Interview: Pallbearer Reveal Gristly Truths Of The Tour Grind

Way back in early June of last year, we exclusively reported that doom demigods Pallbearer had completed their yet-untitled fifth studio album. To the Arkansas band’s credit, lead vocalist/guitarist/synthesizer player Brett Campbell admitted that the Pallbearer record likely wouldn’t see the light of day till 2024.

Given that unusually long stretch between full-length releases, and to tide over fans clamoring for new Pallbearer material, we’ve decided to gift you, dear reader, with an abridged transcript of our conversation with Campbell. Did he let slip any Easter eggs about the upcoming record—one of the most anticipated metal releases of the year? Read on and find out for yourself in this Pallbearer interview.

What does a Pallbearer tour look like now compared to when you started hitting the road in the late aughts?

Well, the first time that we traveled around Europe, we were relatively green. We had done a big North American tour with Enslaved that (lasted) damn close to two months. And we came from a background where all the bands around here in Arkansas would get super-wasted onstage. Oh, man. We were all pretty young at the time too, so we were getting smashed every day and just having a blast on a continent that was new to us. It actually worked out pretty well. We bonded really well and had a really good time. Nowadays, we’re a little bit older and a little bit more professional about how we do things. We (don’t get) quite as hammered.

Bands don’t seem to drink onstage nearly as much as they used to—if at all.

It’s probably for the best. We grew up watching bands like Ween come to town and pass around whiskey bottles onstage. Back then, that was normal. But it turns out that you play a lot better when you’re not drunk. Go figure.

Yeah, funny how that works. What’s your take on playing festivals? Are they a necessary evil or do you enjoy playing them as much as in more intimate settings?

They run the gamut. Sometimes they’re a straight-up nightmare and other times they’re a blast. It all depends on how well-organized the festival is. Whether or not we have basic accommodations like food and stuff to drink … sometimes you’d be surprised. The bands don’t (always) get that stuff. So you can be (hanging around at a festival) all day with no food, no water, no beer, nothing. But on the other hand, sometimes you get to see some bands that you want to see, which is cool. 

A festival like Roadburn is always a 10. It’s always really well-organized, they treat the artists really well and always have really great lineups. It’s easy to get from one place to another to see different bands. But then there’s other times you’re in a mud-fest somewhere and might have a bag of chips to split between everybody. That’s a little less exciting.

I read you guys raving about Monsters on the Mountain. What made that festival so special for you? 

Oh, lots of things. It’s usually in Little Rock, our hometown. This year it was in North Little Rock, which is technically a different city, but it’s just on the other side of the (Arkansas) river. CT (Chris Terry) of Rwake has been putting it on for probably 10 or 12 years now. And it’s always really killer. He pulls out all the stops for it. And as soon as one is done, he starts planning for the next one. This year he put it in a new location, kind of like a community theater. And then there was another venue two spots down. Unfortunately, not Three Doors Down.

Very good, very clever. 

Right around the block, there were talks and a couple shows. (Authors and cartoonists) came down and talked about some of their work too. So it featured some really interesting people with unique perspectives. But yeah, the lineup was incredible. And it was really easy to see everything you wanted to see. Really good vibes too. For me at least, a dude in the Little Rock music scene, it’s very much like a big family reunion. It’s so special.

It’s true, music festivals appear to be more like community events these days. A lot of people seem to go just to feel like they can express themselves and be around their people. Festivals have always been this way to an extent, but it seems like there’s like this additional component now that gives people a sense of community.

Absolutely. It’s especially the case for smaller-scale festivals. Mega outdoor fests, where there’s several thousand people, can be a little bit more chaotic. Smaller festivals are a good opportunity to run into friends from potentially around the world.

How are you feeling in general about touring these days? Are you still making up for lost time during COVID or do you feel like you’re back on track pre-pandemic? 

Well, both, but I think we are way better than we were before COVID. We had a relentless tour in support of (2017’s) Heartless. After we got done, I found out I’d had chronic bronchitis for, like, a year. I kept losing my voice and felt like shit. And I was so exhausted. We were all getting really burned out. So we had planned to take a year off to get our lives together, start writing, and feel inspired again. During that year off, we wrote (Pallbearer’s fourth album,) Forgotten Days, and we recorded it at the end of 2019.

Our plan was to release it in 2019 or 2020 and then just tour on it. It was written to be a live-friendly album and not quite as experimental as some of our previous stuff. We tried to take our three previous albums and throw ’em into a pot with Forgotten Days. And we didn’t get to play any of it live (due to COVID). It became a very ironically titled album.

No kidding. 

We toured last year, but up till that point, we had only played scattered shows between the end of 2018 and last fall. So it was a pretty long break for a band that had a pretty heavy touring schedule for the most of our existence. But after coming back and really honing in on what we didn’t like about how we had been touring before, and what we wanted what to change, (our performances became) tighter than ever. I think we sound way better than we ever have. 

We invested in much nicer equipment. I got really nice in-ear (monitors), so the vocals are pretty easy for me to hear, and I don’t have to exhaust myself. I can pull back whenever I’m singing ‘cause I can hear myself really well. I’m not having to try to sing over a super-loud band while not being able to hear myself. The tour that we did with Elder last year … all those shows were solid as fuck. I’m extremely excited to get back on the road ‘cause it was never supposed to have been this long of a break for us. But we (used that time during lockdown to) wrote a whole other album, which we just got done recording.

Oh, your fifth one?

Yes. I’m excited we finally got that album done. We’ve got a couple of odds and ends to finish up when we get home. I’d say it’s 80 or 85 percent done. We gotta put the finishing touches on it, but we’re hoping to have it mixed by August and hopefully get it out by next spring.

Do you have a name for it yet?

No, but we are probably gonna play some of the songs from it on our next tour, ‘cause we’re excited about ’em. We played three new songs at Mutants of the Monster, (another Arkansas fest,) last weekend. (The new songs are) what we’ve been rehearsing the most. We’ve been focusing on the songs for quite some time. That’s what most of this year has been for us, really honing in and perfecting these new songs, which we’ve spent years on at this point. In my opinion, it’s gonna be a huge surprise for people. It’s pretty in some ways. Forgotten Days was a stew of our previous stuff, but this is, like, something else. We’re doing something that we haven’t done before. I’m excited for people to hear it.

It’s gotta be a thrill but also frustrating to have to sit on a new album that is effectively finished. From a different perspective, aren’t you glad to have banked as many shows as you did behind Heartless? When COVID hit, weren’t there points when you looked back and thought it was a good thing that Pallbearer toured so extensively? 

Yeah. I felt so bad for new bands. Things are getting a little better now, but to be a band in 2019 with some hype behind us, it was the right time to strike, while the iron was hot. Fans of some bands (that didn’t tour as much) got screwed, ‘cause by the time they could reasonably get back on the road again—which was, maybe, 2022—things were still pretty messed up at that point. And if you’d never toured before, starting in ’22 was the hardest time.

We are veterans, and when we went out last year, it was very different and harder than it was before. For a new band, that would’ve really sucked. But it seems like things—from what I’m hearing from my friends and other bands that have been touring—seem to be pretty good right now. Which is very nice. Especially since we’re about to go on tour in like three days.

Can you tell me Pallbearer’s craziest anecdote with your frequent tourmates Yob? 

Oh God, I can’t tell the craziest one, ‘cause I think it would be embarrassing to someone we’re friends with. Here’s one: We played this place—I wanna say it was in Barcelona—and then afterwards, the club became, like, a disco. We were just acting like damn fools this night, and me and (bassist) Aaron (Rieseberg) from Yob were scaling. I used to climb stuff all the time. I wouldn’t do it now ‘cause I’m probably a little too old, but (at the time) I was 23 or something. So I was scaling the side of this building; there were these outdoor stairs that led to an upper floor, and there was a pole that led to the top of the stairs. It was three stories or something.

I climbed up this thing and then ran back down the stairs. Then Aaron started doing it … I guess he made it almost to the top but then started to slip. And we’re like, “Fuck. He’s about to splash shit. So we hauled ass up the stairs to try to catch him. I grabbed him and pulled him back over the ledge, but he cracked his rib trying to hold on. Oh man. After that, we went inside to the disco. (Pallbearer drummer) Mark (Lierly) and Aaron and me, we were dancing as hard as we could. It was like we were teenagers, right? (We probably looked like) creepy older dudes there to like hit on the teenagers. We danced as hard as possible, and beer was cheaper than water, so we just kept drinking more of it.

Eventually, all these people were standing around awkwardly watching us dance, like, in awe because we were, you know, three metal dudes going so hard. And then there was this 16-year-old kid nearby, and I ended up swinging him and just let him fly. And he was into it! He was laughing. I don’t think we have any warrants out for (our) arrest or anything. I don’t think he was hurt. He was landed on his feet. But that was a pretty funny night. Aaron might have exacerbated his rib injury, but it was still a lot of fun.

That’s a hell of a story, man. 

Maybe we can re-create it again, when we’re at the same disco and 10 years older.

Wrapping up here, did you ever anticipate that—for lack of a better term—“doom metal” would get as big as it has become?

No, we had no clue. We were just participating in our local scene. (Pallbearer bassist) Joe (Rowland) and I had been in an experimental drone noise band for some time and had gotten to a point where we wanted to make more structured music. It naturally funneled into the early Pallbearer stuff. But that was just so we could play local shows. Our greatest ambition was that we maybe could play in Europe one time. That’s as far as we expected it to go. But then we got signed to Profound Lore, and (our debut) record (2012’s Sorrow and Extinction) got a lot of attention.

We always thought our music was good, otherwise we wouldn’t have released it. But we didn’t expect it to get as big as it did. Granted, we toured the hell out of that album. But people at the time just sort of looked at it as an overnight success. Really, we just released an album and immediately went on the road and never stopped until pretty much the end of (2017’s Heartless). That’s how you get your name out there.

Do you think Pallbearer would’ve kept going as a band had it not been for encouragement and support from legacy artists like Enslaved and Boris who brought you on tour and obviously like you guys?

Who knows? Man, that’s a good question. I’ve never really thought about it. I’ve always had confidence in my abilities as a musician. Even when when we started the band, I was at a very low place emotionally and psychologically. But the one thing I’ve always had faith in is my ability to write music and make music. Joe and I were and are very locked in. We always seem to be on the same page about what we’re creating at any time. Even if we’re doing it separately, when we bring the stuff together, it’s like, “Wow, this is just like the new stuff I’ve been working on.” We’re very lucky to have an almost supernatural musical rapport. That’s not to undersell like Mark and (Pallbearer guitarist) Devin (Holt)’s contributions as well. They’re extremely important.

I think we would’ve continued to make music, but we were lucky to get successful enough to not have to work second jobs when we were home. We just spent all our time on the road and then had enough (money) leftover from touring to support us until we went back on the road again. That allowed us to be full-time musicians and fully dedicate ourselves to (Pallbearer). If we hadn’t had support from the artists that we looked up to … We were put on that tour with At the Gates and Converge pretty early on, and that was a huge deal. Getting a lot of exposure early on certainly helped us.

I remember the tremendous response Pallbearer got at the Wiltern in Los Angeles on that tour, before Converge came on. You guys blew the roof off that place. 

That was our goal. Really early on, we played this fest in San Antonio, and the promoter stole a bunch of money. I think he was, like, excommunicated from the metal scene down there. It was all black and death metal and funeral doom—super extreme metal—which I was stoked about. But we were the only band with clean vocals during the three days of that fest. We were like, “Is this audience gonna completely turn on us? Are they gonna rip us off the stage and tear us apart?” Nope. They were, like, completely into it. If the most extreme metal fans can get down with what we’re doing, then that’s a good sign. We like extreme-metal kids, but that’s not really (the kind of music) we make, you know? It’s cool people can see that we can be heavy even though we don’t have extreme vocals.

It’s like you got sentenced to a long term in prison, and the first thing you did was stab the scariest guy in there with a shiv, to show you weren’t to be trifled with. 

Yeah, for sure! We toured with Obituary a few years ago too, and we knew ahead of time it was gonna be hard winning over some of their more old-school fans. The ones with their arms crossed, the 50-year-old death metal dudes standing in the front row, making direct eye contact. (In those situations, we know) we gotta bring our heaviest set list. When people say, “I did not expect y’all to be as heavy as you were,” that is the vindication that I need. It’s great, though, that we can also share a bill with a rock band and play our softer stuff. That’s the the benefit of having a diverse catalog.

Ab-so-lutely. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me about what you guys got going on. It’s really exciting to hear, and I’m looking forward to the new Pallbearer album already. 

Thanks, man, for the thoughtful interview.

Forgotten Days is available now from Nuclear Blast. Follow Pallbearer on Facebook and Instagram for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Nuclear Blast

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