Interview by Forrest Pitts
In talking with The Sword‘s Kyle Shutt, one immediately feels compelled to load up a bowl, sketch out your alibi and call into work for the day. The undeniable contact high delivered via Kyle’s relaxed, cordial demeanor hard sells the idea of loosely cinching one’s bathrobe and throwing back a white Russian, all while lazily studying the horizon from your back porch. This siren call’s only further emphasized by Kyle’s current solo project: Doom Side of the Moon, a proto-heavy metal take on Pink Floyd’s classic The Dark Side of the Moon LP. Certainly, many have tried their hand at the work but Doom Side brilliantly succeeds where others have failed to entirely justify their interpretations by dent of its subtle modulations, heavy-but still warm guitar tones and comfortable, organic quality of spontaneity. Gearing up for their exceedingly ambitious live premiere in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd’s debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, ( August 5th at Austin’s Emo Austin club,) Kyle Shutt is warm, garrulous and chomping at the proverbial bit to spread the good word.
Forrest Pitts: So I’m going to admit that when this promo appeared in my inbox, I might have rolled my eyes a little, thinking it was essentially going to be a novelty. I just didn’t expect much from it. Admittedly, the first play through turned my head but it was really on the second, the third and the fourth… What’s so great about this treatment is that the more you absorb it, the less you relate it to Floyd and the more it feels like its own creature. Which is, in and of itself pretty amazing. That said, are you kind of worried that this effort might be largely seen as I initially did: primarily as a novelty?
Kyle: Yeah, I’ll say that first and foremost: I’m not doing this for anybody but myself. This is straight up for fun. Man, I’ve been in The Sword almost half my life at this point. We were footing the gas for almost a decade there so it really hasn’t been until the more recent years when I’ve had time to stop and reflect and think about involving myself in other music. I do have a lot of other…[styles of,] songs that, were I to put out a record of that stuff, I don’t know if anybody would be into that sort of thing. I was sort of second guessing it. Then one day I was just getting baked and thought, “Man…I should just really do a Pink Floyd cover band. Just a fun project.” No pressure. And of course everyone’s going to roll their eyes, its like [The Dark Side of the Moon] the most perfect fucking record ever made; I’m literally fucking with someone else’s songs… I almost have no business doing that. So for me to approach it with any other mindset aside from just having fun would be silly.
This album has always been a part of my life. When Easy Star All Stars did Dub Side of the Moon… me and my friends jammed the shit out of that when it came out! I loved that. Every motherfucker has a Dark Side of the Moon story. It may seem a little calculated I guess, but we just did it. You can’t just cover Floyd; you gotta do the whole thing: you gotta have a light show, you gotta have the whole deal. I was like, ‘Why the fuck not?’
Anyway, as a band, we’ve [The Sword] always exercised our chops by doing covers of other people’s music. One time we did Master of Reality front to back in a bar. One year we did Faith No More’s The Real Thing
Yeah… that was awesome. We did ZZ Top one time… Led Zeppelin II one night…What else did we do? Oh, all kinds of stuff. But for this one [Doom Side of the Moon] I thought, ‘Let’s not just cover Floyd,’ you know? ‘Lets really fuck with it.’ I wanted to take the songs and do things that they didn’t do and also intentionally not do things that they did. “Great Gig in the Sky” is a perfect example. How do you replicate what is essentially a ‘vocal scat solo’ like that? I mean, why are you even going to try? Fuck that. Just think about it from a completely different angle.
That was how the album came about. Just me trying to decide what would be the most effective thing to do so that it played well as a record, front to back.
I was worried that either you were going to subvert the originals too much by trying to shoehorn them into the metal genre and so you have something that’s clumsy and just doesn’t work, or there’s the opposite approach: you play it too safe and you have a product that has very little intrinsic value. I mean, why bother with a carbon copy, no matter how solid, when you have the original? I’d argue that Between the Buried and Me’s take on “Us and Them” is a perfect example of the latter approach. It’s fine but stiff and far too slavish to its source material. Can you talk to me a little bit more specifically about finding that balance?
I guess I’ll start with “Us and Them” as an example. I had to think of every song in context of the laser show. I had the idea for the laser show from the very beginning. The marriage of music and visuals has always been something I’m attracted to…. The Sword tended toward this level of production and we still do stuff like that from time to time but it can be hard to justify. It’s like, ‘Yeah, you can have this great production but you’re going to blow all your money.’ For this band [Doom Side] I wanted to dabble with much more of a [pronounced] visual element and I wanted to start with it from the ground up. So with the light show in mind, when I got to “Us and Them,” I knew it had to be the show-stopper. It’s one of the best fucking songs ever written. Plus, it’s right after “Money” and also the whole finale’s coming up…”Us and Them” has to be the climax. Listening to the original… there’s not a whole lot going on with the guitars. So instead of having organs and layers of synthesizers, I just wanted it to be across the board, guitars in your face. It’s kind of hard to do that with “Us and Them” because it’s such a sparse song. The whole thing’s just like four giant verses so I mapped it out to where I start soft and then just keep building and building until it is that crazy, climactic show-stopper. Also, there’s no solo in that song… well, there’s a sax solo, but I didn’t want to do a sax solo. That’s what Floyd did. I wanted to do some crazy guitar solos.
Was that the song that you were most concerned with adapting?
Nah, I was the most concerned with “The Great Gig in the Sky.” I produced the record and I played guitar on the whole thing too, so it’s almost like when you’re acting and directing in a movie. It’s kind of hard to balance those head spaces. But with “The Great Gig in the Sky,” I didn’t play anything on it. I was literally just in the room, conducting the band and watching it all happen. The morning that we recorded it, I drove up to the studio with no idea of what we were going to do. On the schedule it said “The Great Gig in the Sky” so I knew that by the end of the day there was going to be something! I’ve learned to rely on that magic. Just let things happen naturally. The only thing I did really was just switch around the arrangement. So I just placed the two minor parts up front and placed the major jam part at the end and then I just swirled everything into sheer madness and did a reverse symbol swoop right into “Money.” It just felt right the whole time and whenever Jason [Frey] came in to do the sax solo—as opposed to the vocal scat thing on the original—he did it in one take and… it was just awesome. We were all just so fucking stoked.
How’d you go about putting together this outfit? It makes sense that you’d pull a little bit from The Sword…
Bringing in Brian [Richie] and “Jimmie” [Vela III] for me was a no-brainer. If you look at other bands like Yes or Kiss, everybody played on each other’s solo records. It just fun to do and it’s another reason to tour, I guess. So Brian and Jimmie were the best/closest resources I had. [The Sword vocalist/guitarist] JD actually lives in Ashville, NC and I thought if all The Sword was doing it, it would get billed as ‘The Sword does Pink Floyd.’ I didn’t want it to be like that, you know? As for the other guys: the singer, [Alex Marrero] he sings for Brownout and also Brown Sabbath, this Latin inspired cover band.
So how does that work in a live setting?
Umm…I don’t know yet! [laughs] We haven’t tried it! We’re all going to sing in some capacity. I’m not trying to necessarily recreate my record live, at least note for note. In the studio, I’m super anal but I’m really letting the band just do their thing live. Everybody’s going to be on fucking mushrooms anyway… fucking chilling. The live show isn’t some rigid thing. The whole thing’s just a big laser party for Pink Floyd anyway and the whole thing is on the fiftieth anniversary of their first album coming out, so it really is just a party. We’re going to jam some of the songs out a little more and I have an encore medley planned. It’ll be some tracks off of Wish You Were Here, Animals and stuff so it’ll be fun. The whole thing is just going to be a total gas.
Let’s talk about Pink Floyd covers generally. What covers have you hear that have done it right in your opinion?
That’s a good one… I mean, Melvins did “Interstellar Overdrive” but that’s really just ‘make your own noise.’ Every band’s got their own Floyd cover. I will say that part of the kindling that got this fire going in my brain was when The Sword was in Baltimore making our fourth record, Apocryphon, and I spent a lot of time going to the bar down the street after we were done recording for the day. There was a band in there one night and they busted into this weird-ass, heavy funk cover of “Have a Cigar.” I thought, ‘Woah, this shit is bad ass!’ It totally blew me away.
Yeah. Les Claypool did a really good take on “Have a Cigar.” Within the metal genre, outside of your efforts I believe Voivod have easily done the best by Floyd… “Astronomy Domine,” “Nile Song…”
Oh right! I forgot about that.
What I love about the way you approach Floyd is that occasionally there are these key changes that you simply don’t expect. On first listen to your album I kind of bristled every now and then. But it just takes massaging out that expectation and then you’re entirely accepting this new way to experience this piece.
Yeah, that’s all it was intended for. Just listen to it at a party or by yourself, smoking a joint; have fun. That’s all… It in no way’s intended to replace or in any way be better than the original.
Well, I would argue that your cover of “Money” may actually be better than the original…
[laughs embarrassedly] Hey, thanks! That means a lot…umm…
In regards to the light show: have you done a dry run of everything? Is it all mapped out?
We’re going to storyboard everything. I have a team that we’re mapping it all out with. A light guy and a projector guy. The band’s dressing head to toe in white and whiting out the stage as much as possible. Reverend Guitars has provided us with all white instruments; we’re hanging a 30′ x 20′ white backdrop behind us. As much shit as possible is going to be white so that the projections on us are as clean as possible. Kind of like going to see Tool or something. I’m going for that level of awesomeness. Also, I want as much of the stage to appear that it’s moving as is possible so that, you know, you ate some mushrooms I’m really going to fuck with you. Oh! Also, the first hundred people who get in to the show, I’m giving out these old school, light diffraction glasses to make everything look kaleidoscopic. They’ll be for sale after that if you really want ’em. I’m really trying to make it a super fun event.
I could also see, from the perspective of the band, it being kind of emotional, playing this album in this particular setting with all of those elements.
Agreed. It’s kind of crazy! We’ll see how many people show up. I took out a radio ad to promote it. I’m doing all the dumb shit you’re supposed to do; it’s all DIY, I didn’t have a label backing me or anything on this one. I didn’t want to kickstart it ’cause… I don’t know, it’s kind of like admitting defeat before you even start. I want it to appear professional and I want to do it right because Pink Floyd are professional as fuck. If you’re going to cover Floyd, you better be prepared to do it right.