Metal’s latest heroes, Lamb Of God have recently released their long-awaited CD, VII: Sturm Und Drang, which is German for “Storm and Stress” and can be identified as the German literary movement of the late 18th century. Lamb Of God will be bringing their live show to our shores on Aug. 1 at the Nikon Theatre At Jones Beach in Wantagh, NY and on Aug. 5, here in Jersey at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel with Slipknot, Bullet For My Valentine and Motionless In White, a lineup to be reckoned with when matched up against other tours on the road this summer.
This monstrous tour and new CD, however, is something that Lamb Of God singer Randall Blythe might not have seen for a good five to ten years. For those of you living under a rock, Randy Blythe was serving time in a prison in the Czech Republic for accidentally killing a 19-year-old boy, who rushed the stage at a Lamb Of God concert in Prague, and in an effort to protect himself, Blythe pushed the boy back into the crowd. Unbeknownst to him, the boy hit his head on the floor when he fell and later died from the head injury. When Randy arrived back in the Czech Republic two years after the incident, he was imprisoned and charged with manslaughter charges; charges that many of us here in the United States obviously didn’t agree with.
In February 2014, Lamb Of God released a DVD called As The Palaces Burn, which documented, at first, the band’s touring, but ended with the trial proceedings and imprisonment of Randy Blythe. This July, Randy also released his first book, Dark Days: A Memoir, which documents his time in the 123-year-old prison where he was a prisoner for 37 days. I got to chat with Randy right before the tour kicked off about the current tour, his book, the Czech prison and his photography. Here’s what he had to say:
Dark Days: A Memoir is on our bookshelves right now, but I have to ask, as a writer, did you find it difficult to go back and relive those days that you spent in that Czech prison as you wrote these memoirs?
Well, it was in no shape or form pleasant. I kept a thoroughly extensive journal when I was in prison and it helps with the structure of the thing, so it’s not like I really had to stop and think, and the whole chain of events was already well-documented in a bazillion places. It’s not like I had to really rack my brain to remember when and what happened, but it wasn’t a lot of fun. I’ve decided my next book will definitely be more than likely fiction, where something bad happens to some imaginary person and not me (laughs). I mean, it’s not like this book immediately happened. It’s not like it happened, I got out and I started writing a book. I went on tour pretty much as soon as I [was] found not guilty. We had a movie come out. I had to do press for that. I mean, there has been a lot of processing.
So, it wasn’t particularly fun, but I can kind of remove myself from the situation at times. I tried to write as artfully as possible and so that involved a lot of thinking about words and all that stuff. I’m not just sitting there blabbing and telling my story to someone and having them writing it out. So, there’s a lot of technical thought when it came to the writing of it like word choice, language and all that stuff. But it wasn’t fun.
When this whole thing happened, metal fans all over social media were posting “Free Randy” photos. Did you feel the support of the fans through this whole ordeal?
I didn’t feel the support of anyone and not even my family when I was in that prison because I didn’t know anything. I didn’t have the Internet. I didn’t have newspapers. It’s not like I had an English language newspaper coming in. I was just in there. My lawyers who came to see me every now and then, who were Czech, and there was a bit of a language barrier there at times. So, it was rather a strange, isolated experience.
Once I got out, I saw all the support and all that stuff and that was really cool and quite humbling. But when I was in prison, I didn’t know what was going on. My wife and my band, they would write me a letter or something and they’d say, “Yeah! People are speaking up for you,” but I didn’t have much of an idea of what was going because I was isolated in a prison, ya know?
How did you manage to communicate with the other inmates when you didn’t speak their language, and did you feel your own life was threatened being around these other inmates?
Nope! Not in the slightest. Everybody was cool to me. I didn’t have any problems with any inmates while I was in there because I think everybody knew. It was a top news story in the Czech Republic. I was on the front page of every newspaper. It wasn’t like I could just go in there and be some anonymous American guy. Everybody in the prison knew why I was in there. And everybody for the most part was really cool to me. They were getting to think that this was an unfortunate occurrence, but it doesn’t sound like he tried to hurt anyone.
So, everybody was cool. Communication was a bit different and a bit difficult. There were some inmates that spoke English. There was one Irish guy who spoke English that was nice, and then there was another guy down the hall from me, he spoke English fluently, but he was a few cells away from me and I only saw him an hour a day because I spent 23 hours a day in my cell. That’s what they do there. It’s not like you go cruisin’ around. They lock you down.
So, I had a few cellmates who were Mongolian. One of them spoke very rudimentary English, so I started teaching him English and they taught me a bit of Mongolian. Not much! It’s a very difficult language. I also learned some Czech. One of my lawyers bought me a Czech dictionary. So, I learned some Czech, which is also a very difficult language. So I ended up just not talking.
This incident occurred way after Dimebag was shot by a fan on stage here in the States. Since that happened, you would think that security would have been beefed up at concerts. Why do you think security was so laxed that this kid even had a chance to get on the stage? I mean, I can’t imagine it was because it was in a different country.
Well, first of all, Lamb Of God has a contract that it doesn’t matter what country we’re in, we have certain security requirements. There’s supposed to be adequate security with barricades placed at least four to five feet away from the stage. There’s supposed to be security in between that. I never saw the stage before I went on it that day.
So, when I walked on stage, that was the first time I’d seen anything. However, our tour manager had had a meeting with the club and the promoter where he asked, “Do you understand all of the security requirements?” All he heard was, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” They didn’t do that. And our tour manager does our sound too, so he was at the soundboard. He’s not seeing what’s happening up front. So, there are all sorts of things that get cut from bands’ contracts. You want this, you want that and you kind of agree to some of them, but with Lamb Of God, security is one thing that never gets cut. We just don’t do that because, as you mentioned, the Dimebag thing; after that happened, most bands are like, “Screw this, I didn’t sign up to get shot.”
So, on that particular day, no one from the club owner, the promoter, the security company or whomever seemed to want to take responsibility for what happened. They said, “Once you were on stage, you didn’t complain or anything.” I said, “You didn’t fulfill your contractual requirements.”
The show was underway. It was our first time in the Czech Republic; we didn’t [know] what these fans were going to do. It was crazy. So I don’t know why they couldn’t do it, but they didn’t, and what happened, happened. It was extremely unfortunate and certainly something that will never, ever, ever happen again with my band because we have these strict requirements in place that weren’t fulfilled. We never had that problem before. Most people [are] inclined to do their job when they’re handed a contract and they sign it. So, I don’t know why.
I watched your documentary As The Palaces Burn a couple of times and couldn’t even imagine what you were going through while you were going through it. Does Dark Days only cover what happened in prison as opposed to the trial as well?
Yes! The meat of the book takes place in prison because the trial… The movie As The Palaces Burn, we’d already started filming that, and then the whole thing happened. If we hadn’t already started filming that, I don’t think I would have agreed to let them keep on filming. I wouldn’t have said, “Okay, let’s make a movie about this!” But since we were already filming, I agreed to let them continue, and that really handled the nuts and bolts of legality of the trial, which was very confusing because it was conducted in Czech. I had a translator and it was just a nightmare.
All the basics of the trial are in the movie and they’ve been covered in a million other places, but no one has really said anything about prison, and I have done very few interviews about this because I haven’t wanted to tell the same freakin’ story over and over and over again, and that’s what people ask: “What was the Czech prison like?” Now, I tell them, “Well, I wrote a 500-page book about it! So, you can read that!” (Laughs) If they don’t have the patience for that? Then, I’m sorry. I’m not going to tell the same story over and over again.
And that’s one of the reasons for the book, but the majority of it is about my time in prison. It goes into great detail as to what happened. There were no cameras or interviews from the prison really. I mean, I would have killed to have a camera in there though, man. It was just incredible in that place. I would have got some amazing images. It was completely decrepit and parts of it reminded me of downtown Detroit (laughs).
I can’t remember if the documentary stated this or if the book even states it, but are you allowed to visit the Czech Republic, even if you ever wanted to, or is Lamb Of God even permitted to perform there ever again?
Sure! I was found “not guilty.” I can do whatever I want. Would I go there to play again? No! Absolutely not! And it’s not because I don’t want to play for the Czech fans or I have anything against the Czech Republic because I don’t. When I was there waiting for my trial, nobody attacked me or freaked out on me or anything, but the fact of the matter is, if we went there and played a show, it would be huge news. And really, the family of that young man has seen my face enough. It would just be a sad reminder of what happened. They have already been through enough. I don’t have any desire for them to feel any more pain through some action of mine.
So, let’s talk about something happier… Now, not only are you about to become a New York Times Best-Selling Author, you’re also an amazing photographer! You just closed up a run at the Sacred Gallery in Manhattan that showcased your photography work. Will we be seeing more exhibits of your photography in the future?
I hope so. That was a really amazing experience for me. It was my first exhibit, so it was really a steep learning curve for me. Up until now, I’ve just been doing some Instagram posts and some Flickr stuff. It’s very different from seeing a picture and making it look good on an iPhone screen as opposed to a 16-by-20 print.
It was really nice to see the photos custom framed. I have a friend, Greta Brinkman, she used to play bass in Moby and Deborah Harry’s band, but she’s also a carpenter, so she made all these frames out of reclaimed wood out of old houses in Richmond, Virginia. I did the exhibit right. I didn’t just go out and get some cheap frames. It was a lot of me learning how to do things on the fly because I’ve never done it before. But it went extremely well.
So, I’m certainly open to more exhibits. It just takes a lot of work. Right now, I’m gonna be busy with the band, but I am definitely looking forward to doing more. I do have some prints up for sale on my website, which is randyblythe.net.
On July 24, Lamb Of God released their latest CD, VII: Sturm Und Drang, which I read you wrote most of the lyrics for this record while you were in Pankrac? Is that true?
Nope! Entirely incorrect! The new record has almost nothing to do with prison. People want it to, for some fucked up reason, but it doesn’t. I wrote two songs while I was locked up. We recorded 14 songs for the record. There are only two songs that dealt with it and I wrote those when I was locked up. When it came time to put lyrics to the first two songs, I was like, “Let me see what I have laying around,” and there they were. But I just wrote a 500-page book about the whole experience, I didn’t want to write a record about it.
One last question before I let you go: What are you listening to these days?
Podcasts! Not music! I listen to Ice-T’s podcast all the time! That’s great! I’ve also been listening to the new records of my friend, Greg Puciato, who sings for The Dillinger Escape Plan. He has a side project called The Black Queen. It hasn’t come out yet, but when it does, it’s amazing!
Catch Lamb Of God with Slipknot, Bullet For My Valentine and Motionless In White at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel on Aug. 5. Randy’s book, Dark Days: A Memoir, is available now, as is VII: Sturm Und Drang. For more information, go to lamb-of-god.com and randyblythe.net.