It tends to feel good in a story when the hero wins, especially when real life is as dire and depressing as it has been the last few years. A great tale of valorous protagonists taking on ultimate evil and coming out with the upper hand may be the best way to grab an actual victory these days. In the real world, too often the good guys fail and evil is allowed to roll on unchecked. Hell, it can be tough in reality to even discern heroes from villains. In the world of Lords of the Trident, both on and off their record, it’s very clear who the noble characters are and who you should be rooting for.
Formed in Madison, Wisconsin in 2008, Lords of the Trident has been playing their style of catchy, memorable power metal for more than a decade now. On their various releases, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the battle between good and evil and to find yourself cheering along as justice wins out in the end. In real life, Lords of the Trident aren’t any harder to root for. Throughout their career, Lords of the Trident have remained fiercely independent and done things their own way. Thanks to Kickstarters, a Patreon campaign, Youtube series, and generally being nice dudes, the band has fostered a loyal community of diehard fans and converts. Earlier this month, the band released The Offering, the strongest LP yet from the group. I recently caught up with vocalist Fang VonWrathenstein (Ty Christian) via Zoom for an extensive chat about the band’s history, the new record, staying independent for so many years, and what he feels the band’s responsibility to its fans is. Read part one below and stay tuned for part two tomorrow where we dig more into the new record and what fans can expect from the band in the future!
First off, what got you into metal in the first place?
Fang: I’m not as much of a dyed in the wool metalhead as a lot of people that you probably talk to. I’ve been playing in bands forever but most of the bands I was in, up through the band in college right before Lords of the Trident, were kind of alternative rock or funk, kind of like a Pearl Jam or Red Hot Chili Peppers kind of deal. It wasn’t until Aki (Akira Shimada), Asian Metal, one of our two lead guitarists, not until we roomed together in college that I sort of became a metalhead via osmosis. We’d be studying and he’d have his computer on one side and I’d have my computer on the other side and he’d say “Can I play some music?” and I’d say sure. He’d start playing Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio and I’d say, “Oh, what’s that? That’s a cool song.” Then he’d say “Iron Maiden.” Eventually I just sort of realized that I really like heavy metal, it’s cool. So I got to the game a little later than most people who are in hardcore, full time bands.
As far as favorite artists, things change and morph as you get older but I still really do love Dio, I think he’s probably my favorite singer in heavy metal. I love most of the Dio albums, especially Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath. I love your standard, Maiden and Priest. In terms of newer bands, we’re real big fans of Scar Symmetry, love that band. Per Nillson actually crashed our pizza party once in California. We’re in our AirBnB and the doorbell rings and I open up the door and Per Nillson is standing there. I’m like “Hi…Per Nillson.” He’s like “I hear you guys have some pizza, would you like to share the pizza?” I’m like “Per Nillson, you can have whatever you want, come in, please! Did you bring a guitar?” He was very nice. We listen to all sorts of different genres in the band. We’re really into synthwave, really love The Midnight. Huge fan of those guys. Also, in terms of other metal bands, I gotta talk about my New Wave of Nice Metal Buds Seven Kingdoms, love those guys, Æther Realm, the band Mega Colossus out of North Carolina are one of my favorite metal bands coming up in the scene. We tend to sort of bounce around from album to album quite a bit.
So after you were converted to metal fandom, what made you want to start a metal band?
Fang: It was kind of an accident. I was rooming with Aki and I had my band going well, or I guess well for college band standards. It was functional and we got to practice, one of those things. We ended up meeting a guy who was in the same dorm who was from my hometown, who I’d never met, and he was a couple years younger. Aki is an absolutely crazy shredder but this guy was leaps and bounds on another tier from anybody that we’d ever seen and we became friends. He’d come over and jam in the dorm with little practice amps. I’d be sitting there playing video games and they’d be jamming and doing their stuff. One night I get a tap on my shoulder and they say “Hey Ty, we have a riff idea, a song idea, can you record this on your computer?” I say that I don’t know but maybe, probably. We were up until like three in the morning, we had a couple microphones and were sitting there figuring out how to do this. It sounded horrible. I still have this demo from back in the day, but we had so much fun doing it. I think at like 2:30 in the morning, we rounded up all the dudes who were still awake on our floor and we had them pile into our dorm room and shout “Die!” “Fight!” The residence hall liaison dude had to come by and say “Guys, you can’t scream die at the top of your lungs at 2:30 in the morning, I don’t know why I have to tell you this.” At some point, during the process of recording this demo, they said we need lyrics and someone to sing on it and said “Ty, you’re a singer, go!” I said that I’m not a metal singer but they said you can go “Waaaaaaaaa” in a high voice and stuff. They literally put headphones on me and hit record. Now I’m in front of a microphone and, I will say that I did own a Manowar DVD at the time, so I looked at that Manowar DVD and went “Ok, what would Manowar do?” So at two in the morning, whatever weird thought diarrhea fell out of my brain ended up being the lyrics to that song and they’re still the lyrics to that song to this day. We had so much fun doing that.
We posted this up on Facebook and didn’t think much else of it. We kept getting together every couple of weeks and writing a riff and having fun. We thought it was just going to be something we did, like a little recording project or whatever. Then my college band was breaking up, I took a victory lap because I was on my fifth year, I did a triple major, so my college band was sort of breaking up around year five. I didn’t have anything to do musically, so Aki and I decided, let’s do a fun couple shows as Lords of the Trident over the summer, just for fun. By show three or four we ended up selling out a place and people were yelling the lyrics and singing along and I’m just sitting here like “Why? How? What is going on?” This never happened, never happened with any of my other bands. We were flabbergasted down in the basement green room of this venue in Madison after a show and we (were) all looking at each other like, “So…we keep going I guess?” That’s how it all happened very random and happenstance type of stuff. Thirteen years later and we are touring Japan this year.
How did you guys decide on the band name?
Fang: I wish I had a better story for this one, honestly. It was a 2 a.m. thing, maybe it was a 3 a.m. thing. We were done with this first demo and were going to post it to Facebook and we didn’t want to say, like, Ty, Aki, and Brian as the artists. We’d just made this big, stupid, Manowar-esque, “through the night, through the dawn of time!” kind of thing so we felt we needed a big, stupid name. They were like, “Ty, name us” and I’m like, “Uh, Lords of the Trident Unite!” so we were Lords of the Trident Unite for a while and then everybody kept saying Trident practice or that they were going to go see Trident, so we ended up just dropping Unite from the name. There’s an Easter egg though that most of our nomenclature in terms of our file structure and how things are stored on our computer, it still says LOTTU.
And then how did you end up as Fang VonWrathenstein?
Fang: A lot of the names were just random 3 a.m. things. Fang was a nickname that my dad called his sister because in that side of our family, we all have very large canine teeth, naturally, so all of my family has all of these big ole meaty chonker teeth. I don’t know, I always thought that was a fun thing. She hated that nickname but I always thought that was a sweet-ass nickname.
You said you had been singing for a while. What got you into doing vocals originally?
Fang: I grew up in a pretty musical family. My grandparents had a polka band that played to standing room only. They were very popular. My mom, although she didn’t like to admit it, had two gold records from her stint as an accordionist with an all-accordion orchestra…sixty accordions and they toured Europe. She hated talking about the fact that she was in an accordion orchestra because she was into extreme sports. Back in the early ’90s, you didn’t want to go brag that you were in an accordion band so she kept that under wraps.
We always sort of had music playing in the house, LPs, and there was always a focus on, at least from the time I was seven or eight, music education. I would take piano classes and apparently I would just sing in daycare constantly, to the point where people would say “Please tell him to stop singing ‘Day O!’ for six hours.” I always, I don’t know, really enjoyed singing from the time I couldn’t remember and I guess I had a knack for it.
When I started doing piano lessons they put me in vocal lessons with the same person. It was just a thing that I always could do and loved to do. I could always also do voices. Vocal stuff is something that’s kind of been more natural to me. As time went on, I was always looking for something more and more challenging to sing. I always loved singing the really hard stuff at karaoke just to see if I could do it. That (mentality is) obviously the perfect fit for metal because metal and opera are the two things that are hard to do and do well and now that’s what I’m doing. I’m doing metal and opera. I started taking opera lessons again four years ago and that’s been really fun. It’s always been a part of me.
I’m glad you brought that up because I wanted to ask about that. How did the Power Metal Opera Battles videos that you’ve been doing come about? That’s a really fun series and has to be a pretty fun and interesting challenge to do.
Fang: Around late 2017, I wanna say, or in early 2018, I ended up having a vocal injury. I had a bunch of lessons when I was young but from then on forward, it was basically just me singing in the car. I had no formal training after 13 years old other than just singing in the car and seeing what worked. That was fine for a while but as I got older and my physicality started to change, I ended up doing too many nights in a row and doing things with poor technique, things that I know now were bad for me. I had a mild vocal injury where I had a lesion develop on one side of my vocal cords and I ended up having a camera stuck down there and ended up getting film of my vocal cords, which was wild. The nice thing, the good thing, was that it was a small enough lesion where I was basically able to be silent for about three to four months with minimal talking and no singing. Luckily it went away without surgery. A lot of singers, when they develop these polyps on their vocal cords, they need surgery, which can be really terrible and life altering. That was a bit of a wake-up call where I needed to get back into lessons with somebody who can sort of guide me toward not having this ever happen again because that’s scary as a vocalist. I ended up falling in with a guy locally who ended up being just a mile down the street from me, (he was) the closest guy who had a pedigree, he’s a doctor of voice and he’s a doctor of vocal performance. His main area is opera and he’s a tenor. I’m a tenor so I thought we could jam. We immediately ended up hitting it off. His jam is opera so that’s what I started learning. I’d done a little bit of opera when I was younger but it’s tough when you’re 13 to do full-fledged opera. As my time with him progressed and moved on, especially during the pandemic, I had been studying this opera for a few years and I had been looking for additional things to do, additional content to create for YouTube when we were stuck in this place where we couldn’t really do much. We talked for so long, my instructor and I, about the crossover of metal and opera and, especially power metal, how close power metal and opera, in terms of technique, were to each other. We always sort of theorized that any power metal singer could easily apply that technique to opera really easily and quite quickly.
So I hit up a couple of my power metal buddies John (Yelland) from Adjudicator and Brittney (Slayes) from Unleash the Archers, Matt (Corry) from Fellowship. I said “Yo, I’m doing this Power Metal Opera Battles thing over Skype and we are going to make a whole video out of it and it’ll be really fun. You guys want in?” and everybody said yes! That’s how that was born and I’ve got three or four more arias on the way with people from Seven Kingdoms and a couple other people that I don’t think I can announce yet but Sabrina (Valentine) from Seven Kingdoms is 100% down. I suppose I can say (R.A. Voltaire) from Ravenous up in Canada is doing it. He’s a big opera guy.
How nerve wracking were those months waiting to see if you would need surgery or not?
Fang: It was terrible. I think the worst part was just not singing very much, if at all. It was really bad because I love to sing and I love practicing, especially with the band. It was definitely a tough period to get through, mentally. You can Web MD yourself and go down that crazy rabbit hole. There’re so many stories of amazing singers that ended up having to have the surgery and the surgery got botched and they couldn’t sing at all for the rest of their life. I don’t even know what the hell I would do if I couldn’t sing anymore. I have no idea. I don’t even want to think about it.
What do you do to take care of your voice now? I think a lot of people just kind of take singers for granted until the point where their voice starts to sound off.
Fang: We made the joke over and over that I wish, at the end of the night, I could take my voice box out and put it in a case and put it in the back of the van. If you’re a singer, then you love it, but the shitty thing about it is that anything, ANYTHING, in the environment can fuck your entire day. You can wake up and it was a little too dry in the apartment you were sleeping in on tour, just a little bit, and then all of a sudden you wake up and you sound like you’ve been having cigarettes for days. As an extrovert and a gregarious person, and a person who absolutely got into music to meet people and form relationships, it’s really difficult for me to pump the brakes, especially on longer tours, where I need to not talk as much and need to not be around people who might be spitting germs into my face. When you’re sick on tour, that’s a whole other thing. We got sick in Prague in the Czech Republic. We had a night off and we went out partying in Prague, and like, nerd partying. We had like three beers but we went around and saw the sites and someone must have coughed in our general direction and the entire crew and everybody in the band woke up absolutely sick the next day. In Hamburg, we are sitting there looking at the setlist like “Cut, cut, cut, cut, what can we play?” It’s such a difficult beast being a singer on the road.
What’s the music writing process like for Lords of the Trident and has it changed at all as time has gone on?
Fang: I’d say it’s stayed pretty consistent since the Plan of Attack days, around 2013. Most of us are pretty tech savvy and what we will do is one of the guitarists will come up with a riff and then meet with the other guitarist and kind of flesh it out. In the case of Brian (Koenig), the Baron, he will kind of flesh out an entire idea for a song on his own because the dude is a writing machine. He literally has a master’s in music composition. The guitarist will come up with an idea for a song first, either a riff or a song structure, then they’ll get together and flesh it out or create it on their own.
We do a lot of pre-production so we make demos, send them off to the guys, and once the song is demoed out it comes to me. I am generally the suck filter in the band. I get to be the thumbs up, thumbs down kind of guy and 95% of the songs that come through are thumbs up. At this point we know what we are looking for and what we sound like and all that sort of stuff. Then the impetus is on me to write the melody and write lyrics and sort of compose generally what the song is about.
The one thing that Aki has done to me over the years, is he has demanded that every time I come up with an idea for a song that there is a fleshed out backstory so that he can ask me questions. Whenever I come up with these lyrics I have to flesh out the story enough to satisfy his curiosity, which is inadvertently what made us make this next record (2022’s The Offering) a concept record. It’s his fault! Once I get the melody and the lyrics in there, we will get together as a band and the rhythm section, bass and drums, will add, remove, or change things.
Once we start playing as a band we will tweak things, shorten this, lengthen this, add something here. We almost never write a song in one room as a band. That might work for some bands but for us, that whole jamming approach doesn’t work because the writing is so technical and there are so many layers to it. The one thing that Brian does really well is interesting layering. If you pay real close attention to the guitars, they’re always doing something a little different and one guitar on the left ear is playing on top of or intermixed with what the right ear is doing. That kind of thing is hard to come up with on the spot and that takes a little bit more musical finagling to get things to fit together well.
How do you come up with the lyrics for the band so that you’re happy and you can back it all up to Aki?
Fang: Typically what I’ll do is play the demo four or five times on a loop and sit and think “What does this song bring out in my brain? Does this song sound like Tokyo street racing, does this song sound like a giant Earth-eating spaceship? Does it sound like fighting a dragon?” Typically those things will sort of manifest. You hear a song and you get an attitude from the song, just based on the riff, and then you sort of lean into that attitude and pull whatever comes from your broken brain and put it down on the page. Then I’ll just start writing words that relate to the theme. This is ancient history, it’s like 2008, but when we wrote “(The) Robot’s Revenge,” I had an entire page of just techno words like ionization and radioactivity and techno-something. I’ll do that, look at those words and form a story or ideas for lyrics out of that.
Obviously you guys are big into the fantasy genre. What appeals to you about fantasy stories?
Fang: Most of us grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons or just D&D adjacent stuff. I’ve always absolutely adored high fantasy stuff and general sword and sorcery fantasy movies. It’s always been my jam. Conan the Barbarian…I absolutely loved it. Stuff like Lord of the Rings and that just felt like it was a genre that really called to me, in terms of feeling like something that was my primary genre. We definitely lean more in that sword and sorcery kind of realm, but there’s a little tiny bit here and there of your Star Trek influence and stuff like that, the futuristic kind of stuff. Aki is way more into that than I am but I very much love Star Wars, Star Trek, all the sort of Western-esque sci-fi. I suppose you can do a lot with any genre but I think there is a lot of opportunity for interesting storytelling when you can sort of reimagine different, alternative realities with things like magic and stuff like that.
Different bands all have their own specific world that seems to call to them the most, like Led Zeppelin with Lord of the Rings and various bands with Berserk. If you had to do a record based on one of those types of worlds, what would you pick?
Fang: That’s a really good question! It’s tough to pick just one. This is where my brain is saying that I don’t want to pick one of the big ones. I don’t want to retread that ground. I feel like what I would do is I would probably pick a deep cut video game to do something from, not like a Witcher or anything like that, but a deep cut. This is a really hard question to answer. I’m scrolling through my games and going “Oh, which one would I do.” I think doing something outside of the fantasy realm might be interesting, something kind of fantastical like an almost Lovecraftian (thing) but staying away from Lovecraft itself. Something like a Penumbra or something in that realm. Maybe Record of Lodoss War. There’s a lot to pull from in that, the anime. That’s a real old, deep cut. I can’t pick one at the moment!
Going back to the early days of the band, what was it like to get your debut, Death or Sandwich, recorded and released?
Fang: That process was dumb (laughs)! Literally, we made these demos in the dorm room for years so we had 12 songs, well I think we had eight. Then we formed the band and wrote four or five more. We always thought of Lords of the Trident as a side project. We put time and effort into the songwriting but I recorded everything literally in my one-bedroom apartment on demo amps with the one microphone that I owned. I had no clue, no clue what I was doing. I hadn’t recorded anything before and we didn’t have a way to record drums at all. We didn’t want to spend money on this because it was a side project, it was for fun and it wasn’t serious. We ended up using digital drums, a drum plug-in, and we had our drummer help us program these drums and it’s very simple stuff. I had been in enough bands by that point to know how to burn CDs, and I had enough graphical design knowledge to know how to print and make my own cardstock, so we bought a bunch of blank CD trays, burnt a crapton of CDs, put the labels on ourselves, cut out everything, inserted everything. Everything was handmade, 100% was handmade. We literally just brought them to our first or second show and started selling them. There wasn’t really a fanfare debut. What kills me, honestly, is that we just had an order from Japan, that I just sent out yesterday, a wholesale order where the guy was like “Yo, I want 25 copies of your new album and I want 15 copies of Death or Sandwich” and I’m like, “No, stop ordering that album, please!” I would hate for somebody’s first experience with Lords of the Trident to be that album.
I will say that we didn’t care about the recording but we still play songs off of it. I think the songs are great, I think there is a lot of fun stuff in that first record and stuff that translates really well to a live show in a very fun way. But, that album, I didn’t know what I was doing. I recorded it myself. It sounds like garbage, it’s bad, and I wish people would stop listening to it. In fact, right before The Offering came out, I pulled it from all streaming platforms except for Bandcamp. If you really want it, you can buy it on Bandcamp, I guess. We tried to stop printing it, probably five years ago, and we said “OK, sold out, it’s done.” There was (then) a record company in Ohio that said “Hey man, we’re getting all these requests for Death or Sandwich, can we reprint it? We’ll pay the money and we’ll send you 300 copies but can we reprint it and sell it ourselves?” I said “I guess” but at this point I’ve had it, no more! I think we’ve got 15 copies left and then I’m not reprinting this, absolutely not. Although I have love for where we were at the time and I still have love for the songs, 13 years later, learning as much as I’ve learned about production and EQ and all that sort of stuff, I’m a way better engineer currently than I was 13 years ago and I don’t want people to judge 13-year old Lords of the Trident on one-year old Lords of the Trident.
What has that evolution been like for the band as a whole over those 13 years?
Fang: It’s been very slow. I always feel like we fight tooth and nail for every single inch that we do. I think the majority of that is just because we’ve remained independent for so long. First off, it’s very different for any band to organically grow their band and their brand in an effective way. It takes a lot of dedication and a lot of work and a lot of grind, really. It’s a long process. I saw someone post a meme the other day that was like a dagger in my heart. It said “Being in a successful band is basically existing long enough for all of the rest of the bands you’ve played with to die off and break up.” You get to the point after 10 years or so where your average music consumer says “Oh, I guess I’ve heard of them once, sure, why not, I’ll give them a listen.”
It takes a long time but I will say, there have been moments where we have gotten a foot instead of an inch. A lot of that has been recently and a lot of that has been because of friendships that we’ve made with other bands, especially Unleash the Archers. The story goes that back in, I wanna say, late 2015 or 2016, Unleash the Archers, just before they broke out with Apex and Abyss, just before they got big, they were touring Time Stands Still. I liked Unleash the Archers at the time, I was a fan. We got a call that they were playing in Milwaukee, which is about an hour and a half from here, and we got a call if we wanted to open for them. It was a Sunday night and, quite frankly, the turnout was pretty bad. It was maybe 30 people in a very small club. We helped a bit. It was a Sunday night and it was last minute and we got another maybe 10 or 15 people in there and it fleshed it out OK.
They didn’t have a place to sleep and were heading to Minneapolis, which is right off the road in Madison. Literally five minutes off the road and you’re at my house if you’re going to Minneapolis. I offered up my house for them to crash. I didn’t realize this at the time – I offered up my house for the entire tour, which was them, Crimson Shadows, and all their road crews so we had 15 people crashing. I made the biggest breakfast I had ever made. I got up early and made breakfast for 15 people and basically just gave them a nice place to crash and, I will say, I do this for all bands coming through. This wasn’t something that was special for Unleash the Archers. Anybody who comes through, who needs a place to crash, we put them up here and make them breakfast. We give them the old Midwest nice. That’s just kind of how we’ve always operated. We’ve been on the road and we know what the road is like. The road is hard and it sucks and if you can sleep in a nice place that doesn’t have roaches or PBR cans all over the floor and you can actually take a shower, a real ass shower, that is heaven on the road. I currently own 27 blowup beds just because of everything life has thrown at us at the moment. So we can host 30+ people, and sometimes we have, and just give them a place to crash. From that, we formed this relationship with Unleash the Archers.
A year later they blew up huge, biggest up-and-coming band in the genre right now. From there, I asked Brittney if she would sing on Shadows From the Past and that happened. Shadows From the Past wasn’t as big of a jump as I thought it would be but, the biggest thing that’s happened recently, was when Unleash the Archers came through on their tour in September of 2021 and they got denied entry to the United States because they were in Belgium the week before and needed a two week quarantine. The rest of their tour mates, Æther Realm and Seven Kingdoms…I had set up a show for Æther Realm in Milwaukee and Seven Kingdoms was crashing with me because they played our festival… so we had Seven Kingdoms already crashing with me. Æther Realm was playing in Milwaukee and getting ready to start this tour when we got the news that Unleash the Archers got denied entry in Chicago and got shipped back to Vancouver and they can’t come in for another week.
So now Seven Kingdoms and Æther Realm are stranded for a week in my general vicinity and they have nowhere to go, so they crash with me for a couple days while they were getting things set up. We did this whole, gigantic stream. During the pandemic we’ve been doing live streaming concerts down in the basement, fully mixed with five cameras and the whole shebang. I said to them that we have our streaming set up for us and that we have a pretty good mix, why don’t we do you guys, us and Æther Realm do a benefit concert since you’re staying here anyways and you guys can just keep all the money? That was amazingly fun and it did really well. The benefit concert ended up netting about six grand and I split (it) between Æther Realm and Seven Kingdoms, we didn’t take a cent of that. They’re here in our basement anyway and it didn’t cost us a cent. That ended up saving their asses and ended up being more money than they would have made on guarantees from the seven shows that they would have missed. That really cemented our friendship, that hangout time.
We did that again with Seven Kingdoms when they came through again. I think that visibility of Lords of the Trident swooping in and saving the day offered us a lot more opportunities than we would have had previously. It allowed us to work with Jacob Hansen, who was the engineer for Unleash the Archers’ last few records and is a god-tier engineer. Anything he touches turns to instant gold, even Lords of the Trident (laughs)!
I think the important thing to take away from that long-winded story is the scene, and bands in general, get better when everybody helps each other. A rising tide lifts all ships. You don’t need to be competitive, there’s no real reason to be competitive in the music industry. It’s not a zero-sum game. There’s more to be gained from being friends with people and building other people up than there is to trying to be number one. I’d way rather get to the point where Lords of the Trident are comfortably playing to 400, 500 people every night but we get to do that with all of our friends. We get to hang out with Seven Kingdoms and Unleash the Archers and Æther Realm and Mega Colossus and all of the friends we’ve made over the years.
That’s definitely a cool thing about the metal community. You notice a lot more of a relationship between the bands and between the fans and the bands than you do in other genres, at least from what I can tell.
Fang: Like I said, I love making direct connections with fans and becoming actual friends, come on and hang out kind of friends. I really love that about metal. The funny thing that came from all of that is that there was this inside joke a while back when we were on tour with Mega Colossus, a band out of North Carolina that are real close friends and we’ve known them for a million years. I was hanging out in their band van and we were going to lunch and talking about, especially in power metal, how the outside world has this idea of the genre of heavy metal being full of angry dudes with long hair and pointy guitars angry at their dad and all that kind of stuff. Power metal is a different beast but all we’ve experienced is a bunch of quiet, nerdy dudes who really just want to play video games and Dungeons and Dragons and they’re all super polite and super friendly and would make the bed after they stay at your place.
I made a joke, I said that we should make a new genre, the New Wave of Nice Metal Buds. That was a joke between us and Mega Colossus for a while. I’d offhandedly say it here and there and for some reason that sentiment took off and Grant from Unleash the Archers is using it now and created a streaming team around it. Just as a silly inside joke, I ended up making patches, New Wave of Nice Metal Buds patches that say “Too kind to die.” I sell so many of these things and see so many people with these! People want it and they want to display it to be like “No, we’re not angry. We’re nice and we’ll give you a hug. This is who we are.” It’s very funny to me that the community is so strong and connected that that New Wave of Nice Metal Buds idea blossomed and became this huge streaming community.
Speaking of community, you guys have always been independent. How have you managed to do this for as long as you have at the level you have without signing somewhere?
Fang: We’ve never been signed. We have been approached by labels before. We’ve always been independent. The main reason that we stay independent is that we are doing OK right now and we are keeping 100% of our profits, especially with Patreon. Patreon is the financial engine behind the band, so the fact that we can pull in enough money per month for one person to reasonably make a living is the thing that can drive us. It’s not a middle class living, it’s an “you can eat some Ramen” type of living, but you take that and distribute it over a band, and all of us have full-time jobs so we are OK, but you add in that extra financial engine behind the band and suddenly you can do things like tour Japan or put out a record yourself or do this, that, and the other thing.
When labels have approached us, it’s always been this sort of thing where it’s been “OK but what are you actually going to do for us?” The only thing that the label actually does, like for realsies, is that you have this ethereal stamp of suddenly you are legitimate. I could email ProgPower today and be like “Yo, Lords of the Trident wants to play” and not hear anything back from them at all and then I could be signed to Napalm, tomorrow, and email them once again and it’d be an instant yeah. That’s literally the only thing, that ethereal stamp that you are a band for realsies, that labels can do nowadays.
Labels have great PR teams and labels can do a lot for that aspect but I can also buy the same PR team. I can buy their time and I have been and I can have them do the work for me without the label taking 85% of my profits. Labels make a lot of sense for bands that don’t have a strong managerial background, don’t have a business background, don’t want to do additional work. There are pros and cons to being on a label, for us it’s mostly cons. All the stuff that a label would do, we do it ourselves and we are able to manage it just fine.
We also like the ability to make our own decisions about when we are going to tour, what we are going to put out, who we are going to work with. If we would have signed with the label that we were talking with, that we were actually going to sign with, we wouldn’t have worked with Jacob Hansen and the album probably wouldn’t have sounded like it sounded and it would have probably been pushed out way in advance. I know, and I’m not going to name names, bands that were pressured to put their records out and they’re not super happy with how it ended up sounding and they wish they could have done it differently. We don’t have to worry about that. We can tour when we want to tour and we’re not pushed onto bigger, longer tours that are unsustainable for us as working adults. We’re still working out how to attain that ethereal stamp of approval while still being 100% independent and never being signed to a label. That’s still difficult but I think we are getting there. It’s just a slow, like I said, inch-by-inch grind to make that legitimacy out of thin air. That’s the hard part about being independent. Everything else about it is awesome, it rules.
How do you handle distribution then since you’re still independent? What kind of benefits and challenges are there to doing that on your own?
Fang: In terms of distribution on your own label, it’s great from a royalty standpoint. The way that royalties work when you do streaming and all that stuff is that 50% of it goes to the artist and 50% goes to the publisher. So we’ve created Junko Johnson Records, which is an inside joke from my Japanese class days, as a publishing entity but that is us, that’s Lords of the Trident. When a song pays, we get paid as Lords of the Trident and we get paid as Junko Johnson Records. We make 100% of what we are owed but, from our perspective, it’s like we are making double.
In terms of physical distribution, I package everything up and ship it all from the house and we ship all over the world. We do wholesale all over the world. It’s not super difficult. It can be a little expensive if you don’t have a hub, like a hub in Germany, then yeah, shipping to Germany is going to be $10 and there’s nothing I can do about that, it’s just the price.
One of the things it allows us to do, on a business side, not only can we set our own prices but we can implement things like our CDs being pay what you want. You can go to the website right now and buy a CD for $50 or you can buy a CD for $5. At a show, all of our CDs, all of our music, is pay what you want. We had somebody buy a CD using a bead bracelet. We would never be able to do that if we had a publishing deal on a record label. They would make us set a price and we’d be selling CDs for $15 and that’s the bottom line. In some ways, that lack of freedom cripples those chance encounters. Somebody may only have a buck but maybe they’ll become a super fan and join your Patreon and give you $10 a month for the next 10 years. There’s so much more value in using CDs and music as marketing than there is as using CDs and music as a product nowadays.
You guys seem to be doing alright going it on your own though. You’ve opened for some really big bands throughout your career. That must be pretty exciting.
Fang: It is. Every time we’ve opened for a big band is another one of those things where it’s tooth and nail, emailing people, sometimes to the point of actual harassment, to get on those shows. Unleash the Archers, we did a couple shows with them on their last tour, we’ve opened for Helloween, we’ve opened for 3 Inches of Blood, Skeletonwitch, Battle Beast…we’ve had the opportunity to share the stage with a lot of really amazing artists but that is also one of those double edged sword things of being independent. Here’s a perfect example. On Unleash the Archers last tour, right, (it was them), Seven Kingdoms, and Æther Realm, all three of these bands we are super close with, super best friends. Every single band on that bill was like, “Oh my God, yes! Get Lords of the Trident, get them for as many shows as you possibly can, we want them” and they emailed their booking agent (saying that) with 500 exclamation points. You would think that that would be enough to be on however many shows we would like to be on, but due to the fact that they are working with a booking agency and all that sort of stuff, we had to get the OK from the booking agent, which he said it was fine, but then we also had to get the OK from every single venue and every single local guy that was on there (in order to) join the show.
So even though every single person from the top level down said yes to Lords of the Trident, we still had to get, like, some dude named Randy in Rochester, New York to a.) answer his email and b.) be like “Alright, Lords of the Trident…I guess I’ll give these guys a shot. You get 20 bucks and one beer each, how bout that?” So, it’s not without its frustrations but absolutely, every time we have an opportunity to get on a show like that and play with bands like that, it’s always a blast and it’s always amazing to be in front of that big of a crowd. Those shows have definitely boosted our popularity quite a bit. More than playing on those shows is being associated with those bands so closely and making so much content, music, et. cetera, with those bands has cemented our legitimacy in those areas.