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Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe: “It took years of trying for me to get sober”

Randy Blythe Lamb Of God
(Image credit: Travis Shinn)

From his origins as a punk rock-loving kid in Richmond, VA in the mid-90s through to establishing himself at the forefront of the burgeoning New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement at the turn of the millennium, Randy Blythe has never shied away from fighting his corner. With a new live record just out and more than a quarter-century with Lamb Of God in the rearview mirror, Hammer caught up with the firebrand frontman for the pearls of wisdom that have seen him through his darkest hours. 

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Frontmen are born not made

“People might not like this, but I do think it’s true! I don’t mean that as a frontman you can’t get better – singing and interacting with the audience are both things I’ve had to work on a lot. The main requirement to be a great frontman is the willingness to get in front of a group of people and make a complete idiot out of yourself again and again until you get good at it! It’s a personality thing; I’m very willing to make an idiot of myself and people clearly saw that because it was like, ‘This guy, he’ll do it.’” 

Just because a show is bigger, it doesn’t mean it’s better

“The first real big concert I went to was ZZ Top at Hampton Coliseum. It was a good show; there were all these bikers smoking weed outside and I’d never been around that kind of thing, so it was a wild experience for someone in 7th grade! That was a big arena rock show, but obviously as I got into punk rock I started to realise that there were shows just as – if not many times more – exciting as ZZ Top, that you could see for $5. Some of the earlier shows I saw that impacted me were Circle Jerks with 7 Seconds, Agnostic Front with The Vandals and Bad Brains with Leeway and COC – a show I’ve never seen topped in my entire life. Each of those shows was in a 300-capacity club; it wasn’t just seeing the bands, it was the community that arose around it of utter weirdos – which I most definitely was!”

Music is its own reward

“When we started gaining traction and gaining a fanbase, we had younger bands come to us – just as I did with older bands when we were coming up – asking, ‘How did you do this?’ about getting a practice space, or getting a tour. We’re not even talking huge megabucks tours – it was just the nuts and bolts of being a band. But because this modern age sets ludicrous goals that are by and large unattainable, we started getting questions like, ‘I’m thinking of forming a band; what advice can you give me on how to succeed in the music business?’ and it’s like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?!’ That shouldn’t be your goal. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice that I get to pay my bills making music and it’s very nice that I get to go out and see the world with my band, but the reason why I’m in a band is because we love the process of making music – that is the real experience.”

There’s a lot of darkness in our old songs

“I look at lyrics I wrote 15, 20 years ago and understand that they were messages to myself. Even 20 years ago I knew I was in trouble and going down a dark path, so I was commenting on that in songs. We recently did the entirety of Ashes Of The Wake and I had to go back and read lyrics to learn songs we’ve never played live: it really brought home how I was writing back then. When I write these days – and I’m not saying I’m any kind of wise, nirvana-state Buddha or anything – there is negative stuff in the lyrics, but I try to balance it with consciously positive stuff because that’s how I’m trying to live my life.” 

Randy Blythe Lamb Of God

(Image credit: Travis Shinn)

I’d be dead by now if I hadn’t gotten sober

“It’s a well-known fact I was a fuckin’ alcoholic and I’ve not had a drink in well over 10 years now. Unfortunately, I’ve known people who didn’t embrace the choice to try something different and they’re dead now. I don’t know what it is within me – I’m certainly not saying I’m special, or made of stronger moral fibre than anyone else – that I made that conscious decision, but I did and I feel pretty fucking lucky. The driving force was, ‘I’m going to quit drinking or I’m going to die.’”

Getting sober wasn’t an overnight thing

“I battled [alcoholism] for a loooong time and it took four-and-a-half years of trying to get sober to finally get sober. One morning on tour in Australia I woke up and just felt horrible and empty. I was in a good place; we were on tour with Metallica – it doesn’t get much better than that – I had money in the bank and my personal life wasn’t too much in tatters. On the outside everything looked good, but I just felt like there was this horrific void. I realised I had to try something different. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with drinking, but there was something wrong with drinking for myself and drinking in the way I did.”

Life isn’t just a series of binary choices

“As evidenced by recent events in America, things are currently so divisive and there’s absolutely no compromise. People won’t even consider other viewpoints and I think that’s largely shaped by social media; people get pushed towards this two-party system that is very ‘Yes/No’, ‘Democrat/Republican’, ‘Blue/Red’ with no discourse or ability to speak on any kind of level playing field. When you’re driven into these corners with constant antagonism, it drives people to extremism and once you go into that realm there’s zero hope for rational discourse. With age you learn life is about compromise and that’s something in the band we’ve gotten better at with age, especially because we’re five very different dudes.”

There should be no ‘us’ or ‘them’

“The most important thing you get from travelling a lot is perspective, it makes you realise the universal nature of humanity. I grew up during the Cold War, right? As a child I was convinced the Soviet Union was going to nuke us, but when you get this idea of people as this nebulous ‘other’ it becomes easy to dehumanise them and forget they’re just other people. I was a well-seasoned traveller long before Lamb Of God and I had zero money back then so would travel on the cheap. I love it because it exposes me to different cultures – with different clothes, skin tones and foods – but at the core we’re all the same. It also makes me realise how lucky I am to live where I do.”

Enjoy what you have – not what you see online

“Especially with the digital world, material symbols of status become a constant end-goal. But to actually have experiences and to live a good life you need to form relationships with real people and actually try to live life with a well-calibrated moral compass. We shouldn’t be constantly looking at these digitally filtered perceptions of reality and aspiring to the false paradigm of happiness they represent – that’s not real. You have to remain engaged with reality – I’ve certainly been through times where I’ve not been happy with my current reality, but you have to look at that reality and engage with it, appreciate it for what it is rather than wishing for something else.”

Livestreams are strange, but no stranger than anything else in the music industry

“People kept asking: wasn’t playing the livestream weird? Sure, it was kinda weird not having an audience, but at the same time we rehearsed for a week at Mark’s [Morton] house after having not spent any time together for months. When I got in the room with those other four dudes, just us making music and playing to no one, it was an amazing feeling and incredibly rewarding. All I was thinking was ‘I’m making music with my dudes in a garage again’, and that was awesome. But don’t get me wrong… I’m so ready to get in front of a fuckin’ audience!” 

Never stop trying new things

“As you get older it becomes easy to flip into a sedentary life and stop taking chances. I find having artistic outlets important to keep me sharp. There are situations I’ve been in as a photographer that have been pretty dangerous; I spent a lot of this last summer with tear gas in the air and rubber bullets flying around, but it’s a bit like surfing – the more you surf, the more you progress and you end up getting onto bigger waves. It becomes even more important to stay engaged and in the moment. It’s important to stay artistically curious about things – and things like surfing literally keep my survival instincts intact.” 

Published in Metal Hammer #347