The Times recently caught up with Pallbearer bassist Joseph D. Rowland. The band will play at Revolution on Friday, Aug. 22 (with Plebian Grandstand, Reproacher and Napalm Christ) to celebrate the release of the group’s excellent sophomore album, “Foundations of Burden,” the eagerly anticipated follow-up to its debut full-length “Sorrow and Extinction,” 8:30 p.m., $10. In September, the Little Rock quartet will head across the pond for 20-some-odd shows with Oregon doom vets Yob. Pallbearer is featured on the cover of the September issue of the metal magazine Decibel, which ran a seven-page feature on the band.
So, cover of Decibel, huh?
Yeah, it was a pretty interesting experience. We ended up doing that photo shoot right before our tour with Deafheaven started. We were going to be headed through New York anyway, and we ended up being able to shoot up there with a photographer named Jimmy Hubbard. He’s done a lot of cool work for Guitar World and stuff like that.
How did that come about? Did the magazine approach you?
They ended up going through our label. When they got the promo of the record, they felt like it was strong enough to do a cover story, I guess. (Editor’s note: Decibel Editor-in-Chief Albert Mudrian wrote of the Pallbearer cover story, “… when we stick our necks out for a band like this, we fucking mean it.”)
What do y’all’s families think now? Is this the kind of thing you can show to family members now and say ‘Look!’?
Yeah, I guess. My dad, for instance, was really happy about it. I assume the same for everybody else’s family.
Is Pallbearer a full-time job for most of you guys now?
Not quite. When we haven’t been on tour, I’ve been working up at ZaZa in The Heights to maintain a bit of extra money, because we hadn’t really toured at all this year until June. That’s usually where a lot of our income comes from is when we’re on tour.
You’re going to be on tour quite a bit coming up (Sept. 3-Oct. 10 in Europe; Oct. 17-Nov. 9 in the states and Canada).
There have been some times where we’re able to not have to have jobs, other than Mark [Lierly]. Mark is a drum teacher, and he only has to work a short amount of time every day, usually from when kids get out of school until 7 p.m. or something, so it’s not a super intensive job. But he’s maintained that the full time he’s been in the band. Other than that we’ve been able to work off and on. But it’s definitely not quite full-time job status yet.
With the first album being so universally hailed, anticipation was high for the new record. Throughout the process of writing the album, how did you all stay focused on just writing what you needed to write and not letting any of the other noise or anything creep in?
Basically you just broke it down exactly. What we said from the get-go was that there was no way we were going to let any of the knowledge of the fact that people were going to be anticipating something this time around. … We were just like, we’re going to write what we’re going to write. And obviously we’re aware that there are going to be expectations this time. But really the only thing that mattered was that we wanted to challenge ourselves to write something that we thought was better, and more mature, to step up and not fall back onto the easy thing to do, which would have been to write “Sorrow and Extinction 2.” That’s something that right off the bat we were like, we’re not going to make this record again. That thought was there, but it was not really something that people were going to be anticipating something this time around …. We were just like, we’re going to write what we’re going to write. And obviously we’re aware that there are going to be expectations this time. But really the only thing that mattered was that we wanted to challenge ourselves to write something that we thought was better, and more mature, to step up and not fall back onto the easy thing to do, which would have been to write “Sorrow and Extinction 2.”
That’s something that right off the bat we were like, we’re not going to make this record again. That thought was there, but it was not really something that affected us heavily, because in the end, we would only be satisfied with writing something that we felt confident in and that met our expectations.
What are some of the influences that went into the songwriting, what was inspiring you guys?
This time around there was definitely a lot more coming from the progressive rock spectrum — Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Camel, stuff like that, or like PFM. And also another thing that’s from a whole different angle, Type O Negative was a big thing this time around. There are a few places on the album with nods to that. I felt like “The Ghost I Used to Be” was my interpretation, or our rendition, of a Boston song, a little more toward what people would call classic rock now, like rock that still has a catchy pop edge to it but that’s still badass, like Journey or something. It might be catchy but it’s still, at least I feel like, it’s hard to deny that there’s something awesome and driving about it.
You all have done some pretty big tours with some very respected names — Saint Vitus, Enslaved. What if anything did you absorb or pick up on from those guys while you were out, or from touring in general?
Just seeing the level of consistency and professionalism they have, especially Enslaved. It was amazing to see how well they would perform every night, and it was always spot-on. It’s super admirable. We’ve always wanted that, but with a different aesthetic, too, what we all attribute as the Arkansas sound — Rwake and Deadbird and bands like that. We’ve always liked having that slightly looser edge to stuff so it doesn’t just sound just like the recording being played live. I feel like you’re getting more from a performance when it’s a little different every time. As much as I loved the fact that Enslaved was able to do that — and it was powerful — but at the same time there wasn’t a lot of room for variation every night. It was cool to see them being super pro about it, but at the same time taking that and applying it to ourselves and our own aesthetic that we pull from, and being from the Little Rock scene, we’re trying to meld those two things together where it’s not a train wreck, you know? And we’re not totally there yet, but we’ve put enough tour dates in that I think we kind of halfway know what we’re doing these days. We definitely still have our fair share of rough shows. At least our gear does. We seem to constantly have issues with our amps and guitars.
As far as interacting with fans on social media, I know you guys are on Facebook. How do you guys approach that? Is it a necessary evil, or more of a way to directly access the people who dig your music?
It’s funny because it’s kind of a bit of both. A lot of our social media posts nowadays are done by our management, which is sad to say, I guess.
That’s probably pretty common.
Yeah. I feel like so many people don’t really put any value into it anymore. I’ll go through and read comments and it’s obvious that people aren’t really paying attention sometimes. There’ll be a post about, like, tour dates, and someone down in the comments will be like, ‘Why aren’t you coming here?’ and it’s somewhere where we are playing. So in that sense it’s sort of a necessary evil. But at the same time, one thing on this tour that we just got done with, I’d keep an eye out on Twitter. There were quite a few shows that were sold out the day of or in advance, so we’d keep an eye out for people who were looking for tickets or who were upset that they hadn’t been able to get a ticket. I’d ask them to hit us up on email and we’d get them into the show. Pretty much all the dates we had some guest list spots, and more often than not, not all of them were full. So in that sense, I felt like that’s a good use of social media. I’m happy to be able to hopefully make a couple of people’s day better. I know I saw one guy, he was upset because he had lost his job and was saying that he wished he could go to the show but didn’t have any money. And it was like, we got you dude, if you can get to the show, you’re in. So many people, more than I can possibly count, have been really gracious to us and told us how much our music has meant to them or affected them in some way, and there’s not anywhere near a balance to it, but to be able to have the opportunity to give back to fans like that is definitely something I’ve enjoyed being able to do through social media.
What were some of the things that were going on that influenced the topics of the songs this time around, and how was it different from “Sorrow and Extinction”?
The personal aspect of the stuff is something I don’t like to get too into. There’s still a level of privacy I like to maintain. And, too, I don’t mind saying that a lot of the stuff grew from difficult times in our lives, but I like for people to be able to have their own interpretation of the lyrics. But in terms of the songwriting, I think most people were aware that “Sorrow and Extinction” focused on impending mortality, and this record is a little more on the personal and interpersonal relationships end of things — dealing with not letting go of things that are important to you in your life that you want to maintain, and also letting go of regrets that you have that weigh you down. Those are definitely themes I approach on the songs lyrically, and in the music itself, that’s what I’m speaking to. As for Brett [Campbell], I know he had some different inspirations. Lyrically, he kind of addresses a little grander scale, like the downfall of humanity, that kinda scope of stuff. Thus far Brett [Campbell] and I have not really talked to each other much about what our songs are about, just because it’s the same sort of thing. It ends up having a bit more power when we have our own interpretations instead of spelling it out for each other.
I remember reading a quote about how Townes Van Zandt was so great because the way the songs were written, the listener could fill in the spaces a little bit and not have the whole thing spelled out.
That’s completely my sentiment regarding everything we write. There’s so much more to be said for allowing people to use their imaginations or emotions or whatever it takes to fill in the gaps and really take ownership. It will end up applying to whatever their situation may be, rather than there just being some concrete definition of what something’s about. To me, that’s lacking in power.