Lamb of God's John Campbell talks about the Czech incident and how his brother Jeff from 3 Kings Tavern defiled his Star Wars slippers
Aaron Thackeray Lamb of God's John Campbell is the brother of 3 Kings Tavern's Jeff Campbell. See the resemblence?
Lamb of God started in 1990 as an instrumental metal band called Burn the Priest. But it wasn't until 1995, after recording a few demos and playing countless house parties, that the band recruited singer Randy Blythe and started developing into the band you would recognize today as Lamb of God. With the release of 2000's New American Gospel, the band's first album with that moniker, the group began reaching wider and wider audiences with its evolving amalgam of groove-laden thrash, death metal and hardcore.
The 2006 album Sacrament was Lamb of God's breakthrough offering in terms of both artistic and commercial success. We recently had a chance to chat with the outfit's charming and drily humorous bassist, John Campbell, while Lamb of God is on tour for its latest album, Resolution about how he got into metal, the aftermath of the unfortunate incident over the summer in the Czech Republic and how his brother Jeff from 3 Kings Tavern once defiled his Star Wars slippers one Christmas.
Westword: When you started Burn the Priest, you were an instrumental band. Why that route initially, and how did people respond?
John Campbell: When we were an instrumental band, we were playing house parties in Richmond, Virginia, playing to tens of people. From the beginning, we wanted to develop the band and make the most insane, brutal music we could. In the process of doing that, we realized, "Man, we need a singer! Let's get a singer." We originally thought about getting a girl singer, and that would have been great. As it happened, there were some line-up changes, and we got a guitarist that happened to be in a band with Randy [Blythe], and the band broke up they were in.
Randy hopped trains for a summer, and the guitarist came into the folds of Burn the Priest -- we were a three piece at that point. We played a few shows, one of which Randy came to when he got back into town. Shortly afterward, we were talking about still needing a singer and that guitarist said, "Well hey, Randy's back in town. He used to sing for my other band." It just worked out organically [from there].
What got you into playing bass instead of another instrument?
When we were going to school in Richmond, everybody there is in a band and plays music or is an artist of some sort. [Virginia Commonwealth University] was a huge art school, and that was a draw to the community then. A friend of mine had a drum set up in his room with a bass rig and a guitar rig, and his roommate played bass, and his other roommate played guitar. I asked him if I could play drums, so I played drums for a little while with those guys, until the bass player took off for the summer and my friend said, "Man, you should play bass. I'm tired of listening to you beat the crap out of my drums." So I picked up the bass, and he started playing drums.
What kind of bass did you play at that time?
I think it was a P.O.S.? I'm not sure what model. The first bass that I bought that actually was not just a complete piece of junk was a Guild Pilot, bright blue. That thing had a tiny little neck and EMG pickups in it. For what I was doing, it fit the bill nicely.
Is that the one where, for reasons you can probably explain, you had only three strings on the bass?
Yes, it's really odd that that's become something that's become discussed at this point because the truth of the matter was that the tuning peg broke that held the lowest string, and I wasn't getting too busy on that string. Necessity being the mother of invention, I just took the tuning peg off the high string and plopped it in where the broken one had been and kept playing bass. Here I am several years later talking about it. It's kind of funny, though.
Presumably you didn't stick with that arrangement.
Oh, no, I've moved on since then. We're talking fifteen years ago.
What do you play these days?
A signature Jackson model, a Concert series that's basically modified to my specs. We're working on developing that a little bit further. I have a call with them later to discuss tightening up the specs on that, the Jackson with EMG pickups and a nice, tight little neck that is, in a lot of ways, similar to the Guild Pilot that I first started getting good at playing bass on.
Is it a four or a five string?
A four string. One of the bonuses of having three strings back in the day is when people started adding the fifth string to their basses. That's already two strings too many, right? I've never monkeyed around with a five string, to be perfectly honest. The opening track on the new record, I think, is in drop D. If you're playing songs like that all the time, you're going to need a fifth string for sure to hold that big a string that won't sound like total crap when you play it.
Do you have a bass tuned to drop D when you play the song live?
Oh, we don't play that song live. We're at the point in our careers where we have so many records, and we're playing about an hour and twenty-five minutes, which keeps us from wearing ourselves out too much and from wearing out the crowd and the crowd getting tired of listening to heavy music for so long. But in that amount of time we have, we have a lot of music we have to shove in there, so with each record it gets more and more difficult to put together a set list.