Cooking Cats in Psycho-Realms: Four Records That Influenced Pallbearer’s ‘Heartless’
Influence is fleeting and ever-changing. Sure, a band might be rooted in a particular style, but how they mold their music from that initial blueprint into something different is how they find their specific sound — a rapper may be influenced by Krautrock and seek out old loops, or a metal band might be inspired by Aretha Franklin and decide to move toward clean, epic vocals.
Pallbearer's new LP is called Heartless, and it's their third overall. While prog and classic doom are the hallmarks of the release, the band isn't afraid to take chances with genre and venture into new territory. Where did those ideas come from? What were they listening to in the moments leading up to recording the LP? We talked to guitarist Devin Holt and drummer Mark Lierly about the new LP and the records that helped shape it.
RWAKE, VOICES OF OMENS (2007)
This was their Relapse debut, and also the record that cemented them as this really interesting band that came from seemingly out of nowhere. Seminal record.
Devin Holt: Nobody sounds like them. Even today, no one even comes close.
How did that record impact you? What was that like to see a band that could essentially be your homies down the street go out to tour Europe and make an impact on the scene worldwide?
DH: Where we’re from, there is Black Oak Arkansas, Evanescence, and then nothing. Rwake kind of filled that gap, and they gave us hope. Every weekend in high school, I went to see Rwake. They gave us so much hope. To this day, they are so inspiring. I mean, I see those guys a couple times a week now, but the relationship has changed so much … I used to look up to them. Coolest guys, and were always good to us.
In New York City, there are 100 gigs going on at any given time, but I’d imagine that's a lot rarer in Little Rock. Everything needs to be more localized and DIY. Were there specific shows that meant a lot to you from the era?
DH: It was like a fucked-up religious experience. They would sometimes go on at 3 or 4 in the morning … people would be passed out, drinking Robitussin and cooking cats.
Mark Lierly: It was like a hot plate and someone put roadkill on it. It just filled the whole room.
So, they really cultivated that backwoods image! The riffs are so key to Rwake’s music. How do you think their songs apply to your own?
DH: The last riff in "Thorns" to me sounds like a very Rwake-influenced riff, no doubt. It doesn’t sound specifically like them, but it’s definitely an homage to their work. When I play it — having seen a million Rwake shows — that’s Rwake in our music. I wish Joe [Rowland, bass] was here to tell it, but he had a dream about one of the clean sections, I think it was in “Heartless,” where Rwake was playing this piece of music and he woke up, and part of that made it onto the song. So, a literal Rwake influence that isn’t even real.
ML: Psycho-realm, other-dimensional stuff. Some weird woods magic.
KANSAS, KANSAS (1974)
Well, this is a stupid mental mistake, because my brain immediately went to Boston instead — but then again, your music isn’t really THAT far removed from Boston in some ways ... the big riff powered by strong melodies.
DH: One-hundred percent. Definitely agree, and sometimes those “place name” bands get mixed up mentally sometimes. But as far as Kansas is concerned, I was at Hastings, this shitty record store, and I saw that record sitting in a $5 bin. At that point in the band, no one in the band was a fan, and I had heard “Carry on Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind,” but not much past that. I put that in and it blew my mind. I had never heard American prog done that way; since then, it’s been something that has been on repeat. The first four or five [albums] are so, so good. They are the most underappreciated prog band. Prog is mostly an over-the-pond thing, with bands like King Crimson and others dominating the conversation.
ML: There was a fucking clown onstage! We saw them at the state fair a couple years ago, and they had this weird hype man / clown who came out during a song, was there for a little and then was gone. No discussion afterward. Just like a troll in the middle of the set. It was definitely a sanctioned part of the show.
So, somewhere in between Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge and the Bosstones skanker …
DH: Exactly that. [Laughs]
ML: But they totally killed it. Just shredding.
We've talked in the past about the insane prog juggernaut that is Magma. Why do you think Kansas meant more to you in this instance than Magma? Which, I’d imagine you agree, is probably one of the most ambitious and wild prog outfits out there.
DH: I think that I just personally listen to more Kansas; though I think what Magma is doing is really out there and otherworldly.
ML: Magma playing their sort of music is borderline unattainable. Kansas is something that’s a bit more tangible and, at the end of the day, rock 'n' roll. Not literally from another dimension.
SMASHING PUMPKINS, MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS (1995)
I’m surprised by this specific choice, as opposed to, say, Siamese Dream, which is clearly the superior record.
DH: You could pull from that, too, but we’re more into the guitar tones on Siamese Dream. Particularly on the song “A Plea for Understanding,” where it’s pretty evident.
ML: When that came around, it was some of the heaviest shit. Siamese Dream is a 10/10 record for sure. But Mellon Collie had more of the meat on it.
And at the same time, had so many slower, quieter, more introspective songs. And even songs driven by strings and not guitar.
DH: I think Mellon Collie, while it isn’t as strong as Siamese Dream, that’s an album that has some meandering on it. I think mostly for guitar tone is what we were thinking.
ML: For sure. Lifelong drum influence is Jimmy Chamberlin. He’s sick.
JUDAS PRIEST, SAD WINGS OF DESTINY (1976)
This is your favorite of the Priest records? They have many eras, and it’s very telling what sort of music fan you are based on what era of Priest you like.
DH: That’s my favorite one for sure. I think it might be the answer of the general “doom dude,” but it’s really just the one I come back to all the time. The tone is so good. [Rob] Halford was doing incredible things. Amazing album. It’s just an exciting young band, confidently displaying their songwriting prowess.
Brett [Campbell]’s vocals definitely hit these higher notes, and he uses vibrato as well. I would imagine that is a big influence for him, too.
ML: Definitely on “Cruel Road” [there] was some direct Halford / King Diamond stuff going on.
DH: The working title for that one was “Judas Priest.” “A Plea for Understanding,” we originally called it “Corg,” which was short for Corgan. Then there was “Kansas” and “Fuck Crab,” which was “Dancing in Madness.”
DH: No idea why at this point. I just remember we were laughing at “Fuck Crab” for a while.
All of these bands — and even Sad Wings, in some respects — are less traditionally “metal” in a way. Do you listen to much metal at this point?
DH: We listen to metal, sure — usually the bigger “hotshot” albums that people are coming out with — but really I just listen to dad jazz now. Pat Metheny and stuff. In the van, it’s rarely metal unless it’s classic stuff.
You just played with Marissa Nadler and Kayo Dot. Neither are truly metal, but both have darker overtones. Specifically regarding Kayo Dot — which is a band that is rooted in a metal background, but is really free with respect to exploration — do you feel like coming from a metal background allows you a wider palette for experimentation?
ML: Metal can be constrictive, but I think it’s cool that Kayo Dot is freely experimental, and I think we admire and share some of their musical grounds. A non-linear approach to how we do things.
DH: They aren’t afraid to change, they don’t give a fuck and they just do what they know is good. That is admirable. No apologies for anything.