Interview: Tann from Ironsword
Ironsword have long been hailed as one of the greatest epic metal bands in the tradition of the mighty Manilla Road. Formed as a solo project by guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Tann in 1995, Ironsword haven’t missed a step across the decades, and their best material is up there as some of absolute most killer stuff of the ’00s. After some years of low activity, Ironsword have ramped up again and released their fifth studio album Servants of Steel earlier this year.
Good evening, Tann! Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions. As we speak, Ironsword has entered its 25th years of existence. Will you and the band do anything to commemorate this?
Probably not. To be honest we never really thought about it. I mean we are all aware of the 25th anniversary, but since we are so focused and committed in promoting the new album, that date became less important. The release of the new album is more than enough for us to celebrate.
Ironsword has since the very start served as an outlet for your fascination with the works of Robert E. Howard. When did you first discover his fiction, and why did it have such an enduring impact on you? What does the Hyborian world mean to you?
During my teenage years I was so fascinated by “Savage Sword of Conan” comics. The stories were so appealing and Conan seemed more natural and human than other Marvel and DC Comics characters, which relied more on superpowers etc.
Only several years later I found the original Robert E. Howard stories reprinted and that was a whole different level. To me, Robert E. Howard will always be regarded as the father of Sword & Sorcery.
Though you talked in some of your oldest interviews about the wide variety of topics you enjoy singing about, you followed up your debut album with a conceptual one. What made you decide to adopt such focus? Would you ever write another concept album?
Well, all this Robert E. Howard thing became somehow our trademark and every album can be considered conceptual. I try to incorporate other topics on the lyrics that can range from mythology, ancient civilizations or philosophy, but in the end it all comes to being faithful to the ideology behind Robert E. Howard’s work.
In more recent discussion, you have a new album coming out in a couple of weeks. Even without the lyrics in front of me it’s obvious that you focus a lot on some of the Conan short stories in it; what drove this return to Cimmeria?
Like I’ve said before, all our lyrics are Robert E. Howard-themed but I always try different approaches. On the “None But the Brave” album, I picked up parts from several Howard stories, from other characters like King Kull, Cormac Mac Art, Bran Mak Morn and turned it into a fictional Conan tale. This time however for “Servants of Steel”, I decided to do real adaptations of several of the most famous original Howard stories.
Overlords of Chaos ended up being a double-LP, and easily remains the longest Ironsword album. Was this an experiment with length, or a natural result of your songwriting at the time? Why did you decide to go back to briefer albums after it?
It just happened that way. I always aim for the 45 minutes duration maximum. That is something I always keep in mind when writing material for a new album. I prefer briefer albums but sometimes I get carried away in the studio and add something extra to a song or sometimes I just miscalculate. It just happens and if it sounds great, I don’t bother at all. Anyway, I never went beyond the 60 or 70 minutes long, that is when I think you take the risk of becoming boring.
To talk some more about it, what made you decide to leave The Miskatonic Foundation for Overlords of Chaos? How was it working with Shadow Kingdom Records, and how did you get in touch with Tim in the first place? Is “The Shadow Kingdom,” off of None but the Brave a reference to that same label, who also released that album?
Several months after the release of “Return of the Warrior”, Rich Walker from The Miskatonic Foundation told me we should sign to a bigger label because he had done everything possible to support us and there was nothing more he could do. Tim was always a great fan of our work and he was starting the label. The truth is that back then there weren’t too many labels interested and I would rather work with someone that is a fan of our music than just being another band in some label’s catalogue. Again, Tim has done everything possible to support the band. About the song “The Shadow Kingdom”, that was just a coincidence. It’s not a reference to our former label. The song is inspired by Howard’s tale with the same title.
These days you’re working with Alma Mater Records, which is run by your old bandmates from Moonspell. Did it feel like a return of sorts to work with the same people again so closely after all of these years? How did the decision come about to work with them?
We never lost contact and do get along quite well. When Fernando from Moonspell decided to start his own label, Ironsword was always one of the Portuguese bands he was highly interested in signing. He always saw huge potential in us and admired our dedication and passion for music and our loyalty to the fans. So, when they made us a deal it was almost impossible to refuse. Their undying support and professionalism have been quite overwhelming.
Even outside of your stint in Moonspell, you played in a variety of extreme bands for years before reducing your focus to Ironsword. Do you still have any interest in extreme metal?
Only 80s Black, Death and Thrash Metal! Stuff like Venom, Death or Celtic Frost mainly….
Has it ever been a challenge to maintain creativity over the years?
To be honest, it is always a challenge to write new stuff and maintain creativity and quality. I always try to make our music interesting and still refreshing to my ears before our dedicated supporters. Those who’ve been following the band already realized that we don’t like to repeat the same formula over and over. Our goal is always to re-invent our own style at each release without losing our own identity. “Servants of Steel” is definitely the most challenging album to date, at least in my humble opinion.
In what remains the longest gap ever for Ironsword, it took some seven years to go from Overlords of Chaos to None but the Brave. What happened in the years between? Your entire lineup was changed in those years, with only yourself remaining; is there anything you miss from the past member configurations, and what led to the most recent split in the first place?
Well, contrary to popular belief, the band has never split up. The other members left maybe due to lack of interest or different goals and decided to focus more on their own projects. By that time, I also became seriously ill and took more time for me to recover than expected, so I had to put the band on hold. I just kept doing interviews and composing new material before “None But the Brave” was released.
Ironsword is and has long been a three piece, regardless of who fills it out. What are some advantages to operating that way? Do you ever miss four-member lineups?
I am so used of working as a power trio that I don’t see the other way around! I just don’t see any advantages of having a second guitar player or quit singing and add a singer. If it works well and feel comfortable with it, why should we change?!
The first few years of Ironsword were done as a solo project with a drum machine. Were there any advantages to that, even in the face of the disadvantages of not being able to rehearse, gig, or use a real drummer?
Only disadvantages, but Ironsword was a one-man-band in the first few years because I was forced to work that way. Most of the people I knew already had their own projects and had no interest or availability to play in another band. I wasn’t going to wait forever. That’s why I used a drum machine on the first demo and played drums myself on the second demo. I’ve always embraced the “do it yourself” mentality.
Manilla Road has always been an obvious influence to Ironsword, and one you haven’t shied away from. How did you first meet Mark Shelton, and how did he come to sing on some of your music?
I met Mark Shelton personally when they played in Athens for the first time. Prior to that, we already had exchanged a few emails. We kept in contact over the years and shared the stage too many times. I guess It was the band we’ve played most with. I was always respectful towards him and his music. When we were recording “Overlords of Chaos”, I just asked him if he wanted to do some guest vocals on the album and he kindly agreed. It was a dream of mine come true.
Beyond the musical worship in the Shelton tribute, did you have any part of the organization? How did you end up as a part of it? Do you have any words to share about the metal hero?
A couple of days after Mark Shelton passed away, I got a call from Bryan and basically explained me about the tribute they wanted to do at Keep It True, and he wanted me to play guitar and sing some songs. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years. That’s how I ended up taking part of it. Mark was a genius and maybe ahead of its time. His passion for Heavy Metal and music in general was unquestionable. His resilience was always an inspiration for underground bands like us.
Your barbarous singing style fits well the rough and powerful music that Ironsword plays, forsaking neither power nor catchy vocal lines to fit the band. Do you have any particular favorite vocal performances from past Ironsword records, looking back?
Hmm…favorite vocal performances…that’s a tough question, let me see…the chorus from songs like “Beginning of the End”, “Nemedian Chronicles” and “Dragons of the Sea”, all vocal parts I shared with Mark on the “Overlords of Chaos” album, the chorus and the verse before the guitar solo on “Forging the Sword”. I’m sure I’m missing more parts but those are the ones that crossed my mind first.
You have in the past been a strong proponent of old Portuguese metal, hailing underground bands such as Alkateya, V12, and numerous others. Are there any newer bands from your country that you feel carry on this spirit?
Yes, bands like Dawnrider, The Unholy, Wanderer, Lyzzard, Ravensire, Midnight Priest and a few others. Although Portugal was never a popular country in the underground scene.
In recent years Ironsword has played live only infrequently, and still hasn’t made it overseas to the States. Will live activity abroad ever ramp up?
We already had proposals to play in the States and in South America, but it’s quite expensive for promoters. Although we enjoy this underground cult status, the truth is that we’re still relatively unknown for the public in general. We really hope with bigger distribution and promotion we do get the chance to play in other countries we have never played before.
Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about or promote?
Thank you very much for all your support. I invite everyone to listen to our new album “Servants of Steel” if you like Heavy Metal and if you enjoy bands that don’t follow the trend!