Austin metal quartet The Sword has gone through some significant changes since the release of 2010's Warp Riders, a high-concept album taking place on the halves of a fictional planet each locked in eternal day and nighttime.
They replaced their drummer, signed to a new label, and toned their earlier doom metal into a more streamlined hard rock momentum with this year's full-legnth, Apochryphon.
Singer JD Cronise talks about staying focused, ignoring the noise, and metal before the age of Twitter.
Up on the Sun: You said Warp Riders was your band's version of a sci-fi novel, whereas Apochryphon is more of a collection of heavy songs. What were the challenges for this record? JD Cronise: Mainly getting it done in time. Knowing the songs needed to be written by a certain date and trying to ignore that fact was the biggest challenge.
Going from a high-concept approach to something like this, was it hard this time because it was different from what you were doing before? Were certain aspects more meticulous?
It wasn't more meticulous; it was a little looser if anything. In the past, for our first two records, we didn't have deadlines. The third one was all written well before we went into the studio. That's the nature of being a professional musician: having to be creative, which is something that is supposed to have no constraints, and having to work with a bunch of constraints and trying to pretend they're not there.
Dealing with the mechanics of the music industry, that give-and-take, are there any other challenges that presents? And what opportunities make that worthwhile?
The opportunity is that we get to be in a band for our job. But there's all sorts of challenges. Especially now, in the age of social media. I don't think any of us playing in bands when we were younger imagined trying to keep up with that stuff. That's not something our predecessors had to deal with. You just have to grin and bear it, even though you might not want to read all your Facebook comments. If there's some fan that has a problem, they didn't get their t-shirt, then yeah, you have to be on top of that stuff. If I had it my way, we wouldn't have a Facebook page. But you have to do that, nowadays, people need a place to find out about your band.
Sure, that's something a lot of bands have to take on. Not just playing the music, but taking on aspects of the managerial stuff.
Totally. We could leave that stuff to our label, but we want things posted on there to be from us, not from someone not in the band. People might assume it's from someone in the band. I try to edit everything that comes out, press releases and stuff like that. As far as that goes, we like to have our hands on that. But if it were up to us, we'd be worrying about playing music. It's hard not to envy the bands of the '70s, '80s, and '90s, not having to deal with Facebook and Twitter. But that's just the way of the world.You guys spent a month in the studio recording this new album. Is that longer or shorter than the usual time for you guys?
That seems to be the norm. I don't know what other bands do. As far as traditional times, it's pretty short. We used to spend a lot longer, but that's another aspect of the music business changing. You can't spend the money or records you used to because records aren't making money. Playing live and selling t-shirts is what makes money. You can't make a record and tour for a couple of months and make a living. Touring is essentially more important than records, but you want people to listen to your songs before you get there.
But yeah, four or five weeks is good for us. It can be a comfortable environment to a degree, but we want to get it done. We're not looking to hang out and test different guitar amps for days.
Touring is exhausting, but there's a larger financial emphasis. In an ideal world, would you want to tour less or in a different way?
We're trying to tour smarter. I personally don't like to be on the road for more than three weeks at a time. Inevitably, I know that wants the three week mark hits, I get sick and I'm over it. I get into a funk. I can't maintain my enthusiasm up to that point. We're trying to break it up as much as we can so that fatigue doesn't set in. I'd maybe space the tours the way I want them, but there's a lot of other factors involved. You just have to be flexible.
I know you guys have toured with Kyuss Lives!, and people have used the term "stoner metal" to describe you guys. Some bands overtly embrace that whole thing more than others. What is it like knowing people find your music particularly good to get high to?
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It's cool, but people get high to all kinds of music. Unless you've done some scientific research that shows what stimulates the brain of someone on cannibis and try to create those sounds, I don't think you could be called stoner anything, technically. It's one of those words that gets used. There's a fine line between those little boxes being amusing and then getting kind of annoying. It's just rock music, at the end of the day. I think heavy metal and dance music seem to be the biggest sinners of over-catagorization, there's so many subgenres it gets confusing. Doom metal, stoner metal. All rock is stoner rock. We don't specifically design our music to enhance the marijuana experience. Quite honestly, I think it's all because Black Sabbath wrote a song called "Sweet Leaf." That's the whole reason for all of this. The first metal band to pioneer the genre wrote a song blatantly about weed, and since then the fans have been like, "Yeah, weed! It's all about weed!" I love that song, I love Sabbath, but "Sweet Leaf" is the the culprit for the term stoner rock existing.
As far as dealing with the stuff that comes with being on a bigger label, genre signifiers and reviews and internet comments, is there a method you have for pushing that stuff out?
You just have to be zen about it. You have to get used to people occasionally saying something shitty about you on the Internet. Little things like that are weird to deal with, and you think back like, "Robert Plant never had to deal with stuff like this." Not that we're Led Zeppelin.
The Sword is scheduled to perform Friday, December 14, at Club Red in Tempe.