INTERVIEW WITH ART CRUZ BY KELLEY SIMMS
Richmond, Virginia’s Lamb of God—featuring vocalist D. Randall Blythe, bassist John Campbell, new drummer Art Cruz (ex-Winds of Plague, ex-Prong), and guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler—has become one of the most fiercest modern metal bands in the scene today.
On Lamb of God’s eighth full-length, self-titled album—its first in five years—the quintet has crafted 10 angst fueled tracks. Speaking with us during a recent phone interview, Cruz talked about replacing Chris Adler, the self-titled album, and how he approached the new material.
“EVERY SINGLE HAS BEEN WEIRDLY TIMED FOR WHAT’S GOING ON. IT’S SO CRAZY HOW THAT HAPPENED.”
Your North American tour with Megadeth has been postponed due to the pandemic, but how hard of a decision was it to push the album release back from May 8 to June 19?
It was a collective effort. With a lot of different things happening, there were some issues with our manufacturing facility and the pressing of the vinyl and CDs—a lot of our preorder stuff was not going to be ready in time. And I think from what I gathered from all of us talking about it, it was a better solution to move it, so that way everybody can enjoy the record all at once. It should be a celebration. It should be a collective effort. A lot of people say, “You could have just uploaded it,” and did all that. But at the end of the day, it’s something very special to a lot of the mass fans that we have who still buy and collect records, albums, and all the good stuff that we make to share with the world. So, I think it’d be a collective celebration, and everybody can actually do it. There’s something about receiving that preorder when you’ve been waiting for so long rather than just hearing it. I think it was the right thing to do for everybody. The response has been great. The singles have been rolling out great, and eerily enough, every single has been weirdly timed for what’s going on. It’s so crazy how that happened.
This is the band’s first release in five years, the first to be featured on Epic, and your first album with the band. How did the writing and recording process go?
It was wild, because I’ve known the guys for many years, so that definitely helped give me a head start knowing them as people. When we went into it, Willie and Mark are pretty much the songwriters in Lamb of God and they always have been. They pretty much build this skeleton, if you will, of a song that they already know that they have their mind made up on what it should sound like for changes and vibe of the song. I think preparing into it, I had a lot of help from Josh Wilbur, our producer, who’s been the unofficial member of the band. He’s been with the band since Sacrament . I think he engineered Sacrament and then his first produced and engineering record and mixing was Wrath . And he’s been with them ever since then. So, Josh has a different insight. He had the advantage of prepping me to get me prepared. It was a collection of Josh as well as the band themselves giving me the opportunity to not necessarily roam entirely free, but really add my spice to everything. So, that was a very helpful intro getting into the writing process. And from start to finish, that was very consistent. I think it was very helpful and it made me be a lot more comfortable. I was really nervous obviously, not knowing what to expect. I’ve never been in such an intense writing process. It’s wild to jump from where I was and understand how different bands work. I’ve dealt with so many different personalities and bands coming up in my career. So, to get to this level and understand how a band like Lamb of God does things was really an eye-opener and educational. I definitely learned a lot through the whole process, thankfully.
“TO GET TO THIS LEVEL AND UNDERSTAND HOW A BAND LIKE LAMB OF GOD DOES THINGS WAS REALLY AN EYE-OPENER AND EDUCATIONAL.”
What was your mindset coming into a major band such as Lamb of God and replacing original drummer Chris Adler?
Chris was one of my favorite metal drummers growing up. It hits close to home for me. The idea of this is all surreal and it’s very mind-boggling. It’s very much a dream come true that I can continue to say constantly, and I will say it forever because it’s exactly what it is. To go into it as I did, like I said, I’ve been growing as a musician from start to finish. With bands like Winds of Plague, I learned a lot of different things in that group. And then jumping to a band like Prong that is also a legacy metal band and had been around for so many years, you learn so many different things. To be able to come in and have to fill the shoes of somebody like Chris Adler, you get a little nervous and things like that. But I was confident with the skills that I learned over the years, and having to deal with so many different ranges of personalities, it helps. Again, you can only be nervous, but you can only be yourself. Thanks to the guys for letting me do that. That was the only reason why I was able to fully bloom. We’ve been dabbling around with different ideas. Now we’re obviously on creative mode with the shutdown of the industry and touring not existing. It’s crazy that I have such a different approach, now that I got it out of the way with this new record. So, it was a challenge. It was very scary. I’m watched through a magnifying glass since I entered this band, even as a fill-in. So, I’m thankful for everything from start to finish, for sure.
Coming from a drummer’s standpoint, your contribution on this album is very impressive. What were you focusing on technique wise?
Thanks! Lamb of God has such a signature sound that you cannot drift from, but that sound is a collective now. It’s not just a Chris Adler sound or just a Mark Morton sound or just a Willie sound. It’s very much a collective effort. I did my best to be able to be myself, but at the same time, I grew up idolizing these guys and their music. So, I wasn’t very far off with keeping that sound what it was. I do pay some homage to Chris Adler, because again, he’s my favorite metal drummer. So, at the end of the day, there were times that I felt like I had to turn the fire up, bring the fire down, and play for the band. I feel like a lot of drummers, musicians, and fans expected me to go above and beyond, to maybe try and outshine somebody like that, but that wasn’t the goal from the start. Thankfully, my education and growing as a musician helped me discipline myself like that. Because I’m playing for and with Lamb of God, it’s not the Art Cruz show. So, there were times that they gave me time to shine for the music and for the songs. We came up with a lot of stuff in the studio, and thankfully we did drums last. I think it was very beneficial for me to go last. To understand and know that the guys were happy with where the songs were, their parts were done, and this is what they wanted. So, I was able to play along with things like that. I brought them groove like what I learned while playing in Prong. I brought some intensity that I had when I was playing with Winds of Plague. It shows my growth as a musician as well, and I think it really meshed a lot with the traditional Lamb of God sound.
Do you think you’ve energized Lamb of God’s sound? Not to put you on the spot, but did the band make the right move getting you?
I feel that we got lucky, man. I feel good about that statement. I wouldn’t say “energized the band.” I just feel like I started a new approach. Again, I’m not drifting too far from what that sound is, but I did bring what I’ve been doing over the course of so many years of playing drums to the table. I was talking with Josh, our producer, about this the other day, and he said, “I think you’re becoming more creative because you’ve broken down the barrier of being nervous or kind of tip-toeing around the creative side of things.” I would say I re-energized the band not physically, per se, but more on a personal level. We’re starting a new legacy as a band. Although some people see it as the end of an era because Chris Adler is no longer with the band, I see that as a new beginning for the band and a fresh restart button. Sometimes that’s healthy, and I think personally, everybody is in a good place, mentally, physically, and musically. So, that’s where we’re at and it feels great. I think I brought a whole new breath of fresh air of a new beginning.
“WE’RE STARTING A NEW LEGACY AS A BAND. ALTHOUGH SOME PEOPLE SEE IT AS THE END OF AN ERA”
As far as holding down the rhythm section, what’s the chemistry like between you and John? What do you like the most about locking in with him, or do you gel more rhythmically with the guitars?
I think John is locked in the groove with me, for sure, but there is something about Willie and Mark that I gravitate to. Mark has a sound and it’s crazy. A lot of people won’t think about this and maybe later in time, if somebody would break down which song was written by who. It’s not so much that Willie wrote a whole song or that Mark wrote a whole song, it’s very much that community effort of everybody doing their part and it just becomes what it is. But I lock in with the guitars and surprisingly enough, this is something that I’ve always done and it’s crazy. Again, going back to me doing drums last, I’ve always enjoyed doing drums last because there are items that are there that are created in the studio as you’re working and as you’re writing and recording. There’s a lot of changes, and I play more to sometimes vocals in a weird way. There’s a lot of vocal ideas and patterns that Randy had done in pre-production, and there’s little jabs and punches that I’m able to really bring out that you couldn’t do at the beginning because you didn’t know where they were going. I play more to the guitars and the vocals, surprisingly enough.
You mentioned producer Josh Wilbur. What were you going for sound wise for the album?
I felt our direction at this point was just to really beef things up. That’s my sound already. I like really not huge sounding drums, but really solid sounding. So, we messed with the sizes of drums. We went a little bit bigger on drum shell sizes, the symbol sizes were a little bit bigger. We beefed the entire sound up of Lamb of God versus trying to recreate what it was. The approach was very much “let’s just make it a little bit fuller.” I always felt and liked and enjoyed the sound that Chris had before, but I always missed and wish that there was a bit of a bigger drum sound. We went with the thicker sound, but kept it very tight, very direct, very punchy. There’s much more of a presence, a little bit more thunderous, if you will. I think that was the approach on the drum sound. A lot of the guitar work and vocal work obviously is very much the same because that’s just what it is and that works. That’s what Lamb of God is. I think the only thing that was adjusted was the modern production of things. Obviously, some microphone placements were always tested over the years by Josh, and I think he found his sound with certain microphones and things like that. We were thankfully able to work in Dave Grohl’s legendary studio, 606. So, the whole setup was really awesome, and it worked. It was a great experience. If it wasn’t for that full combination of everything, we wouldn’t have gotten the sound that we did.
“WE BEEFED THE ENTIRE SOUND UP OF LAMB OF GOD VERSUS TRYING TO RECREATE WHAT IT WAS.”
You previously played in Prong. What was it like creating music and performing with Tommy Victor?
What a legend. I have nothing but amazing things to say about Tommy. He was a teacher, he taught me that it wasn’t just music. Tommy’s been around for a long time. He’s seen a lot, he’s experienced a lot, and his band Prong has been through a lot. Prong is a historical band to many of us musicians. I feel like they just missed the hump of mainstream success, but I feel like that was a blessing in disguise. It worked out for a lot of musicians. A lot of musicians took what Prong did and made it their own, unfortunately leaving Prong in the dust and gaining major success from that. I feel like some of that can ground somebody like Tommy. He was really good at passing that information and that type of scenario along. He was able to really educate you on that and his experiences. I learned a lot of discipline in my playing. Most drummers like to showboat and like to be loud, and that’s just a drummer’s mentality. We like to do that, it’s part of us, but I learned to really breakdown the playing and listen to the riffs. So, that was something that I learned from Tommy. It was an educational experience with Tommy, for sure.
What are your upcoming plans, and what will you be focusing on next?
I’ve bettered myself as a human. I think I’ve taken a step back on myself as a person and now I’m just trying to educate myself more. Not just music, but in life itself. It’s very important to educate yourself and learn. I’m on a full-blown learning process. I’m back to school right now as a human! (laughs)