Lamb of God's Willie Adler: 'I Wish I Could Be an Awesome Guitarist'

artist: lamb of god date: 03/25/2014 category: interviews
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Lamb of God's Willie Adler: 'I Wish I Could Be an Awesome Guitarist'
Back in 2010, Lamb of God traveled to the Czech Republic to play a show. On May 24th of that year, the band appeared at a club in Prage called Abaton. The band was rocking the house and everything was fine until a 19-year old fan named Daniel Nosek climbed onstage because he wanted to be closer to the group. That's when everything fell apart. Eyewitness accounts claimed that singer Randy Blythe pushed Nosek off the stage and he landed on his head. The band maintained that Randy never touched the young headbanger - who eventually died - and that when he jumped off the stage, he fell on the floor below and struck his head. Blythe would subsequently be arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.

In a nutshell, that's what the LOG documentary "As the Palaces Burn" was all about. What began as a simple homage to the band's fans turned into this inside look at what Blythe went through. It was a nightmarish scenario and one that could have ended quite differently had the singer been found guilty. But justice prevailed and over the course of a six-day trial in Prague, the high court found that Blythe was not criminally liable for Nosek's death.

Guitarist Willie Adler was there every step of the way, enduring the trauma and injustice of the legal proceedings and more importantly supporting his bandmate and friend. In "As the Palaces Burn," there are several moments where you get a true glimpse into who the guitar player is - when he was spending time backstage with a South American fan and when Randy steps off the plane and Willie greets him at the airport. Adler talked about the film, his friend, his guitar and his love for metal.

UG: 'As the Palaces Burn' didn't begin as a documentary about Randy Blythe's trial?

WA: The original idea was to get the camera to turn away from us for a second. And really show the magnitude of what the scene is that we're involved with and the people that make up that scene being the fans. So originally the spotlight was - and part of the film highlights this but obviously it takes a very dramatic turn - on the fans and to really show just how close and personal and how much of a community this genre and we do entails.

In the film, Jose Mangin from Sirius XM said, "Metal has always been an onest and real organic outlet to get all those f--kin' demons out." Do you agree with that?

Absolutely. Jose is 100 percent the real deal. He lives it, breathes it, and I love that about him. It is very much alive and well and a community-driven lifestyle. It's what people make their mantra and it's code for a lot of people. This whole thing will completely encompass you. It's really great and like Jose said in the film, it is an aggressive outlet. But at the same time it's that therapeutic outlet and it's what a lot of people find they have common bond with a lot of other metalheads. The film showing bits of this is just so powerful to bring these people together in that therapeutic type of moment.

But at the same time there are probably metal bands who don't embrace that philosophy and are only in it - like musicians in any genre - for all the wrong reasons.

You kind of said it yourself that ever genre of music has its bad apples. I'm not saying there aren't people in it to be seen or to look cool or whatever. Those people you can easily pick apart. You know who the true dudes are.

That is true.

And what it means. More so than any other genre of music. Like I was kind of alluding to, these dudes live it and breathe it. It's a life, a religion for them.

Why did you call the film "As the Palaces Burn?"

It's obviously an allusion to the title of our second record and kind of ties up into it. At the same time it's very fitting for how the movie twists and turns. We start with this great, positive, grandiose idea and ultimately it leads to one of these people we were trying to really highlight, in their death. So the focus being on the fans and all of a sudden leading to an event that involved a fan's death, it seemed very fitting to me as a title.

What is strange is that the band had no inkling of what awaited them when they returned to the Czech Republic for that that concert.

Yeah, we were totally taken back, man. It's still kind of hard to swallow that something of that magnitude was seemingly swept under the rug for two years.

At best that was a mean-spirited thing to on the part of the Czech Republic's part. And at worst it seems illegal that you weren't notified in any way of what was awaiting you.

I'm not sure. There's a lot of stories floatin' back and forth about who was supposed to notify us. Be it our State Department or the Czech Republic apparently. What I've been told and heard is that the Czech Republic did absolutely reach out to our State Department and our State Department did nothing about it.

That really makes you lose a lot of faith in this country.

But again that is like I said what I heard so who knows where the truth is in the entire matter? It is very shocking that something of that magnitude like I said seemingly got swept under the rug. And nobody in our camp was made notified until two years after.

It's obvious that Randy had no intention of trying to harm Daniel Nosek when he climbed on the stage. It was just a horrible accident.

Yeah, I mean like Slash said in the film you're entering a frenzied, party environment. Unfortunately tragedies can happen and there's no malevolence behind anything. It's just a frenetic atmosphere and unfortunately accidents can happen. It is a shame.

Playing devil's advocate - do you know what Lamb of God would have done if Randy had been found guilty?

No, I really don't. Yeah, like you said it was a distinct possibility in that he had already served five weeks in prison and he was gonna go back. I have no idea what would have happened. I am very thankful that it turned out the way it did. And at the same time, still and probably always will be thinking about Daniel's family and hopefully they can have the same form of closure we can enjoy. I don't see that happening but they're all in our prayers and hopefully they can achieve the kind of closure we have.

Randy's decision to return to the Czech Republic took a lot of courage.

Yeah, that's the true definition of a man. Randy in my book is by far the most admirable man with the utmost standup character I've ever met in my life.

It's pretty unbelievable.

It really is. The entire way Randy handled it, I would hope makes people kind of stand back and I guess kind of give a little bit of a guideline how to live your life and to always do the right thing.

There are some very touching moments in the film. When that fan comes backstage and tells you your music is like dopamine for him, you are visibly moved by his words.

Yeah, it's crazy, man. We knew that Don Argott and Demian Fenton were filming but I hadn't seen any of the footage they had done of Oscar [the fan] earlier in the day. But yes, for him to tell me that is beyond words. That that is how my music - how what I love to do and what I pour my heart and soul into - can affect somebody that deeply is very flattering and very moving and very humbling.

That must be an extraordinary feeling to move somebody with your art in that way.

Then when I watched the film and saw Oscar's life, it made me get emotional again. And seeing him and what he said to me and the entire background story, it really speaks volumes. It really goes back to fans of metal and people that are into metal, they live it and they embrace it and find the therapeutic in it helps with their life and that to me is incredible.

Were you a fan like Oscar back before you became a guitar player?

Yeah, man. I was always a fan. This whole thing starts with being a fan. I've always been a fan and I always be a fan. I remember my brother and I going to see Pantera at ... I can't even remember. But I remember we got there like six or seven hours before the show just to try and figure out where the buses were parked and all that. And it's funny now to sit in the bus and to look out when we first roll in and be like, "Why are these people here at 10:00 AM?" I think back and I'm like, "Yeah, you know. This is really cool for them." I still respect that.

Seeing your vulnerable side - this guitarist in a metal band that plays dark and brutal music - was really touching.

I know exactly what you mean. I think Mark really said it best in the film as well. Where he said, "When we're onstage that's what we do and that's our persona. But we all just wanna be good men. We all just wanna live and be a husband and be a father and be normal people."

Was there a guitar player you wanted to be back in the day?

Umm, when it came to metal, man, it was Kirk and James and just the combination of the two. As soon as I got "Kill 'Em All" on cassette and a 45. I think I had a little Fisher-Price record player - a little red record player. I would just jam the 45 of "Kill 'em All" and then I finally got the tape. That shit changed my life.

You've also talked about a guitar player like Leo Kottke. Did you ever want to play music like that?

You know what? I wish I could, man. I wish I could be as awesome a guitarist and as percussive a guitarist as Leo Kottke. I think what he does is pretty damn amazing. Metal's just my calling. I can admire all these dudes and wish and wish. I should probably just try, hah hah hah. Get somebody knows like my buddy Paul [Waggoner] from Between the Buried and Me to teach me how to chickenpick and all that crazy stuff. I really dig it but I think I'm just intimidated by it.

Metal is obviously where you were meant to be.

Metal is my comfort zone. I do - you just reminded me. I really kind of need to step out of the box and figure out some other stuff. That's not to say I'm gonna stop playing metal. I actually love what I do but yeah, I do. I need to learn a little bit more.

The band has been pretty honest about its indulgence in alcohol. Did that ever get in the way of the music?

It was fulltime, man. It was a fulltime gig. Beer came along with it because there wasn't no, "Well, we gotta record this. Not now." It was, "Oh man, we gotta record? That's gonna interrupt my drinking, hah hah hah."

How can you go in and play those insane guitar parts when you're drunk?

You know what? I don't anymore. Yeah, I think a lot of us slowed down quite a bit as the focus has really had to be about the music. 'Cause we're not all that young anymore. At least speaking for myself, I definitely want to be in a completely sober state of mind when I do that.

Do you remember the drinking impacting the music?

Umm, there were a few tours I know that I had probably some pretty sloppy shows just due to my drinkin'. You know it sucks for the fans that were there and kinda in the back of my head that there's nothin' really I can do but really try and put on the best shows possible in the future.

Talking about shows, Lamb of God played in Israel, which must have been remarkable.

I love Israel, man.

The crowds were cool?

Yeah, absolutely man. Those kids were great. I loved it, man. I absolutely loved Israel. Jerusalem was completely overwhelming and just the history and everything there. It is a really, really cool spot. I would say definitely top five places I've ever been into in my life.

Randy's first concert back with the band was at Slipknot's Knotfest in Iowa. What was that like?

That was really intense, man. I hadn't had goosebumps like that for a show in a long time, hah.

You must have had goosebumps when you first joined the band for the "New American Gospel" record?

Yeah, I was coming back from college. I was going to school in Baltimore and I came back and I moved in with my brother for a bit. I had probably not played guitar as avidly or daily and kept as rigorous a schedule as I had a few years before going to school. So when I moved back in with Chris, he had my old guitar. So I picked it back up again and I started playin' and sure enough it was like a bike for me. And I'm not trying to gloat or anything.

Not at all.

Yeah. I kinda just fell right back into it and was playing some stuff. Chris and I kinda did our own little thing and recorded some stuff that is probably on a cassette in a milk crate in the bottom of his basement there buried underneath a Slayer sweatshirt for all I know.

You'd ultimately come in and replace Abe Spear on guitar.

I think when Abe wanted to move on and was focusing more on his photography, the rest of the guys wanted to more or less do a little bit more extensive touring. So yeah, I jumped up and jumped onboard. We were Burn the Priest I think for an additional seven to eight months after my joining the band. I think a few months into my joining is when we started writing material for "New American Gospel."

What were those sessions like?

It was great; it was frenetic. It was Mark and myself just kind of discovering who as a player the other one was. Kind of seeing whose strengths and whose weaknesses there were. Not really dissecting each other but really just kind of falling into a guitar friendship if you will. And establishing a dynamic that unbeknownst to me back then would years and years [later] develop into something I really have honest respect for in the way Mark and myself play off of each other.

The formative days are always special.

It was really cool, man. It was really new and we were all just poundin' beers and havin' a good time and makin' a shit ton of noise and just having a blast. It was fun, man. It was all really new and really fresh and really cool.

You were already writing songs on "New American Gospel."

Yeah. I guess there's a lot of things to be said about bands that have somebody come in [and write songs]. Obviously they would have had an established writer that would have pushed his weight around a bit, I guess. Then the new guy would have probably sat on the bench almost like a redshirt freshman for the first few albums. But our dynamic was cool and we all had mutual respect for each other and the fact that both Mark and myself were bringing in really cool shit didn't hurt either. I was embraced from day one and it's a really cool thing.

Were songs like "Black Label" and "A Warning" written during those sessions?

It's hard to remember that specific of it. But I know a few things were probably some things I that had been working in my house. Just little riffs in my pocket that kind of developed into those songs. But I think moreso in the space and in the rehearsal spot collaborations. That whole album I believe was.

In an interview with Mark Morton, he said you had an "Abstract approach to songwriting and doesn't really have a foundation in traditional rock." Would you agree with that?

Absolutely. I'm not gonna lie and say I had all kinds of training. No, man. I started off with piano and then guitar. Chris had a buddy that brought a guitar over to the house and I just kinda picked it up. I really fell in love with it even though I really obviously couldn't play then.

Your songwriting just comes from an emotional place - if it feels good, it is good?

I have no idea what I'm doing on the thing. All I know is what sounds really good to me and what just kinda makes my heart skip a beat when I'm writing riffs and writing a tune. I think gradually over the last two records, I've found myself kind of pulling that box in a little bit but only in the respect of a conventional song and the way that if you want to get in the lingo of chorus/verse/pre-chorus and that kind of shit. Whereas on the first few records it was, "Riff after riff - how can I outdo that last riff?" And have one song be a six-minute riff-fest.

Mark even said your writing on the "Resolution" album has really gotten focused.

I think I've kind of reined myself I a bit but no, Mark, is absolutely spot on where I've never been taught to think that way so I don't think that way. It obviously reflects in a lot of my songs and a lot of my riffs and what patterns I choose to follow. Mark will tell me sometimes, "Ah, you're doing this in mode whatever" and I'll be like, "Alright, cool."

You actually made the conscious effort to adhere a bit more to accepted song forms?

Yeah, I figured I'd try and smooth it out a little bit. I was getting lost in the riffs at some point. There were a lot of gems in the past I could have elaborated on instead of packing in a sh-t ton of riffs. And Mark has helped me a great deal with seeing that and developing a certain idea as opposed to packing a shit ton of 'em into five minutes.

You weren't playing an ESP on the "New American Gospel" album, were you?

No, I was playing one of my first guitars I ever had. It's an old BC Rich Bich NJ Series my dad had gotten me for Christmas I think, right around when I was 11 or 12. I still actually have the pawn store receipt for it.

When did you start playing ESP?

I'm gonna say it was nine years ago. I believe so because we just had Sounds of the Underground and I had met the A&R at ESP at the time during one of those shows. I believe we were Florida but it doesn't really matter. I can't remember exactly when that tour was but I do remember when I got that tour it was a matter of months that he did put that bug in my ear. And I came to the decision I was gonna go with them.

What did you dig about ESP guitars?

Well, I didn't know at first. I had never played one. I asked 'em to send me a couple. It was just something out of the dark. It was like, "I'm gonna shoot this guy an email and if he responds, he responds. I'll see what happens." So sure enough within a couple days, an ESP Eclipse and their version of the Explorer showed up.

What did you think of those ESP guitars?

I just fell in love with the Eclipse. It played like butter live and it was one of the nicest guitars I had picked up. Mind you, I had not come up around nice guitars. The nicest guitar I knew was my BC Rich Bich. But that was one of the only guitars I knew. I didn't have access to a Les Paul or anything that people put a gold standard on. So when that Eclipse showed up and I'll swear to it up 'til today, that guitar still plays beautifully. All my ESPs do.

You now have your own ESP/LTD Signature Series Warbird.

Yeah, the newest one. It's really cool. It's an idea I've been working on for probably about two years and it kinda came to me. I've been doing the camo thing for a little bit and I really wanted to change it up with something. I still love the Eclipse body style and the whole deal and the way those guitars play. But I wanted to do a little bit more aesthetically than just a camo pattern. I was helping my mom move and I found one of my own skate decks and the whole idea of kind of a collaborative feel and bringing the skate world in.

You were a skate punk back in the day?

I loved that whole scene when I was coming up and I used to love to skateboard. It's kind of incorporating an old traditional skate design into what that Warbird is. Using elements from the Lamb of God Bird and then putting my birthdate underneath in Roman numerals. Then distressing it so it looked like an old skate deck. That was my whole kinda deal. It came through, man, and I'm really stoked on 'em.

Do you think after getting the ESP guitars that your playing expanded?

I believe so, man. Before ESP, the folks over at Framus were kind enough to help Mark and myself out. So I'd had a couple Framuses, which were nice guitars. But yeah, the ESP, when you have an instrument that really feels natural, you just tend to play better and to me that's what counts.

Lamb of God is now working on a new album?

I think right now we're kind of just still a little decompressing over the past year and the past touring cycle. But as for myself, I've been writing every day. I kinda made a pact with myself in order to kind of be ahead of the game once we all get back together collaboratively and start to officially write the record. I want to be able to write at least one riff a day so I could be well ahead and try and try and write every day.

How has that process been working for you?

So far so good. It's workin' out and I'm having a good time.

As you mentioned several times, you've written a shit ton of riffs. Do you know when you've written a great one and when you've written a terrible one?

I know, oh yeah. I get that little tingle in my stomach and I'm like, "Aw, fuck yes" and I just bob my head to it. I'll just turn on my production software and hit the record button and just let it go and just riff. Then when I finally get something, I'll set a bpm [beats per minute] to it and then just nail it. Yeah, I know. Somehow I can't really describe it in words but you get that feeling and you get those little old goosebumps.

When you're not in your studio churning out riffs, what is a typical day like for you?

In the recent year or recent year-and-a-half, I like to get up and get a good exercise in. I found that it really, really just focuses me and clears my mind and helps me just start the day basically. I think by now I feel a little bit off if I didn't. So that's how I start and then I go in my music room and kind of dilly dally a little bit and say, "Alright, it's time to start playing." And get a bunch of coffee and then just start playing.

Are you still smoking cigarettes, Willie?

I am.

How can you go exercise and then have a cigarette?

I know. It's the last thing to kick. I bought a new car and I'm not smoking in that and I picked up an e-cig. I had my first long roadtrip the other day and I did pretty well, I think. So, it's baby steps.

What kind of car?

I got a Toyota Forerunner. My wife was very proud of me. Before the car I bought about six years ago, I had never owned a car in the '90s. So this is my first car that was actually built past the year 2000, hah hah hah. I feel kind of like a degenerate driving around in a nice car. But it's really nice - I dig it.

I'm truly happy everything turned out well for the band and Randy.

Yeah, it was a bit of a nightmare. But thank you, man. Thank you very much.

Remember to play all the good notes.

Yeah, I'll give it a shout. I won't know what the f--k I'm doin' but I'll play 'em all, hah hah hah.

Interview by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2014
More lamb of god interviews:
+ Lamb Of God: 'We've Learned A Lot From Metallica' Interviews 02/06/2012
+ Chris Adler: 'We're Writing Five And Six Days A Week' Interviews 05/09/2011
+ Lamb Of God: 'It's Ourselves That We Have To Live Up To' Interviews 06/13/2009
+ Lamb Of God: 'The Next Album Is Just One More Step Forward For Us' Interviews 12/20/2007
+ Mark Morton Of Lamb Of God: Success 'Was A Non-Reality' Interviews 02/24/2007
+ Lamb Of God: 'Don't Fuck With Us!' Interviews 10/07/2006
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