Objectivity is at the heart of having true journalistic integrity. Characterized in the 2000 film, Almost Famous, legendary rock journalist Lester Bangs bestowed to his protégé to be “honest and unmerciful.” With Lamb of God, I can’t be objective. They are my close friends. My old band, God Forbid, first played with their previous moniker, Burn The Priest, in a garage in 1998 in front of the other bands and one paid attendee. After the release of Lamb of God’s debut album, New American Gospel, in 2000, we subsequently toured together 4 times over 10 years, even sharing a tour bus together in 2001. My bond with the band grew even closer when I was chosen to fill in for lead guitarist, Mark Morton, on a 2009 tour opening for Metallica.
Despite my longtime connection to these men, I still regard them as one of the greatest heavy metal bands in history. They are just special, and the forthcoming release (July 24th) of their album, VII: Sturm und Drang, has caused a flood of anticipation following the recent controversy surrounding vocalist Randy Blythe’s imprisonment and trial in the Czech Republic. I have heard the new album, and I think it’s their best in years. Being a fellow musician and a friend, I made it a point to engage Randy in as personal and empathetic way possible. So many in the press fail to understand how grueling answering the same thoughtless questions over and over can be.
Doc Coyle: Being in a band, like you, doing interviews, I am still in that world and know what it’s like. I was just doing phoners last week for a project I’m working on. Where are you at with doing interviews? Is it the most annoying thing in the world? Do you want to kill yourself? Is it a necessary evil or do you embrace it?
Randy Blythe: For this record, it’s absolutely horrible and annoying. And I’ll tell you why: Because every person is trying to look for this angle to make, and they are asking Mark and Willie and everyone about this, to make this record about the whole Prague thing. It’s not. You know what I mean? Everyone is asking me, “How did this affect your writing process?” It didn’t. They ask Mark and Willy, “How did Randy going to prison affect the way you guys wrote this record?” It didn’t. There are only two songs on the record that deal with it at all, and I wrote those while I was still in prison, and that’s three years ago. When it came time to start demoing stuff, I was like, “Well, I have two sets of lyrics ready.” So I don’t have to think about that, and that was the first song, “Still Echoes”. I said, “I have lyrics for this one, so let’s try it.” And that’s it. There hasn’t been some insane, emotional, cathartic, musical explosion or whatever. We wouldn’t want to write a record about that whole thing. I wouldn’t want to write a whole record about prison. I’m not freaking a gangster rapper. I’m not gonna front. You know what I mean?
DC: Your book is a lot about that, right?
RB: I wrote a 500 page book about all that: about going to prison and all that stuff.
DC: So you got that out of your system?
RB: I got that waaaay out of my system, dude, like beyond out of my system. I don’t sit around and think about it, ya know. I’m too busy doing other stuff. Yeah man, the series of interviews for this album in particular have just been gnarly. People are just looking for something that isn’t there. It’s kind of aggravating.
DC: Would you ever pull a Slipknot or Tool and stop doing interviews altogether?
RB: Yeah. I’ve started to think about it. Now. (laughs)
DC: I guess it starts with me, huh? (laughs)
RB: No, not you. I know you were gonna be cool. I mean. I know you. And there have been some cool ones. I did a good interview with the guy from Terrorizer yesterday. But people are just looking for something that’s not there and they don’t want to accept that we didn’t write a record about the whole thing [Prague]. That seems really opportunistic. It seems disrespectful, ya know. There was a tragic occurrence. I’m not gonna write a freaking record about it. Not a heavy metal record. Jesus Christ. But, yeah, I definitely considered that. Someone the other day starts an interview like, “We’re going to do a track-by-track run through of the album, and I want you to explain to me what each song is about.” And I said, “No. No. We’re not gonna do that.” Because I think a lot of the mystery of rock n roll is being lost now in this hyper-connected age. It’s killing people’s ability to use critical thought, I think. I remember back when I would get records, like Misfits records and stuff, We Are 138. You had to wonder and think, “What the hell does ’138’ mean?” And Danzig has never really answered that question. So there are theories it was based on George Lucas’ first movie. They’re theories that it’s a police code, and all this cool stuff, and there’s like a mystique about it. And there’s a mystique about the old records like Led Zeppelin records and the lyrics and so forth like, “What is that about?”, and people paid attention to them. Now it’s kinda like people want everything handed to them and explained to them and more and more as my career progresses, I’m becoming more and more unwilling to just hand everything to someone. Ya know? It’s not the way I was raised.
DC: I think you have to make that choice at a certain point. If you’re in the position where 9 times of out of 10 when you’re doing press, you’re doing them a favor. Not vice versa. They are seeking you and need you more than you need them.
DC: Being the lead singer means your going to get the lion’s share of press requests. Is being the “spokesman” just exhausting?
RB: Yeah, it does get exhausting.
DC: You’re never like, “Get Campbell to do it”? (laughs)
RB: No, no. Don’t let Campbell do it. (laughs) God knows what he would say. No, it’s exhausting, but at the same time…but on this particular record, I wrote maybe 90% of the lyrics. Mark wrote some lyrics. I won’t talk about his lyrics at all. If someone wants to know about them, I’m just like, “I’m not gonna tell you anything” because I’m not gonna put words in his mouth. For me, since I did write most of the lyrics, people are kind of looking at the lyrics and asking questions hopefully formulated around them, beyond just “What does this mean?” like a freaking wikipedia entry or something. It’s kind of a necessary thing, I would suppose, if I’m going to do press, to say those things. However, like you were saying, it’s definitely started to cross my mind, “Ok. I’m really kind of done talking about this stuff.” I made something. If you like it, stop, think, wonder about it. And that’s another thing with lyrics, man. Although I write about specific things, I try to make them general and poetic enough so people can take them and apply them to whatever situation they may be going through in their own life, and make it their own song. To me, that’s one of the beautiful things about lyrics. There’s ambiguity in them enough so that someone can think about it and apply it to their own life. When it’s just laid out, there’s none of that ambiguity in it. Stuff gets lost and there’s no mystery. I think there should be a little more mystery.
DC: You have a situation like Johnny Cash covering the Nine Inch Nails’ song, “Hurt”. Trent Reznor wrote those lyrics, but when Johnny Cash sings them, they have a completely different meaning with the context of his own life. That speaks to what you’re saying about having stuff that’s adaptable to each person, and poetry can relate to you in any way you want.
RB: Yeah. It’s the same thing with Johnny Cash and the song “Thirteen” that Glenn Danzig wrote for him. You listen to Johnny’s version and you think about some hard luck guy kickin’ down the country road and maybe working on a chain gang or something. But when you listen to Danzig’s version, the shit sounds dark. It sounds evil, it’s like, “holy crap”, this guy is dark. The Johnny Cash covers thing is the perfect way to illustrate that.
DC: So to kind of get off the lyrical thing, I don’t have any questions about your lyrics, because I know (laughs). I tried to make it like an interview I would want to get, and I don’t even have any questions about the new album because I know how that is. “What was it like recording?” and all that bullshit.
DC: You have a firsthand view of what’s going on at the forefront of heavy music. You’re doing all the festivals and playing with the biggest bands. How do you feel about the overall state of heavy music being one of the top bands? Does it feel like it’s strong? Does it feel like it’s tapering off or is it the same as it’s been?
RB: I don’t really think much about the state of heavy music because I don’t listen to heavy music for the most part. When I’m done playing a show, the last thing I want to do is be like Chris Adler and start cranking some ’80s thrash or something. Which is what he does, ya know? A person to ask about the current state of heavy music would be Chris Adler because he keeps up with that. I don’t really pay attention to it.
DC: You’re kind of in your own world?
RB: Yeah, and the record I’m paying attention to that has arisen out the heavy music world that is not heavy at all is by Greg from Dillinger Escape Plan. He has a record coming out called The Black Queen, and it’s this crazy, electronic stuff. I love that. To comment on the heavy music scene, I think in Europe, where I am now, it’s obviously extremely healthy. The festivals are really big and there’s a lot of metalheads. I think in the States, our tours do well. You’re saying, “Is it healthy?” I think the broader question that needs to be asked really is, “How’s the broader economic situation, in America?” where concert sales have gone down, historically, because people are broke. I think it’s starting to rebound now. So, I think for a while, the live music scene wasn’t as healthy, but it’s slowly coming back because people are starting to make a little more money. You know, I don’t know, man. It’s sad to me that it seems like albums are disappearing.
DC: I don’t think albums are disappearing. I think it’s kind of a myth that we’ve created that people don’t want to listen to albums. I just don’t think that’s true. I’ll give you an example: Kendrick Lamar’s last album, To Pimp A Butterfly, was streamed a record 9.6 million times in one day . Not a single, the entire album. They don’t have to listen to the whole album.
RB: But he’s an anomaly. He’s also the top guy in hip hop right now. I will say the state of hip hop is very sad. Kendrick is a genius. He’s a story teller, and he reminds me of the old days of what we grew up listening to. The state of hip hop right now, there’s no Public Enemy. Not in the large sense. But of course, there’s underground music.
DC: Have you heard Run The Jewels?
DC: You should check it out. It’s a duo, El-P and Killer Mike. It’s very, very political and very on-the-nose with confronting issues, and they’ve blown up being socially conscious.
RB: Well, with Kendrick, he’s a next-level MC, and he tells a story. You say you don’t believe it, but he sells loads of digital singles and that leads me to see the opposite. I think albums are too long, for the most part, if you’re talking about the state of heavy music. I think albums are way too long. We just put out a 10 song album, but everybody wants a bonus track. I think that’s leading to over-writing, rather than concentrating on the meat of what needs to be listened to. You look at Master Of Puppets, Reign In Blood, those are not 15 song, bonus track albums, ya know? They’re perfect albums, absolutely perfect, but they aren’t super long. I think that’s part of it.
DC: I agree with that. I tell people all the time. Look at Thriller, that’s 9 songs. Number Of The Beast is 9 songs. It’s better to have 9 or 10 fantastic songs than have 13 and a couple fillers on there, so I agree with that wholeheartedly.
RB: Yeah, all killer, no filler. And I think that the state of, or lack of state of music consumers: the way they buy is to blame for that because bands have to add something more. You have to have this bonus track in order to buy the record “here”, and you look at iTunes “album only” to get the 2 extra songs. You have to buy the “album only”. You can’t buy individual tracks. That brings up a whole can of worms with the music industry and downloading and all that crap, which is a fruitless conversation I think, but I do think that albums are too long, for the most part. I mean, who wants to hear a 15 song Lamb of God record? Jesus Christ, not me. (laughs) After a while, dudes get riffed out. The well gets dry.
DC: Going back to what you said before about not listening to much heavy music— you being a screamer, an aggressive vocalist, the emotional ties to that, is that something you still kind of need to do?
RB: No. Not at all.
DC: Was it at one point?
RB: At one point, yes, but I’m 44 years old. I’ve been doing this band for 21 years. Now on the new record, there’s some different stuff on there. There’s a song with clean singing. There’s a song with Chino [Deftones] and a song with Greg Puciato [The Dillinger Escape Plan]. There’s one song where it’s almost clean vocals and it’s me doing it. That’s the most fun I’ve had in the studio in a long time.
DC: Really? That’s interesting.
RB: Yeah because, dude, sitting there screaming for 4-6 hours a day, that shit hurts your head. You know, I know people say this, but I think this is one of our best records in a long time because Willie and Mark really co-wrote it. Our producer, Josh [Wilbur], really encouraged them to sit down and write together. It’s a return to the old way of doing things for us, because for a while Mark would write his songs at home and demo them on the computer, and Willie would do the same, and they would come in and teach each other songs. On this album, it was like old days like when we were first a band and they wrote the songs together in the practice space. Like an actual band, ya know. Remember those days?
DC: I love that way.
RB: Yeah. I think it shows on the album, and it’s the best album we’ve done in a long, long time. But to bring that around to the original question, no, it’s not something I feel this need to do.
DC: Does it feel like a job? Does it feel like work like, “Gotta clock in, make the donuts?”
RB: Absolutely. Absolutely dude. Especially since we haven’t had enough time off, and we need to make some money. (laughs) So it is work, ya know. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my job, but it’s my job. I don’t have a plan…well, I do have a plan B, that’s being executed right now: I wrote a book, I did a photography exhibit, all that stuff, but there’s no retirement plan in this business, as you know. So it’s time to make a record, it’s time to go on tour, it’s time to do what we do in order to make a living and feed our families. And some people don’t like that, when you say it like that, and this is before their romantic idea of what being in a band is, but romance doesn’t pay your mortgage. (laughs)
DC: That’s true. Love don’t pay the bills, baby. (laughs)
RB: No, it doesn’t pay the bills. So no, screaming and stuff is not something I feel the need to do anymore. There’s not a burning desire inside.
DC: It’s a skill you have, that has been your bread and butter. I have another question kind of related to that. Lamb of God is one of the most consistent and reliable bands to heavy metal fans, in that there has obviously been an evolution of the band in terms of sound, but you’ve kept it pretty damn heavy. You haven’t deviated that much. Is that something you guys have conversations about or arguments about? “Is this part too light or we can’t have this part because it might piss people off?” Is this something the band talks about or do you just do what you do?
RB: No, we just do what we do. I give absolutely zero thought to whether what I’m doing is going to piss off fans. And I think our fans respect us because of that. We play exactly what we want to play. And I think if you start writing music to appease someone else, then real fans are going to be able to tell. They’re totally gonna be able to tell. So I mean, like I said, there is a song with clean singing on this record, but it happened really organically. Willie was just play some blues riff, and he sent them to me, and I was listening to them along with some other songs, and I was like, “Holy cow, I could actually sing on this.” For the first time in our career, there’s pretty much a whole song I sing clean, and it wasn’t this calculated thing where I’m like, “I’m gonna write a clean song and Randy’s gonna sing or whatever.” It just sorta happened, and it’s what Willie wanted to do while he was writing it. I don’t think he had any forethought of changing or whatever. But we’re consistent, ya know…we’re just a metal band, dude. Much to my chagrin, we’re a metal band. I wanted to be in a punk rock band back in the day. I thought I was gonna be the Johnny Rotten of the South. Somehow, I ended up in a freaking metal band. It’s what we do. Mark does some stuff on his own. Willie does stuff on his own. I did music for the ballet, and I’m sure I’ll do another band eventually that’s not heavy metal, but Lamb of God is just metal. It’s just what we do.
DC: You’re a busy, busy guy. You’re doing photography, writing, you’ve done some acting, you’ve done some radio stuff. You have a lot of passions outside of the band.Chris Adler is playing with Megadeth, and he has done other projects on the side, and Mark does some other stuff. Is this a point of contention within the band or do you understand that guys have other things?
RB: No. No, not at all, man. I mean people are like, “Are you guys worried about Chris being in Megadeth?” I’m like, “Hell No!” You know? (laughs) I don’t care. If you aren’t allowed to explore whatever avenues and creativity you want, just because your in some band and people don’t want you to do that, then your creativity within your main project suffers. Because you’re going to have the urges to do these other things. And there’s guys who only do one thing, and that’s their thing. I mean that’s cool, ya know. You look at someone like Gene Simmons, and of course he has all these businesses and stuff, but he does Kiss. That’s it. That’s his whole deal. For me, that’s not enough. That doesn’t fulfill all my creative needs, and so if someone else in the band wants to go do something, I’m always supportive, man. Because I think it makes it better for Lamb of God in the long run. When I come back from doing all this other stuff that I want to do, I’m ready to do Lamb of God again. If I’m sitting there wishing I was doing something else but being forced to do Lamb of God, then that only leads to resentment, ya know?
DC: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I can’t help but notice that when I was touring with you guys, you were still drinking. I don’t know how long after that [Fall 2009] you got sober, but to me, the drinking Randy and the today [sober] Randy is like a different guy.
DC: On a personal level, I follow what you do on your Instagram, and you’ve almost become this wunderkind of creative output. You’re probably one of the most thoughtful people I’ve come across. You have this “embrace the day” or “seize the day” type of attitude. I’ve noticed that much of this creative outburst happened post-drinking. Is that accurate?
RB: Yes. That’s entirely accurate. I think my brain is a pain in my butt, because right now I have so many different ideas that I want to execute that I just can’t do all at the same time. It’s freaking crazy.
DC: I know. I feel the same way.
RB: Yeah. You know what I mean. The idea machine. I drank for 22 years dude. When I put it down, after a little while, the haze had cleared. I started cleaning up some of mess from my past, and apologizing and cleaning up my personal life and taking responsibility for myself. Once I got rid of all the mess and stuff, the creative engine in my head just started working in overdrive, and it’s like that now. Totally. I have ideas in the middle of the night. Crazy. I can’t sleep sometimes.