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Interview with A Sound Of Thunder

One of my favourite albums this year has definitely been It Was Metal by American metallers, A Sound of Thunder. It really is an inventive and enjoyable record and I have loved rocking out to it this year. Along with its comic book counterpart, It Was Metal just works so well for me and I would recommend it to anyone who's into the metal and comic book culture. After one of their rehearsal sessions, I managed to catch up with Josh Schwartz (guitarist), Jesse Keen (bassist) and Chris Haren (drummer) to talk about their career, music, comic books and their songwriting and discography. The band tell some good stories about their time as a band in the USA metal scene and how they come up with their music.

Did you guys have a good rehearsal? 

Chris: Oh yeah

Josh: This one was an unusual one as we have just started working on a bunch of new songs. We have a bunch of covers and quite a bit of original material that we're going to start recording in about a month. So we spent today learning the covers.

Fantastic, I think we'll all looking forward to hearing that! As for the new record, that you put out this year, It Was Metal. I really liked the idea of the comic book counterpart to the album. Where did that idea stem from?

Josh: Well it was from a couple of areas. Just in general we're all various different types of geek. Nina and I are the comic book geeks in the band. Jesse likes his superhero stuff and video games. 

Jesse: I grew on the 90's Batman, Spiderman and X Men series. That sort of area. I didn't really have access to comics themselves.

Josh: Chris is a big reader though not necessarily a comic book reader. Yeah, Nina and I were the big comic book fans and for the most part, it was on our bucket list to publish a comic book. Also, we did an expanded book for one of our previous albums, The Lesser Key of Solomon. That book had an original painting for every song and the paintings were presented next to the lyrics it represented. The idea was that you would read through the book and connect the art with the lyrics. It just helped to visualise the song in your head. 

So, the idea with the graphic novel was just to expand on that concept but instead of just one picture, there was going to be a full story, per song. 

Yeah, that's really cool. In that respect, you're a very visual band. How does that translate to your live shows?

Josh: Well, we don't have any big stage production or anything. Usually, when people come to see us it's pretty raw. We don't have many props or anything like that. Occasionally, we have projected the album art behind us but we haven't really worked it into the live show yet.

So, is this something that you would like to do in the future. Maybe, become more of a visual band?

Josh: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, most of the issue is money or the lack of. However, to put together a big stage production would be great but you need the money, the right stage and a long enough run of shows to make it worth it. A part of it as well is that we consider ourselves to be a bit of an old-fashioned live rock band. In the sense that we've never played to a click track on stage. Yet, to have that big stage show and to have the bigger production with video content, bands usually have to have a click. So, that's why it's something that we've resisted over the years. 

That's really understandable. Moving on to your songwriting. How would you say you newer material and indeed the new stuff you're currently working on, differs to your past material?

Jesse: Well the trajectory of the albums we've done over the last five years. We've noticed that the past records started to get darker and heavier up until the end of Tales From The Deadside. That had this gigantic, doom-like guitar line. Then when we sat down and started writing this record, it started as a writing exercise, not necessarily to change our sound entirely. More to see if we could make an upbeat tempo version of Out of the Darkness from 2012. 

Josh: It was a bit of a reaction from the past couple of albums. We've always said that we never want to make the same album twice in a row. So, we made a fairly fast upbeat album in 2013 called Time's Arrow and that was a totally different record from The Lesser Key of Solomon in 2014. That album was more atmospheric, it was darker and had more gothic rock elements and a lot more progressive elements. After that, we made Tales From The Deadside and that was still dark but it was much heavier and with a dark story. After those two really dark albums we just wanted to do something a little brighter and with more energy.

Over the years, you have taken inspiration from a lot of different sources. Be it comic books, classic literature and even video games. What is the weirdest thing you've ever taken as inspiration and turned it into a song?

{Whole band laughs}

Jesse: Alyssa...

Josh: OK. So there's a song from Tales From The Deadside called "Alyssa", Which is the only ballad on the album. It's a concept album based on Shadow Man from Valient Comics. So, it's a song that's based on the main characters love interest. It's a little classic-rocky and it's quite slow in tempo. Musically though, it's the only song were the verse and the chorus are the exact same chord progression and that was a complete experiment. 

So there was this song on the radio which I find pretty annoying called "Royals" (by Lorde). I thought to myself "God damn it. This song is on all of the time and it's super popular but it's the same god damn chord progression over and over". So, I just sat down one day and made an experiment to see if I could write a song with the same chord progression over and over. I think there's one change and that's for the guitar solo because we just couldn't contain ourselves anymore. So yeah, that's one of our darkest secrets, that one of our songs is somewhat inspired by Royals. Well really more infuriated by it. 

Well, that was a fascinating insight into your dark musical secret. What has given you inspiration lyrically?

Josh: I think this is more of a question for Nina, but there is a song we've made called "Blood Vomit". It was like a parody of a death metal song. I mean if you listen to it, it doesn't even approach death metal but we were just screwing around in rehearsal one day. I mean, I don't know how it came about or where the phrase came from. However, the gist of the song is based on a show we played in Washington D.C. and we played at this hipster venue. You know, we felt very unwelcome as we were the only metal band on. So, the song is a reaction to playing that gig. You know, it was us saying we're going to punch out all of your blood.

Well, that's pleasant... Moving on from that. Individually, what is your favourite song you've written and why?

Chris: I think the one song I've written that I love is probably, "Out of the Darkness". It has a good vibe to it. Musically it works well and lyrically, I'm very proud of it. 

Jesse: I would probably go with "Children of the Dark" off of Tales From The Deadside. I feel like that's the most progressive and most difficult things we've ever tried to play live. It's a tremendously amazing song and I love it so much.

Josh: And for me, I would say "Obsidian and Gold" off It Was Metal. That was was the first song I've written in full for the band. I had to go to Nina and ask for permission to write the lyrics. A lot of songs I'll write all of the guitar parts and I'll help write the words. Yeah, usually she writes the lyrics and the vocal melody, maybe sometimes I'll throw one in but "Obsidian and Gold" is the only song in our entire catalogue that I wrote everything for. So, I'm pretty proud of that one.

What is the one song that you wish you had written?

Josh: I think I can answer this first. I had this moment of clarity before we even started the band. When I first started writing songs, I was listening to one of my favourite records which is Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath. "Children of the Sea" impresses me so much. Just that great mix of light and shade, the clean guitar parts vs the heavy parts. When I listened to that, I knew that was the kind of music I wanted to make.

Chris: I've got several. I mean I'm a bit of a Rush fanatic but the song that got to me when I was young and still does is "Free Will".

Josh: And Jesse's answer is "With Arms Wide Open" by Creed.

Jesse: I'll hit you for that! No, it's probably "The Becoming" by Nine Inch Nails. It atmospheric dark and heavy. The songwriting is excellent and the music is excellent. That song feels painful and earnest. I wish I had written that!

As band then, what are the most important lessons that you've learned?

Josh: Keep my big mouth shut!

Jesse: Don't keep my big mouth shut and lean into the stuff I believe in.

Chris: I think for being a musician, is just to listen and try to understand everything that's going on. 

Josh: No, Chris's lesson is don't play drum solo's over everything.

Chris: So says the guitarist!

So the ultimate take away is don't be Iron Butterfly?...

Josh: Well when you're Iron Butterfly and you have twenty minutes for every song, you can kinda get away with it.

Who are some bands that you would recommend, who you feel don't get enough attention?

Jesse: Iris Devine. They're some friends of ours and they're one of the most inspiring prog acts I've ever seen. 

Chris: They're a modern heavy prog-rock with clean vocals. They have these pretty complicated and techy musical parts. 

Josh: Yeah, I wish we got to play with those guys more but it never works out. Yet, in our scene, a band I think are pretty good is Mindmaze from Pennsylvania. They're a prog-rock band, they're super talented and have really earnest lyrics. There's no dragons or any of the bullshit we write about. It's really heartfelt and wonderful lyricism. We've played with them a lot and we always enjoy watching them.

Another one, that's in our scene that I like is Judicator. They're awesome too. 

And Finally. What is the hardest thing you've had to overcome and how did you overcome it?

Josh: I mean, not knowing what to do with my life, is mine. There were years where I didn't even play the guitar. I didn't have a lot of confidence in myself and it wasn't because I was a low-confidence individual, it was just that I wasn't doing the right thing with my life. When I got into to doing music I found my confidence. It was just finding that right direction. You know telling the bass and drum players what to do, I feel super comfortable with that. It's like herding cattle sometimes.

Chris: Just keep that up! {band laughs}

Jesse: I think for me it's realising that making a career out of this, and this being the only thing I can do, is going to be difficult. However, it's a treasure that very few people actually get to possess.

Chris: I think ten years ago when this band was formed. A lot of personal things were kind of flying at me and out of my control. I think the band certainly helped get me out and gave me a focus.

That was a brilliant sum up. Thank you so much for joining me tonight.


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