Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with New Hampshire’s Swarzo. Together we discussed their love of history, their time serving as an infantryman, their thesis, their debut album “Born To Rule” and so much more!
1. Hello! Mustard is thankful to have you join them. How are you?
Hello, Mustard! I am doing well! Honored to be interviewed by a classic condiment such as yourself.
2. When did your interest in war and military history begin? How did serving as an infantryman in the US Army help deepen this interest?
My exposure to all that stuff began at a very young age. I spent a lot of time playing soldier as a kid, dressed up in a bunch of old military surplus gear provided by my grandfather. I had always wanted to be a soldier when I grew up because it seemed cool. My fascination with the history side of things came a bit later. I think playing the old Medal of Honor games with my dad sparked my curiosity. I remember asking him when I would get to learn about WWII in school. Eventually I was allowed to see movies like Saving Private Ryan and from there I started reading a lot of historical books, both fiction and non-fiction. My father and grandfather would read these books and then pass them on to me when they were finished.
To answer your second question, I think that experiencing the realities of infantry life and participating in a war of my own gave me a new set of eyes with which I could look at history. Now I know what war looks like, sounds like, and feels like from a common grunt’s perspective. Now I feel like I can relate to the stories I used to read about a lot more than I could when I was a kid in high school.
3. What period of history fascinates you most? Do you recommend all humans learn more about history?
I find this question difficult to answer. If you had asked me about five years ago, I would have told you that the early 20th century was most fascinating because of the two world wars and countless smaller wars that came with them. Two years ago, I would have said I’m all about the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in ancient Greece. Now, I would say that you can find something fascinating in any period. After reading Thucydides a couple years ago, I realized that the human beings of ancient Greece and the human beings of 20th-century Europe are not vastly different.
Do I recommend that all humans learn more history? I want to say yes. I would say that everyone should do their best to find a historical subject that sparks their interest. Everything big and small has a history, even if nobody has taken the time to dive into it yet.
4. You have a series on YouTube called “Swarzo History.” Could you tell us more about that?
Yes! Swarzo History is my way of giving listeners a way to dive deeper into their favorite Swarzo songs. It’s also a way for me to connect my historian self to my musician self. It’s a YouTube series in which I discuss the historical events which inspired my music. Essentially, each video is a little lecture based around a specific song. For example, I have a song called “Arnhem” which has a Swarzo History episode all about the battle of Arnhem which took place during WWII. The idea is actually inspired by the Sabaton History series. It probably won’t surprise anybody to learn that I’ve been a Sabaton fan since high school. They launched their history series a few years ago, so the idea was already at the front of my mind when I started releasing music.
5. You formed Swarzo in 2020. What inspired you to begin making music?
2020 was an interesting year, wasn’t it? I decided to start learning guitar in January of that year. My wife and I celebrated our anniversary by spending a few days in New York City, where I dragged her along to see Epica live. A band called Starkill opened for them, and I remember thinking “I want to do this.” Then when Epica came on, I thought “I REALLY want to do this.” I had flirted with the idea of learning drums or picking up guitar over and over again throughout my life, but never really committed. For some reason, this one concert was the one that convinced me I had put it off long enough. When we got home, my wife ordered me one of those beginner guitar packages. Then, of course, the pandemic hit. I found myself doing all of my schoolwork from home with a lot of time to practice guitar. One thing led to another, I got some better gear, and by the end of the year I reached another point where I just decided “I want to do this.” That’s when Swarzo was born.
6. Who (or what) inspires you?
So many of the things I’ve already mentioned in this interview still inspire me. Obviously, my biggest inspirations are history and my military experience. Generally, my inspiration has been whatever specific historical period I have been studying the most. After this last album release, however, I graduated and have been enjoying a nice long break from research. As a result, my inspiration has been shifting towards more personal experiences.
7. What is your songwriting process?
When it comes to songwriting, I almost always start with guitar. That’s what I use to find melodies or chord progressions that convey the kind of feeling I am looking for. From there, it is all about expanding on that one little idea. My music has a lot of symphonic elements that harmonize with the guitars, so composing that stuff in my DAW is a key part of that process. There is a lot of trial and error, but it is all based on building from a foundational idea. Vocals and lyrics are usually the last step for me. I like to make sure there is a solid instrumental song established first. Sometimes I already know what the song is going to be about based on the mood I am going for. Sometimes I just write the song and then come up with an event that fits the mood. Either way, I save lyrics for last and spend a lot of time on them to make sure they stand up to the criticism of my inner historian.
8. Who are some of your musical influences?
Oh, man! I have a lot of musical influences. The most obvious ones are other “history metal” bands like Sabaton and Amon Amarth. Serenity is lesser-known, but one of my favorites. My latest album is heavily inspired by their album “Lionheart.” Rammstein is another one of my all-time favorites. I use their music as a reminder that not every riff has to be extremely complex to be great. Outside of metal bands, one of my biggest musical inspirations is video game music. The orchestral soundtracks to Medal of Honor and Halo are hugely influential on the symphonic aspects of my music.
9. Would you consider your debut album “Born To Rule” an abstract of your Master’s thesis?
This is a great question. I don’t know if I would consider “Born to Rule” an abstract of my thesis. My thesis is all about the mundane aspects of royal military organization during the Wars of the Roses. For example, how did the Crown mobilize armies and pay soldiers, how did it get ships to carry soldiers, how did it feed them, etc. There is some overlap. For example, I did dedicate an entire song to the soldiers of the Calais garrison, which was a major component of English military organization during the period. For the most part, however, the album is much more focused on what I consider to be the major events of the period and the motivations of the people involved.
10. Is your thesis: “Mobilization and the Power of the English Crown During the Wars of the Roses.” available to read?
Actually, yes! If anyone is interested in the kinds of things I just mentioned, they can find my thesis via the University of New Hampshire scholars repository online at https://scholars.unh.edu/thesis/1577/
11. What’s next for Swarzo?
There is some stuff going on behind the scenes at the moment. I want to start performing Swarzo music live, so I have been considering how best to do that. I am currently considering Twitch as an option. Apart from that, there is new music in the works! Anyone interested in keeping up can follow swarzo_metal on TikTok and swarzo_official on Instagram.
12. Where can readers listen to your music?
My music is available on all major streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and Amazon. It is also available to purchase on Bandcamp and on the official Swarzo website.