Josh Schwartz - A Sound of Thunder "Metal and Comics"
Guitarist Josh Schwartz takes part in our first split interview on heavy metal and comic books!
By: Frank Hill | Published: Thursday, July 20, 2017
A Sound of Thunder, l-r: Josh Schwartz (guitars), Nina Osegueda (vocals), Jesse Keen (bass), Chris Haren (drums). Copyright ASOT
Formed in 2008, A Sound of Thunder have been pulverizing the DC area/East Coast of the USA with their blend of classic heavy metal, progressive, and rock music. At an unrelenting pace, the Northern Virginia natives have been releasing high-quality heavy metal almost every year by utilizing self-funding and successful Kickstarter campaigns. They are also highly engaged with social sites and fond of nerd media like comics, books, and movies. Maximum Metal's Frank Hill talked with guitarist Josh Schwartz about the band's latest releases, touring, comics, comicons, the return of Udoroth and the Queen of Hell and more! It's our first dual interview! Metal to the left. Comics to the right. Volley'd & Thunder'd! Read the column side you prefer or both!
MM: A Sound of Thunder has put out an album/EP/single every year since 2009. What keeps the band so musically motivated in an era when most bands say they can't make money off of records?
Josh: For me, the creative process of writing and arranging a song is the most fun and rewarding aspect of being in a band. Coming up with something in your head, hearing it come to life in the studio, and then sharing it with the world...that's a feeling that's hard to top.
MM: "Who Do You Think We Are?" is a Kickstarter-exclusive release of cover songs. How were the songs picked for "WDYTWA"? Did your fans have any say in the choices?
Four of the songs were chosen by fan voting. Several were chosen by fan sponsors who got to choose the song they wanted us to record and then covered our studio expenses. In the end, only a few were actually chosen by the band!
MM: Were there any extra songs left off of WDYTWA release that could show up at some later time; maybe another cover album?
Everything recorded during the WDYTWA sessions was included on the album. "Walls" and "Island of Domination" were actually recorded much later and were supposed to appear on future releases, but we moved them up to WDYTWA to sweeten the pot for fans!
MM: Whose idea was it for the Black Sabbath homage, die-cut cover of WDYTWA?
That would be me! I can't claim any special inspiration or reasoning other than it just popped into my brain one day. Originally we were supposed to have doubles behind us in the mirror, dressed like '70s rock versions of ourselves and hewing closer to the original "Sabotage" design, but artist Dusan Markovic noted that the doubles would take up most of the space within the mirror, and preferred to fill that space up with some notable metal monsters, as you can see!
MM: Streaming sites like Spotify and Amazon Prime have become popular with metal fans. Is it true that you can't put WDYTWA on those sites?
We could have put the album on streaming sites, but we chose not to. Making the album Kickstarter-exclusive was a way for us to thank the fans who keep this band going. I understand that people like the convenience of streaming services, but streaming revenue for bands is frankly shit, so the people who only listen to ASoT on streaming services are not the ones keeping this band going. We still appreciate those listeners, but not nearly as much as we appreciate the fans who are putting their money where their ears are by buying physical merch and backing our Kickstarter campaigns.
MM: Rumor has it that you already have another record in the works and that might be leaning into "power metal". Can you give us any further details on it?
I can't honestly tell you it's "in the works" because it's already completely done! Everyone has a different definition of power metal, so maybe it does lean in that direction, but I would just say it leans towards faster tempos and brighter tones than the last two albums. This will be closer to Time's Arrow than Lesser Key or Tales from the Deadside. Or if you like, think less Sabbath and more Maiden and Priest.
MM: Any chance we'll see the return of Udoroth and the Queen of Hell soon?
Oh, there's more than a chance! We have a whole expanded story that we've worked out based on Nina's original Queen of Hell mythos, and you can expect that to be revealed through several different upcoming projects.
MM: You've recently signed with Metal Music Bookings & Management after administering yourselves for so long. What do you hope outside help can do for the band?
We've grown a little bit with each album release and are nearing the breaking point as far as handling all of the business aspects of this band and handling all of the creative end of things. So, we're hoping to take some of the pressure off ourselves by shifting some of the business concerns to MMB. They're are also able to help us get access to bigger tours and wider distribution, so that's a big plus!
MM: Do you see any chance of touring outside the Washington DC/Baltimore area in the future?
For the record, we have toured from Montreal to Florida to Los Angeles to Portland, so we have covered a lot of ground, but yes, we will definitely be touring again in the near future!
MM: You all do a fair amount of interaction on social media with people. How has your opinion of it been.
The band side of social media is almost always remarkably positive. It's the personal side that sucks out your soul sometimes!
"We're not here to pump out product or fit anyone's pre-conceived notions about what metal should be. We're here to be creative and follow our instincts down a path towards the best music we can make." --Josh
MM: If we divided the history of metal into decades--70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s... Which do you prefer and why?
The 1970s for me, by far. There were no rules or well defined sub-genres yet, so I tend to find the music much more creative and surprising. Just listen to Sin After Sin or Sad Wings of Destiny by Judas Priest, and compare it to anything that came out later. You hardly ever hear that kind of diversity from a metal band these days. If you do, they will almost certainly catch flack for it. This is something that we have tried to do with our albums, and we have indeed caught some flack and suffered a bit in the industry for it, but I think it's something our fans appreciate. We're not here to pump out product or fit anyone's pre-conceived notions about what metal should be. We're here to be creative and follow our instincts down a path towards the best music we can make.
MM: Thousands of hard rock/metal albums have been released so far in 2017. Do you personally miss the days of getting a couple awesome records per month or do you like having a glut of metal to choose from?
To be honest, I hardly take any notice of most of them. I don't think I listen to music the way most of our fans do. I'm not really actively seeking out new bands and trying to devour everything that comes out. I already own enough music that I love that I could listen to a different album every day for years on end without repeating. I buy new releases from the bands I love, and seek out a few new bands per year, but when I get new music I try to really appreciate it and play it a lot.
MM: Virtual Reality is starting to expand. VR companies are supposed to be teaming up with concert promoters to broadcast shows with 360 degree camera technology that we can watch in headsets. Would you want ASOT to take part and if so how?
Maybe someday, but right now my gut reaction is no. That whole idea seems better suited to a highly produced event with precise staging and production effects. Right now we are striving to put on raw, sweaty, energetic live performances, best seen in person, louder than hell, with the PA mains blowing air into your chest and preferably a few beers in you.
MM: What do you think of the idea of bringing back deceased metal performers via hologram? (If you dig it, who would you want to perform with?)
No. Kill it with fire. If they can someday figure out a way to do a convincing hologram based on real footage of the original artist, I could see some value in that. But as I understand it, the technology relies on motion capture and animation. Now forgive me, but Ronnie James Dio is not able to perform in a motion capture suit for anyone right now seeing as he's dead, so if you're going to see the Dio hologram show, you are going to see a hologram of an actor who put on the motion capture suit and mimicked Dio's stage moves. What's the fucking point? Isn't that just a hologram of a tribute artist? The tribute artist isn't dead, so why not just put on a Dio tribute show with a live person?!
MM: For your surprise guest metal question: Gordon Tittsworth of bands Images of Eden and Born of Fire, wants to ask: How would you say you've evolved musically and personally over the course of your albums?
I've definitely grown leaps and bounds in confidence as a writer, arranger, and co-captain of a band. That confidence has spilled over to other areas of my life, which is a nice side affect. Musically, I think I've really developed my ear and in particular have learned how to break the rules of music theory, break out of just being in one key and use atonality and dissonance to a limited degree. It's not easy to make traditional metal sound fresh, and having some of these musical tricks up our sleeve has helped us mine that classic sound but keep it fresh. That's something we weren't really capable of when we started out but picked up over time.
MM: People have been saying that there can never be another metal band on the level of Metallica, Sabbath, Maiden, Priest, etc... what's your opinion:
I think that's true based on the practical realities of music distribution these days. Those huge bands were able to build such huge followings because under the old music industry system, only a relatively few metal albums came out each year, and everyone around the world was exposed to them. If you liked metal, and your neighbor liked metal, you probably owned the same albums. If you went into a music shop in 1986, you were going to see Somewhere in Time and Master of Puppets, no matter where you lived. Now, instead of going to music shops, people can search for whatever they want online, but there's so much choice that no single band is reaching all of the fans. Some people may only want to listen to pirate metal; if that's what they want to do, they can just search for it, and they never have to be confronted with other bands or other styles. Meanwhile that person's neighbor may only be looking for extreme black metal. The two may both like "metal" in the larger sense, but they probably don't own any of the same albums or go to any of the same shows. So they have no shared experience and nothing to talk about, and no favorite bands in common to talk about and elevate to a higher level.
MM: A lot of the "old guard" early creators and propagators of heavy metal are getting way up there in age. Who do you think would be a good spokesperson/representative for the current generation?
That's tough. There aren't many bands that can claim a wide appeal across all the genres of metal. Everyone knows who Tony Iommi is, no matter what sub-genres of modern metal you may like. I don't know if that's true about many newer bands. One of the first names that came to mind was Hansi [Kürsch] from Blind Guardian, but I suppose stoner metal fans don't give a crap about him. Maybe it would have been Phil Anselmo if he hadn't turned out to be garbage. I'm hoping it doesn't turn out to be M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold! In all reality it will probably be nobody, or some industry shill who pretends to be metal but isn't. The best spokespeople for real metal now are all in tiny bands that nobody has ever heard of. I'd vote for Tommy Purnill of Avalon Steel as spokesperson of all metal. See...you've never heard of him! That's ok, nobody's heard of me either!
MM: To you, who is the single greatest individual contributor to Heavy Metal over the last 40 years—can be based on output, skill, influence, etc.--and why? The True God of Heavy Metal
Tony Iommi. Do I really need to elaborate?
MM: Are you seeing any new metal trends developing in the underground?
Extreme, stoner, black, doom, death...all of the non-showering sub-genres are doing really well.
MM: Are there any relatively unknown bands out there that you would like to throw out a plug to?
Sure, our usual suspects are MindMaze and Iris Divine, good people and great players and writers. Judicator is another one. And you didn't specify new unknown bands, so let's throw Frank Marino in there because he rules and nobody in metal seems to have heard of him!
MM: Six Degrees of Rob Halford: Can you link yourself to the Metal God in 6 degrees or less?
Does covering "Island of Domination" count, because if so I think I can do that in about one degree!
This is just a little tribute band that 3 out of 4 members of ASoT formed for fun. Our drummer Chris recently had a shoulder injury, so to pass the time we decided to have fun and do a few shows as Womanowar, along with ASoT video director Duy Tran on drums. We'll be playing mostly early Manowar in full barbarian garb, complete with fuzzy boots! We only have two shows booked in July 2017, and I expect we'll be back to ASoT full-time after that.
MM: Any last words for the headbangers worldwide?
Huge thanks to everyone who has supported A Sound of Thunder, and to all the people who make a point to support up and coming bands in general. The music industry is a scary and mysterious place right now. Some things are getting better again but some things are still getting worse. The bottom line is that everyone inside the industry is taking from bands right now; nobody is there to lend a helping hand, and you can be damn sure nobody is helping musicians make a living. The whole industry is based on preying on bands and charging them money to do anything and everything. The artist is the last person in the industry food chain to get paid, which usually means they don't get paid. Only the fans have the power to keep new bands going. So if you want your favorite artists to continue making music, you need to continue to support them with more than just Facebook likes. Go out there, spread the word, spend money, and be FANS with a capital "F", because we all need you desperately.
MM: Hands up who all in the band is reading or collecting comics/graphic novels?
Josh: Nina, Jesse and I all read comics to some degree. I have the biggest collection, but Nina has a ton of comics and has major nerd cred there. Jesse is a big fan of super-heroes in all mediums, but is a little new to comics. He's been reading most of the Valiant releases and loving them.
MM: Do you remember what got you into comics?
It was probably a combination of all the great super-hero shows and movies out when I was very little: The Incredible Hulk show with Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, etc. There was also this huge Marvel Universe jigsaw puzzle I had when I was little that featured like 200 characters. I remember being fascinated by it and wanting to find out who all the characters were! I'm pretty sure I know them all now!
MM: Name the comic titles you would recommend to people and why?
Currently, anything by Valiant Entertainment; they have shown a singular dedication to putting out quality stories. Over the years, the Incredible Hulk by Peter David and the classic Chris Claremont X-Men comics come to mind first. I also recently read Alan Moore's Miracleman for the first time, and it blew my mind. Also, shout out to Udoroth visual designer Paulina Ganucheau who is a rock star in the making and has an awesome comic called Zodiac Starforce!
MM: Comics historians divide the history of American comic books into ages. These eras include the Golden Age (1938-1950), the Silver Age (1956-1970), the Bronze Age (1970-1985), and the Modern Age (1985-Present). Which do you prefer?
Apparently the Copper Age is a thing now too! For me, as much as I love older comics, they were mostly written for kids and only in the modern age do you get the kind of nuanced and enthralling stories that fully engage the adult brain. Old stuff is still a ton of fun, but I consider it mostly junk food on the literary level. Of course there are exceptions, and if you're into comics art, some of that old stuff has never been topped.
MM: What's your holy grail comic to own?
Probably The Incredible Hulk #1, the first volume from the '60s. Hulk was the first title that I avidly collected and he is my favorite character.
MM: Some people prefer physical media, some like digital, and some people both. What's your opinions on printed comics vs digital comics?
I am firmly in the physical media camp here! Digital is convenient, but nothing tops the feel, and even the smell, of paper!
MM: In 1996, Marvel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and it looked like comics were going away or at the least become extras for shops that had other products like gaming cards. Do you think we are in a new "Comics Renaissance"? If so, what do you attribute it to--new artistic styles, new writers, carry over from films, etc.?
In some senses I think it is a new "comics renaissance". There's still a lot of crap out there, but there is probably more great material coming out now than at any other time. The rise of the independent creator owned comic has helped with that, but Marvel and DC have also finally shown a willingness to let artists and writers follow their instincts a bit more, rather than always following a house style and other strict measures of control and homogenization.
MM: Are we currently seeing the target audience for comic companies changing to the younger generation?
Maybe for other media and licensed merchandise, but as far as comics themselves, I don't see very many young jumping into the hobby. I do see a ton more women lately though!
MM: In your opinion, are today's comics getting too mixed up in identity politics and social justice?
Not in my opinion. Captain America was punching Nazis in the 1940s. Green Lantern & Green Arrow were sticking up for poor urban blacks in the '60s. Comics have always villified hate and supported social justice. In fact I'd say everyone's favorite classic superheroes are the original social justice warriors!
"I think with his real-life legend growing as it has, we're about due for a Bruce Dickinson adventure comic!" --Josh
MM: Besides yourselves, name a metal artist who would make a good comic book character:
Danzig came to mind first, because of the muscles and his own unique vibe. Kiss. Alice Cooper. And not surprisingly, those bands all have done their own comics already! As for someone new, I think with his real-life legend growing as it has, we're about due for a Bruce Dickinson adventure comic!
MM: If you could make Udoroth and the Queen of Hell into an ongoing comic title, by supplanting two titles already on the market. Which ones get canned?
Ha! Well I would can any number of X-Men titles since most of them have sucked lately. Let's can one more and bring back Valiant's Shadowman while we're at it!
MM: Bruce Wayne is practically ready for the nursing home. Which character in comics needs to die already?
Cyclops earned his casket long ago. Fortunately, they killed him off recently. No tears shed here.
MM: Comics are all over TV and films. If you had to speculate, what comic do you think will be the next big value book like Walking Dead or Saga?
I've got my money on New Mutants #14 and the first appearance of Illyana Rasputin as Magik!
MM: What do you think is the main problem with comics today?
I'll give you several: 1) Company-wide crossovers. Marvel and DC need to stop pulling the rug out from under their writers by interrupting their individual stories for these huge editorially dictated crossover stories.
2) Marvel and DC are publishing way too many books. They don't have the talent to make them all good, or even decent really. Time to scale back!
3) $3.99 cover price. That's a lot of money for a comic that may only take 5 minutes to read! The cost-to-entertainment ratio is super high compared to movies or video games.
MM: What's your opinion on having comics slabbed and graded? (getting a comic professionally graded and encased in an un-openable hard plastic shell from CGC, PGX, or CBCS)
It's not for me. I had a really nice Incredible Hulk CGC 8.0, but I sold it and bought a lower grade raw copy. If I can't open it, it doesn't hold as much value to me. If you're attempting to buy comics as an investment though, I definitely recommend CGC or CBCS high grade books. The verdict is still out on PGX, so for now I'd stay away.
MM: Which comic title does each of you have taped behind your toilet; the one you really don't want others to know you read and enjoy?
She-Hulk! If Marvel publishes a She-Hulk series, 9 out of 10 times it is awesome! I did also just pick up a full run of Dazzler comics. No shame!
MM: Your last full album "Tales from the Deadside" was based on the "Shadowman" comic from Valiant Entertainment. Rumor has it that you went over to their comicon booth and said "Hey, do you wanna work together?" How did that develop from there?
That's basically the gist of it. Of course the quick "yes" lead to a series of phone calls with their licensing manager, who made sure we were legit and professional. After that, we had to have a contract drawn up so that they could protect the rights to their character and we could protect our rights to our music. But overall it was really fast and easy. They are a great down to earth group of people to work with.
MM: You all will attend comicons and do cosplay in your local area. Had you done those as a band before or was it just for the "Shadowman" tie-in?
We had attended comic-cons as regular paying attendees. I go to several each year just to hunt for back issues. We never really had a good enough reason to have our own table until the Shadowman album came out.
MM: How well did the "comic crowd" take to having a metal band there?
Very well actually. As you know we are not the most abrasive or extreme metal band. We are heavy, but we still have melodies that people can latch onto easily. The most common reaction we got was something like "I'm not into metal but I love this!"
MM: Which of you is the all-around best cosplayer and why?
Definitely Nina! She has the most experience, the best ideas, and the know-how to realize her crazy costume ideas!
Josh Schwartz Nina Osegueda from ASOT, copyright Julie Hodges
MM: For your surprise guest comic question: Brittney Slayes from Unleash the Archers, and fellow reader, wants to ask: Aside from the "Tales" release, are any of your other songs based around comics and which is your favorite?
Oh yes! "My Name is Doom" from our first album is about Dr. Doom himself! "Archangel (Wings of Steel)" is loosely based on Archangel from the X-Men. We even have an unreleased song called "This Man This Monster" based on The Thing! "My Name is Doom" is probably our favorite, and it has become a fan favorite as well.
MM: And to finish out with some quick ones...
MM: Last comic you read:
Ninjak: The Seven Blades of Master Darque
MM: If you could assemble the Avengers of your choosing, who would they be?
Captain America, Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell), Iron Man, Hawkeye, Wonder Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch...hmm, let's get crazy and throw U.S. Agent and Hercules in there. Reserve Avengers FTW!
MM: Would you rather your office be Stark Tower or the Bat Cave?
Let's say the Bat-Cave since it would probably be a good vibe for recording metal!
MM: Who in the band would be the one most likely to be worthy of lifting Thor's hammer?
That's Jesse. No doubt there.
MM: Which would you rather have control of--Green Lantern's ring or Wonder Woman's magic lasso?
Definitely the ring...I have a lot of will-power!
MM: If each person in ASOT had a chance to wield the Infinity Gauntlet for one minute, what would they do with it?
I think we could all agree to abolish hatred, fear and prejudice and establish a utopia. After that, Chris would conjure up a bunch of hot black dudes, Nina would probably bring the World of Warcraft into reality AND give herself an indestructible liver, I would complete the most awesome Marvel and Valiant comic collection of all time, and Jesse would probably just give himself good health insurance!
MM: Six Degrees of Stan Lee: Can you link yourself to Stan in 6 degrees or less?
I've met and spoken with Herb Trimpe, Marvell bullpen artist from the '60s and '70s who worked directly with Stan Lee.
MM: And for whomever wants to take on the challenge: Name a superhero or villain for every letter in your name:
J. Jonah Jameson Osbourne, Norman Super-Skrull Hawkeye Uatu the Watcher Angar the Screamer
Savage Dragon Cable Human Fly Wolverine Artie (of Artie & Leach) Rocket Raccoon Trapster Zodiac
MM: And last words about the comics medium?
There's something great out there for everyone, so what are you waiting for? Dive in!