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Overcoming the Storm: Lamb of God

The American metal band frontman Randy Blythe on overcoming his incarceration in Czech Republic, why their new album isn’t a prison record and his varied creative interests

Anurag Tagat Jul 01, 2015
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Check out Lamb of God’s latest release, Overlord

Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe is in Nantes in France a day before their appearance at Hellfest, and he’s finished about two hours of press interactions so far. It’s not just for the American metal band’s eighth album, VII: Sturm und Drang, but also for his memoirs called Dark Days, both of which are set for release in July. Says an audibly tired Blythe over the phone, “That’s a lot of stuff all happening at once.”

But it has to happen now ”“ it’s been two years since Blythe and the band overcame the turmoil of a manslaughter charge in Czech Republic that threatened to end their career, with the frontman staring at a 10-year prison sentence. Blythe has been in the media eye ever since he was arrested upon landing in Prague in 2012. Says Blythe, “I didn’t plan it this way, you know? It really just made me want to tear my hair out, at a certain point.”

As much as he’s talked extensively about spending five weeks in prison in Czech Republic and fighting to clear his name, it’s also part of his memoirs, Dark Days. The book starts off as an autobiography that also details the two years he spent fighting to clear his name after he was indicted in a manslaughter case in 2012 for pushing a fan off stage at one of their shows in 2010 in Prague. Since he wrote the book even before Lamb of God got down to work on the album, Blythe categorically states Sturm und Drang isn’t a prison record. Says Blythe, “There’s only two songs on the record that deal with that. They are the first two singles [”˜Still Echoes’ and ”˜512’]. Those lyrics are three years old. I wrote those while I was in prison. Most of the record has nothing to do with that whatsoever.”

In an interview with ROLLING STONE India, Blythe talks about Sturm und Drung’s European leanings, their upcoming tour with American metallers Slipknot and playing an exaggerated version of himself in a Taiwanese film.

Randy Blythe

Randy Blythe. Photo: Bobin James

RS: The album is coming up next month ”“ how nervous or ready are you for fans to hear it?

Randy Blythe: I’m not nervous at all [laughs]. It’s all being prepared and I don’t have to do any preparing. I just make the record and then let it go. Once the record’s done, I don’t even think about it. I try not even read reviews and stuff. I just don’t care. I’m ready to go on tour and play.

I get the feeling that the process of writing this album was very different ”“ you had experienced something very different from the band, even though they were part of it. Would you agree?

No, not at all. It’s just like any other record. I wouldn’t agree with that at all. It’s just another Lamb of God record, business as usual. Most of the record has nothing to do with that [manslaughter trial] whatsoever. It’s not a prison record. When I wrote those lyrics, I was locked up. They were done three years ago. It’s not like I had to sit down and write new lyrics or anything or think about it.

So there’s a lot more to it than just your incarceration. Did you feel you had written what you felt about it and wanted to move on?

Yeah. That’s a lot more like it. The whole thing with the Czech Republic ”“ it’s not a topic that we use as a creative well to draw from. I mean, it’s over. I wrote a 500-page book about the thing before we ever wrote the record, why would I write an album about it? I don’t have any need to discuss it or revisit it any more at all.

The title ”“ Sturm und Drang and the lyrics inspired by European history make me think this could be Lamb of God if they were a European band. Would you agree?

[laughs] There’s a German title, and there’s some experiences that I learned about when I was in Europe. We’ve toured Europe so much. There’s one of the bonus tracks ”“ “Nightmare Seeker (The Little Red House)” and that’s about Auschwitz. I went there a few years ago. There are a few tracks about European history because they just have a longer history than the States. And I’ve written some [tracks] about American history before, but we tour [Europe] so much every year, it kind of made it an interesting thing to draw from.

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So what’s the most American thing about this album?

I guess it’s the band members [laughs] ”“ we’re the most American thing about this record. There’s not really an European side to the record or an American side ”“ it’s global stuff. I think it’s hard to have the singularly American or European or whatever experience at all anymore, because we live in a hyper-connected world. There’s some stuff that addresses that on the album.

During the trial and even now after the ordeal, did you want to get away from the media attention or were you prepared?

Things, regrettably, all just occurred at the same time [laughs]. There’s definitely a feeling that there’s too much media attention on me. It’s not something I particularly enjoy. You have to do press about them and try to sell them and make a living off of them, like I did with my photography and the book and the album and all that stuff. But yeah, it’s definitely a lot of attention all at once and I don’t do too well with that [laughs]. I prefer smaller doses.

I also saw that you’d read Nergal’s [from Polish death metallers Behemoth] memoirs, Confessions of a Heretic. What did you think of it?

I wrote the introduction to it in the English version. Nergal’s editor knew me and said, ”˜Hey, do you want to write the introduction?’ I said yes. Nergal’s a friend of mine. I talk about it in the introduction ”“ it’s a good book, man. I don’t always agree with all of his views but I always respect him because he’s a very intelligent man. All of his philosophy, even if I don’t agree with it, is very well thought out. It’s not just some half-assed stuff he’s saying. He’s not just running around screaming ”˜Satan!’ like a teenager. He’s a smart man.

Your American tour starts with Slipknot ”“ have you guys been together on the road before?

Yeah, we’d all toured together in Ozzfest 2004 and then we did a headlining run with them in 2005 and there’s been talk of us touring together ever since. We’ve done festivals, but this is the first long run we’ve done since 2005 and we’re really looking forward to it. They’re good friends, I’ve known those guys for 10 years now so it’ll be nice to get back on the road with them.

They have a completely different show compared to you guys ”“ how do you think the audience will react, according to you?

Well, they’re going to react really well, because we’re going to bring a good portion of them to the show. That’s the reason why we’ve made the tour. We share a lot of fans. So I think it’s going to be”¦ well like you said, we put on a different show ”“ Lamb of God doesn’t have sets, and masks and fire and all that stuff. It’s pretty cool and it works great for them, but it’s not for us. We’re just more of a rock band.

But I would say I’m looking forward to watching them and looking forward to shooting photographs of them. They’re one of my favorite bands to shoot, because they’re so interesting-looking and there’s so much chaos on stage all the time. Stuff’s blowing up, Clown [percussionist] is beating something with a baseball bat. Sid [Wilson, DJ] is jumping off something that’s three storeys high. Jim’s crazy. It’s complete insanity. I’m really looking forward to it. And we only have to play 45-50 minutes every night ”“ which I love. I’m so glad I’m not headlining, because then I can just get in the back and take photos and watch them sweat.

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I saw some shots from the film you were doing with the guys from [Taiwanese metal band] Chthonic ”“ what is it called? What kind of role do you have in it?

I wish I could tell you the name of the film, but I can’t speak Taiwanese. There will be an English title and a subtitle version with the release and I’m sure they’ll let me know. It was a lot of fun to make. They flew me to Taiwan after we went to Japan to play Knotfest in Tokyo [2014]. The rest of my band went home and then I went to Taiwan for two weeks. It was just awesome. I kinda play an exaggerated version of myself and Chthonic play exaggerated versions of themselves ”“ it’s funny, it’s political and there’s a lot of action. There’s fighting and a riot sequence and we’re fighting police officers. It was a really good learning experience for me, trying to be in a movie in a foreign country [laughs]. I don’t speak the language.

Were your dialogs in English?

No, I spoke lines in English, Taiwanese, Mandarin and Japanese. It was very confusing a lot of the time. I had a personal assistant who helped me translate and to teach me how to pronounce the lines. It was crazy, but it was a really good time, man. I think it’s going to be an awesome movie.

I read about the ballet you were scoring for a friend ”“ are you into classical music? Any composers you’re influenced by?

I’m not well-versed enough in classical, but I’m familiar with some works like Vivaldi and some of Bach’s works. But I’m not a huge, huge classical fan. The music I composed for the ballet, it was classical-influenced but there’s a lot of weird ambient stuff. It wasn’t strictly neo-classical music. I’m not super educated about it, but my father is. Hopefully it’s something I’ll get more into as I get older.

It wasn’t influenced by anything and that’s the cool thing about it. I don’t come from the ballet world, I don’t listen to a lot of ballet scores or anything. I come from heavy metal. I was just going with the mood. I discussed the themes of the ballet with the choreographer and we built it from the ground up. So if we wanted a part that had more anger, I’d make it abrasive-sounding. If there’s a sad reflective part, I play piano in a minor key.

Chris [Adler, drummer] has got a restaurant, you’ve got photography ”“ is this that time in the band when you can finally fit in other interests?

Yeah, sure. I mean I’ve always pursued other interests. I did the ballet, I had a photography exhibit and we’ve got a new record coming out. I did guest slots with other musicians. I think that makes the work with the band better, because if you’re only constrained to one thing as an artist, eventually you’re going to get tired and burned out of doing that. Some people don’t ”“ like Gene Simmons and KISS. I mean, he owns a bunch of businesses, but he is KISS. That’s not my type of thing. I like doing a lot of different things.

I’m more influenced by guys like Nick Cave, who do music scores, write books and do different bands. I think if you have different creative interests and you’re allowed to pursue them, when it’s time to come back to the main gig, as the dude in the band, then you’re going to be more inspired rather than if you just stuck with one thing. It’s going to get stale and old.

Any plans to come to India?

Not yet, but I’m sure there will be. We seem to do well there. We had a good time the last couple of shows. The fans are crazy ”“ nothing has been told yet, but we’re going to be on tour for the next 18 months to two years, so it’s more than likely that we’ll  be back.

The interview appears in the July issue of Rolling Stone India

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