Lamb of God, the Virginia metal band with a new use for hookers. Read Burk's LA Times feature here.
There was a lot of interview material that didn’t get into the LA Times story, so I’ve stuck it in here. Lamb of God members Mark Morton, Randy Blythe and Chris Adler talk about getting the squirts on the road, eating snakes in the desert, and the evolution of the Blotted Science project. It’s the day after Thanksgiving.
You must be one of the hardest-working bands in the biz. “If we ain’t the hardest, we’re one of ‘em, that’s for sure. Every step of the way, what kept movin’ us forward was that kind of persistence and that kind of drive. It’s kind of hard to let up, in this industry, particularly I guess in our genre. It’s hard to get comfortable and relaxed, and go, y’know, we can kind of sit on our ass for a while, because we’ve made it. I don’t think we ever feel that way. I know certainly I don’t. Because we’re so grateful to be where we are and to have the have the kind of success that we’ve had without compromising our music. We don’t really ever think that we can let our guard down, because there are so many other people that are waitin’ in line to take the spot. And there are so many bands around that we’re really competitive about where we stand.
“While we’ll be out of the public eye, we’ll be writing and rehearsing and recording material for the new record. So we’ll still be working, we just won’t be touring. But that will be very nice. Even just to stand still and sleep in my own bed for nine or ten months will be a lifestyle that I’m gonna have to relearn.”
What factors set you apart from other bands? “Well, I think one of the things that’s always set us apart -- and it seems natural, but strangely enough I think it’s rare at least -- is that we never assumed any identity or any sort of angle or pitch on how we present ourselves. We’ve always been 100 percent honest and real about who we are and what we are and what we’re about. And I think while people have sort of latched on to that and identified with it, and some people in the business end have marketed that and tried to hype that up, we’ve always just been ourselves and always played what we wanted. And I think that’s kind of what allows us to stay so focused on it, ‘cause it feels so natural to be who we are and to present ourselves that way, and to not have to play a certain character.
“So many bands you see, especially from my viewpoint, you can see people that are in a sense playing a role -- they’re playing a character of the rock star or the rock band. And we’ve never wanted to do that, we’ve never had to do it, and either we’ve been lucky enough to have success by being ourselves, or the reason we’ve had success is because we are ourselves, and I think the latter is the truth.”
Have any of you ever said you want to quit? “I think we’ve probably all said that to ourselves once or 20 times, but no. I don’t think anyone’s ever been seriously at the end of their rope. We’re all pretty committed to this thing. It’s a huge part of all of our lives. How lucky we are to be here, that’s not lost on any of us for a minute. It would be hard for any of us to walk away from us at this point, we’re so invested. It would be easier for us to come to each other and say hey guys, let’s take a break or let’s relax a little bit, rather than to say fuck this, I’m done.”
Was getting the Grammy nomination weird for you at all? “It was a little surreal. I thought it was pretty cool. Y’know, Randy likes to say, ‘Oh, it means nothing!’ And in the big picture it doesn’t, it’s just music industry personalities strokin’ each other’s egos. But at the same time, it’s a pretty nice accolade to have written a song that got Grammy-nominated, doin’ what we do. How can you say that’s not cool? We were in there with some cool bands that we like and respect, and Slayer won the Grammy. How’m I gonna be mad about that?”
Is there a band plan for beard growth? “No. Chris I guess was first. He had the goatee, I think he was born with it. And somewhere in the summer of 2004, we got the cover of Revolver for the first time. And that’s the last time I ever shaved, after that. I look like I’m about 12 years old without a beard. I think John’s pretty steady with his, and Willie and Randy tend to play a little more with their facial hair. I’m not sure what their strategy is. But I think the beard is gonna stay in my thing. I cut it back; sometimes it starts getting kind of unruly. But my wife likes the beard, so we’re in agreement on that.”
What percentage of women come to your shows? “It’s certainly grown, and that’s good. For some reason in Canada, there seems to be more girls that come out than I think anywhere else. I would say maybe 15 percent, 20 percent. Whereas it used to be zero, y’know? We’re all happily married, but it still doesn’t hurt to look out there and see some chicks.”
What are the best and worst things about being on the road? “The best things are that I get to play guitar every day, which is something I’d do anyway, but I get to make a living doing it, and I can’t even put into words how great it is to have that opportunity. And I get to see the world -- I’ve been around the world basically a couple times. We haven’t been to South America, or haven’t been to India or Africa, but outside of that we’ve been pretty much everywhere. Not China, but Europe, Australia, Asia, North America. So we get to see a lot of places and meet cool people.
“The bad parts are when you’re in Norway and you’ve got a 102-degree fever, and you’ve got the squirts, and you haven’t slept in your bed for six weeks, and you gotta go play a show. That sucks, y’know? Whiney rock star, fuck you -- that shit sucks! And living on top of ten other men for weeks and weeks at a time is not particularly a natural or comfortable situation for me personally. But those are small complaints in context of the big picture. So it’s not all gravy, it’s not all rock & roll party every night. Some nights it is. But the good outweighs the bad, I can assure you that.”
When you were in Birmingham, England, did you think of Black Sabbath? “Absolutely. Anywhere you are, you think, this is the scene that this band came out of, or the place that that happened. You’re getting up into Sweden, and start thinking about all the Swedish bands that broke so much ground in the more modern sense, and all the Norwegian black metal. We’ve been to all these places, so it’s kind of cool to soak up the vibe and the atmosphere where all these different scenes of music happened. And geographically, even talking about metal, let alone any other type of music, you think about New Orleans and all the music that’s come out of there, and all the metal bands that come out of there, and the Florida death-metal scene, and the New York hardcore scene, and all these different areas where all these different styles of music that have impacted us come out of. It’s cool to be able to witness all of that firsthand, and even get to meet some of those people and pick their brain a little bit.”
Was there any resistance to the band’s name change back in 1999? “All these talks were going on: ‘Well, you know, we’re gonna do this many records, we’re gonna do it here, I can give you guys this budget to record it’ -- which was on a shoestring. And the last thing was, ‘Oh yeah, by the way, we decided we’re changing our name.’ ‘What? You can’t change the name, that’s crazy. You’ve been Burn the Priest for six years, and everyone knows you as Burn the Priest. You’re moving backwards. This is terrible, you can’t do that! What’s the new name?’ ‘Lamb of God.’ ‘Oh . . . okay, yeah yeah yeah, that’s all right.’”
Are you guys usually all on same page? “I think in the broader spectrum, yes. We have five very, very different takes on what needs to be done. But I think there’s a root feeling amongst all of us. It’s like, ‘All right, look, we gotta make this work somehow, by hook or crook.’ It can be brutal, we can not get along, we can get along, good times, bad times. I think all of us feel inside of us, though, that this is a really huge part of our life. We’re very fortunate to be where we are, and we don’t want to screw that up, so let’s put our best foot forward, whatever foot that may be, at the appropriate time.”
You’re not rock stars in the classic sense. “The era of big arena bands -- like real bands, I’m not talkin’ like the pop sensation Britney Spears that can sell an arena tour, because every 16-year-old kid is gonna go, little girl or whatever -- I’m talkin’ about real bands, like Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, that at their prime were doing these huge rock-star tours, even the ‘80s, like Motley Crue and all that stuff, all that’s over, y’know? There is no more huge rock-star mystique anymore, the Internet has pretty much destroyed that. And it’s a different ballgame now. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. We don’t really care about being huge rock stars, it’s just not our thing. We’re kind of five dudes from Virginia who happened to get popular on our own and bring our audience with us, and it’s just gotten bigger, exponentially. I just don’t think there are any more rock stars anymore, that era is over. So kids, don’t try.”
What are the best and worst things about traveling? “I love traveling. I traveled a lot before the band, in more of a vagabondy, kinda bummin’-spare-change kind of way, not on a tour bus or planes. But the best things for me are goin’ out and seein’ new places and experiencing different cultures, immersing yourself in that culture as much as allowed within the confines of a touring regimen.
“The worse things are conversely being away from home. I’m almost 37, I’m not an 18-year-old kid goin’ out lookin’ to get laid every night. I’m married, I got a family back home. You’re stuck on the bus with twelve stinky dudes, and it’s much nicer bein’ at home with your wife sometimes. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s a great job.”
Where does Lamb of God’s religious imagery come from? “I guess that’s a little bit of the traditionalist metal side of us. Religious iconography has been used in heavy metal all the way back to the very first heavy metal band, which, without a doubt, no arguments, was Black Sabbath. It’s a vehicle that we have used metaphorically to convey some points. And the imagery is cool. We aren’t pro-Christian, anti-Christian, we aren’t really anything to do with religion, we’re just using a lot of the stuff you find in the bible. Mark and I write the lyrics -- I hate to use the word poetically, I suppose lyrically would be a better word. I guess if we were from China, maybe we could use Buddhist imagery or something. But we’re not, we’re from Richmond, Virginia, so we kind of tend to use the Judeo-Christian tradition.
“I don’t like the name ‘Sacrament.’ I think it’s kind of stupid and overly obvious. Mark named us Burn the Priest, and Mark named us Lamb of God. Burn the Priest, he was a lot younger then, he was like, ‘I’m in a metal band, let’s call it Burn the Priest, ‘cause it’s a metal name.’ Then he specifically got rather tired of us being pigeonholed to the name, and we hadn’t signed yet. The labels that were gonna sign us were gonna sign Burn the Priest. And he was just, ‘No. Over the name. Gonna change it.’ We had a lot of arguments and stuff, and the labels were like, ‘Don’t change the name, don’t change the name, don’t change the name.’ But we did. Because we wanted to. And that’s pretty much how we do everything -- we do exactly what we want to do when we want. If not, I don’t know why we would be doing this.
“Lamb of God is a little more enigmatic than Burn the Priest. You hear that and you’re like, ‘What’s that band about?’ You hear Burn the Priest and you’re like, ‘Great, they’re corrupting teenagers and sacrificing goats or something.’”
Did you flash on Black Sabbath when you were in Birmingham? “Yeah, and we just played in Birmingham with Black Sabbath, the Heaven and Hell era with Dio singing. We just got back from the U.K. three days ago. It was really cool. Who else is from there? Judas Priest, Lemmy from Motorhead. It’s kind of a mecca. I met this one chick on the train. I went shopping during the day and was heading back for the gig, and there was this American girl who had been following the tour around, and she was going, ‘I’m in Mecca! I’ve got to go to the Ozzy star! It’s where Black Sabbath came from!’ She was totally excited, it was kind of a neat thing.
“Birmingham is a lot different than it was when Sabbath started in ’68. I believe it used to be a much rougher town. I mean, it still can be pretty wild, but it’s got a really nice shopping district. It was pretty neat to be there.”
Do they have sabbath memorabilia there? “Yeah. Ozzy has a store.”
I hear you went to survival camp. “I just went before this tour. When we got off Ozzfest, I went out to Arizona to go do a nine-day primitive-living-skills/survival course, like aboriginal living skills with my friend Cody Lundin. He wrote a best-selling book called “98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive. He’s got a new one out called “When All Hell Breaks Loose” -- it’s about urban disaster preparedness. He’s a pretty famous survival and primitive-living-skills instructor.
“So I went out there to the desert with him for nine days and just lived off the land, eating snakes and rats and stuff, and making fires with sticks, learning how to strip yourself down to the bare essentials. There’s no technology allowed. I took my digital camera, he did allow that. But I don’t think that would do you much good in a survival situation -- ‘Here’s a picture of me dying.’ So I kind of photo-documented that, and I’m working on a story for that that I’m gonna put out for some magazine sooner or later. It should be pretty interesting.
Would survival skills help with touring? “Oh yeah! Or just the mentality of being able to do more with less. If you don’t have something that you need, you can improvise or make it. And that’s kind of a life skill in general. In our technological age, if you don’t have something, if your computer crashes or whatever, people are shit out of luck a lot of the times. Look at what happened in New Orleans. People didn’t know how to purify water. Communications went down. All sorts of crazy shit. There was no self-sufficiency plan.
“And for me, I enjoy being able to stay alive, no matter what happens. So that’s why I do that kind of stuff. I’ve always been interested in it. And I’m hopin’ to go up to Canada this winter to study some winter survival skills.”
What will be America’s next disaster? “Unless there’s some sort of mass terrorist attack, I think really there’s not gonna be an immediate disaster, I think what’s gonna happen is it’s gonna be depletion of fossil fuels. People are not using the free resources we have, like solar and stuff. And the automobile lobby doesn’t want people to know about altrnative energy sources for cars and stuff. People don’t want to use public transportation . . .
“I mean, look at L.A. L.A. is a fucking nightmare! Do you drive? I mean, it’s hell. Imagine what would happen to L.A. if there’s a fossil-fuel crunch, if shit just runs out. People would lose. Their. MINDS. That’s a very real situation, and at the rate we’re stripping away the earth, that’s gonna happen. It really is.”
Is it scary to see a few months of not working? “Absolutely not. I got plans out the wazoo. I’m gonna become a human being again for a little bit. I’m gonna actually hang out with my wife, do some traveling, go to Jamaica for a little bit, go to Japan, and just enjoy life. I’m sure about six months down the road from now, I’ll be itching to hit the road again.”
Have you heard the Blotted Science record? “Ron [Jarzombek, Blotted Science and Watchtower guitarist] sent it to me about a week or two before it hit shelves. I love it. Although I wasn’t able to participate in the final project, a lot of the final project was included in what Ron and began working on when this whole idea came about. So to hear it maybe played a little differently or in a different context in the final result is really very cool.
“I had done the Modern Drummer Festival, where he and I had started. I was just a big fan of this guy, and as luck would have it, going through Texas a couple of times, I got to meet him, and we got to talking about music, and it seemed although he was really schooled and very submerged in theory, and I was the opposite, for some reason we clicked, and we had some really cool ideas. He loved the Lamb of God records. He was interested in bringing more of a rock sensibility to the music that he was doing, and he wanted to see how that relationship would work, and it turned out it worked pretty well. Only problem was my time. We were in the middle of writing Sacrament when most if not all of the process was going on with Ron and myself, and it was just a matter of priority.
“Every Lamb of God album is like a baby. It’s very, very important to each of us. And this ‘side project’ really had to step down. And I knew how excited Ron was about doing it, [but] for him to do new records, because they were so technical and he was such a perfectionist, it would take a lot of time. And I felt at the time, when I eventually stepped away, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it or didn’t want to continue trying to fit it in. It was that I knew, just as a fan of his, that I wouldn’t want to be responsible for holding anything up.
“It was kind of a sad minute there for both of us, I think, because he had really come up with a lot of material that he had me in mind for, in the kind of style that I have. And I was a bit distraught, that here’s one of my favorite guitar players that is actually interested and willing to sit down and do a record with me, I was thrilled about the opportunity. It was like the Modern Drummer Fest -- you stepped out on your own, you want to do something big and cool, and this was about as big and cool as I could ever think to do. Not that it would sell a billion copies, but it was a guy that I respected a lot and really wanted to work with.
“It was kind of sad that I had to step down. All in all, we’re still friends, and I hope in the future we’re able to do something when I have a little more time.”
Do Lamb of God songs ever start with drum tracks? “There are some. Except for Randy, we’re all very involved in the writing and arranging. And while certainly the guitar players are gonna more often than not bring in a general idea or riff, there’s a lot of rhythmic stuff that I do bring in and add to the party. And there’s a combination of things, where you don’t have one guy saying, ‘Hey, I wrote a song, this is how it goes, everybody play it the way that I tell ya.’ We have five guys that are being creative and listening to each other and working with each other to try new ideas and to fit all the different ideas into the song, to make it become something bigger than just the one aspect. There’s not the shredding guitar solo for 20 minutes, and there’s not a 45-minute drum solo or anything like that. We have the proficiency to do those kinds of things, but we want to work together and write good songs.
“So yeah, there’s a lot of ideas that I’ll bring in, where I’ll have a rhythm in mind, and just get the guys to kind of lock in and chug along with me, just in a kind of tight pattern. An idea can evolve from there, where a guitar player can say, ‘Hey, I love that pattern, it fits into this idea that I was thinking of as well.’"
Where does Lamb of God’s approach come from? “There’s a lot of bands from here [Richmond, Virginia] that were very over-the-top progressive, bands like Breadwinner, and a band from North Carolina called Confessor, that were very influential when we started. These guys were really pressing the envelope of progressive music. Just like the Blotted Science project, that’s the kind of music I listen to when I’m at home, when I’m on a bus -- whenever I’m listening to music, I listen to just crazy stuff that is far out there.
“So we kind of reel those ideas back in, and try to break into more of a common denominator where we know we’re exercising our ability, that we’re not gonna be bored when we take the song on the road, but it’s also not an exercise in just wankin’ off for 20 minutes.”
You guys seem totally determined. “I guess it sounds a bit clichéd, but we really do live and breathe this stuff, and we kind of have a commitment to each other, in that we are gonna give our all to the project, or we’re gonna give nothing. When we go into a record like “Sacrament,” and now you’re starting to think about what’s after “Sacrament,” every record that we’ve done, we’ve made a point to sit down and make sure everyone’s on the same page, very committed. But the musical commitment means that in some way we have to figure out how to not only not repeat ourselves, but to somehow outdo ourselves in what we’ve already done.”
Does it scare you that you’re taking a year off? “No. Well, it’s exciting for me, because the idea’s not to fully take the year off. It’s a year off of touring, where two or three months in, I imagine we’re gonna get together and start writing music. The touring part of “Sacrament” has been since before “Sacrament” came out, we were on the road, and it’s been pretty much nonstop, where there’s been a lot of interrelationships and just time at home that’s been missed and damaged in some ways. So I think it’s important for us as people to repair those things and get refreshed.”
What are the best and worst things about heavy touring? “The best thing is the time onstage. It real to be able to perform in front of people that are excited about it. That’s just something that never goes away, as seasoned as we get -- that moment when you step on the stage and the lights go dark, or that first note comes out. It’s just a thrill, man. It’s the greatest thrill that was ever made. So that has to be it.
“But depending on what tour we’re on, we’re gonna play anywhere from 40 minutes to 90 minutes a night, and that leaves about 23 hours a day of not having that, where you’re either sitting around waiting or doing kind of BS work, when you’re not at home, and there’s not your friends around -- you can’t barbecue in an arena dressing room. You’re just kind of stuck in this bubble of waiting, and that’s definitely the most difficult part.”