Chicago for a tour stop at The Empty Bottle, opening for Montreal’s Priestess and Matador recording artist, Early Man. The buzz surrounding them had already grown so big that despite being the first band to perform, the room was already filled to capacity. For once, the hype machine was on target. Opening with a rendition of “Iron Swan,” they killed it to the point that people began leaving as soon as they were offstage; their rock’n’roll cravings thoroughly satiated, for one night anyway.

Although the show was anything but ordinary to most concertgoers, who typically pay to see the headliner rather than the support act, Sword drummer Trivett Wingo describes the Chicago show as “typical” for early in their career. Although The Sword drew the lion’s share of the crowd each night, “We were getting a flat hundred bucks a night and were not even able to cover gas.”

But even with the less than ideal conditions, the young band was driven by the strong response emanating from both the crowds and the major media outlets. Two years and hundreds of shows later, The Sword is no longer struggling to fill up their gas tank, and their upcoming release Gods of the Earth (Kemado) has been touted as one of the most anticipated metal albums this spring.

The odyssey of The Sword begins more than a decade ago in Virginia, where singer/guitarist J.D. Cronise and Wingo attended high school together. After their respective graduation dates, each moved to Richmond, VA, where they spent a number of years playing in local rock band called Ultimate Dragon.

Eventually, Cronise headed to Austin, Texas, and was followed by Wingo in January, 2004 with the sole purpose of starting the new band.”I started playing in The Sword literally two days after I moved to Austin,” Wingo recalls. The two recruited “local shredder” Kyle Shutt on guitar, and bassist Bryan Ritchie to complete the lineup. Making a splash on the local rock circuit, the group soon found themselves touring with Austin based indie icons …And You Will Know Us By the Trail Of the Dead, and attracting attention from a number of labels before finally signing with Kemado Records in 2005.

This account of the band’s journey is a stark contrast to the pervasive myth that The Sword was “discovered” at 2005 South by Southwest Music Festival and signed as a result. Wingo points out, “If no one is noticing your band on the mini tours you’re doing, what’s one show at a shitty trade convention going to do for you? It’s like thinking that someone is going to sell you some magic beans, and you’re going to plant them and a magic beanstalk is going to grow. It’s just beans.”

Beans aside, the praise The Sword received at their live shows prior to their record’s release helped Age of Winters to become a crossover success. The record effectively made doom accessible for many listeners who had probably never purchased a metal album in their life while still appealing to diehard metal aficionados.

Wingo comments, “You know, there was an article in Jane Magazine, and I’m paraphrasing, but it said something like “The Sword knows what girls like.” [Ed. Note- Maybe it’s the phallic sounding name?] It’s kind of weird, as opposed to other metal shows, where there are a bunch of heshers and big dudes, Sword shows get a very wide range. There are lots of classy looking ladies that show up at Sword shows in every town in America, and you start to think, ‘This is bizarre!’ There is something transcendent, where it’s like businessmen and shit, not necessarily younger fans, but older guys and their girlfriends that were huge Sabbath fans when those records first came out. There are people that you wouldn’t think of as the metal demographic, and I think that is indicative of how unlike other metal bands right now we are.”

Despite their mass appeal, nobody can please everyone. The band found themselves the subject of the usual backlash that comes along with being the newest popular guy, particularly in a genre that has historically embraced and even flaunted its outsider status.

Wingo says that the criticism was easy to brush off because “I think it’s inevitable that if you are successful in any arena, there will be some people that will be angered by comparing their failure to your success, and they will become bitter and they will try to tear you down. But the very fact that something about your band brings that out of them is pretty indicative to how fucking rad you are.”

Some of this nonchalant attitude is undoubtedly connected to the fact that The Sword is an insular group that keeps most of their operations in house despite a growing range of options. Cronise has produced both of their albums, a choice which Wingo feels has been their most logical course of action.

“If someone in the band can actually write and craft the songs and produce them, it’s going to be a lot more coherent than if you bring in some outside person from one record to the next to kind of shape your album. It seems like it wouldn’t be consistent at that point. I think that’s how Led Zeppelin was able to be so diverse but yet so coherent. It’s all Jimmy Page. One guy who’s got an idea of what it’s supposed to be like, rather than someone saying ‘try this’ or ‘try that.’ That seems really weird to me.”

But Wingo admits that his perception has been shaped by his personal experiences as a musician. “This is the only band I’ve been in where we made a real record, so it’s all I know, really. I can’t imagine having someone else in the studio telling me to try drum fills and thinking, ‘You haven’t been playing music with me for ten years. You don’t know where I’m coming from, or why I choose to do the things I do.'”

The Sword’s tight knit nature extends to their business practices as well. Wingo has managed the group since day one, explaining that if they brought on someone else to take on managerial responsibilities, “It would be absurd, because I would simply be telling them what to do all the time. We know how we want things done, and we’re capable of doing the things we want to do. We run our band pretty efficiently. And also, you don’t know this person. It’s a very complex interpersonal thing.”

He notes that the band has found that they don’t usually see eye to eye with “manager types,” and often make group decisions based more on principle than pocketbook. For example, although the band licensed “Freya” to Guitar Hero II, a video game they like to play, they wind up turning down the majority of licensing deals that come their way. “We’re pretty picky about how our material is used, and money is usually not the consideration. It’s really whether or not we can handle our material being used in connection with something.”

Wingo describes the songs on Gods of The Earth as catchier than their first album, and says that concert audiences are already “going apeshit for them.” The Sword is excited to have new songs to play, having toured almost non-stop for two years in support of their first album. This time around The Sword plans to tour a bit more strategically, a luxury afforded by their success.

“We’ve reached the point where we can headline anywhere in the world for the most part, so that gives us control. We can say, ‘We’re going to do the UK at this time, with these bands, and in October we want to go to Japan, and in November we want to go back to the UK.’ We have a lot more opportunities. We can be a lot choosier. People have an incentive to book with us. There is something substantial to be put together when we play shows.”

Although times have changed for The Sword, Wingo is happy to share some of the wisdom he has gained along the way. “It is important for any new band to ‘play the best shows you can,’ but if you can’t get on the ideal bill, at least get out there and play for somebody. Generate some interest and blow some people away.”