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Sheer Volume: An Exclusive Interview With LAMB OF GOD Guitarist MARK MORTON

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, January 12, 2016 @ 9:10 AM

“We still really feel like that Richmond, Va. basement band, that's who we are. And that we've been able to accomplish so much and be so well-received and have the success we have had is still mind-blowing.”

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What had been a very good 2015 for Richmond, Va. thrash stalwarts LAMB OF GOD closed out on kind of a sour note. Before the first date of the band’s European tour in early November, frontman Randy Blythe was roughed up by a group of “feral children” while taking night-time photos of Dublin, Ireland. Following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, and with much of western Europe under lock down, the trek came to an abrupt end in Tilburg, the Netherlands. The band cancelled its Nov. 18 gig there just prior to doors opening due to security concerns and then quickly cancelled the last dozen or so dates of the tour with CHILDREN OF BODOM and SYLOSIS and headed home.

The new year, however, offers a promising start. LAMB OF GOD kicks off a month-long U.S. tour Jan. 15 with ANTHRAX as main support and POWER TRIP and divisive black metallers DEAFHEAVEN on the undercard, with a spate of festival shows around the states to follow in May. There’s also the potential for a Grammy Award on Feb. 15, as the band has been nominated for “Best Metal Performance” for the track “512” from last summer's comeback album of sorts, VII: Sturm Und Drang. The song details Blythe’s incarceration in cell #512 of Prague’s Pankrác Prison after his 2012 arrest relating to the death of a fan at a 2010 LAMB OF GOD show in the city, for which he was exonerated following a trial in early 2013 – all of which was well-chronicled in the 2014 documentary film As Palaces Burn and Blythe’s book Dark Days that came out just before Sturm Und Drang. Yet, despite Blythe’s legal travails, and the time and money it cost band, not to mention his extracurricular activities and those of drummer Chris Adler — who’s recent stint with MEGADETH included double duty during five U.K shows when the two bands shared a bill – LAMB OF GOD keeps on rolling as it has since metamorphosing from BURN THE PRIEST more than 15 years ago with a lineup that includes guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler and bassist John Campbell.

During a somewhat rushed phone interview from his Virginia home, Morton offered his thoughts on the ups and downs of LAMB OF GOD, what has held the quintet together for so long through thick and thin, side projects of his own and how cool it would be to finally win a Grammy.

KNAC.COM: Hi Mark, how are you? Happy New Year.

MORTON: Good, man, thanks. Happy New Year to you.

KNAC.COM: Sorry to intrude on one of your last couple of days at home before the tour gets going.

MORTON: No worries, man, we appreciate the interest.

KNAC.COM: I guess if you’re doing interviews, it’s time to get back to business?

MORTON: Yeah. Today, I've got a little bit of press but then I’ll be doing some work around the house, some yard work, and I'm gonna go see my mom this evening, so it’s just a regular kind of day. We're going to rehearse some early next week, we don't leave until Wednesday [Jan. 13], so we've got a couple days of rehearsal just to knock the rust off. We're considering some new tunes for the set, so we're gonna get those up and running to see how they sound.

KNAC.COM: Are these “new” songs you're going to be sticking into the set or old ones you're dusting off?

MORTON: It's kind of both. We're looking at a couple songs from the new album that we haven't played in front of an audience and digging up some old ones we haven't played in a long time. And in a couple cases, depending on what we choose, it might be a song or two, if I'm not mistaken, we have never played live. It's a headlining tour, so we get a little bit more of a chance to stretch out. It's always kind of a balance because there's songs that people want to hear and expect to hear and you have to figure out how many of those mainstay kind of songs you want in the set and you want to throw some variables in there that keep it interesting and keep it fresh. So we're gonna jam a bunch of stuff and see what sounds good and see what feels good and make the set list based on that.

KNAC.COM: With seven albums under your belts now, I can imagine it’s tough to figure out what you can cram in there?

MORTON: That's it. If you go back over the catalog, we've written and recorded over 100 original songs. It's amazing to even be able to say that. There's quite a list to pick from. I would be lying my face off if I said I knew how to play all those songs. I don't know how to play half those songs (laughs). I've probably written half of them and played a part writing most of them, so when it builds up that kind of catalog it supercedes your ability to remember how to execute all that stuff. So I'll be going back this weekend and listening to our albums and teaching myself to play songs I played a role in writing. It's a matter of sheer volume. There's a lot of riffs in there (laughs).

KNAC.COM: I wanted to ask you about your last tour of last year in Europe, which got off to an ominous start when Randy was attacked in Dublin and then ended up being cancelled in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Was there any specific threat that sent you guys home or was it more just a general bad feeling about things given the situation there?

MORTON: It was specific. We continued playing after Paris, it wasn't a direct response to Paris. We played shows after that. Obviously the tone of things there, and worldwide, certainly among the music industry, changed. Everyone was really vigilant and really upset. Upset is an understatement about what had happened in Paris. But the cancellation was in direct response to something specific that happened. There was an incident that wasn't made public, but certain members of the group felt it was inappropriate to carry on given what we had learned, so we came home.

KNAC.COM: Well, like Randy said, “better safe than on CNN”, and you guys already had your experience on CNN a couple years ago.

MORTON: Yeah, that's for sure. I don’t think any of us are that eager to be in the news again for anything other than the music.

KNAC.COM: Even before Paris, given Randy's trouble in Prague, had that changed the way you approached touring, especially with regard to security, were you more hyper-vigilant than perhaps you were before?

MORTON: I think we all kind of hoped that the industry would take notice of that situation. By “the industry” I mean the promoters and the venues and the bands and everyone involved would gain a new insight and maybe a new perspective on how important some of these security measures are. I think it's maybe human nature to get lulled into a sense of security when time goes by and nothing happens. But the fact of the matter is something like that could happen at any time.

And as far was what happened in Prague, it has had an impact on how we conduct ourselves and the things we pay attention to. I think for us, we just pay close attention to our surroundings, we pay close attention to the venue and the situation. I guess things that maybe in the past we might have considered normal, we make sure all the I's are dotted and the T's are crossed in terms of security and safety now. I would like to think that the industry was a whole was doing that, but I'm not sure that's the case.

KNAC.COM: Has all that taken some of the fun out of touring and playing shows?

MORTON: I still love playing live, I still love the energy and for me the thing I most love about playing live is the joy it brings people. That's really what we're there to do, take people out of the everyday and give them an hour or two where they can get lost in the music and let go of some of that frustration and some of that emotion that builds up just in our lives as people. So in that sense I still love that part of playing live.

But as far as touring, touring has never been my favorite part of what we do. Being away from my family, my wife and my daughter, for months at a time at 43 years old is not something I love, but it’s part of my job and, again, the live show is really what it's all about. It's the other 22 or 23 hours of the day, the ”touring”, I don't enjoy as much.

KNAC.COM: Overall, except for the way it ended, last year was a pretty triumphant one for you guys with the new album, the big tour with SLIPKNOT, the Grammy nomination. It really got the band back in the swing of things.

MORTON: Yeah. I guess back in the swing, but this comes up so much, that break we had while Randy dealt with his situation in the Czech Republic was several years ago. I don't want to minimize that situation, it's something we all think about a lot on a personal level, but in terms of the workings of the band and how we continue to carry on and create and tour, we've been pretty active for a long time since then. It's just this year there was some more tangible evidence of that with, like you said, the album coming out and the Grammy nomination.

The new album is something we worked very hard on and it's something we're very proud of. It was really exciting to see how well-received it was and the Grammy nomination was super awesome. This is our fifth one.

KNAC.COM: Do you think you might actually win this time?

MORTON: Man, I've got a good feeling about this one. I hope so. It's the stock answer, but it really is just exciting to be nominated, the fact that we're even part of that conversation, a band like us. We still really feel like that Richmond, Va., basement band, that's who we are. And that we've been able to accomplish so much and be so well-received and have the success we have had is still mind-blowing. And to be a part of something as frankly as mainstream as the Grammys, I still find it kind of mesmerizing. For an accolade as a big as the Grammys, for us to be considered is really exciting, even the fifth time.

KNAC.COM: It's getting to be the point where you deserve one as a lifetime achievement award or something. Unfortunately, SLIPKNOT's got the name recognition and that's what usually seems to count the most.

MORTON: Have they not already won a Grammy?

KNAC.COM: I'm not sure [turns out they had, in 2006 for “Before I Forget”. They've been nominated nine times!]

MORTON: I feel like they have but I couldn't bet on it. If they haven't, it's probably their turn. Maybe next time it will be ours, assuming there will be a next time (laughs).

KNAC.COM: At least you all don't have to worry about getting this one snatched away by a TENACIOUS D or someone like that.

MORTON: Yeah, you can't spend too much time trying to figure out the logic behind these things, you'll drive yourself crazy, but it's fun to be part of something like that. So we'll see what happens. I'd be lying if I said I didn't hope we win. I hope we do, that'd be pretty cool.

KNAC.COM: Over the last year or two Chris has been playing with MEGADETH, Randy has been writing books, acting in Asian action movies and putting on photographic exhibits. I know you've done some side-band stuff [with DEVILDRIVER’s Dez Fafara] and solo work, do you still have of that going on?

MORTON: I'm working on quite a bit of music. I've got a few different irons in the fire, one in particular that I've been working on pretty consistently here lately, in fact I have a studio session later on this week. Nothing that I care to promote or make public just yet, it's a little bit early, but lots of music going on with me.

Certainly LAMB OF GOD is my No. 1, my priority. But because we're in a touring cycle right now, we have this album to support and our sort of system is we'll release something and then we'll tour for a year and a half or so, then we usually take a break and then we start writing, it kind of frees me up creatively to work on some other stuff. And I've got some really cool music that I've been working on I that I'm super excited about and hopefully it won't be too long before I can start releasing some of the stuff.

[management breaks in here to ask us to wrap it up so the next interview can commence]

KNAC.COM: Well I guess this will be the last thing then. You touched earlier on the longevity of the band. You've been a unit for 15-some years and have stuck it out through the fist fights that were well documented [on the Killadelphia DVD], Randy's imprisonment and everything else that's gone on, what's been the secret for holding the five of you together for as long as you've been together? If there is one?

MORTON: I appreciate that question. I think the key to us staying together and staying active creatively like we have is I guess honesty in terms of the music we create, the music we work on together. I say this a lot, and I think sometimes people take it wrong, but we really don't make music for our fans, we make music for ourselves and that's what's kept us motivated and inspired, making music that the five of us can all rally around and really enjoy playing and listening to while we're writing it. We kind of write what we want to hear and what we want to hear ourselves do and that's very fulfilling as an artist, as artists, from a creative perspective. So that's kept us engaged, motivated and focused on this project.

Maybe some bands do this and maybe they don't, but to me if we were chasing a sound or trying to stay ahead of what the audience wanted, I think it would be easy to get disillusioned with that. But that's not what we do. When we regroup to write new songs and to work on new material we really try to focus on what it is that we want to do and try and do something that's new for us and exciting for us. And that's what keeps us going and has been a key for us.

And then, after the fact, is the fact that our fan base responds to that and they are touched by it and it affects them and hopefully they enjoy it and it reaches them. That's kind of the payoff. But the catalyst is for us to let out musically what we need to let out and what we want to play and what we want to hear. If I had to put it in a word, I think it would be honesty in terms of our creative process and doing what it is we want to do.

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