Pallbearer are an unusual act for their era – able to appeal to fans on all ends of the musical spectrum, while still retaining their own distinctive sound – the band were quickly propelled into the spotlight following the release of debut ‘Sorrow and Extinction’ and their notoriety grew further still with follow-up ‘Foundations of Burden’. ‘Heartless’ is due to release any day now, and has fans the world over on the edge of their seats, waiting for the third instalment of heart wrenchingly heavy riffs. In the lull between release date and heading back out on the road, we spoke to bassist and Pink Floyd super fan, Joseph D. Rowland, who is keen to settle the score on the fact that Pallbearer are NOT a doom metal band and the importance of knowing your limits.
‘Heartless’ is out really soon – how are you feeling about it?
I’m so excited; I’ve been telling everyone that this is basically the album that we always wanted to make. This is pretty much what we envisioned from very early on, we wanted to incorporate the other kinds of music that we love – we’re wearing our influences on our sleeve more than ever for this one.
You had some real hot shots handling mixing and producing – what were they like to work with?
I haven’t actually met either of them in person! It was all done through the magic of the internet. We had always wanted to work with them though, particularly Joe Barresi, he’s produced and mixed some incredible sounding albums over the years. Our foremost goal on this album was to create something that sounded timeless and had a lot of breathing room compared to our previous work – which at points had this suffocating atmosphere – this one has a much broader range of emotions; it’s a much angrier album. We wanted it to feel spacious, instead of claustrophobic.
How do you feel the trajectory of your sound has shifted since you first started out?
We’ve always been huge fans of 70s rock and progressive rock and that’s always been the biggest thing that’s formed how we write music over the years. We have been playing together at this point for almost 10 years and a lot of that time has been spent on stage together, really coming to understand everyone’s strengths and continuing to build on those. I think the two ideas eventually coalesced – we really wanted to let the progressive rock side of what we’re doing come to the forefront instead of this always crushing sound. We’re really inspired by the likes of Pink Floyd and Camel and this was finally the time that we felt we could fully express the ideas that we have, we had all the tools at our disposal to finally capture what was originally just a talking point. A lot of people consider us to be a doom metal band, but we’re not, we consider ourselves to be a heavily downtuned prog band. We finally have the time and the instruments and the honed skills from having the opportunity to play together so much, especially on the road, and understanding more and more how the music we play translates live versus in a rehearsal space or on a record. This is all stuff that we had in mind when we went into the writing process and into the studio.
This release is deeply personal to you guys – lyrical content especially – do you ever worry about putting that kind of stuff out there publicly?
No. We’ve always encouraged people to develop their own interpretation of what we’re expressing. I’ve heard many interpretations of it over the years and even heard some incredible stories of how people have related to the lyrics in some way that was far beyond what we’d ever imagined. It’s never felt like we have compromised ourselves or exposed ourselves too much – we’re the gatekeepers of that. We write to the extent that we’re comfortable with and we’re all people who are comfortable expressing a certain level of emotion through our music.
Any favourite tracks?
At some point in time, every track on the record has been my favourite. The most recent one, because it was the very last to be finished, is ‘Dancing in Madness’ so that’s been the very last one for me to understand all the hidden intricacies of – that’s the one I’ve been favouring lately, but I really have a deep love of every track on this record.
You’ve achieved a lot since releasing your debut in 2012 – has becoming so successful so quickly ever felt daunting to you?
It depends on what you mean by success – the ability we’ve been given to spend a lot of our time doing this has been great. Certainly none of us have gotten rich off of it. Being afforded the opportunity to travel around the world, doing what we love, I’d say there are times when it’s been daunting. None of us have ever had any expectations about it, so I think because of that and just rolling with the punches whenever they come has led to it not being as daunting as it might sound on paper. We’re just thankful, as creative and fans of music, spending our time devouring all of this and taking new things in, I feel incredibly grateful to be spending a portion of my life doing something that I’m so passionate about.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since Pallbearer began?
Ha! How not to party too hard! Growing up in the Little Rock metal scene revolved around, not a party atmosphere, but a dark, oppressive, binge drinking sort of thing. There’s a darkness to Little Rock, and other bands from the Southern U.S, like Eyehategod, people associate this being fucked up all the time aesthetic, and that spills over into Little Rock. Growing up there, even before we started the band, it was just sort of what you did, you’d get fucked up every day. We’d go on tour and we’d get fucked up every night and we’d play and sometimes the shows would suffer pretty greatly from us not understanding our limits. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve come to understand that people are sacrificing a lot to come see us play, whether it be their time or their money. Whether they’re walking down the street to see us or flying from across the world, we started to realise that we were selling people short by not giving them our best. If we were hungover or too drunk at the show then we were not playing as well as we would otherwise. We weren’t honouring the sacrifices that people were making, so we’ve learned moderation over time.
Your music straddles a line that makes doom metal really accessible – is this a conscious decision or are you guys just writing what sounds good to you?
We’re definitely disciples of what we consider to be the greatest era in modern music – the 70s and 80s – the best bands ever came out of that time. They were simultaneously doing something incredibly new that had never been done before, but it was all so accessible, because it was just really good. It was inherently catchy, because it was just that good, and that’s always been our goal, to try our absolute best. Undoubtedly, we’ll never be as good as Pink Floyd, but we’re sure as hell gonna try. Them, Black Sabbath and Yes, all these bands completely changed the face of music and even now you can’t get the songs out of your head – or I know I can’t! We write music that we would want to listen to; we want it to be something timeless. Hopefully at least one person out there one day will think it’s a record that stands the test of time – that’s more our goal than trying to pump out a catchy single.
I interviewed a band last night who cited you guys as an influence – to have only been around for 5 years and already be influencing newer bands must feel pretty crazy!
Yeah, it is crazy! But I guess that’s true of almost any band. I know when I was a lot younger, I was listening to Isis and stuff like that, and they hadn’t been around that long then. There’s a certain element of just being a part of the zeitgeist, I guess.
You guys are playing Roadburn soon – how does it feel to be a part of that line-up? Anyone you’re looking forward to checking out?
We’re thrilled to be coming back to Roadburn. When we were a really young band, if we had any goal, we dreamed of one day being able to play Roadburn – and that happened in 2013. We’re really excited to be coming back; we love Walter and everybody that works with the festival – they all work tirelessly to put on what I think is the greatest collection of music anywhere in the world every year. I’m particularly excited about seeing Gong play – that was the one band on the line-up that if I were able to miss everything else and still catch that, that would be it. Luckily enough, they’re playing the same day as us, so fingers crossed our set doesn’t conflict with theirs in anyway, or else it might be Pallbearer playing as a three piece!
What’s been your proudest moment so far?
Oh my god…I don’t know, that’s really tough! I’m almost constantly astounded. I think the times when people choose to share with us how meaningful something that we have done has been in their life. I’ve heard so many stories at this point, like how our music has helped people to kick heroin or they had a friend who passed and they had a really hard time coping with it, but our music spoke to them and it helped them through that process. Amidst all the other really amazing things we’ve been able to experience so far, that’s been the most meaningful to me. Our music is very cathartic to us, it’s definitely a way to help us deal with troubling times, so I feel very humbled that it can have that effect on other people.
What’s next for Pallbearer?
We’re gonna be spending quite a bit of the year touring. Also, when we have down time this year we’re recording a track for a compilation that’s a reimagining of ‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd – I’m excited that that’s on the horizon, because it will be quite an interesting challenge to try to tackle that. It’s getting to the time where our record is about to release, so we’re all just on the edge of our seats knowing that shit’s about to get really busy for us.
Interview by Angela Davey
Photo credit Diana Lee Zadlo