INTERVIEW: Iron Thrones

Back in 2010, Scion ran the “No Label Needed” contest in which the car company enabled a band to “receive insight and instruction on the music industry from music industry professionals while recording an EP at the Machine Shop” (you can read more about it here). Minnesota’s Iron Thrones came away winners and proceeded to put out The Wretched Sun later that year, which we covered in our November 2010 issue. So when “I Once Had The Crown” randomly showed up on our iPod the other day, we remembered not only how much we enjoyed said EP, but that the quartet unfortunately broke up in 2012. Fortunately guitarist Steve Henningsgard was kind enough to catch us up.

Last time we talked about Iron Thrones in 2011, you guys were in the midst of writing a new record. Fast forward to 2014 and the band is no longer–what happened?
We ended up calling it a day towards the end of 2012, playing a final show and going our separate ways. As far as “what happened,” I think each of us has his own opinions. Writing stagnated, shows became less frequent. For my part, I had some things I needed to sort through, and I feel like I ended up sort of taking the band down with me. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate exactly why bands fail, or why any relationships fail, for that matter. First you start getting annoyed with each other, then you stop screwing, then you stop talking…in a relationship, I mean. Not in a band. Well, unless that’s your band’s thing, I guess. I can’t even imagine how complicated that could get. Anyway, I think in the end we decided to call it quits rather than forcing another album out, potentially releasing music that we didn’t fully believe in.

Will any of the post-Wretched Sun tunes ever surface? I don’t know how far along you guys got, but you told me that at the time that you were really pushing yourselves to expand your sound and evolve as songwriters, while keeping true to the sound you’d established–any thoughts years later on those new tunes?
We’ve thrown the idea around a few times. I’ve been listening to the jam sessions [drummer] Pete [Clarke] and I did in early 2012, and I feel like there are some great songs hiding in there. We had a couple of songs nearing completion, and a couple more that needed more work. I think we’d all agree that if we do release anything new, it won’t be half-assed. We’ll either put in the time and make another record we’re completely proud of, or we won’t do it at all.

What are you up to now? I know in 2011 you produced a record for Orwell, but are you still playing music and/or producing albums? What are the other guys up to?
[Vocalist] Adam [Clemans] took over as Wolvhammer’s vocalist a few years back and just finished tracking for their new record. He also sings in Liar In Wait, who’s finishing up writing their first (and undoubtedly, wonderfully depressing) LP, as a follow-up to the EP they released last year. [Bassist] Curt [Parker] moved to Washington and has been playing guitar and singing in Witch Ripper, which started as his beardtastic solo project. They should be entering the studio again pretty soon. Pete’s been working on new material for his band Bill Pulmonary Embolism, which started as his crazy metal solo project years ago and is now a full band filled with really talented musicians. He’s also getting married soon. As for myself, I’ve ended up back in college, so that’s taking up most of my time. Musically, I’ve been working on writing a second EP for Shaidar Logoth, which a black metal project Adam and I started a few years ago, and sooner or later a barbecue-rock band Pete and I play in (Goddamn BBQ) will end up releasing an album that we’ve been sitting on for the last couple of years. Oh yeah, Adam Tucker (a most excellent local engineer and the bassist in Bill Pulmonary Embolism) and I released two really stupid albums as SHIT!Japan last year, which we (drunkenly) recorded and he mixed in an hour or two each. In summary, we’ve all stayed pretty busy.

It’s been four years or so since the Scion contest–looking back, what are your reflections on the whole experience? Is there anything that you took away from it that you still find valuable? What’s one piece of advice you’d give to an unsigned band?
I sometimes forget just how surreal the whole experience was. Up until that point, the growth of our band was pretty organic. We’d gotten some underground attention after releasing our first album for free (which was less common then), but for the most part, no one knew who we were. That’s still true, but as a result of the Scion contest, all of a sudden we had reviews in magazines, regular posts on the bigger metal blogs, some college radio play, and ended up touring with a band on Relapse, a label who’d released several of our favorite records. It was really cool, and really strange at the same time. Fortunately, everyone we met was really cool to us, even though we were just a bunch of random dudes who won some car company’s random contest. If we had written another album, I’m sure most of them would’ve tried to help us out in some way, even though the contest was over.

I think if I had to give unsigned bands one piece of advice, it would be to decide what matters to you from the very beginning, and just focus on whatever that is. If your music is what matters to you, just focus completely on your music, and fucking forget about everything else. If your music resonates with others, they will let you know, and will ask you for it. If not, who fucking cares. Never stop playing.

What’s your fondest IT-related memory?
When we were mixing Visions of Light, there came a point when all of a sudden, our engineer told us some of the plug-ins we were using were going to expire. It turned out that there was only one afternoon that would work for me to come finish mixing, so the process was pretty hectic. At one point though, everything suddenly jelled, and I was just overcome with emotion honestly. The recording process had taken many months, and the band had gone through some pretty significant changes, so it was sort of a miracle it got finished at all. When I listen to that record now, it all comes back sometimes and I get a little choked up. I’ve heard a lot of artists say they don’t like listening to their own music, and I never really understood that. Why create music and release it if it doesn’t make you fucking lose your shit when you listen to it?

Tell us about some current bands and albums you’re digging.
I really dug the newest Cult of Luna (Vertikal) and Dillinger Escape Plan (One of Us is the Killer). Adam occasionally sends me new stuff to listen to, and I’m digging the new Monvment demo (I) and the new Odz Manouk/Tukaaria split. I haven’t been staying up to date on new music as well as I used to though, to be honest. It was important for me to get away from it for a while, and I’ve just been getting back into it in the last few months. It’s nice though; it feels like coming home.

You can check out Iron Thrones’ back catalog on Bandcamp here.