This is part two of a two-part interview with Fang VonWrathenstein (Ty Christian) from Lords of the Trident. Click here to check out part one in which Fang discusses the band’s history and how they’ve managed to stay independent over the years. For more on 2022’s The Offering and what the band has on the horizon, read on.
The new record, The Offering, is my favorite release from the band so far. It’s a hell of a power metal concept record and I have to imagine you have to be extremely happy with the end product.
Fang: I’m insanely happy with it. I think it’s perfect, honestly, and I’ve never said this about a record before but there’s nothing I would change. It turned out so well and working with Jacob Hansen was a dream come true. He, of course, knocked it out of the park. We didn’t expect any less of him. Every band goes through this where you are making the record, you’re listening to it every day, you’re tweaking it every day and there’s this sine wave of emotions when you’re making a record. When it goes up, this is the best thing we’ve ever made. When it’s down, this is the worst thing we’ve ever made and everybody is going to hate it. Then it goes back up again and down and up and down and the only thing you can do is hope that when you ride that sine wave, by the time that album comes out, that you are at the peak thinking it’s the best album we’ve ever made. I’ll say, at least for me, that I feel very strongly that this is the best record we’ve ever made, by far leaps and bounds.
I’m so incredibly happy that people are enjoying it to the extent that they are enjoying it right now. We had high hopes for this one. After Shadows From the Past I was sitting here ready for my hopes to be crushed but thankfully that didn’t happen! Everybody seems to really enjoy it and we’ve been working really hard making as much content as possible around the album so that there’s as much opportunity as possible for people to notice that it exists and engage with it. It really feels like five to ten years of slowly climbing a hill and you are getting to the point where you can start to see the summit break through the clouds. We’re not there yet but we are at a nice little base camp where we can relax and have some coffee.
A band like yours kind of naturally lends itself to concept albums. How did you decide on the themes for this one and when did you decide to make it a concept record?
Fang: Earlier I was saying how Aki made me make backstories for songs, but we’ve never done full concept records before. We’ve done little two to three song arcs before but we haven’t done full concepts before and, part of the reason, the biggest reason, is that strangely enough Aki hates concept records (laughs). The guy who makes me do full backstories for every song hates concept records! He’s said that vehemently for years. Through this process we ended up figuring out what he meant by that. What he meant is that he doesn’t like concept records that have little interludes where someone on the record is telling the story and I’m in the same boat. I think a band like Unleash the Archers really showed us a way forward with this idea of a concept record where you can just write a record and there’s this underlying concept that if you want to dig into it, you can get into it but you don’t need that to appreciate or understand the record on a surface level. You can appreciate this record on a surface level, 100%, you don’t have to dig into the story but if you want to, you can.
When the album was all said and done, that’s how we wanted to approach The Offering. One of the first songs that we had a demo for (on The Offering), probably the very first song, was “Charlatan.” As I was writing “Charlatan,” I had been playing a lot of The Witcher 3, and my brain went into those scenes where your main character walks into a bar and there’s a bunch of tough dudes, not knowing that this dude could completely kick your ass three ways to Sunday, and acting all braggadocious. I sort of crafted that idea in my brain of this person taking down these people who are all bark and no bite and then, of course, I needed to create a backstory for who is this person and why is he here. So I started crafting a very simple backstory for that and it just kind of started to percolate in my brain. Then the next song that came out for demos was “The Acolyte” and I thought I could do a two-song arc where “The Acolyte” is him training and becoming this guardian figure and then “Charlatan” is him as an older person actually out in the community doing this work. It fit together so well and then it wouldn’t leave my brain. I was sitting here thinking about who were the guardians, what kind of societal structure do they live in?
It’s Aki’s fault for making me do all this backstory stuff! It turned out so well that he did that and I’m so happy that he made me do all of this. I think we had ten songs written and the whole thing was a concept record and no one in the band knew it except for me. I had written all the backstories and everything and every single song fit together. There are references in each song to other parts but none of the guys (got it), they were off in their own guitar and drums and bass world and doing their own stuff so they hadn’t really listened to the lyrics. I finally sat everyone down and I’m like, “Guys, I have something to tell you. I gotta break the news and this is going to be rough for maybe one of you but I’ve accidentally made a concept record.” It ended up being OK and turning out just fine.
You mentioned a few of those early songs and, for me, that starting streak of “Legend,” “Acolyte,” and “Charlatan” is one of the strongest opening sections of an album I’ve heard this year. How do you decide on track placement?
Fang: We always knew that “Legend” would be the opener. We always saw that and the big beer hall chorus sing-a-long type of thing. As soon as I heard that, before we wrote lyrics or melody or anything, I knew that was the opener right there because it seemed very epic and building. We always try to build an album off the songs that we think are the strongest and kind of frontload the album. When you’re doing a concept record it’s more difficult because, if you’ve already written a place in the story where you think a song goes, then it has to go in that lineup. If this wasn’t a concept record, and it were up to me, I would have kept “Legend,” “Acolyte,” and “Charlatan” right where they were. I probably would have put “Dance of Control” earlier because, for me, that’s my favorite chorus and the most infectious chorus.
When we are writing a non-concept record, the first three to four songs, at least, have to be very catchy and very memorable and something that you think “OK, these are definitely our lead-off singles.” It was a different beast with a concept record and I think that the fact that we had a lot of the music in pre-production that we demoed out ahead of time made it easier to say “OK, this is in the latter half of the story, this is in the earlier part of the story.” There was one song that came before everything else, “Offering to the Void,” and which is in the middle of the record, six out of 13, that song I had written in mid-2019 on keyboards and I had the simple structure. That song originally was not in the storyline and most of the lyrics are from the pre-concept record stage. It was a sad boy song about how nobody likes Shadows From the Past and nobody paid attention to it. That idea of this sort of big statue falling into a bottomless void, this well-crafted object being tossed away, ended up kind of making its way into the story. I pushed it in there with a crowbar. Once I had that in the middle it sort of cemented the arc. We have this beginning arc where he’s becoming this guardian, and then we have this song in the middle that’s kind of tragic, and that sort of formed what I thought of the rest of the arc of the story to be. That made it easier to listen to a demo and say “Is this before or after?” That’s how we placed a lot of the (tracks).
How affected was the band by the pandemic in terms of getting the album done?
Fang: We’ve asked ourselves that question too. It is kind of 50/50. We had more time to work on the record but we also had less time to spend together working together and recording. There was that whole period of time before everyone got vaccinated that we were very careful about doing band practices and we were very careful about recording. Everyone was wearing masks and, for a while, we were all in different rooms. On the other hand, if the pandemic didn’t happen and we were out touring, we would have been writing and recording, thinking, and figuring things out around prepping for shows. Every time we prep for shows, it’s like there’s one or two practices that are lost, in terms of recording or writing. If we have to focus on the show that’s coming up Saturday, then we don’t have time to work on our new songs. It was kind of a mixed bag in general. What I will say is that the pandemic in general was great for us, and I know it was terrible for a lot of people and we all had a shitty time. Everybody went through their own bouts of depression and it was hard for us to practice. There was a lot of fear, internally, of if we are going to get each other sick and what happens if we do. But, from a business perspective and only a business perspective, stocks were up. It was amazing. Right before the pandemic hit, we had invested a bunch of money into an in-ear monitoring rig. We decided to go with no more monitors and go in-ear now.
Before the tour we were on, during the mini-tours before that (one), we made what we refer to as a drunk soundguy mix, where if the sound guy was drunk or dead or nonexistent, we had a stereo pair, like left-right, to plug this into your board and turn it up to zero and it’ll be about where it needs to be. We ended up using that at least a couple times. We played a show in the Hexagon Bar in Minneapolis where they fired their sound guy the night before and didn’t tell their bar staff, so we had four bands and, 10 minutes before the first band was supposed to play, we had a woman running in on the phone like, “I don’t know where he is? What do you mean he’s fired? There are four bands here!” then she’s like “Can anyone do sound?” and everybody just looks at me. So we ended up using that drunk soundguy mix. Anyway, we had that drunk soundguy mix and then all we had to do was plug that in to the computer and we have a fully mixed, really good sounding livestream mix. I have a bunch of webcams, we are all very technically competent in the band, so within two, three months after we were all in the pandemic, we started live streaming.
It was that ability to do livestreams, we were doing two or three a month, and to provide entertainment when very few other bands were doing that that really took us off and cemented our rise during the pandemic. Then also, I was stuck down here in the basement, I was working from home, and my brain started working on “Oh, I’ll make this YouTube video and I’ll make this YouTube series” so we were putting things out every week to every other week for two years. That consistency, along with all the special things we did: where we did solo guitar sessions, where we played video game music, and acoustic streams where we reimagined things, and (things with) Seven Kingdoms and Æther Realm, then we had a wrestling themed livestream with Seven Kingdoms, where we did interviews before and after and all that kind of stuff (helped grow the band). It was a really good time for us and we ended up growing the Patreon significantly over the pandemic. I thought for a fact that we may lose at least 30% because people are, you know, things were in flux. The Patreon is an optional thing and, if people lost their job, they gotta eat first. But the opposite happened. There was nothing available but then Lords of the Trident was like “Hi, here’s all your entertainment for free!” People just went nuts, went gangbusters on the Patreon so things have been very good. I’m so glad we’re coming out of it and I’m so glad we’re playing shows again, but the pandemic itself was actually a time of great growth and it was really beneficial for us to have that opportunity to branch out in non-live music ways.
Again, I want to put a big giant asterisk on there that we still had a shitty time and were all depressed and sad and got fat like everybody else. We also realize that there were a lot of bands that did not have the opportunity that we did, so I am by no means saying that every band should have done this. Every band’s got their own way of doing things. We were just lucky that our very internet-centric way of doing things coincided with everybody being stuck at home.
I actually wanted to ask about the Patreon. You guys have a lot of really cool tiers and products for fans that want to sign up. How did you get started with that and what has it been like to build that up?
Fang: I’ve always been pessimistic about crowdfunding. We did Kickstarter for the first time back in 2012, about the time it launched or maybe a year or two after. I was very pessimistic when we did our first Kickstarter. I set our goal for $700 thinking we would fight tooth and nail for that back (then) and we funded it in 24 hours. Shows what I know, I guess! Patreon, to me, always seemed like a platform for video creators and, although we did a lot of video work, that wasn’t our main deal. There’s a comedy troupe that I’ve been following before YouTube called Mega64. I’ve been obsessed with them for years and they are an absolutely phenomenal creative force (who) does hilarious and dumb things on the internet. Basically, I want to be Mega64 in music! They started a Patreon and their pitch was very interesting. They made the video and they said “A bunch of people have been asking us to make this Patreon so we made it. You don’t have to sign up for it, this is optional. We are probably not going to provide any additional prizes or content. We’ll do a few things a year but we are not gonna make this our main thing. We are still going to focus on our making content for the public that everybody can consume and you don’t have to buy but maybe if you want to help us make stuff faster, maybe if you want to give us the opportunity to do newer and better things and that kind of stuff, just toss a buck if you want. Thanks for your support even if you don’t pledge.” In a week, they were making ten grand a month. I saw that and I thought A.) that was the same kind of feeling that I (had). I just want to make something that I can put out that I won’t have to gate any of the content. I want people to be able to consume it however they want to and B.) holy shit, 10,000 a month? Are you kidding me? Since then they have grown huge on their Patreon and they’ve retooled it. They now offer prizes and exclusive content but I saw that and I thought that we had to get in on this. My internet heroes are doing this? That inspired me to do this.
We started our Patreon with, and we still have, an absurd amount of prizes…free T-shirts, free this, that, and the other. Three free T-shirts a year…that’s crazy. We have a running joke in the community that my wardrobe is all Lords of the Trident shirts and now I have an entire rainbow cause you can’t just make black shirts. We started out kind of thinking that we might make an extra 20, 30, 50 bucks a month.
We had one superfan in Kalamazoo, Michigan who would buy ten CDs every month and just go down to his record store and hand them out. We contacted him before we started this and said “Hey, we are thinking about starting this. Would you rather do this than buy ten CDs every month?” He said that it was easier for him and that he’d support us however we wanted. It went wild.
At the moment, we are the number one most funded independent metal band on the platform. We are in the Patreon ambassador program. We actually work with the Patreon team to develop new features and it’s been absolutely wild. The Patreon itself has grown and changed over the years and we keep adding stuff to it, keep adding content. It kind of fuels itself because it is guilt money. Every month we get a big dump of money, I’m like “Yay” but two second later I’m like “Oh shit, I gotta do something right now! I gotta do something this second or everybody is gonna leave me. They’re gonna drop their pledges and we’ll have zero dollars.” Then I’ll run and make something like a new video or a new series and then you do that and you get more Patreon backers and you get more money and then more guilt. It’s a perpetuating cycle of guilt money that makes me make more content because I’m anxious about people not giving me more money.
Honestly, if we did not have the Patreon, the band would have broken up. I can say with 100% certainty that if we did not have the support we do on Patreon that we would not be talking right now, we would not be a band. When we went over for our first European tour in 2019, things happened, I won’t get into the details but the management and the logistical backend that we were provided made some mistakes, and we ended up coming home ten grand in debt. Any other band that is on regular band income where you play some shows and make a couple hundred bucks, how do you even start to think about repaying ten grand in debt? We would have had to distribute it over all five of us and we would have been at each other’s throats about needing the money and credit cards being due. We would have been fighting about money, the one thing that ends every relationship, band, romantic or otherwise…the worst thing is money fights. We are in this amazing place where we don’t have to worry about that. Oh shit, we lost ten grand? That really sucks but give it two-and-a-half, three months and we’ll be back to zero. That’s cool.
We are in the situation where we have a steady income and we can schedule and plan. (We can say) “Hey, working with Jacob Hansen is going to be this many of tens of thousands of dollars.” That’s a lot of money but I don’t have to mortgage my house. We can eventually get there in six to ten months or whatever and we don’t have to worry about it. We can say that we’ve got this album coming out and we need to make 4,000 copies of it and nobody has to put down their credit card and take out a house loan to do any of this. It’s so freeing and so amazing. I think every band should be doing it, even if you only make an extra ten bucks a month. That’s more money than you’d be making if you didn’t have a Patreon.
It’s a really cool project because, as a fan, it can be hard to know exactly what the best way to support a band is but your Patreon is nice because the money goes right to the artists and then you get cool returns like the shirts or the yearly show.
Fang: The yearly show is always super fun because it’s very chill and relaxed and we just take requests and interact with the fans. Up until two or three years ago, we used to do it down in the basement because we had a small enough Patreon fanbase where yeah, I can fit 50 people down here. It was asses and elbows packed but we all hung out and drank beers afterwards. Then the Patreon got to like 100 people and we had to move it somewhere. My wife was like “No more” and I’m saying “Ok, fair, fair!” It’s been absolutely fabulous and the great thing is that all the money goes directly to the band and we get to interact (with the fans). We’ve got about 400 on the Patreon right now. Those are our superfans. Anybody who is willing to give us a dollar a month is, in my mind, a superfan. I will be way more down to spend time, answer questions, send lyric sheets or whatever to these people who are directly financially supporting us than just some random Joe Schmo on the internet, although we still interact with random Joe Schmos on the internet constantly. These guys get our undivided attention basically.
Another thing that it’s great for and another thing we have been able to cultivate is through Patreon’s integration with Discord, we’ve been able to create a space for these people to all interact with each other and really amazing friendships have been able to form. Now we have a Discord crew of like 15 people that follow us around and go to shows and they know all the inside jokes and come to every stream. Making the Patreon and putting as much time into it as we have has easily been the best thing we’ve ever done as a band. That was the one business decision that completely changed the band forever.
Speaking of shows, how nice is it to finally be able to play live again?
Fang: So good! It was so good. The weirdest thing about streaming shows is that when you finish with a song…dead silence. Then it’s 15 seconds later you get clap emojis but it’s so weird to not have any feedback whatsoever. Getting in front of an audience again and hearing a crowd sing along, it’s been absolutely fabulous. There’s been a bit of a renaissance of people coming back out to shows. I was at a show last night and I’m going back tonight, it’s a festival, and the show is usually about 50% packed and not sold out. It sold out last night and it’s gonna sell out tonight. It’s packed in there because so many people are thirsty for that interaction and for getting out again. It’s been absolutely fabulous but it’s been terrifying too because it’s been two years of no live chops but it’s been amazing.
Keeping with live shows, you guys just booked a tour of Japan for the end of the year. How did that come about and how excited are you for that?
Fang: I’m insanely excited. I told you earlier that I did a triple major in college. One of those majors was Japanese. Aki and I met in the dorms but we met through Japanese class, we were study buddies forever, so we have a lot of friends and fans and host families from study abroad programs from over there that we haven’t had the opportunity to see in years and I’m just absolutely, insanely excited to bring the live show over there and to interact with the Japanese fanbase. We’ve sold a lot of CDs over in Japan over many years but we’ve never had the opportunity to go over there.
The way this came about is through the New Wave of Nice Metal Buds and building each other up. Our friends in Seven Spires, their bassist started a management company for up-and-coming power metal bands and a number of the bands that we had booked for our festival that we run, Mad With Power Fest, were on his agency so I ended up having to communicate with him and CC him on things. Every so often we’d get on a Zoom call and discuss logistics and things. We pretty much immediately hit off where “Oh, you and I are pretty much the band business people. We can talk about spreadsheets and really get excited about spreadsheets.” Any time I can talk with someone who is as excited about band spreadsheets as I am…that’s a good day.
So we started talking about business and being in a band. One of his bands, ShadowStrike, who we are also close friends with, had a Japan tour coming up and I said that I’ve always been trying to get a Japan tour together but we’ve had very little success in attracting a Japanese label or Japanese distribution deal even though we’ve always created extra music for Japanese specific releases. We start off the emails in Japanese (saying) we want to come over, we’ll pay our own bills, we’ll pay our own flights, please just set up shows for us and also here’s our record, do you want to distribute this?
So Peter (Albert de Reyna) was talking about ShadowStrike and their Japanese tour and I asked how that came about. He said, “Oh, well I used to work for this booking company over in Australia, I was their U.S. guy for their booking agency.” Since they are in Australia, they do showcase tours in Japan and one of their main things is that you pay their agency to help you set up a Japan tour. Not every band out there can do it, it’s pretty pricey, but the hope is that maybe you make back 50% of what you put into it from ticket sales, merch, and that kind of stuff. I said to him that that was right up our alley. He put us in touch and it ends up being that this guy who runs this agency in Australia is a.) a super nice guy, very well-put together dude and b.) also books for Wacken and 70,000 Tons (of Metal) and all sorts of crazy stuff. We talked with him about it and planned for the slew of dates that we have. That’s how it all happened…friends of friends helping each other out.
With that big goal knocked off, what else do you have in your sights to accomplish still?
Fang: Every year we make a goal board that we put up in the practice space. I think the real key to growth as a business or as a band is making yearly, realistic goals that are in your face and you can’t escape. I’m looking at it right now and it has six goals, six very realistic goals, so we’ll always have stuff to strive for. I think some of the main stuff that we want now that touring is kind of back…I’d love to do a West Coast tour. We were planning on doing that in January or February of 2020 and that didn’t happen. I’d love to do a longer tour with Seven Kingdoms or Seven Spires or any other band that has seven in their title! I’d love to set up a number of week, week-and-a-half or two week runs with friend bands and just be able to hang out with them for a week-and-a-half and play some shows. I think that is on the horizon.
We definitely need to go back to Europe. We’ve had an outpouring of support from our European fanbase so we are very much planning on going back to Europe. We would have tried to go back to Europe this year but vacation time is the one thing. With the two weeks in Japan, that kind of sucks dry every other opportunity when you have limited vacation time with day jobs but 2023, we are looking to go back to Europe or West Coast or both, maybe both, but that depends on vacation time and all that stuff.
Next year, in 2023 we are moving our festival from a 500 capacity venue to a 2,500 capacity venue. We are basically going to quadruple the amount of arcade games and pinball. We are going to have a vendor hall (and) the lineup for 2023, fingers crossed if it happens, will be probably one of the biggest power metal shows that anybody has ever seen. If the lineup that I have soft confirmed actually hard confirms, there will be zero people out there who would not buy a ticket. I don’t know what more you would need to come to this festival. It’s going to be the biggest one we’ve ever thrown, it’s gonna be absolutely wild. I’m gonna shoot for maybe 1,000 tickets next year. We could theoretically do 2,500 but I want to keep it a little bit more, not exclusive, but able to talk to the bands without being mobbed. For this year, we want to sell out Mad With Power Fest, tickets go on sale May 1, we are getting vinyl made, we have a Kickstarter coming soon for the vinyl. We will always have goals to reach for.