INTERVIEW: Brett Campbell – Pallbearer

American doom metallers PALLBEARER are on the cusp of releasing their third studio album, Heartless, on March 24th via Nuclear Blast Records. The four-man outfit from Little Rock, Arkansas exploded onto the doom scene with their debut, Sorrow and Extinction, and have been on the rise since. We spoke to PALLBEARER‘s vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell about Heartless, touring, and how Brett compiles lyrics for their songs.

How’s it going?

Brett: Not too bad. Been pretty busy trying to get stuff lined up for the tour next week.

Looking forward to it?

Brett: Yeah, man. It’s been a while since we’ve been on the road. We’ve got a lot of stuff to take care of before then, so we’re just trying to do a little bit every day instead of having to do it all at the last second.

So, your new album’s out next week. How happy are you with how it’s turned out?

Brett: I’m extremely happy with it, man. I think it’s the record that turned out exactly how we wanted it to be for the most part, in terms of production and such. I think it’s got a really good vibe, at least for the material, it fits the songs really well. I’m really happy with the way it ended up sounding.

Awesome! And you’ve released two singles for it, Thorns and I Saw the End. How did you feel the reactions were to those?

Brett: I think it’s been kind of interesting. It’s really hard to gauge what everyone thinks from what I see online, of course, like the naysayer’s always the loudest. It seems like the response to Thorns was a little better than I Saw the End, which is the opposite of what I maybe expected. I don’t know. I think I’m really bad at gauging what people are going to like and not like, but that’s good, because it’s not really why we write songs. At least none of that goes into the song writing process, we just kinda write the songs. But yeah, it seems for the most part it’s been mostly positive, but you know, I think that the album might surprise a few people, so I’m curious to see what the overall response is.

I’ve listened to the album and think it’s amazing. You can hear the development from album to album as more influences come in. I love them both (Thorns/I Saw the End).

Brett: I’m glad you feel that way! For us it seems really natural, you know? I feel it’s a natural progression of where we’re going. You never know how people are going to feel about it.

How do you feel you’ve developed since PALLBEARER started?

Brett: Well, in a number of ways, I’d say. I’m more comfortable as a musician, I feel I’ve gotten better at guitar. Maybe more importantly than that, as a band we’ve gotten better at playing together. We’ve played together for so long, we have a really musical language amongst ourselves, it’s really easy to just, like, it’s like a jam or something, we can just start jamming and it sounds like something we’ve actually worked on, which comes with being in a band for a really long time. So the more than we’ve played together, the easier it’s gotten to maybe explore our roles in the band a little more. Instead of trying to establish those roles and figure out where we all bring the most into the band, we are now comfortable enough with our main roles to move around and play with them a little bit. So, I think we’ve gotten better at structuring in that way, kinda playing around with it.

So, how would you say Heartless compares to Foundations of Burden?

Brett: Well, I think Heartless was kind of the logical next step after Foundations and it kind of became what we wanted to do with Foundations but we didn’t quite have the skill yet, compositionally. Because we were trying to include elements of progressive rock and very multi-layered arrangements, we’ve always tried to do that since really the beginning, but we really started to go for it, more so on Foundations than our first album because, you know, we were more comfortable playing then as well. I think Heartless is kind of the same story, we are just getting closer to what we’ve always kinda wanted to do as a band and haven’t really been on the level of song writing we need to be at to make that kind of material. We’ve always had an intention to write very complex and deep music that’s also still emotional and not just, like, clinical.

So how do you and PALLBEARER go about writing your songs?

Brett: Sometimes one of us will write an entire song and then just bring it to the band, there’s been a few songs like that. And often times, someone will write the majority of a song, and then we’ll arrange it together and kid of rearrange, add different parts, maybe take out parts, and then, particularly on this album which is a little different from what we’ve done historically, is that more parts of this album came about in jams and practices. You know, someone would bring in a riff, and we would develop it from there, just kind of feel up the songs together, instead of having one person write the majority of the song. So far, it’s our greatest effort as a band, as a group of four musicians instead of bits and pieces. It is, to a degree, a band effort.

You think it’s better off that way?

Brett: Yeah, it’s an exciting way to work because, you know, I’ve always had a grand inspiration from other people’s cool material that maybe isn’t written in a way I would think of necessarily. So like, using other people’s good ideas as a springboard is a really fun way to work for me, so luckily everyone has really good ideas and a lot of the time. In the past, I’ve developed a lot of the material just writing by myself, and some of the main themes in some of our new songs are not my ideas and I’ve just kind of built upon them and that was really cool, because you can think of things from a different perspective, and it stems toward incorporating some elements that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

What would you say your inspirations are that you draw from when writing?

Brett: Man, everything. I love such a wide variety of music, I’d say most of it stems from more experimental realms and stuff, but when it comes to writing, I think I have a certain way of playing guitar. I don’t think there’s any one main inspiration in terms of like, outside music, although obviously, there is plenty. Not in the actual creative process, not while writing, t’s just whatever comes out, and if it’s cool then I’ll further develop it and if it’s not then I’ll move on. I just go with whatever feeling I have at the time.

And you’re touring soon. How are your songs received in a live format? They’re not your typical mosh-pit kind of tracks.

Brett: Man, we’ve only had a handful of moshes like, ever, and it’s always really fun [laughs]. It’s like “why are you moshing?!” I mean it’s fine I guess. Most of the time you see a little head nod, a lot of closed eyes, more recent times we’ve had more people singing along with us so I guess people are knowing our songs better, which is an amazing feeling. Just hearing crowds sing along. But yeah, we typically have a kind of, they’re probably stoned, a good portion of the crowd! [laughs]

Going back to the crowd singing. You were part of the ‘doom boom’, I guess you could call it. Did you ever expect that to happen with PALLBEARER?

Brett: No man, never, of course not. Not playing in a doom band. That kind of doom explosion was happening around the time that our first album came out, I guess, that I’m aware of. I’ve been a big doom fan forever and it’s always been the music that I like and it doesn’t really matter how popular it is, and when I was in my early 20s I really dug deep to discover as many bands as I can. I think it’s a great genre of music and I’m glad that it’s more popular. I think a lot of people have this impression that if something becomes more popular it’s going to be ruined or watered down, but I feel maybe the opposite, because you get more perspectives from different types of musicians, and maybe people who don’t have a really deep knowledge of the genre, but they like elements of it. I think it’s cool, and it’s obviously benefited us to a degree, because we get to play to a larger number of people than we ever expected to, and we’re making the music that we want, so I’m glad that people are open to the music we’re trying to create.

I think it’s an example of metal’s diversity becoming more popular and accepted. People are more open-minded about new genres than they used to be.

Brett: Yeah, I think it’s fantastic. One of the biggest appeals in metal for me, in general, has always been the potential to really just stretch the limits. Like, even within the surface level of death and black metal, or power metal, or traditional metal, anything, one thing that can inarguably be called a metal band can sound completely different from another inarguably metal band. And that’s just in the very basic sub-genre tropes of certain styles, but then you have bands who are really pushing the limits of their sub-genres and you can get into some really weird territory. When I was first getting into metal as a teenager, that was a big appeal to me, because I think I’m easily bored with hearing the same sounds over and over, and really like it when people try to push the limits and challenge themselves.

Do you remember what got you into metal in the first place?

Brett: It’s hard to say. I lived in a boring white-bred suburb of Little Rock, and there was nothing there. It seemed like such a restrictive and kind of dead place to be, and there was no excitement, most people around me were the absolute, to me at least, boring. People go to work, they have kids, go to church, and it’s like, awful, you know? So, my discovery of this music, which reflects on frustration, anger, depression, all these things, and can also be very cathartic and powerful, you can draw power from the sound. It’s not subtle music, by and large. So, I think, to some degree, it probably appealed to my teenage frustration, but also, like I was saying earlier, the complexity within metal appealed to me as well. And I guess from early on I appreciated the depth of the language of metal and how free it could be. There is a thread of traditionalists in metal that vehemently disregard or fight back against change, or that sort of progressive mindset, but there’s also a lot of people who embrace it as well, and that was me as a teenager. Getting into metal and progressive rock, electronic music, experimental music, I was just drawn to any kind of music that wasn’t afraid to get weird or push off in different directions.

So, generally, where do your lyrics come from?

Brett: Typically, whenever a song gets to the lyric writing point, which is often months after months of working on a song, I feel like it’s a combination of whatever’s on my mind, whether it’s something person in my life or just some reflection that I’m having about what’s happening in the world or what’s happening to people around me. Or even just a larger philosophical point. But by the time the song gets to the point where I’m writing lyrics, the song sort of speaks to me, like eventually it will tell me what it’s supposed to be about. It sounds kinda strange, but I generally have some inkling, as to what feeling the song should be and I’ll just kind of start writing and see where the lyrics go, and re-edit the lyrics until I have some cogent idea. While writing the musical portion, I always have the vocal melodies in mind and know where the vocals are going to be. I have these patterns and melodies, and then kind of fill in the words until it starts to reveal itself as an idea, and then it’ll take me somewhere. It’s a really strange way of writing lyrics, but it seems to work and it helps me coerce my ideas into something that makes sense.

That’s a really interesting way to go about it. I think it’s because, instrumentally, they’re quite emotional songs to begin with, so I can imagine it’s easy to get into the state of the song you’re creating and see what comes out lyrically.

Brett: Yeah! I feel the song should be able to tell some sort of emotional story, even if there are no lyrics at all. I feel like if I ever got to the point where my non-words were turned into real words, you could still hear the songs and they would still portray feeling. The music shouldn’t be dependent on the lyrics to evoke feelings, it should just be there in the music itself.

Definitely. You see that in a lot of post-rock instrumental bands. They don’t have a single word in them, but they still bring forth that real emotion.

Brett: Yeah, I agree.

So, after the album release and the tour, what are you guys going to get up to for the rest of the year?

Brett: I think we have pre-plans for more tours in the late Summer and Fall, nothing that’s really been solidified yet, but we may be back in Europe sooner rather than later. That’s not set in stone yet. Typically, when I’m here I’m almost always working on something musical, one way or another, whether it’s for PALLBEARER or just my own particular explorations and stuff. Yeah, just keep working, and we’ll be touring quite a bit on this album hopefully, and stay busy and start working on writing more material, see what direction that takes us.

Heartless is set for release on March 24th via Nuclear Blast Records. Pre-orders are available here & herePALLBEARER tour Europe and the UK in April, for tour dates check it out here.

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