Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe: You’re a Boy Band If You Write Music to Appease Others
Lamb of God's Randy Blythe was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The singer discussed his approach to the band's forthcoming self-titled record, their eighth overall, as well as his contributions to the band Saudade, and how his lyrical aims between the two bands differ.
While some of Blythe's words appear, on the surface, to be aimed at specific current events, he stresses that he is not attacking any one administration, but the system on the whole, likening party allegiance to sports fandom.
This far into a professional career, the pressure to conform to fan expectations can present itself, but it's not anything Blythe is concerned with. In fact, it's his assertion that any band who writes with the intent of catering to these expectations is merely a "boy band."
Read the full chat below.
Being in a band, you've lived through times of instability and even distress. How has normalcy changed throughout the course of your life?
What's normalcy? Nothing is consistent. The only thing that's consistent with me is that I'm a sober dude now and I know that I'm going to wake up without a hangover as long as I do the right thing and remind myself that I can't drink and I don't think I'm gonna for the rest of today. That's all I've got to worry about.
As far as everything else, every time I feel like something's settling into some sort of semblance of normalcy, a freak explosion occurs of some sort and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's not necessarily some sort of traumatic event — things change. As I get older I just kind of come to accept that fact. Life is protean — a constantly shifting, warping, bending, changing moment to moment and I just try and enjoy the ride.
Art, be it a visual, music or words is a combination of self-expression and communication. What's different about the things you feel strongly compelled to communicate today compared to when you were younger?
Nothing. [laughs] It's all the same thing, just a different face put on it. My moral compass hasn't really shifted. What has changed is the way I express myself and handle that expression. As I get older and do my various jobs, whether that be music, photography or writing, I hope that I am finely honing my sort of skill set and being able to express myself with more clarity in a more artistic manner, I guess. Something that is not just so on-the-nose as they say in the movie industry and the writing scene. I like to try and approach things from 'this is what I want to say, but how can I say it in a cooler, more artistic way?'
Let's talk about "Lions," the new single from Saudade. It presents your voice in a much different context. What changed about your vocal technique based on the style of the song and its collaborator.
Saudade a Portuguese term, I believe specifically Brazilian, and it describes an emotion of longing and missing for something that is gone and will never come back. Suppose a friend of yours in your childhood died and you've missed this person —that's a feeling of Saudade.
The exciting thing about the "Lions" track for me is that Chuck Doom (Crosses), the main man behind the band, sent me several different tracks to listen to and said, "Let me know what speaks to you. What do you want to touch on?"
There are some aggressive parts in the song where I do some screaming, even though I did the screaming a little bit different than I do with Lamb of God — the sort of atmospheric weird dubbed out stuff for me lent itself really well to sort of laying back and just using my natural voice, which I really enjoyed. That softer, more atmospheric, mellow, weird stuff led to me using a bit more poetically heavy metaphors in the lyric writing and a bit more beautiful stuff. The verses parts of them described some weird violent things, but there's also super beautiful phrasing in it.
I would never write a phrase, "honey dripping through the ceiling." I would never ever, ever write that for Lamb of God. If I presented it to those dudes, they'd be like, "What are you, are you on crack? This is Lamb of God." [laughs] We don't use words like that, but it fits perfectly with the Saudade thing and all the players are immensely talented. You've got David Torn who worked with David Bowie, Dr. Know from Bad Brains, John Medeski from Medeski, Martin & Wood, Robert Thomas Jr. who was in Weather Report, Mackie Jayson from the Cro-Mags. All these people are real deal musicians who operate in many different arenas.
Chuck plays bass and he was like Jaco Pastorius' protégé — that says something. On the track there's some of Jaco's steel pan drums because he owns that stuff. Stepping into that kind of world was a bit more free form and loose, which is what you can do when you have these people who play genres of music that aren't so rigidly structured as metal.
It was a really cool experience and it allowed me to be really open and try things. I'm looking forward to doing some more of them. Plus I'm on track with Lee "Scratch" Perry, who is such an influence on music in general. The effects of his work in the studio in Jamaica and in the '70s are felt across the board and pop music today, so it's a real big honor.
Let's talk about "Checkmate." It's an unabashed commentary about the current administration.
It's not a commentary on the current administration; it's a commentary on the current political system in general. If you read the lyrics to the end, it's talking about how things are so divisive right now and people are choosing political parties as if they were sports teams, but really they're both sides of the same coin.
Higher-ups get rich and just like sports teams — if you watch the Super Bowl, all these fans spend thousand of dollars to go to the Super Bowl and buy the merchandise to support these teams and scream and scream and scream. But only a few people get paid and those are the the players and the ones that really get paid are the owners. So people are getting this product, but what are they gaining from it ultimately?
Lamb of God, "Checkmate"
That song is about that sort of divide here and who profits. It's not about our current administration at all. There are some sort of commentaries because Mark started the song off and we co-wrote it. Some of the more on-the-nose political commentary came from him early on and then I sort of changed it. You read the last bit of it and says, "You try to pick the lesser of, but evil doesn't come in twos." You hear that all the time — what if you just don't pick either right now because it's all completely screwed up? That's what that's about.
Well, how do you hope your lyrics will affect someone who disagrees with them?
I would hope that they would make them think and make them sit there and go, "Why did he write like this? Why does he think this way?"
Furthermore, that's see that's the big problem now in America and other places too because the political schism is worldwide. Nobody is sitting down and talking on an individual basis. There's this herd mentality, the psychology of the crowd right now in politics that has spilled over into the Internet where people just constantly argue.
The liberals are like, "You're all Neo-Nazis and too conservative," and the conservatives are all like, "You're all libtards." What does that sound like to you? To me that sounds like third grade — that doesn't sound like adults having an open conversation. I don't do well with some sort of large group-think identity, which I think has taken over the national psyche, particularly in regard to politics.
Lamb of God are very established in terms of what it does and the expectation of your audience. How are you able to successfully step outside of that box with the new album without stepping too far from the core?
The expectations of our audience never enters my mind at all because I write lyrics for one dude and that's me — not for my wife, not for my family and not for my friends. I write lyrics for me. They're my expression and I don't think about, "Well, would a Lamb of God fan like this?"
If you start writing to appease the fans or you start doing what fans want, then you become a boy band and you might as well go ahead and get a producer to come down from Hollywood and a songwriter who will say, "Oh, fans have really been liking this and that," and start writing stuff for you. Then the music is false — it's not art anymore.
One thing Lamb of God has always done is we write what we want to write. I write for myself and I have to work with the other dudes in my band to make sure that that will fit into our framework and that they're cool with it. Generally, they are and they do the same thing with everyone else musically.
We all bring in a ton of ideas and not all of them make it, because one person might say, "Oh, I really love this and I'm bringing this in. Everybody else will look at them like, 'That sucks.'" [laughs] Usually not that brutally, it's more like, "I don't know if that's going to work there," but we're at a point now where we're trying to serve the project rather than individual egos.
Tennessee Williams said about writing that you have to be willing to kill your darlings, speaking of characters he's written — just because he loves that character or something that character would do, it doesn't mean it serves the piece of writing and it's the same thing musically.
As far as meeting some sort of expectations or not stepping outside the box or whatever, that's never been a concern of mine. I just don't care. As long as I liked the record at the end of the day, which I do very much, then I can go to bed with a clear conscious because I was true to myself and did what I wanted to do.
Most of the bands that you loved as a kid are now your friends. What changes about your connection with music once there's a personal relationship with its creators?
One reason why this album took so long to come about was because of our tour cycle was much longer than normal. Slayer went on their epic final world tour and they kept on asking us to come out and we're not going to say no to main support to Slayer. In a recent interview, a journalist asked, "Do you think being plugged into such a primal power source as Slayer every night being in that proximity to it may have sort of shaped your mentality going into this record?" I said, no, absolutely not for me. I still love Slayer's music though.
And I still love the Bad Brains and I still love the Cro-Mags and The Misfits, but for me it makes knowing these people and being friends with these people makes the music, as a fan, that much more dear to me. Watching Slayer play "South of Heaven" every night where I know the cues of when the pyro is going to go off and all that stuff — it wasn't so much like, "Wow, here I am watching Slayer." It was this really killer feeling of, "This is what my friends do and they are the best at it."
I have really interesting friends, so it makes me feel fortuitous and lucky. The relationship to the music hasn't really changed that much, but my sort of relationship to the experience of seeing the music and knowing the music has changed. It makes it more dear to me.
Thanks to Randy Blythe for the interview. Pre-order your copy of Lamb of God's self-titled new album here (out May 8) and follow the band on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.
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