The tragedy of Pallbearer‘s new album is how hard it hits. Forgotten Days, the Arkansas quartet’s fourth full-length release, opens with a punch and never lets up over the course of its eight tracks. That’s not to say that the band have lost their more ethereal moments, as tracks like “Riverbed” and “Silver Wings” prove, just that this record feels tailor-made to be heard in a swaying crowd of sweaty stoners. But, of course, we can’t hear it like that, because of the utter shitshow that 2020 has become.
“It’s frustrating specifically because this album was really geared toward a live experience,” says guitarist Brett Campbell. “How the songs were written, the way it was recorded — from the very beginning we wanted to write a really live-friendly album. And the irony of not being able to play the album live is not lost on me. I personally am kind of a natural recluse, so I enjoy being at home. I love playing shows but the physical toll of being an introverted person who’s not allowed to be by themselves for months on end is not something that I miss. I do miss playing shows, and I miss…making money! Because that’s how we make our living!”
The result of this change of pace, however, is that Pallbearer are free from the traditional album cycle, and can keep creating. While touring is out of the question, the band are on full songwriting duty, continuing the Forgotten Days sessions and working on new material even as we speak. As such, it’s unsurprising to discover that Campbell and Co. have a new album’s worth of material at the ready that fans might see sooner than they think.
“Truth be told, we already had a plan to basically create a sun-and-moon vibe with Forgotten Days and some of the other material we’re working on,” says Brett. “So we pretty much have the better part of another album complete that’s pretty different than Forgotten Days, and were both written at the same time. I think we have a pretty good idea of what our next album is going to be already.”
Was there ever a moment leading up to Forgotten Days where you considered not putting the album out at all, at least until things calmed down?
Oh yeah. Originally, it got delayed just due to the initial quarantine — the record pressing plants shut down with everything else, so that created a natural delay there. And then early on, nobody really knew the extent of all this. We were saying, ‘Maybe things will turn out normal by the fall,’ which clearly has not been the case. By the time summer came around, we thought it was pretty clear that we weren’t gonna be touring any time soon. And it’s like, ‘We’ve already had this album done since the end of 2019 — even if we can’t tour on it now, what’s the point of sitting on a completely finished album for an indeterminate period of time when we could give people something to listen to, something to do?’ We didn’t want to just sit around on an album, because we’ll end up having more material ready to record — we don’t just want to release 2-3 albums at the same time.
You’re a couple of weeks out from Forgotten Days‘ release — is it a weight off your shoulders, or are you already heading back to the drawing board?
Actually, we never really stopped at the drawing board. We were still writing. The writing process for this album was interesting, because we had basically a year off after the Heartless touring cycle got done. We’d never had that long off since we’d started touring in earnest full-time. So we ended up being extremely productive, and aside from the songs that went on Forgotten Days, there was a ton of material that we continued working on. So we have at least another album’s worth — we have more than another album’s worth of material pretty much ready to go. We could finish it and have it ready to record it with a month of solid work, if we got together and really refined everything. But I’m trying to hold back a little bit, because I don’t want to get so far ahead of myself that I’m in a completely different place musically before we play any of this stuff live. My compositional interests change over time. There’s a very, very small chance we’ll play a show next fall, but even that’s still pretty ambiguous. I’m just trying to stay creative, and we’re trying different stuff. Joe doesn’t live here, but we do, so we’ve been trying to work on some ideas. Which is cool, because normally we work under self-imposed pressure to try to be extremely focused and everything.
Are you considering digital possibilities — livestream shows, Zoom practices — or do you feel like Pallbearer needs bodies in the room to work?
Devon, Mark, and I still jam together, but I don’t know how we’d do a Zoom practice. Just the nature of how we play together, with Joe and I kind of being the driving musical duo — in order to just come up with the final arrangements of things, it’s really important that all four of us are there. We really do listen to each other and are very much an in-the-room kind of band. I can bring in a song that’s pretty much done, and then the particular way that somebody plays something, or the way that they change it slightly, can send the song down this entirely different path. I think that what makes the band sound like Pallbearer is the sum of the four of us playing together and writing, or arranging and potentially morphing the songs together.
Forgotten Days has a real powerful melancholy to it. Were you trying to instill that in the album, or did that just come out naturally?
In the case of all of our albums, it’s just what we felt natural about creating at the time. We wrote a lot of material, and chose the songs that were to become Forgotten Days, and some of the other material is vastly different than this. So what we did was took the most straightforward and aggressive material and assembled that into the album. Going into this earlier on, I had a really strong feeling that I wanted to do our most aggressive, just straightforward and punchy album. We’d gotten more and more technical over the years, but I’ve always wanted to do something like a Tragedy album. Obviously, it doesn’t sound like that, but that kind of vibe is in places — at least in some of the songs I wrote. I was trying for that super stripped-down and aggressive vibe. So I guess it’s combination of intention and intuition, which I think is probably the way we work in general.
Are you ever worried about keeping the material a Pallbearer song, and not, say, ending up with a bunch of Testament riffs?
Sure. I think we understand what our musical boundaries are, though they’re extremely wide. I don’t think I’d write a Testament riff, just because that’s not my style. Not to say anything bad about Testament, but it’s not really our style. It’s outside of our musical goals. The feelings I feel when I listen to Testament are different from those I want to get across with Pallbearer. I mean, we could theoretically write a shitty Coldplay song and a death metal song, and they could equally be recognizable as Pallbearer. It’s like if you paint with a different color palette, it doesn’t make it a different artist — it’s just a different color. There’s stuff on Forgotten Days that before now I wouldn’t have been confident enough or skilled enough to pull off. I used to make my stuff as complicated as possible because that’s what I thought made a good song, but I think the balance between complexity and intentional minimalism is more interesting. So much metal veers towards maximum complexity, but I don’t see that. I think there’s interesting material on both ends of the spectrum.
This is normally the part of the interview where I’d ask, ‘What’s next?’ But it sounds like that’s not how you guys are playing it. It sounds like the process Forgotten Days is still going on now.
The hardest thing to determine right now is, ‘What am I really going to feel like doing after recording the next album?’ Because each album is a response to how we feel about our stuff after having toured it for two years. We go off and play an album on the road, and what we’re interested in composing when we get home is a response to our current material. But hey, this is just a different set of circumstances. The only thing that prevents us from continuously writing is that we have to tour, so given an indefinite period of time, so long as I can keep my creative juices flowing — and that can be tough, I’ve had a couple of creative lulls over the course of the year because the world’s going to hell and I’ll have depressive episodes where I wonder what’s the point of anything. But this is an opportunity to keep making music, and I don’t get that on the road, so I should do it while I can.
Forgotten Days is out now via Nuclear Blast.
Words by Chris Krovatin