The BIG Über Rock Interview: Pallbearer Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Saturday, 23 December 2017 12:21

This past decade has seen many of the genres associated with metal purists slowly adapt to incorporate new sounds as bands drop in like timed grenades, tearing apart the foundations and building things anew from the ashes.


While bands like Deafheaven and Myrkyr are largely responsible for the sonic shift in the black metal scene, that other most pure church of heavy metal – doom – has also been undergoing some much-needed renovation work. While Chelsea Wolfe and King Woman challenging the occult sides of the genre, Arkansas-based doom-heads Pallbearer have been making waves with their latest album ‘Heartless’, which even managed to break the Billboard 200 in the US.


Following their opening slot on the main stage of Damnation Festival in Leeds at the beginning of December, caught up to the band to see how things were going and if success had changed them at all… I started by asking them how things were – and they obviously were in good form:


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Brett Campbell (vocals/guitar): [We’re] pretty good *cracks open a can*


All together: Pretty good, yeah.


Joseph D. Rowland (bass): We’re all fantastic.


How did it feel to open the main stage at Damnation?


Joe: Really exciting!


Brett: Until someone pulled the fire alarm…


Joe: It was great, I didn’t know what to expect but it was packed, so… We’ve done lots of festivals before where we’ve played really early and the room or whatever structure we’re in, people are hungover and lame, so it doesn’t work...


Brett: Luckily this is a one-day thing.


Joe: It was a big crowd and a really awesome response.


What exactly happened with the fire alarm?


Joe: I’ve no idea. Maybe it was because our sound guy was playing in a speedo…


I saw that! It was a bit disconcerting, to say the least.


Devin Holt (guitar): It’s how he gets in the zone.


Mark Lierly (drums): He’s French, he’s very sensual.


Brett: Sensual Frenchual.


So, do you have festivals like this back home?


Brett: Not really.


Devin: There’s a few new ones this year, there’s Psycho Las Vegas, and some older fests that are adding new bands like Bonnaroo, and a new thing I saw which has Ohhms and Warning, and a few other bands...


Brett: Migration fest…


Devin: There’s one that the Maryland Death Fest guys put on in the Fall now, it’s like some metal, some synthwave, Ghost and whatever.


Outside looking in, it does sound like there’s more happening, we certainly see more posters for your fests these days than a decade ago.


Joe: Yeah, they’re finally catching on to having multi-day gigs.


Brett: There’s kind of a hurdle in the US for that kind of thing, because of the amount of travel required. Everything is so spread out; it’s much easier to do something like this in Europe where travel is cheap and it’s not so big.


How important do you think festivals like this are, to sustaining a healthy metal scene?


Mark: Huge.


Brett: Oh yeah, it’s great having a place like this where everybody can gather and maybe see bands they haven’t seen before, but wanted to. Or never heard of and just discovered. I think it probably plays a part in why metal as a genre is so much stronger in Europe than it is in the US.


I mean, you say that, but you hit the Billboard 200 this year with ‘Heartless’, which a decade ago for an out-and-out doom metal band would have been unthinkable. Do you think metal is gaining traction again?



Brett: I believe it’s because we totally sold out.


Mark: A lot of the genre of hard rock is dying, in the US at least, so people are digging deeper to find something more.


Devin: There are people out there who want something more than Nickelback or whatever.


Joe: It’s a continuous cycle; there’ll be pop, then you go to the ‘80s and its disco…


Brett: Stuff comes in and out of style.


Mark: It’s interesting because the internet has allowed niche bands like ourselves to have an audience, for people who wanna find it.


Devin: It’s also easier to listen to it for free and not give a shit.


How has the reception to ‘Heartless’ been so far?


Joe: It’s been really great man. There have been some older fans who maybe weren’t ready accept the evolution that we’ve had…


Devin: Traditionalists in general, like “oh man this doesn’t sound like Candlemass” or whoever…


Brett: Yeah, so people kind of write it off. Even people who didn’t initially get it, but they say they listen to it more and more and eventually get it, because they want to like it. It seems catchy on the surface, but…


Mark: It’s a really, really dense record.


Did it ever worry you when writing the record, that you’d a negative response for changing your sound?


Devin: We don’t give a fuck!


Brett: We knew there would be a lot of people who would complain at first.


Joe: It hasn’t had a massively negative effect on us at all though. The naysayers are people who have had to slowly get into it. We’ve played bigger and better shows than we ever did before.


Brett: I think we’re better live than before too.


How would you say the show has changed since you released ‘Heartless’, to what you had before?


Brett: Compared to our older material?


Yeah. I mean, ‘Heartless’ still sounds like *you*, it’s just that it opens the sound out a lot to new places. So how is it to adapt the setlist to accommodate the style of the new songs?


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Joe: It’s fun. It’s nice having more songs to choose from, when we started this tour earlier this year it took a couple of weeks before we really honed in and figured out the perfect flow. On our albums and live, we live to have a musical journey, an ebb and flow between songs and within the songs themselves. It’s kind of challenging at first to try and figure which songs fit in a set, from all our releases, but once we get it honed in, it’s really nice.


Devin: I think part of it too is that we were trying to challenge ourselves, to pull it off live. I think with all the other material too, we’ve tried to make better production. Still, we’re still working on other aspects of it – hopefully we’re going to have more of a light show and stuff in the future, but in terms of the sonic aspect we’re trying to make it bigger sounding onstage.


How important do you think the live show is to selling people that this new material works for your sound?


Brett: Very. That’s it, for sure. In general, all of our stuff is heavier live and we emphasise that element when we play, so people are like “oh, this old stuff was so much heavier, this is more commercial”, which is hilarious to me, that people say it sounds commercial. But you see it live and it’s heavy as fuck – all is well.


Devin: Full of primal energy.


You also released an EP between the two records. How much development would you say there was between the last two records?


Joe: The EP barely even counts, because we were doing it to test out the studio we were doing 'Heartless' in. The only original song on that album was written in 2009 or whatever.


Brett: It’s very, very old.


Joe: It was funny when we released it, because people wondered if that was our new direction and it was like ‘…nope.’


Do you think working in the studio with Joe Barresi helped facilitate your change in sound at all?


Joe: Yeah, the guy’s a genius.


Brett: He has all these effects with pedals and all, there’s no automation. He’s a true artist. He’s one of the best engineers out there. It was very exciting to work with him.


Joe: He was integral to the final product in a lot of ways.


Brett: We had a vision of what we wanted it to sound like and communicated it to him, he took our ideas and worked back and forth with us adding lots of his own method to get there.


You’ve worked with other notable producers in the past - how important is the producer to the Pallbearer process?


Joe: Not to the creative process.


Brett: We’ve never had a true producer, more like engineers.


Devin: Yeah, we’re pretty sure about our ideas way in advance, there’s never been a single person that dictated how it should be.


Brett: The closest we got was Billy Anderson on our second record, he gave us ideas...


Joe: There were definitely some suggestions...


Brett: Yeah, because he’s also a fucking genius. He’d be like “why don’t we try this here?”


Devin: But it was more about structural arrangements, than writing the songs or whatever.


Brett: We just wouldn’t let anyone change things for us.


It has felt like metal bands getting into the charts was a pipedream for a while there, but bands like yourselves have proved that there is an appetite for this kind of music on a larger scale. In particular, the fact you play a kind of doom sound which isn’t necessarily tied in to a geographical scene… How would you say that’s affected your ability to have cross-genre appeal?


Joe: There’s a kind of new scene forming for doom in the US right now, with bands like Spirit Adrift that are doing some really good shit. There are starting to be more of these doom bands arriving in the US who are a lot more melodic, more technical and drawing from a variety of stuff and not just Trouble or Solitude Aeternus or whatever.


Brett: Some of those bands have been around as long as we have – some longer.


So how difficult was it for you guys, getting started without a wider geographical scene to be part of?


Brett: We do though, that’s the thing. In Arkansas, we’re essentially drawing from our local music scene. There are some great new doom bands from there, it’s just that no-ones heard of them.


Mark: They don’t get out a lot.


Joe: Rwake were a band who made it out here, they toured here in 2007, 2008.


Brett: Those guys are fucking incredible.


Devin: They sound absolutely nothing like Black Sabbath.


Joe: We say doom, but it’s more like sludgey, astral…


Brett: Psychedelic sludge madness. It’s great. There’s no other band like them, honestly.


Were there any thematic elements you found yourself going back to when writing the record?


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Joe: I guess there were some overlying themes, but each song was its own thing. We write all our music first, at some point the song itself reveals what it’s about. Once its reached a musical point where its solidified and we’re not re-re-re-arranging, we decide what it’s about.


Brett: The songs inspire the lyrics, rather than the lyrics inspiring the songs.


Talking of inspirations, last year you covered Type O Negative’s ‘Love You To Death’ – what’s the story behind that?


Brett: It was pretty much process of elimination. Back in Arkansas there’s this thing we do which is basically a cover up, where we dress up and cover a band...


Joe: For Halloween or whatever. We were planning on doing a whole Type O set, but we were writing ‘Heartless’ so we were strapped for time. We only have so much time together, with members being out of town…


Brett: We started doing ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Me’, but it was just like, ‘Man, it’s kind of stupid spending all this time learning a set of Type O Negative songs that we’re only going to do once, or we could just work on our own shit and do our own song.’ I’d already got the arrangement for ‘Love You To Death’ so we decided on that.


Devin: We actually played it once, on Halloween night in like 2015, in Little Rock. That’s the only time we’ve done it live.


Brett: It fits our aesthetic, we were gonna do ‘Wolf Moon’ as well, but didn’t get time.


What is your take on the current state of metal and heavy music?


Joe: Heavy music is well and alive right now. Rock music, in a popular sense, the larger, realm of rock is not as viable as it could be on a commercial level, but artistically and culturally there’s a lot of bands doing interesting things. It’s good.


What’s next for Pallbearer – what are your plans for 2018?


Joe: We’ve got a couple of months off, back in the States. We’ll be working on various stuff...


Brett: Back to writing.


Joe: A few singles that are supposed to be out next year, in different outlets and we’ll do some workshopping and way more touring…


Awesome. It’ll be great to see you again!


‘Heartless’ is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.


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