One of the many reasons Austin stoner metal kings The Sword gain fans by the boatload with each new release lies in the way in which each album, including their latest LP, Apocryphon, has been better than the album before it. This is a band that understands it's not only very metal, but tremendously fun.
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The release last week of Apocryphon includes cassette versions of the album, multi-colored vinyl records, ornately epic posters and album art by famed comic book author and artist J.H. Williams III, not to mention some sweet '70s-style softball T-shits branded with the same mystical imagery. The band is even marketing a new brand of hot sauce, Tears of Fire. Of course, each bottle features a psychedelic label that would put most concert posters to shame.
While J.D. Cronise leads the group in terms of singing and writing, the guy who puts fuel in the Sword's engine is lead guitarist Kyle Shutt. He understands the importance of a band's overall aesthetic, and that musicians need to concern themselves with more than notes on a page.
"To be in the business of music, you do have to bring a business mind-set to the table," Shutt says from his Austin home before the band's extensive tour begins. "There are things aside from writing and creating music to consider. I think a lot of our offering different types of products with a certain look or feel to them comes from us thinking about what we want from the bands that we like. It's really a combination of things such as us wanting to see some crazy color combos on vinyl and also being lucky enough to be on a label that will support us in that way during this day and age of digital everything."
The heavily-inked shredder readily admits his band's marketing strategy when it comes to pushing a new album isn't much of a strategy at all.
"While it's definitely not a coincidence that our merchandise and albums or logo comes out a certain way aesthetically," Shutt says, "it's also not something we spend a ton of time on as far as making sure everything looks similar, or that there's a constant, specific theme. It's really just a matter of personal taste for us. A lot of the bands we like from the late '70s and '80s are in our blood because that's what we each grew up on, but really, we just play the music we have in our heads. Our singer J.D. [Cronise] also has a real eye for imagery and style and he's the one that approves any art that comes across his desk for one of our projects.
While it's easy to picture record label presidents and managers sitting in a boardroom with a focus group to get a measure of what will or won't sell in today's musical marketplace, Shutt assures that the band, thanks to their own individual histories as metal fans, have a simple, specific metric that must be achieved in order to be included in the group's online store or merch table offerings.
"We're not making a conscious decision to do anything but be awesome. If it's not awesome, we pass on it. If it's awesome, we go for it."
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