Die By The SWORD!
December 5, 2018, a year ago
Well over 20 years before Texas-based The Sword broke into the scene in 2003, Canada had unleashed a gem just south of Montreal simply called Sword. Their music was far from simple, gut-wrenching power metal which leaned a bit on speed, highlighted by the soaring vocals of blonde-maned Rick Hughes. Canuck indie label Aquarius Records launched two stellar albums which included the band’s landmark debut in 1986 called Metalized and the follow-up in 1988, Sweet Dreams. “F.T.W.” and “Stoned Again” remain to this day, anthemic pillars of the Canadian metal scene. But then the band suddenly disappeared, after earning opening spots for Motörhead and Alice Cooper, and Metallica’s landmark Master Of Puppets tour in 1986. Despite the legal blip (as you will read below) of the band name that was easily sorted without issue, Sword are deep in the trenches creating their third opus, over 20 years after their second. So the question lies, is the sword still sharp? Witnessing the band at Heavy Montreal this past summer, “the wheels of fire” are running as hot as ever.
BraveWords: You guys haven’t lost a beat - you look great and you sound incredible for your age. So where’s the fountain of youth? Where have you been drinking?
Hughes: "Ah, thanks! Well, I don’t know...we started out together as young lads. I was 16 years old when I met Mike (Plant), the guitar player, and with my brother (Dan), we were playing together for a couple of years back home. Our philosophy has always been, it’s about the music. It’s not rocket science, so nobody gets hurt if something happens during the show. Just take the stage and try to bring as much joy to your audience as you can, and that’s always been our philosophy.”
BraveWords: You look so cool and casual up there, your voice really hasn’t wavered at all. So what are you doing to your body? You can hear yourself, right?
Hughes: "This is the compliment that comes to me the most because of course I know what you mean, and it all has to do with how you treat your body. I want to sing metal, classic rock, and jazz, and blues all my life, but the only way to achieve that as a singer is to be extra careful with my way of life. Like, not abusing of anything, and a lot of sleep, and it does the job.”
BraveWords: That’s not the rock ‘n’ roll way of life is it?
Hughes: "Well, I will not name names, but there’s a lot of artists that have been on forever and have had the image of bad boy. Let’s just say that, okay? Let’s think about a rock star that has the image of a bad boy - but back home, he’s not a bad boy. He pays his bills, he goes out to the park with the kids - it’s role play. All artists have a very, very, very normal life. When you get on stage, that’s when you put on an act. The thing is to put on an act but to do it in a way where it appears natural.”
BraveWords: Now these first two records still sound fresh today. How do you think they’ve weathered over time?
Hughes: "Well, one thing for sure is that, for me as a singer, 20-30 years later they are very fun to sing. I guess, at the time I was writing it, when I was doing them in the studio, I didn’t realize that I was doing something that later on in life I would still sing and I would still enjoy doing. I just did it naturally, and thank god today I love singing ‘Land Of The Brave’, ‘Trouble Is’, ‘Stoned Again’, ‘F.T.W.’, you know it’s all good man. I really love it.”
BraveWords: As an audience member you can really feel it. We sense that.
Hughes: "You do eh?”
BraveWords: Yes. Which probably makes you feel proud, right?
Hughes: "Exactly, it does. That’s another of my philosophies as a singer, I’ve always said to myself, when you watch somebody getting on stage, when they go on stage nervous, they will make the crowd nervous. If they go on stage happy, they will make the crowd happy, you know? Because you’re the centre of the attention when you’re there so you might as well be on your best behaviour when you go on stage.”
BraveWords: Did you ever think this would happen 20-30 years into your career?
Hughes: "Yeah! Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me because people are very attached to what they’ve listened to way back and there’s a reason for that. Certain eras like the ’80s, metal was done as a classic rock over the edge. This cannot be replicated. It’s only bands from the ’80s that can bring that sound back. And the people want to hear it. But the old genres can only be played by veterans.”
BraveWords: What’s the status of new material and what inspires you?
Hughes: "We’re so stoked about the new album. Dave Ellefson from Megadeth heard three songs that we’re starting to mix with Glen Robinson (Voivod), the best metal producer on the planet. He’s producing the new Sword album, and after listening to only three songs it took just 24 hours before they offered us a contract. So we’re signed with Dave Ellefson’s label, Combat Records, and they’re waiting on the album. We’re working on that every day. But they released our live album at the end of August - Live at the Hammersmith, while we were touring with Motörhead back then.
BraveWords: What did you think when The Sword appeared from the Unites States?
Hughes: "Well, at that time, everybody was doing their own stuff, so we never thought we’d get back together again and have a Sword revival, and with such a demand as we have today. When they started, it was 2000, 2001? I was busy - I was doing TV shows, I was doing this and that, so was my brother - so we just kind of like looked the other way, you know? And then it became a problem. They’re so different than what we do that it’s okay - there’s a place for Sword, and there’s a place for The Sword.
BraveWords: Have you connected with the band? Have you met the band before?
Hughes: "Well, we had to - when they heard we were releasing a third album we had to go through some legal documents in order for everyone to be calm and happy, you know? We weren’t nervous at all, but we kind of made them nervous. But then again, it has to stop at some point because now you got Sword, you got The Sword, what’s next? Sword of Doom? Sword of Glass? Sword of Iron?
BraveWords: Die by the sword!
Hughes: "There you go! But I think two Swords is more than enough.
BraveWords: Last question - “Stoned Again” is obviously one of the classics, and with this ridiculous pot rollout in Canada, one of these companies has to use it as a theme song, don’t you think? Sell the rights!
Hughes: "That’s a good idea. I wrote the song so maybe I can make a little dough with that. I never thought about that. Let’s re-do a video!”
BraveWords: Start pitching and get a piece of that edible pie.
Hughes: "Thanks for the idea!”
(Photos by: Mark Gromen)