What does "rock music" even mean anymore? A lot of people use it as shorthand for anything containing guitars, or generally being loud. The beauty of rock music at its core is that when a song is forged to be as strong as possible, you can show it to literally anybody, and there will be something for them to latch on to, whether or not they care to admit it. It still holds the power to be subversive, but it's a digestible type of subversion. That's a power not many bands or artists can claim, but it sticks with you when you see it. Which is why the new record by The Sword, High Country is a record that will stick forever.
The Sword, above all else is a rock band. In the past you could have attached a myriad of different subgenres and qualifiers to their name, but with their new record High Country throws aside all of those descriptors to let you know they've always been a rock band. The record dabbles in waves of classics like Thin Lizzy or Led Zeppelin, but never long enough to be one-note. From the record's artwork to the production, it's a much different beast than some might expect. The new song we're exclusively premiering, "The Dreamthieves" embodies all of these qualities. The riffs, vocals, and effects all twist together to create a mood that's otherworldly and strange. It's the soundtrack to a roadtrip to another universe that's familiar yet strange, exactly where High Country resides.
Read our interview with lead singer J.D. Cronise, watch the video for "The Dreamthieves" below, and catch them on their European tour:
The Sword Tour Dates
August 21 – Trondheim, Norway – Pstereo Festival
August 22 – Oslo, Norway – Parkteatret
August 23 – Göteborg, Sweden – Sticky Fingers
August 25 – Helsinki, Finland – Tavastia
August 27 – Stockholm, Sweden – Debaser Strand
August 28 – Malmö, Sweden – KB
August 29 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Lille Vega
August 30 – Hamburg, Germany – Rock Café St Pauli
August 31 – Berlin, Germany – Magnet
September 2 – Wien, Austria – Arena
September 3 – Munich, Germany – Backstage Club
September 4 – Milan, Italy – Legend
September 5 – Salzburg, Austria – Rockhouse
September 6 – Winterthur, Switzerland, Salzhaus
September 7 – Stuttgart, Germany – Universum
September 9 – Antwerp, Belgium – Trix Club
September 10 – Tilburg, Netherlands – Extase
September 11 – Cologne, Germany – Luxor
September 12 – Paris, France – La Boule Noire
September 14 – Nottingham, United Kingdom – Basement
September 15 – Glasgow, United Kingdom – King Tuts
September 16 – Manchester, United Kingdom – Academy 3
September 17 – Wolverhampton, United Kingdom – Slade Rooms
September 18 – London, United Kingdom – Underworld
NOISEY: High Country is super exciting to me. As in, here's a band that doesn't make the same music they did ten years ago.
J.D. Cronise: Yeah, we always try to take it somewhere new. You always run the risk of being one of those bands where people are like “oh I like their old stuff better.” For us, it wasn’t an option to write a record that sounded like a previous record. I don’t think I’m capable of doing that, it wouldn’t be very inspiring.
Is that something that comes naturally?
Yeah, definitely comes naturally to me. Everybody else with this new stuff was totally feeling it and on the same page. I started working on music after the last sword tour, and at some point realized they were new Sword songs because I didn’t know what else they could possibly be. It was something where we realized we could do whatever we want, because when you’ve been in a band for ten years and you put out ten records, it goes from your hobby to your job. You realize you form certain patterns and mindsets unconsciously based on what’s happened over previous years. And for us, I just wanted to take more time off and clear out the cobwebs, not have anything scheduled and not think for a while. Doing that we were able to approach it in a fresh way.
What were you really into for this record?
Our listening tastes definitely jump around a lot. When writing music for our last record, I thought more like “these need to be these kinds of parts” and it was still the record we wanted to make, but it was all I kind of had to say in that super heavy downtuned, mythological allegorical subject matter, and I wanted to play it from a different angle to keep it inspiring for myself.
Who’s a lyricist you really connect to?
Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy is probably one of the greatest lyricists. He’s always been one of my classic rock inspirations. Robert Plant is super underrated, I think he gets a lot of shit for ripping off so many lyrics early on that he gave himself a bad reputation, but when you get to the Zeppelin lyrics that are his material, it’s like “why’d you have to rip off all those blues guys? You could’ve written great things yourselves.” [laughs]
Robert Plant is super apt. I was listening to a bunch of Houses of the Holy and some of IV the other day, and the way he jumps from perspectives that can be sensual to fantastical is outrageous.
Oh yeah! While still always being Robert Plant above anything, being super sexual and sleazy can do sensitive and poetic lyrics.
Ten years in, does people’s perceptions of the band ever cross your mind?
It can’t not cross our mind, but we can’t let it affect our output. Especially now with the instant feedback of the internet it’s hard not to be aware. Fewer bands seem to experiment with their sound too much, I think that has to do with the nature of the times we live in though. I think people get to a point and have a certain amount of fans and need to stick to a certain formula and maintain where they are, because otherwise they’ll fall off. I mean there’s just so many bands out there to make their music heard, to the point where bigger bands have become artistically conservative. Especially when you get into metal, sometimes growth is seen as a bad thing. We feel like we come from the school of thought every band being different, bands go through changes and end up elsewhere from where they started because they’re different people. I saw a comment on one of our new songs like “this doesn’t sound like the same band that made ‘Age of Winters’” and it’s not. That band was 75% of these dudes over ten years ago, we’re physically the same but a lot has happened. [laughs]
It’s funny to think about, because when the first record came out it seemed like information traveled a little slower through the internet, like I imagine a lot of the first stuff people talked about was Freya being in Guitar Hero. And now that transfer of info is a lot more based in recommendations.
Yeah, it’s weirdly more word of mouth via the internet. Individual fans telling each other on facebook rather than Guitar Hero or even before that, we’ve been around long enough to have videos played on MTV! [laughs] Back when they barely still played videos. It’s really come down to people telling each other about stuff.
What made you want to move away from self-producing?
It was easier at that rate to do it ourselves. But that’s when we were all in our 20’s and all lived in houses with roommates, that was our lives at that point. Like rather than wait for these guys to get it together we just do it ourselves. And now it helps to have help, or someone to oversee things. It takes a lot of pressure off of me, it got to the point on the second record where it almost killed me. I remember being in the studio and just staring at the mixing board and being like “I don’t know what the fuck this sounds like anymore.” Realizing I don’t want to do all of this, like I write the songs and the lyrics and now I’m producing the record too. It was too much, there are guys who are overachievers that do every aspect of their band, and I do some artwork from time to time, but having control over that stuff I can be anal. It gets tiresome and wearisome really fast, being the guy that always makes sure things are how it’s supposed to be. You always have to get people you like and trust, and whose sensibilities you trust. We do stuff on on the side on our own a lot more than other bands do probably. We have an EP of alternate versions of songs that we’re doing on our own. I think anyone that works with us will say we’re more independently minded than most bands.
Did the title for the song “Agartha” come from Hollow Earth Theory?
Yeah it’s a definite reference. It’s an instrumental track and I thought it was a very subterranean sounding track. That word came up along the line somewhere and I thought it’d be a fitting title.
Do you believe it?
Not specifically, I’m open to a lot of different theories but with a lot of the hollow earth theory stuff, as with other mainstream theories it has its point of believability for me, and then it goes way beyond that to some really wild speculations. It goes to “ok this is pretty wild at this point, can I believe any of this?” With that kind of thing, I find anything like that interesting whether I find it credible or not.
Do you get into conspiracy theories?
I used to be, when I was in my 20s I was big into that stuff. These days I’m definitely into UFOs and aliens and that kind of thing, so that always ties in a little bit but not too much. I try to be very, what I consider rational about that sort of thing. When it gets to pure speculation where people draw conclusions to things, it’s like why don’t we look at things that we don’t know and are already weird instead of trying to connect the dots to things we don’t have enough of a picture for. But I definitely think there’s a lot of shit people ignore, that to me needs to be obviously explained or slipped under the rug.
What do you hope listeners get out of the record from listening to it?
I hope they dig it, first and foremost. I hope our fans will be open to it, I know some of them will be, and they spread the word to other people who may not have been into our older stuff maybe. I just want people to dig it, it’s meant to be a generally positive vibe, not super intense or doomy, just a classic rock record with different shades of tones and a good time.
Do you think you’re over the doom stuff?
I don’t know. It’s definitely something we can come back to at a certain point, I feel like I’ve written a lot of doomy material and I don’t really have much more to say on it. How many ways can you say we’re fucked, the world’s going to end?
John Hill is stoked for the future. Follow John on Twitter at @JohnXHill