Lamb of God Randy Blythe: “It took me years to try to get sober”
From his origins as an avid punk rock kid in Richmond, Virginia in the mid-1990s, to establishing himself at the forefront of the burgeoning New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement at the turn of the millennium, Randy Blythe never hesitated to fight his corner. With a new live record just released and over a quarter of a century with Lamb Of God in the rearview mirror, Hammer caught up with the singer of Firebrand for the pearls of wisdom that saw him through his darkest hours.
Frontmen are born not made
“People might not like it, but I think it’s true! I don’t mean to say that as a leader you can’t improve yourself – singing and interacting with the audience are two things I had to work on a lot. The main requirement for being a great leader is the willingness to stand in front of a group of people and become a complete jerk over and over again until you get good! It’s a question of personality; I’m very willing to make an idiot out of myself and people clearly saw that because it was like, ‘This guy, he will.’ ”
Just because a show is bigger doesn’t mean it’s better
“The first big concert I went to was ZZ Top at the Hampton Coliseum. It was a good show; there were all these bikers smoking weed outside and i had never been into that sort of thing so it was a crazy experience for someone in 7th grade! It was a great arena rock show, but obviously as I got into punk rock I started to realize that there were shows just as – if not several times more – exciting than ZZ Top, than you. could see for $ 5. Some of the previous shows I saw that impacted me were Circle Jerks with 7 seconds, Agnostic Front with The Vandals and Bad Brains with Leeway and COC – a show I’ve never seen in my life. Each of these shows was in a 300-seat club; it wasn’t just seeing the bands, it was the community that had sprung up around her from absolute weirdos – which I most certainly was!
Music is its own reward
“When we started to gain traction and gain a fan base, younger bands came to us – just like I did with older bands when we were coming – asking, “How did you do that?” on obtaining a practice area or a guided tour. We’re not even talking about huge megabucks tours – it was just the details of a band. But because this modern age sets ridiculous goals that are by and large unattainable, we started asking ourselves questions like, “I’m thinking about forming a group; What advice can you give me on how to be successful in the music business? and it’s like, ‘Are you kidding me ?!’ It shouldn’t be your goal. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice that I can pay my bills by making music and it’s great that I can go out and see the world with my band, but the reason I’m in a band is because that we love the process of creating music – this is the real experience.
There is a lot of darkness in our old songs
“I look at the lyrics that I wrote 15, 20 years ago and I understand that they were messages for myself. Another 20 years ago, I knew I was in trouble and was on a dark path, so I commented on that in songs. We recently did all of Ashes of awakening and I had to go back and read lyrics to learn songs that we’ve never played live – it really made me understand how I was writing at the time. When I write these days – and I’m not saying I’m a wise Buddha, nirvana state or anything – there are some negative things in the lyrics, but I’m trying to balance that with consciously positive things because that’s how I ‘I try to live my life.
I would be dead now if I hadn’t gotten sober
“It’s a well-known fact that I was a fucking alcoholic and haven’t had a drink for over 10 years now. Unfortunately I have known people who did not accept the choice to try something different and they are dead now. I don’t know what’s in me – I’m certainly not saying I’m special or made of a stronger moral fiber than anyone – that I made this conscious decision, but I did and I feel really lucky. The driving force was, ‘I’m going to quit drinking or I’m going to die.’ “
Being sober wasn’t an overnight thing
“I fought [alcoholism] for a loooong time and it took four and a half years of trying to get sober to finally get sober. One morning touring Australia, I woke up and felt horrible and empty. I was in a good place; we were on tour with Metallica – it doesn’t get much better than that – I had money in the bank and my personal life wasn’t too much in tatters. On the outside everything looked good, but I just felt like there was this horrible void. I realized I had to try something different. I don’t think there was anything wrong with drinking, but there was something wrong with drinking for myself and drinking like I did.
Life is not just a series of binary choices
“As recent events in America testify, things are currently so divisive and there is absolutely no compromise. People won’t even take other points of view into account and I think that is largely shaped by social media; people are being pushed towards this two-party system which is very “Yes / No”, “Democrat / Republican”, “Blue / Red” with no rhetoric or ability to speak on a level playing field. When you are pushed into these corners with constant antagonism it drives people to extremism and once you step into that area there is no more hope for rational discourse. With age you learn that life is all about compromise and that is something in the group where we got better with age, especially because we are five very different guys.
There shouldn’t be “us” or “them”
“The most important thing you get from traveling a lot is perspective, it makes you aware of the universal nature of humanity. I grew up during the Cold War, right? As a child, I was convinced that the Soviet Union was going to bomb us, but when you have this idea of people like this nebulous ‘other’, it becomes easy to dehumanize them and forget that they are just other people. I was a seasoned traveler long before Lamb Of God and had no money back then so I was traveling on the cheap. I love it because it exposes me to different cultures – with different clothes, skin tones and foods – but deep down we’re all the same. It also makes me realize how lucky I am to live where I reside.
Take advantage of what you have – not what you see online
“Especially in the digital world, material status symbols become a constant end goal. But in order to really have experiences and live a good life, you have to build relationships with real people and try to live life with a well-calibrated moral compass. We shouldn’t constantly look at these digitally filtered perceptions of reality and yearn for the false paradigm of happiness they represent – it’s not real. You have to stay engaged with reality – I have certainly gone through times where I have not been satisfied with my current reality, but you have to look at this reality and engage with it, appreciate it for what it is rather. than to wish for something else. “
Livestreams are weird, but no stranger than anything else in the music industry
“People kept wondering: wasn’t playing the livestream weird? Of course it was a little weird not having an audience, but at the same time we rehearsed for a week at Mark’s [Morton] home after not spending time together for months. When I walked into the room with these four other guys, just making music for us and playing nobody, it was an amazing feeling and incredibly rewarding. All I thought was ‘I’m making music with my guys in a garage again’, and it was impressive. But don’t get me wrong … I am therefore ready to appear in front of a fucking audience!
Never stop trying new things
“As you get older, it becomes easy to switch to a sedentary life and stop taking risks. I find it important to have artistic outlets to keep me in shape. There are situations in which I have lived as a photographer that have been quite dangerous; I’ve spent a lot of last summer with tear gas in the air and rubber bullets flying around, but it’s kind of like surfing – the more you surf the more you progress and you end up getting on more big waves. It becomes even more important to stay engaged and in the moment. It’s important to remain artistically curious about things – and things like surfing literally keep my survival instincts intact.
Posted in Metal Hammer # 347