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Steel for Brains

Exploring the Brains behind the Noise

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Here’s to bucking trends and traditions and just doing it different.  Here’s to avoiding cliched labeling and simply being a group of musical artists creating something incredibly unordinary.  Here’s Pallbearer.  The absolutely transcendent album Sorrow and Extinction from Arkansas metal musicians, Pallbearer, was released earlier this year (February 2012) to much critical acclaim.  It’s kind of an odd statement, or at least to me in my years of metal fandom, to hear that metal groups (who aren’t Mastodon) are garnering the kind of attention and critical brow-raising that these guys are.  The fact is, metal and music are changing.  The way we approach these two entities is changing. It’s this writer’s opinion that artists such as Pallbearer are one of a growing number of metal groups who are simply giving the heaviest and essentially smartest “fuck you” to the industry and the concept of “how it’s always been.”  I recently had an email conversation with bassist, Joseph Rowland, to discuss these and other aspects of the musical spectrum.

Do you or any of the other band members read while on tour?  If so, what books or type of lit?

We generally all do.  We love to read when we’re not engaged in some sort of ridiculous nonstop in-joke discussion (which happens regularly in the van and elsewhere). I enjoy bringing along horror or science fiction anthologies because they can generally be digested in smaller doses, although we have some slightly longer runs coming up like our tour with Royal Thunder and Samothrace that will warrant bringing along a few things to read. I generally scour second hand stores for books, so most of my reading material comes from there and is just pulp paperback stuff from the 70’s or even earlier. I’m also into a few compilations I’ve found of weird folklore, ghost stories and phenomenon. Some of the ideas set forth there bring a bit of inspiration even if it’s not directly evidenced in Pallbearer, it’s just what I’m into personally. Brett has a Kindle so he has a variety of things to read via that device, he reads a lot of hard sci-fi and non-fiction. Devin probably reads the most most intellectually-stimulating material out of any of us because he’s really into philosophy. We also all really enjoy comics and graphic novels, so we generally have a trade paperbacks circulating the van at any point in time. 
 

It seems as if Pallbearer came out of nowhere with this release that absolutely crushed metal fans and critics alike.  It’s hard to compartmentalize the record, and that’s always a good thing.  What were the band’s thoughts going into the studio, and were there any apprehensions about being a metal band from Arkansas and getting automatically labeled? 
Well, at the time we were going into the studio, we weren’t really concerned at all with anyone’s conceptions about the music or any apprehension about getting lost in the shuffle or whatever, we just had the singular goal of getting it put to tape. I think in retrospect, being from Arkansas has probably been more beneficial than anything; I think people have probably been taken by surprise and that’s worked in our favor. Of course, living here, there’s been a scene of crushingly heavy music for years that hasn’t really risen out of the underground. Whether it has any consequence or not, it’s still nice to know that we’ve made an impact in a relatively short amount of time. 

The metal genre is so incredibly vast, and there’s a conscious effort among bands and fans alike to make sure the lines are clearly drawn between each subgenre. Why do think that is and where would you put Pallbearer in all of that?
I think it’s an easy thing to do, and something that seems to have mostly sprung from the rise of internet fanaticism about music. I think a lot of our strength lies in not pigeonholing what we do. Really, where’s the enjoyment in trying to strictly categorize your own music? We do enjoy coming up with fake genre names though here and there, like brutal ambient, or power silence.  It’s exciting that a broad spectrum of people have been able to find something to associate with in our music, since we’re not just trying to write something aimed at a particular subgroup of people or anything. We channel a specific essence of music, I feel like we’re just a vessel to let this music come into our realm of reality. As time has gone on I’ve found less and less need to try to categorize what we’re doing. It’s just heavy music, and I at least have a hope that people can feel that we’re inspired by things all across music itself and don’t try to just stuff all our ideas into someone’s preconceived “box” of what doom should be or whatever it may be. 

What defines a great venue to you and the band?

There’s a lot of things, I think, that can really make a great place. Sound engineers who knows what they’re doing and are willing to work with us on getting minor things just right are a plus. It seems like a lot of sound engineers have an ego and can be difficult to communicate with, so finding those amiable ones who enjoy their job and want you to sound your best are definitely awesome. Apart from that, I like to play places where the audience can get a good experience. Recently we had a video interview where something we stated might have been misconstrued a bit about having a disconnect with the audience; we definitely drift off into our own zone while playing, but I would like for fans of the band to have a good, chilled out time with good drinks and a solid atmosphere. We’ve played everything from the nastiest punk house shows to massive venues and it’s all about the atmosphere. I want people who are into us and are there to enjoy the music to be able to slip away into another place just like we do. That’s ideal to me.

What’s typically on the menu for Pallbearer when the band is touring?
It kind of depends on where we are. Barbecue and pizza are definitely two staples that we generally seek out if we have the time, and thus far we’ve managed to grab some pretty stellar meals of each out on the road. We’re also huge fans of the fast food chain Whataburger. We don’t have them anywhere in Arkansas (except for one right by the Texas border in Texarkana) and it’s our favorite fast food place without a doubt. One thing we love about touring is checking out local food joints if we have the time. Anybody that has suggestions on killer food when we’re on tour is always much appreciated!
 
What kind of, if any, music does the band listen to personally on tour and off?
We all listen to a good bit of the same things, and although we do have some differing tastes on music, things like Pink Floyd Steve Hackett, Camel, and Robin Trower are all high priorities at any point in time. Personally, as I mentioned earlier, I have found myself listening to metal a lot less lately. I mostly listen to 70’s era progressive rock and krautrock/psych type stuff, as well as a lot of Dead Can Dance and Popol Vuh, both of whom I worship and am constantly poring little details of what makes them so great.  Brett is a Godflesh fanatic, and Devin is secretly a blues player at heart I think, he can name tons of awesome blues guitarists that are completely off my radar. 
 
Metal seems to be making a comeback in the best of ways just in the last few years.  What do you see as the marked difference as what it was in the 90s and early 00s and now?  What’s making it better?
The internet has definitely sparked a lot of that I think, even with the glut of awful music that has surfaced. I recently heard an interview with our friend Mike Scheidt from YOB that summed my feelings in a better way that I could myself; he feels (along with myself and the rest of the band) that we’re nearing a renaissance of creative music rising from the underground into the mainstream, just like Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and so many other artists. Just years before, people were listening to industry-crafted bubblegum pop songs, and suddenly there was a boom of unbelievably creative and timeless music that became the mainstream. I am totally on the same wavelength with Mike that as a culture, we are on the cusp of that. I hope to at least see that creative drive become the norm again. People are becoming sick of cookie cutter music made by computers. I think creativity is making a comeback.
No band likes comparisons, or at least that question that asks about influences, but I have to ask what drove or compelled the band from a lyrical standpoint? 
That’s a bit of a difficult question, as Brett writes most of the lyrics and has a deep personal meaning that he will not share with anyone. I contribute some myself and inspiration has come from dreams, and dwelling much on the hardships that we were dealing with at the time of writing the first record. There are many factors that come together into the Pallbearer lyrics and I think it works so much better that they’re something that can be relatable to anyone. They have multiple meanings to us, and I would hope that each person is able to apply them to their own journey though existence on this plane or wherever their consciousness may carry them..
I’m a huge fan of hip-hop, yet there’s so much bullshit I have to sift through to get through to an actual decent musician/group.  I feel like the metal genre is the same.  Why do you think that is, or do you not agree?
I agree. Honestly I find myself listening to very little newer metal unless it’s from a friend, like Chris Bruni, or Dave Adelson of 20 Buck Spin. They certainly have their “ear to the ground” in a sense in a much bigger way than I do, and have shared some killer stuff. More often than not I find myself listening to and seeking out old prog or kraut rock rather than constantly scouring for new current heavy stuff. At the point where I am in my life right now, that just interests me more, even though I will always love metal no matter what, and will always have my mainstays.
 
With the shortest song (Devoid of Redemption) clocking in at over eight minutes, is Pallbearer that kind of band that expects a certain level of introspection from its listeners?  What was the band’s goal from the outset, and what direction do you see yourselves headed?  
I guess there could be some introspective aspects about the band, but more than that, that just tends to be the way we write. The songs lend themselves to being a bit longer than your average rock song I guess, but I think they just naturally fall around that 8-9 minute mark on their own. We tend to try to edit things down if it feels like a riff or section is overstaying its welcome. We’re definitely not the kind of band that’s just like “let’s just riff out on this maaaan…” It’s much more interesting to keep things moving. In terms of direction, we’re being pulled a few different ways lately. Oddly enough, for the longest time Brett was writing the more progressive, weird and winding riffs and I was the one keeping things grounded with the catchy, simpler parts, but we’ve sort of switched roles more recently. A lot of what we’ve been working on is much more dynamic.
Many thanks to Joseph and the band.
2 years ago
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