As Texan hard rock outfit The Sword’s sixth full-length record ‘Used Future’ is getting closer to making its way onto the shelves, we got back in touch with the group for further insight on their latest incarnation. After chatting with guitarist Kyle Shutt, we then turned to the voice of The Sword known as J.D. Cronise, who also a lot to say on his behalf of the creation of ‘Used Future.’ With the album getting closer to release date, Cronise has been remaining cognisant of the responses from the millions of fans worldwide on the singles that have been released so far from ‘Used Future.’
“So far, so good, you know?” he says. “I think people have mostly two songs so far, which are really just the tip of the iceberg. I think I read one review and it was a good one. It was from a source I didn’t expect a good review from and I was kinda surprised by it.”
With Tucker Martine putting his production skills to use with The Sword, the band managed to construct a whole new sound and character out of their hands that resulted in ‘Used Future’. With Cronise being a producer in the past for ‘Age of Winters’ and ‘Gods of the Earth,’ he felt that he managed to get a lot out of working with Martine for not just his personality, but, also by having heaps of experience with an impressive resume of bands Martine has associated with.
“Tucker is a real pro and really easy to get along with. Nothing was necessarily premeditated and it just kinda coalesced in the studio, more or less. I think the record definitely took its own distinct character. I produced the first two Sword albums and worked with producers on the last four at this point. But Tucker was the most hands-on in a way. He did the most producing in that sense, rather than just kinda making us sound really good and he also helped out creatively.”
Considering that the cinematic approach is something that has become somewhat of a feature to The Sword’s earlier material, the atmosphere is represented quite transparently throughout its entirety. Cronise says he thought the narrative perspective of ‘Used Future’ made the record feel much like the score to a film that has never existed.
“I think Tucker definitely brought a lot of that structure of the album and using the little instrumental bits that sort of bridge pieces between songs and things like that. That was pretty much, all of his doing. I think he very much had a conscious ear to making it a technicolour experience, if you will. With ‘Warp Riders,’ it was a concept album where it would tell a story. So, in a way, it’s kinda supposed to be a soundtrack to a story that no one knows. You’re just getting the soundtrack without being able to watch the movie. With ‘Used Future,’ while it’s not a concept album and there’s no narrative that runs through it, I think with Tucker’s and our approach to it, we still wanted to create something akin to a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist. That was something that would stir one’s imagination and visualisation.”
As many would have realised from ‘Used Future’ and ‘High Country’ or even from the live shows, The Sword went from being in the low tuning of C, all the way up to E Flat in their guitars. Cronise states that the tuning has seemed to have given their work a bigger kick and feel as though there’s more soul in their songs than ever before. It’s not just for the advantage of not having to change guitars mid-set, but primarily for a newer side of The Sword that feels more dynamic and enthusiastic than ever before.
“After a while, I started feeling that it was some sort of a gimmick and crutch for us to tune our guitars that low. It was refreshing for me to tune our guitars up higher to a more normal pitch, and when we played our old songs in that tuning, it kind of gave them a bit of new life and made them a little more energetic. You could hear what our guitars were doing without sounding muddy or anything. There’s something to be said for the way that they were recorded, as well. It also helps not only from a logistic standpoint of not having to switch guitars every few songs, but playing in everything in E Flat gives it more homogeneity than it would have originally. Even though the material might sound different, if we play a lot of these songs back to back in the same tuning, it doesn’t seem like an old song is so radically different from a new song.”
One of the many attributes to Cronise’s songwriting was his love for Norse mythology and even showing his influence from the likes of George R. R. Martin and H.P. Lovecraft. However, as of ‘High Country’ onward, Cronise has pushed the boundaries on his lyrical proficiency and has approached a “different territory” to keep his progression flowing smoothly.
“The lyric writing has changed a lot over the years. There’s kind of a difference going from writing comic books to writing novels or something, you know? Not that I could do either, but it’s just that sort of level. Lyrics are something I’ve always taken very seriously and worked very hard on. With a lot of the lyrics that were on the first couple of albums, with that sort of thing, I thought at some point, I couldn’t really continue to write more lyrics like that in that style, because it would just start to become a character of itself. It would start getting interchangeable and you’d forget which one was talking about a raven and which one was talking about a crow. It was just kind of a natural evolution to kind of steer away from that stuff, eventually and into a symbolic or different territory. I’d also like to point out that the Norse mythology thing was really only the first record on songs like Freya. There’s a couple of references to Odin in a couple of songs on the first few records. But, the last three albums have all had songs referencing Egyptian gods, which nobody ever points out,” he laughs.
Even though Cronise has been regarded as a highly gifted musician and lyricist, he’s had his moments of writer’s block that have felt nearly inescapable. It just so happens that 2017 was responsible for his experiences with writer’s block. It’s not just based on what has transpired in his everyday life, but also what has happened around the world and in his surroundings. However, he managed to overcome it and keep the positive vibe in his vocal storytelling ringing as always.
“I would say this past year of 2017 was a situation prime for writer’s block for me. I don’t like to be political or make references to real world events or anything like that in my lyrics. It’s really hard not to think of things like that, especially living in the United States. Things just got real weird and it was hard to be inspired in any kind of positive way. I didn’t wanna write a bunch of really negative lyrics and complain about how shitty things were, even though I had that feeling. That’s not something I wanna bring through in the music. I wanna find something a little bit more inspiring or interesting to think about than how much I hate the President. Weird times in the air and the country definitely have an effect on the mood of any kind of art you make. It’s hard to escape it.”
Despite the fact that such pessimism has been drifting around the world, Cronise hasn’t been too aware of what bands these days have been talking about in this post-Trump world. However, when he looks at the artists of today, he hasn’t seen them do any greater than older bands such as The Beatles or Jefferson Airplane managed to do back in the day, in terms of the political and social themes that became a reccurrence in their sound.
“I haven’t noticed it too much, at least not with the stuff I listen to. But, I don’t listen to a whole lot of current stuff. There’s a bit of it in hip-hop and rap, but those are the guys that should be addressing it, you know? I’ve heard stories and read articles that were asking why bands and musicians don’t write more socially and politically active lyrics. Back in the sixties, whenever there was evil, musicians were leading the charge and they’re not really doing that now. I think it’s just because everything that’s going on is still so weird, gross and repellent, that nobody wants to touch it, they just want it to go away. Nobody wants to stick their hand in it and get any of it on them. They just want it go away and not know about it. It’s really odd.”
PRE-ORDER THE SWORD’S ‘USED FUTURE’ HERE!