A Sound of Thunder Interview
A Sound of Thunder has been entertaining the world with their unique brand of adventure style heavy metal since their inception in 2008. They were first formed by guitarist Josh Swartz and drummer Chris Haren, to be eventually joined by powerhouse vocalist Nina Osegueda in 2009. Their current lineup was finalized in 2011 when bassist Jesse Keen joined the group during the recording of their debut album “Metal Renaissance”. A Sound of Thunder is one of the most prolific metal bands on the planet, having released five full length studio albums and two EPs in the last five years. Their most recent release, “Tales From The Deadside” was released in late 2015 and has, so far, been their most successful album to date. I was able to catch up with A Sound of Thunder at the Baltimore Soundstage (and later at the Washington DC Comic Con) to discuss all the typical things you would discuss with a band… music, touring, fans, comic conventions, murder, and human sacrifice… Here is how it went:
Afternoiz: This is Joe Prostredny with Afternoiz and I’m here with the phenomenal metal band A Sound of Thunder! How are you guys all doing today?
Afternoiz: Thank you so much for talking with us today! So we’re all here tonight at the Soundstage in Baltimore, MD and you guys are getting ready to open for Delain and Sonata Arctica! Are you guys excited?
Afternoiz: Well, I’m definitely stoked! Even though you guys are relatively local to this area I always seem to be out of town when you’re playing and I’ve only seen you once at the Flight of the Valkyries 6 festival last year. You guys killed it that night and I left a huge fan!
Josh: Thank You!
Afternoiz: You guys are still touring your fifth album, “Tales from the Deadside” that was released last fall. It was a great album! It hit #8 on Billboard’s Heatseeker Charts and number one in the Southeast. Congratulations!
ASOT: Thank you!
Afternoiz: That’s not your first album to chart is it?
Nina: “A Lesser Key of Solomon” made the billboard charts but it was further behind; it was like number forty or something.
Josh: It was #43 I think.
Afternoiz: “Tales from the Deadside” is a concept album based on the Shadowman comic book character. What led you to choose that subject for an album?
Josh: I was reading the Valiant comic book series. They had been publishing for about a year. The company had just relaunched and I just thought their product, their books were really good. Shadowman is from New Orleans and he’s kind of got a black magic voodoo theme and I thought it would be a good fit for a album. If you listen to ‘House of Bones’ from “A Lesser Key of Solomon”, that could have almost been a Shadowman song. It’s kind of got that ‘Sabbathy’, creepy vibe. It seemed like a good fit.
Afternoiz: How did you end up getting permission from Valiant Entertainment to use their story for your album?
Josh: Nina and I walked up to their table at the Baltimore Comic Con and we were like, ‘Hey, we’re a band and we’d like to do something with you guys’. We gave them a copy of “Time’s Arrow” and we thought that would be it, but a week later we got a call back from their home office and they were totally into it. They’re very cool. They’re an unusual company; they’re very well-funded but they’re real down to earth.
Afternoiz: Both your album and the comics kind of left the Shadowman story off in a bit of a cliffhanger. And now it looks like Valiant is going to pick up the story again?
Josh: They actually did carry on in another title called Ninjak. They did a four issue arc of that where they continue the Shadowman story. He’s in a different place now than he was at the end of our album.
Afternoiz: Would you consider doing a follow-up depending on where that story goes?
Josh: We would, but what they’ve done with the character since the end of our album is gonna make it more difficult to do that because there’s a new writer and the cliffhanger ending was kind of jettisoned and they didn’t really follow up on it.
Afternoiz: It’s not universal, but so much subject matter in music is about relationships and emotions.
Nina: Yeah, fuck that (laughs)!
Afternoiz: (laughs) Most of your albums focus more on telling stories and taking your audience on a journey, or an escape. Which I love, because I have enough of my own emotional problems and drama, and I don’t need to hear somebody else’s…
Afternoiz: And I believe this is a direct quote from you, Nina, in regard to song subject matter: “Feelings are stupid!”
ASOT: (all laughing)
Nina: (Laughs). Yes, feelings are stupid! I don’t wanna feel things… well, I feel two things: I feel party and rage!
Afternoiz: And you do both of those things really well at the same time!
Nina: Thank you, exactly! I do like to tell stories, that’s my big thing. I like to be a storyteller, so rather than me bringing all my emotions into something, I want to tell a story that is fun. That’s just what I like to do.
Afternoiz: That leads into my next question. Some of you are self-confessed geeks and nerds, and it’s obvious with your most recent album, you draw some of your inspiration from comics. What else inspires you in your songwriting?
Unfortunately, at this point in the interview, the venue changed the time of A Sound of Thunder’s sound check and the remainder of the interview was postponed for another time. It was worth it though, because I got to see them kick ass on stage a short time later (see my review of the Sonata Arctica show on Afternoiz/Globalnoiz). Fortunately, I was able to reconnect with Nina and Josh at the Washington DC Comic Con (Awesome Con) a couple of months later, where they were actively promoting the album, “Tales From The Deadside”… displaying A Sound of Thunder merchandise, and even serenading the fans from time to time! Here is how the remainder of the interview went:
Afternoiz: This is Joe Prostredny with Afternoiz and I’m here again with Nina and Josh from A Sound of Thunder! The last time we were together they were kicking ass performing at the Baltimore Sound Stage but now we’re here at the DC comic convention… Awesome Con! What are you guys doing here?
Nina: We are selling our music and we are selling our wares because our last album ‘Tales from the Deadside’ is based on a comic book so we’ve been going to all the local conventions and setting up an artist alley and hanging out with all the artists because the people here… they tend to be our people. So it’s worked out pretty good!
Afternoiz: Well I like going to comic conventions and I see a lot of my people here too! But you’re actually the first band I’ve ever seen at a comic convention. I’d like to see more, it’s pretty cool! I’ve seen you playing some songs and entertaining the people here.
Josh: I’m surprised other bands haven’t done it yet, but it just seems that comics and metal are such a natural marriage.
Nina: Yeah, I think you have to have an in. We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t have an album based on a comic book. It wouldn’t make any sense, but since we do it works!
Afternoiz: The last time we were talking, our interview got interrupted with your sound check.
Nina: Yes! (laughs)
Afternoiz: We were discussing your inspirations and we kind of went through the most recent album and the fact that you guys are geeks and nerds and inspired by that. I’d asked a question of what else inspired you and Nina you said “history”… and that’s where we got cut off. You didn’t get to expand on that so if we could get back to that question.
Nina: Sure, definitely! I love history. It’s inspiring to me because history is super brutal and some horrible and incredible things happened… a lot of which people don’t know about. So I like finding those really incredible stories and putting them to song… because I think if people did know about it, they would be surprised.
Afternoiz: Any examples?
Nina: For example, I don’t think a lot of people know how brutal the Aztecs were. I think people have an idea of how brutal they were but in general I don’t think they really understand. For example, there was a rain God called Tlaloc and in order to make it rain they would take baby girls and throw them down a well because it was said that their crying brought the rain. So, that’s pretty brutal and I don’t think people realize that it actually happened.
Afternoiz: Did it work?
Nina: Who knows! I mean it rains a lot (laughs).
Josh: Well, the Aztecs aren’t here anymore…
Afternoiz: Unless anything has changed since the last time we talked, you’re still an unsigned band, correct?
Josh: I prefer [the term] “not signed”; we refuse to sign to this point.
Afternoiz: “Independent” is probably a better term. Your last several albums have been funded by very successful Kickstarter crowd funding campaigns which I think says a lot about how devoted your fans are!
Nina: Oh yeah! Definitely!
Afternoiz: I’m not sure if this is a trend, but I’ve actually seen some bands dump their labels and go to crowd funding because it gives them so much more control over their music. So… you may have answered this question already, Josh… but, if a major label came waving a contract at you, would you consider it?
Josh: It would really depend on the contract. I’m gonna get on my high horse for a second, because it’s frustrating that people still think of us as unsigned, like we haven’t made it to a label because the fact is that if you get on Nuclear Blast… Nuclear Blast is the biggest metal label in the world. If you’re an entry-level band on Nuclear Blast, they’re gonna give you a loan, not give you the money. They’re gonna give you a loan that’s $15,000. Our fans through the crowd funding have already put us at the same level as a mid-tier band on Nuclear Blast. So why would we wanna go and be an entry-level band where we’re gonna get a loan with crappy payback terms and we’re also gonna lose control over our music when our fans are willing to basically give us everything. We get to control our music and do exactly what we want. Nobody can tell us ‘that song doesn’t go on the album because it doesn’t fit’ or something like that. We get to choose our own release date and our own album artwork. So we would need to get a really good offer from a label.
Afternoiz: That makes total sense!
Josh: We have a label; it’s our fans!
Afternoiz: Absolutely, that’s great! Like most bands, you started local and went fairly quickly regional. Now you’re touring all over the country. Have you played internationally yet?
Nina: We played in Canada once and it was wonderful. We’d love to play Europe. That’s kind of the dream right now. I’m trying to make it happen but the problem is… since we’re not on a label we don’t have a lot of pull. Even though we get on German magazines and we get reviewed in Germany and we have lots of fans overseas… unfortunately it’s very hard for people to take us seriously over there if you’re not on a label, even though we have more control over our stuff.
Afternoiz: I don’t know if you realize, but you’re actually being interviewed by a Greek magazine right now! Well it’s kind of international but it’s based in Athens, Greece.
Nina: That’s pretty international and works for me! That kicks ass! (asks Josh) We’ve shipped to Greece before, Yeah?
Josh: We’ve shipped lots to Greece, yes!
Nina: Unfortunately when we ship overseas it’s super expensive. So one of the other things that we need to figure out is we need more European distributors so that our fans don’t have to pay so much for shipping costs. We don’t want to charge them that much and it’s very expensive to ship from the US. So we want to make things easier. If there’s any distributors in Europe who would like to distribute our stuff, we do have fans [over there]!
Afternoiz: Unfortunately, I don’t have any connections….
Nina: I know…. Just putting the word out!
Afternoiz: So, how big do you want to get?
Nina: As big as possible!
Josh: I think we’re realistic. If we wanted to get mainstream big we wouldn’t be playing the kind of music we’re playing.
Nina: Exactly, yeah…
Josh: But for us, I think a good goal is mid-tier on Wacken or something like that.
Nina: That would be the dream, yeah…
Josh: It’s so hard for new bands to break through. Sabaton, I think is the best example of a newer band, but even they have been around long enough that they’ve kind of had the benefit of the old music distribution system.
Afternoiz: Plus they [Sabaton] are from Europe…
Nina: It’s hard for American bands.
Afternoiz: Heavier music is, for whatever reason… still hasn’t got quite the following here as it does in Europe. It’s a lot more massive in Europe.
Nina: Yeah, I agree.
Josh: We’re looking into some other avenues because, so much of the band revolves around storytelling and we’re looking at an animated sequel to ‘Udoroth’ and possibly some kind of ongoing things. So it’s ideas that are fun for us but also might help us reach more people. So many people are conditioned now that music is not something that they pay for.
Nina: You have to find other ways…
Afternoiz: Yeah, I can remember when concert tickets for arena shows were $7, and now they’re $170, because bands aren’t making money on the recorded music anymore, so they have to make it on the live shows…
Nina: …yeah, yeah…
Josh: So, we sold 1800 copies of ‘Tales from the Deadside’ last fall when it came out which felt great and it was good that it put us above some other label bands for the week it came out. But the ‘Udoroth’ animated video has like 230,000 views so there’s a hundred times as many people getting our songs that way. Really, at the end of the day, I just want people to hear our music. I’m not in it for the money, I want to write cool songs and I want people to hear them.
Afternoiz: There always seem to be a rough spot as bands are growing and I don’t know if you guys are hitting it yet or not. When they’re not big enough to be completely financially supported by the music, but they’re touring so much it’s hard to hold down a day job. Any thoughts on what would happen in that situation?
Nina: Well if it was gonna get in the way of our day job, it would have to have a really good payout. Because, we know that we’re not making any profit right now. Breaking even is the [current] goal. If we were going to quit our jobs, it would have to be for a really, really good reason (laughs).
Josh: Between the four of us in the band we have two mortgages, five pets, three spouses, and car payments. Honestly, working and doing the band outside of work is giving us more freedom to do what we wanna do.
Josh: Because we’re not like most of the people we know in bands who are broke as fuck (laughs).
Nina: And living in a van half the year.
Afternoiz: In addition to your headlining shows, you’ve opened for some pretty big national and international acts. In the beginning of this interview, I was talking with you before the Sonata Arctica and Delain show. You’ve also opened for Doro, I think you’ve opened for Sabaton?
Nina: Oh yes, several times! (laughs)
Afternoiz: Who else have you opened for?
Nina: We’ve opened for Accept. I opened for HammerFall and Edguy a long time ago… the last time they were in the US basically.
Josh: Firewind, Nashville Pussy, and Green Jello.
Nina: That was a long time ago (laughs)!
Josh: Manilla Road.
Afternoiz: What that with A Sound of Thunder, or…
Nina: I was in another band. My last gig with that band was opening for HammerFall and Edguy and it worked out for me because those guys are like my heroes. That was amazing!
Afternoiz: A Sound of Thunder has also been a very prolific band musically. In this day and age, most bands only put out albums every 2-3 years, but you’ve pretty much released one every year since 2011.
Josh: One album a year plus, because we’ve done a couple of EP’s. ‘Tales from the Deadside’ came out the end of September. Our next album, which is a covers album, has been done since last summer and we’re just about to finish the next album. The album of original material that will come out after the covers album. It’s probably gonna be done before the covers album comes out.
Afternoiz: I’ve seen some stuff about you working in the studio. Is there much you can tell us about it yet?
Josh: ‘Time’s Arrow’ was, I would consider, kind of our breakout album. It was a bit quicker paced and brighter. And because we were doing an album a year, we don’t want to do the same album every time. And also we need to stretch out a bit for our own entertainment and intellectual reasons. But we did ‘Time’s Arrow’ [which was] bright, quick, and pretty basic metal. We followed that up with ‘A Lesser Key of Solomon’ which is very dark, moody, and atmospheric. We followed that up with ‘Tales from the Deadside’ which is dark again and a little slower pace and heavier/doomier. The next original album which will be out in 2017 is back to pretty fast, straight-ahead metal.
Afternoiz: …and brighter?…about flowers and daisies?… (laughs)
Nina: No! Murder… More murder… (laughs) We have to stay metal! Josh: Sci-fi and history and the average tempo on that album will be our fastest one we’ve ever done. Basically the one you want to put in your car and crank it…
Afternoiz: …and get a speeding ticket! (laughs).
Nina: Yes!, yes! Josh: … and get a speeding ticket, yeah!
Nina: And let me spread some rumors here. We have a very special vocal guest and I won’t say who it is, but it made me very happy!
Afternoiz: Ok! Well, we’ll wait and see… it will give us something more to look forward to!! I know you did a Kickstarter for ‘Tales from the Deadside’. I didn’t see one for this coming album.
Josh: No, the covers album was partially funded by ‘The Lesser Key of Solomon’ Kickstarter. We weren’t planning to do a covers album at this stage in our career. But we got several backers that chose songs from ‘The Lesser Key of Solomon’ Kickstarter; that was three songs. And then we way overshot our goals so as a stretch goal we said that each band member would pick three songs that we could cover and the fans would vote. From the three songs from each band member, the fans voted for one each so that put us up to seven songs. By that point we were already more than half an album in so we said let’s just do a covers album.
Afternoiz: So there will be a Kickstarter for the new material album?
Josh: There will be. We’d like to get as far as we can on our own steam so we can have something to present. Hopefully will have cover art and a title and… if not finished mixes, very close to finished.
Nina: We kind of use the Kickstarter more to pay ourselves back rather than to fund the whole album. And also for the manufacturing. We try to get as far as we can on our own and then ask our fans.
Josh: So basically we run up our credit cards (laughs). And the manufacturing is also a big part of it because when we do vinyl and CD’s and t-shirts and all the stuff that goes along with it. Plus the shipping and the mastering comes at the end to pay off the balance of the record. Most of the expense is at the end.
Nina: Manufacturing is surprisingly expensive and we’re actually just running out of ‘A Lesser Key of Solomon’ CD’s. We’re almost out right now. So that’s a big one for us because that means we’ve sold almost 1000 units.
Josh: We had 1500 of that one.
Nina: So almost 1500 sold!
Afternoiz: Well, I really looking forward to the new album, and really looking forward to the next time I can see you guys on stage! But, our time together… this time… is coming to an end! Is there anything else you would like to say to your fans before we leave you?
Josh: Thank you to everybody listening! Thank you to everybody in Greece!
Nina: Yes, thank you to everybody in Europe! And thank you for interviewing us! We really appreciate it!
Afternoiz: Thank you! So much!