Is it possible for doom metal to be happy? Maybe, but that’s never really the point.
U.S. dirge merchants Pallbearer might hail from the humble, regional abode of Little Rock, Arkansas, but their third full-length album ‘Heartless’ has the potential to be the ray of sunshine that turns those doom-head frowns upside-down. Speaking with vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Brett Campbell, Killyourstereo.com got the inside scoop on what awaits the fervent listener within Pallbearer’s next weighty tome of heaviness, while also shooting the shit on political animosity, artistic integrity, and the philosophical implications of the International Dateline.
Hi Brett! How are you doing?
Good man, how are you?
I’m doing well, dude. It’s early in the morning, I’m on to my first coffee and I’m ready to go.
Oh yeah, I guess it’s morning over there. Just starting your day off, huh?
It’s eight o’clock in the morning for me Brett and, technically speaking, I’m talking to you now from the future.
[Laughs.] Oh wow. Is it as dark as I ever could have imagined?
Yeah, it’s pretty bleak dude. Now, we’re talking about Pallbearer’s third full-length album ‘Heartless,’ which has its release this week. How is the new record different both tonally and compositionally for Pallbearer? What have you guys done differently this time around as a group?
I think after our last album [2014’s ‘Foundations of Burden’] we tried to incorporate more of our progressive influences; maybe not progressive-rock in the ‘traditional’ sense, but progressive to our own sound. We tried to expand upon the template that we’d laid down previously. I think we all had this urge to challenge ourselves, as songwriters and musicians, to make complex music that doesn’t lose the emotional underpinning that makes a song worthwhile. Or, at least in this genre.
If anything, ‘Heartless’ is just a further extension of that same drive: to further experiments with the boundaries of our sound as a band, and our capabilities as musicians; to see how far we can take our sound, and make it sound like Pallbearer; to be satisfying to us, and to listeners as well.
I think I definitely pulled that sense of experimentation out of this record. I was a huge fan of ‘Foundations…’ and it remains one of my favourite records today, but listening to ‘Heartless’ I can hear a diverse range of influences and soundscapes going on.
The thing that really stood out for me on my first listen (and there have been many, many more since) was the lyrics: they’re much more personal and immediate than on previous Pallbearer albums. What was the motivation behind that decision, and what were the events and experiences that lead to those specific lyrical choices?
I would say that, to a degree, a lot of our lyrics are very personal. Where a lot of our earlier stuff may have been more ‘masked’ and metaphorical, they weren’t as direct as they are on ‘Heartless’. And I think some of that has to do with our growth as people, and where we are in our lives now.
But it also has a lot to do with what we see in the world around us. There’s this hesitancy I guess, for people to be honest and forthright. There’s so much – for a lack of a better word – bullshit being put out by everyone, whether it be society at large, the mass lies that people are choosing to believe, or the facade of social media. There’s this hesitancy for people to honest with themselves, and with others. I think one of the things we’ve always tried to do as a band is to be honest. We create music that we as individuals, are interested in making and making from a pure place, without any commercial motivations behind what we’re doing. I mean we’re making what we are wanting to make and it’s exactly what we want to make.
So, when it comes down to lyrics as well, we’re writing about what we’re feeling. There wasn’t any conscious decision for the lyrics to take step away from the approach that had been previously, but if they manifested in a more direct way, then it was as a result of that: our response to the world that we see, every day, the circumstances of our lives, and our headspace.
For sure dude. I think it’s safe to say that there’s a lot of animosity in the world right now, whether it be with people angry at society, American politics or other issues. I think that people in their own special way, if they create music or art, for example, are pushing against that under current a little bit. And I definitely feel that tone coming through on ‘Heartless’.
I’m glad, man. One of our main goals is to be this resolute in our ‘anti-fakeness’ [laughs]. People have talked about it, and been like ‘Oh you guys are on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream,’ or whatever, ‘blah blah blah.’ And whether or not that’s true, is not really as important to us as being honest with ourselves. We’re trying very hard to make exactly what we want to make. I think that honesty and integrity really go a long way; and not even just in a band, but with people. And it goes for everything, unless you’re trying to be a sleazy businessman or something, and eventually I feel like that will catch up with most people who try to live like that. We try to live our lives, and operate our band, in a genuine way that I feel like is sadly lacking in a lot of areas nowadays.
Absolutely, and I wanted to touch on something you’ve brought up there just now. I’ve read a lot of press coverage for Pallbearer, talking about how the band is becoming more ‘accessible’ with your sound, and on that cusp of breaking into the mainstream like you mentioned. Having listened to ‘Heartless,’ I certainly don’t agree with that position. While there’s certainly some wonderfully melodic moments on the record, and plenty of epic, catchy refrains, there’s still that immense sense of heaviness and melancholy that Pallbearer has always channelled through your music, and I don’t quite see that becoming a ‘mainstream’ trait. Do you ever see Pallbearer becoming a ‘mainstream’ band Brett?
Well, if we do, it’s going to have to be on our own terms. If through some incredibly bizarre twist of fate, what we’re making propels us into the mainstream, then that’s sweet. My whole lack of faith in mainstream listeners may have been misguided. I’d be really happy to be wrong about that. If somehow, we manage to do that, then fantastic you know? Even in interviews, and just talking with people, before all the pre-release stuff was out, and before all the journalists had ‘Heartless,’ there was all this low-level buzz about us breaking into the mainstream. And I was sitting there thinking ‘Ha, no one’s heard the record yet…’ [Laughs.] It doesn’t seem very mainstream to me.
Obviously, we have a lot of aspirations as a band, even musically; having larger exposure definitely benefits us, even strictly from just making more money. A lot of bands don’t like to talk about that, but as a band, we’ve always been working at the very limits of our budget. And I mean we’re not going to be jacking up prices on our merch or anything. But if we had more fans, being able to have better equipment and more equipment to use, relieves a lot of the day-to-day stresses involved that people don’t often think about. Because we fully live as musicians, we don’t do other things; we are musicians.
So certainly, it could be easier and it would be tempting to make a push towards the mainstream for selfish reasons, but I’d never be able to live with myself if we made some sort of musical or artistic compromise, purely for money. That’s just not what this has been about. If wanted to make lots of money, I would haven’t been a musician; especially a musician in underground metal, you know? Hopefully, people can meet us on our own terms. I think we make good music, and I hope that people connect with it. Whether or not there’s going to be 12-minute songs on the radio… personally, I’m not holding my breath [laughs].
[Laughs.] Yeah, I completely agree, dude. To wrap up this morning Brett, I know it’s a tough question to ask, do you have a favourite track from ‘Heartless’?
Oh man… It pretty much changes based on my mood. I really like ‘Lie To Survival’. I think that song is pretty much Pallbearer distilled. And Joe [D. Rowland, bass/backing vocals] wrote most of that one, so I can enjoy it from an ‘outsider’ perspective because we wrote most of the structure of that song. I’m really proud of everything, and I like elements of all the songs. ‘Dancing In Madness’ is a really fun one to play, and it took the longest to write out of any of the songs. I wrote like the first four to five minutes of that song along with the ‘Foundations…’ material but it didn’t fit that album so I saved it for later. So, I worked on it periodically, and it ended up becoming a much more complex thing than I ever expected it to be. They’re all challenging to play, so I enjoy them all honestly.
Awesome. Well, thanks for taking time out with me today Brett. ‘Heartless’ is a phenomenal record, and I can’t wait to catch you guys down here next time.
I can’t wait to be there, man. I had a blast last time! Thanks for talking to me.
‘Heartless’ is out March 24th through Profound Lore/Nuclear Blast, and you can purchase the record here. To acquaint yourself with the epic beauty that is their last album, start here. Read our review of this mighty doom epic here.