This piece originally ran on July 10, 2014. Pallbearer is scheduled to play a sold-out show tonight at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn and Metro Gallery in Baltimore on Thursday. Tickets remain for the Baltimore show.
We recently saw the release of Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer’s heavily anticipated follow up to 2012’s universally feted Sorrow and Extinction. Recorded this year in Portland with producer Billy Anderson (The Melvins, Neurosis, High on Fire, Sleep, Jawbreaker), the record is poised to be as achingly brutal as S&E with wild, prog flourishes. For a band from the tight knit Little Rock metal scene, these guys just continue to swing for the fences spectacularly. “We never had the smallest inclination that we were gonna be doing this,” says Joseph D. Rowland (guitars/vocals/keys), as we talked on the roof of the Rock and Roll Hotel after their opening set for Deafheaven last month. “All the people who are into heavy music in Little Rock are in bands, most are in bands with each other, and if a band plays the audience is also kind of friends or contributing in some way. We weren’t looking beyond that scope really.” The scope changed dramatically when the songwriting duo of Rowland and Brett Campbell created an undeniable collection of tracks that burst as much with seething, brutal melody as with a smoldering catharsis offered in the form of Campbell’s stunning croon.
You mentioned earlier that this album could be interpreted as a meditation on regret. Is this something manifested in the time since the last record?
Not necessarily. I don’t know that it was a conscious effort for it to be that. A lot of what we write, both the music and the lyrics, just spring from life experiences. The new album is a complete 50/50 split between Brett and I writing lyrics and music. A lot of inspiration has come from dreams that I’ve had, that I feel like have sprung from shit that I’ve been going through in my life. It definitely wasn’t like, “We are gonna focus on this for the album.”
That’s what the focus became because of everything that happened since we wrote, recorded, and put out Sorrow and Extinction. Life happens. Inspiration is a weak term, I guess, but we draw from life experience a lot. Or I do – I feel bad speaking for Brett. Really, Pallbearer isn’t that meta. [Laughs.] A lot of the stuff is personal, stuff like me going through difficult times. As soon as that started being a thing, dealing with some heavy times again…
Were you dealing with these sorts of issues forming the band and recording the first record?
Not the same. A lot of what has become the manifestation of difficult times in my life and Brett’s life – a lot of what he wrote and is focusing on is a way to deal with it, letting it go a little bit. Brett and I don’t even talk about what our songs are about to each other, not deep down. It’s pretty personal.
So are the songs the way you communicate with each other about all of this?
I give him a little bit but don’t get down to the microscopic details of it. Brett handles 90% of the vocals so he needs to have his own interpretations of the songs so he can feel it. If I was like, “Alright dude, I’m gonna spell out exactly what this is about,” it wouldn’t be him speaking, you know? That’s super important to me, so that’s why I never like to go into detail other than a vague explanation. That ruins the experience for people. Most songs are so much better if you have your own interpretation. Since so much of the stuff I write about comes from imagery in dreams that I’ve had, that’s literally 100% interpretation no matter what. It makes sense to just let it be that.
Growing as a band together so quickly – are you guys enjoying the ride?
A lot of it, yea! We never had the smallest inclination that we were gonna be doing this. The opportunity was all of a sudden there and we were like, fuck it dude, we can’t not do this. This is being handed to us. We never figured we’d be touring at all! When we started the band, Little Rock has had a really awesome local metal scene for a long time. We’d been playing locally in our other bands that we were in for forever and this was just another band we’re gonna do around town. All the people who are into heavy music in Little Rock are in bands, most are in bands with each other, and if a band plays the audience is also kinda friends or contributing in some way.
We weren’t looking beyond that scope really. It was just like, “This is another thing we’re doing that’s part of Little Rock metal.” When the demo came out, we did a short 5 day tour, played the Rites of Darkness festival that’s infamous in retrospect and it was awesome. As soon as Sorrow and Extinction came out, ok, now we have a booking agent that books for Electric Wizard, Baroness, King Diamond. I was like, “We gotta do this. We’d be fools to not just go for it!”
The phrase “YOLO,” that’s sort of our M.O. man. If it’s there, we have to go for it. I would regret it if we didn’t. Later in my life, if I was just like, “Oh well man, we had the opportunity to tour Europe, but we just didn’t.” No, man.
The third track tonight (“Foundations”) had a little more urgency than some of the tracks on Sorrow and Extinction.
Yea man! The new record has got a lot more dynamic feel and it’s a lot, just faster, in a lot of ways. There’re parts of the new album slower than anything on Sorrow and Extinction but there’s that song and others that are just straight up rock and roll.
Is this something you were cognizant of during the writing and recording?
We just write what we write. We know our sound that we have, and we’re really into prog rock and stuff and it’s a little more obvious on the new album. It’s what we like and we’ll incorporate whatever makes sense, what we feel works best. The new album is a lot more – I don’t want to say all over the place – but it’s got a lot more elements and different styles. From the music theory standpoint, there’s a lot more dynamics in it. It’s not just a steady plod for 50 minutes, it’s got a lot more peaks and valleys, quieter parts, it gets really heavy sometimes and sometimes not heavy at all.