INTERVIEW WITH ALEX WEBSTER OF CANNIBAL CORPSE
Cannibal Corpse’s 15th full-length album VIOLENCE UNIMAGINED. The title of the album definitely tells a listener can expect a pure deadly quality death metal in the Cannibal Corpse way. Metal-Rules.Com had an interesting chat with the bassist of Cannibal Corpse, Alex Webster, who talked about the recording process under the pandemic and videos. Enjoy
Interview and live pics by Arto Lehtinen
Good evening Alex.
Good afternoon. Where I am, it’s actually only 2:30 in the afternoon. We’re pretty far away from each other, I think.
Yes, we’re far away indeed. I just read your new biography from the record label that you would have relocated to some new place.
Yes, yes. My wife and I moved to Oregon a few years ago. Like it mentions in the bio, normally that’s not a problem. I’m able to fly to Florida whenever I need to to work with the guys. Of course, the pandemic changed that situation a bit, because suddenly there were travel restrictions. Also, it just simply wasn’t safe or responsible to be traveling across the country last year. Even now, it’s still probably not a good idea. I’ve just been here. I’m pretty good at working on music on my own in my home studio. For the time being, it’s not an ideal situation to have to record the tracks here, but I’m able to do it.
You recorded the bass lines in your home studio. Wasn’t it an odd or even eccentric feeling to record in your home studio, not at Mana studio with the other guys and Eric supervising the whole process?
Yeah. It’s something I’ve done with side projects. I’ve been involved with side projects like Blotted Science and Conquering Dystopia, where I’ve recorded bass at home. I know how to do it. I can work with pro tools well enough and get a good direct signal with some direct boxes I have here. With Cannibal Corpse, it’s always been a situation where I’m in the studio with the other guys. This was a little different. It’s not the way I prefer to do it, but it was definitely suitable. We were still able to get excellent results, just because nowadays the technology exists. To be able to record long distances and have it sound just as good as if you were in the same studio.
Do you think this is going to be a future thing you and the other guys record elsewhere and of course making the budget smaller and not losing the money?
That’s certainly the reason we do it with side projects, because the side projects are usually not on a record label or a small one or whatever and have a smaller budget. With Cannibal Corpse, as long as we have the budget for us all to record in the same studio, that’s what we want to do. That’s just the way we’ve done it and that’s what we’re used to doing. Hopefully, if the situation exists for us to safely and responsibly have me go down to Florida and record with the guys, I’ll do that for the next album. If we really got to the point where we needed to save the money, then at least we know I could do it, but that’s not the reason we did it this time. It’s a reaction to the pandemic and the travel restrictions that were caused by that.
I understood that you entered the studio at the end of 2019.
That’s not actually correct. I don’t know where that information comes from, because we recorded the album in April, May and June of 2020.
How much has the raging pandemic changed your schedule – did you have to postpone some things or did you get interrupted by this pandemic somehow?
A little bit, maybe not as much as some bands. For example, I went down to Florida in March of 2020. I went down there for a week. That was the plan. I’m going to go for a week, work with the guys, make sure that I know their songs right. Make sure that they know my songs right. Take band photos. We had our photographer come down. Even during that week, we started to hear news every day about the pandemic. It was a growing wave of concern. By the time I was leaving, I actually left a day early. I think I left on Sunday instead of Monday that I had planned, just because it seemed like if I didn’t leave, I might not be able to get home, because they were starting to have travel restrictions. I certainly didn’t want to leave my wife up on the other side of the country, during the middle of some situation like that. I got home as quickly as I could. We stayed quarantined and stayed away from everybody, and we really have been for the most part since then. It was clear immediately that I wasn’t going to be able to return in April to record the… Because that was the idea. I’ll go in March, work with the guys, practice, practice, practice. Then come back down in April and work with them on the full album, which didn’t happen. That was the first thing that changed. The second thing is that we really wanted to release this album in November of 2020 and do a tour at the same time. That didn’t happen. We put it out a little later. Of course, when we were choosing April, we had already chosen that date last year. In the back of our mind, of course we’re keeping our fingers crossed. You never know. Maybe we’ll be touring in the summer of 2021, but now that doesn’t even look remotely possible. I think probably the earliest we could expect to be touring again would be 2022. That’s of course the same answer that you’ll get from pretty much every artist you talk to, I think.
I was thinking the same thing, because you will be releasing an album in April. Did you calculate that this is the perfect timing to release an album at that time? When an album is usually out, the band goes out to tour, but now it’s quite impossible.
We could have put it out probably in November or December. I think things were still on schedule to do that, but there were a few delays. I think we ended up taking a little longer for certain things, approving the mastering and the mixing at the end. Once we realized there was no rush, because there were going to be no tours. We just took a little more time. We figured, “We can’t wait forever.” We can’t just save this album and tell there’s going to be the possibility of a tour, because that potentially could be years. Let’s wait a little bit and put it out in April. Maybe we get to tour or maybe we’ll do a live stream in the summer or the fall. Who knows? We’ll see what happens, but we didn’t want to wait too long. We’d rather put the album out now, this year, than wait until tours are possible, because it’ll feel like an old album by the time the tours are coming out. We’d rather put it out now when it’s fresh, and, I think our fans have been waiting. Normally we would’ve had an album out in 2020. It’s been a long time since Red Before Black came out. We were over-due.
Three years ago.
Yeah, yeah. Space, because of this little extra time that we waited, this is probably the longest we’ve ever gone between two albums.
I checked our old interview, 2014, where you said you are usually putting out a new album every second year.
Yeah, yeah. That’s the normal way or maybe once every three years, but now it’s been more than three. I think Red Before Black came out in November of 2017. It would’ve been three years in November. Now it’s more like three and a half years.
Violence Unimagined. Could you tell a little bit about the title of the album? Where does it come from? Where did you get the idea, the name of the album? Is it somehow related to the front cover, because it looks creepy again?
The album cover came after the title actually. Our drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz thought of that album title. I’m not sure exactly what he was thinking, but basically it’s something that’s open to interpretation. I like it, because it’s suggesting…Especially coming from a band that’s written about violence for 14 previous albums. We have all these violent songs to have some sort of violence that’s actually hard to imagine. Violence Unimagined, considering all the things we’ve already written about, it will leave the person wondering, “What else? What else is left?” When they see that title. I’m not sure exactly what Paul was thinking, but that’s what I was thinking when I heard the title. It leaves something. You start wondering, “What does it mean?” As far as the artwork goes that Vince Locke did, I think Paul pretty much just gave him the album title.
I’m not sure if he gave him any song titles or lyrics as well. I think he just gave him the title and told him to come up with some ideas. He came up with a few sketches and the one that became the album artwork was our favorite of his ideas. Those are Vince’s ideas. We didn’t really coach him or anything like that. We didn’t really give him any direction. Vince is really into horror and he’s really good at that sort of thing. If we just let him do what he does, it’s usually killer.
Especially the sounds are really crushing. Eric has done a really marvelous job, I guess you have to be really pleased with it. Do you think it’s still a challenge for you to raise the bar for every album? Those albums are killer and everything is so brutal.
It gets a little harder every album, I guess. We really are trying to make each new album the best one. The most positive way to look at your band’s career direction is that the best is still yet to come.I wouldn’t want to be sitting here thinking, “Our best album already happened 10 years ago or 20 years ago.” I want to keep the possibility alive that the best Cannibal Corpse album hasn’t even been written yet, and that is possible. I really feel like, and especially now having Eric in the fold, we’re even that much more re-energized. I feel we can still make the best music we’ve ever done in the future. It’s hard though. Basically where we can really make the most improvement, I think is in the songwriting itself. As musicians were maybe plateauing just a little bit, except for Paul. Paul continues to get better and better all the time, I think. The rest of us, we may slowly get better, but in general, the way that we can improve the most is as songwriters. That’s what we’ll continue to work at is writing the catchiest and simultaneously the heaviest songs we possibly can, and hopefully come up with our best material in the future.
“Inhumane Harvest” was the first one that came out on YouTube, and now the link is appearing out all around social media, Twitter and Facebook. There are a lot of comments on there. Do you basically pay attention to what people are saying about the new song – Are you curious?
I’ll check in a little bit, but not much. You don’t want to check too much, it can be bad for your mental health. You have to be confident in what you’re doing. If you think it’s good, it’s already good enough. It is nice to have positive feedback, but you have to be confident in your art as an artist or a musician. You can’t allow negative criticism to hurt your confidence. It’s nice to get positive feedback, but I prefer to get it in person on tour, rather than looking at the comments. I try not to do that too much. I’ll check in once in a while, but usually I try to avoid it. Because also the one negative comment, somehow is the one that sticks in your head. You have 100 people say, “Wow, this is a great song. Then one person says, “Uh.”They complain about something about it, and then that’s the one you’re thinking about, the rest of the day is the complaint. It’s better to just not look at those things and be confident in your music and just do the best you can. If you want some feedback, it’s always the best way I found the most rewarding ways. Just hang out with your fans after shows, chat with them, and ask them what their favorite songs are and things like that.
I pinpointed one interesting comment there said by some people. They said that they found some old-school thrash metal feeling, elements in that song.
That’s a song Rob Barrett wrote and like all of us really, there’s a thrash metal background. The bands that inspired Cannibal Corpse, in the beginning, are the thrash band. We love stuff like Metallica. Stuff that’s not really that close to death metal. The kind of thrash that inspired us was Kreator, Pleasure To Kill, Sodom, Obsessed by Cruelty. Those kinds of albums. Dark Angel, Darkness Descends, Leave Scars. Those albums are very influential to us, and of course Slayer, basically all the Slayer, Blood Feast. There’s just a ton of these old thrash bands. Blood Feast, Kill for Pleasure and Face Fate. I love that EP. There’s the darker side of thrash, the thrash that was almost death metal, is a big inspiration for Cannibal Corpse. It was in the old days and really it still is. I still think about Pleasure to Kill, that album when I’m writing. It’s in the back of my head. It’s one of those albums that created an idea for me of what dark heavy aggressive music should be. Although people consider that to be nothing but thrash at this point, it was really close to the time’s death metal. If you listen to Death, Scream Bloody Gore, and you listened to Kreator, Pleasure to Kill. Those albums are closer to each other than Kreator, Pleasure to Kill is to say Metallica, Master of Puppets, for example. Also one of my favorite albums, by the way. I love Metallica’s Master of Puppets, but you get my point. I like that type of thrash or Dark Angel too. Dark Angel and even some Slayer. It’s almost death metal really. That’s where we’re coming from. I don’t think it should surprise people too much that we have that sort of thing in our music. Especially if they really want to go back and listen to our older stuff, like listen to Eaten Back to Life, for example, there’s thrashy things all over that album in particular. I feel the death-thrash kind of thing has been a part of our band. We are a death metal band, but we have a thrashy element for sure.
Erik Rutan was behind the desk and wrote the three songs. Did he bring some new tips or ideas for the writing?
He wrote three songs and the lyrics for those songs on his own. His style, I think one of the noticeable things about it, is that there’s a lot of things where the guitar player on the left is playing a part that’s fairly different, from the guitar player on the right. There’s a lot of rhythm guitar interplay going on. When we write songs, Rob and I have a little bit of that stuff, but Erik has a lot more. That’s one thing that he’s really added on this album, is a lot of interplay between the two rhythm guitars. Then also there’s just a slight dark neoclassical edge to his writing style. It’s dark, it’s evil sounding. There’s just a slight classical vibe to it. I can’t quite explain, but it’s in there. The songs he wrote, if you check them out, I think you’ll hear what I’m talking about. It’s Condemnation Contagion, Ritual Annihilation and Over Torture. Those are the three songs that Erik did and they’re really dark-heavy songs. They’re Cannibal Corpse songs, but you can catch a little bit of Erik’s writing personality in them, for sure.
Erik is now an official member of Cannibal Corpse. He’s always busy with studio things and he has Hate Eternal. What if you face a schedule conflict, like if he has got very important bands coming to his studio, he has to work there, but otherwise he has to be on the tour. How are you going to sort out this one?
It’s tricky. You have to be ahead of everything by months and months and months. For example, if we’re going to do a tour… Let’s say the pandemic ends right now, then the first tour we would do would still be about eight or nine months from now. It takes that long to get everything ready. It’s the same thing, when bands are recording albums, they’re usually going to let you know, maybe even a year in advance. We want to use your studio. There’s time to work these things out. Erik has let us know that he’ll make Cannibal Corpse a priority, but we also know and want him to keep going with Mana studios as much as he wants to and with Hate Eternal as much as he wants to. He’s still doing Hate Eternal and he’s still going to do his studio. He wants to make Cannibal a priority. We’ll work on the schedule though. Erik likes to work hard. For example, if Cannibal does two months of touring and then we have two months off, he might do an album during those two months. When the rest of us are taking a vacation, Erik will just go right back to work and record somebody’s album. That’s how he is. He loves to work.
You have to bring the Hate Eternal with Cannibal Corpse and Eric has to do the double slot in the same night.
You’re going to have to ask Erik if he wants to do that. I’m not asking him.
As for videos, the “Code of the Slashers” from the previous album was like a horror movie and you were not on that video. Guys on the video were going after people and stabbing them. It was kind of a horror thing. Those videos and “Evisceration Plague”, they all have storylines going on. What about the next video – Are you going to have the same kind of storyline for the upcoming videos? Actually “Code of the Slashers” could be a full-time movie.
Yeah, we like that. Obviously our band, our music and lyrics, they’re a musical equivalent of a horror movie. To have our videos be a miniature horror movie is exactly what we want. That’ll be the same for videos we do for this album. We will have at some point in the coming weeks, maybe a month from now or something like that. There should be a video coming for “Inhumane Harvest”. We already released the visualizer, because the video wasn’t quite finished yet. We wanted to make sure we got the press release out, and let everybody hear the song. A video should be coming in another couple of weeks for that song. It will be something that goes along quite well with the lyrics. Also other band won’t be in it just in large part, because I’m over here and those guys are down there. Plus, the guy that we’re using for the video lives up in Pennsylvania. There would have been a lot of cross-country travel going on, which just isn’t safe or responsible right now.It makes more sense for them to do a little horror movie kind of video based on our lyrics right now, similar to what we did with Code of the Slashers, where the band wasn’t in it. It makes sense to do it that way this time too.
Have you been thinking about the cartoon thing, as Obituary did?
A cartoon would be cool and it would be great if Vince Locke was into animation. That’s how I’d like to do it. To have some horror story animated by Vince, but we’ve never seriously talked about doing that. I think it would probably be pretty time-consuming and expensive. I’d like to do it. If Vince wanted to do it, that’s how I would like to do it. Would be to have Vince Locke do an animated video for us. I think that would be amazing. He’s our artist and his style is the Cannibal Corpse style. He’s the person I would want if we ever did some sort of cartoon thing of our lyrics. It would be cool to do maybe one of the supernatural songs that way. You can have something less realistic in a cartoon. It makes more sense to have those kinds of things. We have no plans for that, but I would be interested in doing it in the future.
What kind of plans do you have? I guess summer is pretty much, I don’t know what’s going to happen. The rest of the years is a big question mark now. But I guess live streaming, promoting the new album, but what else?
We might do a live stream sometime later this year. We still haven’t decided. Of course, like the rest of the world, we’re all hopeful that this pandemic ends and that things get back to normal. Maybe if possible, hopefully, 2022. I bet you, we don’t do any shows until sometime in 2022. That would be my best guess, but of course, nobody knows the future. That’s one thing I think we’ve all learned is that it’s pretty hard to predict what’s coming next.In the meantime, just practicing a lot and even working on new material. Why not? We’re home. Might as well just stay creative and keep playing a lot and practicing and writing.
Last time you played in Helsinki 2018, it was in the summertime. It was hot.
Then you played in Oulu. I was told that you had to go to back to the hotel to rest.
We all did. Everybody was really tired. My wife was with me and she actually wasn’t feeling that well from the heat. We didn’t expect that, obviously…
You were in Finland.
Yeah, yeah, practically. I don’t think that city is quite an arctic circle, but it’s getting pretty close.
Pretty close, pretty close. Up in the North.
Not the weather that people expect from Northern Finland, that’s for sure.
That’s a metal town, always a metal town. They had metal festival. For Example Dark Angel has played there.
That’s awesome. We had a great show, but for sure, we were all pretty drained physically by the time it was finished. That kind of heat and humidity will kick your ass, no question.
My time is up, thank you for this short interview.
It’s my pleasure. Hopefully we’ll be back over there sooner than later. Thanks again, man.
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