TIM LAMBESIS Talks Rebuilding His Life After Surviving 'The Most Dehumanizing Of Life Experiences'

March 5, 2024

By David E. Gehlke

AS I LAY DYING / AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE frontman Tim Lambesis re-emerged in 2017 after over two years in prison for solicitation of another to commit murder and two counts of conspiracy to commit a crime. Many — even Lambesis — assumed that would be the end of his career in music, but AS I LAY DYING's fanbase remained largely intact, leading up to the release of 2019's "Shaped By Fire". Lambesis appears prepared to make the most of his second chance while not avoiding discussion about his time behind bars, which is perhaps the right move for someone in a prominent position like his.

Lambesis's AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE side project is also getting the reboot treatment via their new "Quad Brutal" studio album. The band is still running with imagery and themes based on the career of legendary bodybuilder / Hollywood actor / former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, this time with more emphasis on the world of bodybuilding that plays such a pivotal role in Lambesis's life. (Doing a side-by-side comparison of Lambesis circa 2004 to 2024 will drive that point home.) "Quad Brutal" was intended to be the focus of BLABBERMOUTH.NET's chat with Lambesis, but his candor about the subsequent changes to his life and his time behind bars took our chat in another direction.

Blabbermouth: Bodybuilding. What does it mean to you? What do you get out of it?

Tim: "I would be hesitant to say 'bodybuilding' because I think I'm far from the world of bodybuilding. When I was about to turn 30, I noticed a lot of my peers in other Southern California bands or bands in general from the metalcore scene — they were also turning 30 or had turned 30, and I felt like some of them were very visibly past their prime. When they got on stage, even if they sounded okay, it looked like it wasn't that exciting, youthful visual that is inherently part of, I think, aggressive music. For me, there's that inner 13-year-old that I'm always trying to appeal to. When I think of metal, I think of the first time I heard PANTERA. There's a little bit of that testosterone you hear in the music when you're 13. You get excited and it's like, 'Wow! This is cool and exciting.' I'm always trying to keep that alive. When I turned 30, I decided, 'Okay. I didn't work out at all in my 20s. I was going to be in better shape in my 30s than in my 20s. That was the start of it. Then I took it to a very unhealthy place. I didn't realize some of the developments of things like body dysmorphia and an inaccurate view of oneself that people start to get when they're overly focused on an aesthetic. I got to a plateau and thought, 'Oh man. I wish I were more than what I am.' I didn't view myself accurately. I thought I was a very small person, so I took it to unhealthy places. All these years later, I learned that there were a lot of difficult times over the last ten years if I didn't get out of the house and do something physical, like going to the gym or going on a walk at the beach since I live so close, my mind suffered. Now, I have this routine where I make sure I do something somewhat physically active for 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes every day. It's great for my mind and body."

Blabbermouth: This almost goes back to COVID-19 when it became clear that people don't do well cooped up in their houses all day.

Tim: "I hope for a lot of people that care about their aesthetic — if you're spending more than an hour a day in the gym every single day, trying to pursue something, it should either be your career like a bodybuilder or you might want to take a step back. Or, think, 'Am I doing something inefficient or out of balance in my life?' Being healthy and creating a certain aesthetic are two different things. I have nothing against people who want to create a certain aesthetic — I have a lot of friends who are bodybuilders. You have to think about what you're doing. As humans, we develop bad patterns and habits. I think I'm in a really great place in my life now with how I've balanced fitness and mental health, but it wasn't always that way."

Blabbermouth: Is there some sort of metaphor, then, about your bodybuilding journey and "Quad Brutal"?

Tim: "To be direct about 'Quad Brutal', I have a lot of friends in the bodybuilding community who I wanted to see if they could crossover with the music community. I think those two separate sub-cultures were totally exclusive when I was a kid. You couldn't be a jock or bodybuilder and like music. They were each other's enemies. There were old punk records that I have where the theme was jocks versus the punks. It was this ridiculous thing. Part of it was doing that, and the other part was being able to tease and make fun of the sub-cultures that I'm a part of. To be able to identify how ridiculous bodybuilding things are. There's a song called, 'Hey Bro Can You Spot Me?' The song is hilarious, specifically because the music is so sincere. It's the most melodically sincere and slightly emotionally sounding song on the record, and it has it tied to the phrase, 'Hey bro, can you spot me?', like it's a big, monumental moment in the gym when you ask another dude for a spot. I think it's hilarious. If you can't poke fun at the cultures you're a part of, then it's an indication that you're a little bit unhealthy with whatever you're doing."

Blabbermouth: There is an element of metal that takes itself very seriously, just like in bodybuilding, I would presume.

Tim: "That's always been the heart behind AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE. The earlier albums were mostly focused on action movies. To be totally transparent, I think lyrically unfolding the plot of some '90s action movie with a lot of over-the-top '90s-style violence, while I think those movies can be silly at times and shouldn't be taken too seriously, those words coming out of my mouth—there's a self-awareness that I have where I'm like, 'I probably shouldn't be singing certain lyrics that people may pull out of context for some click-bait thing, like, 'Tim Lambesis wrote lyrics about whatever.' It's like, 'Clearly, I'm not writing lyrics about my own life; I'm writing lyrics about a movie.' But if there's any semblance of violence in that movie, then it's a potentially misunderstood thing. I figured the album is called 'Quad Brutal'. The quad is the most noticeable visual muscle in the legs for a bodybuilder. I thought it was a perfect opportunity for Arnold to be squatting the entire world on the album cover and have an album full of bodybuilding songs."

Blabbermouth: How much more aware are you now regarding your lyrics? Have you axed specific songs, whether in AS I LAY DYING or AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE, since they could be misconstrued?

Tim: "Yeah. I'm in a situation where if somebody is going to be criticizing what I'm going to do, I have to put them in a situation where they're the overly sensitive dick, to some degree. If I do something that's clearly fun, clearly funny, not even remotely ruffling the feathers of someone who is sensitive, but if someone wants to protest a line in a song or a lyric, I think at that point, they're the ones who look ridiculous. It's the situation I have to be in. It prevents me from being able to have a whimsical moment in the studio where I'm laughing with my friends when we make a silly song. I have to be a little more thoughtful to some degree. I think everyone is worried about saying something they didn't mean in a certain way to get taken out of context."

Blabbermouth: Does that take the fun out of this at all?

Tim: "With AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE, I thought there was an abundance of material that I haven't explored yet, that it's not a problem. I don't try to put out too much AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE material, but two more albums from now, I may run into some of those worries. Right now, I'm good."

Blabbermouth: Did you watch the recent Arnold Schwarzenegger documentary ("Arnold")? How much of a source of inspiration is he on the new record?

Tim: "For people who aren't big fans of his, it's pretty phenomenal that he was able to be the best in the world in one area of life, like bodybuilding. Then, upon completion of that, he just switched careers entirely and slowly became the absolute highest ticket sales superstar in the '90s in a totally different field of work for acting. Even if you took his political career out of it because I'm not particularly interested in politics a whole lot as a public discussion, I think those two things are alone; I don't know if we'll ever see another person in our lifetime that's been as good at two separate things. I think he deserves a tremendous amount of respect for that. Even when we jokingly tease, sometimes his acting is so bad that it's good, but sometimes it's genuinely good. Like, in 'Terminator 2' specifically, playing that role, I couldn't imagine another human being doing a better job at that."

Blabbermouth: With AS I LAY DYING still doing things and now AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE reactivated, how are you going to juggle the two?

Tim: "Good calendar management. I've done live shows with AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE, but for the first time, I have a dedicated live lineup. The guys all have their normal sources of income, and for me, my primary income is from AS I LAY DYING. None of us need to do AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE to pay the bills. We'll do a couple of weeks here and there, which makes it manageable and will make the shows more exclusive and fun."

Blabbermouth: You've alluded to this throughout our conversation, but what got you through your time in jail? What did you learn? What got you through to the other side?

Tim: "I wish there were a definitive moment that I could refer to. There's part of the nature of being incarcerated. There is a part that will break you down no matter how strong you are. Then there's a part within the human spirit that will figure out how to survive the most dehumanizing of life experiences. And then once you figure out how to survive that, there's a certain confidence that you have, like, 'Man, if I made it through this, everything else in life is just gratitude and easy.' It was the result of my own mistakes and I totally understand why and how this happened—I'm entirely to blame. I went through some tough financial years and all that kind of stuff, but it didn't stress me out. I was surrounded and living with guys who were released from incarceration with no family, friends or resources. I was trying to help them figure out how they were going to survive in the aftermath and if I was going to be released to a very supportive family. Even if I didn't have the opportunity to play music, which I didn't believe I would have at the time, I worked really hard to be very diversely educated to where I would be able to work a lot of different jobs. I just felt this sense of peace that everything would be okay and focused on gratitude going forward."

Blabbermouth: What did you study while incarcerated?

Tim: "I originally got a degree in social and behavioral studies, which opened the door for me to learn more about the field of addiction treatment. Then, I took more courses to become a certified addiction treatment counselor. There were a lot of classes that overlapped — you'll hear how this happens by accident by the title of these. I was one or two classes away from getting a degree in sociology because social and behavioral science is addiction treatment and sociology, they're all so similar. I thought I'd take a couple of extra classes and get my sociology degree. I was also interested in business because I wanted to figure out, 'How can a person survive in a situation where they don't have another option in this world other than to be their own boss?' I have to understand business to a certain degree, so I thought I'd figure out that with investing. If I were making a conservative income, I'd be okay, so I got my business degree. In the process of getting those degrees, sometimes the requisites for other degrees are similar. For example, I have a degree in American Studies, and I don't even know what that is. But I have a degree in it because, in the process of getting my business degree and sociology degree, I got an American Studies degree. Then there were some new math classes I wanted to take, so I figured I was taking some math classes; then there were some science classes, some social and behavioral science classes for addiction treatment. I had to take neuroscience classes for my addiction certification treatment. I was three classes from having a math and science degree as well. It sounds silly when I report back the number of degrees I ended up getting. Still, it came from a place of trying to keep my mind healthy and that no matter what life threw at me, I'd either be employable or capable of starting my own business from scratch if nobody would hire me."

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