Interview: Lamb of God’s John Campbell Talks ‘VII: Sturm und Drang’

With a career that spans two decades, metal heavyweights and festival veterans, Lamb of God, need no introduction. On the eve of the band’s latest studio release, VII: Sturm und Drang, we had a chat with bassist and founding member, John Campbell. In this interview, John talks about touring, joining the ESP guitar family, and the creative process behind their impressive new release which is already receiving critical acclaim.

SR: Congratulations on the upcoming release of VII: Sturm und Drang. I was lucky enough to hear an advance copy and it’s an impressive album. Still Echoes, Anthropoid, and Engage the Fear Machine are standouts for me, but the whole album’s great and I think it should be listened to as a whole. What are your favourite tracks?

JC: I really like Embers a whole lot – the one with Chino (Moreno) on it. I think what he does is amazing. I really enjoy that song for the bass work that I got to do.

Lamb_Of_God_VII Sturm und DrangSR: What was it like working with Chino? Had you worked with him before?

JC: No, I’ve never worked with him before, and in this situation I didn’t actually work “with” him. The music was done before the vocals got done. I was not even in the studio when that was done. I was not even in the same state. I was on the other side of the continent, enjoying my time at home while Chino was graciously giving us his talents for that track. I can tell you from my perspective it was incredibly exciting. It was really me just going, ‘Holy shit! We’re working with Chino!’

SR: What was the creative process like for this release? How do you usually come up with your bass lines?

JC: The way that our songs come together is that Mark and Willie – the guitar players and our main song writers – bring in demos that they’ve worked on at home. We learn them and eventually pick them apart and try to make them the best that they can be. Then we take the best of a batch of songs that we’ve done that to and take them to the studio, and vocals get thrown on there and ideas get worked up. And then we come up with the best of those songs, and those become the record. That has been our process. As far as how I specifically come up with a bass line? Ah well, (laughs) I don’t know! A lot of what I do is that I actually play guitar on a bass. So on songs like Embers, where I actually got to stretch out a bit as a bass player, I was just in the studio with the guy I worked with specifically. It’s a guy named Nick Rowe. I’m sure he’s credited somewhere in the liner notes. He and I, when we had some room and some space to work on stuff, we just kind of kicked back and talked about what would be really cool for that part.

” I love touring. Touring, for me, is a ton of fun. Like I said, one of the reasons I play music is to be able to perform live and, thankfully, with a band that’s incredibly tight and fun to play with.”

Thankfully, we had in the studio the demos that we had recorded, and we were just kinda going back over those and putting in the bass parts that were going to be my album parts. Sometimes the guitars were done, sometimes they weren’t. You’re just kind of adding your bit as you go. It’s just listening to what’s going on and asking what the song calls for. Thankfully, we had enough time and energy and creative space to do just that.

SR: How long did it take you to put this album together?

JC: Well, Mark and Willie did the actual writing. But, as a group? Wow – I think that, from the time we started coming together until the vocals were done it was over the course of probably six-ish months. Not non-stop six months, but it was a calendar of about six to eight months.

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SR: I read that you’ve recently joined the ESP guitar family, along with Willie. What do you like about the ESP range and what made you choose the Stream, in particular?

JC: Well, I like the shape of the Stream. It’s not your typical guitar. I’d played Thunderbirds before, which are similar to them. Their weight, at least on the ones I was playing, was terrible – really neck-heavy and not fun to play. But the Stream is an incredibly comfortable bass and for whatever reason it just fits my style of playing very well. It’s a really comfortable neck for me to move all over the place, and it’s got the EMG pickups in it, which I’ve been playing for a long time. I really appreciate how they work. As for ESP, the company itself, there are people who work there who we’ve built some great relationships with over the years, and it just got to a point where the behind the scenes way that things work out, it made perfect sense to go with ESP.

SR: What’s your grail bass and why?

JC: Hmm. Mine, when it’s in tune and everything works about it and it’s the largest show I could ever imagine. That’s because I don’t spend a lot of time drooling over these sorts of things. I’m very much an ‘in the moment’ type of person. When I’ve got a bass in my hand that feels perfect and is effortless to play, you know, it feeds into the reason that I, and a lot of people who make music, make music, because you get an insane buzz from going out performing in front of people and having everything go great. There’s an insane transfer of energy and having a good bass can do that. It’s essential.

john-campbell-sw15-sydneySR: You’re about to kick of the Summer’s Last Stand tour, alongside Slipknot, Bullet for My Valentine, and Motionless in White. You obviously enjoy touring. What do you do to prepare for tours of that length?

JC: Yeah, I love touring. Touring, for me, is a ton of fun. Like I said, one of the reasons I play music is to be able to perform live and, thankfully, with a band that’s incredibly tight and fun to play with. And to prepare for a tour? I guess you rehearse a little bit at home, you do some laundry, you pack your bags, and you go. There’s not much to it. There’s not much preparation besides that. There’s no magic other than some rehearsal and making sure you pack enough clean underwear. That’s about it.

SR: People seem to be in disagreement about whether Lamb of God is groove, new wave, metal core and so on. Why do you think people are so preoccupied with this metal categorisation? Do you feel any need to be distinguished from other genres in that way?

JC: Ah, I’ll start with the second part first. No, I don’t care what category people put us in. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. We’re making music for ourselves and we’re lucky that people get us. Why do people do this? I think maybe there are a few reasons. The most generous way of putting it is so that people can discuss something. People put labels on something to make it easier to discuss and categorise and make patterns out of and understand the world a little bit better.

But I think with music and heavy metal, people’s identities are tied to it fairly tightly. They like to differentiate themselves within the subculture as it is, just as a means of identity. It’s because we’re all a bunch of egotistical pricks, I guess. (Laughs).

SR: (Laughs). And we all know that bass players are among the least egotistical of all. What makes the typical bass player a little more humble than the average musical bear?

JC: Well, bass players aren’t trying to steal the spotlight, for the most part. We’re there to be part of the team. We’re there to carry out the sometimes thankless position and we’re not there for the glory. We’re there for the love of what we’re doing. And, ah, we also have really strong hands. Just sayin’! (Laughs).

SR: (Laughs). Just so we’re aware, yeah.

JC: We’re not arrogant pricks!

(Both laugh).

SR: The As the Palaces Burn DVD famously documented a dark time for Lamb of God. Have you been able to watch it since its release?

JC: I have not watched it since its release. I don’t know that I’ll ever watch it again. It’s a fairly sad movie and I know what happened.

SR: If you could go back to that time, would you do it again?

JC: Yeah. Oh, my God. If I could do it again? Yes, I would do it again. And I would do something to stop Daniel from losing his life. It was a tragedy. It was a tragic accident that occurred. I wish nothing but great things for his family, in light of the loss that I know they still feel.

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SR: Have you read Randy’s memoir, ‘Dark Days’?

JC: I have not. Maybe if Randy gives me a copy.

SR: What impact did the hiatus have on you creatively?

JC: I would say that there was quite a bit of psychological shock, considering the fact that not only did we not think that we would be ending any time soon, but that whenever the ending would be, I guess maybe thinking that we’d have a lot more control over it, and that when that would happen would be more up to us than what it seemed to potentially have happened in that situation. That psychological shock was a very difficult thing to deal with, but I think it gave me a better perspective on what’s important in life, and more importantly, that life has lots of curve balls up its sleeve and that you should expect that.

SR: Speaking of life and being philosophical, I’ve read that you enjoy the work of Christopher Hitchens and Brad Warner. In the atmosphere of uncertainty we’re living in, what function do you think music performs? Do you have a personal belief system rooted in religion or philosophy?

JC: I think music helps with mood. It’s interesting how music can help in good and bad times. I’ve certainly turned to music in some of the darker times of my life, just so it can console me or commiserate with me. You can play music and connect with that music almost as if it were a person. You can connect with the personality of the person who created that music, although you’re not necessarily connecting with that person. It’s an odd thing and I think it’s a great question. I definitely have experienced that.

And do I have a personal belief system? I certainly feel that religion is a very personal thing. Spirituality is a very personal thing. It’s great when people share in and understand something in common, but I don’t know that I would ever espouse my own personal one. But, since you asked, it doesn’t involve many fairy tales, I’ll put it that way.

SR: As a graduate of Fishburn (Military School) and given this album’s themes of media manipulation and exploitation of the masses, how do you feel about your current administration’s handling of the conflict in the Middle East and do you think we can believe anything in mainstream media?

JC: No, I don’t believe you can believe anything in the mainstream media now. I don’t think you could’ve believed it long ago, either. The current administration? To be honest, I’m positive that we’re not being told the truth about things that are going on through the media. I don’t know what to believe about what this administration’s doing. I don’t know what the hell they’re doing. I think it’s a tragedy when people are killed for whatever reason, even if some government or religion has justified it in some way. I think that people killing each other is ridiculous and that there should be a lot more respect for life.

“… I don’t care what category people put us in. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. We’re making music for ourselves and we’re lucky that people get us…”

SR: What’s your go-to news source?

JC: The Internet. A website that I’d rather not mention, only because I don’t want to blow anybody up. But there’s a website that I go to where I get news, culture, everything you might have got from a newspaper years ago. But it’s all sourced by millions of people.

SR: Not Al Jazeera then.

JC: No! No CNN, no Al Jazeera, no MSNBC, no Fox, no single news affiliate. I think they’re all full of shit and even when you read something from one of those sites, you have to read it critically – especially in my situation, having gone through the bullshit that we went through with Randy in Prague. I was reading news reports that I knew were factually inaccurate. It kind of gave me an insight into the fact that, okay, there’s a kernel of truth in there, but it would take a lot of reading in between the lines to even figure out what’s actually happening. So, unless you’re there to see it, and even then, you’re not a reliable source. Your memories are just a bunch of chemicals floating around in that soup that is your brain anyway, right?

SR: Very true. Aussie fans caught you down here for your incredible Soundwave appearances and Sidewave shows. Do you have any plans to tour down under again in the near future?

JC: We don’t have any plans to tour down under yet. But I’m hoping that our tour cycle, which is 18-24 months long, will mean that without a doubt, we’ll be there in a while.

SR: Fantastic. All the best for the upcoming tour.

JC: Thanks!

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VII: Sturm und Drang is out now!