Pallbearer’s Heartless saw a somewhat different writing process for the record, taking the band’s lyrical themes away from the metaphysical and targeting something more realistic. Suffering, an important theme on the record, tends to come from social, mental and political factors and it’s not surprising that they’ve had an effect on the final product, especially with the chaos of the 2016 United States Election. However Heartless serves as something of an imprint for these turbulent times – an imprint that we can hopefully look back upon from a brighter future. Vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell spoke to LIFE IS NOISE about the writing process of Heartless along with the ideas of suffering and hope – the tools that help forge their evocative music.
“The political environment certainly had an impact when it came around to where our heads were at when we were writing the lyrics,” says Campbell. “I think it was inevitable with the subject matter we typically talk about not being sunshine and rainbows. I’d rather talk about things that are concerning to me, not from a gratuitous perspective but rather as a reflection or a warning. It’s not that we have any huge power to make a difference, other than just to say ‘these are the things that I see in the world’ – these views aren’t even necessarily tied to things that are happening now but rather trends that people and society that have fallen into over time in history.
“Nationalism, these non-empathetic ways of living where people who are different than you are ‘bad’ or ‘scary’ - particularly in America right now it’s been really divided - living in the south and being surrounded by that all the time is really concerning to myself as a person. I consider myself very liberal. Seeing people on both sides of that philosophical divide – both sides are guilty of demonising each other and there needs to be some sort of dialogue, it’s crazy. Everyone gets worked up into a frenzy which degrades into name calling and nobody listens. The messages we’re talking of are dark, but it’s more just us saying ‘these are our problems and they maybe can be fixed’. Some of the material is also about personal things on our lives that aren’t fully connected with those ideas but those themes remain in a lot of the material on Heartless.”
Campbell’s concerns about the philosophical divide between left and right can be applied to two spheres – the digital and the physical. Regardless of where you lie on the compass, the chances of witnessing or getting involved with a political debate are much, much higher on the internet than they are in real life. As time progresses and platforms such as Facebook evolved, so did the anger – it’s as if the Promethean fire of the internet is burning us the more we use it. It could be appealing to disconnect and avoid this sort of confrontation, but Campbell believes this isn’t the correct approach.
“I’ve been a victim of that too,” Campbell begins. “I read a lot and I try to be as knowledgeable in as many realms as I can. Ignorance is bliss – and while I think that’s completely true, I also think it’s irresponsible. However I do believe there’s a certain degree of self-restraint you need to have. If become completely obsessed with politics and the shit that changes every day in that area, even in society in general, you’ve got to remember your underlying values. Don’t get too invested in what bad thing is happening today – worry a little bit but really focus on what kind of ideas and concepts you’re trying to bring into the world. We’re mouthpieces for ideas. That’s what a person is at the end of the day. Just a bunch of ideas in a fuckin’ stone bowl and we’re sharing ideas with each other. What ideas are important to you? Spread those ideas, that’s what your responsibility is. And that’s more powerful than just taking stuff in and worrying about it. You just have to have a focus.”
Outside of these ideas, the concept of hope on Heartless offers a breath of fresh air in a scene that often relies on pure nihilism. Finding a light in the darkness and being in control of your own fate is evidently integral to Campbell’s core, yet there’s still questions as to how hope is found.
“I play in a metal band and I love metal, but I don’t define myself by metal,” says Campbell. “I’ve never been one for groups. I have friends, but they’re from everywhere – maybe being from Arkansans has something to do with that or maybe that’s how I am because the place isn’t very clique-ish. It’s very small so everyone associates with each other and there’s no dividing lines between scenes. If you’re in the music or arts, you probably know everyone or are friends with everyone, but I’m digressing.
“The concepts of hope in spite of hardship maybe just comes from real life and my perspective on things and what I felt, the conclusions I’ve drawn, from living. I’ve seen a lot of really dark shit. You can either succumb to it and let it overpower you, let yourself become a slave to some external darkness or your own inner darkness, or you can choose to persevere and find a reason to keep going and try to push back against it - some of it is just fucking stubbornness… ‘you can’t let the bastards win’ you know?” he laughs. “Yet it’s not just other people, its circumstances of life. Stuff can get real bad. You can figure out a solution or wallow in it, but I prefer to look for answers. That makes more sense to me.”
Catch Pallbearer on the following dates:
Rosemount, Perth – Friday, June 30
Crowbar, Brisbane – Saturday, July 1
Manning Bar, Sydney – Tuesday, July 4
Northcote Social Club, Melbourne - Thursday, July 6
Northcote Social Club, Melbourne – Friday, July 7
Whammy Bar, Auckland – Saturday, July 8
San Fran, Wellington – Sunday, July 9