Cattle Decapitation – Interview with Travis Ryan

Spread the metal:

logoInterview with frontman Travis Ryan

By Peter Atkinson

Photos from Earsplit PR and

To say San Diego’s Cattle Decapitation take a dim view on mankind is an understatement and then some. 2004’s Humanure took Slipknot’s “People = Shit” sentiment to a literal extreme, and had nature exacting payback on us for all the destruction we had wrought by chewing us up and crapping us out. 2006’s Karma.Bloody.Karma and 2009’s The Harvest Floor expanded on that theme, with man becoming part of the food chain to be raised and slaughtered to fill the gaping maw of our teaming masses after we’d consumed everything else.

2012’s masterful Monolith of Inhumanity looked further into the future, and saw man devolving into a species of ape-like troglodytes – living, breathing pieces of defecating meat doomed to wallow in our own crapulence on a planet of garbage. Which leads us to the band’s seventh and latest album, The Anthropocene Extinction, where it all ends – at least as far as man is concerned – as our mutual assured destruction is complete and the planet we’ve killed has killed us in return. Good times.

After barking – and grunting and squealing and shrieking – up largely the same tree for nearly 20 years, frontman Travis Ryan admits to a certain frustration in that nothing really has changed during that time, except for the worse. But his righteous anger carries him on – even though he’s not sure where it will head next, given humanity has been wiped out on Extinction.

But he’ll worry about that later, because for now, Cattle Decapitation – rounded out by longtime guitarist Josh Elmore, bassist Derek Engemann and drummer David McGraw – will see if the death-grind quartet can build on the momentum of Monolith, with Extinction. Extinction takes the churning groove of Monolith and sends it on a white-knuckle ride of progressive complexity and concussive brutality – all the while boasting some surprising melody in Ryan’s occasional fatalistic croon.

On the phone from a Summer Slaughter tour stop just before Extinction was released, Ryan offered the following about the new album, the tour and what’s come ahead, the commercial potential of a band as extreme as Cattle Decapitation and his “Storage Wars” brushes with greatness.


I misplaced the tour itinerary, but if I’m not mistaken you’re somewhere in the Midwest today?

Travis Ryan: We are in Columbus, Ohio.

A ha. Things seem to have gotten off to a bit of a chaotic start with After The Burial and Obscura having to drop off the bill, has everything been smoothed out now that you’re a few dates in?

Ryan: It’s tough to tell, even now. It’s such a weird lineup, it’s incredibly … what’s the word? … unbalanced? (laughs) But that’s neither here nor there. I think it was kind up set up weird to begin with, but whatever.

Summer Slaughter is great, don’t get me wrong. It’s almost pretty much a guaranteed good time, I think they’ve built themselves up as a brand people know and a show that underground metal fans, regardless of their particular tastes, can count on and look forward to.

There’s always going to be people with distinct musical tastes among the fans and that’s kind of something I’ve seen with this particular tour. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, necessarily. It opens us up to all sorts of people who normally wouldn’t hear us or see us, or normally wouldn’t hear any of the other bands, and maybe they might see something they like.

I mean I never realized The Acacia Strain were so like doomy (laughs). I hadn’t really heard them before and last night I was listening to them from backstage and I remember thinking “this is way different than I thought it was going to be.”

Without After The Burial or Obscura,the tech-death contingent is going to need that same type of mentality.

Ryan: Two bands dropped off for unfortunate reasons [Obscura because of visa issues, After The Burial because of the death of recently departed guitarist Justin Lowe], and I’m sure that’s a disappointment to people who were coming specifically to see them. But the tour is moving forward and I do hope people have open minds.

Travis Ryan live during the Summer Slaughter tour

It doesn’t look like either of the bands was replaced on the bill, what has that meant for everyone? Are you getting longer sets or are they just starting the show later?

Ryan: I thought maybe that would give us some more time, but it really didn’t. It was 5 extra minutes and it’s like “what’s the point?” We were given 25 minutes and I think we were accidentally doing like 28 as it was (laughs). So we can’t really stretch it much more on top of that really. They pushed the opening back just a little, but that’s basically it.

I just saw a Mayhem Festival show that was pretty sparsely attended, have the crowds at least been good so far?

Ryan: Oh yeah. There were a couple nights where it was like, “Huh, that’s weird,” because it was kinda dead. But places like Denver, Denver always is a bad-ass place, it’s one of our favorite cities to play in.

But like Des Moines? It’s a bummer, I really hate to say it, some of our best shows back in the day, I’d say like 2006-ish, were in like Des Moines, all sorts of places in Iowa, it was like our Midwest California as far as people coming out and the amount of people who liked us. The shows then were great, but the last three shows we played were not that great, and this one was no exception.

They put it too big of a place. Probably there were 300 people there, but to me it looked like 150. I’m a horrible judge of that. But the rest of the shows have been pretty damn good, actually.

I saw the last Summer Slaughter you were on a couple years ago and you were pretty much in the same slot, doing 25 minutes early in the show, had you hoped to be somewhere farther of the bill?

Ryan: Here’s what it comes down to. I probably shouldn’t even answer this, but we’ve been jerked around so much that I can’t keep my mouth shut anymore. We actually passed on the tour. We thought it was a pretty weird time slot and that we were a little farther up the chain than that. I thought we’d paid our dues a little more than that, and apparently so do a lot of people, considering all the hate messages that got on their pages.

But then we realized, if we don’t do this, we will have nothing while our new album is coming out. So we did this tour for our new album, and that’s the end of it. For that and our fans. We wanted to play for our fans. For people who wanted to hear the stuff.

Cattle Decapitation live at the Armstrong Metalfest in British Columbia, Canada, July 18. Photo by Dana Zuk Photography

You could probably pick worse ways to launch the album?

Ryan: Exactly. It’s still good for the album, and that’s why we’re here. The thing is, this a hard tour to do. It’s routed for a bus, a lot of long drives and we’ve done it two other times, so we knew what to expect. So we said “screw it, let’s drop down a ton of money for a bus and try to make this as comfortable as possible.”

We’re getting up there in age and we’re still playing the same extreme music, so if we’re going to be doing this full time like this, it’s time to be thinking more about our sanity. And our morale. Both of those things can take a shit real quick in a band. We’ve done 30-plus U.S. tours, it’s time to step it up a little.

Do you have anything set for after this?

Ryan: We’ve literally just released the tour dates for a North American headlining kind of thing that’s heavy on Canada dates, we’re doing the West Coast up to Canada, all across there and the East Coast on down where me meet up with a tour that hasn’t been announced yet that is going to be sick! It’s something we’ve been waiting a long time for. I wish I could tell you, but whatever.

[Turns out it’s a tour with Cannibal Corpse and Soreption that kicks off Oct. 8 and includes a date at Slipknot’s Knotfest in California.]

Do you think there is a bigger audience out there for you than what you’ve reached already?

Ryan: (laughs) You’re asking the questions as if you know who I am and my pessimistic nature. Because I refuse to just parse shit out, and it gets me in a lot of trouble with people, personally, because I always give the truth, I call it as I see it. Many times its factual, sometimes it’s opinionated.

I’ll be honest. The band is called Cattle Decapitation, so really how far can we take it? Sure, we’d love to gain new fans, and that’s the point of doing tours with bands that aren’t really in line with your musical whatever, your sound. That’s part of the reason of touring. We also just love to tour and play for people.

I have always seen somewhat of a cap on how far this band can get, and that’s why I’m constantly amazed at how much further we do get. What commercial success can you have when you’re a band like us? Not much, we’re pretty limited on what we can do. But we are doing all right.

At this point, I’m 40 dude, I want to do this as long as I can. As far as touring goes and doing it at the level we’re doing, it needs to provide for us and sustain itself, and we’ve gotten really good at that. That’s one thing I’m really proud of, is that we have come a long way. How much farther can we take it? I don’t know.

Everyone thought we jumped the shark with the last album and here we are with the new one that we feel is still a step forward, and it looks like people are liking it so far, judging by the news feeds I’m seeing. We just put up that full stream of it, so everyone can hear it and judge for themselves.

Cattle Decapitation: from the left, guitarist Josh Elmore, vocalist Travis Ryan, bassist Derek Engemann and drummer David McGraw

I guess one could consider your last album relatively catchy, compared to your previous albums, anyway. This one doesn’t take the more obvious next step and get even groovier, or whatever. It sounds more extreme, more chaotic?

Ryan: To me, it’s not so much Monolith Part II, it’s just more of a logical next step. To me, it sounds more focused than Monolith, actually. As far as the catchy stuff, I only write lyrics to what they are playing. They would have times in there head, like “Oh, Travis could put some melodic type stuff here.” And there is more of that on this record.

For years, we’ve been trying incorporate more tonality and melody into something that’s not really meant to have that. I have never been diagnosed bipolar, but I’m kind of a hyper dude, and the way I’m singing now and the way the vocals fit the songs sort of fits my personality, from what I can tell.

That’s for sure, they are all over the place on Extinction.

Ryan: I’m kind of a handful personally, and as a person, that kind of comes through in the vocals too in terms of being so “varied,” I guess you could say.

Is the theme of Extinction meant to be a continuation of Monolith, or is it supposed to be another take your views on humanity and how we’re destroying ourselves?

Ryan: I knew that we were going to be continuing on this path. There’s just certain things that I’d read about or had happened or had come to light that got me thinking to go this direction. There’s a little nod to Monolith in the cover art where you see the monolith in the background.

A lot of people are taking this as this is the next step in our de-evolution, and that’s pretty much what it is. Whereas Monolith is saying this is what could happen if we continue on our course, so is the new one, although we are saying it’s the demise of civilization and humanity. So where am I gonna go after this, I have no idea (laughs). I don’t have to worry about that for a couple years.

It must be frustrating that the more you write about stuff like this, the worse things seem to get as we go along?

Ryan: It was a depressing album to write because of that, lyrically. There’s a lot of emotion on this record, and you don’t find a lot of that in extreme music. And it’s not in the vein, obviously, of anything “emo,” Asking Alexandria or some shit (laughs). Or whatever, I don’t even know what they sound like or what they sing about, I may be totally off-base here.

Musically, as far as the last 15 years or so, more of the black metal, the suicidal black metal, that more depressing, fed up, oppressive side, that’s sort of where I’m speaking from. We don’t really offer any solutions, we just talk about the problems (laughs).

Is there futility in your lyrics, because mankind doesn’t seem interested in solutions to its suicidal behavior, or just anger for the same reason?

Ryan: I think it’s a little bit of both, but definitely anger, rage, depression and just putting it all out there in a manner that I think applies to everyone on the planet earth really, at least anyone in an industrialized or “civilized” society.

It’s not the people who are living off the land that’s the problem, it’s the people who are destroying the land to sustain an exacerbated population. That’s the problem. And it does suck to see the situation getting worse and not enough people giving a shit about it.


On something a different note, I spoke with you a couple years ago, and you mentioned you were doing some work at flea markets and swap meets and musing over the irony of basically profiting from other people’s trash. Are you still doing that?

Ryan: (Laughs) Not really. I think back then I might have been out there selling, it was a lot of fun. I’ve got my own business now.

That was at the height of Storage Wars mania and somehow we got on the subject of that and that you used to run into some of those characters.

Ryan: Oh yeah. Dave Hester is out there at the same spot every fucking week at Kobey’s Swap Meet [in San Diego]. You want to meet Dave Hester and call him an asshole, he’s there and plenty of people do (laughs).

It’s funny, I’ll go and look at the shit, but he always wants too much for it. Just as an example (laughs) he had a “Lord of the Rings” box set, whatever the green one was, “Return of the King” or “The Two Towers,” it was sitting there and brand new it was going for $30. But I’m a picker, so I was looking at it, and he wanted something obnoxious, like $15 or $20 or something and I think I got him down to $10, but then I sold it for $30 a couple days later.

When they are listing their prices, everyone knows this who watches the show, they’ll pull out a lamp when they’re going through a storage locker and be like “Upp! $150.” It’s like, “Dude, that thing’s a piece of shit and you’re talking a high retail sales price.” It’s dumb.

He’s trying to get that stuff out there, and he’s got a lot of stuff (laughs) but some stuff he’s cool on and some stuff he’s not. And he sells those “Yuuuuuppp!” shirts and hats and shit everywhere. He’s got his merchandise everywhere and his two little pugs that he always has on the show are there.

I thought he was off the show and was suing A&E claiming everything was fake?

Ryan: He’s back. He’s been back for like the last season or two [Indeed, upon doing some research – actually a Google search – I discovered he’d been involved in an on-set brawl in late June!]. It was funny, he was out there all the time when he off the show, that’s when he really started going to Kobey’s. He even mentioned it on a couple episodes. And I’ve seen him out there.

I’ve seen [Darrell] Sheets too, and his son, and I talked to them, but that was a long time ago. I think they moved up to Huntington Beach, which is like an hour and half north. They were based almost out of where I grew up, which was the city of Vista.

I stopped watching it, it was on all the time and I got tired of it pretty fast.

Ryan: It’s the same shit every time, it’s the same shit over and over again, but honestly, I probably can’t even believe I have TV, but when I’m busy doing work, when I’m listing on eBay and stuff, it’s just a lot easier for me when there is some monotonous ambiance going on in the background that’s not just music – to watch Storage Wars or some shit like that. It still plays like all day on that fucking channel.

Well, I know you’ve got other things to do than talk about Storage Wars, so safe travels on the rest of this tour and good luck with the next one, whatever that one is.

Ryan: Thanks, man. And yeah, like I was saying, the one coming up [with Cannibal] is gonna be sick.

Cattle Decapitation, on the beach in San Diego.