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Interview

Paul Mazurkiewicz of Cannibal Corpse Talks About History, Metalocalypse, Instructional DVDs, Playing Israel, and More (with Video)

Photo of Cannibal Corpse

Band Photo: Cannibal Corpse (?)

Cannibal Corpse brought their East US tour through Nashville, TN on November 9th, 2010 in support of their "Evisceration Plague" album. These titans of death metal have been around since 1988, as long as many of their fans have been alive for. Drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, one of the only two original members of Cannibal Corpse, took time before their Nashville show to be interviewed by MetalUnderground.com on the band’s tour bus. The interview was done on video, and can be seen below, as well as read underneath it.

Frank Serafine (Progressivity_In_All): So, you guys are on a two-week tour right now. How have the first tour dates been, so far?

Paul Mazurkiewicz: It’s been good. It’s a great package. This is only the fifth show of this tour, and it’s really on 17 shows, so just under three weeks. So far, so good. We’re playing some markets we haven’t played in a long time or maybe never, so it’s been a good tour so far.

FS: You guys have a new guitar tablature book out now – “The Best of Cannibal Corpse.” What are your favorite Cannibal Corpse albums?

PM: That’s a tough question. Obviously, I’m on all of them. They’re all special in their own certain way. You can look back and think which one I like more than others. It really is hard to decipher and hard to figure out. “Eaten Back To Life” is always going to be the most special to me because it’s my first record, and everything was so new. How could it not really mean something? I like “Kill” a lot. I like “The Bleeding.” I like the new one, “Evisceration Plague.” It’s really a hard question to answer.

FS: Kind of like picking your favorite child, right?

PM: Yeah, exactly. We really look at all 11 studio albums of ours as pieces of work that we really worked hard on. Arguably, maybe one’s better than the other – really that’s for the fans to decide. For me, personally, I really just like the stuff we’re doing now. Take the first three, “Eaten Back To Life,” the most special, maybe, because it was first. Is it the best? Probably not.

Obviously, with the technology in recording and we were slapping together an album in a week kind of a thing. Now you get a month and two months to record – you can fine tune, you can really nitpick stuff. I think, where we are at musically, of course, is where we need to be. Looking back, we were just a young band. I think the first three records, we were really trying to find our identity. Then, come around “The Bleeding,” we sort of hit our identity, and then ever since “Vile” on, I think this is the band that we have been. It’s a hard one to answer.

FS: With your 11 albums over the 22 years, the first 5 were produced by Scott Burns. Then, you had Neil Kernon on two albums, and Erik Rutan on the last two. What does Cannibal Corpse really look for in a producer?

PM: You obviously want a guy who knows what he’s doing. When we had that opportunity, back like you said, with using Scott Burns on the first five, we were just fans of what he produced at that time. The big one I know he worked on was Sepultura, “Beneath The Remains,” and that one, to us, was an incredible sounding record. When we did hear his work, we thought, “Wow, this guy’s awesome.” We want him to do our record, of course. And then he became a friend and a really cool guy – he was almost a sixth member of the band back then. We almost thought we’d probably be using Scott our whole career, but that’s just that kind of naivete, being young and just [having] never done this and that kind of a thing.

After Scott, of course, we did use Jim Morris for “Gallery of Suicide,” for that one. We still stayed at Morrisound, but we used Jim. Then, yes, Neil and Erik. Guys that have experience, that know what they’re doing, that have released some quality work that you can look back [at] and go, “Yeah, that guy’s a great producer, let’s get him to do our album” or what have you. That’s key. But then also, really, somebody that wants to do it. You don’t want to just get a guy because he’s a great producer, but who might not be really gung-ho about doing it. You don’t want somebody that’s just going to be there for a job, like “Oh, yeah I’ll do it because it’s money, and I need work.” No, we want somebody that’s going to be fired up to work with us. Somebody that’s going to be excited and know that they’re going to give it their all from inside, from their heart. All the guys that have worked with us are that way and were that way when we recorded. Those two factors, of course, I think are the biggest keys in us looking for a producer.

FS: “Evisceration Plague,” the latest album, landed Cannibal Corpse its highest chart position ever in the US. You also recorded a [live] DVD back in May over two dates. What kind of a set list can we expect with that?

PM: We recorded two full shows for the DVD. That was on the Evisceration Plague tour a couple months back. Really, every tour we do for headlining, we obviously know how important it is to play a little bit of everything. Whenever we play, like for instance tonight, it’s no different than when we did the DVD, we just want to do a good mix of songs from throughout our career. We always try to bring back maybe one or two songs that we haven’t done in awhile. On that one, we did two different shows, and I think we actually had two different sets – not completely different sets. Not like one day we played 20 songs and then we filmed the next one, no, but we were able to say, “Hey, this night we can take those four out and put these four in and see what happens.” If we get good footage, then they’re great and we can use them. So it’s just going to be a mix of our career.

I’m not sure how it’s being done. We’re actually still working on this DVD now – it’s not like it’s complete and ready to hit the shelves. It’s not going to probably be out until February, so we’re still working on compiling everything and all that. So I’m not even sure, exactly, what’s going to be on it in terms of, “Okay, we filmed the complete shows.” Are we going to have the complete shows on there? I don’t think so. I think the way we’re going to edit it is kind of like a live song here or there or two and break off to something else. It’s not going to be like “Live Cannibalism,” where it was just pretty much straight-shot “here’s the show.” We’re going to break it up. So there may be a song that we played on that night and it’s not on the DVD or one of the nights, be it the Albuquerque or the Denver. Like I said, it will just be a mix of the repertoire we have over twenty-two years and eleven albums.

FS: With the guitar tablature book, were there any thoughts of doing a drum tablature book or a drum instructional DVD?

PM: That would be all strictly up to me. I know Alex was definitely big on wanting to do a tab book. We hear that more than anything. People are coming up to us. Probably, more guitarists out there than any musician looking to play somebody else’s music. There’s a lot of guitar interest, of course, with us. So we felt it was good time to do that and we did.

Now, I know Alex (Webster, bassist) himself is doing a personal bass instructional, I think it’s going to be a DVD. I’m not sure if it’s a DVD or… I think it is going to be a DVD. You’ll have to ask him on this, I’m not sure, but that’s all up to him. Now, if I wanted to do one, if I really sat down and go, “You know what? I want to make an instructional drum DVD” or what have you, then I’d have to take it upon myself, get a hold of management, and see what we can get working. I just don’t have any inclination or desire to do that. I don’t feel like I’m a drummer to make a video. I see the drummers out there that are making videos and they’re great drummers like Derek Roddy and George Kollias, these guys that are the phenomenal drummers that are very versatile. I’m not a great teacher when it comes to it. Maybe down the line I will, who knows? Right now I just have no desire and there was no talk to me about it so I just leave it as is.

Alex definitely was, getting to him, really gung-ho on wanting to make a bass instructional video or book or whatever, because he’s that kind of a guy. He definitely is more of a teacher, and he really wanted to show anybody that wants to learn his techniques or his ideas that they can do that. But, I don’t know. We’ll see.

FS: With the 22 years that you’ve been in existence as a band, have there been any major changes in how the songs are written?

PM: Yeah, if you look back, you can think of how we used to do things starting out. It was kind of the traditional old-school way of writing. Everybody gets in the room together. This guy’s got a couple of riffs, that guy’s got a couple riffs, this guy’s got a riff. Let’s put them together, let’s make a song, and there you go. A lot of the stuff was written that way of course in the early days. Most of it was written like that for the first three records, for the most part. But really, that was when we were young and inexperienced. You mature, things change, your views change. Right around “The Bleeding,” I remember Alex actually saying, “I want to write a song all by myself.” Wow, that’s just different for us. Why not? So he ended up writing “Fucked With A Knife,” and I’m not sure if he wrote anything else in its entirety on that record, but I know he did write “Fucked With A Knife.” And that kind of was the start of a new way of writing, for us. Now, if you look at from the beginning to the end, fast forward to “Evisceration Plague,” yes, it’s almost done individually now. Alex will write his songs – he actually writes his songs and he’s knowledgeable enough to use his computer and give the guitar players the music, give me some drum music. “Here is the song” in a MIDI form, you know, “This is the song. Learn it.” That’s a lot different from our old way of writing. He pretty much writes that way all the time.

Pat (O’Brien, guitarist) and Rob (Barrett, guitar), may be still a little bit more old school. I’ll get together with Pat and he might have his seven or eight riffs already in mind and we might just have to go through arranging a little bit or just working on the drum parts, or fine-tuning it or what have you. It’s pretty much done individually, these days, but then there is the times where we do like to come up with a song that has that old school spontaneity to it. It seems like every record, we write at least one song that’s kind of that. The last record was, “A Scalding Hail.” Rob and Alex, we kind of put it together kind of quick, they each had a couple of riffs, it was more of that spontaneity thing. You have two days and the song’s done, as opposed to the other songs, that might have taken a lot longer and have a lot more thought processes behind it. It has changed a lot over the years.

FS: Where are your best crowds after these 22 years?

PM: That’s a hard one as well. Luckily, we have great fans all over the world. We can go and play and the fans come out and they go sick, of course. Just in the experience we’ve had over the years, South America is brutal. Mexico – insane. You go to those places and for some reason, I don’t know what it is, it’s just that rabid mentality for metal that they have. It just seems like they take it to another level of sickness and just going crazy, screaming, and going nuts. It is pretty crazy, but it varies. There’s going to be great places in Europe. There’s great places in the states. There is great crowds all over the world. But I would have to say South America, just for the overall intensity, and Mexico included, is just of the wall.

FS: You’ve witnessed a ton of changes in metal. What would you say have been the best good changes you’ve seen in the past 22 years?

PM: I guess, just the fact that metal is more prominent now. When we started, even regular metal was really underground. To me, I look at a song like “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” that was our baby when you’re into metal. Now that’s like mainstream! Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” being played at every sporting event. That would seem like it was totally impossible back when we were growing up listening to this, because it was still not the most popular music out there. The fact that it’s just become more mainstream, and it’s mostly just because of society changing, because nothing’s different about the old songs, so if people are going to like them now, it just took them a long time to get into it, I guess. We were loving it since day one, so I like the fact that it’s becoming that, I guess.

And then the bands like, who would have thought, when we started, that you’d have a band like Slipknot debuting at number 1 or 2, doing what they did, and for the most part being a very heavy band with the influence of death metal? So I think it’s just great that society, I guess, is coming around now, because I look at ourselves the same way. We’re arguably doing better than we ever have in our 22-year existence, playing some high-profile gigs, selling more records than we ever have. We really feel that we haven’t compromised. We’re doing what we want to do. We’re a brutal death metal band. We’re not doing anything that’s really commercially viable, but yet we’re selling a lot of records. We’re doing probably better than we ever have, and I just attribute that to society changing and accepting it more, and I think that’s a great thing. Those are the biggest things that I’ve noticed that are at least a plus for metal.

FS: Would you say that you guys stick to a formula or are there more things you’d like to do with Cannibal Corpse?

PM: We’re always going to do something subtly different, but it is what it is. If you listen to all 11 Cannibal [albums], you know what you’re going to get for the most part. It’s changed slightly over the years, of course, but I think it’s a mature change and just a progression and I think that we’ve stuck to the formula for the most part. Some people might like the old stuff more, or the new stuff more, whatever – as long as they like something in there. That’s the good thing about Cannibal. There’s not just one album where people go, “That’s obviously the album that’s the best album.” No. This guy’s going to tell you this album. That guy’s going to tell you that album. Before you know it, all 11 albums were named for a favorite album for different fans. So I think that’s really cool that we can just maintain that and try to write good music and not just rely on our past. I think I’m going off on a tangent here.

FS: How does it feel to have a “character” in your band that had a cartoon character in a death metal cartoon based off of them? [in reference to Metalocalypse]

PM: It’s awesome, man. That’s just like one of the added things. We’ve been around long enough to influence some people. When we found out that Brendon [Smalls] was a really huge fan of Cannibal Corpse and all that, the creator of Metalocalypse, it’s almost obvious when you see Nathan [Explosion]. But hearing it from his mouth that, pretty much, they modeled him after George, it’s definitely flattering and it’s an awesome thing. It’s just another thing to kind of keep us in the public eye. So it’s remarkable. We’ve been around the 22 years, and as people, we really feel that we’re the same people, just a little older. Nothing’s really changed us. We’re just doing what we do. When we see things like that and hear all the fans that say, “You’re a big influence on us,” you go “Wow, we’ve been around long enough. We’ve been around a long time.” We can influence people in different ways and to be associated with something like Metalocalypse and Ace Ventura and all that… It’s awesome.

FS: Does it feel a little weird to know that they actually got a higher chart position than most of the real bands with the “Dethalbum?”

PM: It is weird, because everyone’s like “Yeah, the biggest death metal band in the world is not a real band,” in a sense. Sure, they are, obviously, they can go and play and that’s cool that they do that, but it’s a made-up cartoon band and they’re the biggest death metal band in the world, record sale-wise. It is kind of weird, I guess. I guess we just look at it as it’s going to help us. It’s going to help the genre, but it is weird, though.

FS: What would you say is the most essential piece of gear that you use in your drum kit?

PM: That’s a good question. I guess everything’s essential.

FS: What would you not be able to live without?

PM: That’s a tough one. I always thought I wouldn’t be able to live without a lot of things, and I’m trying not to be that way because if something goes wrong, then what? I was like that way a lot with certain things like pedals, or snare drums, or cymbals or sticks -- Really, everything, because everything is important on your kit. I would have never thought I would be using different pedals and I just switched over to a new brand of pedals. I was using Axis forever and now I’m using a different brand. I just try not to be that way. “Oh, okay, something’s up? My pedals are broke?” Well then, yeah, I can easily go, “I can’t play.” But that can’t be my attitude. It’s got to be like, “What do we have to do to make the show move on?”

For instance, it’s kind of a good interesting question. When we played in Israel for the first time a few months back – here we are, going to Israel for the first time. To get ahead of myself, amazing show. The fans were incredible. It was a great experience. We’re glad we went there. It was awesome, but we had baggage problems. So, of course, we’re in Israel and we’re about to do the show the day of the show and our bags still aren’t here. So we have nothing. We have no gear. We have no guitars, I have no pedals, I have no sticks. Nothing – The things we bring, the essentials. So what do we do? Do we have this attitude of “we have to cancel the show” because I can’t play or because Pat can’t play on t his guitar or I have to use different pedals?

I could have easily had that attitude of “I can’t do it.” Well, guess what, I have to do it. Because what are you going to do? We’re going to cancel the show now, we’re in Israel for the first time, there’s 500 fans? I mean, the show must go on. What happened was, we ended up having to get guitars. Alex needs a five-string. The promoter is scrambling, finding local people and musicians that can help us out to get the gear that we need. Of course, we don’t travel with the drum set, but my cymbals are gone, my snare drum, my seat. I sit on the same seat every time.

I’m not used to doing anything else, using different pedals and everything, but like I said I had to. So we went to do sound check and I’m using Iron Cobra pedals – never played on them, ever – and sitting on a seat that I’m uncomfortable with. I’m used to sitting on my seat. I was playing on a different snare drum, using different pairs of sticks. I had no sticks and they had to run to the store and they didn’t have my brand, so they had to try to find something comparable.

At first, it was crazy. How’s this going to work? It’s not just like “Oh, I have to use different pairs of sticks today.” No, I’m using EVERYTHING different. So the stuff never showed, so we had to play the show that way. I remember going through sound check and going, “You know what? It wasn’t that bad.” I felt better than I thought I was going to feel. And then we did the show and I was so pleased with my performance under the circumstance, it was really like a big mental boost for me, in a sense. Like I said, I was trying not to be that way, because I was like that way for the longest time.

Maybe ten years ago, I would have freaked myself out having to play on all this stuff. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to play as well because mentally, I wouldn’t have been ready. But I was like, “You know what? It has to work. I can play. So I’m playing on some different gear. It should be okay. Let’s do this.” I really had to have that positive mental attitude and I did, and it was a big deal for me. I was able to play on a different set of pedals that I’ve never played on before. I used a different gauge of sticks and sat on a different seat and I was able to do it, so that was huge, to be able to pull that off under those circumstances and to use some different gear.

FS: Do you have any personal advice for bands trying to “make it” nowadays? I know you guys got signed to Metal Blade within a year of your existence, so you kind of did it all that way.

PM: It was definitely different for us. You can’t go the way we did it. It was a lot of luck, and of course hard work, but everything sort of fell into place for us with almost no effort other than writing the songs and making a demo and there you go. It’s not like we sat on the circuit for years. We made that demo and we were signed a few months later, and we were making an album. We weren’t even a band [for] a year and here we are recording our first record and everything sort of happened so quick, like, “What the hell?” We never expected that or even thought that that would happen.

We never had any expectations other than just let’s be a band, play the music we love, and hopefully good things happen from that. That’s what I really try to tell people. Just don’t give up. If you really have a goal and you have something set in your head, you know this is what you want to do and this is how you want to play, you can’t give up. You’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to push. Maybe you’ll get lucky like we did, maybe not. But you can’t give up. It’s hard to say what would have happened if we didn’t get signed. I’m sure we would have just been doing what we were doing. Maybe we would’ve gotten signed a few years later, who knows? But you can’t give up if this is what you really want to do and you have a passion, you have to just give it your all and just make it happen.

That’s the way we looked at it. We just wanted to play music that we loved and we were just so passionate about it that that’s what came first. Everything else was secondary. There was no preconceived notion of, “Dude, we’re going to be in a band, we’re going to get signed, we’re going to make money.” No. You’re looking at the next day, just getting better as a musician, writing another song, making the song better than maybe the last one, playing some gigs. Hopefully some people come to see you and they like it like you do. Maybe good things roll from there, and that’s all you can ask for, you know? Unfortunately, I think kids nowadays with the internet and technology, you can make an album and if you’re knowledgeable enough, you can do it on your computer, and this and this… It seems like kids get frustrated, “Oh, I’ve been doing this for five months, I’m not signed, uh, time to move on.” Well, it’s not the way it’s going to work.

I really think you just got to stick to it and give it your all. If years go by and you have a family and you have to move on, you’ve got to try. If you don’t try, then you’re probably going to regret it later if you don’t give it a shot. That’s really all you can do is just keep at it, plug away, be patient, and do what you love to do, and good things should come from that.

FS: We like to discuss the underground a lot. Are there any underground bands that you’ve been interested in right now that you’d like to see make it?

PM: I’m not the person to ask for that, unfortunately. I don’t even know what’s out there, especially in the underground. Especially unsigned bands. I guess I’ll just give a plug to my boys. We’re playing in Buffalo coming up next week, actually, and there’s a band called “Grave Descent,” that are playing on the bill. It’s a four band bill, and we really try to shun locals – four bands is usually pretty good. They’re an unsigned band, of course, but they’re all my old buddies.

The bass player that played with me on, I don’t know how much you know the background before Cannibal, but I was in a band called Tirant Sin with this guy Rich. Chris Barnes was in it, Bob Rusay was in it, Alex and Jack were in a band called “Beyond Death,” back in the day. We played a lot of shows. Chris Barnes was in a band called “Leviathan,” they were a great band, too. Anyways, it’s the guy that I used to play bass with in Tirant Sin and the one singer, Jack Owens playing guitar in this band, and this guy Mike Green playing guitar that was in Leviathan. These were all guys that we all grew up with, started music with in the scene and all this. They have a drummer that I’ve never met before, but they’re opening the show and I can’t wait. It’s like family, seeing a band of a couple of guys that I used to play with. Of course, Jack in the band, this guy Mike… It’s going to be awesome. They’re trying to be more of an old school death metal kind of thing. They’re older guys like ourselves, so they’re more into the old school, so it would be cool to see something happen with that because I know they’re really into it. We’re looking forward to seeing them, like I said. It would be really cool if something could become of their band other than just playing around Buffalo. It’d be nice to see them get signed and possibly do something.

I’m so bad when it comes to these other bands throughout the country or the world. I barely know the ones that are signed, or the ones that are signed that are, say, underground, I’m just so out of the loop when it comes to that. The big one that comes to mind, I guess they’d still be ‘underground’ for the most part even though they’ve been on Metal Blade now a couple of years – Aeon, from Sweden. We love that band so much and think they’re such a great death metal band that it’d be awesome to see them do more than what they’ve been doing. They’ve not really been on any major tours. We toured with them a couple of years back. They’ve never been to America, but they’ve toured in Europe and so they’re still kind of just prodding along underneath there, but it’d be good to see them get some good major success.

FS: Do you have any final thoughts to shout out for the MetalUnderground.com readers?

PM: Thanks for the support for Cannibal over the years and for death metal. If it wasn’t for the fans, you know, I wouldn’t exist. Cannibal wouldn’t exist, really. It’s what keeps the music going, the fans, you know. I just really have to thank the fans for the support.

FS: You have twelve tour dates left?

PM: Something like that, yeah I think this is the fifth show, so it will be twelve more after today. A short run, mostly east coast. We’re not really getting any farther west than Des Moines, Iowa, I think we played there and Madison, Wisconsin. Twelve more shows on this one and then we are done for the Evisceration Plague tour cycle and time to get rolling and cracking on a new record, and get that recorded and get it out and do this all again!

To see a show report for the show Cannibal played this evening in Nashville, TN, click here.

Progressivity_In_All's avatar

Frank Serafine is an avid writer, music producer, and musician, with five albums to his name. While completely enamored with metal, he appreciates a wide range of music. He also works full-time at the American-based performing rights organization, SESAC.

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