Lamb Of God's John Campbell: “The pinkie is 25 per cent of what you’ve got going on, and you’ve got to use it!”

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(Image: © Ethan Miller / Getty)

Twenty years since their first album, Burn The Priest - better known to metal fans as Lamb Of God - returned earlier this year with a collection of covers in the form of Legion: XX. Bassist John Campbell tells Hywel Davies how he put his spin on hardcore classics.

In 1994, Lamb Of God were yet to take metal by the throat and boot it into the new millennium. Metalheads in Richmond, Virginia knew the five-piece as Burn The Priest, made up of Randy Blythe (vocals), Mark Morton and Abe Spear (guitars, the latter soon replaced by Willie Adler), John Campbell (bass) and Chris Adler (drums). 

The quintet were an uncompromising force, but only released a sole, self-titled album in 1998; celebrating the 20-year anniversary of that record, ESP-wielding bassist and founding member John Campbell took some time out to chat with us about the new Legion: XX covers album that pays tribute to the band’s roots.

As we were coming up to the 20th anniversary of the Burn The Priest record, it seemed appropriate to do it under that name

“We’d been talking about getting a cover record done since forever, but it just never seemed like the appropriate time,” says Campbell. “We were thinking about doing something shorter, like a five-song release covering old Richmond bands, but it wasn’t as marketable as we hoped. The idea was then expanded into playing songs that were influential on our band. As we were coming up to the 20th anniversary of the Burn The Priest record, it seemed appropriate to do it under that name. That way, it ain’t Lamb Of God doing a cover record.”

Big shoes to fill

Stepping into the shoes of stellar bassists like Lori Black of the Melvins, Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains and Sergio Vega of Quicksand and Deftones, to name just a few, Campbell knows all too well the responsibilities of delivering classic bass-lines as faithfully as possible. Was his approach to these parts a matter of emulating or innovating, we ask?

We were somewhat meatheaded in our approach! I simplified things, and tried not to emulate every run or fill those players did

“Honestly, I tried to focus it more as a BTP song,” he muses. “We were somewhat meatheaded in our approach! I just simplified things, and tried not to emulate every run or fill those players did. My goal was to keep it punk rock and carry it solidly. That said, some songs like the Bad Brains song I Against I, there’s not much deviation from what Daryl is doing, so I stayed true to the song, but in some of the other tracks - like the Cro-Mags song - they played all kinds of runs that I opted to play more simply.”

“I look at bass players who blow my mind,” Campbell adds, as we go further into his own personal stockpile of bass inspirations. “I look up to them, although I’m not sure I can aspire to reach to some of those heights. There’s a local guy, Mike Bishop, who was one of the original GWAR bass players. Early on he was just this local Richmond guy and a phenomenal bass player who I looked up to. And Faith No More’s bass player Billy Gould, holy crap! He’s got to be one of my favourites ever. Those are bigger shoes than I could ever hope to fill.”

“I’m not a learned player in any way, shape or form. I just drink beer and play heavy metal,” he laughs. “What I have noticed is that when I sit down, I take a hard look at myself and what we’re playing. We have to play this stuff cleanly, effi ciently and quickly. It’s a long way to get from the basics but I think I’ve nailed them pretty well.”

And the secret to his playing? “Your pinkie finger - you’ve got to use your pinkie! You can play in a punk rock band using one finger, but if you want to be a good, intricate player who can play complicated things, dude, the pinkie is 25 per cent of what you’ve got going on, and you’ve got to use it. That’s really how you should be playing. I have to play like that in Lamb Of God or I’m never going to keep up. It’s that important, man!”

Legion: XX is out now via Nuclear Blast.

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