FEATURE INTERVIEW – PALLBEARER “I think Rock Music is struggling in America right now.” BRETT CAMPBELL

Posted on by Oran

October 23rd will see the fourth studio album ‘Forgotten Days’ released from progressive Doom explorers, PALLBEARER. Guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell checked in with Overdrive to talk about this awesome new album, other music he’s listening too and much more. 

If you’re a fan of massive, sky-ripping riffs, twinned with mesmerising vocals then you simply have to be a fan of PALLBEARER or are about to be one!

Speaking from his home in Little Rock, Arkansas, singer/guitarist Brett Campbell is under lockdown during this very difficult time. His frustration and concern is evident during our call which is totally understandable considering Pallbearer are releasing a brand new album that they won’t’ be able to tour or promote correctly until next year, or perhaps 2022!

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OD – The last time I was talking to you was at Bloodstock back in 2018 off the back of ‘Heartless’ [2017]. Let’s get stuck into this new album. Firstly, walk me through the concept behind the record title ‘Forgotten Days’?

BRETT – Well, it really came together on its own as I had written that track on its own and typically, we will decide on an album title last when we are putting a new LP out. We tend to spend a lot of time on the tracklisting [laughing]. That can literally go on for weeks and weeks with no conclusion!

When the album was finished we realised that a theme was running through all the tracks. We felt that the album concentrated on the concept of looking back on the past and its effects on the present and how it can be hard to understand how we were all feeling about things at the time.

Sometimes it can be very hard looking back on certain situations in our lives and when we do, we tend to realise that we have changed as we have gradually become older and hopefully a little wiser. The song ‘Forgotten Days‘ is essentially about losing your identity and the aspects that make our characters and personality the way they are. It was inspired by my Grandmother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It’s about the idea of losing yourself piece by piece, which is terrifying.

A lot of the songs on the album deal with the task of examining ourselves based on things that happened in the past. The title was a nice encapsulation of a considerable amount of the album’s themes.

ODMichael [Lierly, brother of drummer Mark Lierly] once again looked after the artwork on the cover, now does this have a particular tie into the album title and which came first, the cover art or the title?

BRETT – No, Joe [Rowland, Bass] and I discussed over the course of some weeks, the concept. It was towards the end of the album recording process and we were finishing up on some songs. It was there that we came up with a few concepts. Then when we were in New York finishing up on some of the mixes, we had another long talk about it while drinking a bunch of Scotch. It was then that we solidified the album cover concept and we then took those ideas to Michael.

OD – How do you feel about the evolution from ‘Heartless’ to this new album. Are you creatively satisfied with the sound of the band at present, as I know sometimes when a labour of love has been crafted, you might second-guess a few things?

BRETT – I’m very happy with it. With any so-called completed artists endeavour, it’s never really fully complete and there’s always one little thing that I wish I could tweak, but that’s just normal with any creative person.

Overall, I’m very happy with the album. It’s pretty much what we wanted it to be. Even from the level of production which we wanted to be raw, heavy and massive to the songs and just about everything, I would go as far as to say that I’m happier with ‘Forgotten Days‘ right now, than I was with any of our previous albums.

I’m just very concerned about how we can promote the LP as we can’t tour and by the looks of things, next year is even beginning to look uncertain for the live music industry to return to any kind of ‘normal‘. The future of every artist/creative person that depends on touring or travelling the world is under serious threat! I don’t know, I could end up living in a cardboard box if things don’t’ change!! [Laughing] It’s such a surreal and very scary time for everybody.

ODJoseph had said that the band let the music almost guide you always keeping in mind the perspective of the audience in a live setting when crafting the music. This seems like a very logical and somewhat selfless approach to the creative process. Do you find that there are too many artists that are predominantly self-indulgent when it comes to writing?

BRETT – In that situation, it’s still satisfying for us, on the creative end. If an audience is digging what we’re doing then we’re happy and if we created it the music, then we’re happy too!

At this point, we have four albums and most of the songs are over 7 minutes, so it’s kind of hard to pick a playlist [laughing]. A lot of fans really want to hear stuff from some of the older albums so before we know it, we’re already up on an hour and we’ve not even reached the new stuff!

I don’t really think it’s self-indulgent, it’s just a process that some other artists go through when writing. For us, we really try hard to imagine what the music sounds like when performed live and if it’s gonna be a something that will leave our audience feeling satisfied. We really tried to have a little more dynamic on the tracklisting both on the albums and when we play live.

It was a little bit of a challenge for us. We can write epic long tracks all day long, as I’ve been doing that since I was 16-years old! I’ve never really tried the approach of writing a tight, traditional, structured song, so, it ended up being a fun challenge and we found ways to keep things interesting.

I think that by benefiting ourselves in terms of what we consider to be an exciting song in a live setting, also benefits the audience because up until the pandemic, our primary paradigm was the stage. The records are kind of like the platonic ideal of what the songs should be but experience them live is what we’re all about. It’s our music in its purest form.

ODRandall [Dunn, producer] was at the helm for this album. What was the inspiration from his discography that was the deciding factor in choosing him for ‘Forgotten Days’?

BRETT – No, not really. I’m familiar with his work and I think he’s really great in captureing a raw, massive and spacious sound, which is what we are always trying to achieve. He [Randall] did some live sound for us on the ‘Heartless‘ tour and we really hit it off and got on really well. His ethos for mixing and volume really connected with us.

OD – How so?

BRETT – Well, he likes stuff to be extremely loud! [Laughing], He wants it loud-as-fuck! and we were like; “Alright!” He has a certain process for mixing and man, you gotta see him in action. He has the control room just blasting…like at concert levels! [Laughing]. It’s so funny because most engineers/producers will be like; “Turn it down, turn it down!!!” and Randall is like; “Turn it UP! LOUDER!!” [Laughing]

Credit: Diana Lee Zadlo

At the end of the day, it’s massive sounding music that is intended to be played loud, so he very much knows what he’s doing.

OD – The last time we spoke you were scheduled to do some shows with System of a Down, Incubus and At The Drive-In etc. Now, in retrospect, how did Pallbearer go down with that audience as you guys are considerably more melancholic and heavier than most of that line-up?

BRETT – [Laughing] It was strange! The show was set up outdoors, kind of like a festival set up with all the vendors etc with an attendance of 30k people. We played with Skeleton Witch, Clutch, At The Drive-In, then Incubus and System…

We had toured with Skeleton Witch so it was cool to see those guys again. But I remember System… having a huge fleet of buses and we just rolled in with our camper van [Laughing].

They also had this ticket tier system with the most expensive tickets being up the front, so when we went on stage, it was like a mile between us and the people that were there, which was about 4K/6K at that time of the day. It felt like playing to a big empty field! It was a bit of a strange gig, very different from the shows that we normally play.

OD – From your experience in performing live in different parts of the world, can you see a difference between social graces, behaviour etc in different territories?

BRETT – I think Rock Music is struggling in America right now. There are far more Festivals in Europe than there are in America. It’s a very different vibe over here right now.

I mean, every place has its own vibe if you know what I mean. Some crowds are more withdrawn but are just really taking it all in. For example, we played in Oslo a few years back and we thought the audience fucking hated us! They were just standing there almost lifeless [Laughing].

We were convinced that we were bombing in an epic way. Then after the show, tones of people came up to us and were showing us with praise about how great they thought the gig was. They loved it! [Laughing] We had no fucking idea!!! It was really weird.

Then we did a show in Copenhagen and people were losing their fucking minds! It was really interesting to see. I love touring Europ, as there are so many different cultural experiences all the time. I have no idea what’s around the next corner or a few hours east or west, there are very different social graces from people. It’s great to see and experience.

OD – With this album being as fantastic as it is, Pallbearer will be achieving the 4 for 4 of breathtaking albums. From 2012’s ‘Sorrow and Extinction’ to ‘Foundations of Burden’ [2014], ‘Heartless’ [2017] and now ‘Forgotten Days’. How do you feel when the general reaction is that there is simply no half-assed, fillers or sleepwalking with your discography?

OD – Are there any particular artists or albums that have intrigued you over the last year?

BRETT – I haven’t been listening to a whole lot of Metal. Hmmm…, Oh Yeah!, There’s a record from 2017, called ‘Dance Music‘ from a  guy that went by the name of “Master System. He released the album then tragically killed himself just after it came out. When I heard this story my morbid fascination kicked in and I just had to hear it for myself. It’s an outstanding heavy rock album and crushingly sad because what happened to him.

It’s a really good album. Totally worth checking out. There’s another ambient album I’ve been listening to lately called ‘Golden Retriever’ and another artist that creates a kind of modular sound, and his name is ‘Brett Naucke‘ and I’ve been really digging his stuff, as it’s kind of abstract.

OD – Of all the highs and lows of the music industry, what would you like to see modified and readjusted going forward into a post-pandemic world?

BRETT – Honestly, I’d really like to see some kind of a livable income for artists outside of touring for years on end. Especially during times like this while the live industry is on its knees. Hopefully, things will get better. But in the meantime, let’s all just enjoy the music that out there already.

PallbearerForgotten Days‘ is released via Nuclear Blast on October 23rd. You can pre-order your copy here.


Oran O’Beirne

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