Lamb Of God Interview Mark Morton (guitar)By Dave Borgioli-Jones
Right now there are two important things kiwis should know about LAMB OF GOD. First of all, the Richmond, Virginia based thrash / groove metal juggernaut just released their seventh studio album ‘Resolution’, and second of all, they’re heading to New Zealand for one show in Auckland (March 7 at Studio) on their way home from Soundwave! Checking in by phone from his home town guitarist Mark Morton tells us what sets ‘Resolution’ apart from the other LAMB OF GOD albums, why it’s still a challenge to record after seven albums and more…
NZRock: LAMB OF GOD has played in New Zealand a few times now, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of our country?
Mark: A long, long plane ride haha! It takes a long time to get there man, especially for us because when we come from home we have to fly all the way across the North American continent, usually to LA and then make our way over there. It’s quite a bit of flying that’s for sure. It’s about a 20 hour trip! We won’t be doing that on this run though because we’ll be coming from Australia.
NZRock: It could be worse, at least you’re not playing in Antarctica!
Mark: Not yet but I wouldn’t be surprised haha! The way our booking agent works, they send us pretty much anywhere and everywhere that there’s electricity so the first time they open a bar in Antarctica, I’m sure they’ll send us there!
NZRock: UNEARTH are one of the bands who are playing the same gig as you here in Auckland. You’ve done a few tours with them over the years and their guitarist Buz McGrath filled in for you for a couple of shows back in 2009. What’s it like travelling around with those guys?
Mark: Those guys are great. We have been working with UNEARTH in one form or another for a lot of years. I think certainly since 2003, if not even before. We’re very good friends, as you brough up Buz has even filled in for me when I had some family obligations that I had to take care of. They’re a very talented group of guys. There are a number of bands I could say the same thing about. When you work in this business you find kindred spirits you know. We all lead the same sorts of lifestyles, we all have the same sort of trajectory of our lives and course of events during our day to day lives so you build really good friendships along the way. The guys in UNEARTH certainly qualify to fall under that header. They’re a good group of guys, a really hard working talented band and we have a lot of fun when we play shows with them.
NZRock: LAMB OF GOD just released the new album ‘Resolution’ and it’s unmistakably LAMB OF GOD but one thing which I noticed was the different styles you’ve covered throughout the recording… the intro track is really sludgy, ‘Cheated’ is almost punk hardcore, ‘The Number Six’ like prog rock in the middle, and then you’ve got an orchestra in ‘King Me’. How did all that diversity creep onto the album?
Mark: Well I think what we did on this album is really try to incorporate a little bit of every type of direction we’ve explored over the course of our career. ‘Resolution’ is our seventh studio album if you count BURN THE PRIEST which I do, because from our point of view it’s the same band we simply changed the name. So I think over the course of those 15 or so years that we’ve been releasing records and writing songs we’ve taken different approaches, we’ve veered off into different directions from one album to another and certainly always within the context of a single album we do. I think this time you see the band coming a little bit more into our own in terms of our a characteristic sound and in terms of a musical identity. So we found ourselves really exploring different themes musically to a greater degree than we have before.
I also think that the past few albums in a lot of ways have been a reaction to the album that preceeded it. For example ‘Wrath’ was a very agressive, very fast paced, up-tempo, stripped down record and that was deliberate in that it was almost like a reflex reaction to the album that preceeded it which was ‘Sacrament’ and that was a very produced, very layered, very studio oriented record. ‘Sacrament’ was very much a reaction to ‘Ashes Of The Wake’ which was the album before that, and that album was incredibly rushed. We had just signed to a major label and we sort of abbreviated our writing process and our touring process on the record before that simply because we were on a new label and they wanted their album. So walking you back through it the other way, ‘Ashes Of The Wake’ we really rushed and produced it right off the cuff. ‘Sacrament’ was very sophisticated in terms of it’s production, very layered and very studio oriented, ‘Wrath’ was a reaction to stripping it down and being very raw. I think ‘Resolution’ wasn’t really a reaction. This time we were really just focusing on being purely creative and we weren’t trying to counter balance anything that had happened before. It was just a very natural process for it and I think all those elements made for a duely noted diverse record.
NZRock: You’ve got a reputation for chucking in oddball riffs which seem to work just as well as the more conventional ones. Was there anything like that on ‘Resolution’?
Well yeah I think I tend to be good for throwing in an oddball. I think I tend to write a lot of the more mainstream LAMB OF GOD songs as well. ‘Walk With Me In Hell’, ‘Redneck’, ‘Set To Fail’, ‘Now You’ve Got Something To Die For’, those are all my songs. But then I also bring in songs like ‘Descending’, or ‘Insurrection’ which I guess would be a direct answer to your question you just asked. I would say ‘Insurrection’ is probably the oddball track that I brought in on this record. It’s a song where Randy sings clean vocals and it’s a very exotic sounding almost Arab-esque sounding melody in the guitar part. There’s also a song I brought in on this record called ‘To The End’ which is probably the most pure rock ‘n’ roll sounding song we’ve ever put to record, very much inspired by my love of ZZ TOP and Billy Gibbons. So yeah, I think it’s kinda two sides of the coin with me. I’ll write a lot of the songs that wind up being the single if you will, or the more mainstream, traditional sounding LAMB OF GOD songs. But I’ll also bring in the more obscure sounding stuff as well.
NZRock: By the time you get to a 7th album, is anything a challenge when it comes to recording? Were there any hard parts to record on guitar?
Mark: Yeah very much so. It’s funny, when you go in to record an album the songs are so new you almost wish you could’ve toured for a year playing them so you’d know them inside and out. Very often we’re writing and making changes up until a week or two before we’re in the studio where we’re actually tracking them. So yeah, it’s heavy metal music and we’re not the most technical band out there but I think anyone that plays music, plays guitar, plays drums and listens to our stuff will realise pretty quicky that these songs can be pretty challenging to play. And I think additionally, Willie our other guitar player, our styles are so different that it becomes a challenge to play each other’s songs. Willie is a very acrobatic player and he does very unconventional chord progressions and scale patterns that I’m not always familiar with and vice versa. I’m kinda more of a blues feel orientated player whereas Willie is more precise. I don’t know another good adjective for it but he has a very unique style and I guess mine is unique as well bit it’s more traditionally based and it’s very blues oriented and I think that doesn’t necessarily come natural to him, the same way that his style won’t come natural to me. So it’s often a challenge to play eachother’s songs. So I guess the answer to your question is yes, it can be sometimes a challenge and at some points difficult to record these songs as precise as we need them to be for the record. But you know, we get there, we take our time and do it until we get it right.
NZRock: You worked with Josh Wilbur again on this record. Were there any thoughts about working with someone else?
Mark: If there were they didn’t last very long. We’ve worked with Josh for quite a while now. He was the primary engineer on our ‘Sacrament’ record and then of course the album that followed ‘Wrath’. He engineered and produced that and we’ve just really had good results in working with him. We’ve also built a really strong relationship. One of Josh’s big strengths, at least in working with us, is that he really understands how to work with each individual member of the band. The things that Chris needs when he records his drum parts, and the sort of setting and the sort of working relationship he requires to get his best performance can be very different to the things that I need or the things that Randy needs. Josh has a pretty amazing ability to adapt himself and the working environment into a setting where each of us feel very comfortable and really are at ease and able to deliver the performances that we need. That’s a real big strong point for him and a real big selling point for him when it comes to picking a producer. I can’t say that we won’t ever work with anyone else, and I don’t mean to say that we haven’t had good experiences with other producers, but right now we’re very comfortable with Josh and he does a hell of a job. The record sounds fantastic.
Going back a few years, you recorded with Devin Townsend. I interviewed Chris a few years back and he said that working with Devin was a pretty crazy experience. Can you elaborate on that?
Mark: Working with Devin it was very interesting. Chris was a very big fan of Devin so there was a dynamic between him and Devin of fan and artist. It was interesting because I wasn’t all that familiar with Devin’s work. I knew what he had done but I wasn’t very well versed in his solo work or his work with STRAPPING YOUNG LAD or the stuff he did with STEVE VAI. I was aware of it but I hadn’t spent a lot of time listening to it. So I think Devin came into that project, and you’ve got to understand this was a long time ago, I mean ‘As The Palaces Burn’ I couldn’t even tell you what year it was… I would guess it was 2002 or 2003 so quite a while ago. And I think he had just come off of producing a couple of records immediately before ours so he was in a bit of a blur. He was really in work mode and we were busting ass to get the record done. At that point we were still on an independent label and our budget left much to be desired. You know, studios cost money, engineers cost money, producers cost money. We recorded some of it here in Richmond and then some of it up in Canada so there was travel involved. It was done really fast, it was a very fast paced session. There wasn’t a whole lot of time for sitting back and slapping eachother on the back about what a good job we did or really experimenting too much because unfortunately the budget at the time and the time constraints just didn’t allow for that so we were really just focussed on knocking the record out.
NZRock: Something a little more current, there’s been talk about you doing this project with Dez Fafara from DEVILDRIVER and what got me especially interested is that you said it’s in the vein of the doom band TROUBLE. Can you go into any more detail about what you’re working on?
Mark: Well the thing about it, it’s interesting how that happened because essentially this is a project that Dez and I have been playing with for a long time. But what it really is, it’s two friends sending songs back and forth via email and just tinkering with stuff purely for fun. We made the mistake I suppose… or overlooked the fact… we were tweeting with someone or I answered a question about it. I dont even remeber exactly how it went down, it might’ve even been me and Dez Tweeting back and forth. Someone caught wind of it and decided to make it a heavy metal news headline that Dez and I have a side project haha! It’s really not anything we are promoting, it’s not anything that we are necessarily working to release, it’s really just two friends having fun writing music. I think the fact that so many people are now asking questions about it and that it has generated so much interest, we may wind up putting a song or two out there just to let people put their ears on it and maybe get some feedback. But really the catalyst for it was that… I mean I’m sure you talk to a lot of musicians and you probably hear this… but when you get signed to a label or when your band reaches a certain status, or when you’re on the road a lot, a lot of times the business side of things and the press… interviews, the touring, all the things that don’t have to do with strapping on your guitar or grabbing a mic and singing, a lot of the time those things can being to overshadow the actual creative process and I think it’s really important to do music for the sake of pure creativity and that’s the story with the project that Dez and I have. We’re not exactly sure if or when we’re going to release it. It’s really just two friends having fun.
NZRock: I’ve seen it in a few LAMB OF GOD interviews, and I’ve seen it with basically every other big band as well… there must be questions you guys are totally sick of. If you could click your fingers and never be asked any three questions ever again in an interview, what would they be?
Mark: Ah… why did you change the band name? What’s it like touring with METALLICA, and when are you going to play
Haha! Looks like we made it through without hitting any of those! Last question… your band has certainly made it’s mark on the metal scene over the last decade. What do you want LAMB OF GOD to be remembered for?
Mark: I hope people remember us as a band that was very honest creatively, a band that really put themselves as players personally into the music, and a band that really, really appreciated their fans and feel blessed to be able to do this at the level we do.
Gergő Hájer (guitar) and Ákos Szathmáry (bass)
Ryan Forsythe (vocals / guitar)
Pietro Beltrami (vocals) and Marcello Lega (guitar)
Jona Weinhofen (guitar / vocals)
Raffaele Galasso (vocals / guitar / bass / synths)
Dez Fafara (vocals)
Mark Hosking (guitar)
Booga Beazley (vocals)
Jaz Coleman (vocals)
Tomi Joutsen (vocals)