Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe: “Thank God I’m Back in America”
In late June, Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe was arrested in Prague on charges of manslaughter, resulting from an incident where he allegedly pushed a fan back into the audience at a 2010 concert, leading to the fan’s death. In July, it was determined Blythe would be allowed to travel home, after several bail revisions—prompting support from his peers in the metal scene—and, after 37 days in the Czech Republic’s Pankrác Prison, he was finally released on August 2. His stay in prison forced the cancellation of Lamb of God’s tour with Dethklok and Gojira, which Revolver had actually interviewed him about in the July-August issue, but he and Lamb of God will perform at Slipknot’s Knotfest in Iowa and the Minneapolis area this weekend.
Since then, he’s made an official statement and spoke with Rolling Stone about his day-to-day life in prison as well as the future of the case. Revolver conducted an in-depth interview with him over the weekend about a variety of other subjects, ranging from performing at Knotfest to seeing his elderly grandmother again. One thing is for sure, though, he’s happy to be back. He tells Revolver, “It’s nice to be able to talk to someone.”
REVOLVER Has your experience changed at all the way you’ll act onstage?
RANDY BLYTHE No. What else am I going to do? We don’t have a big production set up or anything. We don’t have purple dragons that fly out of the sky and breathe fire. We’re just a bunch of dudes who get up there and rock and roll. This incident that occurred, it was an unfortunate occurrence. A tragedy. And there’s a lot of details that need to be clarified that came out of this, and hopefully they will in court. But it’s not going to change the way we do things, because I didn’t do anything wrong. So why should I change what I’m doing? They’re saying I committed a crime of intent, like I went out and hurt someone. That’s total bullshit. Why would I try and hurt fans of my band? That’s ridiculous. So no.
If anything good comes out of this, as far as a change to how we operate, I would hope it would be a more far-reaching thing than just my band. I would hope it would raise the awareness for the need for adequate security, not just for the band but for the audience as well. Most of the time, none of this stuff is an issue because security is entirely adequate. Security knows how to keep the kids from getting hurt while letting them have a good time. To the outside world, to people who aren’t in our scene, it all looks like a great big violent mess. They don’t know that everybody’s just having a good time. There is a very big need for security, though, to ensure—especially if kids are going to be crowdsurfing and coming over the barricade and stuff—there’s got to be guys there to catch them. So if anything good comes out of these, I hope we will lessen any injuries incurred by concert-going folks.
Your big return to the stage with Lamb of God is coming up next weekend at Knotfest. How are your preparing for that?
Well, I’m really excited to play these two shows. Right now I would not be able to go on a tour this soon, because my head is still just decompressing and dealing with family and friends and answering a million text messages. But these two shows are perfect for me to do because I’m really looking forward to getting onstage and letting it rip. These guys, a lot of the band that are playing, are friends of ours. I’m really stoked to see them.
Machine Head is on there. When I was in prison, the laundry section where the inmates were, you had to go there every now and then to get your clothes or whatever, but these were some guys who had been in there for a while, so they had some freedom, but they were metalheads. So on the wall there’s posters of Metallica, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Dimmu Borgir and Machine Head. So I walk in and I’m like, “Oh, I know them. I know them. I know them.” And I’d wave at the little poster of Robb Flynn and the boys and be like, “Hey dudes, what’s up?” It’s like a little visit with my friends. So I’m looking forward to seeing them. Like, “I haven’t seen you since you were hanging on a prison wall in the Czech Republic.”
When you finally made it to New York City, where you flew before going to Richmond, how did it feel?
It felt just freaking’ amazing, man. When I left Prague, it was a great sense of relief. When I touched down and actually got off the plane and walked out into security, it was like, Holy crap, this is really real. It was kind of surreal. I was like, Oh my God, thank God I’m back in America.
When I walked out of customs, there was this woman named Lia there. I’d never met her before. She said, “Hey Randy, I just wanted to let you know I’m happy you’re home. I’m glad you’re out.” She was like, “I don’t want to bother you.” I’m like, “No, let’s kick it. Let’s have coffee.” So we had coffee and talked for an hour or so. We called her boyfriend who had to work. She didn’t really know which flight I was going to be on; she found out the time I was leaving Prague, I guess, through the internet. It was a really super special kind of moment for me. It felt really good to just talk to someone.
I’m sure. In other interviews, you’ve said you weren’t aware of how much people were talking about you here.
Yeah, there was no internet, I can’t read Czech papers. The mail there was very slow because it went through censors. I got a postcard from a guy in Seattle who had just signed with Metal Blade, who I think he had to be in Prague, because it was mailed from there. And then I got a nice letter from this guy from Tennessee, he and his wife, and he had enclosed a couple internet clippings. My friend, [Testament guitarist] Alex Skolnick, had done a blog about me. It was just a couple of cool things just to let me know that people were thinking about me. And that was really hugely important. I don’t know if he ever got my letter, but I’m going to write him soon. Beyond that and my lawyer, I saw my wife once, and my American lawyer was over there for a couple of days. I had two or three meetings with him. They said that people were speaking up, but I really had no idea of the amount of support I had. It was pretty crazy. I couldn’t read any of the Czech papers, which were not very supportive of me. One day I walked out into the yard for a walk and a prisoner came up to me and said [with an accent], “Ozzy Osbourne says, ‘Good for you.’” And I’m like, “Wow.” Because it was in their paper, but that’s about it.
I know Municipal Waste. Phil Hall, the bass player, his brother, I skateboard with him. And he saw me yesterday and said they were in Prague and they tried to go visit me, since they’re from Richmond. But you’ve got to have all of this shit written in advance and you’ve got to write this form and the guard yelled at me that I hadn’t written it right for people to come visit. It’s got to be at least a week in advance and you get only one visit every two weeks. So I was kind of isolated.
How did you handle the loneliness?
I really try to stay in the moment. When I went to prison, I was like, OK, you can either just sit here and feel sorry for yourself or you can try and make the most of your time. And I just didn’t allow myself to feel sorry for myself. If I did, I quickly mentally kicked myself in the ass and said, don’t be such a sissy.
Dude, I toured Auschwitz about a month before I went to this prison. I walked around Auschwitz and Birkenau all day long by myself, listening and reading at all these places where all these people were killed in this one tiny area. That puts stuff in perspective. I also try to remain grateful for what I had. I had food, clothes and shelter.
We recently toured places—I’ve been to some pretty brutal places on tour on my days off where you see people starving in the streets. And in our media, of course, there’s all sorts of crazy shit going on in the Middle East. Our soldiers are getting shot at in Afghanistan and Syria’s blowing up. If you think about all these things, I wasn’t in such a bad place and I just reminded myself of that. I could eat, I wasn’t freezing or sweating to death, and nobody was shooting guns or throwing grenades at me. So I was like, I’m just going to sit here and make the most of my time and read and write. And learn a little bit.
Were you writing songs?
Yeah, I wrote some songs. I wrote a country song for Hank Williams III. I’ve been threatening to write him one for years, and he’s like, “All right, man, bring it on.” And I was in prison, I was like, Man, if prison isn’t the place to write a country song, it’s made for it. So I wrote him a song. I wrote some songs that will probably wind up on some Lamb of God stuff, based on the projects. I journaled a lot. I wrote some really wacked-out poetry. I wrote the outline of a novel that will take place partially in Pankrác Prison.
The whole thing was when I was arrested, even when I was arrested, I was like, “This sucks, but you need to pay attention to every single thing that’s happening to you right now, because all of this is going to be useful in some way creatively one day.” What an experience. You go to a foreign prison. Nobody speaks English. You’re snatched at an airport all of a sudden and you’re given these ludicrous charges saying that you’re going to be charged with manslaughter. It’s like, Wow, all this stuff is just crazy but this is something I should pay attention to. It’s a pretty momentous occurrence in my life. If I don’t pay attention to it and learn from it and better myself from it, and use it to the best of my ability, then it’s a shame. Otherwise, I’m just treading water and making the motions of living.
It sounds like you used your time in prison to do a lot of things to enrich yourself.
I tried. It’s not something I would recommend. I’m not saying people should go off and go to prison for 37 days, but man, make the best of what you can get.
At what point were you able to get in touch with your wife?
She sent some emails over via my lawyer. He would print them out and I would see them pretty quickly. But the mail there, as far as written letters, is really slow. I guess I’d been in there for three weeks and they told me she’s coming for a visit. So she came and I got to see her for 90 minutes. We were in there and there were a bunch of people visiting their families in little cubicles. There wasn’t any glass. You didn’t have to speak through a thing in this place. I even got to kiss her, which was nice. So it was really a huge relief for me to see her and to hear from her mouth how things were at home, how my family was at home.
I was mostly worried, while I was in there, about two things. I have an elderly grandmother; I wanted to make sure she was OK. And she is OK. And we have an 18-year-old cat [laughs] and I was worried about him. I was like, Please God, don’t let the cat die while I’m in prison. My wife, she’s had that cat longer than she’s had me. I love the cat, too. I like to kick it with him. And he’s good, he’s chillin’ now.
What were the first things you did when you got back to Richmond?
Well, it was midnight, so I said hello to all of my family, including my 90-plus-year-old grandmother who was at the airport. I scolded her briefly for being up past her bedtime. I said hello to my band. I said hello to my family and some friends and some supporters who had showed up at the airport. I went home, and I took a nice, long shower and shaved this goatee off. They have really crappy razors in prison, so I tried to shave as little as possible, so I started growing a goatee. And I went to bed, dude.
When I woke up the next day, I went out to my backyard and sat out on my back deck and just looked at the trees, drank some coffee. It’s just nice to see green instead of grey prison walls.
You’ve said in the past how walking around Richmond, people know you, whether or not they know your music, and stop you to say hello. What kind of support have you gotten since you’ve been back?
It’s been crazy. Everywhere I go, there’s people just like, “Hey, I’m glad you’re home,” or if I go to Starbucks, they’re like, “I want to buy you coffee.” Wherever I go, people I’ve never met before are just saying, “How are you? We’re so glad you’re home. We were worried about you.” And that means a whole lot to me. Everybody in my town is super supportive.
Yesterday, I went skateboarding with my buddy Josh from Cannabis Corpse and we went to this spot and came out. And this little guy was driving his beat-up-ass hoopty car away from the scrap-metal yard out near where we were skating. His wife was like, “Hold on!” She got out and said, “You’re that boy that was in prison.” She jumped out of the car, had a beer in her hand. She said, “I’m so glad you’re out,” and gave me a big hug. It’s that Southern warmth, man, you know? That’s one reason why I love it down here. It’s just been really cool wherever I go. People toot their horns at me, they wave at me if I’m walking down the street. It’s great.
Lamb of God group photo: Travis Shinn | Randy Blythe: Dante