When opening a dialog of Pallbearer, it’s difficult not to frame everything in relation to their triumphant debut, Sorrow and Extinction. And perhaps that’s fair; it was named among the best metal albums of 2012 by the likes of Pitchfork and Spin and singlehandedly introduced the Arkansas doom quartet to an entire subset of listeners who didn’t know “doom” was actually a genre (i.e. Pitchfork and Spin readers). But now, two years removed from that album, and with its follow up, Foundation of Burden, officially on the way, the conversation has moved on and so have Pallbearer. We caught up with the band before Thursday’s Pitchfork Show No Mercy/Hell Awaits-curated Northside Festival showcase, and found them looking forward—to the new record, to their summer tour, to playing with some of Brooklyn’s best metal bands—while still keeping one eye on what got them there.
FREEwilliamsburg: Sorrow and Extinction was the metal breakthrough of 2012. Critically adored and adopted by a wider, sometimes non-metal, audience, it certainly set the bar pretty high. As you guys worked through Foundations of Burden, did you feel any pressure to follow up Sorrow and Extinction and, if so, how’d it affect the writing/recording process?
Joseph D. Rowland: Of course we’re aware of expectations, and they’re hard to ignore, but when it came down to it, we just wanted to challenge ourselves to write a better record than S&E, and just let it happen organically. In the end, we are going to write what feels natural for us, whether it’s this record, or anything in the future, so in that regard any pressure is kind of a non-issue.
FW: You guys worked with Billy Anderson for this record, who has a diverse recording resume (from Eyehategod to Red House Painters). What made you guys decide to go with Billy and what did he bring to the recording process?
JDR: He approached us a couple of years ago about doing our sophomore album, and it totally made sense to us that he would be the best engineer for the job. He totally helped us get the most of out of what we wanted to accomplish and pushed us to expand even more on some of the dynamic elements we hope to achieve. It was a great experience.
FW: A lot of great metal bands, in particular great doom bands, seem to originate in the Pacific Northwest. Is that why you guys chose to leave Arkansas and record the new record in Portland? Did the location/culture influence you guys in any way?
JDR: We recorded in Portland because that’s where Billy is located these days and he felt that it was important to work in studio he was familiar with and comfortable in for this record, so that was the key factor. I wouldn’t really say that being in the PNW had any real effect on the record, though.
FW: Sorrow and Extinction, appropriately, given it’s title, addressed mortality, specifically the value and cost of life. Thematically, how does Foundations of Burden compare? Does it pick up Sorrow and Extinction‘s meditations where they left off or does it seek to tackle an entirely new set of ideas and emotions?
JDR: The new album has a broader focus but definitely doesn’t leave behind some of our overarching concept. I’d say in a way, some of the material has an even more personal leaning to the lyrics, and some of it focuses on the greater human condition and relentless passage of time, and balance of light and darkness in our lives. I don’t like to discuss the song meanings too heavily because I feel like the listener will get more from applying their own meaning and value to the songs, rather than it just being explained away. It’s definitely a new record with a different but still ever-present set of emotions.
FW: Pallbearer are of course headlining a killer Northside Festival showcase on Thursday that also features post-metal (Planning for Burial), sludge (Hull) and a few black metal bands (Yellow Eyes, Vilkacis). A lot metal bands are picky about sub-genre and who they play with, but you guys always seem to be down to mix it up. Is that a conscious decision or just something that happens organically?
JDR: In this case, the bill was put together by the presenters [Pitchfork’s Show No Mercy/Hell Awaits ed.], but we do make a conscious choice to play shows with a variety of styles on display when we can. I can’t really think of very many things much more boring than watching a show where every band sounds the same. Varied line-ups are just way more interesting to me. I honestly don’t even listen to much modern heavy music, so they often introduce me to something new too.
FW: Finally, what do you guys have up your sleeves for your set on Thursday? Can we expect to hear some songs from the new record—any songs you’ve never played live before? Surprise covers?
JDR: Well, if I say that, not much of a surprise, right? We actually rarely decide our set list until right before we hit the stage, depending on what the vibe of the show feels like to us, so I couldn’t even tell you for sure right now. That said, there’s a pretty good chance more than little bit of the new album will get played tomorrow night.
Foundations of Burden is out 8/19 via Profound Lore.