Pallbearer: “The most gratifying thing is affecting someone in a positive way”

The Arkansas doom band reveal the majesty behind 'Heartless'

Pallbearer: “The most gratifying thing is affecting someone in a positive way”

By Glen Bushell

Mar 20, 2017 15:19

When you think of doom metal, the things that come to mind are usually dark, satanic images. Perhaps even cloaks, hailing the leaf, and above all, the mighty power of the riff. For Pallbearer, it goes further than just any of the above clichés. Their third album, ‘Heartless’, brings a certain majesty to the genre, which is something that vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell has always aspired to do.

“We’ve always had this goal to make towering, beautiful music,” he says, discussing what drives the Arkansas band to create such expansive compositions. “It gives you such an amazing feeling when you have a song that twists and turns along the journey, putting you in a different realm by the end of it. As well as primitive doom bands, we are big fans of progressive rock and even AOR radio rock from 35 years ago. We bring all of that into our sound.”

Aside from bands like Electric Wizard and Candlemass, who Campbell cites as an influence, he says that side of things is “less on the surface of this record.” He expresses a fondness for the classic Yes album, ‘Close To The Edge’, which is a huge part of Pallbearer’s lexicon due to the “stunning moments of grandeur,” along with the more unconventional atmosphere of funeral doom bands such as Skepticism and Esoteric.

“I think our music would work just as well if we were an instrumental band,” he continues. “We try to make the music as interesting as possible before we put vocals to it. Trying to let the music take you on a journey is something we have just fallen into.”

The music on ‘Heartless’ finds Pallbearer going further into a progressive sound, yet still retains the heaviness of their critically acclaimed album, ‘Foundations of Burden’. Rather than trying to emulate that record, the band decided to streamline the recording process to give the album more it’s own lease of life.

“On [‘Foundations of Burden’] we used so many layers of rhythm guitars that I think it was to its detriment,” says Campbell, reflecting on the difficulties faced during the mixing process of their previous record. “Granted, we did that this time, but it was a lot more directed. We have more experience now, and we know how to find the exact tones we are looking for. The whole thing was a lot more focused, and we knew how to use our time better.”

Despite there being such a focus on the musical element of Pallbearer, ‘Heartless’ is undoubtedly the most direct piece of work, lyrically, the band have written in their near ten year career. There is a dichotomy between the brighter, often elegant tone of the music and the lyrical content.

“It’s definitely a much angrier record,” admits Campbell, looking back at where the band was at during the writing of ‘Heartless’. “I think ‘I Saw The End’ and ‘A Plea For Understanding’ are all very direct, but there are going to be some songs where people interpret the meaning a little differently to what we do. I have a hard time explaining where the lyrics come from. They are written at the end, and the music will tell me where what the songs need to be about.”

Once the music was finished on ‘Heartless’, Campbell tells of how he would listen intently to the songs, essentially discovering the journey of the music first. He says that “once the inspiration hits, the lyrics just flow,” and nothing is pre-prepared. “It’s an emergent thing that comes from the music. I don’t sit around and write for fun, it is a stream of consciousness that happens from the emotion I feel in the moment.“

Pallbearer: “The most gratifying thing is affecting someone in a positive way”

Speaking of emotion, there are few doom metal bands that have the connection with their audience quite like Pallbearer. You only have to look back at Temples Festival in 2015, when, after the band finished their awe-inspiring set, the response from the crowd was a standing ovation and applause. Not the usual raucous reaction you find at metal shows.

“That’s the strange thing about putting out very personal music, people will connect to it different ways,” says Campbell, obviously humbled by the reaction Pallbearer receive from their fans. “I hear stories of incredible hardship, either in person or online, with such an outpouring of emotion about how our music has helped them. As a musician, the most gratifying thing is affecting someone in a positive way. Hopefully our music can be enjoyed outside of dark times, but it provides a catharsis, and is also a way to deal with our own problems.”

‘Heartless’ certainly has the power to take Pallbearer to another level within heavy music. It is tailor made for bigger stages, and could blow the doors wide open for more people to hear them, and rightfully so; Pallbearer deserve to be heard by more than just a small pocket of fans.

“I would like to be on bigger stages so that we can fit all our gear on and I don’t have to worry about getting a guitar headstock in my face,” laughs Campbell, before recounting the time they played a small club show in Prague. “The stage there was so tiny that our bass player, Joe, had to stand in the green room. Now we are incorporating other elements into our sound we are going to need more room.”

Joking aside, Campbell is quick to state that Pallbearer will never compromise or water down their music, but being a bigger band would afford them greater opportunities. “We want to make music that speaks to a lot of people. While small shows are fun, and it can be sonically punishing for the audience, our music is made to inhabit large spaces.”

Campbell admits that some of the initial reaction to ‘Heartless’, while mostly positive, has been pretty divisive. That’s not something that concerns him in the least. This is the record Pallbearer wanted to make, and he is just looking forward to unveiling it to the world.

“If you start letting peoples opinions temper your own, it’s a dangerous path to go down,” he emphatically states. “First and foremost, we are making the music that we want to make. I don’t think about what people are going to say, because if we are excited about it, the chances are some other people are going to be, too. If we didn’t do that, it would be artificial. We are not trying to write hit singles, just the best music we can as creative people.”

‘Heartless’ is released on March 24th via Nuclear Blast (EU)/Profound Lore (Us), and Pallbearer will be on tour in the UK next month.

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