Rob Barrett of Cannibal Corpse Recounts Recording at Two Studios, Synchronizing Head Bangs and Zombie Lyrics
Band Photo: Cannibal Corpse (?)
Cannibal Corpse has left a trail of bloated, blue-skinned bodies that traces back twenty-two years. The skull envisioned on “Eaten Back to Life” spilled out its writhing, maggot-filled content. Since then the group has followed the maggots’ slimy trails and found ten to twelve horrific scenarios of death about every other year. Although getting older, the group’s twelfth full-length “Torture” (available March 13th, 2012 via Metal Blade) proves these death metal legends are not ready to be tagged and bagged just yet.
More bands have mimicked the group’s bludgeoning style and grotesque imagery than any other group in death metal. Although they weren’t the first death metal band, one could make a strong argument they are the most popular. Staying on top takes hard work, but Cannibal Corpse is up to the task. Each interview concerning “Torture” reveals its subject exclaiming the greatness of the album. From the graphicness of the cover art to the compositions to the speed and the production, each member has extolled the virtues of “Torture.”
Guitarist Rob Barrett offers the same positive tone as his comrades of carnage. In the following interview Barrett states the album is drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz’s best performance of his career. He also explained how splitting time between two recording studios—Erik Rutan’s MANA studio in Florida and Sonic Ranch in Texas—helped the band get the best sounding record possible. Before diving into the details of making “Torture,” we spoke to him regarding his mates’ recent injuries.
Darren Cowan: Standing back stage at Fun Fun Fun Fest, I saw Alex Webster had dislocated his knee.
Rob Barrett: Yeah, that was a strange thing that just happened (laughs) like fifteen minutes before we went on stage. He was kneeling down, trying to not stay visible from the crowd, so he could check out what was going on onstage. When he tried to stand up, I guess he threw his knee out a little bit. Fortunately, it wasn’t something where he had to go to the emergency room right away. He made it through. Even if he wasn’t able to stand, he still would have played if he had to sit in a chair.
Cowan: I wondered how he was able to stand and play the whole set.
Barrett: That was a bit of a concern. At certain moments, I was looking out of the corner of my eye hoping he would not fall down. If you lean on a knee that’s bad like that, it could just give in on you. You can’t do nothing about that, you just fall. I guess he found a good way to plant himself to the point where he wouldn’t fall down. He just did as well as he could.
Cowan: Paul Mazurkiewicz threw out his back playing drums on the video you made for the recording of “Torture.”
Barrett: No, that was just a momentary thing. I guess he moved in a weird position and just pinched a nerve or something. At first, we were thinking, how long is this going to take for him to be back to normal, but he got on that suspension chair thing that stretches your back. Fortunately, it worked. He stood up and said, “Yeah, I think I feel better!” That was a relief. Like you asked, at first we were thinking, Oh geez, are we going to loose a whole day now that his back is thrown out? It ended up working out.
Cowan: Is Cannibal Corpse going to start dropping rotten limbs like a zombie past its expiration date?
Barrett: (Laughs) Yeah, literally. One of us will be playing and one of our fingers will just fall off. We are in our forties, so it takes a certain amount of conditioning to do long tours, just banging your head all night. Paul is drumming really fast for an hour and a half. We have to save up our energy.
Cowan: Cannibal Corpse has been around for over twenty years. Playing that fast and brutal for so long has to show on you.
Barrett: We practice a lot because we want to be on our games and not play sloppy. Whenever we’re playing live, we always emphasize playing the songs as tight as we can. Given that we’re banging our heads and sometimes I’m not even looking at the neck of my guitar, my eyes are closed. That’s why we practice so much. We have to memorize the songs to the point that you can play them without looking.
Cowan: Do you find it easier to picture the notes in your brain if your eyes are closed?
Barrett: Yeah. For me, there are certain parts where I have to look. I need to make sure I’m going to hit the right notes. If I can do the first note right, I can do the rest of the part. Otherwise, the whole part will be wrong. After so many years of playing guitar you get a feel for the neck. You know where all the notes are, but for starting a riff, I need to look and make sure I’m starting on the right note. I can feel my way around for the rest. I don’t even have to look when doing the easier parts; I’m just closing my eyes and banging my head. If I leave my eyes open, I get hair all in my eyes (laughs) and I can’t see. You try to find a medium, figuring out when to look and when you don’t have to. For example, here’s a funny story. We just shot a video for one of the new songs the other day. Pat [O’Brien] asked me how I was head banging during this one riff. We had never played this song live, yet. We’ve only practiced it and recorded it. He’s looking over at me and Alex [Webster] in between takes and he asked me how I was head banging because we have never played this song live before. The first time we head banged to that song was for shooting the video.
Cowan: Does synchronizing your head bangs help get your rhythm flowing?
Barrett: Yeah, we have to feel out what speed we should be going during certain parts. The first time you’re trying to do it, you’re not sure if it’s right. It might feel wrong. It’s just a funny thing us learning how to head bang during a video.
Cowan: Speaking of speed, “Torture” is really fast, especially “Demented Aggression,” “Torn Through,” and “As Deep as the Knife will Go.” Of course, they aren’t fast all the way through. You have your tempo changes. Would you say “Torture” is the band’s fastest album?
Barrett: I wouldn’t say that, although we definitely have a lot of fast stuff going on. But I think each of us, individually; when we were writing the songs we were envisioning how we wanted each song to be. For example, with “Demented” Pat was probably thinking, I want to write a basic, not-too-technical, straightforward, fast song. Then with something like “Followed Home and Killed” he was probably looking to get more involved with the riffing. He didn’t want to go straight ahead, but put some weird, technical stuff in there. I think that’s how all three of us went about writing the music. I don’t think we said we have to have a certain amount fast and a certain amount slow. Whenever, we have a fast song, there is usually something that breaks the tempo within the song, so we aren’t playing the same tempo.
Cowan: Right, but when you’re playing fast it seems like “Torture” has some of the fastest songs of your career.
Barrett: I think this is Paul’s best performance to date out of the history of albums he has recorded.
Cowan: I read that he drummed to a click track.
Barrett: Yeah, he did that on “Evisceration Plague” as well. That was the first album where he used a click. We were stepping into a whole new realm. Now he’s at the point where he’s totally into using the click. He’s been spending a lot of time practicing on his own, which I don’t think he really practiced a lot on his own during previous albums. Now he’s spending time, before and after, practicing with us. He plays with the click and tightens up all the parts he needs to work on. He has a lot more drum rolls going on. There is a lot more busy sounding stuff going on with the drums. There were some albums were the time signatures were really hard for him to catch on to at first, so he would keep things pretty basics. He would follow the tempo or beat and not do a lot of drum rolls or extra stuff. Now, he’s starting to get the click thing down to where he’s comfortable throwing in a lot of stuff with his hands—tricky, busy kind of stuff.
Cowan: I noticed that with the drums. I noticed it with all the instruments. The album has a lot of drum fills, but it has a lot of bass fills from Alex, too. Of course, as with every Cannibal Corpse album, there are many guitar solos.
Barrett: There are definitely some cool parts. For the songs that I wrote, there were a couple parts where I purposely left wide-open riffs. I told Alex, “Here’s a section where you can go off and do a little bass solo run within the time of that riff.” He did a really cool one in “Cage Contorted” that’s pretty awesome.
Cowan: You wrote the lyrics to a couple songs, right?
Barrett: Yes, two of them. I wrote music to three songs. For the third one that I wrote, I was still working on lyrics to the second song. Things were getting a little tight time wise, and I asked Paul if he wanted to write lyrics. He came up with the title, anyway, “Encased in Concrete.” At that point, we only had several weeks left when we were going into the studio, so I thought I would have Paul write the lyrics to this one, and I’ll concentrate on the lyrics I have left to write for “Caged Contorted.” We didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. The original plan was we would each write for or five songs. Alex, Pat and I were each just going to write four or five songs, pick the best ones, and then save three of them for later on. But it never ends up working out that way. There is never as much time as you wish there would be. I was about to start working on a fourth song with Paul, but we already had twelve songs so I stopped working on that. I figured I would concentrate on playing these songs.
Cowan: Can you tell us about some of the lyrics you wrote?
Barrett: “Sarcophagic Frenzy” is the first one that I wrote. It pretty much talks about a pack of flesh-eating zombies eating off of flesh. It’s a frenzy! The lyrics are pretty self-explanatory. I was trying to get as graphic as possible. There wasn’t too much mystery as to what was going on.
Cowan: The graphicness is what people want to hear about.
Barrett: Yes. Talking about gore, you need to be very detailed about what is going on. When you’re talking more about serial killers or stuff like that you can leave a bit of mystery to the reader, so they can use their imagination to what’s going on. With the zombie gore stuff, you have to throw that right in everybody’s face.
Cowan: Zombies seem to be a trendy thing these days.
Barrett: Yeah, it seems to be getting more mainstream like in movies and video games. I think people have a morbid fascination with that scenario of the world being packed with zombies, you gotta scatter the Earth to survive [this] kind of shit. There is the zombie thing and the “Road Warrior” kind of thing. I think a lot of people are attracted to that kind of thing because they are just sick of the way society is. There’s enough crazy people out there, I’m sure, who would love to have a lawless planet where they can do whatever they want. There would be really bad things that would happen if society broke down. It would be a little too crazy, I think (laughs).
Cowan: The group split recording sessions between MANA studios (Erik Rutan) in Petersburg, Florida and Sonic Ranch, in Tornillo, Texas Why did you choose two studios to record “Torture?”
Barrett: I saw footage from the DVD that was included in the “Wretched Spawn” album showing the recording of the album. I kept asking them a lot about the studio. I said it looked like a cool place and asked if they would ever want to go there again. When it came time to record this one, we decided to go out there because the last two albums that we did at Erik’s [Rutan] we had to drive about forty-five minutes over to St. Pete. Then, there was however long we spent in the studio, which could be eight to twelve hours a day and then drive back home. Do whatever you have to do while at home, while you have time, sleep for a little while. It’s just a lot of driving. It’s kind of a distraction when you still have things you have to do at home. We figured we would fly out and record all the music in Texas because there are no distractions. You’re on a big ranch in the middle of nowhere near the Mexican border with a killer studio. Each of us has our own rooms. It’s isolation—all we have to do is concentrate on the album.
Cowan: The session video shows footage of recording at Sonic Ranch Studio. You set up your guitars in a large room.
Barrett: That was where we had the cabinets set up when we were tracking the guitars. We didn’t use a small isolation booth; we used the big room because it sounded good. The drum room where Paul tracked the drums was right behind that, behind a sliding door. It’s so much more productive when you have all the guys there. If you have any questions that need to be asked, everybody is there. When we record at another studio, if it’s somewhere near home, sometimes the only person there is the guy tracking. There is a little bit of separation going on when we record around here because everybody is doing their own thing. If I had no guitar to do on a day, then I won’t be in the studio because I don’t want to do all the driving. Going to Texas was the best way to get everybody together and have no distractions.
Cowan: “Torture” has separate cover art for North America, Europe and the United Kingdom. The North American package includes a slip case. Since the American version is the most graphic, did you incorporate the slip case as a way to hide the art from mainstream sellers who may find it too graphic?
Barrett: That’s exactly it. We had to go into this one knowing that a lot of places probably were not going to hold it because the art is back to the graphic style. Just so we didn’t have any problems getting it into stores, we did the slip case thing. You only see one part until you open it. I’ve already seen people complaining about it, saying it’s lame, but they aren’t seeing the whole thing. They’re just thinking it’s that one character with the blood around it. I think when they see the whole thing; they’ll change their minds—people with their faces ripped off.
Cowan: Some of your album covers—“Tombs of the Mutilated” and “Butchered at Birth” were almost too taboo, often delving on the topic (lyrically or cover art) of sexual deviance of children and baby killing. It seems as if you have backed off on some of these taboo subjects on your later albums.
Barrett: We had already touched on that stuff at that point. We didn’t want to keep beating the same idea into the ground.
Cowan: So this doesn’t have anything to do with people getting pissed off at you?
Barrett: No, we don’t give a shit about that (laughs)!
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