Tim Lambesis world exclusive interview: The As I Lay Dying singer breaks his year-long silence
Tim Lambesis speaks about his case for the first (and possibly last) time anywhere, in a series of interviews with AP's West Coast Editor Ryan J. Downey conducted in the final weeks and days leading up to today's sentencing of six years imprisonment.
“Shock” doesn’t even begin to describe the collective feeling of confusion and bewilderment that reverberated throughout the metalcore community when Tim Lambesis was arrested May 7, 2013. San Diego police alleged the cofounder and frontman for As I Lay Dying had tried to put out a “hit” on his estranged wife, Meggan Murphy Lambesis. Suddenly, a band once cherished as elder statesmen in the New Wave Of American Metalcore (guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso, bassist Josh Gilbert and drummer/cofounder Jordan Mancino) became notorious for all the wrong reasons. A “murder-for-hire” plot involving a “Grammy-nominated Christian metal singer” seemed straight out of a bad TV movie, with everyone from Good Morning America to Nancy Grace weighing in.
Ask someone familiar with the story what happened and the answer will be something like this. At some point after adopting three children from Ethiopia (Biruk, Abikia and Tigist) with his ex-wife, Lambesis got into bodybuilding, dating other women, and eventually asked some guy at his gym if he knew any hitmen. The singer’s gym buddy called the cops, who set up a sting, and Lambesis was busted after giving an undercover cop an envelope with pictures of his wife, her address, alarm codes and a $1000. But these revelations brought more questions than answers. How could Tim do this? Why? Was it money? Custody? A setup? “’Roid Rage”? Did he really just ask a random buddy at his gym, “Do you happen to know a hitman that can murder my wife?” Lambesis offered no answers. He has remained silent in the year since the morning he was surrounded by armed officers in the parking lot of a Barnes & Noble. Until now.
The majority of this conversation was conducted in the tiny recording studio in the home owned by Lambesis’ parents, where the As I Lay Dying frontman wore an ankle monitor while on house arrest after he was released on $2 million bail. Neither Lambesis nor his camp saw the questions beforehand. The one condition Lambesis had was the interview couldn’t run until after his sentencing, to ensure that nothing he said here would influence the court.
Lambesis says a handful of movie producers (both amateur and otherwise) offered him large sums for the rights to his story. Dr. Phil wanted him on his show. The offers, interest and requests were continuous and unrelenting. Ultimately, Tim elected to share his story in a forthcoming, not-for-profit documentary (which will be revealed soon) and in these interviews with Ryan J. Downey.
He does not intend to speak on it again.
Let’s start with when you and Meggan decided to adopt children.
TIM LAMBESIS : Like a lot of couples, we talked about having kids and whether we’d like to eventually. I really wanted to be a father, but I wanted to adopt. I think for many women, it’s normal for their motherly instinct to make them more interested in having children biologically. I made it very clear that I would prefer to adopt. After a few years, she got to a point where she really felt a drive to be a mother; she felt she was meant to be a mother. I was touring a lot. I was trying to delay it a little bit; not because I didn’t love kids or want to have kids, but I wanted a bit more financial security.
What made you so driven to adopt?
When I was in high school, my church went on these spring break mission trips where we’d go down to Mexico and do vacation Bible school in a really poor area. One time we went down there to rebuild part of this orphanage. There were all of these orphan kids who would come to hang out while we were rebuilding. There was this one kid, Edgar. I had been hanging out with him all week while we were there. There were tons of kids there, but that kid had latched onto me for whatever reason. He was maybe 9 or 10. I was getting ready to say goodbye. I was thinking, “Okay, no big deal, we’ve had a great week.” But I got the impression that was the most attention he’d ever had in his life. He literally clung onto my leg. It was heartbreaking to think, in that moment, I was the closest thing he’d ever had to a friend or a father figure. It really stuck with me. It was really heartbreaking. I was, like, 17 years old. When I got home and started to process it all, I thought, “Well, when it finally comes time for me to be a dad, I want to take care of some kid that will never be loved if I don’t adopt.” That was my mentality at the time. It was a way distant future thing for me, of course.
When Meggan and I started talking about having kids, I told her that’s what I wanted to do. She was open to the idea but wasn’t totally convinced. But after getting involved in the adoption community and the really good support system there, she said, “I might still want to have kids biologically, but for now, let’s adopt [our first child] then we’ll see how I feel from there.” That’s when we adopted Biruk. Originally, we were part of the Russian and Ukrainian adoption program because, you know, for a white family from the suburbs, it’s like, “Hey, let’s adopt a Russian or Ukrainian kid, nobody will even know.” [Laughs.] It was kind of the natural first step. That’s where our minds were at the time.
There were a lot of complications with that program, because there was a huge waiting list, because a lot of white, middle-class, suburban families were thinking the same thing. [Laughs.] So we called up the adoption agency and asked, “Where’s the greatest need? Where is there a place where if we don’t adopt, nobody will?” Not that people were avoiding Ethiopia, but I think a lot of white families are scared; we were, too, so I’m definitely not pointing any fingers. Things are a little different now, but at that time, Ethiopia really needed more families.
It seems like asking, “Where’s the greatest need?” is the best question you can ask.
It was really cool too, because then the whole process went by a little quicker, a little smoother. There was a lot less uncertainty in the process.
But it still is a process.
Oh, it’s definitely a process. And I’ll give all credit to Meggan for doing all the paperwork. I mean, she put in so many hours of work above and beyond [what I did]. I signed the papers. I kind of lazily went through these courses they make you take and things like that. She really put in all the hard work and had that drive, as a mother. The process actually took about nine months, almost like a biological birth situation. When Biruk came home, about six months later or so, I didn’t even ask her the question. She just came to me and said, “Remember when you asked me if I would ever be totally satisfied as a mother with only adopting?” Because we had left off where we were going to adopt but she still wanted to revisit the topic of biologically giving birth to a child later. She said, “Everything about Biruk completely satisfies my motherly instinct.”
How old was he when you brought him home?
He was 15 months, so just a little over one. After he was home for a while, the natural question that came up was whether we’d consider adopting again. There was a little more urgency put into that because, when we went to go pick up Biruk, we went to visit an orphanage where we were sponsoring a child. You know, those $40- a-month sponsorship things? We figured, “Well, we’re in Ethiopia, we might as well visit her.” It wasn’t that far out of the way. So we went to the orphanage to visit her. She was really shy. And she was really cute, too. Biruk is a super-cute kid. She was really shy, but also really relieved that we were there to pay attention to her, that she was special.
My parents were there, too. When we were getting ready to leave, I said, “Hey, Mom and Dad, I know you guys are a little old to have kids, but, maybe you should consider adopting!” I’d feel heartbroken leaving Ethiopia and leaving her there. My parents said, “We’d love to, but let’s be realistic here…” My dad is almost 70, you know? So in the back of my mind, I’m like, “Well, I’m in the process of adopting my first kid. I’m definitely not ready for this, but I can’t just leave her here.” Knowing she’s there, knowing that I visited her, knowing the need that she’s in. So it just was natural to kind of speed up the process a little bit.
I think we probably would have waited longer to adopt more kids just because of the touring and all that. We knew my one daughter from the sponsorship program. My other daughter had lived with her in the orphanage for four years. They were like sisters. There’s a policy within a lot of adoption agencies, and it was true with ours, where they won’t split up siblings. I’m sure in dire need they will, but they really don’t want to. You’re already shocking them by taking them into a new culture. In our case, they weren’t biologically related, but it would have felt like a similar shock. That’s all they knew. They had grown up in an orphanage together. Biruk came home in 2009, and my daughters came home in 2011.
Talk to me about the two years where it was you, Meggan and Biruk.
I loved the setup at the time. Biruk loved traveling. Most babies cry on airplanes, but he just wanted to crawl around and play. He was just so active. It was cool because I could have my cake and eat it, too. I could pursue music full time and not feel like I was gone from my son. Once my daughters came home, I would have loved for the same thing to be possible. But it's already pretty crowded on a tour bus with 10 smelly dudes.
We still did our best. If I was gone on tour for a month, I'd make sure I was home for a month. Or if we did two tours back-to-back, we'd have a big break for a couple of months after. I thought it was working, because I was home more often than the average touring guy. And a lot of fathers work 50- or 60-hour work weeks and only see their kids for a few hours at the end of the day, when they’re exhausted. I got to go have lunch with my daughters when I was home. I remember going to visit school, sitting crammed into this tiny picnic bench area, with all these tiny kids around me.
This sounds like a scene from Kindergarten Cop.
Yeah. I was welcomed at the school. Obviously I couldn't walk onto a school campus now without people freaking out. But it was totally normal then, and those are some of my best memories, that kind of stuff. Eventually, it got more difficult. Meggan's sense of identity was in being a mother, and rightfully so. She had three kids to take care of as often as possible. I was doing my best to be there 50 percent of the time.
She didn’t work, and I didn’t want her to, with three kids, especially newly adopted kids who need that extra nurturing and love. Work became my thing, and parenting became her thing. So even when I tried to be more involved, as a father, [she] was like, “Well, this is my thing. What are you doing?” I felt pushed out of my own family. It was difficult.
Part of parenting is providing.
It wasn’t like I was negligent. I’m sure people have their opinions of me after the fact. I started justifying all of these weird thoughts. I started to think I’d have a better relationship with the kids if her and I weren’t together anymore. We would each have our own time with them and handle things however we wanted. Once we did separate, I realized that many of these difficult interactions still carried over from our marriage.
In the divorce papers, Meggan said you were texting all of the time when you were with the kids. Granted, that’s not uncommon in the modern business world.
That’s an example I won’t even bother to defend. That’s pretty normal for one person to accuse another of when they’re trying to come up with a list of [complaints] for divorce papers. I don’t blame her for putting together that list. If I had my day in [family] court, I’m sure I would have brought my own list of things that nitpicked every little detail. I was touring, and with Meggan’s identity in being a mother and being wrapped up with the kids–which is healthy for them—it made her feel like there was tension between the two of us. “What does he love more? Music? Or me?” It created a level of insecurity.
I had my own insecurities. When I was home, I didn’t feel like my wife was excited to be with me, because she was more concerned with the excitement of other things in life. I’m admitting my big insecurity. I began to seek that adoration from my career. I thought, “Well, I want to be in the best shape of my life. I want to be the best performer.” I didn’t want us to be one of those bands where we hit our thirties and we all slowly go downhill. I decided to start going to the gym. I was insecure [about my body]. I started paying more attention to tiny details about my body. If there's anything that really caused a big divide in our relationship, it was those insecurities. Mine were obviously much worse, as far as being unhealthy.
You're describing moments in many marriages.
I understand her perspective. I repeatedly gave her the impression that while I told her I loved her most, I acted like music was more important. It was like everything outside the home made her feel unwanted and unloved. She pulled herself into this homebody nature, with her whole sense of identity in being a mother. Then it became home life vs. what I did for a living. It got to where she couldn’t compliment me [on any victories or milestones related to my career]. I understand why that happened. She didn’t want to compliment me because it would encourage the thing that pulls me away from her. So every tour that came up, even if it was a no-brainer and best for the family financially, she was resentful of that. Or when I was getting in better physical shape, she was resentful toward that. “Oh, well, that’s just something that helps his career.” She resented all of these things. I felt resented when I was home. So I sought fulfillment elsewhere, which led to me putting more effort into my career than my marriage.
When did you start taking steroids?
It’s a stupid justification, looking back, but I had hit a natural plateau. My body didn’t want to change beyond a certain point. I thought, “Well, everyone takes these supplements that are as close to steroids as you can get. Why not cut the crap?” I thought it would be more sincere to just take steroids instead of taking the closest thing. Every fitness magazine you look at—not just the bodybuilding ones, but the ones with regular people in decent shape on the covers—people in the fitness industry told me that even the fitness models who just want to look lean and natural are all taking steroids! Even bikini models are taking some type of [performance enhancement].
I remember thinking of Brad Pitt in Fight Club as the fitness ideal. And I remember learning that even Brad Pitt was never actually “Brad Pitt in Fight Club.”
Yes, the super-thin but super-shredded Brad Pitt type guys, a lot of those types of guys are taking steroids. It’s just a different type that makes you shredded. So even if you just want to be lean and shredded, not even bulked up, steroids are standard. I realized that no matter what direction I took it, if I wanted to have a magazine level of fitness, I would have to do whatever everybody [privately] acknowledges to be the standard.
We hear a lot about “roid rage.”
For the most part, I think that’s kind of a myth. When I was arrested, I had come off testosterone-based steroids. My hormone levels were really unbalanced. Your body naturally produces a decent level of testosterone and keeps your estrogen levels under that, if you’re a guy. When you take testosterone, it elevates your level to 10 times what your body is normally doing. Your estrogen levels raise to compensate. When you stop taking it, your testosterone levels fall to the floor. But because you're not generating any of the normal testosterone your body used to produce, your body goes from the highest it has ever had to way below the lowest. But your estrogen is still high.
Is that where so-called “bitch tits” come from?
Yes, that’s where “bitch tits” come from; it’s called gynecomastia. Before my arrest, I had stopped the testosterone-based stuff. My hormone levels were super-out of whack. The blood test I had right before I left for Asia, right before my arrest, showed my testosterone level was significantly lower than that of a 90-year-old man.
But you looked like the Incredible Hulk!
I came off the testosterone-based steroids in order to pass some tests I needed to take in order to get more custody of the kids. Obviously, taking steroids wasn’t as important to me as getting more time with my kids. I needed to pass these tests. I was still taking the non-testosterone stuff, the stuff that’s for looks, that helps you get shredded. There’s one called Trenbolone, which they give to cattle to maintain muscle mass when they are in transit and can’t eat for long periods of time. It makes it so you can have the most muscle possible on the least amount of food. It’s not made for humans. It was super- crazy to think, “Oh, this is the best way to balance out my body.” My body was in the worst state of balance it could have possibly been in.
Plenty of people take steroids. But most of them don’t end up in prison.
Well, for the vast majority of people, there's no adverse reaction to anabolic steroids. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances that take anabolic steroids where their personalities may be a bit more obnoxious, or they may have acne, but I’ve learned that only 10 to 20 percent, depending on the type of substance, have an adverse reaction. I figured, “Well, I guess I’m not in that 10 percent!” At first, I felt good.
Where’d this info come from?
I talked to an undisputed expert on the topic, Dr. Harrison Pope. He’s a Ph.D in his 60s who has been actively researching anabolic steroids for years. He said there are only minor changes for the majority of people who take this stuff. And even in that 10 percent or so who have an adverse reaction, those reactions are different. I don't present that information as any form of excuse. I’m presenting it just to say that I was convinced, at the time, that I had no adverse reactions to steroids. It’s an “upper,” so to speak, so I felt great. You have all this extra testosterone in your body. I was blind to a lot of the things that I see now. Even when I started talking to Dr. Pope, I was skeptical. But then he started asking me questions, like, “Hey, prior to 2012, did you ever do this or that type of thing?” He listed a few things, and I said I had never done them before 2012. Then he asked whether I had done them since. I had to pause. He blew my mind with some simple questions. There were lots of things I did after 2012 I would never picture myself doing now. The way I acted, the way I reacted, my priorities. When a person’s priorities change and all their meaningful interactions in life change… Just those two things alone, you have to admit something happened. Those are some pretty big deals. >>>