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AM’s Greg Phillips chats to Texan band The Sword’s JD Cronise about the their latest album High Country, ahead of a February Australian tour.

“Well … wait, hang on … what?” JD Cronise, singer and guitarist with Texan stoner rockers The Sword fires back at me. We’d been discussing the recent flood of rock ‘n’ roll legend deaths, when I casually mentioned that news had just come through of the loss of another, Eagles’ founding member Glenn Frey. “What? That’s news to me, what happened? Wow, you’re breaking that news to me right now, that’s crazy. I am a huge Eagles fan. That’s nuts,” he says. “I don’t think I can ever remember not knowing who David Bowie was. Everyone loves Motorhead but I’m a huge Eagles fan. That sucks.”

The-Sword-High-Country-Album-CoverI wasn’t expecting such a strong reaction from a guy who for over a decade has been the frontman of a band widely known as champions of the doom metal scene.  However, on the band’s latest album High Country, JD had been exploring his early country, roots and blues influences and it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that the opening riff to the title track High Country, tips a hat to The Eagles Witchy Woman intro. The fact is, The Sword is moving on, exploring other genres and developing as musicians, even if it’s at the expense of losing some of their original, more metal-obsessed fans.
“These days we are a  little more interested in arrangements and harmonies and there being really memorable parts and not anything overindulgent,” he says. “We feel like we’ve had epic instrumental guitar symphonies in our catalogue and felt we didn’t need to add anything to that on the new record.”

It’s not just musically where JD believes his songs are maturing, lyrically he’s searching elsewhere too. In the past JD has borrowed heavily from ancient mythology and other fantasy literature, leading to albums titles such as Age of Winters, Gods of Earth, Apocryphon and even more epic single titles like Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians. With High Country, rather than seeking external influences, JD has found his stories within.
“Yeah, that’s something I left in the past as well,” he tells me. “There are a few nods to Michael Moorcock on there but nothing that is directly inspired by him or any particular story. It’s more just kind of references. That was something I was into for a while, using stories or fiction as a lyrical base. Ultimately that’s kind of  a musical equivalent of fan fiction. I wanted to be a little more original in the subject matter this time, more personal.”


Cronise had a very definite vision in mind for High Country, right down to the type of producer required (Grammy Award-winning Adrian Quesada) and engineer (Stuart Sikes – Loretta Lynn, Cat Power). “We thought that they were the guys that could bring to the table what we wanted,” JD explains. “It was definitely not exactly business as usual, not that any of our records are but we tried some more things that we hadn’t done before. When we did Apocryphon, it was pretty straight forward, not a lot of experimentation in the studio. This one was a little more free-form in the way it was recorded. At the end of the day, we had so much material. There were the full band songs and the other little instrumental pieces and everyone thought it flowed really well with everything in there. We just threw the kitchen sink in there. It worked out and made for a very dynamic record.”

John D. Cronise and his band mates;  Kyle Shutt, Bryan Richie, and Santiago Vela III are now in preparation mode for their upcoming Australian tour. They’ve toured here a couple of times before as part of the Soundwave festival but are looking forward to headlining their own shows this time around. The pre-tour gear decision-making process has begun and it’s an aspect of touring JD enjoys immensely.
“Personally, that’s the part that I really do enjoy,” he says. “Getting the gear together. Other than the actual performing, the times on stage, doing anything that is directly associated with that is what I like. It is everything else that I can do without, the travel, waiting around in hotel rooms and crappy back stages and trying to find dinner in a town where you don’t know were anything is. All of that I can do without but I can concern myself with amps and guitars and pedals all day.”

His gear choices for this tour may take longer than usual. While recording High Country, JD and fellow guitarist Kyle Shutt experimented with different guitars, amps and pedals, not content to just use their regular gear set up. “In the studio there wasn’t a standard set up for anyone. We used whatever sounded appropriate for the song,” JD says. “Live, obviously we are not switching amps and drum sets between songs. We just dial in what sounds good in a live situation and just go for it.  As for what we’ll be bringing to Australia, I am not 100% sure yet. It’s still a  month away so honestly, I don’t want to tell you one thing and it ends up being something else. We tend to favour Les Pauls both Kyle and I, so there is a good chance one of us will have a Les Paul of some kind.”

In many of the interviews you can read with JD Cronise, he’s often advocating the music of other artists. I couldn’t let him go without asking what’s on his current playlist. “There’s this band from Virginia called Pontiak with a K instead of a C. Their last record came out in 2014 and it was amazing, so they are due for a new record. A band from the UK called Wolf People, who are also probably due for a new record. Gentleman’s Pistols is also from the UK have a new record out, which is really good. Those are what I’ve been listening to.”

The Sword’s website:

The Sword’s Australian tour, which also features Clowns and American Sharks, begins on February 19th in Perth. See below for complete Australian tour dates.

Feb 19 West Perth, Rosemount Hotel Tickets

Feb 20 Adelaide SA, Fowlers Live Tickets

Feb 21 Coburg, Melbourne Coburg Town Hall Tickets

Feb 22 Melbourne, Max Watts Tickets

Feb 24 Sydney, Max Watts Tickets

Feb 25 West End, Brisbane Max Watts Tickets

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