Chris Adler speaks about the origins, aims and evolution of his new band Firstborne.
Having inspired a generation of metal bands and metal drummers with Lamb of God, Chris Adler has taken an awful lot of his fans off-guard with the music he has made since leaving that band. Firstborne, the band containing Adler, soft-shred trailblazer Myrone, former Megadeth and White Lion bassist James LoMenzo and singer Girish Pradhan, draws on a wholly different set of influences.
After releasing a first EP in 2020, Firstborne’s continued singles output is seeing some major evolution with each subsequent track. In an extensive interview for Knotfest, Chris talks about Megadeth camaraderie, long term goals, the genius of Toto, and not starting Lamb of God 2.0.
Your band Firstborne has been officially unveiled for approaching a year now. How’s that time been for you in terms of response and what was it like launching your new project in a lockdown situation?
The lockdown situation itself is what really enabled this to happen. A lot of bands right now of course will be frustrated being unable to be in the same room together, and I was just moving out of a band where we did do everything like that, but as humans we adapt to the situation. Not only did I have to adapt to not being in Lamb of God anymore, which was both my big creative outpouring and importantly financially it was how I made my living, but I was able to explore what I was able to do during this time where really nobody’s doing anything. This band was really formed around the idea of being able to do an incredible amount of stuff while being all stuck at home. As far as the response to it goes, bands can be some smidge below politics, smidge above high school popularity contest and we’re really just trying to have a good time together. That’s why we’re putting it all out for free on YouTube or Bandcamp. Bandcamp has a lot of cool opportunities to support different causes or artists, and that platform is where I found Myrone, digging around on Bandcamp. Is it in this downtime paying any of my gas or water bills, hell no, but I think I’m at a point where I can go to work every day, enjoy having that level of personal responsibility working with a charity organisation, and do whatever I want musically.
Leaving Lamb of God, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to play music, or even that I didn’t want to play that type of music anymore because I love the music that we made in Lamb of God. I drove most of that ship for most of the career that we had, that was my baby and I think you can see that in most of the DVDs or hear from people in the industry who will tell you the same thing. “I don’t know, ask Chris” is a thing that you’ll hear a lot from the other guys! It was because it wasn’t particularly beneficial to me as a person anymore and I wanted to do something that wasn’t going to be anywhere the crazy thing that Lamb of God had carved out that no one expected we could ever do, but was still really personally fulfilling. It’s really scary actually because that’s how I’ve lived my life for the twenty-six years I was in Lamb of God. For the last fifteen years of that it was the bulk of my everyday, and before that it was the entirety of my everyday trying to get to the point where I could get a couple hours off! There are offers coming in right now for Firstborne and we are absolutely planning on going out and playing shows, but it was never the idea for it to be the same lifestyle that I built with Lamb of God. It’s just loving making this music together, being aware that most of the fans of what I’ve done before will be looking at me like “what the hell are you doing?”, but having fun and being positive.
You were playing with James LoMenzo in the cover band Hail!, so at what point did you decide to make your own music with him and the others?
James and I met when Lamb of God toured with Megadeth in I think 2005 on the Gigantour, and we just got along. Megadeth is my favourite band of all time. From when I was a kid, I realised that I wanted to play music because of Megadeth. It’s incredible that I’ve had this experience in my life where I actually got to join that band that I was listening to a teenager on a skateboard with headphones in from my Sonic Walkman. On that Gigantour, of course I was excited to be touring with them, and every time I’d go into the dressing room James would be sitting there playing bass. Bass is an interesting instrument because for most people it’s kinda an accoutrement instrument, and you don’t see a lot of people really spending time saying “I am going to be the bass player in the world” the way you do other instruments, but James LoMenzo is one of those people where that absolutely is a real thing. There is that passion and that incredible creative mind. Very soon after I left Lamb of God I got that option to go do the Hail! tour. We all know what that is and I looked it probably the same everybody else does of “here’s this F-list group of metal musicians going out to play a bunch of shitty covers”, and we did, but it’s Phil Demmel who is one of my favourite guys in the world and James LoMenzo so of course I had to get involved and was really excited to say yes. The thing that I always did love about being in Lamb of God was when I was able to push to go to Israel, to China, to Indonesia, to Singapore. I can sit in a parking lot in Atlanta for the rest of my life if I choose to but that sucks. We’d get offers where people would be worried that it wouldn’t be safe or we’d get arrested, but I’ve always seen it as an amazing opportunity to go see the world when we otherwise out of our own pockets wouldn’t be able to. The Hail! tour was great because it went to the Middle East. We were playing Bahrain, I’d take a trip to Egypt, and it was the first time I’ve been anywhere close to that so it was amazing. It rekindled things with James, and I’d started working with Myrone, then shortly afterwards I did a clinic tour in India where the promoter there brought together a bunch of heavy hitter musicians in India to play with me there, which is where Girish comes in. I’ve done so many tours around the world where the Sebastian Bachs of the world are there and it doesn’t necessarily sound like the record, but I was so blown away by this singer. This guy sounded naturally with nothing on him better than any record I’ve ever heard, and so I get back home and pick up the phone to Myrone and say “I think I’ve found someone really, really special here”. We didn’t have a direction point for what we wanted the band to be at this point. We weren’t aiming to be light rock or Queensrÿche or Ratt or whatever it is people are describing right now! It was all of these things that had been part of our youths though, and in maximising the efficiency of what it is we know how to do and still giving a product that we’re super stoked on we came to it. Lamb of God was like trying to sell people a protein bar of concrete which is very difficult to get down everybody’s throat. It’s not purposeful, but this is a little more palatable and it’s something that I think has been missing for a long time.
How much camaraderie comes from you and James both being ex-members of Megadeth but at different points over the years?
The thing about James is, we both played in Megadeth, so we both know the drill there. There’s not much to discuss and it is what it is. That’s not a negative statement, I admire everything about Dave Mustaine and the band, and my time in it was absolutely fantastic. I absolutely loved every minute of it and I would not ever tell anyone anything different. The thing that I hit up James most actually is about backstage at the White Lion shows. There is some camaraderie in that we have that, but we’re from different age groups too. James is always hitting me up talking about some gospel track from 1963, “you can’t imagine what this bongo player is doing with the bass part!”, and Myrone and Girish are younger so if we took everybody’s age and put it on a line we cover an incredibly large spectrum of what’s happened in young music. In doing so, there’s just this ability to talk to each other about things like that.
How quickly did you zone in on the kind of music that all you share then, being from different age groups and different parts of the world?
It did initially start with Myrone sending me things and I think in his mind catering them to the guy who’s been opening up for Slayer for the past fifteen years, not wanting to send me Warrant riffs and thinking I wouldn’t accept that. He catered his own supply line in that way but at the same time if you listen to his own catalogue which is the thing that I found him from, it’s incredibly enjoyable chill day at the beach kind of music. It’s fun and it makes you smile, and to Girish the singer I said the same thing. Stop trying to be Randy. The initial stuff that Girish was sending me was very gruff, his best version of the Randy Blythe model of being a metal singer, thinking that was what I would want and not wanting to be beat up by people for not being Randy. That’s the main thing that got cleared up right away, that this project is not about me and not something that needs to be close to what I’ve done before. I’m not trying to restart Lamb of God with new people, let’s talk about what you were listening to when you were fourteen or fifteen years old, and what are the things that make you happy about going back to revisit that music. That’s not to say we don’t have an aggressive message at times but metal has been drilled down into this really pummelling mosh pit of ones and zeroes that can be very hard to get away from.
How much of a progression do you feel there is in the new singles Firstborne have been releasing from the EP last year?
Yes, and there’s I think three songs that we’re sitting on right now that are just blowing my mind, compared to what the initial EP was. It’s that thing of getting away from being afraid of each other in order to work on this fully, and getting away from the idea of being established musicians who are expected to do something. I think that the EP was closer to that goal of doing something closer to Chris because he has the most Facebook likes, and I admire these guys as much as I admire everyone I’ve ever been on tour and want to do something with their incredible talent. I would not take back that EP, because that’s really how we really figured out how to glue it all together, but the things that are coming out now are definitely a progression. Someone being in LA, someone else being in India, that takes a little time to really grease all the wheels to make it start to work right, and we’ve got plenty of time to do it which is great. On keeping things contemporary, I think that instinct is within us but there’s no discussion about that. Those things that we grew up on that inform our sound, that was like the breakfast cereal and what we’re gonna come out with later in the day. I’ve been particularly interested in that progressive element which is why I reached out to Myrone because what he does is not just fluffy music. He’s an incredible player and has done a lot with his talent. If you go listen to Toto or Journey, the reason that is on the radio is that they’re incredibly talented musicians and have figured out how to use that. My brother Willie said to me once that if I could play the drum-beat to Rosanna, he’d give me a million dollars, and I spent three weeks trying to figure that out and it was impossible. If you listen to that song though it’s like Wal-Mart noise. These guys were absolutely incredible but they figured out a way to make it accessible. That’s kinda where our heads are at in terms of songwriting and we’ve got a great respect for bands able to achieve that. Another one that comes up more often is of course Queensrÿche, and at many points in my life I’d tell you that my favourite album of all time is Operation: Mindcrime. That’s just a genius, genius album, and it’s not because of a producer or whatever but the talent of the guys working together figuring out how to make it mesh and be palatable to people. Last night I spent about three hours listening to our new song over and over again, not because I want to tweak something, but just because I think the song rules.
You are working with producer Machine again, who produced Ashes of the Wake and Sacrament for Lamb of God. With the two projects being so different, what was it about working with him that made you feel that it could work for Firstborne?
It wasn’t an out of the blue call because Machine and I have kept in touch the whole time. With Lamb of God though something I always pushed for is that we didn’t work with the same producer for more than a couple of records at a time. We worked with Steve Austin, then Devin Townsend, then Machine, and I always felt it was really important for the evolution of our sound that we make those switches. Not because any of those people aren’t the perfect fit and we all get along, but a new energy in the studio is important. We didn’t move on from Machine because Machine wasn’t good at what he did, so in the meantime while I thought it was good for Lamb of God to do that, Machine and I kept in touch. Myrone was handling all of the production on the EP and did everything, and then when it got to the point where growing from there the songs were becoming more challenging and more musically interesting, we decided it would be interesting to add another voice in and go to Machine. Myrone actually came to me with that and I was there having just spoken to Machine a couple days before. Machine of course said the same thing everybody says to me asking what the hell I’m doing, but that he loved it and had to be involved. Again, it’s all virtual of course, so it’s not the same process as working with a producer in the room, but when he gets passionate about something it’s real and he would hunt me down if I ever closed WhatsApp on him. He was the guy who first told me that when it came to recording software, not to do ProTools and that we were going with Logic, and even though the industry is ProTools-based I love working with Logic and I learned that from Machine.
The drum sound on these new Firstborne songs will undoubtedly be familiar to people who know those Machine-produced records. How much do you have to balance adapting your playing to a very different kind of music versus really intentionally putting your stamp on it?
I think that there was a lot more pressure on me in Lamb of God, and that’s probably self-induced. I started the band and was the one who was hiring and firing people as the behind the scenes guy, and in this I’m absent from that role so I can slip into it smoother. It is important for me to have those signature moments, but I think more for the people who are listening to it. I don’t think about it too much because that’s just what I do, but I’m not feeling pressured to be on top and always going bigger because everyone is looking to me. That’s not to take away from anyone in Lamb of God, they’re incredible people and brilliant at what we have all carved out in the new metal world, but going forward I don’t have to do anything to live up to that. In this band I probably have to restrain myself a little bit. It’s about letting it open up in the kind of songs we are writing and me getting the hell out of the way. At Lamb of Gods concerts people would complain about a drum solo when the whole goddamn concert was a drum solo! I like playing music where I don’t have to be out of breath the whole time.
Are these singles at all going to build up to an album or larger project of any kind at any point?
We absolutely want to. Basically the whole music world is partially shut down as much as the concert industry, so we are swimming around a bit without direction, but we’re having so much fun with it and think it sounds great so have just been putting it out there. We’re spending our own money to do the lyric videos, there’s not a label or an agent involved, it’s just fun and easy. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the career I’ve had up to this point and now I’m able to just do things that I’d like to. In the same way this was all put together though outside of the norms of how this industry usually works, how it proceeds is yet to be determined as things pick back up. I think it’s a good wake up call for bands working outside of a major label having the big advertising push, that you can have that little niche of fans who still wanna see you, but there may be an organisation that comes to be involved with us at some point. Right now we’re just navigating the unknown like everybody else.
If all things go well though, is this a band you’d like to see become your main band for years to come, or are you someone who might start to have multiple projects on the go going wherever it takes you?
I think I have a bit of a past of dipping my toes in the water here and there, getting around a little bit, but this is absolutely where I would focus on. There’s of course projects I would do is somebody asked me, but is my primary creative focus this? Absolutely, 100%.