Lamb of God scored their fifth GRAMMY nomination since 2007 earlier this week, as their single "512" earned a Best Metal Performance nod. The song—hands down one of the 20 best of 2015—was started by frontman Randy Blythe as he waited in a Czech prison cell to be tried for the death of a fan at a concert two years earlier. He was acquitted, and the tune became an emotional, devastatingly heavy centerpiece of the Virginia stalwarts’ VII: Sturm Und Drang.
Guitarist Mark Morton spoke with Fuse about getting GRAMMY recognition and how Lamb of God has sustained such a steady career for more than 15 years. He also discussed how he feels, following the terrorist attack that left 89 dead at an Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris, about hitting the road with Anthrax for a monthlong tour in January 2016. (Get the full list of dates here.)
FUSE: How do you guys react to a GRAMMY nomination?
MORTON: I can really only speak for myself. The thing about our band is, whether we’re talking about a GRAMMY nomination or a riff or a song or a business proposal, we all have such different visions and takes. That can be frustrating at times, it can make things hard to coordinate, but at the same time it keeps us all in check. So with regards to the GRAMMY nomination, you’d probably get five different answers from five different dudes, but for me, it’s exciting. In the context of what we do, and the context of the history of the band, we were just a punk-rock metal band in a basement with really no aspiration of being an international act or on a major label. At the time we got together in the late ‘90s, that was just sort of impossible, the idea that playing the kind of music we played, that we would reach those kind of environments. So to be recognized by the GRAMMYs, and now for the fifth time, is something I never imagined we would be able to achieve.
Does the fact that the last four nominations were losses dilute the experience?
It doesn’t, for me. I think, if it just happened once, I would think it was a fluke, but the fact that it happens repetitively is almost reinforcing the fact that we have an impact. At least what we do is being noticed beyond our core fans, beyond the niche heavy metal scene. On a mainstream level, we’re recognized, or at least visible. Whether or not we win...anybody that knows how the GRAMMYs work, it’s an inside kind of industry thing. It’s a bit of a popularity contest. There’s this kind of corporate lobbying within it. That’s not to take anything away from it—the fact that we’re even in the conversation is exciting and strange and cool and funny and fun. I would like to win, I don’t mind saying that. But when we don’t—and we haven’t, four times previously—I can’t say that it’s a disappointment. Not winning is what I’m used to. Maybe if we win this one I’ll be able to give you a different take on the experience. I hope we do. It’d be cool to tell my daughter about in a few years, when she wraps her head around it.
It’s fitting that the nomination is for “512.” It's such a meaningful, well-written standalone piece, especially thinking about Randy starting those lyrics locked up and waiting to see if his life was about to take this terrible turn.
I think it’s a really powerful song. There’s an element that translates even if you don’t know the story behind it. It’s a very deep, introspective lyric, and the musical movement underneath it is also really powerful. Most of this album was collaborative, and that’s something we’re coming back to. The last three or four albums, Willie [Adler, guitarist] and I have kinda isolated and just brought in our own pieces of music to contribute to the greater picture. And that worked, and that’s cool and I like working like that as well, but [with] this album we brought in less complete pieces and worked with each other on completing them and adding little pieces and parts. It gave this album a fresh character. It’s a very dynamic album as a result, and I think “512” is as good a representation of that as any.
It's been 15 years since you debuted with New American Gospel. What are the best and worst aspects of the job at this point?
Again, totally speaking for myself, my favorite part of what we do is creating music, writing and—very definitely and—recording. I could live in the studio. When you’re working with the right people, the possibilities are really endless. I’m not one of these guys who records worrying about how I’m gonna duplicate it live, or frankly whether or not I’m even gonna be able to play it live. If I have to stand on my head in the corner on a stool upside down to hit the lick, I’ll do it and figure that out later. It’s about capturing sounds and making the songs the best they can be.
What's the hardest part about continuing to do this?
My least favorite thing, and sometimes people interpret this wrong...I love interacting with fans. I love watching people react to the songs live. I think there’s nothing that can replace the live experience. My band, on a good night, is as good as any metal band in the world, and I say that because I believe it. I’ve watched jaws drop when we lock in on a heavy riff. And I’m part of that, too—I’m as big a fan of that as anybody standing out there. So the live experience is really special. But the way, from a business perspective, touring becomes eight weeks away from home, living out of a bag, not seeing my daughter, not seeing my wife…at 43 years old, that part involves a lot of sacrifices that I’m certainly willing to make and grateful to have the opportunity to make, but that becomes pretty challenging for me as a family man and a guy in his early forties. The industry is such now that you have to do that to make a real living doing what we do. So I take it as part of the bigger picture.
I hear that pretty often from musicians who started out young and have grown into having families, or even just trying to settle down a little in general.
Yeah. I mean, you have to be careful complaining, because people would give their right arm to do what we do, and rightfully so. It’s so fortunate to be part of something as special as Lamb of God, and to do it as long as we’ve done it and to continue to have success. I don’t want to sound like I take it for granted, but it’s worth people knowing that it’s not easy, man. If it were easy, everybody would do it. It requires a lot of sacrifice and it’s a lot of hard work. And we do that because we’re musicians and because we have to, to keep our souls in balance. And the legacy that Lamb of God has now, it starts to dawn on me that we’re seven albums in. I look at our body of work and I’m so proud of it.
Was there a moment where it seemed clear this was going to stick--that you were locked in, and that this was a career?
[Long pause] No, there wasn’t one point. When I’ve gotten comfortable along the way, sometimes something will slap me around and remind me that all of this could go away at any minute. There’s been some pretty extreme examples of that over the last few years. Getting signed to Epic, I think, would’ve been the biggest benchmark I can look back on and say, “Wow, we can really take a deep breath now and focus on being a career band, because now we’ve got the backing of this major label, we’ve got real budgets and creatively they’re allowing us to explore any avenue we want to.” We got pretty confident in the fact that they believed in us. But you can’t feel too safe or comfortable because you’re only as successful as your last album. There’s a line of 20-year-old dudes that’re chomping at the bit to take your spot, and they should be. For us the answer, has just been to be honest. The music is real--we haven’t ever done something we didn’t want to do for the sake of commerce or longevity or anything. I think that’s probably why we’re still here.
It can be a watery question to ask, “What should people expect from this tour?” I’d rather hear how you feel going into a new year, into this run with Anthrax, where all of a sudden it’s a little scary to be in a concert venue, after something like the terrorist attack on the Bataclan in Paris.
Um. [Pause] How do I feel about it? I don’t know…I think that Paris, obviously, was just kind of devastating for everyone involved in the music world, either as fans or as artists. At least in the context of politics and global terrorism and war, it’s the first real instance I can think of that they really, really entered our world on a very, very extreme and obvious level. Our crew guys knew some of the people that were in that room, and I’ve played that room a half a dozen times. It really, really did hit home.
I don’t think that for me, personally, it really changes anything that I do. In terms of what my approach is, man, I just want to play my guitar. Every night before we play, I have a little moment with myself where I sit and think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and hope or pray, or whatever you want to call it, that what we’re doing translates into joy for people. Whether that be on a level of catharsis for them, so that they can process some of their own emotions, or just unity for the crowd, for people to come together and have a good couple hours rallying around music and the energy in the room. For my part, I think that’s all I can do.