Imagine watching a spaghetti western about time travel that was scored by Black Sabbath. Kind of a bummer that such a movie doesn’t exist, right? Fortunately, you can get a sense of what the soundtrack might have sounded like on March 23rd.
The Sword is back with their sixth studio release, Used Future, via Razor & Tie Records. Stylistically, it’s their most refined album to date. Once again, the group delivers some catchy, psychedelic rock anthems, but has additionally threaded them together with recurring interludes and postludes for a nice, cinematic polish. They’ve also expanded their palette with some new colors, textures, and moods that made the album equally eclectic, as it is mature. Simply put, it’s a very fun, tasteful record.
In promoting the new album, The Sword has released a rippin’ single “Deadly Nightshade” which you can stream to your heart’s content.
One of the coolest things about The Sword is that you can take a record like Used Future, compare it with their freshman album, Age of Winters, and enjoy what has changed but also appreciate what has remained. The band has obviously evolved quite a bit over the years, but you know intuitively that it’s still the same group of creative fellas (well, maybe with an exchange of drummers along the way). Most importantly, you can tell that they’re still having a great time doing their thing.
The Sword’s bassist and synth player, Bryan Richie, took some time to describe the new album, the band’s evolution, and his own journey as a musician.
“It always sounds like The Sword because we’re The Sword,” describes Richie. “Not to sound cheeky, but we’re the guys making the music, ya know? There’s certain ways that we have grown accustomed to doing things as musicians just personally…We’ve just continued to be artists and just create, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have created stuff that people are enjoying.”
In an industry that is often obsessed with negativity, Used Future offers a breath of fresh air. Tracks like “Sea of Green” and “Come and Gone” prove that a band can get heavy without acting pissed off or gloomy all the time. According to Richie, that’s more of a byproduct of their personalities and the positive experiences they had in Portland when making the record, than it was of any intentional, creative decision.
“We’re always pretty happy dudes,” illustrates Richie. “We were really excited about being in Portland and we were really excited to work with Tucker [Martine]… When we did Apocryphon, we were in Baltimore. We stayed in a motel in the shittiest area. Like, it was just a really shitty experience. It was the complete opposite experience we had in Portland. I think everyone’s headspace was really good and that allowed for maybe some of that happiness to exude onto the tape.”
The engineering on Used Future is top notch, but the album doesn’t succumb to the pitfalls of sounding overly produced. That starts with the caliber of the musicians themselves. Each member of The Sword is clearly an expert at his respective instrument, but the songs still sound like real human beings performed them. “As long as you know what perfection is,” articulates Richie, “you can allow yourself to breathe around it and not get so hung up on it.” He further recognizes that a band should meet the needs of the song first and foremost, cautiously avoiding indulgent showboating. Riche warns, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
As Richie alluded to earlier, the album’s sound was further enhanced by the production expertise of Martine (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists). Having stumbled across a photograph of Martine when skimming through the Instagram account of the acclaimed Swedish folk duo, The First Aid Kit, Richie started doing some digging. Quickly after learning that Martine is credited with production work for many of his favorite albums, Richie pitched the idea of having Martine collaborate with The Sword. Not too long thereafter, Used Future was in the works. Throughout their time working together, Martine helped the band dig deep into their creative depths, with particular emphasis of the album’s distinguished, film-score characteristics. Richie describes their experience succinctly: “It was totally badass doing it with Tucker.”
Richie’s contributions to Used Future are much farther reaching than recruiting one hell of a producer. Synthesizers are also more pronounced than ever before, bringing in a new level of ambience and sonic ingenuity. This is best exemplified in “Nocturne,” the album’s midway instrumental break. It’s an unsettling track, with a vast, spacey vibe; like being lost in some post-apocalyptic desert. It’s all seriously impressive, considering Richie juggles synth-duties in tandem with his duties as the band’s bassist. Challenging as that may be, it’s something that he finds undeniably rewarding.
“It’s great. I love the challenge of it. I love getting to be like, a little more than just a bass player. As soon as [producer] Matt Bayles put synths on [Warped Riders], it was like ‘fuck man, my hand’s up! I’m ready to play these parts. I’ll figure it out, how do we do this?’”
The learning curve has been immense for Richie, who humbly acknowledged taking two years to seamlessly incorporate instruments like the Moog Taurus III, a foot synthesizer, into his repertoire. The once familiar fretting and plucking patterns that were comfortably limited to his bass-playing hands would compete with the new attention required from his feet and lower body, in order to execute parts on the Moog. It forced both his mind and his body to explore exciting, yet uncomfortable territories, but the hard work paid off. With the necessary limb-independence eventually earned, combined with the encouraging pushes he received from his bandmates and producers, Richie could freely expand his instrumental arsenal and fine-tune his writing. Used Future is a testament to this dedication, as his performances make up some of the most defining qualities of the album’s personality.
The band is currently gearing up for a several-month national tour. Richie, along with his bandmates, plan to take this time to prepare for the logistics of road travel while also adapting and configuring the live versions of their studio recordings.
“I’m really looking forward to it, man,” exclaims Richie. “I’m ready to go play some shows, try to figure out how to play some of these songs live. I have a bunch of stuff where my hands are kind of occupied, so I’m gonna have to figure it all out.”
Used Future, The Sword’s sixth studio album, drops March 23rd, via Razor and Tie Records. Purchase a copy, and catch the band on their upcoming U.S. tour.