Lamb of God Bassist John Campbell and Drummer Chris Adler Chew The Fat

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Monday, November 27, 2006 @ 4:33 PM

"There’s no reason to be a dic

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Lamb of God was formed in 1990 when three prim and studious college boys, Chris Adler, John Campbell and Mark Morton, met on the Virginia Commonwealth University campus and decided to get together and jam. The instrumental trio shared a mutual love for heavy music and Black Label beer. After graduation, when guitarist Mark Morton went to Chicago to pursue his master’s degree, a new guitarist, Abe Spear stepped in to take his place and vocalist Randy Blythe joined the band, which was then called Burn the Priest.

Mark Morton moved back to Virginia, rejoining BTP and soon after the self-titled debut album was released, Abe Spear left the group. This opened up a slot for guitarist Willie Adler (Chris Adler’s brother) and a year later Burn the Priest changed its name to Lamb of God, signing to the Prosthetic Records label. The band was getting lumped in with satanic metal bands, which influenced the name change. New American Gospel was released in 2000 and like many bands on an independent label; Lamb of God went out for two years of extensive touring to support the album. Raising consciousness and knocking people unconscious with its barbarous brutality, infectious energy and honesty, Lamb of God’s music and live shows were gaining both popularity and notoriety. 2003’s As the Palaces Burn garnered a lot of respect from relevant critics and contemporaries in the underground scene. Soon Lamb of God began doing headliner tours. Co-headlining the MTV’s Headbangers Ball Tour helped all the more.

While things were still abuzz from As the Palaces Burn, LOG signed with Epic and released 2004’s critically acclaimed Ashes of the Wake. With big label support what would happen now? More and more touring, writing, more touring and getting back in the studio to record Sacrament, the band’s Mona Lisa or Reign in Blood, if you like.

It’s been a pleasure to watch these fuckers come up like they have. It’s been really fun seeing their live shows. Sometimes they’re spot on and sometimes they’re a couple spots off, but they are always uncompromising in giving their people one hell of a heavy show.

I was given the privilege to talk with “the bottom" of Lamb of God—bassist John Campbell and drummer Chris Adler--backstage at one of the Southern California Gigantour shows this last summer. You could say I sandbagged this interview, but in the interest of the band--which is one of my favorites—and in the interest of the almighty LAMB OF GOD, I typed this bitch up. It will indubitably serve the glory whore in me if/when people read it (and put their hate and homoerotic comments in the Reader Rants below), but most importantly, this is for my horn-throwing, pentagram-wearing, Lamb of God loving friends.

I hereby give you the meanest and sometimes most “spot on" rhythm section on the scene today. This cage-rattling duo is the foundation of a band that has risen beyond its own expectations and will likely continue its ascent into Heavy Metal Valhalla just by being Lamb of God. Give it up for John Campbell and Chris Adler.

Now you’ve got something to die for. Bassist John Campbell is probably the easiest going and most non confrontational guy in Lamb of God. Most of the time when he’s on the road and not onstage, he’d rather kick back on the tour bus playing video games on his PSP than go out tearing up the clubs like other heavy metal hellions. Out of curiosity I asked him if being paired with drummer Chris Adler was a difficult job. It was if I jabbed him with a cattle prod.

“Yeah, it’s fuckin’ hard. Are you kidding me? Chris is the timekeeper. I’m kind of the bridge between guitars and drums. Sometimes I’m following the guitars; sometimes I’m following the kick drums. Chris comes up with some ridiculously hard kick drum patterns. On “Pathetic", just right before the solo, Willie and I are blocked into his kick drums. Just the triplets that he throws in there, with the extra hit before the triplet…it’s something you got to pay attention to. It takes a lot of time and effort. If we’ve got a show coming up we practice 5 days a week. Every free moment we can we’re practicing for what we have in front of us. Every time we write a record we try to outdo our previous work, whether it’s on Epic or whatever it is. We’ve been able to do that every time, I think."

Chris Adler plays the drums like a prodigy. It’s almost impossible to believe he was a bass player who didn’t pick up a drumstick until the age 22. Seeming to be more like a fan rather than an established, professional musician, the drummer speaks humbly of his beginnings and main influences.

When Peace Sells…But Who's Buying? came out it seriously and drastically changed my life.
“I saw a band in Washington DC play when I was a kid called Wrathchild America," Adler explains. “Their drummer was Shannon Larkin. He now plays for Godsmack and has done a million things since then. I was a bass player through high school, college and I saw this guy play and sold my geeter. I was like “I wanna do that. I wanna play drums like that guy. For me, personally, I think the coolest thing so far is when I met Dave [Mustaine] from Megadeth. When Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? came out it seriously and drastically changed my life. I wouldn’t be here talking to you and I wouldn’t be playing metal if he had not done what he’s done with his career. In my mind he’s a real valuable piece of who I am, so to shake his hand and look him in the eye and to actually know him is really special to me."

Adler isn’t a session drummer or a guy who gets on the cover of drum magazines very often. He is appropriately, however, well-known by his contemporaries and was sought out to play a track on Drum Nation Volume 3, which was released on the Magna Carta label. I asked Chris about the project and how his teaming up with guitarist Ron Jarzombek (Watchtower, Spastic Ink, Riot, Halford) came to be.

“Ron Jarzombek was a guitar player for a band called Watchtower and later went on to play in a band called Spastic Ink. I was just a huge fan of his and of that music—just this weird, progressive instrumental stuff. I started emailing him, years ago, just as a fan.

We got to be friends. I would tour through Texas and he would come out to shows and we talked about having this little side project and maybe we’d do an album someday. When Magna Carta Records came and said “Hey, we’re doing this Drum Nation thing and we’d love for you to be a part of it." I realized here was my opportunity to catch up with Ron and see if we could do a sing together. Ron’s one of these super theory guys—his brain is a computer and he works totally different than me. If I think about what I’m playing too much I fuck it up. It’s a feel thing, so putting us together was interesting because the way he’d try to explain time signatures, modulation and all this stuff I’d say ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Send me a guitar riff or whatever and I’ll put the drums to it and we’ll just go from there.’ So that’s what we did. We emailed stuff back and forth, one little riff at a time. Soon it became a two-and-a-half, three-minute song, whatever it is—recorded it in my rehearsal space. I just recorded the drums to a click track, sent it to him, he did the guitars and bass over the top of it and that was it. It was the first time that I had ever been outside playing on anything other than Lamb of God. It was the only band I’ve ever played drums in, so it was really exciting to not only do that little project outside of Lamb of God, but to catch up with a guy that I was a huge fan of and to be able to do something like that was very cool."

Campbell’s father was a musician so at a very early age John began to pick and strum on a few different stringed instruments.

“My Dad had a baritone ukulele. He played guitar, ukulele, banjo, and all kinds of stringed instruments. And that was just something that kind of fit me. When I was old enough to have an attention span I would try something and it all started there."

The reference to biblical scripture in many Lamb of God’s songs might suggest that at least one member was trained in or force-fed religion. I asked Campbell to testify.

“I wasn’t baptized. The only time I went to church was when I was in military school and we had to go every Sunday. Chris and Willie were definitely raised Catholic and went to a Catholic high school. Randy was raised religiously and Mark wasn’t. I don’t know if he went to church as a kid or not. Randy’s Dad is a minister."

It is a belief that major labels want to groom their artists and have them conform to what they want. Lamb of God had been getting on just fine doing things their way and weren’t going to deviate from the “if it works don’t fix it" formula that has worked so well over the years. Campbell recalls when his band was approached by Epic.

“They were looking at the underground metal scene coming up and it got to a point where they became interested. We told them straight out that we built our band from the ground up and we had gotten this far doing what we know how to do and they agreed with us that they weren’t going to fuck with that… well, I say that, but the thing they did do is that they signed us and almost immediately wanted a record. And we had just put out As the Palaces Burn. So we had to go and record this record (Ashes of the Wake). I think we had four months to write the record. As the Palaces Burn we wrote in like a year and a half. So they definitely sped us up and put us on a schedule. Yes, there were numbers they had in their minds, but they didn’t have them in our faces…like “If you don’t get this—you’re fucked", but they would be idiots not to have that, on a business level. But so far we’ve surpassed their expectations."

It was not until Lamb of God inked the deal with Epic that the guys in the group became financially stable enough to stop working the “day jobs" that supplemented their not-so-lucrative, independent label music careers.

“Up until we signed with Epic we all had jobs, Campbell explains. “I was a bartender and I was just working where I could. Some months were harder than others, but we just started touring more and signed with Epic, which gave us the opportunity to focus all of our energies on the band."

For Randy to come into it and have this kind of inner purge of these demons. I have a lot of respect for him. It takes a lot of balls. It's really easy for me to go out and say 'I hate George Bush' or express my opinion about anything or anyone else. But to open yourself wide open and kind of cut yourself up and beat yourself up, knowing that if you get through it your going to be better off-that shows a lot-especially to me-that he's really grown up a lot.
The making of Sacrament was an arduous process for each member of the band and the pressure was on-- if not from the label, then from each individual—to turn out an album better than Ashes. The task would be hard, especially for vocalist Randy Blythe, who had been battling alcoholism for years and had made a very difficult decision near the completion of the record to get sober. The other four guys were affected by Blythe’s tirades that would frequently erupt whether the fickle frontman was drunk or sober. Anyone who has seen the Scotland segment in the Lamb of God Killadelphia DVD knows that the band, tour manager and crew were at the boiling point, putting up with Blythe’s verbal abuse and debauchery. Have you ever seen Randy Blythe in a kilt? Check out Killadelphia, laddy.

“He’s an angry, aggressive drunk," insists Campbell. “And when you got someone drinking on the levels that you are able to do on tour and they do that everyday, it tends to lead to stuff like you see on that DVD."

Adler jumps in to elaborate, “For Randy--he didn’t get sober until near the completion of the record--I think that escalating need or the incoming necessity of him really having to look in to his own eyes in the mirror and understand why things were going the way they were and how he needed to try and help himself out. That’s really what this record is about. It’s been received as a pretty universal thing where you can go in and say “I really like this song and it reminds me of this time." We’d done all these political records before and at this point we felt like this point we wanted to something a little more personal. And I think Randy really opened himself up, where most of the songs people ask “What’s that song about?" It was really Randy talking to himself about how desperate how he was at that time to be better than he was and I think he was able to step outside himself enough to understand how difficult the road that he was heading down was on him. It was almost like a cleansing, going through the writing of everything for him, especially during the recording. In the DVD that comes with the CD, it shows some of the reactions from Randy of how he was getting to this point. So it was tough—probably, mostly for him. For me it was tough on a musical level, writing material and trying to write better songs than we had, but that’s normal. For Randy to come into it and have this kind of inner purge of these demons. I have a lot of respect for him. It takes a lot of balls. It’s really easy for me to go out and say ‘I hate George Bush’ or express my opinion about anything or anyone else. But to open yourself wide open and kind of cut yourself up and beat yourself up, knowing that if you get through it your going to be better off—that shows a lot—especially to me—that he’s really grown up a lot. He’s really matured in his abilities to be not only a lyricist, but a frontman and a just a major part of the band. The difference with him being sober--especially on a live level—is ten-fold. The guy is amazing now, where before, we’d come off stage and just get into these arguments like “It would help the band; it would help the whole project if you’d just stay sober until we’re done. Get as fucked up as you want when we’re done. Be the rock star that you want to be, but just do your one-hour job, sober. I mean, how lucky are you to have that option?" It just got worse and worse and worse and finally he woke up and now he’s a hundred times the performer that he was."

Was Blythe’s motivation to stop drinking just so he could hold on to his job with the band?

“No, it was for his life, explains Campbell. He got to the point where he realized if he drank he was going to die. It was quickly taking him down. It’s his very personal struggle and we’ve all been really impressed with the strength that he’s shown. But everyone knows or is addicted to something in some way. It’s a fairly common theme in our existence. Randy went through some rough times in the creation of the record, but I think we’re all really proud of what we came up with."

Adler’s favorite song to play live:

“Right now it’s “Blacken the Cursed Sun". That was one of the songs that Willie and I—my brother in the band—wrote during the writing process. There’s just something magic about that song. I don’t know what it is, but it’s just one of those songs where I can totally zone out—almost be asleep and my body just knows what to do. In my head it was well-written. I think its one of the best songs Lamb of God has ever done."

We used to do the "wall of death" on that song. It was actually 2004 when we cut that out, because people were getting hurt really badly. As we played the bigger crowds and when Randy's directing bigger and bigger crowds, people were just flinging themselves at each other. People were getting really fucked up."
Campbell’s favorite song(s) to play live:

“Hourglass" is definitely up there. “Vigil" is a good one. I’m starting to feel these new songs a little bit. “Blacken the Cursed Sun" is a fun song to play. I think “Redneck" doesn’t represent the entire album very well by itself, but I think it was a good single to release.

Will Lamb of God always close their sets with “Black Label"?

“I want to move it to the front of the set," quips Campbell. “We’ll see when that happens. We gotta have a replacement for that because that’s the song that a lot of people got into us for the first time. That was our first video. That’s kind of our “Free Bird", I guess. We used to do the “wall of death" on that song. It was actually 2004 when we cut that out, because people were getting hurt really badly. As we played the bigger crowds and when Randy’s directing bigger and bigger crowds, people were just flinging themselves at each other. People were getting really fucked up."

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

The writing and recording of Sacrament seemed to have served each member of the band in their own sacred way. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here with Lamb of God.

“It was tough for everybody," says Adler. “We had to outdo ourselves—not to say that…I don’t want to be one of those guys who say that this record is better than the other ones, but when we go into the writing mode on a record we definitely want to do something--in our minds-- that is better than what we’ve done before. In doing that you push yourselves to uncomfortable places until you figure it out and it becomes comfortable as you go…and as you grow. That’s how we evolve and we’d stagnate pretty quickly if we kept putting out the same record."

“I think we’re very realistic in that this is the kind of thing that could end tomorrow," Campbell concludes. “There’s no reason to be a dick about it…just have a good time and we’ll see how far it goes."

Photos by gnarlyfotos.com

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