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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.
MP: I want to grab on that because you made an interesting point to me. One of the things we talk about at the Whiskey Network is that whiskey and stories are intertwined. This is something that is especially important. You could have one shot or ten shots by yourself, but it is the stories that get attached to it, the special occasions, and you celebrating a job well done. I have had conversations with other people where they did these amazing things. Someone had a bottle of the worst whiskey you can think of. In the moment, when they did that good job and when they tasted that whiskey it tasted like the best whiskey on the planet. It was because of the job well done and the whole experience. Is that where you are coming from with that?
KS: Yes, you can. If I am going to celebrate a job well done, I am probably going to buy myself a bottle of Kinahans or something like that. If it is a communal thing at a bar after a show, you just want a beer and shot. If someone wants to buy you a drink, you do not even question what it is. You just do the shot of Jameson, Bushmills, or whatever it is. I do not really hem and haw when someone is buying me a drink. It can be genuinely nice; it does not even have to be brand specific. It is just the nature of the generosity of someone wanting to show their appreciation by putting whiskey in your mouth.
The Sword had a sizable guarantee and a nice tour rider. We could have anything we wanted (within reason), but we were modest with our demands. My solo band went out last summer on a tour supporting Electric Six. Going back to being the first act on the tour we were making $200 a night and getting two drink tickets. On stage I would tell the crowd “I’m raising these boys all by myself, so if anybody could find it in their cold dead pocketbooks to put some whiskey on this stage, I’d really appreciate it.” I was directly asking for whiskey. Every single night, there were at least 4 shots that came up to the stage and those were always special. I know that person went and spent about $30 on something and it was nice of them to do that for us. Maybe I should have asked for the money instead of the whiskey.
MP: Whiskey is meant to be shared!
KS: There was one night in Portland, OR where there were about 500 people at the show. I said that to the crowd, and trays of shots (and cocktails) started arriving on the stage. It was out of control. I looked down on the floor and there were 50 shots of whiskey there. I did not know what to do, so I made sure the front row was all over 21 and had them grab a shot. I know they were all meant for us, but if we drank all this whiskey, there was no way that show was going to happen.
MP: To me, that is a proper whiskey experience/story from you. The room came together and just served it up for you guys… that is perfect.
With that, let us delve a little bit deeper into music. You talk about “spirits” and they bring something out of you… and that falls in line with the next question.
When did you realize you had talent above and beyond? There are a lot of people who take on the guitar and that they can get into the music business. When did it occur to you that you had something special?
KS: I don't know if I do, but everyone tells me that I do. I don't think I am the best guitar player in the world, not even close to it. There are plumbers out there that are way better than I am, and people will never know their names. I just have this ability to use my brain as an antenna to listen to the universe. I honestly believe that everything that has been written, or ever will be, is already out in the universe. It is up to our brains, all these little electrical antennas, to pick it up out of the ether. I have the ability to make the guitar make the noise I hear in my head. That's what I think the difference is between someone who can play the guitar well and an artist. I never set out to the best guitar player in the world or anything like that.
In The Sword, the other band members were older than I was. There must have been something they saw in me because I was younger, and they asked me to come into that circle of musicians. I can't say what it was, maybe it was my enthusiasm paired with my ability. I didn't shred on the guitar in those early years. I did my fair share of mangling up riffs and played a couple of solos, but I didn't start taking lead guitar seriously until our second album. Then, I just started hearing more, and it made me want to play crazier solos. Then… we go on a world tour with Metallica where you stand 10 feet away from Kirk Hammett every night. It makes you want to do crazier stuff on the guitar. Eventually, I started hearing wild solos in my head. I did a lot of LSD one summer and just hung out in my apartment with my guitar. At that time, I sat down with my guitar and figured out how play the solos I kept hearing. I wanted to get to the bottom of it! I think that really helped me open my brain up to more, to hear more. We made a lot of money on that tour, so I could afford to take some time off and sit there with my guitar and learn my craft more. When we made Warp Riders, which was our third album (2010), I remember hearing that after it was done and then thinking to myself “WOW, I’ve really upped my game.” I was doing stuff that is on par with the greats. So, it was the Warp Riders era that I realized I was better than the average “doom metal” guitar player.
MP: You became the face of doom metal at that time. That seems to be a consistent theme that people agree on. The Sword is one of the bands that came up out of that genre or sound and rose to prominence. You may not have started it, but you put it on the map.
KS: That is true. We also did bury a lot of terrible styles of music. When we first started, we would have death metal or nu metal bands that would open for us. We buried those genres, and I don't have any problem taking credit for it. Now, you can't go anywhere without the local band being some sort of groovy, Sabbath inspired doom metal band.
MP: Yes, and I am ok with that, too. I think if you did a straw poll of influences for musicians, the two most popular things that you might hear are the Beatles or Led Zeppelin. I don't know if you were influenced by either of those bands, but what were influences on you that were off the reservation?
KS: People ask this question a lot. I can say something like “Slayer, Metallica, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy” and I feel like that is all they want to hear… just confirm that you listened to Slayer (even if only once).
MP: No. We want to hear what is off the books.
KS: For me personally, when I was in high school, I watched a lot of MTV (around 1993). At that time, they played everything; Dr. Dre, Nirvana, Southern Culture on the Skids, the B-52’s, and Morbid Angel. Every kind of music imaginable, 24 hours a day. I was glued to it; it was my lifeline to what was important. I was into everything; I love Nirvana, Prince, the Cure, Aerosmith, and I was a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. Anything and everything from that era I just devoured. It didn't do me any favors because at that time it wasn't cool to play guitar solos. Unfortunately, I never cared about playing guitar solos for a long time. That did me a disservice, but I caught up.
When The Sword got together we were collectively into band Sleep, Melvins, Karp, Big Business, Lord Weird Slough Feg, and Hammers of Misfortune. All of these were a huge influence on The Sword back in the day. We also liked a lot of Bay Area bands like Fucking Champs, Metallica, and Slough Feg. There was a band called Saviors that we used to tour with a lot. We were more like contemporaries, but they were another huge influence on us.
MP: Talking about Prince, just grabbing onto that name, where do you think Prince ranks in the list of great guitar players?
KS: Number one. Nobody is better. Nobody can play guitar like that. Nobody could do anything like he could.
JZ: Not even Jimi Hendrix?
KS: Jimmy was good, but he only had 3 records and then he died. Sorry… “Axis: Bold as Love” is one of my favorite albums of all time, but you can't put that up against any Prince record. If Jimi had lived, then it would have been a different story. Honestly, I am not a big fan of “Band of Gypsys”, the song Machine Gun didn't do it for me. I do like “Are You Experienced” -- it has a weird groove to it. You could say it's a lot like Prince. Two English white dudes laying down this crazy, funky, yet straight rhythm section and they had a jazz groove to them. It was not like when Sabbath came around, they didn't have that groove. It was a different, kind of jazzy pop/funk.
Prince had that straight funk – he even made drum machines funky. However, it still had this straightness to it that was a lot of push and pull. It is not easy to emulate that kind of guitar playing. He played with a lot of compression and a lot of EQ thrown on top of what he was doing. It had some attenuation in there because his solos were overdriven yet tightly controlled. Yeah… he was a good guitar player. He was so little, five foot three and his famous cloud guitar was a short scale guitar. It was 24 ¾ instead of 25 ¾, just a little bit shorter than your average guitar. He also did play (Fender) Telecasters and Vox guitars, which are full size.
He was the greatest, but I never got to see him play or meet him. I am ok with that because I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I have met a lot of my heroes and there are good and bad stories. I think you should always have that unattainable thing to keep yourself in perspective, or have that thing you think is magical. It creates that sense of wonder in you instead of being some bitter, old, jaded dude. I just love hearing stories about him, though.
There was a band called Grupo Fantasma, a Latin orchestra, that was his backing band for a while. They were from Austin and we were good friends with them. They were out with Prince at the same time we were out with Metallica. They wanted to hear our stories about Metallica, and we wanted to hear their Prince stories. We talked about that quite a bit and that was as close as I got to Prince. Adrian Quesada is the guitar player for Grupo Fantasma when they were out with Prince. He produced The Sword’s “High Country” album, and I told him that I wanted it to be our “Sign O’ The Times”. We wanted it to be lots of different types of songs. All different sounds, but all mashed together onto one double disc.
Prince is a huge influence on how I view creating records.
MP: That's incredible perspective, and I had never heard any of this before. Talking more about meeting your heroes and being on tour with big acts, do you prefer playing 150 person rooms or huge arenas?
KS: It depends. There are positives and negatives about both, but it really depends on the sound. I have played terrible sounding clubs and I have played terrible sounding arenas. I have also played great sounding outdoor festivals where there are 40,000 people and it is incredible. There is nothing like that, I promise you. I really do enjoy playing a 200 to 300-seat club where the front row is right in your face.
This was before smart phones. There is nothing I hate more when everyone is holding their phone up. I get it… if you want to take your picture that is fine, but put your phone away. When they sit there and (hold their phones constantly to) film, it is too much. I mean, I will even give you one song if you just have to do it. Record a song and get it out of your system, but then put your phone away. If you are doing it every single song, watching the whole show through your phone, and then the people behind you are staring at your phone… Everyone put your phone down! I have lost it a couple of times and kicked the phone out of someone’s hand because I am sick of having a fucking camera in my face. That might have been the whiskey kicking. I am trying to play a show here, get your fucking camera out of my face. If people want to get uppity about it and say “I paid good money to be here” then I am going to kick your fucking phone, we are going to agree to disagree and you are going to have a broken phone. Sorry, that is what happens when you put a camera in my face… it is not a threat. It takes a lot of self-restraint. We toured before smart phones ever existed and I do miss those days when people would just come to the show because it was the one thing to do. Now, you are playing the show and killing it, then you look down and someone is checking their email. You think to yourself, “are you fucking serious?” Go to the back with it. Do your thing, but if you must look at your phone, get out of the front row.
JZ: I can just imagine back in the day of punk if everyone was sitting there with a cell phone. It really would not have worked.
KS: One of my favorite bands growing up was Blue Meanies from Chicago. They got the ska label thrown at them. They were a ridiculous jazz metal freak-out band, and they were great. They broke up in 2001 and got back together in 2016/2017 for Riot Fest and to do a handful or reunion shows. I was talking to their singer and he said that they had not played a show since 2001 and the second they hit the first note at the first show back, there were 500 phones out. They did not expect that, had never seen it before, and it was weird. So yeah… I wish people would put their phones down, but it's part of modern society.
JZ: To follow up on technology. I started with cassette tapes, but now everyone is going back to vinyl. People are trying to go back to tubes to try and get a nice tone going. As opposed to the MP3 and having to get it down to as little as possible so you can put as many songs on your player as you can get. Where do you fall in that spectrum, I would guess it is more on the purist side? How has music technology impacted rock?
KS: When I was coming up, it was all CD’s. I did not start collecting vinyl until I moved to Austin in 2000 where there were actual record stores. Where I grew up there were none. At that time, you could dig through the dollar bin and every Police record for $1 because vinyl was out back in those days. Around 2010, it took a sharp incline back up, but that was after everyone had binged on MP3s and heard the sound quality go down. It's like whiskey… there are nice sippers and there are shooters. Sometimes there are those records you want to hear on vinyl for the depth and the richness that those stereo recordings have to offer through a nice system. Other times, you're driving around all day and need a bunch of songs on your shuffle and it's out of convenience. Now, you can also use your streaming app. Every situation is different.
One thing I think it has affected is… Let us say you buy a Sword CD for $10… or a record for $20… and then you listen to it a thousand times. We, as a band, only ever got that $10 or $20, which is fine. If you stream The Sword we will get a few extra pennies for that over time. If everyone did both… bought the record and streamed it, that would be better for everyone. You would have the convenience of having it on streams, but also own the recording. However, when people replaced buying records with only the streaming apps, one thing I noticed that it did was that it changed popular music (pop, hip-hop, or country). When you take a nice big fat WAV file and then squash it down to an MP3, you are losing tons of frequencies. There is a lot being lost that you are not going to hear any more from that original recording. What people are doing is taking those leftover frequencies that come through on an MP3 and shaping their WAV files to react well in an MP3 format. However, there are only so many frequencies and so many sounds. The reason why a lot things are sounding the same is because they are mastering and mixing it to be dumped down into that MP3 format. For every band out there that takes the time to go that purist route, there are a 100+ more bands just going straight for the jugular of MP3 sound quality. I think that is why there is not much diversity in popular music these days. It is all really being limited to what you can do in a sound frequency spectrum as it pertains to recording music.
JZ: A lot of the music that I listen to frequently, if I burn it to a CD and then listen to it flat and uncompressed, as opposed to an MP3, I can hear the difference. Everyone is different. The average consumer probably doesn't even care. To people who love music, it does matter. Like we have discussed with whiskey, it is the social vs the solitary. The purists and the connoisseurs will bring out the eternal argument. At the end of the day, the almighty dollar will drive it. That is just the way it is.
Another thing we would like to know is how do you think MTV affected rock and roll? I remember the Headbangers Ball on MTV and we all lived for that on Friday and Saturday nights. There was metal on MTV frequently, but then it was the Nirvana scene. What do you think the correlation was between MTV, and the development of rock and roll?
KS: It was a conscious effort on their part to bring about certain types of music. When The Sword first started, our first record came out in 2006. We were one of the last bands that got airplay on MTV, we had two videos that MTV played on Headbangers Ball. They were in regular rotation and got quite a bit of reaction out of that. It was shortly after that they stopped playing videos all together.
Going back to the 1990’s, MTV wanted rock and roll to be big again, so they started asking labels to send them all the current rock acts. That's how bands like Kid Rock, Korn, and Blink 182 started to get heavy airplay. MTV started playing Korn around the clock. I am not saying they do not deserve it, but a huge part of their success is attached to the fact that MTV played the Freak on a Leash video. It was everywhere and a very concentrated effort on their part. But when they stopped making money playing videos, they started making reality shows, and so on. They are just chasing the money like any other company. They didn't really give a fuck about music back in the day, they just knew they could make a buck at it.
JZ: Just to follow on you talking about New Orleans, I love the music and artistic vibe that goes on there. It is a jazz city: the live artists the street performers, all of that is truly legit. Every time I go there, I see these artists doing it purely for the love, because they are not getting rich doing it. Probably 99% of them will not. There are only so many Trombone Shorty, Winston Marsalis, and Harry Connick Jr’s of the world. Most of the ones we love are truly jazz aficionados. People who love live music and seeing it performed with soul and passion.
What do you think of the current state of the “rock guy” getting off a bus in LA and saying, “I’m going to make it big?” How hard is it today for someone to just pick up a guitar and do this for a living full time? Give us some perspective.
KS: It is impossible. If you are rich already, then you can afford to just play guitar forever and it does not matter if anyone shows up. Some people, like Billy Eilish, are successful right out of the gate. They are 19 years old and going to become the biggest thing in the world. That is great… more power to her.
What I question is the motivation for someone to want to pick up a guitar these days and do that? Because it is a widely publicized fact that there is no money in it anymore. There is a small chance to find a certain degree of fame… whatever that means to you. Unfortunately, there are people out there that can get more famous than you by just listening to your music. Sometimes fans can just make a blog about how much they love your band, and all the sudden 100,000 people follow that. As an artist, you only have 10,000 followers. Wait… I am the actual artist! Things like that, where the fans can get more famous that the creators is weird.
Then there is whole “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” thing. The allure of that coming out of the 80’s and 90’s was strong. Now, some of the drugs are mostly legal now and the mystique there is gone. You can go to a store and buy weed, which is weird to think about. The sex thing is obviously a touchy political subject now with that whole climate with the “me too” movement, which I am in full support of. It is not a scene of debauchery like it used to be.
The kind of people wanting to be musicians in the past were a different kind of person. I just question what kind of people would be motivated to even pick up a guitar and want to do that for a living these days. You would have to really care about the music, which is awesome in a way. What I am most curious to see is what comes next. It seems like everything has been done. Every genre that comes up is just a mix of two others that go together. Surely there must be some sound that has never been made and explored before. I am excited to see the group of people that decide to tackle that sound and to wrestle it out of nothing. Try to get more blood from the stone, so to speak.
JZ: Do you think something different is going to come of the current musical instrument scene? Or does it have to be something totally different?
KS: I don't know, that's a good question. There is a movie where the person doing the soundtrack invented their own instrument for that project. I believe it was called the “suspense machine”. They met with a luthier and said, “I need an instrument that will make these crazy sounds” and it generated these really suspenseful tones for scoring a really scary movie. I thought that was cool. It had these metal plates that you could interact with, and the pickups would feedback when you did that. That is one of the new instruments that I've seen being invented that was implemented in a way that was quite effective.
MP: Kyle, I want to say thank you, we appreciate the time you have spent with us. The Whiskey Network audience will be thrilled to hear and read about all of this. Before we jump into our final set of questions, do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to discuss? We touched on The Sword getting back together and touring, what other projects do you have going on now?
KS: The Sword tour dates with Primus are still slated for next Summer (July, August, September), hopefully those will all still happen, fingers crossed. I recently had a book project get funded through Kickstarter which is called “Written in Stoned” where I will dish on my story and what it was like coming up from nothing. Starting with no money, moving to Austin with the intention of becoming a world-wide guitar player… which I did. I have had some ridiculous adventures that I'm going to put in that book. I would like to write more, but for the first book I need tell my story. Also, I've been painting a lot. My solo album that came out two years ago, the cover of it is just a velvet painting of my face. I have been taking oil paints and painting parodies of myself over it. If you wanted me to paint myself as Robocop or Batman, C3PO, or anything else, I'll do it. Just hit me up on my Instagram (@kyleshutt). There is a ton of music on my Bandcamp and YouTube pages. There are cover songs, and they are free to download for your entertainment. For my original music, I do ask for a modest fee. I also take requests, and you never know what I will say yes to. Hop on YouTube, check out my cover songs, and drop a request in the comments. You might be surprised; I could actually do it.
MP: It used to be that people wanted a velvet Elvis. Now people want a velvet Kyle.
KS: Yes… they really do!
MP: To all our distinguished guests that we interview, we have a special section, and it is called The Mashbill: Whiskey Network Wants to Know Your Recipe. These are five of the most asked questions that get asked by our audience. It is right off the top of your head. Here we go…
First question: what was the last whiskey, bourbon, or scotch in your glass?
KS: Old Grandad. Before that, it was Stranahans.
MP: Do you prefer to drink your whiskey in a specific type of glass?
KS: No. No preference.
MP: Do you have a unicorn bottle?
KS: When The Sword made our beer, they took some of the wort and distilled it into a whiskey. It was the only time I tasted a hoppy whiskey. It was phenomenal and I would like a bottle of that.
MP: I am looking for a gift for a friend, my budget it $50-$75, what bottle do you recommend?
KS: Old Ripy. A nice 375ml bottle of Old Ripy.
MP: What is your favorite toast?
KS: A funny but kind of crass story… one night I was drinking with a bunch of boisterous Englishmen in Honduras. The only whiskey they had was Jack Daniels. One of them got up to offer a toast and said, “Up the bum, no babies!” It is very crass but funny. At the time it was the most perfect thing anyone could have said. I would never attempt that toast; I am not charming enough.
MP: Thanks again for taking the time to sit down with us. Cheers, Kyle!
KS: Thanks so much for having me.