I recently had the massive honor of calling up a death metal LEGEND Rob Barret and getting to talk to him about his new record, and the lasting power of Cannibal Corpse. Not only was it something of a dream interview for me, it also turned me on to deeper aspects of the Cannibal Corpse sound and philosophy I had never previously noticed. Interview by Matt Bacon From October 2014 Vandala Magazine READ MORE ARTICLES
How’s life been Rob?
It’s been a pretty interesting long winding road of all kinds of interesting things. Where do you want to start?
Why do you describe it as a long winding road?
I’m 44 now and the band’s been going for almost 26 years, that’s about half of my life.
Are you trying to say it’s been an unlikely journey?
Yeah. Especially for being a death metal band. People wouldn’t expect a band like us to last this long I’m thinking. We get that question asked a lot, “Did you ever imagine you’d be going this long doing this” It is amazing that we’re still going this strong, we’re still on the rise actually.
I feel in metal media as a whole that a lot of people feel that classic bands like you, Obituary, Deicide et cetera are all putting out the best albums of your career now a quarter of a century in. Why do you think that is?
Well, it’s the motivation factor, as long as the band is motivated enough and inspired enough to keep writing quality music and not straying too far from the original sound. Some bands actually do tend to stray off of the path that their original sound was. That can affect you in a bad way most of the time. We stay motivated enough and inspired enough to keep writing music that our fans still enjoy and we don’t feel that we’re selling out or watering down our sound or anything. We’re a reliable band is what I’m trying to say.
In being a reliable band do you ever feel confined artistically?
That all depends. Within the boundaries of Cannibal Corpse you can’t expect us to break off and start doing an acid trip Pink Floyd kind of record. That is not something that’s within our boundaries at all. But we built these boundaries ourselves and we’re comfortable with the boundaries that we built. That’s why we keep writing using the same formulas for this long.
Corpsegrinder has a quote about how “every Cannibal Corpse song is a story” how do you keep coming up with these new stories?
It’s not really too hard to come up with these different stories. You don’t really need to dig too deep sometimes. Just watching the news or reading the paper, watching reality unfold… Humans do a lot of f*cked up shit man. There’s a lot of material right there.
You’d almost say the goal of Cannibal Corpse then is to make us face the horror of our own reality?
It’s definitely a desensitizing thing if you want to call it that. Your average person wants to actually say what we’re doing is disgusting and says “How could you talk about that stuff?” In reality that stuff actually happens. It’s not that we’re supporting it and saying that we want that stuff to happen but it’s kind of like moving a rock and seeing all of the ugly stuff under it that most people would ignore.
Maybe a little more out of left field, but how about this. Cannibal Corpse is essentially the only death metal band that ‘normal people’ know about. Is it weird being in that kind of position, in that you’re the figurehead for such a huge genre?
We’re honored to be that band. We’ve definitely worked for a long amount of time to get to that point and to be that band. As well as being honored to be that band, we’re proud of being able to be that band because we put ourselves here. Nobody handed it to us, we spent a lot of years touring and recording. We have an aggressive work schedule, that’s why we’re releasing new stuff constantly and we’re not taking long hiatuses and then coming back looking or sounding different. Like I said, we’re a reliable band, and have been for many years now. That’s why we’re in that position, it takes a lot of work to get to the spot that we’re about.
Do you feel a certain accountability to the scene?
We know that a lot bands are looking towards us and paying attention to what we’re doing, but there’s no added pressure or anything like that on us. We’re still going to do what we’re used to doing. We’ve never actually written music with the intention of trying to gain new fans by watering down our fans or anything. We’re always going to be Cannibal Corpse. If we changed at all it wouldn’t be Cannibal Corpse.
But, wouldn’t you say the new record is significantly darker than previous releases?
Most of the interviews that I’ve been doing have mentioned that. Mission accomplished on our part! We didn’t make a conscious effort to sound darker than we ever did, but the stuff that we came up with and wrote the songs with the material just came out darker sounding I guess.
So there wasn’t any sort of driving force behind that in the creation process?
No, not for me at least. I’m not sure what was going on with Pat and Alex when they were writing their material, it might have been a conscious effort. Whatever comes out of me, that’s what comes out at the time. I don’t sit down and see “I’m going to write a dark sounding song” I just want to write a good song.
Do you think changing producers helped make it sound a bit grimmer?
Yeah, that might be one of the main things that has to do with it. Mark Lewis did a great job, we’re all happy with the way it came out. That’s nothing against Eric Rutan, we did three great albums with him and we were happy with his production skills as well. If anything, just changing it up by going to a different producer keeps things from getting stale.
Part of what impressed me most with this record is that it’s one of the freshest sounding Cannibal Corpse records to come out in a little while…
That goes to confirm that changing it up by going to a different producer is sometimes the better thing to do, instead of doing the same thing repeatedly.
Now, more about the legacy of the band… I remember being thirteen years old and getting into Evisceration Plague when it just came out and being like “Oh f*ck, this is the most brutal shit ever” Is there almost a eternal fifteen year old within all of you keeping the band alive?
Oh definitely. That’s so cool that you actually said that. Sometimes I’m wondering to myself “What actually keeps us going” because we’re getting into our mid-40s here now. That’s exactly what it is. Each of us still has that teenage angsty kid in us that’s still letting out this aggressive shit.
But I really have to say thank you, because that’s one of the records that got me into death metal, and this is my job now.
That’s awesome man. I’m thankful to you for being a fan of our stuff and we appreciate you actually interviewing us.
Tied into that, does it feel weird that you’ve essentially launched careers that are only tangentially related to your band?
That’s definitely an amazing feat. Asides from everything we’ve accomplished as a band ourselves. We’ve actually inspired a lot of people that have nothing to do with even the music business. Think about it, there’s politicians who might go on to be president of the United States who might be able to say, “I saw Cannibal Corpse when I was a kid.” It’s just so surreal how getting to this age and doing this kind of music for this long… Yeah, we still get to live like we’re young guys, but we’re in our mid-40s. There’s something that keeps us young with the music. Being able to inspire people to do stuff with their own careers outside of the music that we’re doing that’s an awesome thing for us to be able to motivate and inspire people in a positive way.
Do you think there’s almost a sort of beautiful irony in that? In the 90s you were getting all this shit, and now here you are essentially a positive economic force. You’re doing good for the nation and yet the nation hates you.
I think that it was the old cliché. A lot of people want to destroy things that they don’t understand. If you fear something you want to kill it. There was a lot of that going on in the early 90s. I think eventually after so many years, seeing us still being a vital band in the present day… we’ve gained a lot of respect from all these people that were hoping for us to fail back in the early days. We’ve gained a lot of respect over the years in that sense. It’s kind of a crazy thing that we used to be disliked, and now we’re embraced in a way.
Do you feel a sense of fatherhood with it?
You’re nailing a lot of these phrases man! That’s kind of what it is. We feel like we’re forefathers of this movement that we’re doing and we’re still the top dog doing it. Eventually someday it’s like, what’s going to happen, are we going to have to knight the next king or something with a sword on their shoulder? Like “I now announce you king of death metal!” (Laughter)
Do you ever feel the need to knock a band back in line?
That’s not something we do. We’re not that type of band. Everybody is going to do what they want to do, we’re not going to tell other bands what they should and shouldn’t do. There’s a lot of bands who respect us and ask for our advice and they might actually take it to heart. We’re not that type of band who will say shit to try and change peoples ways.
What do you love so much about music?
To me, what I love about music is that it’s just a great mode of therapy. It’s like free therapy to me. I would have probably gone nuts a long time ago without it. Who knows what I’d be doing if I didn’t have music, especially the music that we’re playing. Being a white guy from the inner city, just made me really interested in the aggression of the whole metal movement. It just made sense to me. All the daily strife that everybody has when they’re younger and it just evolved into suddenly being 44.