The Warmth of Summer: An Interview with PALLBEARER's Brett Campbell

Tour musings from the Arkansas doom metal legends.

Photo by Diana Lee Zadlo

Three weeks ago, in the sweltering conditions of the Oklahoman plains, a collection of Midwestern metalheads gathered once more to fill the humble, yet time-honored venue of 89th Street - OKC to bear witness to the inimitable PALLBEARER, who were out to promote their new pilsner, crafted in collaboration with Lost Forty Brewing, appropriately titled The Legend, after their track off 2012's Sorrow And Extinction.


Catching up with the energized and charismatic Brett Campbell, we seized the opportunity to ask him about PALLBEARER's past, present, and their glorious future.

First off, thanks for taking time out for us. Not a lot of people do — especially on such short notice.


No trouble, man!


One of the words synonymous with the band for years has been "meteoric." You get used to hearing that in articles. Does it ever get tedious hearing about your 'meteoric' rise to doom metal stardom, or did it really feel like that?


It doesn't really feel like it, because other than just like the last nine months or so, we've just toured solid for years and years, so I guess in some ways, it's cool how relatively quickly we've expanded in size, or popularity, I guess. But — we've also toured a lot. So hopefully there's some return from that.


Between the three albums there seems to be these recurring themes that show up through a lot of your songs. In Sorrow and Extinction, for example, there's hopelessness and despair. Foundations of Burden has light, dark, time and oblivion. Heartless seems to focus on several facets of what I would call mania, the emotions that pose the deepest threat: whether that's impending doom, claustrophobia, absurdity in madness, callous indifference, and the hope beyond hope. Do you establish those themes ahead of time, or are they just a consequence of just writing that album?


I think that's an interesting perspective, and pretty close to the truth. It wasn't planned, exactly, beforehand, but that's where emotionally, I think I was at the time of writing each of the albums. So each of them, lyrically, or at least from my perspective, the lyrics that I write — because Joe writes a lot of them too — it's typically a reflection of my concerns, or my feelings at the time. If the albums have different themes, it's because they represent different points in my life.


'Dropout', an incredibly well-received single; even on tour last year, a lot of people felt they were given an unexpected surprise because singles like that don't make it out too often to the stage. The lyrical content was strong on that, and as an introvert, myself, I can understand that there's this sort of cringeworthy response to having yourself examined under a microscope. Are there any plans to revisit that kind of uplifting sound and message again?


For me, that song's not really that uplifting. It's about becoming a hermit, and shedding all of your social inclinations, altogether, which I'm also pretty introverted myself. But, I'm forced to be around people by nature of what I do. So, that song is kind of a reflection of NOT wanting to go out, just dropping all of your responsibilities in life. That's something I struggle with, you know? Motivation. Leaving the house. *laughs*


The group's sound as a whole has moved from being this sort of melancholic anthem for each movement in S&E, and slowly morphed into almost an infallibly hymnal epoch, that most people I know inhale as a complete session. Nobody says "Did you hear that song?" They say have you heard the album "Heartless," by Pallbearer? Are they written and arranged to be that complete set in that exact order, and they wouldn't make sense any other way? Or are they just a happy coincidence?


It's a little of both. They're written all individually, but as we start working on and arranging each new group of songs, we kind of feel where things are going, and kind of hone in on certain elements that tie the songs together, 'mood-wise', you know? Then, we usually — not always, but in most cases — we've done the track-listing after. But we're very meticulous about it. We spend a long time trying to find the "perfect track list." We'll just go over it dozens of times before we come up with that perfect version.


You recently made the jump over to Nuclear Blast, and that kind of took a lot of people, me included, by surprise, but it feels natural. The bigger you are, the bigger the labels are hunting you. Was it difficult to part with Chris [Bruni], and Profound Lore Records?


We had a really good working relationship with Chris, but it was just hard for him to keep up with it, keeping the albums printed. We've gotten bigger over time. It's cool, though. This way, people around the world can get the whole of our stuff more easily. There'll be plenty of distribution everywhere, and we can have plenty of stock everywhere. Nuclear Blast has been very open with us, and they haven't given us any sort of direction or anything, which is what we had with Profound Lore as well.


There's a lot of freedom with them.


Yes, and they're just really cool people to work with.


You're waist deep into this burst of anniversary shows right now; people everywhere have been clamoring to make that drive — me included, that was 3 hours — just to catch this little micro tour. Any chance that Foundations of Burden and Heartless are going to get that same anniversary treatment that Sorrow and Extinction is sort of getting right here?


We're kind of just doing the S&E stuff due to Lost Forty, a brewer in Little Rock. We're doing a beer that's based around that album, because the album's anniversary is not until 2022, but it's our 10th year — well, 11th I guess — 10th and a half *laughs* anniversary as a band. We're just kind of doing that as a special treat for a couple of shows. But yeah, who knows what we'll do? We might do anniversary shows for that stuff, and it's always fun to revisit some older material we may not have played in a while.


I recently had the ability last November to complete that pilgrimage to Fellowship Hall Sound — took my album and my shirt for photos — Besides the beautiful aesthetics of that church, and the ease of access, what drew you to that studio?


It was really close by to where we lived at the time, and we had heard good things about it. We did the Fear and Fury E.P. there, so all those songs were done there. It was a kind of recorded as a test of that studio; it's such a conveniently located place, if we can make material here, why not? We had recorded Foundations of Burden in Portland, Oregon, and we slept in the studio for five or six weeks. There were no showers or anything there, so it was a very brutal experience. So we were like, "for our next album, let's find something a little more comfortable." We went there, we could sleep in our own beds, eat whatever food we had, instead of having to walk somewhere. The people who recorded it were really cool too.


I once talked to an American Doom Metal pioneer/record store owner, who has a dedicated, always-full partition of Pallbearer albums, and I asked him why "nobody was buying," because it's always full, and he responded, "No, no, no, plenty of people are buying. I'll just never let the rack get empty."


*laughs* Sweet.


That was Jon Perez. (Solitude Aeturnus)


Oh — I love that guy!


He loves you. Does it feel good to know that even from the old-timers, you're considered an integral part of the community's musical palette?


Absolutely, man! And the love we've gotten from Jon Perez means the world. He's one of the best guys, and truly, obviously, a legend. We met him years ago when we did a tour with Saint Vitus, long ago, and he was the tour manager back then.


You and Devin have talked before at length about the Arkansas musical scene; I'm interested in the Arkansas social culture. Last November, when I got to visit both Little Rock, and Calico Rock, everyone had this strange pleasant stoicism. They don't really ask a lot of questions. They were telling me what I wanted to go do. What I wanted to go eat. They were telling me to ignore my gut, "Nah, you don't wanna do that. Go here," and I can't name a time they were wrong about that choice. Is that an abrupt honesty that is inherent to Arkansas?


I think there's not a whole lot of really great stuff around Little Rock, so the people who have been there for a while know the good places to go and will immediately tell you, "this is what you need to do to have a good time here. Don't waste your time somewhere else." Most people probably are TRYING to help you have a good time, as much as possible. 


They don't ask once.


Most people are pretty outgoing and friendly, in Little Rock.


For a track called Heartless, that track is ironically stacked with heart-based easter eggs. I've been thinking about this for a couple of years now. For instance, did you notice the three tempo changes in the song that match nearly uniformly with three myocardial rhythms? Bradycardia, tachycardia, and arrythmia. Was that by design? And if so, HOW THE FUCK DID YOU DO THAT?


*Laughs* No — but that's great! That's just, I guess, a happy accident. Amazing.


I've seen enough Grey's Anatomy episodes that I had to go back, and was just like ". . . Really?!"


Really? Wow, that's purely coincidence. Wow.


Lastly, I understand you're coming out of that studio process, and the time for new music is close at hand. Any word on how close that is, and with Atlantis being such a pleasant surprise, recently, can we expect anymore like it, and does the album carry the sound?


Atlantis was actually recorded like a year ago, so it's actually not that new of a song anymore. We have been pretty deep in the writing realm since we got home last October, I guess, from finishing up the Heartless stuff. We've got A LOT of new material. None of it is like 100% finished, but we probably have a dozen or more songs. We've been very prolific over the last few months, cause this is the first time we've been uninterruptedly home, other than this obviously. This is the longest we've been in one place for years, and it has allowed us to be super productive with writing, so as for how it sounds... it sounds like Pallbearer. There's some new elements every time we write a record; there's gonna be something different than the last one.


Brett, thank you so much for taking the time for us today.


Totally, man. Thanks for coming out.

PALLBEARER is currently finishing up their fourth full-length album, but you can stream Atlantis, now! Check out their new online webshop as well, featuring a batch of new and limited tour merch HERE.

Artwork by Michael Lierly

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