Latest release: Forgotten Days (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.pallbearerdoom.com
Their previous album Heartless saw Arkansas doommeisters Pallbearer break with tradition and experiment with less doomier sounds and structures, adding synths and more elaborate classic rock-style elements to their gloomy oeuvre. Three years on, Forgotten Days takes them in another direction again, one that entertains their earlier predilections and later flourishes as they continue to explore the gloomy beauty of sorrow. With Forgotten Days on the verge of release, we caught up to guitarist and vocalist Brett Campbell.
Forgotten Days is certainly much more of a doom record than what Heartless was. That record brought in a lot more expansive stuff, and psychedelic influences and classic rock.
Compared to Heartless, there’s a lot less guitar-hero type shit going on. We really pulled out all the stops when it came to instrumental stuff on Heartless. It was very orchestrated. We took our love for all that crazy symphonic prog and stuff from the 70s and sort of jammed it into this hyper-caffeinated extravaganza!
It was a very different record for Pallbearer. Was that something that you had to get out of your system?
I don’t know! Maybe. When we start writing a little bit we have a general idea about where things are going, but after that first initial burst of writing, we don’t necessarily know what we’re doing. We just kind of like to follow the Muse, I guess. I really don’t know. When we were making Heartless, it really felt like the most natural thing in the world to make. We didn’t fight it. We just kind of went with it and I think we were enjoying the more challenging technical aspects of everything. Looking back at it, we started writing that after we had done all the touring stuff for Foundations, which… we played a few hundred shows on that touring cycle, so we were more locked in as a band than ever before. So I would guess that some of that came from that greater degree of comfort of playing together as a band.. As a unit we felt that we were able to do more. We pushed ourselves as far as possible to make the craziest shit that we could possibly make!
Sometimes you can do a shift like that and people will hate you for it, but that didn’t seem to happen with Pallbearer.
Well some people hated it! If you try to please everybody, you’re screwed to begin with. Taste is completely subjective, and I totally understand, especially when you do a pretty significant evolution or metamorphosis or something, you lose a few people. There are some bands that I really like, and I don’t like some of their records but I love other ones. That’s completely fine. When we were making it, it didn’t feel that different to us. It was more like a logical extension of our sound. I think most people got it after a while. The initial response was shock, but after some time has gone by, more people get it.
I think it’s going to be one of those albums that people go back to in ten years and discover they actually like it, after all. Do you think there might be some kind of opposite backlash now that you’ve gone back to a more doom-oriented style this time?
I hope not! That wouldn’t be very good for us. For us it doesn’t feel like a step back. It feels more like a combination of all the stuff we have done up to this point. Compositionally, there’s some stuff on the album that feels to me closer to some of the stuff on Heartless that we would have not been able to do before that. So if Heartless was pushing the boundaries as far as we could, in terms of technicality and composition, Forgotten Days isn’t as inherently progressive, but some of the compositional lessons we learned from writing Heartless definitely influenced the way we composed Forgotten Days, but it wasn’t really interesting to do the same thing again. We were just focused this time on writing really, really memorable songs that are emotional. Because, sometimes, when you’re focused on dense, technical sort of stuff, you run the risk – and I’m not saying it’s impossible – but you run the risk of pushing aside the emotional elements of the songs. We were more concerned with writing more straight-to-the-heart type of material for this album.
It does have a very emotional side to it, and I think that’s what draws me to it. Doom seems to be one of those genres that explores the darker emotions, particularly, and touches on emotions that other types of music don’t want to go into.
I’ve always been attracted to darker music. Music has a particular way of being able to capture that abstract nature of emotions more than another artform. At least for me! I’m sure other people might think differently, but that’s what I’m attracted too, anyway, in terms of writing music.
Nobody could have predicted the situation we’re all in now around the world. Anything that projects that projects that aura of depression and gloom is almost like a perfect soundtrack for the times right now. I think that might help people get through it, because maybe they won’t feel so alone when they listen to a band like Pallbearer.
That’s my greatest hope. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs where music as dark as ours could appeal to so many people, but it’s just the way of things. The world… there’s always been strife and difficulty in life throughout the world, it just seems to be really piled on right now. Not just seems to be – it is really piled on right now. So I hope it can be some relief for people, or at least something that will help them find some kind of beauty in their own shitty situation. Sadness, or depression, or whatever.
Has the situation affected you on a personal level, Brett? As an artist, not being able to perform or tour. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but some bands haven’t been able to rehearse.
It’s been really tough. Psychologically, this whole thing’s been really trying. Aside from the pandemic and all that, the mishandling of it by our fellow Americans and the federal government etc., since Trump has been President, things have been tense already, and pretty tough on the spirit. When you compound a pandemic that turns everything on its head, it’s been pretty tough, especially since our primary form of making money is now lost to us for the indeterminable future. So not knowing for how long I’m going to be able to pay my bills, that’s a pretty big stresser.
It’s so much difficult now. It’s been hard for a long time for bands to make money since the Internet came around and enabled people to steal it or “borrow” it, or “just listen to it” or whatever they want to call it. You’re on a label, but they’re not making a lot of money and no one’s making money from recorded work anymore. I can understand how hard it is to get anything financial out of it, and the longer this goes on, the harder it’s going to be for everyone.
It doesn’t just come down to, theoretically, whenever bands are going to be able to tour again and people are going to be able to see shows. It’s not quite as simple as that, because every artist, every musician in existence is going to be trying to do the same thing at the same time! You try to book a tour and 500 other bands are trying to play at the same time, that’s something that… I don’t know what the answer to that is. It’s going to make things a lot harder.
At least you now have the album there. A lot of bands have probably held off their albums too. Did you have any plans to do that or was there any pressure from your label to do that?
No, there’s no pressure from Nuclear Blast but… the album was done, except for the mastering, our part of it was done by the end of 2019 – the recording, mixing and everything, so the original plan was the put the album out in mid-year, summer, I guess, so we could do the festivals and everything. But when the lockdowns happened, all the record pressing plants closed, so you can’t release a record if there’s no actual record to release! And then we were like, no one knows how this is going to be, maybe it will be better in a couple months, maybe we can go on the road at the end of the year… when that became obviously not the case, we just put it out. I don’t want to sit on a record for two years!
That would have been hard, because it’s already been ten months. That must be the toughest part for a band, when you’ve done all the production and post-production, waiting for the release date.
I’ve been so excited to get it out. When you wait on something you’ve worked so hard on, you want people to hear it of course. Then when you have to wait almost an entire year for anyone to hear it… you learn to be very patient, I suppose!
I ask this a lot, but it’s often hard to answer because it’s like asking who your favourite child is, but is there a song on Forgotten Days that has a particular resonance for you personally?
That’s particularly hard to answer, because I like all the songs. I guess it is like choosing between your kids, which one of them sucks?! Haha! I hope none of them suck! I genuinely do like all of the songs, but there’s probably two that stick out for various reasons. Of my songs, the songs I wrote, I like Silver Wings because it’s probably a quintessential Pallbearer song – it’s a big epic. When we were working on that song it came together pretty much as I heard it in my head, which doesn’t always happen. And the other, one of Joe’s songs, I particularly like Caledonia. It manages to be kind of weird and progressive in places, but it’s also personal and emotional. It runs through a gamut of different moods and feelings. That’s a hard question, really, because when you spend so much time living in the world of these songs, and you focus on how do you get the lyrics, and how do you get this idea across and how do you create this feeling? How do you put this feeling into words that fit this musical idea? It’s a big undertaking. So when you’re asked, What’s your favourite? It’s pretty hard! I might have a different answer tomorrow, and that would be accurate too. I’d have something to say about all the songs.
Of course you would, and I’d be more surprised if you said you didn’t like any of them!
Hahaha! They all suck! Don’t listen to any of them!
I have to finish up by saying that I think Pallbearer is the best name for a doom band I’ve ever heard!
Ha! Thanks for that man. Dude, when Joe came up with that, it was like, that’s perfect man! Because band names are so hard to come up with. It’s like all the good ones have mostly been taken, so for us it was, Nobody’s done that? We gotta get that one!
It must have been a surprise to find it hadn’t been used yet.
It was a huge surprise. And it’s a one-word name. One-word band names, you think they’ve all been taken! But, apparently not.