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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 below…

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 it’s 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. I’d say there’s a cultural precedent for that sort of shit. But sure, if you’re not a bible basher it can be a frustrating place to live. It definitely has played into that sort of vibe, so yeah, I’d say so.

So, at my university we’ve 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. That’s tough to say. We’re not really the strictest doom band but I’d say in the most traditional, basic sense, you gotta have a gnarly, heavy riff that makes you feel like you’re 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 don’t 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 there’s 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, there’s a lot of shit going on with the arrangements and stuff and one thing that as a band we’ve found kind of perplexing is that there’s not a whole lot of metal bands that are willing to incorporate that. It’s 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.


That’s really amazing and interesting music but it’s 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, that’s something I’ve 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?

That’s actually probably not the best question to ask me. Since the last album, since we started touring so much, I don’t, quite unfortunately, spend as much time looking into newer metal bands. I do to a degree but it’s 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. There’s 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, there’s always this interesting sense of melody. In terms of newer bands, being from the last 20 years or so, we’re really inspired by the first EP or the first album of While Heaven Wept, who are from Dale City, I think. It’s doom as fuck but it’s got these beautiful soaring melodies and it’s 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. I’ve been a big fan of them since I was a teenager so I’m sure they have some sort of ingrained thing into me and my musical approach.

Nice. Well maybe I’ll 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 “Oh fuck, the mushrooms are kicking in” then I was like, “Oh wait, I didn’t take any mushrooms”. I truly started to feel like I was coming up on a psychedelic and I don’t mean that with any hyperbole. I’m not just saying that because it sounds cool. It’s 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 band’s ass.

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

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

For sure, for sure. So back to talking about Heartless, I understand you’ve 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, we’ve had a smattering of synths on our previous albums too. Actually there’s synths on everything but our very first demo. They’re just kind of subtle. Like the beginning on of 'Given To The Grave' on the first album and on 'Ashes' on the last album. It’s subtle but its there. Joe and I have always really been into synthesisers. They’re just interesting instruments. Any kind of sound that you’re capable of conceptualising, you can figure out how to make it if you have the right equipment. There’s also a huge amount of just playing around and experimenting that you can do so I’ve 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 they’re fun to play and I think it fits the atmosphere that we’re trying to make. So there’s 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 I’ve tied that with a Dave Smith Tetra for more voices. That’s 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 there’s also a Moog mother 32 for bass in a few places. I just got a couple of Dreadbox synths, they’re a small Greek company but they’re 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 you’re trying to make dance music then maybe it’s 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 I’ve had since I’ve been home in the last two weeks, I’ve been fucking around with those.

That sounds awesome, I’ll have to check 'em out.

Yeah, you should man. Check out the Dreadbox Nyx. Look up some Youtube demos, there’s not that many out there yet but dude, it just sounds insane, it’s 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 that’s 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. It’s not so much any one specific thing but rather our global society is kind of nonchalant about the way that we’re treating each other in the world. Everyone’s so fucking selfish and it’s discouraging and it’s leading toward bigger problems. Donald Trump is a great example, or people’s complete denial of global warming because they just don’t want it to be true so they refuse to believe it. People treat other people like shit because they’re not like them. It’s 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 you’d read an article on The AV Club recently that was titled ‘Metal Music Still Has An Unaddressed Nazi Problem’?

Yeah, I have. I thought it was a bit click-baity. I felt like the guy’s 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 we’re 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? They’re dangerous. I think there will always be a natural backlash because people can see, if they’re educated well enough, which is an entire issue in itself.


That these aren’t good for anyone. It’s 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 don’t understand them. It’s a matter of an unwillingness to understand people different from themselves. So I agree, there is a Nazi problem in metal but there’s also a Nazi problem in punk rock. There’s Nazis all over the place, it’s not just a problem in metal. Bigotry and racism, sexism, these are all problems within society. Yes, it’s in metal, but that’s 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 wasn’t 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?

That’s an interesting argument. To a degree I agree with both sides. It’s really difficult to judge an artist. How well can you ever really know anyone? There’s something to be said about appreciating the art outside of the artist but there’s 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. There’s so little that you can know necessarily about a person. If they’re openly a Nazi, it’s pretty easy to say ‘yeah, they’re a shit person’ but there’s probably a lot of people who are unrecognised as being bad people but still make interesting music. Maybe people aren’t even one of the ‘big bads’. Maybe they’re not bigots or homophobes but maybe they’re just assholes. That’s just as bad, I guess right?

This is true.

It’s really hard to say. So I think to a degree, it’s possible to enjoy art made by bad people. I also don’t think that shouldn’t 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 don’t think that that necessarily precludes people form enjoying the things they make. I don’t know if there’s a degree of badness, if there’s like a sliding scale. It’s really up to people to decide that for themselves. But I think that art made by people of all different types, whether they’re 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 you’re 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

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