Tim Lambesis world exclusive interview: The As I Lay Dying singer breaks his year-long silenceMay 16, 2014
Put a frog in a pot of boiling water and he’ll jump out. But stick him in cold water and gradually raise the temperature and he won’t even realize what’s up till it’s too late.
Eventually, you cross a certain line and then other factors come into it. I’m not saying I only cheated on Meggan because I was taking steroids. There were many other factors.
Some anti-depressants cause weight gain, but so does eating more while on them.
Exactly. Perfect example. “Did he cheat on his wife because he was taking steroids? Or did he cheat on his wife and let his lustful mentality get the best of him and allowed his insecurities to drive him from there?” They are all factors. It was a perfect storm. In the past, those things hadn’t [caused me to cheat]. But they had planted a seed. Now, when it all comes down to it, I’m the one who decided to take steroids. I’m the one who didn’t address certain issues in my marriage. I can’t blame my insecurities, because that was only one part of it. I can’t blame steroids for the same reason. I can’t blame Meggan. She was certainly willing to address some of those issues. I’m still the one who made all of those smaller choices that added up to one bigger, much more hurtful choice.
“Gym culture” has come up with your case. Educate me on that transition.
I was going to the gym five or six times a week and really working hard. Everyone at the gym has seen the guy working hard, watched him grow, then saw him hit a plateau. You don’t have to go seeking [steroid dealers]—they find you. A handful of people came up to me saying, “I can tell you want to get to the next level.” They weren’t winking at me when they said it, but they might as well of been. I knew what they meant. They don’t say, “Hey, I’m a steroid dealer!” The first time a guy said I should consider steroids, I said, “Well I’m just going to change my routine and shock my body with some new exercises.” He had way more gym experience than me. He said, “Yeah, that’ll help a little bit, but it’s not going to get you what you’re looking for,” and then comes the sales pitch. I found out a lot of guys I had always looked up to—who I assumed didn’t take steroids—were taking them. Even some guys who claimed to be straight-edge! “Yeah he’s super-jacked, but he’s straight-edge, so I mean, of course he doesn’t take steroids!” Right? When I found out that every single person I thought looked awesome was taking steroids, I adopted the mentality that I had to take them to achieve what I wanted. I was convinced that if I didn’t achieve that type of look, I had failed [in my fitness goals and in my career].
People who aren’t into fitness will think that sounds bonkers, dude.
But even the average person can relate, as far as the “standard.” When you’re in the checkout at the grocery, if you’re a girl, it’s the girl in the bikini on the cover of the magazine. That’s the standard. If you want to be a public figure or someone admired by others, you have to look like those magazine covers. If you accept that and go beyond, the next level opens you up to all of these insane ideas. It's just crossing that first line.
The campaign against drugs is always super-extreme. Someone smokes weed for the first time and realize they didn’t go insane, so they figure it’s all bullshit.
None of the guys I knew taking steroids seemed like psychos. They weren’t doing anything like what I was arrested for. Everyone was debunking the myths for me. There is no “’roid rage.” I still had a full head of hair. I started thinking all these things about steroids are false. The government tells me a lot of things I don’t agree with. I had all of these “good” reasons to take steroids and saw no reason not to. Little did I know, if you’re in the pool of people with adverse effects, you won’t know until it’s too late. It’s exactly the frog in boiling water like you said. It’s embarrassing to look back and realize how many of the stereotypes now apply to me. The first thing I learned in talking with a doctor was that I wasn’t a big tough guy trying to get to the “next level.” I was insecure. I was weak-minded. I realized the things that made me want to become a perfectly, physically fit specimen. Even if I had achieved that, the brokenness would still be there. It’s empty. In a way, I’m thankful I fell on my face. I fell flat on my face. The whole world knows. I had to lose everything, sit in isolation and reevaluate the type of person I was. For that I'll always be thankful. For the pain of it all? Not so much.
Meggan’s divorce papers revealed that you had become an atheist.
I was a philosophy major in college. I thought it was something I’d enjoy that would help me grasp what people are thinking in order for me to help people better understand Christianity. I thought I would learn how to defend the faith. I was naïve.
I ended up touring, so I finished it up through a distance study program. I switched from philosophy to religious studies, as they wouldn’t let me do philosophy via distance learning. I’d get three pages of the traditional evangelical conservative point of view, then three paragraphs or sometimes even just three sentences from the atheist perspective. But even in just a few sentences, I’d think, “This point of view makes more sense,” even when it wasn’t being well represented. In the process of trying to defend my faith, I started thinking the other point of view was the stronger one.
The first time I cheated on my wife, my interpretation of morality was now convenient for me. I felt less guilty if I decided, “Well, marriage isn’t a real thing, because Christianity isn’t real. God isn’t real. Therefore, marriage is just a stupid piece of paper with the government.” I thought of myself as super-scholarly at the time. “My academic pursuit has led me to this.” I was sincere to a certain degree, but we all hear what we want to hear to justify our actions. I interpreted the evidence how I wanted and felt it was intellectually dishonest to consider myself a Christian. I felt at best I could consider myself agnostic, and at least I would consider myself an atheist. That was my original twist on the whole thing. I read a lot of stuff from the people who are now more popularly known as the “Four Horsemen” of the atheist apocalypse.
Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. I actually interviewed Hitchens at some length back in 2001. I didn’t agree with him on faith or on the Iraq War, but I absolutely loved his wit and wordplay.
Hitchens wasn’t an expert in any one particular field. He kind of covered them all. That’s why he was, rest his soul, the debater. I remember watching a debate between him and [Christian theologian] William Lane Craig and thinking, “I just like that guy more.” I realize now that these guys are brilliant scientists in their own fields—neuroscience, biology, physics. Sam Harris was analyzing neuroscience and the way the brain works to the point where he says, “I think the likelihood of God being involved in our world is very slim.” He presented very good reasons for that. Dawkins would say, “I understand the biological process very well.” He explained evolution in a way that's brilliant and makes a lot of sense. When I read A Universe From Nothing, [Lawrence] Krauss explains the physics down to that initial vacuum-like moment before the Big Bang happened. He says, “Look, I can describe all these things” using his expertise. Because they've so accurately and brilliantly described the science, they must be right. It’s okay to admit they are right about the science. But the philosophy? I realize now those guys are jumping into a field that isn’t their field. They are brilliant scientists, but poor philosophers. I can separate the two now. But I couldn’t back then.
Plenty of brilliant philosophers would make terrible scientists.
Exactly. You know when you have that friend who's just genuinely smarter than the rest of you? When he develops a theory about whatever, everyone's like, “He must be right!” But even that guy is still wrong about at least one in 10 things. Harris was the first guy to break through to me. His Free Will book in particular seemed so hard to argue against. You’d have to be an idiot to argue with that book. That’s how I felt.
The faux moral superiority of religious fundamentalists is such a turnoff. But I see the same evangelical zeal in the “New Atheism.” It’s smug. Reactive. Absolute.
Have you seen the movie The Unbelievers? It's Dawkins and Krauss traveling the country spreading the gospel of new atheism. These guys travel the world, creating a movement for new atheism with a seemingly divine sense of purpose. Now they have this movie that's supposed to inspire people to become unbelievers. But what inspired them to want to do that in the first place if it's all meaningless? William Lane Craig is a brilliant writer. He wrote about the movie and about how there’s a part of human nature that yearns for a divine sense of purpose. Whether those guys admit it or not, they are definitely preaching their message as if it's the calling on their lives. It’s important for me, where I’m at now, to acknowledge these guys are brilliant scientists. I can agree with their science without abandoning a belief in God. It may conflict with super-conservative Christianity, but that’s not what Jesus was teaching to begin with.
As the saying goes, “The number one cause of atheism is the church.” Whenever we deal in extreme absolutes, when one part of it turns out to be totally faulty, it’s easy to throw it all out.
Yes, even down to the topic of morality itself. I went to a Christian high school. We had a Bible class where the teacher said, “Where does morality come from? Is it objective or subjective?” Your first instinct is to say it is kind of subjective. Maybe it’s good to life sometimes, like to a kid to make them feel safe. “Wrong! Morality is objective because it comes from God. So there is only one right answer!” It was ingrained in my mind, then, that if there was no God, there is no objective morality. So when I abandoned all belief in God, I had nowhere to put my feet. I was 30 years old and asking myself that same question, “Where does morality come from?” If there was no God, then morality is whatever I want to make it. That began to justify a lot of crazy behaviors in my life.
Aleister Crowley wrote, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
Most atheists don't actually think that way. Most atheists grow up in a maybe slightly healthier environment where they learn that morality is slightly subjective, that society as a whole benefits from morality. They learn these general concepts that are super-obvious to me now. At a Christian school, you’re presented with one argument. “Can you think of a better argument?” So later in life when a counter-argument surfaces, your whole world is thrown into shock, because you’ve been indoctrinated. I’m not blaming religion. But this was one of the factors that sent me into this massive moral decline.
I was convinced there was no God and therefore there was nothing wrong with absurd things. I trained my mind to work around the issue. “Well, logically, if this makes my life better, than this is what I should do.” I don’t think I’d fall into that moral trap again, even if later in life I examined the evidence and once again decided there’s no God. I’ve been able to see all sides of the arguments more wholly. Even from the perspective of doing whatever’s best for you, there are still consequences for your actions.
Taking anabolic steroids can make you feel like you’re above everything. The heightened hormones make you feel literally invincible. I didn’t plead insanity or anything. But I did have insane thoughts like, “I can casually do all of these things I’ll never get caught for, and my life will be immediately better if I just do what’s best for me.” It was almost as if the rest of the world didn’t exist. It’s insane for me to think about now. I wasn’t capable of thinking through steps two and three and how much it would hurt my kids? Or how much all of my other relationships would be damaged or destroyed? I’ve always been the thoughtful, over-analyzing type. Clearly, there were major changes happening there.
The divorce papers said you were obsessed with bodybuilding, you would ignore the kids, and that you even once fell asleep while watching them at a swimming pool. You had a girlfriend in Florida, you spent tons of money on tattoos and nice cars. When all of this came out after your arrest, you really couldn’t have looked any worse.
You have to put yourself in the mindset of someone filing papers against the person he or she hates the most at that moment. “Let’s list everything I can, even if it’s remote, even if there’s only a sliver of truth,” you’d want to list it. She filed papers. I didn’t.
But what about the things she wrote? Are they true?
I could probably start from the top and explain [each thing]. I’m not going to deny there are some things in there that are true. But let’s start with the tattoo example. It’s one of the least relevant things on the list, but [one of the most absurd]. When you’re in a band, you don’t pay for your tattoos, for the most part. Guys want to tattoo you when you come through on tour. You tip them. That’s about it. And as far as spending money on crazy cars, I literally went to the Jeep dealership and said, “Give me the cheapest car you have. I need a safe car to drive my kids around in.” Those are just a couple of examples of the absurdities that are in there from somebody who just wants to find reasons to slam me. I don’t even remember everything that’s on the list.
She says you spent too much time at the gym. Obviously, that’s true.
Yeah, I’ll admit to that. That’s one of my biggest regrets, that I’d run off to the gym for an hour when I could have spent that hour with my kids. I’ll straight up own that one.
A lot of fathers play golf or go sit in a bar. I’d say that hour was better, at least.
But looking back and knowing how little time I’ve gotten to spend with my kids over the last year… I will say, without a doubt, I’d have rather spent those hours with my kids than at the gym. At the time, I definitely didn't view it like it was cutting my time with the kids. I tried to sneak out when they were taking a nap or doing homework and [Meggan was helping them]. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was probably spending more time at the gym than I even realized. No matter how bad things got, no matter how badly I wanted to get out of the house or didn’t want to spend time with my wife on a personal level, even at my worst, my kids were the biggest priority for me. I could have spent more time with them. But prior to my arrest, the only thing that really interfered with my relationship with my kids were the issues going on with the divorce.
A month before your arrest, you posted a YouTube video addressing fans who felt your new side project, Pyrithion, was “satanic.” I remember watching the video at the time and noticing you never gave the easy answer: “Of course not. I’m a Christian!” You knew people thought of you as a Christian. Weren’t you lying by omission?
Yes. If you say, “This is what I believe, you can count on this. If you believe the same things, I’m on your team.” A lot of Christian parents said, “Yes, you can buy this As I Lay Dying CD, because they’re a Christian band.” They don’t even think to actually check the lyrics. So when you change your views, you kind of owe it to the fans to be honest.
As far as the video I did explaining Pyrithion’s lyrics… I was trying to put out a fire. I was afraid it would affect As I Lay Dying sales, which would affect my overall income. I was trying to put out the fire by saying the easiest thing, “I’m not a satanist!” Truthfully, I was an atheist. The “strategy” I had at the time was cowardly. Two of the songs on that record were about coming to grips with the idea that life has no purpose, no meaning. These were negative themes I wasn’t “allowed” to deal with in As I Lay Dying songs. I thought making As I Lay Dying darker would be bad for my career. That was my thinking.
There are bands out there right now, playing Christian festivals, cashing the Christian checks, selling CDs in the Christian stores, who are not Christians. Maybe one or two guys are, but most of them aren’t. They will rationalize it either by saying, “I want this check,” or “Well, one guy still is” or worse, I know of one band who says, “Well, we don’t want to let our fans down, because we love them so much.”
We toured with more “Christian bands” who actually aren’t Christians than bands that are. In 12 years of touring with As I Lay Dying, I would say maybe one in 10 Christian bands we toured with were actually Christian bands. I actually wasn’t the first guy in As I Lay Dying to stop being a Christian. In fact, I think I was the third. The two who remained kind of stopped talking about it, and then I’m pretty sure they dropped it, too. We talked about whether to keep taking money from the “Christian market.” We had this bizarrely “noble” thing, like, “Well, we’re not passing along any bad ideas. We’re just singing about real life stuff. Those kids need to hear about real life, because they live in a bubble.”
Well, many of them do. What happened when a kid asked to pray with you?
I remember one Christian festival where an interviewer wanted one of the guys to share his testimony, and he just froze up and let one of the guys who was still a Christian at the time answer the question. We laughed about it afterward, but we were only laughing because it was so awkward. When kids would want to pray with us after shows, I’d be like, “Um, go ahead and pray!” I would just let them pray. I’d say “Amen.” If praying while I have my hand on their shoulder makes them feel better, I didn’t want to take that away from them. When they would specifically ask me to pray for something, I’d say, “I don’t really like to pray out loud, but I’ll take that with me to the bus.”
And do what with it? Send out positive vibes?
Yeah. It was cowardly, looking back. But did I really want to get into a huge explanation? Before my arrest, my plan was to tour for as many really good years that we actually had left—four, five. I wanted to save up that money and then stop doing it altogether, stay home with my kids, have the money we needed. If I had to work at McDonalds, it would easily pay the bills, because my house would be paid off, and all we’d need was food.
Most guys think their band will be popular forever.
I went to Meggan at one point and said, “I have saved up a good chunk of money. We can get a house, and then there’s not much more money I will need in order for us to live comfortably.” The big pressure was always on me to tour less. We were finally in that position. I gave her a budget of $500,000 to pick out a house. We’d pay for the entire thing at once and never have a house payment. She couldn’t find a house she liked for that amount of money. She found one for $750,000. I said, “You know that means I’m going to have to tour a lot more for this to happen. You want me to be home more often.” Now she was saying, “I want the $750,000 house. You’re going to have to tour more often.” That’s when I realized we had both changed, so much, in different ways. She couldn’t look at me as the same person she married. I couldn’t look at her that way. We could have easily gone to counseling for that. But I didn’t even push the issue. I was like, “This is the final straw.” I kind of gave up on us ever being on the same page. She’s a pretty reasonable person. If I had given her a hard time about it for a week or two, she would have probably agreed to a compromise. But I just didn't care anymore. >>>