The Sword's Bryan Richie on electro, R.Kelly and hot sauce...

A dingo took my bass player...

Bryan Richie provides the throbbing bass lines to The Sword’s compositions. He’s only been in Australia for a day but regardless of his jet-lag, the man is laid-back and ready to chat, which is a good thing as that’s the main reason why I’m here, backstage at the Brisbane Soundwave, in a big stable. With no beer (are you seeing a recurring theme here?).

So this is your third time in Australia, how’s the jet-lag going? “I woke up about four o’clock after going to bed – I tried to stay up as late as possible…” so Bryan’s feeling a tad ropey – not that he cares because he is just stoked to be back. “Man! It’s fucking beautiful here - we love it! It’s an amazing place. It’s beautiful.”  He appears genuinely enamoured with the place, recounting his early morning constitutional to the Botanical Gardens, where he saw some iguanas. They’ve got all manner of animals in the media area (something about giving bands a chance to interact with native wildlife – I kid you not); have you managed to pat that dingo over there? “No, not yet…I’m really wondering if there’s a koala hiding around here somewhere. I’d love to handle one.” I tell him they’ve got a crocodile in an esky (I’m serious, they really do…) and he responds “No shit?! Maybe I’ll just hug the dingo instead…” Probably a good idea, though the dingo is looking pretty hungry…

The Sword are hitting the stage in an hour or so, what are your pre-gig rituals? He tells me “Nothing really. Just listen to R Kelly or something, ” before cracking up laughing. What’s wrong with a bit of R.Kelly? ‘Everything’ I hear you say…

The Sword have toured with some of the greats of our industry; Ozzy, Metallica, and Motorhead, so you’re used to big venues. Between the huge stadiums and the sweaty clubs, which do you prefer? “My preference is for small venues, just due to the closeness; the intimacy. Nothing wrong with playing a big venue too – that’s pretty rad because usually those sound systems are pretty insane and when you hit some shit, it usually crushes people.” He also agrees that the riders are usually better with the bigger gigs.

The latest album Apocryphon (2012) has been well received and when I ask for his take on it, I get a very genuine and enthusiastic “I fucking love it! We really had a good time writing the songs and it came really naturally and we just went in there and did the damn thing.”

John ‘J.D’ Cronise (vocals/guitars) apparently did quite a lot of esoteric research in preparation, do you know what he was up to? Bryan is as mystified as the rest of us. “No, I honestly don’t. The lyrics are usually something that are revealed to us at the very end – and I love that part of it – it’s usually once the song’s been complete for a while, there’ll be the day where it’s like ‘OK, here are all the vocals’ – it’s not usually a line or two, it’s more ‘here’s the whole damn thing’ which is pretty cool. As to what he was researching; I don’t know.”

Though Bryan does mysteriously add “He moved out to the mountains so who knows what he was doing there.” Black Voodoo, that’s what I reckon. John’s been getting his lyrics from disembodied spirits. You can take that as tabloid fact.

You guys often get compared to Black Sabbath, does that get really annoying after a while? Brian is quite relaxed about it all. “It’s a great ‘head-nod’ but ‘annoying’ would be the wrong term. It’s just, in a way, I feel it’s an easy way out; ‘oh yeah, they sound like Sabbath’ I think, in a way, we sound more like Metallica sometimes but you know, we sound like a lot of stuff. We pull from a lot of things and we all listen to a lot of different shit. I think we’re all real good at pulling the certain parts from certain things and incorporating it. Sometimes we like to incorporate, not hip-hop elements, but groovy, funky hard-hitting funk shit.”

And having James Robbins (Clutch) produce the album, what was it like working with him? “Great. It was a dream-come-true scenario, man. I fucking worshipped Burning Airlines art. As a dude getting to record with one of my idols essentially; I thought it was fucking fantastic. And when I listen to it, I think it’s the best sounding record that we have. He did everything louder than everything else and he’s got that down to a fucking science, and it sounds great.”

The Sword copped some flak from some of the older fans about changes to the band’s overall sound so I ask if the whims of fans can be limiting. Bryan says “No, because I think we’ve changed our sound quite a bit and haven’t been scared to do it and the people that like our band have been more than willing to come along for the ride. I’m sure we’ve lost a lot of fans along the way that just wanted us to keep putting out Age of Winter I, Age of Winters II and Age of Winters III methodically like stoner rock but we’ve got bigger aspirations.”
That’s part of the excitement about the evolution of a band. Where will they go next? Where will The Sword go next? “We’ve already started talking about what sort insane shit Sword V is gonna have. I asked the guys the other day if they’d be OK with me not actually playing a real bass guitar on a song but that it had bass like an upright bass or a synthesiser bass or something like that. They were like ‘Dude! Do your thing!’…” So we might be seeing some groovy synth bass on the next album or possibly even some scat jazz. Sweet.

This is the first album with Santiago ‘Jimmy’ Vela III on drums; is it all working out well? “I love him.” And to reiterate the point Bryan says “Love. Him. Me and Jimmy have been friends since we were teenagers and have always got on really well. We’re tight bros so as soon as Trivett (Wingo) left, he was part of the first round of try-outs but he just didn’t get it at that time.” Bryan sounds a touch sad by this turn of events but he perks up “I personally have always had an eye for Jimmy and was like ‘I wanna play in a band with that dude’ and now this was the perfect opportunity.”

Given the problem with drummers at Soundwave, do you have any concerns for Jimmy right now? “No shit, right?! As soon as we heard about it we looked at him and were like ‘Hey bro, you’re not gonna skip out on us or anything?’ because we’ve come here three times and we’ve had three different drummers. Initially when we came here with Metallica it was with Trivett then we had Kevin (Fender) as the replacement on Soundwave 2011 and now Jimmy as permanent.”

And what the fuck is The Sword’s hot sauce merchandise all about? “We have this guy that worked at our record label Kemado and he was like ‘You should have The Sword fuckin’ hot sauce!’ and we were like ‘Dude! It’s so stupid, it’s brilliant. Let’s do it!’…”

It can’t be any worse than Slayer’s wine or Christmas jumpers…“Exactly! You just find ways to expand your base. I’m sure in the same way that Guitar Hero opened us up to a lot of people who played video-games that don’t know a lot about music, I’m sure that we’ve gained fans who are hot-sauce aficionados.” He’s laughing pretty hard right now so I’m not he actually believes this.

Do you find journos ever confuse you with Brian Ritchie of the Violent Femmes? “You’re the first dude to ever bring it up - but man! Fuck, dude! I cut my teeth learning his bass lines back in the early nineties. That guy, his melodic sense is fuckin’ brilliant. I love what he did with that band and how he played those songs.” Bryan tells me how he wants to meet Brian and start a band with them both playing bass. It’s so crazy, it might just work…

Tell me about the Sidewaves with Dragonforce; looking forward to it? Bryan is most enthusiastic. “It’s a fit! I’m really excited about it because I’ve heard their music and heard about how insane their live show is. It’s a spectacle; they’re bouncing around off the ceiling, there’s sweep picking and all sorts of shit, and I’m all about displays of technical prowess so I’m sure it’ll be great. I’ve only heard awesome things about the dudes themselves so I’m sure we’ll get along really well.”

And after your set here in Brisbane? “Jumping on a plane – 30 minutes after the set actually,” he sighs deeply and adds “Sometimes, man, these schedules; they’re hilarious in how stressful they are; you expect us to get off stage, chill out, do whatever we need to do and get on a plane? You know? Just give me an hour! Or 45 minutes at least, but half an hour is cutting it a little close; I don’t even know if I’m gonna be able to make it back to our dressing room in 30 fucking minutes?!”

And after the Australian extravaganza? “We do a month in the US with Clutch and then we’re gonna do a month of European festivals in June and July, and then hopefully we’ll do some sort of cross-Canadian deal – or if we’re lucky we’ll come back to Australia.”

Before Bryan leaves (to listen to some R. Kelly, I understand), I ask if there’s any thing he’d like to mention. His answer is electro-interesting. “We wanna do a remix record, we wanna call it Re-Pocryphon, like a nineties remix record.”

So what kind of remix stylings? “Whatever! We love French shit; we love Justice and Daft Punk and shit like that so that would be cool. If all of Ed Banger Records wanted to remix The Sword, I’d be down with anything like Diplo (Producer) or Boys Noize (Producer). We just wanna do some different shit…because people say ‘These guys are like Black Sabbath or whatever’ and we’re like ‘No, this shit is deep’…we’re tryin’ to write these songs and we’re also tryin’ to do some, maybe, next level shit, or what at least to us is some next level shit, you know? Or just trying to kick ass. Take names. All day, every day. “ He's laughing again and obviously doesn't take shit to seriously; but The Sword electro remixes? I’d be up for some of that.

And as he takes his leave, Bryan says “If you ever interview the other Brian Ritchie, you should ask if he’s ever heard of me! Ask him if he ever learnt my bass lines! Probably not!”
This cat’s mellow. He’s alright.