The Irresistible Urge to Kill
CoC chats with Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse
by: Jackie Smit
It's 21:25 on a typically English Tuesday evening, and in the words of George Clooney's Ulysses Everett McGill (off "O Brother Where Art Thou?"), "I have travelled many a weary mile to get to this place". That place, of course, is the Cannibal Corpse tour bus, which despite the most hapless efforts of Electric Ballroom security, I have finally managed to enter; and so I am face-to-face with one of death metal's most exemplary elder statesman. Of course Alex Webster needs no introduction; his band's latest effort, the succinctly titled _Kill_, is yet another tour de force in gore-soaked musical extremity, and with thirty minutes on the clock before the band are set to unleash their new material on a London audience, it's question time.

CoC: I know that you've been asked about Jack Owen leaving the band a million times before, but in terms of losing what was one of the band's oldest members and certainly a creative cornerstone, did you feel that there was added pressure on Cannibal Corpse this time around to prove this wasn't a band on their way out?

Alex Webster: I know what you're talking about, but I think that, if anything, it's something that we weren't worried about even a little. We knew that we'd be able to make a huge improvement this time around, because Jack's motivation had been on the decline for a long time. He had a few ups and downs and he did write a couple of killer songs here and there, but some of the material he was bringing to the table was becoming a lot slower, more straightforward, and quite different from what me and Pat [O'Brien, guitarist] like to do. We knew that the new album was going to be faster and more complex than anything we've done over the last couple of records, not so much by the addition of Rob [Barrett, guitarist], but by the absence of Jack; and then Rob's style is closer to the stuff that, say, Pat would write, or I would write. Paul [Mazurkiewicz, drummer] also contributed a song and that turned out to be quite technical. So, you know, all those songs are pretty tough to play, as opposed to what Jack would have done. Now, like I said, we liked Jack's stuff, but we weren't concerned by his leaving, because we knew that with how he had been feeling about the band and stuff like that, when he did leave it was actually a relief in some sense. I'm not saying that to talk crap about him, because he's a great guy and a great guitar player.

CoC: No, absolutely, and to tell you the truth, I think that the manner that you've dealt with the ensuing questions about him joining Deicide since it all happened has been very professional and very impressive.

AW: Well, you know everybody can do what they want to do and it's not our business why he does something.

CoC: So it didn't come as a surprise when he announced that he was leaving then?

AW: It wasn't a huge surprise. It was always hard to tell with him, because he's generally a quiet guy, and sometimes it would seem like he was actually getting re-motivated about the band. We really like him a lot and he's a cool guy, but I think that the situation is actually better now, and I think that people see it when we play. You know, Jack was always a unique personality on stage, but when you see us now, I think you'll see a more focused effort where everyone is more on the same page. Rob is doing similar stuff on stage to what me, Pat and George [Fisher, vocalist] are doing, so it looks more uniform. That's not because Rob doesn't have a shaved head or anything, but Jack was always just doing his own thing. But yeah, he's really cool and we wish him well, but I think it's better for both parties this way.

CoC: Were you surprised when he joined Deicide?

AW: Not really, because it seemed like it was a pretty good opportunity for him at the time. He'd been out of our band for six months and then the Hoffmans quit, and you know, you've got to put food on the table -- and Deicide is an awesome band as well, so why not? As far as our band is concerned, we feel like it's kept getting better over the years. There are always things you feel like you could have done better, and I can't speak for any other bands, but for us, we're always trying to get better. If we fail, it's not for lack of trying, I can tell you.

CoC: Do you feel, when you look back at your discography, like there are instances where you failed or where you could have done better?

AW: There are a few things here or there where you think like: "Eh... that could have been done so much better." But at the same time, I hesitate to list any songs, because that could be someone's favourite song. Of course there are a few things where you think you could have done a riff better or Paul could have changed something on the drums, but you're never going to make things perfect ever. That's part of the fun. You've got to keep trying, because you're never going to make the perfect album.

CoC: It is amazing to me that you still have that desire after so many years though, when others in the scene seem to be losing their passion.

AW: Well, I'm not going to slate any bands to build us up, because there are a lot of killer bands and tons of new bands who are doing amazing things, like Aeon, Legion of the Damned, Prostitute Disfigurement and Grimfist. We just... We don't feel like we're old, I guess. Yeah, we're in our mid-thirties, but how old is that? Not very old if you're talking about any other music besides death metal. The thing is that death metal as a genre is only about twenty two or twenty three years old. It was started by young people and there's never been a tradition of guys in their thirties or forties playing death metal -- that tradition is being written as we speak. So I think that people shouldn't expect a band to start slowing down when they reach a certain age, or to give up. We're not going to. I know I'm kind of rambling here, but we feel like we could still do this for a long time. I mean, it's my favourite kind of music! <laughs> We're as psyched as anyone else to see the bands that we go on tour with. We still love this music and I think that's part of the reason why we're still doing well.

CoC: Did the decision to use Erik Rutan to produce _Kill_ stem from George's experience working with him on the Paths of Possession record?

AW: Well, George said that he had a great time working with him, but we've also been friends with him for a long time. He produced this band from Florida called Into the Moat, and their album sounded really killer. He did the Soilent Green album. He did the mix for In Battle. So he definitely has developed his skills as a producer over the years, and we just thought: "Why the hell not?" He's a great guy, and we knew that he'd work really hard for us, and he did.

CoC: You have a lot of personal history with him as well though.

AW: Yeah, well, he actually met the other guys in the band back in the day when he was playing in Ripping Corpse -- they played in Buffalo a couple of times, and that's where we met him. Then he joined Morbid Angel around the _Covenant_ tour and we did a bunch of shows with them around here in Europe, and he thought I was a pretty decent player, so he asked me for my number. He told me that he wanted to do a side-project and that if I was interested he'd fill me in on what he wanted to do. So we got together, and I recorded a bunch of demos with him for Alas, which is his melodic project. I was also on the first Hate Eternal demo, and he and myself and the sound man for Morbid Angel used to live together -- we used to share the rent on a house. So yeah, we've got a background together, and he's a close friend. If anything though, when you're working together on an album you need to put that all aside, because if you don't agree with what someone is doing, you need to be able to tell them that. He's got to feel comfortable telling me if I'm playing a part like shit without worrying about our friendship, and over the course of this album there were definitely a couple of disagreements.

CoC: You've mentioned in other interviews that he was quite a slave-driver in the studio.

AW: Definitely. Just going over things a million times when we did this record -- I think for the guitarists it was the hardest. I think if you ask Pat, he'll definitely say that this was the hardest record he's ever done. It's probably the hardest album since _The Bleeding_ for Rob as well. You know, we play really fast and really technically, and when you go over it afterward and you notice something like a pick scrape or something like that, you have to do it again. That can be really tough. The way we record, we need four guitar tracks to sound identical in almost every way and that's really difficult to do. Especially with Erik being a guitar player who's meticulous with everything, he pays a lot of attention to that sort of thing. He's also really experienced at both ends of things -- he has worked with some big names and he really knows what he's talking about.

CoC: Getting to Rob and him rejoining the band: aside from his history in Cannibal Corpse, what made you decide that he was the guy to replace Jack Owen?

AW: It was a tough decision at first, because when he left the band after _Vile_, he was dissatisfied with a lot of things, and we wanted to make sure that he was completely happy this time around and that this wasn't just a gig for him. Obviously everybody would want to make money and make a living out of playing the music that they love, and we don't have anything against anyone wanting to join our band for that reason; but they also have to love our music, and love the situation they're in not just for a paycheck. So we spoke to him about that, he completely understood and actually, he is returning to a band that is far improved from the band that he left. We haven't sat still after _Vile_. From _Gallery of Suicide_ onwards, we've made a lot of improvements. As far as choosing between him and Jeremy [Turner], who had played with us for the remainder of _The Wretched Spawn_ after Jack quit in May, it was tough. I know he was interested in joining as well, and he's a great guitar player and a cool guy, so it was no fun having to choose. You have to treat this thing like a business once in a while as well though, and then friendship can't enter into it, and so we had to tell Jeremy that Rob was the guy. It definitely wasn't a reflection on how he had performed when he filled in for Jack though -- he did a great job. The thing is that Rob used to be in the band, and it made sense to give him a second chance. He also already lives in Tampa, so that's another consideration; and it's great to have him back. There aren't any questions about him like there were with Jack, because you know, when one guy starts losing his motivation, then it's not fun for the rest of us either. Now, I think we're probably delivering some of the most powerful performances on stage at least that we have ever done. Nothing against the old ones, but we feel like this is the best line-up we've had by far.

CoC: When it comes to keeping things fresh and continuing the upward trend of improving with every album after being together for so long and achieving probably more than you ever thought you would be able to, what is it that motivates you now to continue pushing the boundaries the way you're doing?

AW: It's fun. It's great to play this kind of music, and I still don't feel like we've done our best record yet, and I guess when you get to that point then maybe the motivation slips. But whenever people ask me what I think our best record is, I'll always say the next one -- the one that we haven't done yet, that's the best one. It's great music, and people sort of expect you to get tired of it, but I don't know why. No one expects Stanley Clarke to get tired of playing jazz, and he's fifty. That's just one example that I can pull off the top of my head, but you know classical musicians play their style for their whole lives and they don't get tired of it. I mean, death metal's subject matter is really insane and bizarre and some people can take it with a touch of black humour, but others will always ask: "When are you going to grow up?" But then, people don't ask directors who do horror movies when they're going to grow up.

CoC: Well, I did think that "Nothing Left to Mutilate" on _The Wretched Spawn_ was possibly slightly self-referential.

AW: That was Jack's thing and he's got a pretty wry sense of humour anyway. I'm not sure if that's what he meant -- you'd have to ask him that. The lyrics themselves I thought were pretty cool though.

CoC: Every now and then there are rumours that Chris might rejoin Cannibal Corpse, and given the current number of reunions taking place in the metal scene, I'd like to make it known to you right now that I will send you video tapes of myself sobbing if that rumour ever gets confirmed.

AW: <laughs> We like how George sings better too, so don't worry. We liked Chris as well and we did some great work with him, but I think that even if George ever quit, we wouldn't replace him with Chris. It's something we've never considered. I mean, we want the five guys who are in the band right now are the line-up that we'd like to keep for good. But regardless, Chris isn't coming back. At least not as far as I know; we're not interested in doing that at all. Again, it's nothing against him, but we prefer to move forward rather than live in the past, and we feel like we're making better records now than we did then, so why look back at that stuff other than playing some old songs on tour? I know that some people might think that I have rocks in my head saying this, but I like how George sings the old stuff better too. Chris did a good job while he was in the band, but we wouldn't have gotten George if we didn't feel like he was going to be better. We'd never replace anyone with someone if we didn't think that they'd do a better job, be it with actual performance skill or with attitude.

CoC: On to my final question: you're playing Sounds of the Underground this year, which a lot of people were speculating around the time you cancelled your appearance at Wacken. Are you ready?

AW: Yeah, I mean, we're excited to play Sounds of the Underground. It will be interesting to see what the people think of a full-on death metal band like us, and Behemoth, who will be there as well. There's a couple of other bands who are pretty close to us as well, like Through the Eyes of the Dead and Black Dahlia Murder, and actually if you put those four bands together and put them into a death metal package by itself, that would probably be worth the money already. The Sounds of the Underground tour is a really good deal for fans, because they're trying to keep ticket prices down and make this an alternative for some of the more expensive festivals that happen in the summer. It's a meeting of different kinds of extreme metal, so we're psyched to do it. We never really get chances like this, because back when we started, our very first tour was a headliner. I mean, how many bands can say that their first tour was a headliner? That's what happened to us back in '91, so we've never really had that chance to be able to open for a band who are bigger than us. In America it happened twice: in 1992 we toured with Agnostic Front and Obituary, and in 1996 we toured with Misfits and Anthrax. So it's been ten years since we've had an opening tour in America, and we felt like we were due. We're really sorry for the fans who were looking forward to seeing us at Wacken, but they told us that the tour would start in time for us to be able to go out and do it, and unfortunately it had to move dates for whatever reason. But we're really pumped to do it. It's a great tour and it's being put on by some great people, and hopefully our fans will enjoy the whole package, because every band on it is very good at what they do. I'm sure that there will be a couple of bands that people might not like as much, but when there's that much different music on offer, you can't please everyone.

CoC: You're definitely going to make a couple of the bands on that bill sound like pansies.

AW: <laughs> We'll see. We're definitely going to put our best foot forward, that's for sure.

CoC: In closing, let me ask you a question out of personal curiosity more than anything else. Have you ever toured with a band where you felt intimidated and like you were in constant danger of being shown up on any given night?

AW: There's a few. Just seeing Aeon in this current tour -- those guys are killer. When we've played with Spawn of Possession in the past, that's another band that you just know is going to do well. We toured with Fear Factory back in 1993 and it was clear that they were going places. All of the bands that we play with we love, but there are some that you can just see aren't going to be opening for us much longer. Here's an interesting example. In 2001 we did a tour in America where we were the headliner, directly beneath us was Dimmu Borgir, directly beneath them was The Haunted and the first band of the day was Lamb of God. Now if that tour happened again, you'd have to completely invert it. So some bands, you can just tell, play their asses off and they're going somewhere. With guys like Aeon and Spawn of Possession, you just know that your fingers better be warmed up for every show.

(article submitted 15/5/2006)


CHATS
6/18/2009 C Burton Cannibal Corpse: Plenty Left to Mutilate
7/3/2002 A Bromley Cannibal Corpse: Obsessed With Their Music
11/20/2000 A Bromley Cannibal Corpse: Death Metal Goes Live
10/12/1999 A Bromley Cannibal Corpse: Bloodthirsty Veterans
6/7/1998 A Bromley Cannibal Corpse: Visiting the Gallery of the Damned
5/10/1996 G Filicetti Cannibal Corpse: Reviving the Corpse
ALBUMS
3/4/2012 J Carbon 8 Cannibal Corpse - Torture
2/24/2009 J Smit 9.5 Cannibal Corpse - Evisceration Plague
3/22/2006 J Smit 9 Cannibal Corpse - Kill
3/23/2004 J Smit 9.5 Cannibal Corpse - The Wretched Spawn
7/3/2002 M Noll 6.5 Cannibal Corpse - Gore Obsessed
3/13/2001 M Noll 8.5 Cannibal Corpse - Live Cannibalism
12/9/1999 A Bromley 7.5 Cannibal Corpse - Bloodthirst
9/1/1998 P Schwarz 6 Cannibal Corpse - Gallery of Suicide
3/14/1996 G Filicetti 7 Cannibal Corpse - Vile
GIGS
5/7/2004 J Smit Cannibal Corpse / Kataklysm / Gorerotted All Murder, All Guts, All Fun
8/12/2000 M Noll Deicide / Immortal / Cannibal Corpse / Marduk / Vader / Dark Funeral / Hate Eternal / Vomitory There's No Mercy in Satan's Oven
1/15/2000 M Noll Cannibal Corpse / Marduk / Angelcorpse / Aeternus / Defleshed Two Corpses, One God and No Flesh
3/16/1997 A Bromley Cannibal Corpse / Brutal Truth / Immolation / Oppresor Cannabis Corpse and Friends
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