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Whiskey Network Interviews Kyle Shutt: Guitar Solos, the Spirits Within, and Whiskey on the Road
Kyle Shutt is a talented solo artist, the lead guitarist for The Sword, producer of “Doom Side of the Moon”, and his stunning guitar solos will melt your face off. He is also a fellow whiskey enthusiast.
He is dedicated to his craft and the results show across the legendary catalog of albums by The Sword. They are an intelligent rock and roll band with a deliberate nod to their idols in the prog-rock arena. As a solo artist, he flexes his muscles and shows his versatility with his own work and cover songs that he records for his fans. Inspired by some of the greatest guitarists before him, his journey has led him to a solid spot in the pantheon of the top guitar shredders in the world.
There is no doubt that he's an artist with uncompromising authenticity, but he is dedicated to the simple pleasures of good whiskey. It does not take much to engage him: just a shot and some good conversation. He is a rare example of a hard-working, yet completely approachable, rock and roll icon that values fan interactions.
This interview is another exciting opportunity to look deeper into the unique experience of this fellow whiskey enthusiast. His career has given him the opportunity to tour the globe with some of the biggest bands out there. Of course, we would be remiss in not asking him to share some stories from the road. Quite literally, it is explosive! This is an interview that covers quite a lot, so pour yourself a double and get ready for the journey. Read on to find out more.
Finally, he answers the questions in our feature called “The Mashbill: Whiskey Network Wants to Know Your Recipe” – where we ask 5 whiskey related questions to our guests. You do not want to miss this!
My interview with Kyle has been edited for clarity and continuity, but every effort has been made to preserve the original conversation. The unedited video of the interview can be found here.
Mark Pruett: The Whiskey Network is proud to welcome Kyle Shutt to speak with us. We have a lot to cover, so let us get started. Welcome, Kyle.
Kyle Shutt: Thanks for having me.
MP: I would like to introduce my Whiskey Network colleague Jim Zadrozny. Together, we are going to put you through your paces and have a lot of fun talking about whiskey, music, and whatever else comes up.
KS: Sounds great!
MP: We know you from acts like The Sword, Doom Side of the Moon, and the Dirty Restaurant of Death (the most recent one to come out and has great album cover art).
KS: It is slightly immature. The story is that my daughter, who is almost 4 now, and I started a band. I asked her what she wanted to call it and her immediate answer was “The Dirty Restaurant of Death!” and my reaction was “Oh shit, OK!”
MP: Whatever baby wants, baby gets… right?
KS: Exactly, her artistic vision would not be compromised.
MP: Also, you have a solo record that is out, correct?
KS: Yes, I do. I also keep cranking out cover tunes, silly paintings, and whatever else it takes to get through this pandemic.
Jim Zadrozny: Here is my first question; for the uninitiated what is “doom metal” to you? How would you define that?
KS: The term used to be an elitist term but has recently been taken as more generic. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, it was a specific sub-genre of music. It must be a slow as humanly possible while still maintaining a groove. The lyrics are typically about destruction, mayhem, death, and the end of society. It has recently been applied to anything that is not mainstream, even mall metal is “doom… doom… doom”. When I grew up, there were two doom bands: Burning Witch and Sleep. Again, it has to do with the lyrical content. Another example is when you talk about “stoner metal”, which is what The Sword was labelled, but we never sang about weed. We consider ourselves to be a prog-rock band, but people like to put things in tiny little boxes. They do not like to think for themselves. So, you cannot just call yourself a rock band because people will want to know what kind. All the genres have been blurred, misused, or even forgotten to the point to where it no longer matters. As crass as that sounds, it is true.
MP: The “prog” label fits The Sword perfectly. While there are a lot of labels you could put on The Sword, but prog is very appropriate.
KS: We have had every genre name thrown at us, but I always felt were a rock and roll band. We did get compared to (Black) Sabbath a lot, and I get why. However, I always felt we had more in common with bands like Rush, Thin Lizzy, and Yes. We may not have been as complicated as some of those bands, but we were considered “thinking person’s music”. It was not low and slow for no reason.
JZ: In your music I hear rock-a-billy, especially on the later records. I was listening to “Warp Riders” and comparing it to the more recent album “Used Future”, these are quite different offerings. You guys take a hell of a lot of risk and experiment a lot. To classify you just as “doom metal” is not who you are. You are artists who push the envelope in whatever you are trying to accomplish with each record.
KS: We have always tried to make great records that we wanted to hear and never set out to consciously create some sort of doom sound. Our first record is as close to a doom sound of all the things we have done. There are elements of thrash, death metal, and many other styles on that record. There was an all-in-one sound on that record, but we got the “doom” label thrown at us. However, we sound nothing like Candlemass, Burning Witch, or any other actual doom bands. If it helps people get into it, then whatever… that is ok. They may say “this is not doom metal, but I like it!” and I will not hate on what gets people talking.
MP: Let us just call it you are part Rush, part ZZ Top, part Queensryche, and part Metallica. Does that work?
KS: That is not bad. I grew up in a small town in Texas and the only bands who came through regularly were Pantera and ZZ Top. If you think about it, The Sword does fall right in between Pantera and ZZ Top.
MP: I am willing to roll with it. Perfect.
JZ: Yes, somewhere between those two bands.
MP: Our audience is dying to know, let us talk about your relationship with whiskey. You are a whiskey enthusiast. Rock & Roll and whiskey are synonymous. There is a long history there between those two. We are happy that you are a whiskey enthusiast; take me through your history. What bottles or brands do you favor, and tell me about how your tastes may have evolved over time?
KS: I think my tastes have evolved as knowledge has been accrued over the years. I turned 21 in 2004 but my first experiences with alcohol were when I was 15. When you are that young, you drink whatever you can get your hands on. I was not a big whiskey fan because what I could get a hold of was not the tastiest stuff. I want to say it was Bulleit Bourbon that made me think I could drink it without having to mix it with something. While on stage you drink a lot of beer, but that makes you need to use the restroom halfway through the set. That is not a big deal if you are playing a 30-minute set but if you are playing an hour and a half, it is nicer to sip on some whiskey. We used to drink a lot of tequila, but the group decided at one point they wanted to get bottles of Makers Mark, Woodford Reserve, and Knob Creek on the rider. Those were easy to get, so you could have consistency. However, those were not my go-to things to sip on. Our singer (J.D. Cronise) is a big bourbon fan, I am not opposed to that, but I like a nice single malt. Stranahan’s is one of my favorites, it was gifted to me by a good friend from Colorado. They used to write on the label what music was playing when it was bottled, but they have since stopped since their production numbers are much higher. I am also a fan of Old Ripy for sipping. It comes in a 375ml bottle, but it costs as much as a normal 750ml.
There was one time where our dressing room was broken into at a show in Baton Rouge, LA. My wallet, cash, and everything in the room was stolen. The security camera that was pointing toward the door of the backstage area was magically not working that night. When the promoter came in and told me, I lost my shit. I should not have, but I got physical with him and let him know “you are going to give me $800 right now or shit is not going to be cool.” As mad as I was, I felt bad about doing that because it was not his fault. The next time we played in Baton Rouge, we were fortunate enough to work with that promoter again. He did give me back $800 and I bought him a bottle of Red Breast 15. I brought it to the show, and we had a good time hashing it out and sipping whiskey.
I love whiskey, but it does not have to be super fancy. There are plenty of lower price points that are fine to sip on. Woodford Reserve is great. Evan Williams is good, old fashioned table bourbon.
Back before the pandemic, we used to play these massive festivals, and you would have to do these press junkets backstage. There would be 10 interviews in a row, and you get shuffled between them all in a row. The interviews could be on camera, be with inexperienced interviewers, go on a bit long, or are awkward. There are some interviewers who have a bottle of bourbon on the table and that is the ticket. Put a couple of shots in me and that results in a much better interview.
MP: Well, I hope we are starting out OK and doing right by you in this interview!
KS: But you did not send me a bottle. I am just kidding.
MP: There is a lot to unpack there. I love the fact that you are into a spectrum and jump around to a bunch of different beverages. We interviewed someone just recently and talked about there being social whiskey and then there is solitary whiskey. There is the stuff for sipping at home or when you are doing something that is social.
You also touched on an interesting road story. I want to follow up on that, you have been on the road for a lot of years and played a lot of shows. There must be at least one really off-the-charts crazy cool road story that you have that involves whiskey. Can you share?
KS: Yes! This would be going back to 2015. I think it was the first or second night of tour and we were playing in New Orleans… a city that is notorious for getting way too drunk in. We played this little club called Gasa Gasa, which is in the Garden District, and had just opened. We had only played the French Quarter before, and this was the first time we played outside of that. That area has really come up since then, but back then it was a little rough in that neighborhood.
When we play New Orleans, we will play the 500 to 600 seat clubs, we usually sell them out, and it's a good time. It was just one of those things where we were on our way to do a much bigger tour and we were under a radius clause, and we could not play a club over a certain capacity. This place held about 150 people and it had a ridiculously small stage. I usually put my road case on the side of my amp to use as a drink stand, but this time there was no drink stand. I had my whiskey sitting on my amp, which is a no-no and you really should not do that. I thought… what is the worst that can happen?
We are a loud band, and the bass frequency must have just vibrated that glass of whiskey over and it spilled. A whole glass of whiskey poured into my amp, it exploded all the tubes, and there was smoke billowing out of it. It was pretty wild. It was not a big deal, because I had a spare amp. Fortunately, I do not like to mix my whiskey because if I had spilled cola inside of that amp it would have cooked immediately when it touched the transformers and all that. It is impossible to clean that off all that sugar and everything. Just being the whiskey itself, it vaporized instantly and there was nothing to clean. I guess my amp was running hot that day. I had never seen that much glass shattered inside of an amp before. That amp is still kicking, and I still love it.
MP: I was just going to ask… did the amp survive.
JZ: It came back better.
KS: I think it is better.
MP: Great story! Do the stories change when you are with bigger bands like Metallica… you were supposed to be on tour this summer with Primus?
KS: I know! We were getting the band back together. Right now, we were supposed to be back from that tour. It is crazy that it has been rescheduled and we have not even left home to do it.
MP: Do the antics change when the bands are bigger? Is it still the same whether it is a small club or a big arena? Are the shenanigans the same?
KS: It does not matter. Every tour and band are different and there are no rules to it. That is why I like the music industry. It is the Wild West; you never know what is going to happen. To speak on certain stereotypes, you think that LA has a reputation as a party city and so much crazy stuff has happened there. I have never really had a good time in LA. It takes forever to get anywhere, you are busy until the show is over, and last call is a little bit earlier than most places. When the show is over there is nowhere to go and party and you just end of up back at the hotel going to bed early.
MP: Kyle, you are breaking my heart right now… I am from Los Angeles.
KS: For every lackluster show in LA or NY, you will be in Boise, ID and burn the house down. Just drink two bottles of whiskey and go nuts. The crazy parties happen in unlikely places, and that's the adventure of it. You never know when you are going to have a raging party. Although, it is guaranteed when you play the Bourbon Theater in Lincoln, NB you're going to have a good time. I have rung up quite a bar tab and there have been some crazy nights in there. The Midwest, in general, is always a lot of fun. Also, in Indianapolis you can get into a lot of trouble. Sometimes the big cities that have the reputation are harder to have a good time in.
MP: What about Florida, since Jim is from there?
KS: I love Florida, and I am going to be heading there soon. There are a lot of great breweries in Florida and I am also a beer enthusiast. We are going to check out Vero Beach, St Augustine, and Tampa. I have a 30-foot Airstream travel trailer, so I can just go anywhere.
JZ: A great story for me is that Tool played in our little arena here in Ft. Meyers on the “Lateralus” tour. We are about 100 miles south of Tampa and while it is a conservative area, there are a lot of rock fans here. They picked a small place in the middle of nowhere to play for whatever reason.
KS: We never had a bad show in Florida. A lot of people complained that we never made it down there, because we only played there every couple of years. Maybe that's what made the shows better.
MP: Another interesting topic is there are suddenly a lot of bands putting their name on whiskey bottles. Bands like Motorhead, Metallica, and Slipknot… what do you think about that? Do you think there is true love of whiskey behind it or do you think it is marketing?
KS: I cannot speak for those bands; but I will say that The Sword was one of the first bands to start branding alcoholic beverages. We were not the absolute first, but we were the first of our ilk to do that. It was us and Mastodon who made beers. During the next festival season, bands like Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and many others had beers to follow suit. That then branches out into other areas. For example, The Sword branded a BMX bicycle once and a month later Slayer had a BMX bicycle also. We knew people were watching us make the trend and then trying to follow. It is a natural consequence of the music industry tanking because of the pandemic and everyone trying to branch out to see what they can sell to make some extra cash. I almost opened a bar before this pandemic, and I was scouting locations in February. We had investors ready to cut checks…. In a way I am glad it did not work out because I would have wasted $250,000 of the investors’ money. I might still do that again one day, but not now. I was drinking a beer one day and thought… I cannot sell one record, but people do not stop buying these things (drinks). I thought I should just start selling those.
I do not knock any band for selling anything. There are certain things I would never sell, just because I do not need that money and I have standards. Sell what you must sell if it is part of your bands image and there are fans that want to buy it. Put it out there. I do not like to hate on people for living their lives and doing what they need to do to survive. If making your own whiskey is a part of that then that sounds like a win/win to me.
MP: If it moves bottles then that is perfect. That is what it is all about.
KS: I will say the only issue I would have is that you take your name and put it on some swill. I do not want to say the name of the massive band from the UK that made their own beer, but I know for a fact that it was a cheap brand with a different label on it. If you are going to make something, at least take an interest in it and make it a good product that has some soul in it. Make sure it has the essence of your band, at least on some level.
JZ: I would have a problem if the band did not drink whiskey, and they're trying to sell one. That would be like trying to sell music that you don't like as an artist, but you're doing it for the pay. Most real artists wouldn't do that.
KS: It happens every day, though.
JZ: One of my favorite bands growing up was W.A.S.P. To me, one of the best singers of all time is Blackie Lawless, his presence and just the viciousness of it. In the liner notes on the “Headless Children” album he credited vodka for being one of the things that influenced that record, in terms of lyrics, the riffs, and getting it all to gel together. How does that work with The Sword, or you personally, when you're trying to develop a concept? Does whiskey ever come out as one of those spirits that will inspire you to create and come up with some ideas? Is it something you can honestly say has occurred?
KS: It can, but there is a window though where it goes from helping to hurting. I can only speak for myself creatively but when I have an idea that is a fully fleshed out, I do not imbibe. That is why I am not drinking right now; I have got some serious work that I have to do after we get off this interview.
When it comes time to get inspired, I find that most of my great ideas (or silly ideas that make me laugh) happen when I am sitting at the bar or at the pub. Just mulling things over a shot of whiskey and a beer. What I was told, and what I have read, was that the reason they are call spirits is because they bring out whatever ancestral spirit is inside of you and that it is a way to connect to your past. And so, if someone is a mean whiskey drunk, maybe someone in their past was a drunk and that is just them coming out. This why they are called spirits.
So, I feel like maybe in my past there was someone who had great ideas. When I sit and have a drink and open my mind, I let the ideas flow and am not afraid of what comes out. However, after 3 or 4 shots you are not working anymore; you are partying. If you do get an idea, you better have your note pad close by. Honestly, I like getting on Twitter. I like getting drunk and firing off every stupid thing that comes into my brain on Twitter, then wake up the next day and say good lord what was I thinking? Once in a while, there is a really good idea in there and I am glad I did that. It is one thing to write it in notepads, but I like making it public because it lets people know that I do not take myself too seriously and that I also like engaging fans. I have always resented the wall between fans and the artists, we would not be who we are without the fans, we should be more welcoming and open to hearing what they have to say. Not every artist is like that though. They could be really introverted and not want to talk to people in general, it does not matter if they are fans or not. I get that, but I am very personable, and I like talking to people. That is what I miss most about touring because after the show I would go to the bar and drink all night with everyone that came out for the show tell stupid stories and hear different points of view. I feel that inspired me more than just the drink itself: having a communal drink with someone and commiserating about whatever is going on in the world. I get a lot of inspiration from that. It does not matter if it is in Barcelona, Tokyo, or wherever. People have a lot more in common than we do not and that is something I miss the most… sharing a drink with like-minded people.
JZ: I think of the misconceptions people have about the music creation process in rock and roll is that you are all sitting around getting wasted all the time. Writing the lyrics and playing and then it is done. Basically, it is work. You must practice and spend countless hours getting this stuff done. The inspiration may come from being out at a party, a club, after a show, or just talking to people. The ideas may come from that, but the actual process of writing, making a record, and laying tracks down is something that you have pay attention to. Is that basically what I got from you here?
KS: For me personally, yes. I cannot speak for every artist. Getting all your ducks in row, having the workload in front of you and knowing what to accomplish is important. Once you dive into that, I find that imbibing kind of slows that process down. Sometimes it does help, for example, if you hit a roadblock. Let's say it's time to do a guitar solo and it's not happening, you aren't feeling it, and your timing is off. You are six takes deep and getting frustrated… then go crack a beer. You know what I mean? Just chill out a little bit. You should not do that too often (well I shouldn't), because after one beer you want two, then three, then you want five. Then… you are not working any more.
There are times when it works, especially during the mixing process. Sometimes, I feel like if you have been obsessing over something… like listening to the kick drum for 3 hours, and you just need to get out of there. Go somewhere and have a pint or a shot, then come back with a fresh perspective and a softer soul. It will be a much more natural process, especially if someone else is riding the controls.
We would smoke a ton of weed, too. The Sword did not like being called a stoner metal band, but we still smoked more than anybody. That was always the constant; we might have been drinking, but there were a lot of joints going around, too. That helped us all focus on what was important.
The alcohol was, for me, for after a job well done. I use it more for an incentive and reward these days. When I was younger, it was an all-day thing, but I try to be slightly more mature about it these days.