Randy Blythe of Lamb of God

by Greg Prato

Even the more casual of rock fans are probably quite familiar with the manslaughter case that Lamb of God singer Randy Blythe found himself entangled in circa 2012/2013 (it even has its own Wikipedia entry), as it was covered quite thoroughly in the media. The quick and dirty: A concertgoer died at a LoG show in Prague after being allegedly shoved from the stage and hitting his head on the venue's floor. Blythe was imprisoned for a spell, but later declared innocent.

What tends to get lost in all the hoopla is that Lamb of God is one of the more popular heavy metal bands of modern times, with two of their albums nearly topping the Billboard 200 Chart (2009's Wrath peaked at #2, while 2012's Resolution peaked at #3), and have toured with such headbanger heavyweights as Metallica and Slayer, and appeared on Ozzfest on two separate occasions.

Blythe spoke to Songfacts shortly before the release of the first LoG studio album since his unfortunate incident (VII: Sturm und Drang) and a book he penned (Dark Days: A Memoir), which chronicles the entire aforementioned experience.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): This is actually the second time we've spoken - I interviewed you for Rolling Stone back in August of 2012, when you returned home but were still awaiting trial.

Randy Blythe: Right on, right on.

Songfacts: How therapeutic was it writing the book?

Randy: I think people expected me to have some sort of weird post-traumatic stress disorder after this whole ordeal, and that writing this book was going to be some sort of therapeutic "purging" or whatever. And it really wasn't. I'd already kind of come to terms with what had happened before a literary agent approached me about writing this book.

It's not like I wasn't thinking about the whole thing while I was going through it. I lived it for a long, long time. And as soon as I was found not guilty, we went on tour and talked to a lot of people about this. So it's been this constant sort of "dealing with it."

I think what the book did more than any sort of therapy was, it helped me really process the exact order in which things happened and step back and be able to really look at the whole situation in one whole piece, rather than this thing I'm constantly looking at little tiny pieces of when people ask me about this or ask me about that. It gave me a clearer picture I suppose of the entire experience. But I wouldn't call it therapeutic. In fact, it really sucked writing that book. [Laughs]

I learned a lot about writing. I learned a lot about the discipline it requires to write a book, because it's a sustained creative effort. And I sharpened some of my skills, but it wasn't fun. There's some really - what I consider - funny stuff in there, because it was just a bizarre situation. I made sure I laughed every day, even when I was in prison. Trying to keep a positive mental attitude.

There was some funny stuff in there, and some of that comes across in the writing. But it wasn't fun, man. I wrote about all the worst things that have ever happened to me in my life in that book. It was kind of anti-therapy. But sometimes things aren't fun, but they need to be said. You do what you've got to do.

Songfacts: I would imagine that the events in Prague made you appreciate the smaller things in life that many take for granted.

Randy: Oh sure, absolutely. In a lot of ways though, I had come to appreciate the smaller things in life before I went to prison. I think that's one reason why I was able to maintain a relatively steady level of calm and a relatively composed demeanor... for a guy who was unexpectedly thrown in prison and handed a manslaughter charge.

I think I kept my shit wired pretty tight for the most part. All of that was because I was such a mess for years from drinking - just internally. Emotionally, I was a mess. I wasn't appreciating everything around me during that time, because I was just lost in a haze of alcohol. So when I got sober, I really started noticing the world around me, and really appreciating things.

But yeah, going to prison will definitely make you appreciate things that you really take for granted - like hot water. A mirror to shave with. A decent razor. Solid food. At least the prison I went to, there wasn't much solid food. Soup and some bread, that was your solid food.

Going to prison will definitely make you appreciate things. I was siting on my tour bus with someone, and this person was burned out, because a tour can burn you out. You get tired of it. I mean, it's a great job, but you do get tired of it. And this particular person looked at me and he's like, "I just want to go home. I feel like I'm in prison." I had just gotten out of prison a few months earlier, and I looked at him, and I'm like, "Dude, you don't have any idea of what prison feels like. You're sitting on a tour bus. This does not feel like prison." He just laughed, and was like, "You're right!"

The phrase "Sturm und Drang" is German, and when translated to English, means "storm and stress." But this is not the first time a rock band has utilized the German language into an album title, as evidenced by U2's Achtung Baby (English translation - "attention baby" or "look out baby"), Kraftwerk's Autobahn (translation - "highway" or "freeway"), and KMFDM's Hau Ruck (translation - "heave-ho"). But the undisputed kings of German album titles is Rammstein, who have yet to issue an album that does not utilize their native language.
Songfacts: How many songs on VII: Sturm und Drang touch upon the incident lyrically?

Randy: Two. And I wrote those while I was in prison. We recorded 14 songs for this record, and only two dealt with it. I wrote one of them, almost in its entirety, while I was in prison: "Still Echoes." It's a history of the place. And I was really inspired to write that by the Misfits - one of my favorite bands of all time. They have a song that's called "London Dungeon." The Misfits had gone to England, and [Glenn] Danzig had gotten locked up and wrote a song about it. And I'm like, "Well, I'm going to write my 'London Dungeon,' but I'm in Prague in a dungeon."

And then the other one I just started writing - it was a snapshot about my mental state at the time. When we got off tour on that record cycle, as soon as we were released, we went right back out on tour, and we toured for months after that. And then I spent eight or nine months finishing my book. Then immediately - the day after I turned in my book manuscript - I went and met with the band, and started the process of working on the new record. They had already been working on it.

So when it was time for me to come and work on the new record, I had absolutely zero desire to write about prison or the trial or any of that stuff. None. I had just spent the good part of a year writing about all that. But I did have these two songs that I had written. And I wrote a country song while I was in prison, too - for my friend Hank Williams III. I've still got to get that to him once I finish fully tightening it up, because I figured if you're ever going to write a country song, prison is the place to do it. [Laughs] They sing about it all the time.

Songfacts: And what is the title of the second song you wrote in prison?

Randy: "512." I had three cells while I was in prison, and 512 was the second cell they had me in. And that's where I wrote that song.

Songfacts: Do you keep in contact with anyone you met in prison?

Randy: One of my cellmates. He's out and we've talked. I hit him up and asked how he was doing, and he seemed to be happy. But beyond a very brief exchange, no.

My communication with a lot of these people was maybe through one other person who spoke English and Czech, or we'd use very primitive words. And some of them - a lot of them - are still in there. They're doing 20/30-year bids on stuff. I didn't go to county jail, so it's not like I can just call them up and be like, "Oh, you did your little piece," or Facebook them or whatever, or send them an email. There's none of that stuff in the Czech penal system. No, I haven't really been keeping up with anyone.

Songfacts: A few years back, you contributed to the LoG song "Desolation," right?

Randy: I re-wrote half that song. Mark [Morton] wrote that one, but I changed it quite a bit - I changed it from first person to second person to third person. In that song originally, it was "In my desolation," and I was like, "What are we? Bauhaus? A goth band? No!" So I changed it to "Your."

Songfacts: How does it go over when a band member changes another member's song?

Randy: That's one reason why I like this record more than the last few we've done: because musically, we wrote it like a band does, meaning the guys got together in the practice space. Modern recording technology is a wonderful thing, and everybody can make a record on their laptop. It's also for documenting ideas and it sort of democratized the recording process. I'm not saying it's the highest quality or anything, but everybody can make music now, and I think that's a wonderful thing.

However, there are two guys in my band that write the actual songs: Mark and Willie, the guitar players. They are the writers. For the last few records, they were writing individually at home in their jam room, and they would demo out a whole song and program drums, do bass lines, and sometimes even scratch vocals. And they'd come in and they'd present it to the band, and say, "Here is a new Lamb of God song." And that was a Mark song. And then Willie would do the same thing - "Here is a Lamb of God song." But that's Willie's song. So the last few records I feel were a collection of Mark and Willie songs.

On this record, our producer Josh [Wilbur], really encouraged them to write together in the practice space during pre-production, and not bring in these fully realized pieces of work. And I think it really shows on the record. It feels like an actual Lamb of God record - a band record. And they hijacked each other's riffs all the time. The last few records, I could sit there and be like, "That's a Mark song. That's a Willie song. That's a Mark song. That's a Willie song." Before I ever even listened to it.

On this one, I come to the practice space and our producer was like, "I'm going to play you something we've been working on. Whose song was this, do you think?" And I'd say, "Uh... sounds like Mark." And he's like. "Nope. It's Willie. Mark took it and changed it." It was really a collaborative effort - it's like the way we used to do things. So it feels like a return to an older process, and I enjoyed the results more than the individual writing. We're a band. Not dudes with computers. I want to be a band.

Songfacts: What do you recall about filming the "Redneck" video?

Randy: That was a lot of fun. In fact, that is really the only fun I've ever had on a video shoot. We shot it in some neighborhood in I think above Hollywood somewhere - a nice neighborhood. We had a rental tour bus and there were a lot of cool people to be extras, and the neighbors were completely freaked out! The concept for that video was our drummer's, Chris [Adler]. He's like, "We should do a video with a child's birthday party."

It has absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics, but it's just a fun concept. And we had strippers on the bus, because we wanted to make it as ridiculous as possible. It was great. But the neighbors were completely freaked out: there's trucks, a production company, trailers, catering, all these freaks running around, and then us hopping around on someone's front yard.

And another thing that really struck me is there's these children, and they're child actors, and the little girl who played the star in the video, she was just a real sweetheart. We actually got a Christmas card from her after that - she was totally stoked. But I noticed the parents of some of these child actors were absolutely fucking insane. They were kind of like "sports dads" or whatever, who put on way too much pressure. I remember the director was like, "We need a kid who can cry," and you see these hands go up, and parents are dragging their children. I remember this guy - "Little Timmy can cry! Cry Timmy, cry!" And he just starts crying on cue, and I'm like, "This is kind of messed up." Kind of like damaging the child's psyche to be paraded around like a show poodle. "Sit Spot! Run Spot! Fetch a bone Spot!"

But I had a really fun time recording that - a really good time. There's a part where I fall face forward into a swimming pool, and all the kids were standing there, and I got to do that two or three times, and they just loved it.

Songfacts: Do you think the book would make a good movie?

Randy: In the right hands, yeah. What do you think?

Songfacts: I think if it's done right, definitely. I was following the events while it was actually happening, and then I had the opportunity to speak with you in the midst of it, and it just seemed very hard to believe that in this day and age something like that can take place - just how long you were in prison for and how slow the process was. I think I even told you when we spoke that the whole thing reminded me of that movie Midnight Express.

Randy: Right! Yes! Actually, I hadn't seen it at that point, I don't believe. And I went out and rented that movie, because you weren't the only person who talked to me about that. People were like, "Was it like Midnight Express?" And I'm like, "I don't know!" Yeah, it was an interesting experience.

But beyond just a movie, I thought about this when I was in there - just a segment, not the whole story and they would have to remove the reason why I was in there and make it not so serious, make it like I did something stupid like insulted the president or something - but it would make a great sitcom. Just me - an American musician dude - and two Mongolians, stuck in this wacky Czech prison, trying to communicate. Because there was just so much wackiness in there.

It would be just absurd - theater of the absurd. I think it would make a great sitcom, that part. Overall, the story would not make a great sitcom, but some of the stupid stuff in the cell was really funny.

July 16, 2015.
For more Lamb of God, visit lamb-of-god.com.
For more info about Dark Days: A Memoir, visit darkdaysbook.tumblr.com
Photo 2: Tim Zuchowski

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