By ANDREW MCKAYSMITH
BRETT Campbell is the vocalist and almighty riff lord in Pallbearer, a nouveau doom quartet from Little Rock, Arkansas. On a stellar autumn morning by the beach here in QLD, strong black coffee in my hand, Campbell joins me over the phone for chat.
I start by asking how his day has fared so far. “We are waiting on a call from the delivery man. We have fifteen hundred pounds of vinyl being delivered to our practice space. So, we are going to have to lift all of that stuff and figure out where it is going to go.”
That’s fifteen hundred pounds of precious vinyl containing the neat grooves of the bands tremendous third album, Heartless, the follow up to the critically acclaimed Foundations of Burden (’14). Purveyors of all things post-modern and chic, Pitchfork, even went so far as to say that “…the music here is timeless” in a gushing review that saw the album awarded an almost unheard-of 8.6/10 score. Those who read Pitchfork will know that hard rock and metal is given scant coverage, yet alone such lofty praise by the site’s contributors.
With critical acclaim afforded to Foundations of Burden, what’s Campbell’s thoughts on how Heartless will be received? “I hope people give the album a chance. If it doesn’t click with them at first it will sink in after a little bit, but I hope people enjoy it”
How does Heartless fit into the overall picture for Pallbearer then? “I know we as a band think it is our best work. I think it is what we have been trying to go towards as a band since the very beginning because we have always had the ambition to have these complex and progressive songs. But maybe we didn’t always have the skill to pull it off. So, we like it and we are satisfied with it, but I know that maybe fans might be kind of shocked by the increased technical aspect of Heartless.”
Speaking about something I’ve now heard a few times from bands who are hitting their inventive peak, Campbell offers some profound insight into Pallbearer’s creative process. “Even when we were writing the songs there were times when it was almost at the very edge of our perception, the songs were moving faster than we could keep up with them as we were writing them”(continued below)
Pallbearer has always used profound artwork to accompany their massive sonic architecture. Heartless is no different, so who the illustrator is behind the framed antediluvian giant on the cover? “It’s actually our drummer Mark’s brother, Michael Lierly. He is really fantastic. He was in bands and stuff with Mark growing up and he is a full-time artist now. He did the art for our Fear and Fury EP (’16) as well. We just really liked his stuff.”
Attention to detail is something for which the band is renowned. Campbell and fellow six string compadre Devin Holt are almost instantly identifiable among the horde of down-tuned sludge monsters out there today. What separates them from so many doom inspired metal bands is the pair’s embrace of a dizzying array of guitar effects and pedals. “We’ve been lucky enough to amass a pretty large collection of pedals. Luckily, we managed to build a relationship with some pedal manufacturers early on in their existence as companies. We are always experimenting, it’s just ways to make new sounds. Sometimes you can just be messing around in your bedroom with some weird combination of pedals and it will inspire a new idea and then you are stuck with that pedal on your board for one solo or one song, but it’s worth it.”
So Pallbearer are a crushing live act adept at using effects and are known for their tendency to shake the foundations of clubs hosting their performance. One night in Japan they very well almost shook each other off the stage. Campbell recalls this tale after I ask him to share a unique story from his time spent touring. “It was actually one of the worst shows we ever played. It was maybe the worst, I don’t know. It was totally our fault but this was right after we had been to Australia and we flew to Japan and the first show there. We were really excited to be in Japan because we had never been there before. We had like three or four drink tickets apiece. There was still some time before the show so I got a whiskey and I saw Devon carrying a pint glass. I was thinking it was a glass of water. But he had this kind of smirk on his face and I was like, ‘what is that dude?’ he looked and me and goes ‘a fucking vodka’! If you brought a drink ticket to the bar tender she would just pour a pint glass full of vodka, like half a bottle of vodka is in this glass. I was like of course man that is the best deal. I went and downed the glass of whisky which was just in a regular tumbler, it was a pretty good sized thing of whisky.
Sounds like a smart move, capitalising on a loop hole in the drink ticketing system… or was it? “So on top of the whiskey, I thought I’d get some vodka. I just watched her glug glug glug half of this bottle of vodka in to a pint glass and just hand it to me, just straight. It’s a literally straight pint glass of vodka. I couldn’t believe it because that is absurd, that is dangerous, but we were just having a really good time in a completely different country that is so far off from what the US is like or anywhere else that we’ve been to. We got really fucking trashed and we were using (Japanese noise merchants) Boris’s gear. They have all these hyper high voltage vintage Orange amps and stuff, they are just so loud. I was just so hammered.”
So… how was the show? “It was a disaster, that first show was a fucking disaster because I was so hammered and it was just so loud. Joe (Rowland- Bass) is normally the loudest one in the band. He was just looking at me at one point and I think he just stopped playing because he couldn’t hear himself. I definitely learned my lesson that night and I have never gotten that drunk again. But it was a free ticket for a pint glass of vodka, how am I going to say no?”
Heartless is out now!