EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH IRON THRONES GUITARIST STEVE HENNINGSGARD
At this point Scion No Label Needed Contest winners Iron Thrones need no introduction. Their resulting debut full-length The Wretched Sun is fantastic, and you should check it out immediately if you haven’t already done so. We’re really happy that the band that won this contest is actually deserving of all the attention.
I caught up with Iron Thrones guitarist Steve Henningsgard via phone at the end of July when the band had just set out on their first East Coast tour with Last Chance to Reason. We spoke about the contest, the attention it’s brought them, the new album, working with a real producer, and the challenges and long road ahead the band still faces. Our chat after the jump.
What up, Steve? So you guys just kicked off this tour, right? Where was that and how was it?
Yeah, first day was yesterday. Chicago at the Double Door. The venue was good. The headliner was good. There weren’t a hell of a lot of people there, but it was kind of a last minute booked thing. It’s kind of difficult to get people out at the last minute or in general anyway, I guess.
Yeah. What are your expectations for this tour? This is your first tour that is of this length and magnitude, right?
Yeah, we’ve done a couple of long weekends and week and a half-long things in the Midwest area or just around where we live. This is the first time that we’ve really gone out to the East or West Coast, in this case the East Coast. We’ve gone way past where our comfort zone is, I guess. When you start going to new places, it’s going to be your first show in that town, so as far as anybody’s concerned, it’s your first show ever. It’s an honor to get people to go to your first show ever regardless. It’s the slogging it out part of being a touring band, but I think it’s really good for the band — it gets us on our feet, gets us really ready for anything else or any other opportunities that might come about.
Ideally we’re having local bands that have some sort of draw headline or at the very least, bands that are similar genres that are good dudes. Like last night there wasn’t much of a draw, but the band that we played with, The Alaya Conscious or something. I’m not really sure of the name, but they were really good. It’s fun to be able to actually enjoy the bands that you’re playing with out there. I’m pretty sure we’ll get stuck headlining at some point, but these are all booked by our booking agent that seems to know what he’s doing as far as lineups. Hopefully we don’t get stuck in the end slot after all the bands other friends have left. [Laughs]
These guys [your touring partners] Last Chance to Reason, I actually had not heard of them and just checked out some of their music yesterday or the day before. I thought it was really fucking cool stuff. What are those guys like?
They’re really cool dudes. We only spent a day with them so far, but they’re definitely dudes we can hang out with. To be honest, I like their stuff recorded but you have to see this band live. I don’t know if they’re always as good as they were last night, but they blew my mind. Their singer is a really killer vocalist. It’s something that you really have to watch. Their stuff is not insanely technical, but it’s definitely hard stuff to play and hard stuff to really get right. They’re tight as shit right now. [Laughs] It’s really impressive to watch.
That’s awesome. I wanted to ask you about the Scion No Label Needed contest and your thoughts now that it’s basically over. What was your impression of the whole thing?
It was definitely kind of . . . it still isn’t easy for us to get a real handle on everything that’s happened. It’s still kind of finishing up happening. When you’re a band that doesn’t really . . . we know we play stuff that’s not super popular or what most people are listening to these days. It’s interesting to be a part of a contest that is kind of geared towards what we’re doing ourselves anyway — that D.I.Y. independent thing. It’s been really cool. I don’t know if it’s exclusive to the metal genre because that’s what I’ve been immersed in, but it seems that everybody on every level of metal are really cool, down to earth people — people that really enjoy music. It’s nice to know that at least up to the level that we’ve gotten that everyone is still just genuine people. It makes it easier to talk to people you don’t know, knowing that in general people have that kind of personality. It’s been wild though. It’s been really weird to be a part of it.
Would you say that it’s been a positive experience for the band?
Oh absolutely. There are obviously positives and negatives to anything, but really it’s been almost entirely positive. Anything that didn’t go exactly as we planned, we at least learned from it. The whole radio promotion aspect of it, we’d never been able to afford or have access to somebody that knew what they were doing with that or a company that can do that. That’s been really interesting to have radio interviews on tour. It’s just odd. It’s fun. It’s kind of like in some aspects that the band jumped up and skipped a couple of levels. Another aspect, we’re still the same nobody band that has to slog it out and hopefully try to build a fan base somewhere.
Do you feel that winning this contest has helped gain visibility for the band especially on the internet front?
Yeah, absolutely. The internet thing really couldn’t be going much better for us. We’re getting on things like MetalSucks (obviously). It’s really cool to have you guys actually interested in what we’re doing, and all sorts of other random websites that we either never would have thought would be interested in that kind of stuff, and fans everywhere just coming to us out of nowhere because of either reviews, articles or blurbs about the contest. Things couldn’t really be going better for us online. It’s just trying to get the online world turn into the real world that’s been proving difficult.
Yeah. Well it’ll happen. It just takes time. It certainly isn’t instant. You guys aren’t one of those Myspace bands that gets hundreds of thousands of plays – that’s not your thing. It’s more of an organic kind of build for you guys even if there was some help through this contest.
Yeah, and I absolutely think that for bands like us that are actually doing it because we enjoy the music and whatnot, it’s better from a career building standpoint to go through all the steps. Like you were saying on Myspace a band that all of a sudden has 50,000 – 100,000 plays a day and then when it’s time to start touring, it could be good to have all that much stuff especially if they’re a genre that really needs to hit right away like something that is popular. But on the flipside I think there’s a lot of things that happen once things aren’t going your way that build character that’ll get you through tough times. When all of a sudden your music isn’t popular anymore, we’ve been through that already. [Laughs]
So if something ends up going well for us, we already know the things that don’t go so well. Whereas a super young band that just all of a sudden hits, it’s so difficult for them to even build a career out of it because they didn’t go through the career building stage. They’re just all of a sudden huge.
Have you ever gotten recognized [for the Scion contest] at shows so far? I realize that it’s early in the tour, but people coming up to you and saying “oh you guys are that band that won the Scion contest”?
Last night we actually had one of the guys interning at Heavy Hitter, and he was apparently a big fan of the band. Heavy Hitter is one of the companies doing the radio promotions for us and also managing Last Chance to Reason. He just, out of the blue, came up and said “hey you guys. I really, really dig your stuff. I’ve been following you all through the contest and whatnot.” Hopefully we’ll find some more of those people, just like you said. Translating from online to real life is really what it’s going to be about for the next year or so is my guess.
Yeah, definitely. Do you feel like there is any negative stigma attached to being associated with a big corporation like Scion?
We kind of worried about it, but really when most people listen to our music they realize we weren’t your typical contest-winning band. Let’s face it, lots and lots of contests that go on, you know exactly the kind of band that’s going to win. You know it’s going to happen, they’re just going to spark and flash in the pan and disappear and they’re going to be super generic and whatnot. I think when people saw that a band like us — just a nobody band playing really weird music, I think people realized that maybe this contest is legit. We really haven’t had any backlash that we’ve ever heard. There’s been 1 or 2 people that have mentioned the Scion thing but it’s always followed by “this band is pretty good”. Nothing really negative so far.
Let’s talk about the record a little bit. What was it like recording with Will Putney, and was that different than anything you’ve done before and if so, how?
I don’t know about the other guys necessarily, but I’ve never worked with anybody else recording. I have been recording my own band since before I had any idea what the hell I was doing. Our first record, we self-recorded and that’s kind of what we were planning on doing this next time around. Then, like you said, all of a sudden we’re working with Will Putney out in Jersey. He’s a real producer-type producer. He actually gets his hands dirty with the production and really digs into the songs and makes sure that we’re not shorting ourselves on any part. It was a real eye-opening experience. Most people don’t necessarily get the chance to work with a producer, especially not this early in their career. Just to be privy to the big differences between the D.I.Y. getting-out-and-recording-when-you-can atmosphere vs. we have 2 weeks to get this done, I’m in charge and let’s do it. All of a sudden spending 16 hours a day for 2 weeks recording and then going home trying to figure out what the hell just happened is definitely a little different from the first time around. It was weird but good.
Yeah. We went through a couple of mix revisions because we never really had a chance to sit and talk with him exactly about which things we forcefully wanted to be a certain way and which things he could kind of do his thing on. There were some difference of opinion originally on it, but I think it turned out pretty well. We’re really happy with it. Being a super picky band, there’s always going to be stuff that you want to change. Like there are so many things about our first record that we want to change sound-wise as well. I think no matter what, whether we do it or someone else does it, we’re still going to be picky bastards about it. [Laughs] We’re really . . . especially after we had a while to sit and listen to it because, like I said, everything happened so quickly it was almost like we didn’t know the record we made. Like we had no idea how it would actually sound because we had to record so fast and so much. If you record yourself, you get to really know the songs as you’re recording them, so by the end of it you really know how it’s going to sound. Now that we’ve had some time to live with it and realize what a cool piece of work it is, we’re really excited about it.
Awesome. What do you guys have coming up next after this tour? Are there any plans for another tour or anything like that?
Yeah. On this tour we’re realizing the importance of having a local fan base just so you can start off around where you’re from and get a few kids out to the show to fund the not-so-great shows. We’ve tried. We played a whole bunch but we really need to focus on getting our Midwest following before we branch out too much. We’re going to do a Midwest thing in October, and we got another tour we’re working on in November in just about the same area we’re going now with. Totally different band and different booking atmosphere, so we’ll see if it goes a little better or a little worse. You never know until you try it.
That’s cool. Can you tell us what that is?
I don’t think it’s necessarily official yet. It’s with a young band (not necessarily in age) but a small band on a larger indie that just contacted us. A large indie asked if we want to get together on it. It’ll be announced pretty soon once we start booking it. We’re just kind of keeping it under wraps until after this tour because we can’t focus on it necessarily to make sure the dates are working or anything. It should be pretty fun. I guess it’ll be around the same area. We’ll obviously announce it when we have actual dates and some stuff booked. After that we’re going to work on new material and hopefully get another full-length out sometime next year.
Thanks for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it. I really love the album. I think it’s awesome. You guys definitely deserved to win that contest. So congratulations. Lastly, I will see you in person on Monday [August 2nd] at the Brooklyn show.
Yeah, for sure, man. I’d really like to say that it’s been cool to have… especially you guys and other people in the contest really seem to dig the choice you made with us winning the contest and whatnot. It could have easily been the other way around where everyone is annoyed and doesn’t really care, but it really seems like people dig what we’re doing. I really appreciate it.