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Brett Campbell of Pallbearer: Interview

Pallbearer are set to release their fourth album, Forgotten Days. It continues the bands aesthetic of cosmic, expansive, doom metal. We caught up with Brett Campbell, vocalist and guitarist with Pallbearer, in the run up to the released of their new long player.

We discuss the new album, influences, letting go of production duties, politics and prog rock.

Pallbearer
Pallbearer
Photo: Ebru Yildiz + Jacob Slaton

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

Congratulations on the new Pallbearer album. It’s a fantastic album and one that I think people are going to love!

Thanks!

The title track and album opener, Forgotten Days, has a monumental riff at its core and it starts the album with bombastic bluster; and the fury that erupts after the five minute mark is crushing. How do you go about deciding a track list?

We just argue about it a lot! No, I’m exaggerating a little. It’s a pretty intensive process. We listen to the songs in every imaginable order; we try to think about the general character of a song and where it would fit with the narrative of the album. We also think about where the songs would sit in the trajectory of the album as a single piece of music; our albums are meant to be listened to that way. The order of songs is vital. It’s almost like writing a song itself; you just keep working on it until it feels tight.

In terms of the narrative, do you start with a concept of does it arrive organicly? 

It’s all pretty organic. In terms of myself I write pretty intuitively. I try to just let the song flow and not think about it too much. Whatever my next idea is, a riff or a part, I try not to overthink it too much and let it flow…let the muse speak to me and let it flow!

You’re tagged with the doom metal label but you’ve shown yourself to be far more expansive than that. You have the synthesizers and give much more than the doom label suggests. I guess that all flows in the same way; letting it flow and seeing what feels right?

Pallbearer
Pallbearer – Heartless (2017)

Yeah, pretty much! Some parts are written on synthesizers, for example Dancing In Madness (from 2017’s Heartless album), and we similarly have ideas where synths work with other parts of the songs. They’re there as extra colours. A lot of the time, the guitars serve a similar role. It’s all about bringing out melodies, textures and atmospheres.

Silver Wings is the longest track, and is probably the most traditional sounding doom piece on the album but even that pushes away from the traditional as it unfolds. You have some of your shortest songs on Forgotten Days. Do you ever feel constrained by time limitations? Would you ever get into double albums? Do you make sure your trim the fat on songs?

We’ve always been about trimming the fat. Never say never (on the double albums) but in general we try t keep our material as succinct as possible which sounds like an outright lie coming from us! Even on our longer songs, we try to avoid unnecessary repetition.

Repetition isn’t inherently bad if its trying to serve a purpose in a song. There are too many stoner bands that hammer on one riff for so long that it loses my interest. We don’t want to be boring. We’ll cut out repetition if we feel that it doesn’t serve the song overall. Just because a riff is good, doesn’t mean you have to play it sixteen times in a row!

I think about our songs less in terms of riffs and more in terms of composition. There is more verse/chorus material on Forgotten Days than we’ve ever done before but in general it’s just about trying to convey moods through pieces of music. It’s about trying to weave the different sections in a way that’s interesting and gives you an emotional response.

That emotional response is clear in Pallbearer songs. A lot of your songs are deep and feel introspective. Does your inspiration come mainly from personal experiences?

For the most part, yeah. Either stuff in my life directly, or stuff that my friends and family are going through, or my feelings on a situation in the world or my feelings about existence or human experience. It’s usually personal tribulation or philosophical musing. So yeah, my personal reactions, or Joe’s (Joseph D. Rowland – Pallbearer bassist).

Pallbearer
Pallbearer – Forgotten Days
Cover image by Michael Lierly

Your artwork is always sublime. How do you decide on which direction to take with the visual aesthetic? Forgotten Days evokes the feeling of family.

Artwork is just as important as any other aspect to us. It’s an important part of the artistic process. In many ways, if someone has never heard of the band, it’s the first thing they’ll see. It should elicit a response and it should tie into the music itself. It’s a visual marker of the songs that we have spent so much time on.

With this one, Joe and I discussed the concept for the artwork at great length. We presented our ideas to Michael (Michael Lierly – cover artist) and he interpreted it in his own artistic way. The back cover ties into the narrative too; the gatefold LP.

Im sure there are plenty of collectors that could vouch for buying albums based on the cover art.

How was it working with Randall Dunn on Forgotten Days? We spoke to Uniform about working with him on their new album, Shame…what were your experiences like?

I thought it was a great experience. It’s the first time that we have worked with someone that had the producer. Many of our previous albums and songs have been engineered by ourselves. With Randall producing, we would describe what kind of sound we wanted to achieve and he would make it happen for each part through choosing amps and such. He’s like a tone wizard! His experience with sculpting sound is massive; that’s one of his best traits as a producer. He can really produce intense sounds.

It helped us work more quickly, and helped us focus more on the performance aspect of the record instead of having to do everything. It wa san interesting experience to let go. In the past I’ve micro-managed every element! It was really interesting to not be so focused and intense in every aspect. It made it a lot more enjoyable. I was present for the whole thing and I was in the control room, but it was nice not to have to be laser focussed on everything. Randall picked up the strain with things like making sure parts were recorded correctly; he was the one listening that closely. It was nice to rest my brain; in the past, recording has been stressful for me because I’d done so much.

Do the songs come from jam sessions, or playing live in the studio?

Not really. Our stuff is pretty well composed. There are a few songs, like post-Forgotten Days songs that have a jam element that were figured out in the practise room.

Do you have a vault of tracks where ones that don’t quite work out are dusted off and returned to in time?

Oh yeah! A lot of Heartless is that way! Some of the parts of Heartless go back to 2009/2010. There are riffs there that are really old but all of Forgotten Days is new. It was composed in the year leading up to the recording.

You’ve released three songs already from the eight track album; will there be more to come before release?

I think that’s the end of the individual releases. I just want to get the damn thing out!

How does it feel in the run up to an album being given to the world? Is there excitement? Nervousness?

I’m excited for people to hear it. I don’t really get nervous. I wouldn’t make an album I don’t feel happy with. I’m not too concerned about public espouse. I assume that because I like it, other people will like it too; you can’t please everybody! Metal fans tend to be very vocal about their displeasure if they don’t like something!

Steven Wilson released a new single last week and the amount of vitriol that he got in some quarters on social media was unreal.

I haven’t kept up with what he’s doing; what kind of stuff is he doing?

It’s a little more mainstream sounding, I guess. More poppy. I don’t feel he deserves the criticism he gets for doing what he wants. It has to be fun at the end of the day right?

I think so. Some of his poppier stuff is his best stuff! When Porcupine Tree went more metal I kind of when I lost interest, personally. If I’m listening to metal, I’d rather just listen to something more metal! I’m a big prog dude but I don’t really like progressive metal. I like the softer more beautiful side of prog. King Crimson can be heavy but it’s not the sonic wall you get from metal. A band like Dream Theater for example, doesn’t do anything for me.

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So I guess you’re looking at your classic prog rock bands like Pink Floyd etc?

Definitely!

What’s your favourite Pink Floyd album?

Honestly…it sounds like bullshit…but it’s Dark Side of the Moon. It’s such a complete piece of music. The production is perhaps the best ever. It sounds astounding, flows as one piece of music and feels like completely timeless. It’s perfect. There are very few albums that you could say are perfect but Dark Side is one of them. There isn’t one thing you would slightly change about that album.

It is completely timeless and forward thinking.

There was nothing like it before. When we recorded our first album (Sorrow & Extinction, 2012), we never thought we would actually achieve it, but we were shooting for making Dark Side of the Moon. If we aim that high, we should be able to make something good. Aim for the top!

I imagine you’d love to just play the local pub, but where are you looking forward to playing the most with Pallbearer when things get a little safer?

Everywhere! It’s been far too long since we’ve done a proper tour and we have a lot of friends overseas who we haven’t seen in a long time. You kind of take it for granted. We tour so much that you don’t see somebody, or someone didn’t make a show, you just think that you’ll see them next time around…’ill be back!’ If you don’t tour you don’t get to see your friends.

Do you have any particular favourite tracks on the album?

Genuinely, I like ‘em all but my two overall favourite tracks are Silver Wings and Caledonia. All the songs serve a different purpose on the album I think it’s our most diverse collection of songs.

I’m really proud of Silver Wings. It has all the elements of the quintessential Pallbearer song.

Silver Wings is almost a set of movements in the amount of parts there are to it.

It’s my typical style, classical composition. It helps it sit on the album as a bridge. There are a few more traditionally structured songs on the album but Silver Wings helps add the diversity. The music and the lyrical themes of that one marry really well.

Caledonia is interesting to me because it has some new stuff on it; some weird shit in that song! I think it’s very emotionally crushing as well; it’s one of Joe’s that one. That was his seed. It’s incredibly sad! There is a lot going on musically.

It’s a great way to end the album.

Uh-huh.

In some ways, you’d expect Silver Wings to close the album. It would be the cliché closer. It’s great to have it smack bang in the middle! It’s so enjoyable.

Do you plan on doing any live streaming events with Pallbearer?

We’ve discussed it but as Joe lives in New York, he would have to come down here (Arkansas) and it’s pretty sketchy here! If the virus gets under control a little, which it looks like it isn’t, I’d like to; shit, it’d be nice just to play in the same room with everybody! We haven’t played together as a band since the start of the year.

America seems very hostile at the moment.

It is. It’s collapsing.

How does it feel to be an American at the moment?

It feels like shit! I would not be surprised if the United States, as we know it, doesn’t exist in a year. The Republicans are rigging stuff to a degree where I don’t know if we’ll get a fair election. It’s pretty fucking scary.

The nationalistic fervour is stoked; blaming immigrants or whatever, and that is how you end up with these fucking morons in charge. Trump is a puppet.

We’ve posted stuff on social links before and people say they don’t want to hear about politics in music from bands. Too bad! Art is intrinsically political if it means anything. There is a difference between art and entertainment. There is pure entertainment that exists to make you laugh or whatever but if you’re trying to create an expression of who you are as an artist  its going to be inherently tied to values and in turn to your politics.

I hope you don’t think this is a weird question, but have you seen the Taylor Swift film on Netflix? She has a discussion with her team about the political landscape and her desire to speak out. She’s never done that before and as a country star/pop star it was a risk.

Absolutely. Look at what happened with Dixie Chicks all those years ago. (The band, now known as The Chicks, spoke out about the war in Iraq in 2003).

If she can use her influence to get a few more ballots in, surely that’s a good thing?

Definitely…I feel like it’s a responsibility. People get annoyed by people using their celebrity and platform to espouse their politics. Celebrities are just people too. If you have that audience, and if you really care about something, do you not feel obligated to try and make a difference if you potentially can?

My platform and audience is much smaller than Taylor Swift’s, and I’m not a celebrity. I’m just a dude in a band. People know my band but in the grand scheme of things, not that many people.  I still feel like that if I can change the minds or make a handful of people think about it in a new way, I feel like it’s my responsibility because I can.

The world is in a very dire way and I feel like were on the precipice of something that could be much, much worse. If you don’t use all the tools at your disposal to try and turn that shit around, I feel like you’re part of the…what’s the saying…inaction is the same as acceptance.

Many thanks to Brett Campbell of Pallbearer for taking the time to talk to us on At The Barrier. Forgotten Days is released on October 23rd via Nuclear Blast. You can pre-order the album here.

Listen to, and watch the cinematic video for Forgotten Days from Pallbearer.

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