DATE OF INTERVIEW:
31st March 2011
Alongside other hegemonists of their field such as Napalm Death and Cradle of Filth, Cannibal Corpse is a name that has become synonymous with extreme music in the consciousness of contemporary popular culture, often appropriated as an example of sonic extremity through casual references in mainstream media. Such is the impact they have made globally throughout a 20+ year career through creating consistently brutal and hard-hitting quality music over the course of eleven studio albums. Transcending the controversy and inane criticism they've sporadically encountered with the provocative horror imagery utilised in their artwork and lyrics, Cannibal Corpse have remained true to their aesthetic by continuing to create the music they've always wanted to. And it seems their popularity is at an all-time high with the recently released DVD 'Global Evisceration' hitting various official music video charts around the world, including number 35 in the UK, one place above Cliff Richard no less! Metal Discovery recently caught up with bassist Alex Webster by phone...
METAL DISCOVERY: How you doing?
ALEX WEBSTER: I’m doing good, actually. I’ve just finished up another interview so I’m ready to go.
(Alex Webster on latest DVD 'Global Evisceration' entering the official UK music video chart above Cliff Richard and Cats: The Musical)
"That’s just so weird being even next to those names!"
Cannibal Corpse - uncredited promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: We've done an interview before, actually, about two years go in Nottingham on the Bodom tour.
AW: Yeah, I sort of remember how the Nottingham venue is…that’s Rock City, right?
MD: That’s right, yeah. That was a good gig.
AW: Yeah, that was a fun show for us too because doing that tour with Bodom really helped put us in front of a lot more people than we were previously seeing at our shows in the UK. It gave us a little boost because when we came back with Dying Fetus, that was the biggest one we’d ever done.
MD: So you had more people there than would usually come out on a headline tour for you then?
AW: Yeah, but part of that was the bands with us; it was a pretty strong package – Trigger the Bloodshed, Annotations and Dying Fetus. But the Bodom tour helped. When we played London with the Fetus tour, I think it was sold out with fourteen hundred people. It’s one of the first times we’ve ever sold out London, and then selling out such a big place. In part, I think it could be because we did the Bodom tour as we played all these shows and it kind of raised our visibility in the UK in general, opening for those guys. Even though it was a little bit of an odd bill for some people, I think it helped. The show we did in London with them at the Forum, it was over two thousand people.
MD: It must seem weird after over twenty years and suddenly getting a lot more recognition in a particular country.
AW: Yeah…honestly, for the past maybe five years or so things have really been on an upswing for us, and it’s not the usual career arc! [laughs] But we will take it, for sure!
MD: So you have the ‘Global Evisceration’ DVD just come out a couple of weeks ago – how much involvement and input did the band have in what footage was and wasn’t included on there?
AW: You know, really, what it ended up being was mostly Denise Korycki. She’s the filmmaker and she pretty much does all the editing herself. I think she had a friend who did assist her in Brooklyn when she got home from touring with all the footage and everything. The vast majority of what you see there is her and her hard work. She was the one who cobbled it together and the story that it winds up telling; creatively it’s all her. Obviously, the footage is us and just us being ourselves, playing on stage and doing what we normally do but the way that it’s put together is her. We had nothing to do with the editing. She would send us a rough draft and if there was something we didn’t like we’d ask her to change it but there was very little of that. I guess it was our idea in the first place to do something like this and have a sort of travelogue/live DVD, which is something which we really hadn’t done before but the creative part, and the reason that it is so good, is because of her hard work and her ability to tell a story on the DVD, instead of it being really dry. By the time you get to the end you’ve travelled with us.
MD: Definitely. It’s hit the music video charts big-time as well because it was, amazingly, number 35 in the UK, number 5 in Canada, and 17 in the States – was that a bit of a surprise to achieve those positions?
AW: Yeah. I don’t really know those charts the way I know music charts so I don’t know how good that is. It looks good! That seems like good news. I know, for example, in America if a CD breaks onto the Billboard top 200 that’s usually good but I don’t really understand the DVD charts – if that means a whole lot or if it’s not so much of a big deal. I think it must mean something because our last DVD didn’t do that. ‘Centuries of Torment’ didn’t chart nearly as well.
MD: I would presume that a DVD would be more a medium that people would go out and actually buy in a physical format because, obviously, an album is easier to download on the internet.
AW: Yeah, it’s much harder to download a DVD. You’d be waiting there, even with a fast connection, it would take hours to download a real DVD quality.
MD: I looked at the UK music video chart last week and you were one place above Cliff Richard and two places above ‘Cats: The Musical’!
AW: [laughs] That’s just so weird being even next to those names!
MD: And they all begin with ‘C’ as well. I was looking at it thinking, is this alphabetically sorted?!...oh no, you are actually above Cliff Richard and ‘Cats: The Musical’!
AW: [laughs] That’s pretty funny!
MD: The ‘Cats…’ one had been on the chart for more than five hundred weeks though, so it’s probably been going up and down to be fair.
AW: Yeah, and that’s the one thing that people have to keep in mind. Like, for example, we just posted the good news on Facebook and everything…and you get hundreds and hundreds of people writing good stuff but there’s always a couple of people who are like, “oh, the band’s commercial now”. It’s like, okay, let’s put it in perspective – we sold nine hundred DVDs in the United States in one week which is excellent but it’s not like when ‘Avatar’ came out! [laughs] It’s nine hundred, it’s not nine thousand, or ninety thousand, or nine hundred thousand, like some of these artists can do. So it’s a different level. For death metal, we’ve been able to reach about as high as any death metal band has but the ceiling’s still really low compared to more mainstream stuff.
MD: Yeah but, like you say, in the context of what it is, death metal hitting the charts like that, it’s still an amazing achievement.
AW: Yeah, it’s an accomplishment we’re quite proud of but we need to keep it in perspective. We’re not Soundgarden level or something! [laughs]
MD: Well, maybe soon, you never know!
AW: Well, if it was gonna happen it would’ve happened already, right?! [laughs]
MD: Your popularity’s soaring these days! You're still on the up!
AW: This is true, you just never know. There are certain bands that have little periods throughout their career where, all of a sudden, they’re bigger than they were for a little while. I think even bands that have been very consistent still have those little peaks and valleys like Iron Maiden or Slayer, whatever bands we look up to for having consistent careers. You know, they’ve also had areas where they’ve surged in popularity a little bit too. We’re experiencing one of those and we’re also prepared for it to go away. We’ll take the good with the bad but, right now, things are good.
MD: I think that’s probably aligned with certain scenes and subgenres of metal where their popularity seems to peak and trough at certain times so, you know, when death metal soars I guess you’re there at the forefront.
AW: Yeah, that’s the nice thing is that we were able to reap the benefits of…our consistency paid off, I guess you could say. We just kept going and going, even when death metal wasn’t very popular in the late nineties when black metal was really a big thing, and its popularity had definitely eclipsed death metal at that time. That’s fine; I mean, black metal’s a great genre of metal too so we’re cool with that but we were aware that death metal wasn’t the next big thing anymore. That was fine, you know, we just kept plugging away and then, all of a sudden, deathcore and even metalcore kind of started drawing more mainstream music fans into heavier kinds of music. I think metalcore directly led to deathcore and then deathcore directly leads to bands like us doing really well.
MD: Definitely, yeah, so it sort of comes full circle almost.
AW: I think it does. It was something that we kind of always knew – this killer music, and I’m not just saying Cannibal Corpse, but I’m saying death metal in general, well played death metal like Morbid Angel, Deicide, Nile and that kind of stuff…it’s something where we always knew that it could be more popular than it was. It was just waiting to get the word out there but without radio play and without video play it was tough. I think having the deathcore scene in combination with modern technology and the internet, it’s really helped to get the word out there, and now you see bands like us and Suffocation are able to play festivals like Bloodstock and all these big festivals. Nile plays all those big festivals too and it never used to be that way years ago. So all of us who stuck it out have been able to reap the benefits.
MD: So you’ve just carried on doing your thing and waited in the wings for the scene to get popular again kind of thing.
AW: Yeah. I mean, we didn’t know this would happen but we’re glad it did, and we realised that the potential was there. All along, I think we knew that death metal is killer. We love it and knew that more people could like this. If they didn’t know about it they might be scared away by the album covers or something but if they see it live or give it a listen…and I think that’s where we’re at now, like if you go online you can hear any of our songs on YouTube for free. There’s no investment to learn about bands now and that’s the flipside of…you know, everybody talks about the negative side of the internet with illegal downloading and whatever, and it’s true that has hurt the music business but it’s also true that the word has spread a lot. There’s no doubt about it.
MD: Pros and cons, I guess.
AW: Pros and cons, for sure.
MD: The main live stuff on the DVD is from a couple of different shows in the States – did you actually shoot more gigs on that tour and choose the best or were those two specifically shot for the DVD?
AW: With the budget we were dealing with, we really didn’t have the option to shoot more than two shows. We don’t fix stuff on our live albums…I believe there was some editing done with the kick drums but, beyond that, everything is what it was. So we need two nights - that way, we feel confident enough…if you’re only recording one night you might make a mistake because you’re worried about making a mistake; a mistake you would not normally make in a song. So, by having two nights to choose from, that took all of that anxiety out of it and we were able to relax and play as we normally do. And so everything is what it is. It’s a dirty little secret out there but a lot of bands re-record stuff.
MD: Oh yeah, I know about overdubs.
AW: And we don’t. They get the live masters and they take it, you know, the guy who produced it, Pete Robertson is also our live soundman, and there was no going into the studio and changing mistakes, and things like that. There are probably some mistakes on there and we just left ‘em.
MD: If there’s the odd mistake on there then it just proves you’re human anyway, at the end of the day.
AW: Yeah, to me it’s okay to do what you need to do to make a studio album sound perfect, you know, do as many takes as you need to, but when you’re selling something like a live album it should be a live album. We really strongly believe in that and we’re quite willing to leave those imperfections in. It is what happened that night in Denver and that night in Albuquerque. What you hear is what happened; it’s not us going back in a month later and fixing it. We really want our live albums to be live. That’s why we did those two shows – we were lucky they were both good sized venues, you know, the perfect sized smaller theatres. We don’t want to be somewhere too big because that’s not the kind of band we are really. We enjoy playing a big festival like Bloodstock but where we’re at home is in a small club. That’s where we put on our best shows I think. Those two places were good for that, good for filming and they were near each other so the multi-camera crews that Denise hired, she was able to use the same crew for Denver and Albuquerque; she didn’t have to retrain a new crew for each city. Those cities have great audiences too so that was the other key thing; you know, you want the show to look great and we just know that those two cities are two that we can count on. So everything came together and those were the perfect locations, and they were the only two that we filmed multi-camera and multi-track. Like I said, we just needed the two – that way we wouldn’t feel the pressure to get it right.
MD: I was going to ask that when you’re being filmed for what you know will become DVD footage, do you actually feel any extra pressure or nerves in your performance?
AW: Definitely if it’s only one night. Like when I look back to ‘Live Cannibalism’, I remember thinking – god, if I make a mistake then it’s forever. Those are things you don’t normally think about because it’s not forever. You make a little mistake or hit a bad note, then who cares…maybe it winds up on YouTube but it’s usually shit sound quality. You know, if you’re gonna sell something you want it to be a really good representation of how you play. That’s why we did the two nights; we don’t want to worry about it. The first night you go into it thinking - oh well, if I screw up tonight then it doesn’t matter, we’re gonna record again in a couple more nights when we get to Albuquerque. So by having that kind of relaxation we just didn’t fuck up. Because we were relaxed we didn’t screw up and then, because we had a good show in Denver, we weren’t worried by the time we got to Albuquerque because we already knew we had a bunch of good stuff. So whatever we got in Albuquerque would just be bonus. I think it ended up being about fifty/fifty in terms of what cities we chose. The Albuquerque sound just wound up being a little bit better for some reason. We were using the same gear so maybe it was the mixing board that night but we ended up using about sixty per cent from Albuquerque. But it turned out really good and we were happy. But when it’s all got to be right on one night, that’s a lot of pressure and we’d rather avoid it, so I think we’ll always film two shows that way! It’s just a way to keep the anxiety down.