John Campbell of Lamb Of God

 Honestly, I never saw the bass and was like, “I’m going to play bass.” I had friends [and] the opportunity to play music came up…they had a house with stuff set up, and I was playing my friend’s drums with his roommates and the bass playin’ roommate took off for the summer. My friends whose drums they were was like, “Hey, why don’t you just let me play my drums and you can play Mike’s bass rig.” And that was when I was 18, and that’s how I ended up playing bass.

Interview conducted and edited by Bryan Beller
Interview original transcription by Eric Berry

You’re originally from Virginia?

I lived in Virginia for over half my life. When I was born, I was born in Alabama. My dad was in the military. I was out of Alabama before I really have a recollection of much of anything. And I grew up in the D.C. suburbs from the time I was two to ten in Maryland. And when I was ten, we moved to Virginia. And I lived in Virginia, since. I’m 37 now. That’s a fairly good portion of my life.

I grew up in the D.C. suburbs and [was] really influenced by the D.C. hardcore scene that was going on. That was their D.C. brand of punk rock. And musically…I wasn’t playing in bands at that point. I had friends who played. I think I learned to play some major chords on guitar before I was 17. Aside from that, I hadn’t really started playing.

So you started playing bass late, huh?

Well, it was after high school, so yeah.

Did you ever take any lessons, or did you just do it all self-taught?

Well, my dad played acoustic guitar. He showed me the “this is the G chord, this is the C chord, this is D chord, now practice that.” Actually, he had a baritone ukulele that was the first instrument that he actually tried to show me how to play. Which, you know, was cool. I was definitely not a ukulele master or anything. I’ve almost kind of autistically made noises and beat on things. I’ve always had an inclination to be noisy, I guess.

Who were some of those D.C. punk bands you were talking about?

Like Dagnasty, they were from D.C. A band called King Faith. And a band called Soulside. Just, you know, teenage angst. Punk rock, with the added bonus of being regionally relevant.

And how about bassists that impacted you?

Well, Soulside was a band that was very bass heavy, and actually went on to create a band. I think they moved to New York and created a band called Girls Against Boys that had two bass players in it. I always respected the crap out of them for that.

Honestly, I never saw the bass and was like, “I’m going to play bass.” I had friends [and] the opportunity to play music came up…they had a house with stuff set up, and I was playing my friend’s drums with his roommates and the bass playin’ roommate took off for the summer. My friends whose drums they were was like, “Hey, why don’t you just let me play my drums and you can play Mike’s bass rig.” And that was when I was 18, and that’s how I ended up playing bass.

One of the sidebars on this article is going to be about sub-genres in metal, just to give some people some idea of what that language all means. When someone says something’s progressive metal, or something’s technical death metal, whole that thing…

Sure and I don’t know if I can give you a factually accurate answer on it…but I can come probably come up with something funny that’ll piss somebody off.

Well, that’s the idea actually. But, I mean, this “pure American metal” thing…go into that just a little bit.

That was the tagline, I think, dreamt up by Chris Adler, our drummer, who [said], “We need something here that defines us. They want us to come up with some kind of tagline for an ad campaign or something. Uh, I came up with this, what do y’all think?” That’s great, ‘cause at that point it was like the Gothenburg [Swedish death metal] scene and metal was huge and everybody was making a big deal that they were from Sweden. We figured we’d make a big deal about being from where we were. Again, a little regionalism.

Wrath has been out a year now, so I know it’s a little bit behind the curve, but can you go into the sessions? What it was like? What was new for you bass-wise on that record? What the vibe was like?

What was new for me bass-wise? We, well, to be honest, there’s some unresolved issues for me on that record. That I wish I had the chance to put in more time with pre-recording. That I’ve since developed a little bit of, ahh…what’s the name of the song I’m getting at? Let me just go in to the sessions and how they work, then I’ll get to that.


We were off the road, we took some time after touring our butts off forever and ever and ever. We, for the first time [in] our career were able to say, “Hey, we’re not going to play any shows next year. We’re gonna stop. We’re gonna spend a couple months with our friends and family who we haven’t seen in years, and then we’re going to get together and like, a job, practice bass every day, writing and rehearsing.” And in the process of all this, a couple babies came along, and, you know, you work around things as they go. But we just started writing songs, rehearsing songs, and drilling things, until we had a producer come in. He was a guy name Josh, who we had worked with before. Josh Wilbur. We’ve worked with him, not as a producer, but he’s worked on projects with us, doin’ different things. He came down and did some pre-production work with us. And we recorded stuff in the practice space to work out arrangement ideas so that we could really listen objectively and use the technologies of recording into a computer, and be able to make arrangement decisions and listen and tweaks without having to re-perform and make a judgment while you’re performing. That’s where the hardcore finishing and tweaking of writing would happen.

And we’d also create tempo maps, and those would then go with Chris to the studio to do his drumming to these scratch tracks and tempo maps. And then, after that, the guitars went down at the same time. And then I had my turn. Here in Richmond, we recorded those. And then, once that was done, the vocals were done. That was how the record [got] put together.

Did you like going in last?

Yeah. I think it’s a little more exciting, ‘cause rather than hearing this real rough version of what it’s going to be, I get to hear an idea of where this record is going and get excited about it and help push it along as I hear it. But a lot of times, a lot of songs, they come in really quick and we really strive to do things different than we had done before, and try and push ourselves in directions that we hadn’t gone before. And…I have to come over here and look at a track listing of my record to remember the name of a song, but there’s this one part that I cringe when I listen to it, which I probably shouldn’t confess to Bass Player Magazine. But, you know, these are these things that you see that you want to make better and that push me as a player. Uh, that [song] would be, “In Your Words.”

The opening tune…

Yeah, once it gets to the open-airy, kind-of-spacey part. The part we were calling the “Jane’s Addiction” part.

Yeah, the one with that, vibrato-ish kind of sound going on in the end?

Right, right. Like, I’ve since way developed that bass part that goes on underneath that. Now when I listen to it on the record, I’m just like, oh, God… I wish had had the chance to spend more time on doing these things. I’m very focused on that because…you know, you make mistakes, and that means you’re gonna be better the next time, and that’s probably the biggest sore spot that I have on that record is that bassline in that whole open-airy space. But I get to fuckin’ rock it every time that I play it live the way that I have it now.

That sound that you’re getting…are you playing with a pick most of the time?

Oh, absolutely.

And what’s the overdrive source? There’s like a real cool, greasy, grungy, dirty thing…

It’s a little touch of a SansAmp Bass Driver, and a Mesa-Boogie 400+ head. And that’s it. And it’s not much off the SansAmp at all. It just gives it a little more grit and bright up in the higher frequencies, where the solidness of that all comes from that Mesa-Boogie head. And cabinets, I was playing the [Mesa-Boogie] Road Ready Cabinets, which are built into the road cases. I just switched out of those into the [Mesa-Boogie] Powerhouse [cabs]…a world of difference. The normal enclosure cabinets that Mesa has [have] such a warmth, and such a punch to them, without the annoying clickety-clickety that I can’t stand.

As far as the instruments are concerned, were you already using the signature model Jackson on the record, and for the touring you’re doing right now, and that you were doing last year?

JC – Yes. It’s been a slow build-up. They sent me a prototype a long time ago. Just like, “Hey, we’ve got this design we’ve never done much with. Why don’t we use this as a starting point and build from this?” And I made a few changes in [the] pickups and bridge. But it had a really skinny neck for playing a lot of note-y stuff, which I have to do in my job. I think we’ve gotten the shape and the weight and all that down. Now we’re just tweaking some different graphics ideas to hopefully make a bass that’s as visually appealing as it is fun to play.

Is it a four string?

It is a four string.

What’s your tuning?

It’s a drop “D”.

What’s the mission of the bass in Lamb of God? And same question, as a rhythm section with Chris?

The job of the bass in Lamb of God is really heavy on the guitar side of the bass guitar. I, a lot of times, am just playing what the guitars are playing an octave down. And sometimes as they’re going through multiple registers, I’ll just stay within the same register, or maybe just bump up into a second register, just keeping it all low and balls. Where I think we have room to expand is in the stuff I was talking about, the Jane’s Addiction kind of open-airy stuff, where the bass becomes more of a bass instrument, as the guitars run off and do their fruit-loopy thing. And I think that’s something we’re all talking about being a place where we can make some improvements and make some changes in the next Lamb of God record.

What are you looking to leave the audience with when you play live?

I like to think I’m out there kicking the shit out of the audience. Sonically, performance-wise. I want people to be psychologically pummeled by the music, by the lights, by the sweat, by the smell. It’s a very aggressive thing for me. And really since we’ve started, the goal was to go somewhere and make people’s jaws hit the floor, like they were not expecting this at all. Now that we’ve, obviously, gotten a little exposure, and people know what to expect, now we have to continue hittin’ with those hard jabs.

Talk a little about doing a headlining tour versus doing a opening for a gigantic act like Metallica, like you did last year. What do you dig about each situation? What are the challenges?

We got to experience both when we did the Metallica run. Metallica would tour for a week and then take a week off and then come back another week. Our tour schedule is, we play six days, take a day off, six days, take a day off. So we filled in those weeks with another tour. So we kind of did two tours in one, and we played [our own] shows with GWAR. So we got the best of both worlds. We would come from Metallica-land where there’s all this space and it’s at a huge arena, and there’s this big beautiful buffet laid out whenever you’re hungry or ready to eat. There was security keeping any kind of ding-dongs out of your way. But there was a certain separation from the crowd. It wasn’t conducive to just kind of hangin’ out and havin’ a good time. And then we would go do the club dates, where it was, you know, crowds in your face, [and the] P.A. is yours at full volume. To be honest, I think when it got at the end of the tour, I was very much looking forward to the club dates, just because those generally are a lot more fun. They probably wear you down a lot quicker, but they’re a lot more fun. You get a lot more bang for your buck.

You have brothers in the band, you’ve been together with the same lineup for almost fifteen years now…what’s the secret to your longevity?

Haha. Ahh, you know, I have no idea. When we started, we started just to play a party locally and have a good time and put some tails on the floor. And that was a success. It’s been a slow build, and every step has, strangely, brought us more and more success. I think that’s the magic is that, for whatever reason, [which] I don’t know if we’ve necessarily worked out, it’s working.

And I think, very much in that model of this working, we’ve never intended to become famous, make a lot of money, or any of that. We really did this for the sake of making whoop-ass music and having a good time. I think that somehow, our drive was more…I don’t know if “pure” is the right word, but we weren’t driven by fame. And, I think that is probably part of the key to our success.

You know, it’s ironic in that, just looking quickly at the list here of the bands, I think you guys are the biggest commercial act actually in this article. It’s a nice irony there, considering what you just said.

I don’t think the record labels know what’s going on, either, though. Funny enough, we sell the crap out of music DVD’s, and we’re one of the only bands that do that now, apparently.

Sometimes it almost feels like there’s like a bluesy, southern, greasy thing inside the metal that you guys are doing. Am I making that up because I know you guys are from Virginia?

No, absolutely not. Haha. Well, I appreciate you being aware of stereotyping. But no, I don’t think it’s necessarily because we’re from Virginia. I think that a lot of what we write comes from, it speaks heavily in blues. This is rock and roll. I think we all have a love for some for some greasy, gritty blues. Not that that’s necessarily what we end up playing in a band. And to be honest, I don’t know, if we would really be good enough to pull off that kind of thing convincingly. [But] that’s not mistaking at all. We definitely have that influence, heavily, in what we do.

Why do you think metal is so huge right now? The last couple of years, there’s been this explosion of not just commercial success for metal, but also in the increase of guys who are playing technical stuff in metal. Young kids, coming into mom and pop music stores when they’re ten and wanting to learn really extreme stuff. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s a lot of things. I think probably it’s because whenever there’s hard times, people are driven to more aggressive music. I think that kids always want to freak out their parents, so they’re always looking for the most extreme thing. I think it never really went away, that metal is such a lifestyle thing. There are people who are into metal now, that won’t be into metal in another three years or four years. But there are people who live metal, that will never stop living metal, more so than any “pop” fan.

I think we came up from the underground. There was this healthy underground of people just moving and going that [was] built at a time when the mainstream was being decimated by the Internet. I think it’s interesting times in which we live. Through all that, I think that we, somehow, ten years earlier, might have been a Metallica-type band. But, in the time we managed to come up, we may never had had the opportunity to come out without the exposure that the Internet gave us. But, uh, I am now officially rambling and way off topic of the question that you gave.

No, it’s good. I mean, again, just not to reference Mastodon, one more time, but there aren’t that many bands…

Please, let’s reference Mastodon. I have one more comment about that after we’re done.

Okay. Well, again, there aren’t too many of these bands [who came up from the underground] in the scene right now, for one reason or another. I mean, Converge, they’ve been around forever and did everything, you know, basements, backyards, whatever. But talking to the guys in [Mastodon] about how they started, just playing houses and stuff like that…

We just unearthed our first tour ever, a video that I edited together, back from ’96, I think it was. In the Dodge van. We had a 1979 Dodge Tradesman that was on the verge of falling apart. And yes, it was a beautiful scene that we came up in.

Well, awesome, dude. Thank you.

…the other Mastodon thing, real quick: Whether this makes it in the article or not, it was a travesty that they weren’t nominated along with us, as they were in 2007. But it just shows [that] the Grammy’s [are] all bullshit. That Crack The Skye record…

Were they not nominated for that record?

They were not.

That’s insane.

And Ministry was, I mean Ministry, sure. Judas Priest won for a twenty-year old song. Ridiculous. But, anyway…

I’m in total agreement. I heard that record [Crack The Skye]. I heard them play it live 40 nights in a row and I never got tired of hearing it.

It’s in my truck right now, and I can’t stop listening to it.

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The New Golden Age Of Metal, The Complete Interviews

Yes, there really is a cartoon character on the cover of the April 2010 issue of Bass Player. But that’s no ordinary animated dude; it’s William Murderface of the quantruple- platinum, über-brutal metal band Dethklok, an act so big that their record sales can affect the economies of major Western countries for good or ill.