[You can get the original mp3 of the interview here: download link]
A founder and still current member of Cannibal Corpse, Alex Webster kindly spent some time letting some pimply university kid interview him back on April 2nd 1996. This was my first interview done over the phone and used some high tech equipment to record. OK, so I had the extension propped up next to the microphone on my stereo…
You have a new album coming out – Vile – I haven’t seen the cover art for it yet. What’s it like?
It’s more stuff by Vincent Locke [sp?]. I think anyone who liked our older stuff will appreciate it.
The old Hammer Smashed Face cover? That sort of thing?
Yeah. Well, actually, the Hammer Smashed Face cover – we didn’t approve that one. That one was just something they drew for us. You know, it was brutal but it was just a little bit silly. I don’t even know the name of the guy who did it. It’s just something that the UK label did. Anyway, but it was OK I guess. But it’s [Vile‘s cover] more like the Butchered at Birth and Tomb of the Mutilated art for sure. It’s a zombie who’s strapped to a wall with barbed wire. There’s a bunch of maggots coming out of his torso, and he’s torn in half. You can see the lower half of his body’s totally gone, and it’s just a big pile of maggots that he’s sitting on. His dick’s been cut off and it’s lying t here, and he’s got his eyes and mouth pried open with metal.
So you don’t expect the album to be on the shelves at K-Mart, then?
No – no K-Mart action for us, no! [laughs]
Do you find that can be a problem? I know that yourselves along with a lot of other bands are being persecuted because of the lyrics and their brutal content. Too many people who matter too much in this business read too much into them. Do you find that that restricts any sales you may be getting?
I don’t know if it is because I think that all the people who’re into the band know where to find it. But in America it’s kinda bad it can’t get into a lot of stores because it’s such a big country that a lot of heavy metal fans who live way out in the country might have to drive 10 hours to a small underground store. And if it was in the big chains in America, it would be a lot easier. We’re in some of the chains over there, but there are some who won’t carry us. So, yeah, it kinda sucks.
There have been some problems over here with some bands getting albums imported into the country because of the cover artwork. [Pungent Stench and Infernal Torment spring to mind as examples] To my knowledge I don’t think it’s been a problem with you yet.
That’s good. I mean, there’s so many other bands and I think the reason people pay attention to us is because we’re so big. You know, because there are a lot of bands doing some brutal stuff.
Yeah, Cannibal Corpse is one of those names that people seem to know.
Yes, it’s a memorable name! When we made it, when we made the band, we didn’t know what was going to happen but the name seemed to be memorable. In fact, for our first show we advertised by handing out a whole bunch of flyers at a Metallica show. We were opening for Dark Angel for our first show – the one show that they did in Buffalo. And we handed out 8000 flyers for that show, and my friend was getting an autograph from Kirk Hammett and he was using one of the flyers to get the autograph. Kirk Hammett said, “Ah, Cannibal Corpse – that’s an interesting name”. And we were all excited about that! It was like “Yay! He thought the name was good!” And, everybody remembers it, and that and the imagery of the band have really made it stand out. For better or worse, it attracts a lot of attention.
You were on the soundtrack to Ace Ventura, in fact, you were actually in the film. Did your record sales pick up after that?
Yeah, they definitely did in the States. I dunno about the rest of the world, but they definitely picked up in the States.
About the lyrics – I’ve got the press release here and, I think it’s actually you who said it, you point out that the lyrics are fictional. You’re not preaching about anything. Many bands have started off doing stuff like this and then started… Like Sepultura for instance – start to sing about things which are less ‘fictional’.
It’s weird. Like, I mean, music to me’s always meant to be fun. It’s supposed to be some kind of entertainment. I think when you get politics and things in it, at least for me, it takes some of the fun out of it, because you have to be all serious and politically aware when you’re listening to a band. And what kind of fun is that? I’d rather just listen to a band who’s there to entertain me. You’re paying money to be entertained, not lectured. That’s just my opinion! So, we’re not lecturing anybody – we just want them to have fun. Just give them a little scare, or maybe get them a little repulsed or whatever. A little shock here or there, but it’s kind of hard to shock a death metal audience anyway. But political lyrics, I guess it works good for some bands, but for me… Like, I listen to many political bands but never pay attention to the lyrics. Napalm Death are totally political, I guess, but I’d never paid attention to their lyrics. I always just thought that the music was killer. The same with Terrorizer. Their lyrics just roll right off my back. But I love the music.
Apparently when Chris [Barnes] left, just before you made this album, he did most of the lyrics. Then with him gone, everyone had to chuck in. How do you think this worked, especially with George [Fisher], your new vocalist having his real first go at writing lyrics as well?
I think it went as good as we could have hoped, really. We wanted everything to fit better with the music, and half the reason that we asked Chris to leave was because a lot of the stuff he’d come up with… If we’d left it on, the album would not have sounded as good. That’s our firm opinion, and we wouldn’t have kicked him out if we hadn’t thought that the album would have sounded as good. So when it came time, we thought ‘well we have to make sure these lyrics are killer’. Not just a killer read, so much as they just sound good with the music. They have to fit really well. So that was the problem – coming up with phrases and stuff with a rhythm that went really well with the riff. I think a lot of the problem was that Chris didn’t practise with the band too much, that he didn’t really pay attention to the riffs, and he would just write stuff that went over the top of it instead of actually working with it. And now that the band is helping write the lyrics, I think that you can hear that they mesh better. Listening to some of the old stuff, like the lyrics to Addicted to Vaginal Skin for example, listen to how weird they are with the rhythm of the song. And then listen to Devoured By Vermin, how all the words kinda fit with the riff – without doubling it. It would be sort of a counterpoint. Like the song Mummified With Barbed Wire the vocals go ‘da-da-da-da-dada’ and the riff goes ‘dun-dun-dun-dun-dundun – doodledoodle’ [sorry, but I’m sure you can appreciate how hard this is to get across in text! Buy the album and listen first hand!]. You know what I mean. I think we’re a lot more conscious of the music when we’re writing the lyrics than Chris was.
So you’re using the vocals more as an instrument than as straight vocals, as it were?
Yeah – well, we want them to be all those things. Chris, like I said, it was more like he was just dumping lyrics on top of our tune, as opposed to thinking of really catchy patterns or whatever, and we wanted them to be not just good lyrics, but good lyrics and good music.
I’ve read that Chris hadn’t been practising with the band for some time – it wasn’t a sudden thing.
I don’t care what he says – I don’t want to say bad shit about Chris, but he definitely knew it was coming. The only reason he would have thought that we wouldn’t kick him out was because he might have thought that we would have been afraid to kick him out in case it hurt our careers or some thing. And we weren’t. Like, to hell with him man, we’d had so much fun with this band and now it’s not fun any more. Just because we can’t get a long with Chris any more, why should we keep him in? It’s not like we’re so rich, you know. And it’s not like having a day job’s that bad, it’s just a lot more fun to get paid for playing music but if we have to go back to a day job because half of our fans bail out because they only liked Chris in the first place, so be it. I feel that certain people at our record label [Metal Blade] were making it sound like our careers would be over without Chris. And if the only good thing about our band was Chris Barnes, then we weren’t much of a band then, were we? If that’s true, then I should be doing something else. If I’ve got to rely on a guy like him, if playing bass for 12 years meant nothing and Chris Barnes meant everything then I quit! [laughs] And that’s not the case. I think people will hear on the record that we can do it without him. No offence is intended towards Chris, but it can make you mad when you’ve got people at your own label trying to breathe down your neck, making it seem as if you just blew your whole career.
Well, I have to say, having heard the new album it’s at least on a par with the older stuff. I don’t think it’s gone downhill at all. It’s definitely different, but any band changes when you change a band member – Iron Maiden changed when they got Blaze Bailey in.
Sure. I’m sure there’ll be people who’ll like the old stuff better and that’s understandable too, but the music hasn’t changed so drastically. It’s going to be a matter of saying “I like George better” or “I like Chris better”, but I think the music is by far the best we’ve done and there’s nothing subjective about that.
You seem to be happy with George. He seems to have fit in really well.
Yeah, we’re really happy with him. I feel bad about getting mad about some stuff that happened with Chris, though. It had to happen, he had to go, but it’s so much better with George.
So how did you actually get George into the band? Was it a matter of thinking “right, we need a vocalist” and getting some auditions, or did George approach the band…?
We approached him. We approached him because we’d seen Monstrosity [George’s previous band] before and we were actually friends with George. Monstrosity live in Tampa now – they used to live in Fort Lauderdale – and we live in Tampa, so we could be closer to Morrisound when we record. Save money on hotels and stuff – weather’s better there, too! So anyway, we lived near Monstrosity so we’d see those guys all the time and we’d be over all the time playing video games and drinking beer, and George would be sitting there and we’d all just be… Well, one night we were there and we’d had an argument with Chris earlier in the day or something like that, and we were like “damn, man. What would happen if we gave him the boot?”. So we were just kinda joking around, me and Rob [Barrett – guitar]. George was sitting there playing hockey or something and Rob just said something like “Hey, what do you say? George, man, join the band!”, and George was like “Yeah! I’ll do it, man!”. And we were just joking around then, but then when we got in the studio and everything got ugly with Chris we were like, “Well, I wonder if he was serious?”. So I called him up and said “Were you serious about that?”. He’s like, “What?”, “About joining the band, because if you want to we’d be into trying you out because Chris… it’s not going to work any more.” So we were already good friends, and we already liked how he sang. He was the first guy we had in mind and we were lucky enough to get him.
You said you saw Monstrosity a lot, and you certainly play a lot in the States, but when you come over to the UK, there are only two dates over here [London and Bradford].
The last time we were there, I guess the guy who puts on the tour wasn’t really happy with some of the shows we did in some of the smaller cities. I think, Southend and… (what’s the name of the other one?) I can’t remember the name of the other one. Iron Maiden’s club? The Oval? [I’m not too sure of this either – if anyone out there could enlighten me, and Alex…!] It was a nice club, but the show itself was really small. So he’s like, “Let’s play the two best ones” which is usually London and Bradford…
You’re just saying that because I’m in Bradford, aren’t you?
Oh – I didn’t know you were in Bradford! You just got an honest compliment! Those are always the two best shows. We had a great show in Glasgow, but that’s Scotland and this time we don’t have time to do anything because we’re going to Japan right after those shows. We got to fly home, get ourselves sorted out, just long enough to get all screwed up again! Flying around really kicks your ass for a couple of days. Like, really scrambles your brain. I’m a little bit scrambled right now.
Yeah, they’ve got you stuck in a little room with a list of telephone numbers, haven’t they?
Yeah – I think the people that work here want to listen to some music but it’s really hard for me to hear. It’s a really nice office they got here. It’s Plastic Head is where I’m at. Nice big place, man. The drummer from Disgust runs the place. I just knew him from being in that band. We toured with Disgust once, then I saw him yesterday when they picked me up from the train station and I was like, “Damn – you own this!?” Incredible.
It’s nice to see someone who’s at one end of the business running it from the other
Yeah, exactly. I think that’s what’s good about Metal Blade and Plastic Head, and some of the other people we work with. A lot of them, a lot more than you’d expect, are still into the music. Maybe not Cannibal Corpse in particular, I know there are certain people who work for us that openly admit that they don’t like the band at all – that’s fine – but they are into underground music. They support the bands for what it is.
One last question – again going back to the press release, and again I think it was you who said it – the lyrics are ‘condensed horror flicks’. Are there any real favourites, any that really influenced you, or are you all really closet Forrest Gump fans?
[laughs]Well, Forrest Gump, that was OK actually, but I prefer… I’ll tell you what one of my favourite all-time movies was, as far as horror. I like The Shining and I like Jacob’s Ladder. I don’t know if you’d call Jacob’s Ladder horror anyway, but I really liked that movie. I like, Jesus there’s a lot of them… I like the Evil Dead stuff, just total splatter action and Necromantik from Germany. I have a very bad copy of Necromantik 2 and it’s all in German and you can barely watch it. You can’t even see the picture, really, but I saw Necromantik 1 and it’s classic. I was just in a bar in Paris where they were playing Necromantik while you were just hanging about in the bar – yes!
It’s actually banned in this country. It’s one of about 50-60 films that are banned outright.
Really? Wow, that’s no good. No good at all. You just got to get into tape traders and stuff. People who are willing to spend the money to switch systems and things. Like these ‘guinea pig’ films from Japan. I don’t know why they call them that, never understood, but they’re only in Japanese. But they’re like total low budget splatter. They’re not, like, snuff films or anything like that – I’m not into that stuff. I just like the really low budget splatter. It’s fun. And I like high budget psychological horror like Jacob’s Ladder and The Shining. Everything’s entertaining for different reasons. Here’s kinda the way I see it: you can appreciate a lot of different things for what they are. Like, we’re obviously a much different type of death metal band from, say, My Dying Bride or something like that, but there’s no reason you can’t appreciate both of them for what they are. I like Anathema and My Dying Bride. I also like Morbid Angel and Vader, and I also like us and Autopsy – of course I like us! I’m in the band! You know what I mean. It’s good for what it is. When I see a movie like Evil Dead I don’t expect it to be like The Shining, just like a person who likes Cannibal Corpse. They shouldn’t expect us to be like Anathema. You know what I’m saying? But they can like us for being… the Evil Dead of death metal! [laughs] And they can like those other bands for being more psychological or whatnot.
Well, that’s great. Thanks very much for your time.
Great – I hope everything went all right. I don’t like getting mad and saying bad things about Chris, but we did have lots of problems. The way I see it, it’s something that’s already happened. I’d rather talk about what we’re going to do that what we’ve already done. There’s an old saying – I dunno if it’s American, English or what but it’s “It’s not nearly as important where you’ve come from as where you’re going”. That’s definitely the truth, man. Some people hated our albums before, but I hope they give the new one a try. We’re the same band, but we’re also a different band right now. I just hope people give it a chance.
It certainly deserves to be given a chance, because I think it’s a really damn good album.
Thanks, man. I think that if people previously hated us, I can’t see that it’s such a big change that they’re going to instantly love us. Anyway, I’m glad to hear you thought it was good, man. You coming down to the show in Bradford?
Well, I live about 2 minutes away from Rios, so it’s shouldn’t be a problem!
Great! So I guess you can find the time to meander down then huh? [laughs]. Well, I better get onto the next interview, so I’ll see you in about a month or so. yeah?
Most definitely! Thanks again – cheers.