Interview: Lamb of God’s John Campbell on ‘As The Palaces Burn’
Lamb Of God has endured some tough times. Riding high on their rabid fan base and constant touring, the band hit a massive brick wall in 2012 when, while in Prague, frontman Randy Blythe was arrested for manslaughter. The charges stemmed from a 2010 show where LOG fan Daniel Nosek died of what appeared to be head trauma. The Czech Government, and Nosek’s family, blamed Blythe. Over the next year and a half, Blythe would be held in a Czech prison, returned home, and then brought back to the Czech Republic to stand trial – where he was absolved of responsibility for the fan's death.
Having been in the middle of filming a live DVD, all of these events were filmed and the documentary As The Palaces Burn was born. Taking the name from Lamb Of God’s first album, the film is as close as you can get to a band going through this kind of turmoil. I grabbed a few moments with LOG bassist John Campbell to talk about the last few years, the movie and the trial.
CRAVEONLINE: As The Palaces Burn is seeing its release this year. Is it theatrical or DVD only?
JOHN CAMPBELL: I’m not sure. You’ll have to forgive me; I just transitioned from touring for two years to doing a new business, something very not rock n’ roll. The film was premiered in Amsterdam, and copies went out to the press. The sixteenth of February we’re in Philadelphia at the Trocadero, where we filmed all the live footage for the “Killadelphia” DVD, for a premiere. That’s the first showing in America I think. A week or so later it’ll have a theatrical release. Then DVD.
CO: The first thirty minutes of As The Palaces is very different than what it ends up as. What was this film original supposed to be?
JC: We had already done two DVDs of backstage stuff and us being the morons that we are. This time we decided to turn the cameras outward, and focus on the power of music and how it affects people. Specifically how our music affects people. We decided to take that to some unusual places. The girl in India who is the singer for a heavy metal band, and the taxi driver in Columbia, we had a lot of footage, until the record skipped and it became something else. To (director) Don (Argott) and (producer) Sheena’s (Joyce) credit, right at the end of making one movie, they had to completely scrap the film and rethink everything they had done. They just went with it the way that it happened. It’s almost like two movies in one.
CO: There’s a drastic shift in everything about the film.
JC: I know. I love the line where that transition happens. Randy’s sitting by the James River in Richmond, Virginia. He’s very jovial, talking about how he has the greatest job in the world, and he says “I worry one day they’re gonna find out. I don’t know what they’re gonna find out, but they’ll find out and it’ll all be over”. That’s the transition from the one film to the other.
CO: Is there a lot of raw footage, and will any of it see the light of day?
JC: There’s a ton of footage. After this theatrical release the film is planned for a DVD release, and hopefully it’ll be chock full of the lighter, sillier stuff that didn’t fit the tone of the movie once it switched.
CO: Was there ever the idea to make two movies, or did you want to use the beginning to illustrate how fast it all changed?
JC: I’ll be honest, that was in the hands of Don and Sheena. I have an immense amount of respect for those guys. When life did take that turn, they reached out to all of us and said they were going to document this as it happened. They wanted to interview us some more, but they understood that having cameras in our face right away was a bad idea. They kept their distance until we thought we were ready.
CO: Were you ready?
JC: Well I tear up during one of the interviews so maybe I wasn’t ready. It documents this terrible time in not only the band’s career, but my personal life as well. One that I don’t think I’ll be watching.
CO: What was the most terrifying point of all this for you personally?
JC: I went through a psychological shock of “this might be all over”. Even if Randy doesn’t do time, he could come back and say “Y’know what guys. I don’t want to do this anymore”. I can’t point to one specific moment, but those forty initial days before he was first released were gut wrenching. We wanted to be respectful to the family of the fan who died, and it also gave us a way to work through our own emotions. It was an incredibly hard time in my life, but I didn’t lose a child and I wasn’t sitting in a Czech prison. I don’t want to spill too many tears on my own accord.
CO: How did the initial arrest go down?
JC: We were coming off our third plane ride, walking up the ramp, and homicide detectives with an armed SWAT team met us. At that point my heart was pounding in my chest. It’s quite a shock to be greeted by a SWAT team. Then, initially we were told Randy could go home the next day, then it was a couple more weeks. Then they asked for bail, then they wanted twice as much, and Randy never was released. We kept being told things were going to happen and they didn’t.
CO: It’s never made clear in the film why, after two years nobody in your camp was informed of Daniel’s death, or the charges until Randy’s arrest. You’d think they would try to contact somebody.
JC: There’s a cloudy area in there. We were told they did reach out to the state department who might have sent back a letter saying, “we’re not dealing with this”. I don’t know. I mean, a child dying is tragedy, you would think somebody would have said something. It’s an issue that is never cleared up in my mind. I find dwelling on it does me no good.
CO: How did you balance the guilt of fearing for Randy’s future and the fact that how you make a living for so long might be over?
JC: My foremost concern was for Randy. When he was first in prison it was all about just getting him home. Then, as the trial went on, I felt he was innocent of the charges. I did think to myself, I have two small children and a wife, what am I going to do? That is part of the reason I’m trying to build a business from the dirt up, just like we built the band. I think the lesson learned is that life is ready to throw a curve ball at you at any moment. Just as you think you know how things are running, the curve ball comes.
CO: Was it ever hard not to resent the victim?
JC: No. We didn’t resent anyone. It was a difficult thing to process. Being told a fan died at one of your shows and you are responsible. I’ve had a lot of death around me over the last three or four years. It’s a real motherfucker, and the death of a human being shouldn’t be lost in the story of a band lucky enough to get to run around the world like we are. It’s a little odd doing promotion for a film like this, or to walk onstage and say, “Check out this movie about all this really shitty stuff that’s happened”.
CO: How worried were you that all this would push Randy back to drinking?
JC: It occurred to us that it might. Knowing Randy and seeing his resolve, it really only strengthened his sobriety and his determination to remain sober.
CO: Did you ever worry Randy’s well-documented madman drinking days would come back to haunt him during the trial?
JC: Yes, and it did. That’s the case the prosecution was making, that Randy was a wild and out of control drunk. Thankfully for our case, it was one of the rare times when Randy hadn’t been drinking.
CO: I was impressed you didn’t vilify anyone, not even the prosecutor.
JC: We never would. He’s there to play devil’s advocate for the family to find out what happened to their child. That was the whole reason Randy went back, for closure on this. Even when we were originally dealing with the homicide detectives, we took a ride to get food for the band, and I told them I had huge respect for them. They even said to me they thought we could’ve been friends under different circumstance.
CO: What was the day-to-day life like during trial?
JC: By the time we got to trial I was so used to hearing things were going to happen this way, and they went a completely different direction, that I didn’t put a lot of weight on the proceedings as much as I was looking forward to the resolution.
CO: Where were you when you first heard Randy was acquitted?
JC: I was working in my shed and got a text, or I woke up to one. It was an intense joy, followed by a fear because we were told there could be an appeal to the verdict, which there was.
CO: What was the basis for the appeal?
JC: A few witnesses were not available for the trail for the prosecution. They got through everyone they had, and then came back to hear from the other witnesses. We were used to this by then. Even when Randy was first arrested we paid his bail and then it doubled. The system of justice over there is only a few years old, created out of the communist system. So it’s kind of good they do this because it sets precedent for their legal system.
CO: In beginning of the film you have the line “We’re not best friends,” talking about the troubles within the band. How has this altered that whole dynamic?
JC: We’ve weathered this incredible storm as friends and as members of the band. It changed our perspectives. You’re right, it shook up the dynamic and when it got put back together we had clearer thinking, especially with most of us now being non-drinkers. We had to prioritize things and be adults.
CO: Has this soured you to touring?
JC: No. The only thing that’s changed is if the bouncers aren’t doing their job, or the we see the barricade is down, we will stop the entire show until it’s fixed. We just played in South Africa and the barricade was coming apart, so we stopped playing until they repaired it. I absolutely love performing, still do.
CO: Will this experience inform the writing for the next album?
JC: I don’t think it will specifically. To rely on that for commodified art might be a little crass, and not the sort of thing we want to do.
CO: Recently Randy stated that he’s taking a long break from Lamb Of God. Is it just a break, or does that mean something else? What’s the truth on the future of Lamb Of God?
JC: Randy called what we’re doing a hiatus on Instagram. He’s a frontman and has a flair for the dramatic. We have a planned break, and then the members of the band will come together and start working on ideas, so it will be several months before Randy even puts an ear to that stuff. So he will have his break and then we will come together and work on a new Lamb Of God record.