Interview by Lord of The Wasteland
Transcription by Will
Bearing the dubious honor of being the first-ever repeat interview subject by yours truly, Six Feet Under frontman, Chris Barnes, was more than up to the task, despite being the last call on a plugged day of phone interviews with the international metal press. A bit of a scheduling snafu pushed this from 9:00AM to the end of the day, which worked in my favor since Chris and I had no time limit once again, so the conversation flowed freely. Barnes’ fondness for marijuana is no secret and the fact that I hail from the pot capital of North America certainly puts us on good terms immediately, even though I am not a smoker. Still, we managed to cover a wide range of new topics including censorship, skulls, cover songs, working with Iggy Pop, his involvement with Cannibal Corpse’s new DVD and, of course, Six Feet Under’s new album, DEATH RITUALS.
DEATH RITUALS – 2008
The new album, DEATH RITUALS, is out today. This is actually album number ten. I couldn’t believe it when I counted them.
Well, eight really. I don’t really count the two cover records because they didn’t really go against our contract at all.
I was out in the store today and took a look around but I couldn’t find it anywhere up here. But that’s not uncommon in Canada, unfortunately.
Yeah, I was stuck on the phone all day. I really wanted to get out to the store and see if there was some stuff over here and if it got out on time. But I’m going to have to wait until tomorrow. I usually don’t bother with it, but I wanted to check it out.
COMMANDMENT – 2007 / 13 – 2005
13 and COMMANDMENT were both written in the studio…
Well not really, but that’s what most people tend to believe.
That’s what they hyped it up as in the press stuff we get, so I guess that’s why.
Yeah, it was more that we rented the studio space as a rehearsal studio before we actually went in and recorded the album. So we just decided to go ahead and invest in some studio equipment for our old rehearsal spot so we could run through songs whenever we wanted to and have something there to record with.
That must take away some of the pressure that you have with recording?
Actually, it’s a little less pressure when you record at the studio you rehearse at. You know, when you’re writing an album at a rehearsal space at your house, you tend to get too comfortable, and then when you go into the studio you’re in a whole new environment. That takes a lot of getting used to. By having time booked and not having time to get used to that, it puts you in a little bit more of a pressure cooker.
Plus, I guess you save a bit of the cost when you have your own studio.
Yeah, but not too much.
I was listening to the last two records today. 13 was a great record and so was COMMANDMENT but if I were to lodge one complaint, it’d be that the two sound a little too similar to each other. It doesn’t sound like there are a lot of differences between the two. Would you agree with that?
No, not at all – I think every song is completely different and has its own personality, just like each record.
But I find that DEATH RITUALS sounds quite a bit different than COMMANDMENT.
Well, everyone interprets things and perceives things differently. I’m way off to this side of things, because I wrote all the stuff. I have a different outlook from what a fan, or a critic, or someone in the media would have.
TERRY BUTLER – BASS
I noticed that you did a few ambient lead-ins and lead-outs in the record. There’s the bass thing that Terry Butler does at the beginning of “Into The Crematorium,” and some other things that add a little ambience that I don’t remember you guys having done before.
Like I said, I feel like every album has its own vibe, and I have a different outlook on that. But, yeah, this is no different to me. There’s a certain vibe that progresses through the whole album, as far as a feeling of dread. That’s the vibe of this record, and those little nuances and subtle details and dynamics really add to the album and keep that flow going.
Chris Carroll is on board once again as co-producer.
No, I actually produced this record fully myself, though, Chris Carroll did engineer the basic tracks. There was no co-producer on this.
Well, there’s certainly a sound that seems pretty unique to Six Feet Under’s records—that really thick, bass-heavy, gauzy sound. How do you achieve that in the studio?
As a producer, I’m not a fan of overproduction. I like things kept rawer and more organic sounding – more analog sounding. Because I really feel that our sound kind of draws from that and it’s really important not to lose that low end to our recordings. That’s really what we’re all about.
Chris In Studio w/Bill Metoyer Recording WARPATH (1997)
Bill Metoyer recorded WARPATH in 1997 and he helped out with the drum tracking on the new album. What led you back to him after eleven years?
Bill’s a good friend of ours, and he’s always been. Even though we haven’t been working together, we’ve wanted to on a few of the albums and he just wasn’t available. I felt, as the producer, that it’d be great to have him involved. It helped Greg [Gall, drums] feel more at ease, taking off some of the pressure of some of the things he has to think about, and really let him concentrate on giving a great performance and laying some killer drum tracks down. That really happened, man – I think that his drums really cut through, and having Bill there as an extra set of ears early on is always a good thing. It adds a little extra perspective.
GREG GALL – DRUMS
I noticed some little subtle things in the drumming – some really cool fills and things that I don’t remember hearing in the past on Six Feet Under records, so I think Greg’s really done a little bit extra.
Well, they’re different songs, so they were accommodated differently. Like I said, we really don’t look at things early on as a whole package – it’s more about taking it one song at a time and breaking it down and attacking it like it’s our first time writing anything. It’s a different group of songs that needed to be accommodated with some different flavor as far as the drumming went, and different flavor as far as the lead sections went, as far as how Steve [Swanson, guitar] attacked his solos. We all stepped it up and had a good time with it, and had fun with the new project. It’s always good to work with new music and keep things moving forward. We’re never been a band to look back and dwell on things we’ve done in the past, or try to make a battle plan – it’s more like we just take it where it leads us.
You mentioned Steve’s solos and there are some really great solos on the new record. Was it a coincidence that when he joined the band after Alan West left that solos started creeping into Six Feet Under’s music?
Because I don’t remember a lot of solos – if any – on HAUNTED or WARPATH. It seemed like as each record came along, there were more and more solos creeping into the music.
Yeah, maybe it’s just his style. I mean we were never really too concerned with solos. We’re more interested in rhythms.
“Crossing the River Styx” is the first instrumental to be featured on a Six Feet Under album. Was it written specifically as an instrumental or was it a piece that didn’t quite fit anywhere else?
It was specifically written as an instrumental. It was originally written as a guitar instrumental that I really wanted Steve to do for a long time, and he really wanted to do something like that, so it just felt like the right time. I think what he did is really, really moody, and again, it continues with that vibe of the album being really dark and ominous sounding. It really continued that feeling right to the end, and it just sets right into place for me. I love that piece, and he’s a great guitarist – I think he’s probably the most underrated guitarist in death metal, and I think he really shines on this record all the way around, as far as tastefully done guitar parts. But everyone stepped it up – Greg, Steve, and Terry, like you said, with that bass intro in the beginning of “Into The Crematorium.” And little pieces – little ambient things – kind of keep the mood rolling along.
STEVE SWANSON – GUITAR
“Crossroads To Armageddon” is certainly a different song for you guys, especially the vocal style you used.
Yeah, that was something that I wrote myself – the other guys didn’t really have anything to do with that. I wrote it and laid that track down myself. It was just something I’d been working with, and again, when I put it together during the writing session, I felt that it really helped to progress that mood and that feeling of darkness throughout the record. It kept things moving along. From the intro at the beginning of the record, to that song, to the intro to “Seed of Filth,” the [Mötley Crüe] cover song, “Bastard,” and “Crossroads To Armageddon,” and “Crossing The River Styx.” They’re little different pieces that help things along as far as capturing a certain feeling.
I have a question about the lyrics in “Crossroads To Armageddon.” Who are “the broken people?”
Well, I think that’s open to interpretation. I don’t like explaining exactly what I write because a lot of it’s very personal to me. It’s really kind of deep as far as how far out I go with what I write. I like to let people tell me who they think “the broken people” are, and how they interpret it. That’s always more important to me than telling people what to think.
The lyrics to “Shot In The Head” are obviously written in the first person from the point of view of a serial killer, but what about that voicemail that opens the song? Is that taken from an actual serial killer’s letter to the police, or something like that?
No – that’s something I wrote specifically for that part, and specifically for Iggy Pop, who is the voice on the answering machine. I’m very lucky and blessed to have worked with him for that part – it was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and working with one of my idols again is something I’m really grateful for, especially to him.
How did you end up landing Iggy Pop in the first place?
We’ve met up a couple times working out of The Hit Factory in Miami, and Chris Carroll has worked with Iggy and is good friends with him. He’s one of my idols, and we crossed paths a couple times, and it’d always been something in the back of my head. I really wanted to get that done this time and asked if he was interested. He was really interested, so I wrote a little part for him.
CHRIS BARNES – VOCALS
You mentioned “Bastard” – it’s a very interesting choice – a Mötley Crüe song, of course. What made you pick that song above all the other Mötley Crüe songs?
It really just spoke to us on a level that felt right. It sounded like a song that could easily fit into our style and our vibe. I’m a big fan of SHOUT AT THE DEVIL, and I was a big Mötley Crüe fan back in the mid-eighties. It felt like we could do it justice and lend our style to it. Like I said, that’s another song that keeps things going. Just like the other tidbits on the record – the little flavorful bits. Iggy Pop’s thing is another example of what makes it a little more cohesive, as far as the general thought and feeling and underlying story theme behind the album. It just sets a certain tone, and that’s how “Bastard” easily works, as well. It keeps things rolling in a certain way.
It’s just that a lot of people would think of covering one of their better-known songs, like “Shout At The Devil,” or any other number of songs.
Well if you read the lyrics to “Bastard,” I think you’ll have a clearer idea of why we chose it. It fits better into our philosophy, and I think there are some really good lyrics and some good things being said as well as a bass line that fits into our repertoire and our style more than other songs.
Yeah, I don’t think the songs about banging groupies and things like that would really fit in with your style (laughs)!
Well, it’s just a matter of the music, you know? We could’ve done justice to “Dr. Feelgood,” too.
You guys did a video for “Doomsday” from the last record—
Yeah, we did two videos for the last album. We did one for “Ghosts of The Undead” and one for “Doomsday.”
Are there plans to do one for the new record as well?
Yeah, [the previous two videos] were both done by Mario Framingheddu, and we filmed a new video for the song “Seed of Filth” that was completed a couple weeks ago. I actually just got the first cut of that today and really liked it – I really enjoyed it, and he did a great job once again. So we’re really pleased with that, and we can’t wait for it to come out.
BRINGER OF BLOOD – 2003 / TRUE CARNAGE – 2001
I know the same fellow who did the last couple albums did the artwork for the new CD, as well. I thought this one looked especially cool just because it’s basic. It’s black and white, and there’s not a lot to it, but at the same time there’s a lot of detail in the cover, and it’s very striking. It’s simple, but striking.
Yeah – the face of death. A.M. Karanitant really did a great job on it, and we’re really happy with the way it turned out. He’s a great guy to work with – I’ve been working with him for the last five releases or so. He’s really easy to work with, and he pays attention. Pretty much every album cover we’ve done has been my idea as far as leading the artist in a certain direction and letting him know how I feel the album speaks to me. This is no different – it was really something I gave him direction on, and to be able to do that with someone who’s an artist and for them to accept that and work with that is a rare find. It’s a good thing to be on the same wavelength as someone else as far as the art, and trying to get across a certain level of perception as far as what it encompasses.
I’m guessing it’s not a coincidence, but every Six Feet Under album has a skull on it. Is that a mandatory thing to have on the cover of your records?
In one way or another, I think that’s more or less our trademark design in our album art – that and our backwards “6” that I designed. To me it’s a very powerful image – it’s really the shell of the human soul and existence. It’s a very powerful image because I’ve been intrigued by cannibalism and the power over human flesh. To me, the cannibal is always collecting the trophy skull and placing that around his territory to ward off the enemy. To me, that’s my way of showing that my tribe is powerful – to ward off the enemy.
So it has that symbolism, as well as a deep meaning to you?
Yeah, I wouldn’t do it any other way. That’s what I’m about, man – I’m about really showing that in a deep way. People can take it how they want to take it – it’s a powerful image. That’s how I look at it, and that’s why I always want that image on my album covers. It’s what I like to call marking my territory, or warding off the enemy.
I read some rumors that DEATH RITUALS is going to be the last Six Feet Under release on Metal Blade Records. Is there any truth to that?
No, that’s just an Internet rumor. We’re actually working on some more stuff, and we’re getting ready to go into the studio again in January and February.
What are you guys going to be working on?
I can’t really let you know yet (laughs). It’d ruin the next interview, man!
I have a hunch that it would have to be GRAVEYARD CLASSICS 3…?
Well, hey, not everyone’s a good guesser (laughs).
(Laughs) See, I was working out some numbers earlier. GRAVEYARD CLASSICS came out in 2000, GRAVEYARD CLASSICS 2 came out in 2004…there’s a four year gap there. Four more years after that brings us to 2008, so I put two and two together and—
(Laughs) You’re pretty smart for a canuck! But you never know, man.
GRAVEYARD CLASSICS – 2000 / GRAVEYARD CLASSICS 2 – 2004
So let’s talk about tour plans – I don’t see anything on your website for 2009. Are you guys going to be heading out on the road anytime soon?
Well, like you said, there’s nothing happening right now, that’s for sure. It’s definitely a weird time, man. We can do tours in Europe until we’re blue in the face, just because it’s really strong for us, but working over here is kind of strange right now. But we’re trying to book some things and get some ideas together, and we’ve had some offers for Europe next year. We’re just getting that worked out now. We’re not in any rush – we kind of want to let it all sink in. We did some good touring in Europe over the summer and last year, so we’re definitely figuring things out. I’m sure we’re going to be doing a lot of touring – we just want to get everything into place and make sure it’s done right this time.
Last time we spoke, you said you were going to be coming up to Vancouver but I’m still waiting, man (laughs)!
I know, I know! I’d love it, I know where it’s going – there’s no reason for me not to be in Vancouver, man. There’s weed aplenty and lots of fun stuff (laughs). There’s really, other than not being able to get up there and do it, no other reason. I’d rather come up there than anywhere else that we haven’t been yet. It’s definitely a priority, and I hope we do get some offers to do that.
Cannibal Corpse put out a DVD a few months ago called CENTURIES OF TORMENT. You appeared quite extensively in the documentary portion of that.
Yeah, I was really involved with that.
That was a killer DVD! They did such a fantastic job on that documentary. I was really impressed.
Thanks! Yeah, they did an awesome job. They really held true to the original history behind the band, and it’s 100% authentic, and 100% guaranteed to be how it happened on my end and their end. I’m very thankful that they took such an honest approach and wanted to do it in such a professional way. I’m really grateful of that, and I was really happy and really took a chance being involved in that, because I didn’t know it was going be done so professionally. I was really wary of it, but once I sat down and started my interview, by the end of the interview six hours had passed. At that point, I knew they were really serious about doing the right thing and treating it with all the attention and respect it deserved. We really did start a whole style of music – it really kind of started it all. We were the beginners of the extreme death metal movement, and we set in stone what death metal really is, and we still are – both Six Feet Under and Cannibal Corpse. We’re still inventing and progressing the style in our own way, so I’m really proud of that video and really proud of them for being so honest and giving such a great outlook on the history of what we did together. I’m really proud of that.
Yeah, you said the detail they went into – I mean, getting the guys from Tirant Sin and Leviathan – they really went back. And Alex walking through the neighborhood and seeing the house – it was amazing seeing stuff like that.
Yeah, it was really a walk down memory lane. I’m just really glad that they had someone so dedicated to doing the right thing while making that video, while really bringing it into a really beautiful perspective. It really took someone with some class to put that together the right way. I’ll be forever grateful to [Denise Korycki] – she really did a great job.
You’re going to be 42 years old this year—
Don’t get ahead of me now! I’m actually going to be 41 years old.
See, there’s the Internet again! It’s full of wrong information.
That’s the problem with Wikipedia, man – you can’t believe what you read on Wikipedia or on any other website, because it’s all there for someone else’s benefit.
Alright, so at 41 years old – looking back, what’s the biggest misconception you think people have had about you over the years?
That’s something I haven’t really worried about, man. I’m not the type of guy to worry about what other people think. If I did back in 1990 when my first album came out and I was getting bad reviews, I would’ve curled up and walked away. But I’ve got tougher skin than that. I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York where you fucking freeze your ass off eight months out of the year and breathe toxic fumes. I don’t really worry about those things – people talk shit, and it’s basically a reflection of their own self-deprivations. I don’t really think about what people think, and I’ve always really rolled on my own beat, my own pace, and my own tempo.
MAXIMUM VIOLENCE – 1999 / WARPATH – 1997
How many more years do you think you’ll be preaching about gore, blood and murder?
For all your benefit, probably a long time. Hopefully I’ll just be talking about it, because the day I stop talking about it, I’ll be doing it and then I’ll have something real to worry about (laughing). You should all keep hoping that I do just keep writing about it.
A lot of people wouldn’t classify you as a singer, per se, but what you do is obviously unique and exceptionally difficult. How do you keep your voice in shape and avoid damaging it singing like you do?
The more practice, the more rehearsal, the more exercise you give your voice, the better, stronger and more indestructible it becomes. So I try to keep well rehearsed, and try to keep exercising my vocal cords.
Do you have to practice singing the same way someone would have to practice an instrument?
Yeah, they’re using muscles, and the second you stop doing that, those muscles fatigue. The vocal cords are muscles and tendons just like any others – you can’t lift weights with them like you can with your hands, but they do respond to training and to exercise and work, and the more you train any muscle in your body, the stronger and more durable it becomes. It’s no different than rehearsing piano or anything else – you really have to exercise your mind and your body. That’s the thing about music that’s different from any other form of art – it’s physical and quite mental as well as very spiritual.
When you’re not on the road or in the studio, is it something you have to do every day or every other day – do some growling or something like that to keep your voice in shape?
Yeah, I rehearse every day, whenever I’m not on the phone all day doing interviews (laughs). It’s been hard to fit rehearsal into the past couple weeks, but I do rehearse from twenty minutes to an hour every day. I take maybe two days off a week. When I’m off the road I like to continue things, and after a tour, I rest maybe a week or two and then start back up, depending on how beat I am. But yeah, it’s something I take very seriously, and it’s part of what I am and what I do. It’s my lifestyle and it’s really part of my spirituality, and I believe that it’s part of keeping my mind, body and soul healthy.
There are all these vocal coaches and “The Zen of Screaming” – have you ever had any vocal training or anything like that? Did somebody point you in the right direction, or is it all something you just learned over the years?
No, I’m self-taught. I think vocal coaches and stuff like that may be helpful to some people, but for the most part I think they just want to make money off a certain thing. Singing and vocalizing are something very personal, and I think that’s a spiritual journey – I don’t believe in classical training. I think it’s silly. I think that music is something from within each of our own hearts, and it’s not anything that’s special to certain people. People on this earth have a song in their soul – some people are able to tap into it.
Keeping on the vocal theme, you were part of the Finnish band Torture Killer for their album SWARM! Did you plan on becoming an official member of the band, or was it a one-time thing?
We had plans to do two or three albums together, so it was a long-term thing at the time, but it didn’t really pan out that way. I felt that I had a good run and did a good album with them and said what I had to say. Hopefully I helped them in a certain way and got them lined up to do more stuff on their own. I had a great time working with those guys, for sure.
What do you think of the violent themes in music – how they come under fire more than those in movies? I was talking about this with my wife last night – you get movies like “Saw” or “Hostel” or “Hellraiser” where there’s blood flying everywhere, and torture, and all these things, but when it comes to the same subject matter in music, censors get all excited and want to ban it and censor it. Why do you think that is?
I don’t see it happening anymore – I see that as something that happened maybe fifteen years ago, but I don’t see that controversy happening anymore. People were getting up in arms about that about fifteen years ago, but I don’t see that happening anymore. I think that we’re hopefully past that as a society.
I know that Cannibal Corpse still can’t play certain songs off of certain albums in Germany and some other countries.
Yeah, I don’t know if they still do – I think that’s pretty much expired. I think they can do what they want.
Lamb of God and Machine Head couldn’t play somewhere in L.A. because it was a Disney-owned venue and they thought that it was sacrilegious to have these bands play there. Have you guys experienced anything like that, where someone didn’t want you to come and play because of something you sing about?
No, we’ve been pretty lucky – I guess we’ve been flying under the radar or something.
Well I’m thinking, you can see horrible things on the Internet, like people getting beheaded – do you think that’s sort of desensitized people or made it more acceptable for certain subject matter in music? Do you think it’s become less stringent, and that fewer people put up a fight against it?
I don’t think so. I think that people in power realized that they weren’t getting anywhere by using music as a scapegoat for other disasters in society. I think that it’s been played out and just doesn’t fly – people don’t believe it. Music isn’t the cause of the problems – music is something people seek out for enjoyment and for an escape from things that are bothering them.
I remember somebody saying, “Music doesn’t kill people – people kill people.”
Same thing with guns – guns don’t kill people, people do.
Six Feet Under is definitely one of the most prolific bands in metal – in the last five years you’ve had the DECADE IN THE GRAVE box set, the live albums, and three or four CDs, as well as GRAVEYARD CLASSICS 2 – so nobody’s going to accuse you of being lazy.
Well, that’s cool. I mean, I’m not a lazy hippy. To me, back when I was a fan of music growing up, it was always stuck in my head, I’d think, “Man, why is it taking Metallica so long to come out with a new record?” So I always remember that, and I don’t want to keep our fans waiting, especially since it’s something I enjoy doing a lot. I mean, if it was shoveling horse manure or something, I could see not wanting to do it, or dragging my feet and not wanting to get to the next thing. But this is actually fun, man – it’s a lot of fun to be in a band, and write music, and take three weeks, and be on the phone and have people want to hear what you say and talk to you. So after twenty years, it’s still a lot of fun to be thought of as someone who’s interesting. It’s the same with the other guys in the band – they all feel the same way. It’s all a lot of fun to us – creating new music and everything. It’s a good time!
Not a lot of people can say, after twenty years, that they still do what they love to do and get paid to do it.
Yeah, well, I’d like to get paid a little more (laughs). But that’s up to everyone out there to help me out on that end of things – buy, buy, buy, buy!
Just to wrap things up, besides supporting DEATH RITUALS, you mentioned that some tour dates are in the works, and that you’re heading back to the studio in January. What else can we expect from Six Feet Under in the next year?
(Laughs) You already know! You’ve already ruined the surprise! We’re just going to do a lot of touring, and some studio work, and just keep the ball rolling like we have been, man. We’re always on that treadmill going from one thing to the next, so it seems like we’re standing still, but we’re actually moving through time and space, so we’re having a good time.
Alright Chris, do you have any last words for the fans and our readers?
Just buy the new album or send me some weed! Either way, that’s what the money is going to on tour (laughs). I just hope everyone enjoys the new CD, and that all our fans really dig it all – our Canadian fans up there. We hope to get up there really soon.
Six Feet Under—Official Site