When Lamb of God recorded last year's VII: Sturm und Drang, they held onto a song they felt was special enough to stand on its own: "The Duke." The track, which finds frontman Randy Blythe singing about mortality, is dedicated to Wayne Ford, a fan of the band whom the singer befriended in late 2012. Ford was suffering from leukemia and after Blythe heard his story – captured on the band's website – it left a profound impact on him.
To honor Ford, the group is releasing an EP, also titled The Duke, which features the hard-rock–leaning song along with another unreleased track that dates back to their Wrath LP, the thrashy, heavy "Culling," which they finished up especially for this EP, along with live recordings of three Sturm und Drang tracks. The Duke is due out November 18th with a vinyl edition following on the 25th; pre-orders for those editions begin today, while digital pre-orders and streaming will start Friday. Blythe is hoping the EP will raise awareness for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and BeTheMatch.org, a website operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. (Blythe joined the marrow registry after the band's merch seller, Evie Carrano, died of leukemia in 2008; he also supported it when Behemoth frontman Nergal battled the disease in 2010 and survived.)
In conjunction with the EP release, the band has also organized a charity campaign to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Randy Blythe will be offering his personal gold plaque for Lamb of God's Ashes of the Wake, signed copies of handwritten lyrics and a signed copy of his book Dark Days, and band members will be contributing signed signature-model guitars, signed copies of The Duke on CD and vinyl, and other items. The campaign, launching Friday, will be hosted by Propeller.
In advance of the EP release, Blythe spoke with Rolling Stone about The Duke and some other projects he has in the works.
You met Wayne Ford at a Phoenix gig in 2012 but you formed your friendship with him later, over Skype. What was it like speaking to him that way?
I was kind of nervous before I talked to him because he's terminal. He's a fan of my band and I'm a dude in a heavy-metal band. I'm not a shrink or a grief counselor or anything like that, and I've been through some serious stuff in my life but I've never been terminal. I've never known that I was going to die soon. So I talked to my father, who has had some experience with grief counseling and a buddy of mine who's a rabbi. They confirmed what I instinctively thought would be the correct thing to do: just be honest and listen to the guy and talk about whatever he wanted. So we talked about his cancer. I asked him about the process, how he was feeling and how he was coping and so forth. I didn't pretend that everything was going to be OK and that he was suddenly going to get better. I think when people are dying people try to force cheeriness for themselves, rather than the person who they're trying to make feel better. It's kind of selfish.
What did you talk about?
We just shot the shit. He made it really easy on me because he was, for lack of a better word, pretty stoic about the whole thing. He had accepted his fate. He had spent the last three Christmases in the hospital. And when you're in chemo and all this other stuff for so long, where you can't eat what you want to eat – he was just sick of it. He was like, "I'm going to enjoy what time I have left." From that, he and I just started keeping up with each other and texting. He'd say, "How are you doing?" I'm like, "I'm alright, trying to finish these fuckin' lyrics." We'd joke around a lot and he'd break my balls a little bit and I'd bust his some. It was cool. Just a really mellow guy.
Why did you want to honor him with a song?
He was just a really inspiring guy to talk to in the way he handled everything. He was just very levelheaded. You hear about people in their old age, when they get accepting of their mortality, that's kind of natural. This is what that dude went through at age 33, and from talking to his family and his wife, it wasn't like it was a show he was putting on for the singer of his favorite band like "I am Mr. Calm Guy." That's just the way he was. So it was very impressive to me. I learned a lot. I was like, "Man, this guy has some dignity. I can only hope I have half of that when it comes to my time."
We had this track that I hadn't finished vocals on, so I wrote it from his perspective. I tried to put myself in his headspace. There's some personal stuff in there that is in his voice and that's to his wife. She'll recognize it. And other stuff was just stuff I drew from our conversation and other stuff was just out of my head. It was just really a way to honor this guy I had gotten to know.
Why is it titled "The Duke"?
The working title of the song from pre-production was called "The Hazardous Duke Nukem" because we have idiot working-title names. It was like The Dukes of Hazzard and Duke Nukem. Then we just shortened it to "The Duke." So then I wrote these lyrics, and they're serious lyrics. I thought about calling it "Immortalis," which is Latin for immortal. But I was telling Wayne's dad I just like calling it "The Duke" and he just started laughing. He said he named Wayne after John Wayne. And of course John Wayne's nickname was "The Duke." So it's like weird synchronicity.
"I wouldn't have that gold record if it wasn't for dudes like Wayne."
Why have you decided to part ways with your gold plaque as part of your charity campaign?
I wouldn't have that gold record if it wasn't for dudes like Wayne. I know that he would be pleased that that is going to go to another fan of the band. It will raise some money, and it kind of stays within the circle; it's in the family. And it feels really good to me. It feels much better to me than for me to have a gold record sit on my wall and go, "Wow, that was a great record we made." It's doing some good.
And I want the EP to draw attention to the need for bone-marrow donors, 'cause that's free. That doesn't cost anyone anything. All you have to do is go to BeTheMatch.org, and they send you a free kit. You do a swab in your mouth, and when you're registered, you might save someone's life. So I wanted to draw attention to that, and then with the record and the other stuff, my band is going to raise some money, and 100 percent of it will go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I asked Wayne's family about what charity to work with and Wayne's mother told me about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It's a reputable organization. Their managerial cost and administrative cost, they keep that low.
In addition to The Duke, you've also contributed a photo essay you shot on Route 66 to the upcoming second issue of Unbuilt, a magazine for which you're an editor. Did you follow the full route?
Yeah, we started in Chicago and went all the way to Santa Monica Pier, from the very beginning to the very end, and shot a ton of photos. I did that with my buddy Rob Fenn. I did a photo essay on the basically the nature of creativity and how I view where inspiration for me comes.
And that is part of a film you and Rob are doing with Billy Bob Thornton?
We're working on that. It's taking longer than we thought, so that was a sort of research trip. You'll hear more about that probably later this year.
An interesting thing about Unbuilt is that a dollar from each issue will go to charity, being split between the Humane Society and Red Cross. Why are you so active with social awareness lately?
When you start getting some success, it's easy to crawl up your own asshole like, "Oh, I'm successful. People like my music. I get paid to do this." But the rock & roll touring world is not the real world. It's easy to forget that. So, I think it's helpful to do stuff like this, beyond the fact that it's just the right thing to do, I think it's helpful as a person to help keep you grounded.
That's true, especially given the tenor of the election right now.
Oh, God. This is just, like, the worst. [Lamb of God] are gonna be in Mexico during the election, so if Trump wins, I'm worried I might not make it back over the wall [laughs]. The Mexicans are going to build it and pay for it, too, you know. And then Hillary is gonna have an e-mail hack about how to tear it down or some shit. The Russians are going to help her. This election is a tragedy, dude. It's almost funny if it weren't so damn sad.
I take it you've decided who you're voting for.
Yep. "Go Trump, man."
I'm not buying that.
Well, this is going to go to print so the sarcasm won't come through on all the idiot news conglomerations: "Randy Blythe says, 'Go Trump!'" That'll be clickbait. ... You know, I'm not going to say who I'm going to vote for except for that "Trump's looking good man. He's looking good."