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Interview: Pallbearer Discuss New Album 'Heartless' Ahead Of NZ Tour

Interview: Pallbearer Discuss New Album 'Heartless' Ahead Of NZ Tour

Wednesday 28th June, 2017 3:00PM

American doom giants Pallbearer are making a long-awaited appearance on our shores for two shows next weekend and will no doubt take the opportunity to treat us to a few choice cuts from their most recent outing Heartless. In anticipation, we caught up with vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell to spin some yarns about refined melodic sensibilities, synthesisers and the relationship between art and artists. Have a read belowÖ

UTR: So, first off, I seem to be noticing a lot of doom or generally downtempo metal coming from the rural states of America; the likes of Weedeater and Windhand being from Richmond, Virginia, and yourself hailing from Arkansas. Why do you think this is? Do you think itís perhaps a cultural reaction the stereotype of evangelical bible bashing that these provinces hold in popular culture?

BC: Y'know, Im sure that has something to do with it. The south has a pretty good history of slow and fucked up music. Like Eyehategod and Crowbar and Weedeater. Those guys have been around for 20-plus years. Iíd say thereís a cultural precedent for that sort of shit. But sure, if youíre not a bible basher it can be a frustrating place to live. It definitely has played into that sort of vibe, so yeah, Iíd say so.

So, at my university weíve been covering a bunch of genre studies in the last wee while and I wanted to ask what, in your mind, is the anatomy of a doom track?

Oh man. Thatís tough to say. Weíre not really the strictest doom band but Iíd say in the most traditional, basic sense, you gotta have a gnarly, heavy riff that makes you feel like youíre getting crushed by a dinosaur or something.

[Mutual chuckling]

It should make time slow down, a good doom riff should make you feel like your entire existence is being slown down. I donít think slown is a word but I just coined it.

It is now, I reckon you should rock it bro, haha! Like you were touching on there, with your new album Heartless you guys seem to have paved a new path. In a few interviews, you were saying thereís a more radio friendly vibe and lots of people struggle to come to terms with that within their own music making. Why do you think that might be?

I dunno man, what I find interesting about when we were writing it, on the surface it might seem radio friendly because it has these very melodic vocals and a lot of melody in general. If you look beyond just the top, thereís a lot of shit going on with the arrangements and stuff and one thing that as a band weíve found kind of perplexing is that thereís not a whole lot of metal bands that are willing to incorporate that. Itís not really from a commercial perspective other then we grew up listening to a lot of stuff like that. Like we love The Beach Boys.


Thatís really amazing and interesting music but itís also really beautiful to listen to. I think the juxtaposition between the heaviness and complexity and the darkness of the subject matter and really beautiful, melodic arrangements, thatís something Iíve always wanted to hear, personally. Some bands that have done something like that before, some of them with similar ideas appeal to me more then others but we wanted to interpret that through our own personal lens.

So I was wondering if you have any favourite picks of other bands that do that particularly well? Specifically newer bands that we may not have heard of before?

Thatís actually probably not the best question to ask me. Since the last album, since we started touring so much, I donít, quite unfortunately, spend as much time looking into newer metal bands. I do to a degree but itís usually stuff that my friends tell me or I look at year-end lists and stuff. I look into the 70s, which I think, looks like the greatest period for experimentation in a rock context or, proto-metal or whatever. Thereís a lot of interesting music being made in that time. When it comes to the kind of inspiration that I take in through what is ostensibly a rock 'n' roll frame, I think most of the ideas stem from that. A lot of those bands, as weird as they would get, thereís always this interesting sense of melody. In terms of newer bands, being from the last 20 years or so, weíre really inspired by the first EP or the first album of While Heaven Wept, who are from Dale City, I think. Itís doom as fuck but itís got these beautiful soaring melodies and itís really tragic and sad and melodramatic but its heavy too and really epic. We always thought they did it really well; the blend between heavy and beautiful. Iíve been a big fan of them since I was a teenager so Iím sure they have some sort of ingrained thing into me and my musical approach.

Nice. Well maybe Iíll go in the opposite direction then, have you got any obscure, 70s, psychedelic gems for us?

Oh man, not super obscure but we played Roadburn in the Netherlands a couple of weeks ago and we got to see one of my all time favourite psych-prog bands from the 70s, Gong. Dude, it was fucking unbelievable! It was essentially like if King Crimson had actually done drugs instead of just being music nerd dudes. It kind of had that weird, mathematical, jarring feel that King Crimson had but with this deeply weird psychedelic element. So I was watching the show, grooving along or whatever and I'm just sitting there taking it all in and I was like ďOh fuck, the mushrooms are kicking inĒ then I was like, ďOh wait, I didnít take any mushroomsĒ. I truly started to feel like I was coming up on a psychedelic and I donít mean that with any hyperbole. Iím not just saying that because it sounds cool. Itís like they were casting some magic spell on the audience, it was like we were being drawn in to some vortex they were creating on stage. Those guys have been around for 45 years or something and still just whipped every other bandís ass.

Awesome, that is possibly one of the greatest accolades Iíve ever heard for a musical group.

It was truly just remarkable. People talk about music putting you in different mind states and I think thatís always true to an extent but Iíve never felt such a physical reaction in such a way.

For sure, for sure. So back to talking about Heartless, I understand youíve incorporated synths on this new album. What lead you to that? Have you been rocking analogue synths or is it more in the digital realm?

Well, weíve had a smattering of synths on our previous albums too. Actually thereís synths on everything but our very first demo. Theyíre just kind of subtle. Like the beginning on of 'Given To The Grave' on the first album and on 'Ashes' on the last album. Itís subtle but its there. Joe and I have always really been into synthesisers. Theyíre just interesting instruments. Any kind of sound that youíre capable of conceptualising, you can figure out how to make it if you have the right equipment. Thereís also a huge amount of just playing around and experimenting that you can do so Iíve always approached my guitar in a way that I try to approach the realm of synthesisers. So after we toured for several years on Foundations [of Burden], we had a little bit of money and blew it all on synthesisers.

[Mutual Cackling]

We always wanted 'em but never really could afford them. We spent a lot of time last year learning how to get better at synthesis and playing keys and the other methods of sound creation with those sorts of things. We always fancied ourselves as a symphonic prog band, y'know. I just think they sound good and theyíre fun to play and I think it fits the atmosphere that weíre trying to make. So thereís probably a good chance that our next album will have more synths and probably more experimental material in general. 

Excellent. So you mentioned pooling some pennies from tour life to buy a couple of synths. What did you end up scoring? 

Man, I have a shitload of stuff but I started with a secondhand Roland JDXI which is a really great beginner synth. Then I got a Dave Smith Mopho x4 and Iíve tied that with a Dave Smith Tetra for more voices. Thatís analog and I think, of mine, those were the only two that I used on the album. Our buddy had an old Crumar String Machine, like from the 70s, for that classic Pink Floyd [sound]. So we used that and Joe has a Roland Jx3p, from the 80s, its real great for pads and string sounds. Most of the sounds we use are strings and pads but I think thereís also a Moog mother 32 for bass in a few places. I just got a couple of Dreadbox synths, theyíre a small Greek company but theyíre putting out some truly interesting and amazing sounds analog synths. They take an unconventional approach to the design of them. So they may not be able to do absolutely everything that you would want. If youíre trying to make dance music then maybe itís not the best thing but they definitely are geared towards people who are very experimental, which is of course, right up my alley. Every spare minute that Iíve had since Iíve been home in the last two weeks, Iíve been fucking around with those.

That sounds awesome, Iíll have to check 'em out.

Yeah, you should man. Check out the Dreadbox Nyx. Look up some Youtube demos, thereís not that many out there yet but dude, it just sounds insane, itís weird and cavernous and creepy.

Sounds great, yeah. So I read a quote from yourself recently that said basically, lots of the lyrics on Heartless are based on a real world sense of dread rather then mythological tales as they were more so in the past. What is it that makes you feel like this? Is it the tense nuclear situation thatís rearing its head courtesy of one Mr Trump or global warming bought on by over industrialisation, that kind of thing?

Well, the lyrics were written before Trump got elected but the cultural and social environment has been very unsettling for the last couple of years or so but sure, global warming. Itís not so much any one specific thing but rather our global society is kind of nonchalant about the way that weíre treating each other in the world. Everyoneís so fucking selfish and itís discouraging and itís leading toward bigger problems. Donald Trump is a great example, or peopleís complete denial of global warming because they just donít want it to be true so they refuse to believe it. People treat other people like shit because theyíre not like them. Itís a trend that is concerning and so we felt compelled to talk about it because it was on our minds.

So you touched on bigotry there. I was going to ask if youíd read an article on The AV Club recently that was titled ĎMetal Music Still Has An Unaddressed Nazi Problemí?

Yeah, I have. I thought it was a bit click-baity. I felt like the guyís point is valid but he was dragging up stuff, like talking about Varg in 1992. It reaches a point, where does freedom of speech stop? How much are we supposed to be okay with ideas that are clearly damaging and negative? Like fascism, racism, any sort of bigotry, these are clearly negative ideas and anyone can see that. You can say weíre a liberal society, we should allow people to have full freedom of speech and everyone is welcome to say what they want. Sure, I agree. But at some point, you have to ask yourself, to what degree should we let these types of ideas flourish? Theyíre dangerous. I think there will always be a natural backlash because people can see, if theyíre educated well enough, which is an entire issue in itself.


That these arenít good for anyone. Itís something I kind of struggle with just because my inclinations toward freedom of ideas but also my intense hatred of hatred. People who just blindly hate others or other groups usually donít understand them. Itís a matter of an unwillingness to understand people different from themselves. So I agree, there is a Nazi problem in metal but thereís also a Nazi problem in punk rock. Thereís Nazis all over the place, itís not just a problem in metal. Bigotry and racism, sexism, these are all problems within society. Yes, itís in metal, but thatís just because people make it. It exists everywhere. I think there was the seed of an interesting idea in [that article] but I thought it was very clickbaity. It wasnít very well thought out. I kind of agree with the idea but I think they missed a lot of the larger points, I think that are the core of the problem rather then something that is native to metal strictly.

For sure. Bigotry is a a problem full stop. I ended up sharing this article with my social media because I thought, like you, some reasonable enough points were made and a few people who were fans of particular bands that were mentioned made the old argument of divorcing a person from their art, saying that the only way to gain a broader understanding of the human condition outside of oneself, is to experience art that makes yourself or other people feel uncomfortable. But I feel that doing so is more normalising these ideologies to potentially impressionable consumers of this art. What would you say to that?

Thatís an interesting argument. To a degree I agree with both sides. Itís really difficult to judge an artist. How well can you ever really know anyone? Thereís something to be said about appreciating the art outside of the artist but thereís also something to be said for not supporting that artist actively. Understanding in a wider perspective, understanding who [the artist] was. I think you should understand their personal motivations, it makes it more interesting, honestly. But at that point its history. I think maybe metal and extreme music tends toward extremity. Yeah, no kidding. It draws a lot of extreme types of personalities as well and some of these people are going to be quite unsavoury. Thereís so little that you can know necessarily about a person. If theyíre openly a Nazi, itís pretty easy to say Ďyeah, theyíre a shit personí but thereís probably a lot of people who are unrecognised as being bad people but still make interesting music. Maybe people arenít even one of the Ďbig badsí. Maybe theyíre not bigots or homophobes but maybe theyíre just assholes. Thatís just as bad, I guess right?

This is true.

Itís really hard to say. So I think to a degree, itís possible to enjoy art made by bad people. I also donít think that shouldnít excuse them. I think they should be criticised and I think they should face the consequences for their actions, just like anyone else. If you live in a way that causes harm or some sort of negative consequence toward others then you should be held accountable for it, but I donít think that that necessarily precludes people form enjoying the things they make. I donít know if thereís a degree of badness, if thereís like a sliding scale. Itís really up to people to decide that for themselves. But I think that art made by people of all different types, whether theyíre bad or good or fucked up, crazy, It all, I think, can offer insight into the types of patterns that exist within people and the types of people that are out there. I think that will help you understand, in one way or another, the psyche of the artist that creates it and understand the types of motivations that these people have. I think if youíre interested in the human mind and human motivation then I think that all art is worthy of being consumed.

UnderTheRadar Proudly Presents...


Saturday 8th July, Whammy Bar, Auckland
Sunday 9th July, San Fran, Wellington 

Tickets available HERE at UTR or in-store at Flying Out (AKL) and RPM/Slow Boat (WGTN)


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Sat 8th Jul
Whammy Bar, Auckland
Sun 9th Jul
San Fran, Wellington