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Q&A: Randy Blythe from Lamb of God

| April 13, 2020

D. Randall Blythe — Randy to friends and family — understands that it doesn’t quite fit his profile as the dreadlocked, feral-throated frontman for molten metal outfit Lamb of God. But this Virginian doesn’t care. Right now, at this perilous point in time, and after everything he’s survived — including detention in a Czech Republic prison in 2012 on manslaughter charges, stemming from the 2010 concert-related death of a fan, of which he was ultimately acquitted — there’s only one thing on his creature-comfort wish list:  A cloud-fluffy, Captain Kirk-sized La-Z-Boy recliner into which he can quietly sink at the end of another soul-searing, coronavirus-evading day.

“I would love to have one,” he cedes. “I was thinking about it, and I’ve never had a comfy chair, but at 49 years old, I think it’s time, just to ease me into my old age.” He pauses, exhales a surrendering sigh before adding, “But it could just be a sign of me wanting what I can’t have, because the problem is, you can’t get a comfy chair right now. So I’m fine with my foldable fishing chair — it’s served me fine at the beach and the river, so it’ll do me fine now indoors.”

And obviously, he says, such luxuries can wait, as humanity collectively shelters in pandemic place in a battle against an unforeseen opponent that, most scientists agree, will continue stalking us for some time to come. It’s genuinely a life-or-death equation when we step out of our home, as infected droplets can hang in the air for several hours after the person who coughed them up has passed by. Both refrigerated and frozen purchases can sustain COVID-19 for prolonged periods, as well. Everything we touch is a potential contaminant, and the only way to keep it at bay is by washing your hands like an OCD raccoon and wearing a droplet-curbing mask in public.

Forgive Blythe for trying to keep the conversation light and humorous. Still, after a couple of expected Monty Python allusions (“Fetch the comfy chair!” from its classic Spanish Inquisition skits), he gets down to serious business. In the same way that he morphed his jail time into cathartic art, via Lamb of God’s VII: Sturm und Drang magnum opus in 2015, and an attendant bestselling book the same year, Dark Days: A Memoir, he has just lyrically penned an eerily prescient new musical treatise, Lamb of God, which dissects societal ills that have been gnawing at him for years, and that possibly contribute to where we find ourselves now:  school shootings (“Reality Bath”), immigrant xenophobia (“New Colossal Hate”), rampant consumer culture (“Gears”), left/right polarization (“Checkmate”), and — in the first Sisters-of-Mercy-nodding single, “Memento Mori” — our ovine reliance on depersonalizing technology. He never intended to be proven Nostradamus-correct, Blythe swears. And he’s sorry that it’s come to this. But he has a great deal of wisdom to share, and some possible solutions, as well, until dependable science discovers the coronavirus vaccine.

IE:  Seven years ago, you prophetically said, “When the grid goes down, it’s just gonna be me and my guns.” Are we there yet?

D. RANDALL BLYTHE:  Well, the grid hasn’t gone down, but the cracks in the system are showing. The fissures are widening, and the unsustainable nature of our ludicrous, materialistic way of life is becoming more and more apparent. And it’s not just guns, because I’m not an AK-47-toting gun nut, ya know? But I AM prepared. And have been for a long, long time. It’s interesting — I’ve been doing these Instagram live chats with people, and I had a rocket scientist from NASA, a famous alpine mountaineer, and a buddy who is a member of the Disaster Assistance Relief Team with the fire department of New York. He’s on loan to emergency management right now, and I’ve gotten to do some work with him in hurricane disasters, and we were talking about the things people can do right now, people who are unprepared to make their home safer. And he started talking about home fire safety and all that stuff. But if things totally go to shit, I’m cool. In the back of my truck right now, I could totally disappear into the woods and live out there — it’s not that big of a deal to me.

IE:  But you also learned survival skills from Cody Lundin, in desert-situated lessons.

DRB:  Yeah. And I’m going to chat with him soon, and I actually just pulled out a couple of my old bags. I have two mini-bugout bags, so I’m consolidating and adjusting as to the current situation. But this is a weird, heavy situation, and I think most people are just completely unprepared for this. But I think it’s a mistake to go into it with the Mad Max-tribalistic-everything’s-going-to-turn-into-a-violent-shit-show attitude. That’s a mistake. And I think if you put that sort of paradigm in your head, that’s what you’re gonna look for, and it’s gonna find you, one way or the other. I’m a big believer in — as The Bad Brains called it — Positive Mental Attitude or PMA.

IE:  But The Bad Brains also said, “FVK — Fearless Vampire Killers.” Having a handy stake isn’t so bad.

DRB:  Exactly. Well, there’s that, too — there’s a balance to everything. But for me, I’m not looking at it so much as utter violence. I mean, that COULD occur, if supply lines are just cut short, and nobody can get food. But I don’t think we’re anywhere near that. I’m looking at it more as it’s not safe to be around other human beings at all anymore, not so much from violence, but from a mutation of this virus or something. There’s going to be a peak, it’s gonna level off some, and then it’s gonna come back. I’m talking to people in emergency management, and all these numbers that I’m seeing, I think everybody’s thinking, “Oh, this is gonna blow over, and we’ll be open for Easter!” People need to reassess what’s going on, and look at it honestly, while not spreading panic or anything like that because that does absolutely no good for anyone. They need to reassess the difference between what they want and what they need. You don’t NEED cable television, I’m sorry, you just don’t. You don’t have to have the newest, latest whatever. So if people are worried about economics — which naturally a lot of people are — they need to look at cutting some costs. I know I have.

IE:  But I’ll bet you’re secretly watching Netflix like the rest of us.

DRB:  Well, the wife got a Netflix account, and we share that. And I certainly watched The Tiger King, because that shit was crazy. But I haven’t watched a movie in ages. I’ve been writing and reading, and I’ve been trying to set up a daily schedule and form of discipline to keep me from becoming lethargic and full of ennui. And I tell myself at the end of every day, “You should relax and watch a movie,” because I’ve got a bunch on my iPad and I own a bunch of good movies. But I really haven’t had the time. But I did watch one movie since this started — Contagion.  And obviously, the coronavirus doesn’t strike you and kill you as quickly as in that movie, but when you listen to the dialogue, it just sounds like the daily news. And we’ve known there was gonna be another pandemic. We’ve known that — the numbers just point that way. But we are woefully unprepared. It’s amazing that the country that spends the most on healthcare in the whole world is so fucking unprepared. We can make 18 million T-shirts for a losing Super Bowl team, victory T-shirts that don’t get sold, but we can’t get enough N-95 masks for our health care providers. It’s crazy. It makes no sense.

IE:  It was refreshing to hear “Memento Mori” as your comeback single, with an opening musical passage borrowed from “Marian,” by the great Sisters of Mercy. Nice one.

DRB:  The guitar stuff? I don’t write that. But I’m the only Sisters of Mercy fan in the band because we’re five totally different dudes. But I head that guitar line and just heard that pattern from “Marian,” so it’s an homage to Andrew Eldritch, because they’re such an influential band to me, ever since I was a kid. I was living at my grandmother’s house in sixth grade or something, and I actually saw them on a TV program called Solid Gold. They announced, “Solid Gold goes to England,” and cut to The Batcave in London, and they were on playing “This Corrosion.” And I was like, “What is THIS?” And I was looking at Patricia Morrison playing bass and thinking, “She is the hottest woman on the face of the planet!” I was just listening to her other band, The Gun Club, earlier today, actually. I had a poster of her and Eldritch on my wall from the Floodland era, and I’m not a dude who has crushes on celebrity chicks. But I was like, “Holy fuck! I am in LOVE with this woman!” And now she’s Mrs. Dave Vanian, of course.

IE:  What themes are lurking inside “Memento Mori”?

DRB:  That’s also kind of timely. I’m a news junkie, and when I was recording the album — and then during the last election cycle — I found myself constantly looking from network to network, from far-lefty shit — Mother Jones, I guess — to weird, far-right stuff, and then to the usual suspects, like CNN, MSNBC, the BBC, and Al Jazeera, all on the same story, because I was trying to find some median-base truth amongst all the bias. Because it’s just fucking crazy, the way journalism is now. So I was constantly engrossed in all this information, trying to figure out the truth for myself, and I was getting depressed. I spent a lot of time on my pocket Jesus — as I call my cellphone because it has all the answers — just looking at all this information and trying to figure it out and spinning the gears in my monkey mind around and around until you could see the smoke coming out of my ears. And I was getting depressed, until I was like, “You know what? There’s a need to be informed, yes. But if you constantly exist on these screens, you’re not engaged with real-life whatsoever. And that’s been a problem that’s gotten worse and worse as the communication technology gets better and better and social media gets designed more and more to be like a crack hit, to give you that serotonin rush. So I realized I wasn’t living — I was just existing in a digitally-filtered representation of reality, and I had to put that shit down. So I installed a VPN blocker on my phone, so I could look at the news and check my Instagram — because I use that for communicating with people — every morning, for 30 minutes. From 10 AM – 10:30 AM. And other than that? No more. And I found that my life has improved immensely.

So that’s what that song is about, like, “Hey, wake up, dude! You’re gonna die one day, and at the end of the day, when you’re on your deathbed, you’re gonna sit there and go, “Man, I wish I had done this, and this, and this. But instead, I was too fucking busy just looking at the news and all this crazy shit.’” I’m not a Luddite. I’m not totally anti-technology, because right now, we are living in the best possible time for a global pandemic. The best. Because we have these amazing tools where we can communicate with friends and family, even if we can’t see them. A hundred years ago? You were fucked. We can all share information and have that assurance that that person is okay, or, if someone is in trouble, that we can help them. But, while it is valuable, there’s a fine line between staying informed and becoming overwhelmed.

IE:  I was talking to Steve Earle recently, and I noted that I’d always feared a 12 Monkeys-dire finale for humanity. And he said he thought it would be more like Blade Runner  — a civilization just too dismal to live in.

DRB:  Yes. Which I have been waiting for, for years. And I am prepped for it, and this staying inside and being isolated? I realized I had not touched any of my friends in a month the other day, and I’m a big hugger. I love hugging my friends. So it’s kind of hard, but psychologically I am prepared for this, for staying inside, in one place, and being deprived of luxuries. But we still have a lot, because I went to prison for a little bit, and this shit is like a vacation in comparison. There is no Netflix in prison. There is no Amazon Prime.

IE:  You’ve been surfing and disappearing into the South American jungles lately. And it seems like it’s put you back in touch with God, maybe?

DRB:  Well, I believe in a higher power, 100%. I don’t think it’s a Caucasian male in a robe with long brown hair, and I don’t think it’s a male or a female. It’s something that I, with my limited cognitive abilities, cannot comprehend or perceive. And I’m not foolish enough to think that I have any sort of answers about God — and I use that term out of convenience — because, in the entire time of man’s existence, no one has come up with the correct answer. If they had, we would know by now. And I’m not denigrating any religion, but religions are just man’s attempt to grasp the impossible, you know?

IE:  What would you say to the faithful who are asking why a benevolent God would allow something as deadly as the coronavirus to decimate us?

DRB:  I think they’re asking the wrong question. If you look at things through the Christian perspective — and I think there’s value in every religious system, even the kooky ones — there are little nuggets of truth and a lot of commonalities. But because we’re in America and this is primarily a Christian nation. If you look at the concept of sin — which I think is a more formalized terminology for an incorrectly-calibrated moral compass — and ask, “Why does God let us commit these sins if He knows that it’s bad for us?” Some people say, “God loves us so much. He gave us free will.” Which makes sense to me — if God didn’t truly love us, He wouldn’t let us be ourselves, right? We wouldn’t have any free will. We’d just be happy little puppets all the time, and everything would be perfect. But to have happiness, you have to have sadness. And you can get deeply existential about this, obviously.

But for me, God or a higher power allows this world to function on its own. So that means that bats in China develop the COVID-19 virus — if that’s the theory that you subscribe to, that it came from a wet market in Wuhan. So the trans-species pandemic happened, and God let that happen because that is the natural world. But if God never let anything happen to us, we wouldn’t truly be experiencing life. Things would not unfold naturally. So the question I think people of faith should be asking themselves is not so much, “Why? Why did God let this happen to me?” Because I’ve had some shitty stuff happen to me, and I never once asked my higher power, “Why did you do this to me?” Instead, I asked for guidance on how to best handle the situation in an ethical manner and how to retain some dignity while doing it. And some strength. These are the questions they should be asking. If I was walking through the woods and a rattlesnake bit me, I would not sit there going, “Why? Why, God?” Instead, I would go to the hospital immediately to get some anti-venom. So in a spiritual sense, what people need to be looking for is the anti-venom. Use it as a tool, you know?

When I was in prison, I reached out to the higher power multiple times a day. But I always asked for just strength. Because God didn’t put me in prison — an unfortunate series of events did. All apologies to Lemony Snicket, but that’s a great turn of phrase. But then, on the other hand, you see these religious people still going to church now, and it’s like, “Oh, God — you MORONS! What the fuck?” This is a time when we have to look at the fact that we’ve been afforded great freedoms in this country. However, with great freedom is an attendant great responsibility. So your freedom to worship your God shouldn’t endanger the life of my 99-year-old grandmother, who could kick the bucket at any time anyway. She’s actually 99, and she’s tough as leather, an old-country woman. But this coronavirus thing, if it hit her, it would just destroy her, more than likely. And my parents are in their 70s, and if they died, I couldn’t be with them because they’re not going to let me in a hospital. I couldn’t even hold a funeral for them — I can’t do the traditions that people do to move through the grieving process. And that’s because dumb fucks are out and not observing social distancing and getting together in church or public parks. I wanted to go surfing. I wanted to socially-isolate myself in the ocean. But nope, can’t do that because all the beaches are crowded with spring breakers. So all of the beaches are shut down.

IE:  There’s a photo of you in the jungle with a machete, and you look right at home. What’s it like there?

DRB:  You can feel the planet breathing in the jungle. Because everything there is alive, and you have to mind your Ps and Qs while you’re there because a lot of things can hurt you there. But when you’re in the jungle and the sun is setting, everything gets ready for bed, except for the things that stay up all night. So, there’s this simultaneous bedding-down of all these birds and monkeys, and they’re all calling to each other. But, the insects and the frogs and the other things that are nocturnal are also calling to each other, and it’s a massive symphony at sunset. And you can hear every animal’s voice if you listen carefully, and they’re all harmonizing. It’s not discordant; it’s not crazy. It’s just this one big harmony.

IE:  I’ve never seen you specify which country this is.

DRB:  Yeah. And there’s a reason for that. I will say that I’ve just bought some property in said third world country that has been cattle land for the last 40 or 50 years. Part of it is cattle land, part of it is a jungle, and there’s a waterfall there. I just bought 23 acres, and some friends of mine there own all the surrounding properties, and everybody has been letting it go back to the jungle. So I’m gonna have the hard-pack clay dug up and broken up, and we’re gonna have an environmental scientist come and look at things. And we’re gonna hand-seed some indigenous plants in the area, and other than that, we’re just gonna let the jungle take back over. I’ll build a little house to stay in while I’m there, but we’re part of a little biosphere we’re making that runs from the sea into the jungle for a few miles. And I’m gonna set it up so that when I die, it will either go to descendants who will let it be, or to a regulated government agency that maintains it as protected land. And as a surfer, I get humbled by nature quite often. I’m an average, mediocre surfer; I’m not a ripper or whatever. But being in the ocean — particularly on the East Coast during hurricane season, when the waves get big and violent — I love it more than anything. So I’m very cognizant of the fact that nature is in charge.

IE:  But you’ve also found the time to film a new series called Paradise City?

DRB:  It’s a TV program done by the people that made American Satan, this movie about a young rock band with some supernatural elements to it. They expanded the concept with several different storylines, all dealing with people in the music business, from higher-ups in management firms to young bands just starting. I play Dom, a musician in it. We filmed the whole first season, and hopefully, it will be premiering soon. I’m not sure which network yet. But it was a lot of fun.

IE:  What else grinds your gears on the new album, Peter Griffin?

DRB:  What really grinds my gears? “Resurrection Man” — named after historic grave robbers who sold corpses to medical students — uses horror movie imagery to personify the concept of supply-side, trickle-down economics, or voodoo economics, a totally disproven theory. But right now, we see that in action more and more. If you look at the bailout bill for the airlines, a lot of the airlines were hesitant to sign on to this thing because it would give up too much control over how the money was going to be paid back to the American people. The executives didn’t want to do that. And a lot of them were doing stock buy-backs, their CEOs were, for the last few years, just to drive the stock prices up. And now, all of a sudden, they want billions of dollars in bailout money, and why? Why do you deserve my tax money more than my friend who owns a small business?

IE:  And meanwhile, the current subversive administration is quietly chipping away at Obama-era emission standards, free speech, women’s reproductive rights, and once-sacrosanct protection of the environment itself. It’s just insidious.

DRB:  Everybody’s attention is so consumed with staying alive right now, that there’s a LOT of shady shit going on. You have to dig for it, but it is so shady. Did you see what just happened in Milwaukee with their primary? They could have delayed, but Republicans insisted, so people had to choose between their health and voting for a Democratic candidate. And there were five polling centers in a city of 600,000. Dude, it is so fucking crazy. And it is insidious. It’s systematic. So I don’t have any idea what’s gonna happen with the election. But if you think of our country and its Constitution, its base values, I believe they are sound. But they need to be updated, like an older computer getting its operating system updated. Our system needs an overhaul, bad. And I would think that would entail getting rid of the electoral college, for one thing. It’s an archaic concept, and it’s so easily manipulated by voting-district gerrymandering.

IE:  In conclusion, what are your recommendations for the Man on the Street? Even though the street is empty?

DRB:  I would say think about the crucial difference between what you want and what you need. Honestly examine that, and start cutting out frivolous things that you want. I would also stay the fuck away from other people. Let’s give the scientists time to develop a vaccine. Because this is a numbers game — I’ve said that from the beginning. And the numbers are not good right now. It’s not just gonna disappear in the warm weather after we flatten the curve. And just stay informed, but don’t become consumed. That’s my advice.

IE:  Hopefully, we’ll meet in person one virus-free day soon. But I’m making a note to myself — ‘This guy’s gonna try and hug me!’

DRB:  Yeah! I will!

Lamb of God’s self-titled album is out on May 8th, you can pre-order Lamb of God from one of Chicagoland’s independent record stores.

– Tom Lanham

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