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Death Becomes Them

Two decades and eleven albums later, Cannibal Corpse continue to build on their legacy as possibly the most influential death metal band of all time

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May 10, 2010

“Our plan was to be a gory death metal band and everything that we’ve done over the years has been trying to do a better job of being that,” says Alex Webster, the soft-spoken bassist and founding member of Cannibal Corpse, trying to explain the fan-following the band have amassed over the years. “I’d like to think that part of the reason why we’ve had such incredibly loyal fans is because we’ve been loyal to them as well; if you try your best not to disappoint your fans, they’ll stick around.” It’s an intriguing kind of statement coming from a band that was once called the most offensive music group for their violent, sexually explicit imagery and music that was the stuff of parental nightmares. But even while they pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, the band’s musical prowess and their continued support for the death metal scene made them the godfathers of the genre. In their twenty-two year long career, Cannibal Corpse have sold over a million records, gone on to influence countless bands all over the world, and spawned a fan base that spans six continents. As the band continue touring in support of their latest album Evisceration Plague, Webster took some time off to talk about their latest record, the joys and pitfalls of a death metal career and how they landed a cameo in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

You released Kill in 2006 and most fans thought there was no way you could top that. But you did exactly that with Evisceration Plague last year. How did you guys push yourselves to outdo what everyone thought was your best album?

We really just have always tried to do that with each album. We’re always just trying to practise as hard as possible and think of new ideas when it comes to songwriting. So on one side we’re trying to become a bit better as musicians if possible and then on the other side, creatively, we’re trying to think of new ideas for making the music heavy and memorable at the same time. We definitely still enjoy pushing ourselves in both those areas and we just still love this kind of music, so pushing ourselves doesn’t feel like work; it’s something that we want to do.

This was also your highest charting album on the Billboard charts. Do those numbers really mean anything to death metal bands?

Well, it doesn’t mean the same thing that it did. For most bands, you’re going to get in with your first week sales if you’re going to get in at all because a big majority of your fans are really waiting and you’ll have your strongest week the first. A lot of bands ”“ extreme metal or death metal ”“ they may sell 3,000 or 4,000 copies the first week. 10 years ago those numbers wouldn’t have been enough but now I think because of downloading and everything, everyone’s selling a lot less CDs and that’s opening up an opportunity for metal bands to crack the Billboard Top 200 charts.

But, I mean, it feels good. These are the charts that we grew up seeing. All the big bands were on the Billboard Top 200, so like if you were on that chart you were a big band. But now a bunch of bands ”“ I saw Goatwhore just got on there ”“ that you wouldn’t expect to be in the Top 200 have been on there; the Black Dahlia Murder, Behemoth, bands like that. I think, if anything, what that’s showing to me is that metal fans have continued to buy CDs at a much higher rate than fans of other kinds of music because metal fans have gotten interested in collecting the packaging that goes with the CD than maybe a fan of dance music might be. While most other bands are losing CD sales, metal has not lost as much.

When Cannibal Corpse first got together, did you have any idea that you were in it for the long haul?

No [laughs]. There was no death metal culture at that time, you know, just nothing like that when we started in 1988. The idea of having a 20-year career playing death metal or black metal or thrash metal didn’t even exist at that time. There was no precedent for it. The most we thought was, “Oh, maybe we can do an album. We’ll make music that we love and maybe do a few small concerts somewhere.” I couldn’t even believe the first time we went to Europe; I would’ve never thought it would be possible to go to another continent. When I was a kid growing up, I always wanted to travel but I didn’t even fly on a plane till I was 18 and that was when I was going to Florida for the first time to visit family. So all of a sudden, a couple of years later, going to Europe and playing shows, and starting to have some success”¦ it’s a dream come true and we never want to take it for granted, what we’ve got.

When we started out, we all had regular jobs. I was still in college but the other four guys in the band were in construction. I didn’t really start to feel comfortable, like ”˜Okay, we actually made it,’ until maybe three years after George [Fischer, vocalist] had been in the band, at least. It would probably have been around the turn of the millennium where I thought maybe we can breathe easy for a little bit, that we’re actually doing ok. But it’s not like pop music or something where you make millions of dollars. You do alright, play the cards right and you can succeed, but it’s not like we’re driving Porsches or anything like that [laughs]. We’re still living modest lifestyles, for sure.

Have the controversies that have dogged you for long now died out a little bit or do you find that your lyrics and content still provoke people?

You know, it’s still around but it’s a little bit less in the places that we’ve known to have controversy ”“ like Germany we’ve had problems, South Korea, Australia ”“ but I think the longer this kind of music has been around, the less controversy there will be. Like, I remember when Bush was president, Ozzy Osbourne was at some dinner and he actually greeted him. And I remember thinking “I can’t believe this!” I mean, 20 years ago people were talking about how Ozzy Osbourne was the anti-Christ and he eats bats and all that stuff, so it really was something to see. That’s how I think things will be in another 10 years or so.

Maybe then most of the guys who are that age, maybe most of the Congressmen and stuff grew up listening to Van Halen or Motley Crüe at least, so it’s not so foreign to them, a band like this. When [President] Bush started out, most of these guys had grown up maybe listening to Elvis, so of course it’s a bit of a culture shock for them, I guess [laughs], because music changes quickly and it changed a lot over the second half of the Twentieth Century. I mean, at one point they tried to censor Elvis Presley shaking his hips ”“  back in the Sixties they were only showing him [on TV] from the waist up ”“ so obviously that’s completely changed. And I think it’ll keep changing to a point where people are more open minded and not so frightened about things that have an outwardly negative appearance like what we do.

Going back to the early days of the band”¦ you had a legendary cameo in Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Tell us about how you guys came to be in the movie.

I remember, at the time Chris was handling all the business. I was actually visiting a friend in Dallas so he calls me and goes, “Hey, you’ve got to get down to Buffalo. They’re giving us plane tickets. We’re all flying down to Miami to do a movie.” And I was like “Are you kidding me?” So we flew down to Miami and met Jim Carrey and he was totally cool. He really blew up after that movie so we felt really so lucky to be in it. And he was aware of our music. I don’t know if he still listens to death metal at all but he definitely had listened to our albums at that time.

So Jim Carrey really was a fan? This wasn’t just another way for him to be exaggeratedly funny”¦

No, he was like, “Do you guys want to play ”˜Rancid Amputation’ or ”˜Hammer Smashed Face?’” and we were like ”˜Wow!’ Rob Barrett (guitarist) had just joined the band and we hadn’t taught Rob to play ”˜Rancid’ yet so we figured we should do another song that he did know how to play. So we did ”˜The Cryptic Stench’ and ”˜Hammer Smashed Face’ but all of the footage where we were playing ”˜The Cryptic Stench’ it didn’t make the movie. But, yeah, he was aware of our stuff. It kinda blew my mind that he knew the names of our songs and knew who we were, especially at that time. And we’re very grateful to Jim Carrey for that because I believe that pretty much the main reason for us being there was him asking for us. We weren’t the only band he asked for, he had also talked to the director about getting Pantera, but we were the ones who ended up doing it. I mean, that kind of mainstream exposure, it meant more than I ever thought it would. Dozens and dozens of people have told me that was the first time they’d ever heard death metal and now they’re fans. It definitely helped us a lot and it might have helped the rest of the death metal scene as well.

Coming to you specifically”¦ you’re known among bassists for your signature playing style. How did you develop your three-finger walk?

I was trying to imitate the way Steve DiGiorgio from Sadus plays. I had the Sadus demo, and I knew that the bass player was playing with his fingers. And Jack Owen, our old guitar player, he got Sadus’s first album, Illusions, which they released on their own in 1988-89, and I was like “Man, this bass player is playing fast and with his fingers! I got to learn how to do that!” There were a couple of other guys that were similarly. One of them in particular was Jason Blackwoods from Malevolent Creation and they were from Buffalo and I thought Jason was just awesome. Jason played with four fingers, I couldn’t do that so I the three finger thing was how I had to go. And I actually looked up Steve’s number through information [laughs] ”“ there was no internet at that time in ’89 ”“ so I just called him and I ended up calling one of his relatives first. They gave me the number for him and I called him up and he was really nice and he explained to me how he played and I tried practising the way he did the three finger technique and I ended up developing a different way of doing it. I mean, there were others like Cliff Burton and Steve Harris but as far as developing the three finger technique [goes], Steve DiGiorgio was the biggest influence, for sure.

You also played with Ron Jarzombek on Blotted Science’s The Machinations of Dementia. Will we hear you on another Blotted Science record?

Yes. Actually in my spare time between these tours I’ve been working on new material and so has Ron. So we’re writing new stuff for the second album. I mean, that band is a lot of work. I used to have hobbies before I joined that band [laughs]. I spent so much time on that first album that I didn’t really have time for anything else. But I love Ron Jarzombek’s music so much in Spastic Ink and Watchtower that when he called me to be in that band, I said I’m going to drop everything else that I do in my spare time and do this.

When is that record expected?

That’ll be a while. I shouldn’t even be talking about it probably, but whatever I tell you, it’ll probably be a few months after that. Hopefully in a couple of years. Cannibal is a full time band so I just fit it in when I can. Ron also does all the production himself, so he’s got a big workload and he has to fit that in around Watchtower. He’s a guitar teacher in Texas. So we both have a lot going on and we fit it in where we can on our schedules but it will happen, that much is for sure.

For Cannibal Corpse, it’s now been 22 years and 11 albums. Where does the band go from here?

Well, we’re just going to keep doing the same thing we’ve always been doing [laughs]. We have an attitude that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. We just still really love what we’re doing and we’re going to try and make the best Cannibal Corpse album the next one that we do. Maybe that’s something every band says, but we really mean it. As far as our professional goals as musicians go, we want to get better and make better music but as far as our career goes we just want to play for fans wherever we can, whenever we can. We’d love to come to India, we’d love to play anywhere where there are fans of Cannibal Corpse. It’s definitely very physical music, so maybe when we’re in our fifties, we’ll have to slow the touring schedule down but it’s going to be a while before then. We’re ready for many years of hard touring to come.

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