Lamb of God – Opening a New ChapterSunday, 14th June 2020
Lamb of God was one of those rare cases where there wasn’t any changes to the line-up over the years, as they continued to rise up through the ranks due to their unique brand of American metal. But with drummer Chris Alder exiting the band last year, then touring drummer Art Cruz came into the position. With the new line-up intact, the band went into the studio and recorded their latest, self-titled release. After one delay due to COVID-19, we are rapidly approaching the release of the iconic band’s new effort. We spoke with new drummer Art Cruz himself, to get a view of the release from his perspective and his thoughts on coming into the band, alongside running some parallels with being in a band versus being a baseball player, and much more.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been touring with the band for a few years. How’s it feel to finally have some material on disc that is your own?
Art Cruz: I’m very thankful. I’m very excited. This is the moment that I’ve been dreaming of my whole life. It’s a big deal. Given the circumstances, and being a new guy in an iconic band like Lamb of God, I’m just glad it’s finally here! It’s not my main thing in my life to do, but it’s important to me to put it out there, with what I am putting to the table and let fans know that the sound is there. We haven’t tainted the sound. It’s still Lamb. We are just starting another chapter in the book.
Dead Rhetoric: What was the experience like, to write this album, as the new guy?
Cruz: It’s crazy, because my entire professional career of being a drummer has been involved with being ‘the new guy’ [laughs], so I’m fine-tuned in the sense of being new and/or the outsider, if you will. But this is definitely one of the first times in my career that I have definitely not felt like an outsider. I have been welcomed by everybody with open arms, from the band to the management and label…you name it. It’s just been a really beautiful experience. So it wasn’t too difficult, other than for being a little bit nervous, and the shell shock of everything happening. How fast it happened, as well as having some keyboard warriors around the world who get upset about every situation. But at the end of the day, I’m very happy and I’m very excited. Internally, it’s a beautiful time for the band.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you like about the album, coming from the perspective of someone who was once a fan?
Cruz: I like the growth. I think that Mark has said this quite a few times, but it’s very real. I have been listening to the band since Palaces, and obviously going back to New American Gospel and Burn the Priest stuff after the fact, but I have been listening to this band’s growth from the start and I have loved what the band has become. This is very much a true testament to what the sound has been over the years, collectively with one record, with modern technology and recording/production. It’s the exact time for the band to put something like this out. It was a great experience to be a part of it.
I feel like the sound hasn’t shifted too far off, but you can really feel that there is this nice, fresh chapter to move forward with. I’m lucky to be in the position that I am in, and the guys are more excited than they have ever been. I have been friends with them for many years, so to have the perspective as both a friend, fan, and now member of the band, I’m so thankful. It’s a real awesome thing to experience.
Dead Rhetoric: So what does Lamb of God mean to you, as their newest member?
Cruz: It means just continuing the legacy of this band. That’s the biggest honor that I have is to be a part of this legacy for such an iconic band. This is a band that a lot of people look up to, myself included. It’s so weird, I’ve grown as a musician playing in some many bands but there is something really weird in that I haven’t truly heard too many bands sound like Lamb of God. It’s kind of a difficult task I feel. I don’t know if it’s shamed upon, or people are scared, or it’s a blatant and obvious ripoff if you do, but it’s the weirdest thing. It’s such an iconic sound, and its own thing. They are so in their own lane.
I feel like we just have to continue doing that. That’s the goal, that’s the big picture. To keep this sound alive forever. The band has been experimenting over the years, with the last few albums, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what they’ve done. Now that we are here, and I guess this is technically the 10th release, it’s pretty wild. I think the goal is just to keep going. I don’t see any speed bumps yet. Though this is a pretty big speed bump we are on right now without touring. But the major goal is to keep pushing forward. I’m younger than the guys, and I feel like I may have brought some extra youth in, but everyone is really inspired right now. We are going to just keep riding the wave.
Dead Rhetoric: That’s funny that you bring up the fact that nobody really copies that ‘Lamb of God sound.’ I can think of other bands, even the ones that came up around the same time, like Killswitch Engage, where I can start firing bands that sound like them, but there’s not a lot that have that direct, Lamb of God sound to them.
Cruz: Sometimes I step back and it’s really fucking weird to me. You have your legacy bands – the ones that were inspired by Sabbath and Zeppelin and AC/DC. Then you have your Slayers, Metallicas, and Megadeth. Like you just said, the bands like Killswitch that rolled up in that era of music, and it’s kind of weird [laughs]. But it works, I guess we can keep going right?
Dead Rhetoric: As you mentioned, you have been with other bands before Lamb of God. You are still with Winds of Plague right?
Cruz: I guess, technically I am. The band has been so inactive for so many years that I don’t know if it’s still a thing, personally. We talk, but we don’t really talk about music. For a band like Winds, we didn’t fall apart, but we fell into different things. Everyone is doing their own thing, and they are content. Then this Lamb thing happened, and it’s a big thing. I think it’s important for me to really focus on what’s important right now, and it’s Lamb of God. I’m the drummer of Lamb of God. It’s weird to say still sometimes, but that’s what is important to put out there. I’d love to create music with Winds and have some fun with it, because that’s my baby as well. I learned a lot from them. But yeah, the band is totally inactive. I don’t think anything is going to happen anytime soon.
Dead Rhetoric: So what do you feel you’ve learned from drumming with other bands before coming into Lamb of God?
Cruz: Pure education, it’s a constant learning process. I think I have learned to step back and listen to the music and not go in full force with it. I learned a lot from Winds of Plague on a touring level – touring and living in vans and things. Then I learned a lot of discipline and patience with Prong, and a guy like Tommy Victor. He is such a legend and an amazing songwriter. A very influential songwriter for many metal bands. Traveling with someone…it sounds terrible, but you have to respect your elders at the end of the day [laughs]. You have to respect people who have been doing this longer than you. So I learned to step back and respect people who have been doing this longer. I was definitely primed into doing everything, and I learned a lot.
I learned to step back and listen, and to understand. That goes a lot further than some people think. Even more as a person, not just in music. I’ve learned to just listen to people and hear what they have to say. That is something that has helped me as a person and helped me get to where I am at today. It gave me a headstart jumping into a band like Lamb of God. I’m very thankful, no matter what.
Dead Rhetoric: When you jumped into Lamb of God, it was on the touring end first. Was there anything that you saw was different or had to adapt to?
Cruz: Absolutely. It goes back to people who have been doing this a lot longer than you have. Not only that, but I’ve come up in the ranks, if you will. Aside from being a pop star, playing football stadiums on that level, I think I’ve pretty much made it [laughs], to me. You learn a lot. Everything from the crew and understanding what they are doing for you, and showing gratitude and being thankful, that’s kind of the way I was raised. But at the same time, you are still learning nonstop. Personality is a big deal. Everyone has a different personality in the band, and it’s important to understand each person as they are, and learn to live with everybody. That’s part of being in a band.
When I first jumped into it, on the touring aspect, thankfully I had already been friends with the guys maybe 8 years at the time. I had a headstart, knowing them as people. It wasn’t like I was a stranger coming into the picture. I wasn’t some dude who tried out and happened to get the gig. They knew who I was as a person, and where I came from. It was very smooth. It was more of an eye-opener in the sense of things like, “wow, this food is really good [laughs]!” Or, “Man, I get a shower every day!” That is really interesting. There was a lot from my point of view that I had to step back and really be thankful for. For what has become a norm for the band is something new to me. It’s like anything that I experience new, it’s like they come down to my level with me and they re-experience those moments with me. I think that’s really exciting. That’s why I feel that me coming into the band when I did, and the changes that have happened, it’s a beautiful thing that they have come down to my level. Not out of feeling bad for me, or that they needed to make me feel welcome. It’s an exciting time for them too. They are able to relive these things through me, I feel, and a lot of these experiences I can bring up and say “Whoa, you can do this?” and they get a kick out of it. Laundry alone is something. Getting your laundry done, that’s some interesting shit man! It’s really cool to have come in when I did.
With the touring aspect, doing that first helped. It shook us to really get to know each other even more than we did. I had already been leaving with them. There has been times that as a friend that I would leave with them on tour for weeks at a time. It was hilarious, but that was the type of relationship we had as people. They would play in LA one day and I remember one Halloween they played in Hollywood at the Palladium and with the clothes on my back, they were just like, “Let’s go on tour” and I just left for two weeks. So that goes to show the type of people that they are and the relationship that we have. It really helped going into it on the touring side first.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you still enjoy about being a drummer?
Cruz: I think I’m constantly learning so much as a drummer. Sometimes it’s a little wild to hear some people say that they are very inspired by me. I’m still inspired every day by other drummers. I don’t put myself on any sort of pedestal. I feel like we are all still learning and educating ourselves. As a drummer, I really just love hitting shit man. I am really growing as a drummer, and I think just being a part of a band like Lamb, I had to really step back and evaluate myself as a drummer. To make sure I was doing the right things for myself and for everyone else for the formula that is Lamb of God. I think what I love the most is that I can be in my own zone.
Thankfully the guys in Lamb allow me to be myself. But again, not being so far off – I was so inspired by Chris Adler that I haven’t really drifted too far from the sound. I did certain things that I could that I felt were inspiring me as a drummer and I think the beautiful thing about playing drums is that you have a little bit more freedom. Guitar players can go too far off from the song, because then it won’t sound like the song. For drummers, we are able to add a bit of spice once in a while, and honestly, that’s where I come up with most of my creative shit. On tour I come up with more shit. I don’t drift too far from the [Lamb of God] sound. It’s important to me. I looked up to the band and I want to hear what I heard on those records. So some things I didn’t change too much of, but it’s so much fun just playing drums, not to mention for my favorite metal band, so it works [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: You are a big baseball fan. What do you see as the parallels between music and sports?
Cruz: It’s so much the same. It’s is very much the same. On the smaller scale, there’s more detail playing in a band. But growing up playing baseball, I started when I was four years old, so I had a different outlook on the game. I played until I was about 17 and was in high school. Then I decided that drumsticks were going to be my new baseball bat. I traded them in. But it worked out, and I learned a lot. When you are growing up as a kid playing on different baseball teams, you make so many friends and you are dealing with so many different personalities. It’s a different world and community. I have taken a lot of stuff that I have learned playing baseball and traveling to play baseball, and the discipline of playing on one team. It’s very much the same. I treat a band like I would a baseball team. That’s pretty much how I look at it. The game has changed my life, and it’s my happy place. It’s very hard to not have baseball right now. It’s a weird time in this life. But I have adjusted, and I still pick up the ball and mitt and play catch with some of my old baseball friends.
I am still friends with some of these kids now. One of my best friends, Timmy, and we played baseball since we were 10 and he’s one of my closest friends. I very much feel like baseball players and musicians are the same. I had this conversation with my friend Trevor Bauer, who pitches for the Cincinnati Reds. He’s a big metal fan. We have had this conversation all the time, in how similar we all are. Baseball players and musicians, and going up the ranks. From the minor leagues, which is like being in a local band and making it to the big leagues is like my position right now. I am a starting pitcher in the big leagues right now. That’s how I feel. I don’t steer too far away from what I learned as a baseball player and it’s kind of awesome. I love baseball.
Dead Rhetoric: What have you been doing in this ‘downtime’ period?
Cruz: It’s a weird time. I feel like it was a time for all of us to hit the pause button and settle down as people. It has opened a lot of mindsets for me. It’s not that I didn’t pay attention, but it really shows you what you haven’t been paying enough attention to, or what you have been lost in. I was lost in the chaos of music and everything that has happened, but I needed to slow down and reconnect with my family and mom. I was living in Toronto, but I was born and raised in LA, so living in Toronto was a big deal. I made a lot of major changes. When this all happened, I was ready to go on tour. We were about to start this big cycle. I came to my mom’s and I have been coming and going for so many years that it was a blessing in disguise for me to not be stuck here, but thankfully be here when this all happened. I was here for my mom, and my grandmother who is 95 years old. It was a beautiful time, and I have used this to reconnect with them and take care of them as much as I can.
At the same time, I managed to convince my mother, I’m actually sitting in the garage that I started in now, and I fully converted it. I made a deal with her [laughs], I had to play fair. She gave me half of the garage and I fully converted it into a fully working, content-creating studio. What I have been doing is building a lot of content, and I have never done that as a drummer. A lot of people have really wanted to see me break down certain parts, from Winds of Plague to Prong to Lamb of God, so I have taken the time to not only be there for my family, but convert half of my garage that I first started playing in, to a fully working studio. It happened really fast, and I learned a lot of skills. I’ve been cooking a lot, and I’ve been doing a lot of shit! It’s a lot of crazy stuff happening but I am taking it and running with it, and it’s working for me. I needed my space at the same time, so there’s a lot of balance in the situation. Although I love my mother and grandmother, sometimes I have to step away for a moment and be in my own world. Thankfully she allowed me to do this and it’s working out.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s going on for Lamb of God once quarantine is over and done?
Cruz: It’s so hard, it’s such a difficult time for not only us, but many bands. Let alone having to market a new record and get people to support you and buy a record. It’s a weird time. We want to do things the right way and be sure that we are giving back, and at the same time we want to put a successful record out and celebrate with everybody. It’s a big time in the band’s career and I think it’s just a weird time. From the way that we have been communicating as a band, we talk a lot and we are really tight, so I think that right now, we are in such a creative space that I wouldn’t be surprised if we started writing new music.
That’s just how I feel, but I’m in a very creative space as a drummer. I created this space, and I’m playing drums a lot more. For much of my career, I have been learning music. That is kind of what defines me as a drummer. I’ve been learning. I haven’t really had time to sit band and enjoy, to be creative. Lately, to be creative and just play drums without learning a song, it’s a lot of fun! I am in a creative space and I know a lot of the guys are too. I’m trying to convince the guys of that. Everyone is in their own world right now, so we will see, but from the looks of it, we are all really creative right now so it would be great to write some new music.