Singer Cam Pipes On New 3 Inches Of Blood Album: "No Title Is Better Suited Than 'Long Live Heavy Metal.'"
Band Photo: 3 Inches Of Blood (?)
For over a decade, Vancouver's 3 Inches Of Blood have been walking a precarious, thinly stretched tightrope. On one side lie their rich influences in the fabled New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, which they've hailed loudly enough to be heard on the other side - where testosterone and aggression rule, and the most brutally current band wins. An unlikely success with metal fans young and old, 3 Inches Of Blood's signature formula has reached perfection on their fifth album, the self-explanatory "Long Live Heavy Metal." On the Montreal stop of this year's Metal Alliance tour (led by DevilDriver), inimitable vocalist Cam Pipes took some time to discuss his band's latest and greatest work.
Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): You’ve stated that 3 Inches Of Blood has a “special feeling” about this album. All clichés aside – where bands claim their latest album is their best yet – what brought that feeling on?
Cam Pipes: I think it’s just a general vibe. It wasn’t a particular song or riff or anything; I think even before we finished recording, we all were like, “Yeah, we’ve got something really good here.” It just felt so well put together, and it felt like we spent way more time on it, when in fact we only spent about three months writing and recording. It was all done in a relatively short amount of time. So there was a magical quality to it, I guess. [Laughs]
Mike: Some of the all-time classic albums were done lickety-split. It’s weird.
Cam: Yeah, I know! Off the top of my head, Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” was done in like two weeks. So I guess there’s no set amount of time you have to spend for the album to be good.
Mike: Can you take me through some of your favorite tracks, or those that really stand out for you as a performer?
Cam: Well, it’s still too early to say, really, ‘cause we’ve only just started touring, and haven’t had a chance to play every song from this record in a live setting yet. On this tour, we’re playing “Metal Woman,” “Leather Lord,” and “Dark Messenger” in our set. We also threw in “Die For Gold” on a headlining set we did on the way out to the start of this tour. Before the record was even recorded, we tried out “4,000 Torches” in a live setting, ‘cause that was the first song we finished writing. We’ve modified it slightly since then. It always feels weird trying a song out for the first time, especially if we haven’t recorded it yet, because that one was still pretty fresh and rough in our heads. I think the three tracks we’re playing tonight could potentially be standout tracks that we could swap in and out of any set. Time will tell which one will be a permanent fixture, ‘cause there’s always gonna be at least one from each album that has to be played in every set.
Mike: Would I be incorrect in considering “Metal Woman” and “Leather Lord” to be your “Hellion/Electric Eye” and “Painkiller” [Judas Priest] homages, respectively?
Cam: We definitely have some of that “Painkiller” reference in “Leather Lord.” And this wasn’t intentional, but when [guitarist Justin Hagberg] wrote the intro to “Metal Woman,” immediately I was like, “Okay, that’s gotta open up the album.” So obviously, it’s gonna draw references to “Hellion/Electric Eye.” And I guess it could be our tribute. [Laughs] We wanted to start out strong with something memorable, and that’s something Priest busts out for every show because it’s instantly recognizable, with those screaming, harmonizing guitars. You know what’s coming.
Mike: The instrumental “Chief And The Blade” is a real standout track for me, and something a bit new, with lots more acoustics and folk instruments. What’s the story behind that one?
Cam: We just wanted to broaden our horizons and take the listener on a journey, I guess. We want every album to have peaks and valleys, and different characteristics to keep it interesting. We’d toyed with some acoustic stuff on the last record, [2009’s “Here Waits Thy Doom”] and again, [guitarist Shane Clark] messed around with some shit in his free time and came up with this song, which we layered with some mandolin. Then we recruited a flutist, that girl Alia [O’Brien] from Blood Ceremony, a Toronto band we’d been listening to quite a bit. Shane thought of asking her to put some flute on there, so we reached out, and she was into it, so we sent her the track. We just tried to add another layer to it, to make it more than just a straight acoustic song.
Mike: And if I’m correct, isn’t “Die For Gold” a continuation of the “Upon The Boiling Sea” trilogy from “Advance And Vanquish?” 
Cam: That’s right. I had the title first, and when I heard the chorus riff for the song the guys were writing at the time, I thought, “Hey, that’d be a good chant-y ‘Die For Gold’ riff.” It felt like it could be a continuation of “Upon The Boiling Sea,” because “gold” conjured up images of pirates for me, so I decided to add another chapter to that story. People have asked if I’d do it; continue the story of the Captain from the trilogy. So I thought adding another little bit to it would be interesting. Who knows, maybe I’ll do another one. We’ll see!
Mike: Since the album isn’t officially out yet, I don’t have access to a lyric sheet, so I’m curious about the meanings behind a few of my favorite song titles: “Leave It On The Ice,” “Men Of Fortune,” and “One For The Ditch.”
Cam: “Leave It On The Ice” is a hockey song. I had the lyrics for that during the writing of the last record, but never quite found any suitable riffs in any of those songs, so I held onto them. Then this time around, they were writing this up-tempo thrashy song, and I felt it had the right aggression that kind of reflected the aggression that hockey has. Lyrically, it was a change of pace for me, but it’s something I like, and it’s in keeping with our “fighting,” “battle” themes, so that’s what I focused on. “One For The Ditch,” that’s something we’ve been saying for a long while. Say you’re out partying with your friends or whatever, and someone’s like “Oh, I’ve gotta go; I’ve gotta get up early in the morning,” and it’s like a way of offering one more drink: “Here’s one more for the ditch.” It’s another way of offering one more for the road, only instead you’re gonna wind up in the ditch. I forget who exactly, but someone’s dad used to say that when his buddies were all around drinking, like “I gotta go man,” and they’d go, “C’mon, one more for the ditch,” and pour him another drink. It seemed suitable to use it, ‘cause we had that song, and we recorded it and didn’t have a title for it. But we knew it would be the last track, and someone suggested that title, and we figured it’d be a cool closer.
Mike: Please tell me “One For The Ditch” will be the slogan on your merch for this touring cycle.
Cam: I’d have to think about what the artwork would be on the front, but yeah, it’d be cool to put that on the back. And “Men Of Fortune,” again, that’s another one I just had a title for. Somehow I just came up with this idea where the “Men Of Fortune” are just, say, a motley band of Indiana Jones-type adventurers and treasure seekers who quest around the world for riches and glory and all that kind of stuff. It doesn’t tie in directly to “Die For Gold,” but the same kind of “lust for wealth” is there.
Mike: Getting a little broader, there’s a tradition of metal bands titling songs or entire albums after the genre itself. Bands like Manowar have made a trademark of it. So why is 3 Inches Of Blood now joining that club? What drove the decision to simply title the album “Long Live Heavy Metal?”
Cam: I don’t know. Justin first suggested it. I guess it was almost a tribute to Rainbow’s “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll.” We had to sit on it for a long time, ‘cause we weren’t sure if it would be perceived as being a bit of an arrogant title. People might’ve thought, “Well, who are YOU to make that statement?” But the more we thought about it, the more we realized, it’s not like we’re saying WE’RE the greatest metal band there is. We’re just making a statement about what we love, and trying to maintain its legacy, I guess. It’s about what we do, not about us as individuals. We’re just a part of the puzzle. So months went by, and nothing really suited the album better. It kind of stuck in our heads, and everyone we shared the title with – I mean, I’d tell my wife, “Here are some song titles I’ve got.” And with some, she ‘d go, “Yeah, that’s cool,” and some, “Ehhh, okay.” And then I asked, “What do you think of ‘Long Live Heavy Metal’ for an album title?” And she thought it was really good. My wife’s not really a heavy metal aficionado. She likes some metal, but she’s not exactly right in the metal scene. So I wanted to get some outside perspective; it was important to get sort of an unbiased, “non-metal” opinion.
Mike: It beats trying to choose a title track, where extra scrutiny will instantly be placed on that particular song.
Cam: I’ve always been in favor of NOT naming an album after one of the songs. I always like to try and pick something that reflects the overall mood of the record. Not the “concept,” necessarily, but just the general theme of the songs as a whole. It’s hard to tie them all lyrically together, but if we can get a general sense of what it’s all about, then we try to go that route.
Mike: You’ve done quite a bit of lineup shuffling over the years. Having had most of the present lineup for the past couple records, do you feel this may prove to be the “classic” 3 Inches Of Blood” lineup, as it were? Do you feel stable enough to carry on into the future with your current personnel?
Cam: I think so. Fans may disagree and feel that one particular album’s lineup is the “classic” lineup, and that’s up to them to decide. But I think we’ve done our most solid work more recently, and where we are now. Stability is really good, and we’ve sustained it longer than we have before.
Mike: Byron Stroud [ex-Fear Factory, ex-Strapping Young Lad] is your newest addition on bass, and also your manager. Can you give me some background on his entry into the fold?
Cam: Byron’s been a friend of ours for a long time. When we were between management, we’d go to him for advice sometimes, because he’s always down at our rehearsal space. One day, he said, “You know what? I think I do have some time,” ‘cause he’d been tied up with other stuff. “I think I can help you guys out.” He’d actually played with us a few years ago; he’d filled in on a tour we did. And he’d always expressed interest in playing with us on a more permanent basis, but was always tied up with his other bands and commitments he had going on. So he’d always drop into the studio when we were recording this album, to see how things were going, and finally, he came in one day when we were almost finished, and said, “You know what? I’m fed up with Fear Factory, and I want to play with you guys.”
Mike: His presence ought to be interesting, especially due to his seemingly different background with death metal and extreme metal bands. If he winds up contributing music in the future, do you see him bringing more diversity?
Cam: I would hope so. Everyone brings a different base of influences to the table. We’ll have to see what happens when we get down to writing in the future, and we’ll see how it goes. We’re pretty open to a lot of different stuff, and it all depends. We have to take it on a case-by-case basis. We don’t try and do TOO many things way out of left field, but ultimately we do what we like to do, and if we like the way something sounds, then we’ll go for it.
Mike: Metal Alliance is more or less a death metal tour. How have your crowd reactions been? Do they appreciate the mixing, or do you sometimes feel like an odd man out?
Cam: Well, we always feel like the oddball band on ANY tour, but not in a bad way, ever. We’ve done tours with all sorts of different kinds of bands, and have always kind of stood out. And I think ultimately, that’s helped us. It makes us more memorable to fans that maybe have never heard us, that are expecting most of the bands to sound a certain way. We come out in the middle of the show, and maybe some people are thrown for a loop, but after a couple songs, everyone kind of warms up to it. And we always have a good crop of our own fans there, anyway, so it’s worked fine for us, and for everybody. There are so many bands on this tour, and there are bound to be people who’ve never heard of a couple of them – or at least never heard their music or seen them live. So we try to gain fans from everyone else’s fan bases. But I think it works well for everybody, not just us.
Mike: In the past, what type of bill have you felt most comfortable with?
Cam: No tour is the same, and we’ll get offered one, and if it works for us logistically, and we feel like we’d be putting ourselves in front of the type of crowd we want to play to, then we’ll do it. We’re usually pretty open. I don’t know if we’ve really ever done the so-called “ideal” tour, I guess, because I don’t know if anyone sounds too much like us anyway. We’ve definitely done tours where some of the other bands have a more similar fan base, but with all of them, it’s turned out to be a pretty positive experience, with the exception of one. Only once have we done a tour where fans did not care about anybody except the headlining band, and musically, it was so far out of left field. We look back on that one tour and think, “Man, that was probably not a good choice.” [Laughs]
Mike: I first suspected that was Iron Maiden, but with a “left field” musical style, I guess we can rule them out.
Cam: Maiden would be a great idea! We haven’t officially toured with them, though. We’ve opened for them a couple times at individual shows, but that’s it. Yeah, we definitely would never look back on a tour like that – if we’d done it – and think it was a bad idea!
Mike: The fanatical devotion to the headlining act is what tipped me off.
Cam: Yeah, Slayer could probably be described that way too. We’ve never played with them, but I think that’s something they’re famous for. Their fans just don’t give a shit about the openers, and they heckle them. I don’t know how it is nowadays; I’ve been to Slayer shows fairly recently where the openers aren’t getting pelted with garbage or food or anything, so maybe times have changed!
Mike: Speaking of playing live, I’m curious about how you take care of your voice, show after show. That’s some challenging stuff.
Cam: I try and eat as well as I can. I mean, overall health is more of a concern than the voice itself, I’ve found. If we’re playing every day, that keeps me warmed up. On top of that, drinking lots of water and staying hydrated is the only key thing for me in the voice department. Sleep is always an issue. I don’t always get enough sleep, but once I get onstage, I get that boost of energy, that adrenaline of actually being there, and it breaks me out of any “blahs” I might be having that day. And I can always sleep in the van on the drive, so I got used to that routine pretty quickly.
Mike: Also, you formerly co-fronted the band, [with Jamie Hooper] and have since taken over all lead vocal duties. Was that an intimidating transition?
Cam: Not at all. I think it became easier to write lyrics and arrange vocal parts, and just have that much more space onstage. I was able to open up a lot more and have more room to get into the performance aspect of it. Really, I don’t think it set us back in a performing or writing sort of way at all.
Mike: You’ve proclaimed in regard to the new record, “No bullshit… no trends.” How do you define “trendy?” What’s out there in the world of metal that makes you uncomfortable, that you want to avoid?
Cam: We don’t spend too much energy focusing on what other people are doing. All I know is that what we’re doing isn’t exactly the flavor of the month, and probably never will be. We have our fans, and they’re great fans; they support us. We’re happy with that. We’re definitely not gonna bow to what certain bands or labels might be trying to cash in on at any time, whether it be deathcore, or emo, or whatever it is – screamo, or any of that stuff. We want to focus our energy on what WE’RE doing. So we’re not messing around; we play what we play, and don’t compromise it. So that’s “no bullshit” to us! We do what we do because we like how it sounds, not because it’s popular.
Mike: Do you guys listen to a lot of music while writing or recording – whether it’s current stuff or old influences – or do you seclude yourselves and not listen to anything at all?
Cam: For me personally, when I’m at home, I tend not to listen to a lot of music. I’ll watch TV or something. And when I’m driving my car, I listen to a lot of sports talk radio. [Laughs] But the other guys, yeah, they have stuff they’ll listen to. In general, when riding around in the van on tour, we listen to lots of different stuff. I mean, most of it’s metal, but lots of different kinds of metal, plus classic rock, country – it could be anything; you never know. Whosever iPod is on shuffle that day, or for any stretch of time. And there’s some pretty oddball stuff I’ll listen to sometimes. I’ve found myself lately – and this is my wife’s fault – picking her up at work, and she’s listening to Katy Perry. And after listening to a bunch of Katy Perry songs in a short span of time, I’m like, “You know what? This is a pretty well-put-together, catchy pop song,” [Laughs] so I can appreciate it. So yeah, we have some unexpected “faves” that we all like. Gordon Lightfoot, Moody Blues, ABBA – Justin’s a really big ABBA fan. So you never know. You’ve got to break from constant metal all the time.
Mike: 3 Inches Of Blood is constantly labeled a “traditional” metal band, and I’ve always had a problem with the inevitable connotations that the music is somehow dated. Do you feel that as time passes, the very definition of “traditional” will evolve with it and come to include sounds that developed later?
Cam: I think you can put a lot of bands in the “traditional” metal genre, or description, but not all of them necessarily sound similar to each other. There are some, and there will always be break-offs into subgenres – I mean, we’ve been described as power metal, power thrash, “battle” metal, Viking metal, even! I don’t know. And “traditional?” Yeah, these days, I just prefer to say “heavy metal.” Because really, when Black Sabbath started out, they didn’t know they were heavy metal; they just kind of did their thing. If you look back now, you realize they kind of started it. But you could also break them off into doom metal, or sludge, or stoner, or whatever – there are so many ways you could describe them, but ultimately, they started it, and they are heavy metal. And so is Judas Priest, and they don’t really sound anything like Sabbath to me. So as long as the term “heavy metal” is pinned to us in some way, shape, or form, that’s fine. People ask me how I’d describe our music, and I just say, “heavy metal.” You could say “traditional,” or “old school,” but it’s easiest to say “heavy metal.” Our influences are mostly rooted in the origins of it, when those guys didn’t even know it was eventually gonna be CALLED “heavy metal,” so that came first – before the other subgenres spawned from it.
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