Follow @steelforbrains

Steel for Brains

Exploring the Brains behind the Noise

SfB Podcast 011: Mike Scheidt

photo credit: joeri-c

Special guest Mike Scheidt of Yob, VHÖL, and Lumbar talks to SfB about positivity, the importance of spiritual balance, and the monolithic new Yob record, Clearing the Path to Ascend.

Guest: 

Mike Scheidt (YobVHÖLLumbar)

 

Contributors:

Chris Redar (@chris_redar)

Erik Highter (@EZSnappin)

Jonathan K Dick (@Jonathan_K_Dick)

 

Questions? Concerns? Comments? Diatribe draft?

Email SfB at: sfbpodcast@gmail.com 

                       SfB is on: Facebook - Twitter - Instagram - iTunes

Doomed Deliverance: Pallbearer’s ‘Foundations of Burden’ & Yob’s ‘Clearing the Path to Ascend’

by Craig Hayes     

If you’re of the mindset that metal is metal, and the mainstream is the mainstream, and never the twain should meet, then it’s understandable that the mainstream media heaping praise on underground metal bands makes you a little cranky. I mean, if you think metal should remain an exclusive club, then that’s bound to tweak your temper, but let’s not forget that all that metal and mainstream intermingling is frequently a two-way street.

Plenty of metal bands and labels happily work with mainstream media outlets to tout their wares, and if that irks you, then you’re perfectly entitled to grouch about it. However, the familiar argument that underground metal bands finding themselves under the mainstream spotlight have made some concession to make that happen doesn’t really hold water.

Obviously, some bands have adapted their sound or image in the hopes of appealing to a more mainstream audience – and we’ve all seen plenty of examples of that. However, in the case of bands like Little Rock, Arkansas’ Pallbearer, and Eugene, Oregon’s Yob, you have two bands that have found fans from well outside metal’s usual circle without making any concessions to seek out that increased recognition.

 

The reason Pallbearer and Yob have drawn that attention doesn’t have anything to do with astute marketing, or any musical compromises, and their popularity simply comes down to the fact that both bands make soul-stirring music. The kind of music that can hold us up, and bolster our emotional well-being, when we might otherwise be exhausted by life’s never-ending trials.

Like many a doom band, Pallbearer and Yob tell tales of emotional turmoil, grief, despair, tragedy, and our everyday struggles. Yob takes a more mystical view on such issues than Pallbearer, but both provide equal amounts of solace. All their monolithic riffs, melancholic melodies, soaring vocals passages, and all those dark or often confessional lyrics, tap into a common desire to wallow in tales of woe, and reflect on our own mortality.

There’s obviously a huge crossover of music fans wanting to share in those experiences, and as down-tempo and down-beat as Pallbearer or Yob often are, they still illuminate pathways for us to deal with the mental fatigue and emotional weariness of our lives.

 

For some, that means listening to Pallbearer or Yob might well bring a sense of enormous release from their troubles. For others, it might only mean temporary relief. Either way, Pallbearer and Yob speak of a world where people are often left feeling lonely, isolated, and afraid. That’s a world many of us are very familiar with, and those are all too common emotional states that we dwell in. But Pallbearer and Yob are here to help us endure those times, by creating the kind of affecting music that can mean all the difference between giving up or hanging on.

Now, I fully appreciate that a lecture on the psychological benefits of listening to Pallbearer or Yob probably isn’t the introduction you were expecting (or likely wanting) for a feature on their new albums. That’s fair enough. There are probably plenty of fans of both bands that aren’t looking for any deeper meaning in their music, or consciously seeking any catharsis. They’re just cranking album’s from Pallbearer or Yob because they enjoy being pummeled by superlative doom metal. I’m all in favor of blasting both bands for the brain-battering enjoyment found in their towering tunes too, and in Pallbearer’s case, the band’s new album, Foundations of Burden, is immensely satisfying in that regard.

 

PallbearerFoundations of Burden

(Profound Lore)

For those not au fait with Pallbearer’s rise to fame, the band released an excellent three-song demo in 2010, and that resulted in sky-high expectations for the band’s debut full-length. Pallbearer more than delivered on that with 2012’s Sorrow and Extinction, which was a classic debut if ever there was one. The album’s 50 majestic minutes featured a low-slung, transcendental stomp, mixing with progressive and psychedelic rock, and Sorrow and Extinction was thoroughly deserving of all its abundant praise.

Of course, that left one slight issue; how do you follow that up? 

Apparently, very easily. Because Foundations of Burden is a complete and utter triumph. The first thing you’ll notice about the album is that Billy Anderson’s (Sleep, High on Fire, Om, etc) production means Foundations of Burden is warmer, thicker, and burlier than Sorrow and Extinction. Anderson’s also cleaned up Pallbearer’s sound as well, but don’t panic, he does so without sacrificing an ounce of the band’s vintage tone. It’s simply that Foundations of Burden sounds bigger from the get-go, and where previously a little muddy murk had hung around on Pallbearer’s songs – which was no bad thing – Anderson’s scraped some (but not all) of that off for a crisper, more defined sound. 

That increased clarity, means all the complex arrangements and subtle movements truly shine on Foundations of Burden, with nothing hidden in the mix. However, there’s also an extra layer of richness added to the band’s sound because Foundations of Burden finds bassist Joseph D. Rowland, and guitarist Devin Holt, adding backing harmonies to vocalist and guitarist Brett Campbell’s powerful voice. Campbell, already recognised as a superb vocalist, sounds more confident than ever on Foundations of Burden, but then, the entire band sounds far more self-assured on the album – for good reason.

With new drummer Mark Lierly in tow, Pallbearer have crafted an album that sounds massive, yet it always retains a core of intimacy. Foundations of Burden falls into the rarified camp where releases from bands like SubRosa, and UK doom titan 40 Watt Sun, use tone and texture to mix sorrow and splendour, creating songs that’ll put a lump in the throat – or, if they catch on the right day, put a tear in the eye.

That’s all there on Foundations of Burden’s heart-rending opener “Worlds Apart”, and follow-up “Foundations”. Both tracks are built from imposing granite, but there’s that ever-present feel of immense brawn and fragility.Of course, Pallbearer being Pallbearer, you’ll find that same sense of duality on all of Foundations of Burden’s tracks, and no matter their lengthy running times, none of the album’s songs ever feel self-indulgent.

Pallbearer don’t just use the heftier presence of layers of guitar on Foundations of Burden to send mountainous riffs crashing from one crushing crescendo to the next. The also use that extra magnitude to bring more dynamic sway to the album. That means, when the ascending swells on “Watcher in the Dark” and “The Ghost I used to be” hit, they hit damn hard. When the beautiful folk balladry of “Ashes” arrives, that feels more dramatic too. And when those surging melodies come rushing forward on final track “Vanished”, you can feel that increased power of Foundations of Burden, right in your chest.

Obviously, being a doom metal album, Foundations of Burden isn’t jam-packed with the happiest of tidings. But the album does feel more more heartening than Sorrow and Extinction. Much of that comes down to that sharper and brighter sound, but there’s still plenty of shadow and downheartedness to get lost in here. To get back to my original point in the introduction, it’s from that darkness that we draw strength, and because Foundations of Burden sounds that much bigger than Sorrow and Extinction, the emotional payoff is duly increased.

The album’s mournful and yearning passages feel that much more affecting, and their magnificently balanced by uplifting passages that feel more monumental and profound as well. In essence, there’s simply more reward, perhaps even deliverance, to be found on Foundations of Burden. But, of course, if you’re not looking for any of that, then you can just admire all those mesmerising melodies, and chest-crushing riffs.

Anyone who loves Foundations of Burden is going to be able to cherry pick plenty of moments on the album where they feel Pallbearer strike the mark dead on. However, for me, it’s when those storming riffs come thundering into view after moments of serenity on the album – and those times where solos suddenly light up the sky. I’d be hard pressed to pick one passage or song as standing out in particular because, as a whole, Foundations of Burden is a breathtaking performance overall.

Sorrow and Extinction was a landmark release, and Foundations of Burden is unquestionably another. You’ve probably read other reviews saying much the same, and while its understandable to dubious about all that praise that Pallbearer is enjoying, the fact is, all that acclaim is totally justified. There are few bands that have released two truly entrancing releases in a row, and the obvious marker for the kind of artistic growth that Pallbearer have shown, and the wider appreciation that the band is experiencing, is right there in the early history of one of their greatest inspirations: Black Sabbath.

Similarly, all pieces are in place for Pallbearer to become a classic and hugely influential doom metal band. Hell, let’s be honest, with an album like Foundations of Burden, they already are.

 

YobClearing The Path To Ascend

(Neurot)

Two albums in, and Pallbearer have made huge advances in getting their name known, but Oregon-based trio Yob have been respected in the metal community for many years. The band was founded by vocalist/guitarist Mike Scheidt, in 1996, and the band released a series of acclaimed albums before disbanding for a couple of years in 2006. Yob’s return from the wilderness in 2009, with the The Great Cessation album, found the band signed to Profound Lore. The Great Cessation was a magnificent release unto itself, but cache attached to Profound Lore, with regular coverage of label’s artists on larger, often mainstream websites, certainly meant Yob were exposed to a wider audience.

That audience gets to enjoy an arm of doom that’s resounding heavy and deeply emotive, and Yob’s releases are also imbued with Scheidt’s interests in Eastern spiritual practices. There’s no question that Yob are justly revered for bringing a unique sound and vision to doom, but the band’s last album, 2011’s Atma, was the first to run into any serious grumblings from fans. Atma’s production meant that some fans felt that Yob’s hammering riffs didn’t drop from quite the same heights as before. Although, the album still featured plenty of pummel, and Yob’s intention to climb cathartic summits was always apparent.

Yob’s latest album, Clearing The Path To Ascend, will undoubtedly appease those who felt Atma had some shortcomings. With Yob now signed to the mighty Neurot Records, a more than fitting home for the band, Yob’s first release for the label finds the band ascending the highest pinnacles of doom once again. As is the way with Yob, the band brings abundant spiritual and sonic weight, but while elements of sludge, drone, and post-and-progressive rock have threaded their way through Yob’s work in the past, on Clearing The Path To Ascend, they’re far more prominent.

Scheidt’s growls, howls, and other-worldly intonations add to the album’s mix of contemplative and all-conquering doom – and what’s always defined Yob’s brilliance is band’s ability to match bombastic musical and emotional heaviness. Clearing The Path To Ascend exhibits both those traits fantastically. The 17-minute album opener, “In our Blood”, chugs and churns, drops out for an ambient section, and comes storming back to finish; bringing enormous pressure to bear on the mind and body. The same can be said for follow-up track “Nothing to Win”, which takes a different route, with a faster and grittier pace, and flashes of labelmates like Ufomammut or Neurosis appear in the song’s melding of a sludgier, psychedelic undercurrent with abundant brute force.

Clearing The Path To Ascend’s final two tracks, “Unmask The Spectre”, and 19-minute album closer, “Marrow”, feature stunning use of dramatic dynamics. They’re both epic songs, of course, that’s always been Yob’s forte, but there’s a lot more post-and-progressive rock bleeding through the song’s lurches, cascades, and huge, ascending surges. “Marrow” is the standout song on the album, one of Yob’s best tunes yet, and it’s a superb example of how the band are able to head off into the cosmos, then dive deep into the underworld, and sweep you up in the emotionality of that journey.

Sorrow obviously plays its role on “Marrow”, as is does throughout the album, and Scheidt’s stirring vocals ensure that’s all felt. But, then there’s the music. Clearing the Path to Ascend is full of fluid flickers, subtle shifts, and gigantic, earth-quaking and psych-shaking movements. All combining to bring Yob’s signature sense of operating at a whole other hypnotic and mystical frequency.

Clearing the Path to Ascend is a phenomenal album, but it’s also an important one for Yob and their fans. For anyone who’d felt that the band had stumbled on Atma, Clearing the Path to Ascend proves that Yob hasn’t lost any of their power or creative drive. The band has taken a few risks on the album by injecting post-and-progressive rock passages more prominently, and that shows an admirable sense of not simply catering to what fans desire.

Certainly, Yob have crafted an album that’s extraordinarily heavy, and Clearing the Path to Ascend features hugely impressive monuments of sound. With that comes all the band’s transcendent power, and Yob certanly dive deep into the consciousness, stimulating all those neurons and impulses that kick down the doors of perception. Of course, just like Pallbearer, if the idea of delving into the depths of the conscious and unconscious doesn’t appeal, or that all sounds a little too metaphysical, then just sit back and admire Yob tearing a hole in the fabric of reality by using every modicum of their instrumental prowess.

Clearing the Path to Ascend is sure to be hailed as one of Yob’s finest albums yet – and deservedly so. For a band that has already given us a lot of fantastic music in the past, Clearing the Path to Ascend shows just as much promise for the future. It’s another masterwork from Yob, but not simply because the copious amounts of brute energy help us find comfort through chaos. Clearing the Path to Ascend is magnificently loud and rapturously strident, but, at its heart, it quietly provides a sense of support for our innermost being; succor for our very souls.

                              SfB is on: Facebook - Twitter - Instagram - iTunes 

Touching the Void: A Conversation With Joseph D. Rowland of Pallbearer (Part II)

image

SfB’s two-part interview feature with Joseph D. Rowland (bass/vocals) of Pallbearer concludes with this installment. You can read the first part here

One of the most striking things at least for me with Pallbearer’s music has been the presence of influence from a multitude of places. You guys have covered some impressive ground in only two full-lengths just with regards to what’s informed your music and allowed it to be as orchestral and lush as it is muted and subdued in many way. Where do you see that coming from?

Well, I can tell you two things. One – it would be really easy to just – I mean, obviously we’re fans of Black Sabbath. We’re fans of what a lot of people would consider traditional doom, among other things. It’d be easy to do that. If we wanted to write an album that was not lush or orchestral, we could probably do that in a very short amount of time. We could write a simple album with songs that are three riffs pretty quickly. There’s bands out there that are doing that that are doing well for themselves, and that’s them. That’s not us. For me, I grew up in a very, very strictly religious home, to the point that my listening music was very limited and almost exclusively classical music. I developed a love, completely on my own – I wasn’t limited to any specific thing in that realm – but I really developed a love of early religious music.

I personally never really connected well with the religion that I was brought up in, but religious music I always felt was really beautiful. Compositionally it’s very interesting, and that’s something that’s never gone away for me. There’s still a lot of early choral music that I still feel is some of the most powerful music ever written, and there’s a lot of composers that are still being listened to today for a reason, because they were capable of writing music that has spoken to people for hundreds of years. That has way more of a legacy than bands like Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin or whatever. They’ve only had a short amount of time. Who knows if in 200 years people will be listening to Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. It might not have that kind of staying power.

There are composers that people are still listening to their music 400 years later. For instance, there’s a composer named Gregorio Allegri. He wrote a piece of music called Miserere mei, Deus that is one of my absolute favorite pieces of music of all time, and I find it incredibly moving and powerful. It’s just a four-part choral piece and honestly I would put it against any piece of modern music, and there are very few that I think would stand up to it. If we’re talking about lush arrangements, there’s hundreds of years of pieces of music. When I was growing up, until I was at a point where I was secretly listening to Alice in Chains and stuff like that, that’s what was okay, and it’s still had a very profound effect on me, I guess. There’s a lot that I love, and there’s stuff that I revisit now that I’m still pretty blown away by that, at the time, it was the norm for me. Now there’s definitely a lot of value in it.

 

photo credit: Diana Lee Zadlo

In talking about that idea of longevity with music and art, it makes me think about what that means within our current cultural context. What stays or has meaning or longevity when everything is seemingly disposable or temporary? For Rachmaninoff or Liszt or so many others, the stakes were incredibly high, but what’s at stake for us?

It’s so hard to say because I’m sure there are hundreds of composers who have been wiped off the face of earth’s memory just because they didn’t have the right connections. It’s hard to say who had the opportunity to even have a piano at that time. Social classes and things like that were different then. Even to have an instrument was difficult. To even have access. A lot of it has to do with finding the right pocket of culture. Part of it’s luck. It’s hard for me to say in the perspective of today because of how prevalent the internet is. Everything is instant gratification without a lot of thought towards things having lasting value, so I don’t know. I still think there’s records that come out every now and then that I don’t feel like will go away any time soon.

There’s not a lot from the 2000s that I feel like they have lasting value but there are definitely some, even thinking ahead like 100 years, assuming that society is still in a place where we’re listening to music from now at all outside of maybe a few touchstones, if there is a human society, and we haven’t completely destroyed ourselves by then. I feel like with the weird, single-serving society that we have now, it’s probably not gonna be a lot that lasts. Even stuff that I feel like now that it sticks with me, I don’t know. I don’t know what people would care about. A lot of music that I love and has spoken to me a lot through the years is music from the 80s, which at the time and looking back was probably an age of even more decadence that now.

Even though information is more readily available and society may not be quite as self-serving in some ways, a lot of the music then was a product of almost pure self-gratification, like excess. A lot of that music was born of excess and very excessive in and of itself, like even just the sounds. I don’t know. That sticks with me now, and it’s like thirty years later. I think probably it’s the same as it’s always been. If there’s a spirit of wanting to create something and not just wanting it but following through in every aspect and just wanting to create something that isn’t a product of now but something you believe in. You put a lot of time and effort into it to the point that you know it has value and has lasting value. I think those are things that end up lasting.

I highly doubt that any of the composers who wrote pieces of music during the Romantic period of classical music wrote something that they thought was a throwaway thing. And if it was, it probably doesn’t get listened to by anybody other than obsessives that are trying to find the obscure Debussy. Cult piano concertos by Chopin. [Laughs] It takes a lot of work, and I know it’s bad because nowadays the channels are so open that everybody has a chance. And there are a lot of people that are trying really hard and put a lot of effort into it and never make it.

 

photo credit: Diana Lee Zadlo

That availability, to me, creates the illusion of opportunity or at least confuses opportunity with hard work. This thing still requires an incredible amount of hard work, even if there are a seemingly endless amount of opportunities for exposure. To me, the culture of immediacy and that single-serving mindset is eroding at least to some degree the concept of hard work and effort.

I mean, opportunity is hard to classify or quantify. Opportunity being “I recorded a song on Garage Band and put it on Bandcamp” versus opportunity being like “I recorded a song and somebody shared with somebody who has the ability to spread this” is two different things. Opportunity in the sense that it’s so easy to record and release something now, yeah, literally anybody can do that. Not everybody has the magic, I guess. If everybody in the world was super musically talented and could write incredible music and it was memorable, that would be amazing. It would be overwhelming. I can’t even keep up. I’ve given up. [Laughs] I barely bother to listen to any new music because it’s completely overwhelming to me.

It’s literally like the floodgates have opened, and I don’t know where to start, so I just stopped. I’ll listen to older music that’s new to me, because there’s still a myriad of awesome prog-rock bands and kraut-rock bands that were relatively unknown at the time. They’re products of the fact that they didn’t get the opportunity. Sometimes it’s only OK. Sometimes I’ve heard things that have really inspired me, or at least something that I think is great. It might not be something that I would feel I might draw from as a musician, but it’s still something I enjoy. There’s a lot of opportunity. Opportunity is a pretty broad thing, but when it all comes down to it, there’s a lot of factors that come into it.

If you’re talking about opportunity when it comes to me personally, a lot of what inspires me and the bands that inspire me the most are the ones who’ve done it best. They’re the ones I think will end up having the most lasting value. I don’t think people are gonna forget Black Sabbath or Judas Priest or Boston. Those bands, they did what they did at the top of their game. Those are the ones who are gonna end up standing out. They’ve stood out this long. There’s a lot of really great bands, and a lot of people would probably end up arguing with me about it, but I think there’s a reason why those bands are still in the status that they are. They had the opportunity, and they took advantage of it, and they also had what it took to back it up. They had the talent. They had the knowledge or connections or whatever.

There was an x-factor that helped them stay there, but they also had what it took to back it up with legitimate music that, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not gonna fade away any time soon. It’s something that’s inspiring me now forty years later. There’s so many bands that work their asses off and nothing happens. Yeah, to last you obviously need to put the work in, but that’s not everything. You could work your ass off and be a good band, but that might not be everything. There’s gotta be some sort of, at least in today’s world, and I think when it comes to pop music in general since the music industry has been an industry, there’s gotta be some sort of x-factor.

Whatever it is – looks or whatever. There’s been bands I’m sure that have managed to make it off just that. Like Nirvana. It was that, but it was also just incredibly catchy songs. Really simple songs. Kurt Cobain knew how to write a damn song, and pretty much against all odds they managed to be the biggest band in the world for a little while. Generations are still being affected by a band that was writing some of the simplest music that’s come out. It’s effective. It’s powerful.

image

Looking at the classical music inspiration and your initial discovery of music, how have you seen your relationship to music and how you create it evolve since then?

My dad was in a touring jazz fusion band in the 70s. He was a professional musician. If I’m being honest, not at the level that we are at, but he was playing festivals. He did gigs with Weather Report and Return to Forever. It was a big deal, but it wasn’t a major band. I’ve never actually even heard their one record they recorded, because it’s not readily available enough for me to hear. It was a private press thing, and it’s impossible for me to get now. That was always inspiring to me, and as I was growing up I came up learning to play piano. I took piano lessons to the point that I was performing competitively in my early high school days before I dropped everything and decided I was gonna start playing bass because that’s what my dad did, and that’s what I wanted to do. Much to the chagrin of a lot of people [Laughs] 

But yeah, there was that, but my first music that inspired me – if I can use that word – I was very young, but the first music that I connected with in some way that I liked that wasn’t just incidental or a kid’s tape was when my dad sat down with me and had a dub of a live Genesis gig. Like Phil Collins-era Genesis, and I loved it. That’s never gone away for me. Obviously at that point in time they weren’t so much a prog-rock band, but I still feel like in the pop era of Genesis they were doing something really creative and totally against the grain of what most pop music was in the 80s. One of the biggest bands in the world on their own terms. Amazingly enough, to be able to have done that going from being one of the biggest bands doing an entirely different genre to an even bigger band playing pop music that was smart and well composed – everything about it. I was three or four years old, and I’ll never forget it. It’s something that’s stuck with me my entire life, so whether or not it has an effect on me musically per se, it’s had an effect on me personally, and it’s something that’s never far from my mind. 

Thanks to Joseph for his time.

                           SfB is on: Facebook - Twitter - Instagram - iTunes

Touching the Void: A Conversation With Joseph D. Rowland of Pallbearer (Part I)

image

At its most effective, music affords us the opportunity to engage two seemingly opposed forces within ourselves. While our instinctive, primal nature is understandably seen as the most fundamental component of our humanity, the experiential form we develop by way of our existence is no less integral. By its very nature heavy music is deliberately abrasive to both of these aspects, and in cases as rare as they are crucially important to the genre, the sound succeeds in balancing the equation. Just two years ago, Little Rock’s burgeoning metal scene provided a commanding new perspective of that equilibrium by way of Pallbearer. The band’s full-length debut, Sorrow and Extinction, impacted critics and listeners alike largely because the album provided a palpable sense of narrative both lyrically and musically. Anticipation for the band’s next creative step has continually grown since the band’s debut, and as next week sees the release of their sophomore full-length, Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore), all signs point to Pallbearer’s distinctive movement towards a sound and sonic space that is hauntingly powerful and wholly their own. SfB recently spoke to bassist/vocalist Joseph D. Rowland, who also happened to be the site’s very first interview back in July of 2012, about Foundations of Burden and more in this special feature. 

My first question has to do with the lyrical content of Foundations of Burden. In looking at the way you approach writing the lyrics that you do, how much value do you see yourself putting on their place in the music now as opposed to when Pallbearer first started?

It’s funny. I went to school for writing, but I never considered myself to really be adept in any way as a poet. I always felt like that was my weakest point when I was going to college. I always felt most at home writing nonfiction, so in a way I guess this kind of ties into that. From my perspective it seems like some poets probably take something from their life and expand into whatever realm of poetry they’re going for, but for me I adapted things that were happening in my life and tried to just create a parallel to a sort of fictional or alternate reality that made sense to me, and that I felt like people could probably apply easily to their own lives, and it would still make sense in ways that might not necessarily be the same thing that it was for me but still carry over quite a bit.

At the same time, this only applies to “The Ghost I Used to Be”, but any of the times I’ve had the opportunity to contribute lyrics to Pallbearer there’s been an element of dreams that I’ve had where I’ve just taken imagery from that and used that as a jumping-off point or even as a big basis for what I’ve written. There’s such a broad spectrum when it comes to how people interpret dreams. For me it was trying to take a stab at interpreting what my dreams were about. This might be something that everybody gets to read or listen to and maybe it’s not pure interpretation, but it’s at least taking the images that I had in my head that I remember and that are still really colorful to me and vivid and have stuck with me and that I’ve spent a lot of time pondering and trying to figure out what the fuck my subconscious and spirit are trying to say.

I definitely feel like I’m a spiritual person even though I don’t necessarily give myself over to any particular religion. There’s still a lot of elements of spirituality that I feel are very present in my life. There’s a lot of times I feel like there are things that are trying to be shown to me from whatever source. Somewhere in the universe there’s something that’s being communicated to me and from whatever point of origin that is, I’m just trying what it is that I need to learn. In “The Ghost I Used to Be”, part of what I wrote was me trying to figure out what that truth is. 

image

photo credit: Diana Lee Zadlo

That characteristic of tapping into the ethereal while remaining grounded in those very real and relevant emotions is maybe one of the most distinctive qualities of Pallbearer’s music. Obviously it’s something personal for you that ends up translating into the music itself. Sonically and thematically these are songs that carry that otherworldly thread but it’s channeled through something very tangible like grief. Looking back, was that something you see Pallbearer readily tapping into immediately or was it a matter of cultivating that dynamic for the band?

It’s both. Around the time that Pallbearer started was, in my life, one of the most heavily spiritual times in my life. I had seen and experienced a lot of things that affected me lot in addition to the elements of loss for both Brett and me. There was this whole other undercurrent of strange and awesome primal spirituality that I was feeling. I kept experiencing these things that were kind of beyond explanation on a purely skeptical level. It was like living life without any sort of extraneous influence. There were things that were happening with me where I was like “I can’t ignore this.” I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to put my finger on, and I don’t wanna necessarily subscribe to any school of thought when it comes to esoteric beliefs or something like that, but I can’t deny things that I experienced.

It’s played into a lot of the imagery of Pallbearer. We’re not like an occult band. We’re definitely not an occult rock band, which is such a hilarious concept to me because I know so many of the bands that say that they’ve got this Satanic thing going on, and I’m just like “Dude, you guys are a Christian rock band, and all you do is replace ‘Jesus’ with ‘Satan,’ and you’d probably be making a lot of money if you’d just switch it back.” [Laughs] But that’s definitely not us. There’s not an occult element to Pallbearer, but there’s definitely been an undercurrent that I still feel.

And it ebbs and flows just as life does, but it’s influenced a lot of the ways that when I think of the imagery to draw from and use just as a tool to be able paint a picture in the Pallbearer lyrics, it’s there. It’s something I kinda feel I haven’t been able to get away from. It’s been ever present in my mind, and whenever it comes time or I feel the itch to write new stuff, it’s still within this little realm. It’s not fantasy. It’s not science fiction, necessarily. It’s sort of like – I don’t wanna say astral plane so much – but there’s this other realm that I think about. It’s like a dream world. It has elements of our reality but also stuff that’s completely alien.

 

When you think about fascination with or respect for the esoteric or unknown, that’s been such an integral part of metal going all the way back to Black Sabbath and earlier. It’s that curiosity with the ethereal that’s been a kind of cornerstone for heavy and dark music. Is that something – that unknown – something you’ve always been fascinated with, or did you see it come as a result of the experiences that you mentioned?

It’s been more with the experiences, I think. I’ve always been pretty fascinated with the imagery. Every band is different, though. We’re not trying to follow in the footsteps of somebody else lyrically, necessarily. There’s bands that do the allegorical thing really well like Candlemass. I feel like Candlemass and Sabbath to a degree do that, but there’s bands that are the masters of the allegory. There’s other bands that are capable of painting a mental picture pretty easily whether it be through the lyrics or music or whatever. It’s not like we’ve ever set out to be like “This is gonna be this, and the lyrics are gonna be this.” When the inspiration hits, there’s just sort of this realm that occurs. I can’t speak for Brett, but I feel like it’s congruous enough to where it all fits.

It’s just what comes naturally to me. I think I have this sort of preternatural inclination toward this sort of otherworldly, post-apocalyptic vision where the world is a place where there’s a human spirit and there’s a living presence, and it’s on the verge of dying. There’s this desperation. I’ve always been drawn toward films like that, too. I love a lot of the post-apocalyptic films like B-movies from the 80s. A Boy and His Dog is one of my favorite movies. There’s a lot of great ones. Outside the Mad Max trilogy, there’s a lot of really good ones from Australia that I like a lot. Also, there’s films that really give that feeling without even being serious, really. A lot of films that focus on New York pre-gentrification when New York was basically like a cesspool and on the verge of collapse.

I almost lust for it. I wish that I lived in this era because there’s something about it that’s so appealing to me when I see it on screen, and I’m too young to have lived in that era. Films like Basketcase or Street Trash focus on these little neighborhoods in New York that are just abysmal, but it’s shown in this surreal way that’s really appealing to me. I don’t know. It’s been an influence on me where there’s something about this image of a world that’s on its last leg, and from an individual standpoint you know that, and you’re living out your final days doing whatever it is that’s most important to you, or you’re trying to find something that’s most important to you or trying to hold on to something that matters to you because it’s the last bit of time that you have to make it matter. That’s what I like to write about. I put myself in that mental space and go from there.

image

 

For me, a great deal of where heavy or dark music finds its success is in the suggestive over the explicit, despite much of its publicity or at least appeal to audiences coming from the latter. I think the same can be said of film as well where the director entrusts her or his own audience to fill the space that results from what’s being suggested onscreen. Is that kind of approach one you see as more conducive to experimentation in heavy or extreme as opposed to outright visual or auditory abrasion?

Something I’ve noticed, and not that I’m very well versed in current extreme music, but there’s this sort of upswing and this element of hopefulness. It’s the same as dynamics. For so long heavy music was so associated with the negative and understandably. There’s something about it being so heavily based in minor keys, it’s very hard to disassociate it from being negative in some way. I don’t want to target any specific bands, but there’s been a lot of steps forward in trying to maybe not compartmentalize things so much and letting there be a little bit more bleed through into what most people consider other genres of music that are more positive, regardless of the lyrical content.

This is just based solely off the music itself, because I think there’s a huge subset of people that would probably hear just the musical content of metal and assume that it’s negative without even giving a thought to what the lyrics were. It’s funny how many people are surprised when they’re able to understand the lyrics it seems. Not even talking about Pallbearer specifically, people I’ve noticed seem surprised when they can understand the lyrical content of an extreme metal band of some sort. I don’t really think Pallbearer is extreme at all. Usually if someone asks me what kind of band I play in,

I usually try to keep it simple, because I don’t expect people to be familiar with more extreme music. I usually just reference Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd. It’s a reference point that anybody could understand, even the most pedestrian person. Because it comes up a lot, especially if more than one of us are together, they’ll be like “Ya’ll are together in a band aren’t you? What kind of music is it?” And then we’re just like “Well, it’s like Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd together.” I mean, as fucking simplistic as that sounds, I really don’t think it’s that far off. If I were to get a little bit more narrow it’d be something like “It’s a little like Warhorse and King Crimson or Burning Witch and King Crimson.” [Laughs]

 

You mentioned vocals and that’s yet another distinction with Pallbearer just given the fact that so many in the metal culture have a tendency to overlook or even dismiss those bands who utilize clean vocals. If you pair the fact that that’s what you guys do alongside the observation that the lyrics are something the band takes a serious investment in there’s a kind of vulnerability there just with regards to having the words on full display for the listener. Do you see there being more at stake from a lyrical perspective with Pallbearer because of that?

There’s definitely more at stake just because you have to be dedicated to even probably read the lyrics for a death metal band. Unless they’re really discernible like Covenant era Morbid Angel. You can understand those lyrics. There’s not very many really heavily extreme metal bands that you can understand, and a lot of people have this expectation where they’re like “Oh, you’re in a metal band? I can’t even believe I can understand what you guys are saying.” People take notice if there’s clean vocals, especially when it’s all clean vocals. Even on Foundations of Burden, there are a couple of slightly more extreme vocal styles, but it’s mostly done as a specific nod to something like the gang vocals in “The Ghost I Used to Be” are one of several nods on the album to Type O Negative.

There’s a few places on the album like that, and that was an enormous influence in general. There were just a few places on the album, though, where I just wanted to have a little wink to something. I feel like a lot of what we write is where we might wear our influences on our sleeve pretty proudly, but there are a couple of places where it made sense to me to have a little something like that. I don’t know if there’s more scrutiny, though, with the lyrics. For as heavy as we can be sometimes, people can be surprised that all the lyrics are relatively intelligible. There’s definitely been a lot of people in the past who have come up to us and had incredible things to say about how the lyrics that have been written so far have affected them. 

Thanks to Joseph for his time.

                                SfB is on: Facebook - Twitter - Instagram - iTunes