For the past seventeen years, Metal Blade recording artists Cannibal Corpse has been churning out solid, genre defining Death Metal. They have long been known for their horror and violence-inspired, nightmare-inducing song titles such as “Beheading And Burning,” “Shatter Their Bones,” “Skull Full Of Maggots” and “Hammer Smashed Face.” The band is currently on tour with Hatebreed, Unearth, Hate Eternal and Born Of Osiris. I was able to sit down with bassist Alex Webster, a few hours before show time to discuss the band, the controversy and the reason for the band’s longevity.
How is the tour going so far?
Alex: Well this is only the sixth show, but so far everything has been great and we get along well with the other bands. That is pretty much normal anyway because we usually end up becoming pretty good friends with the bands we tour with anyway. These guys are all great to tour with. Hatebreed has been very accommodating and we actually get to play an hour every night, which is pretty awesome for a band that is not the headliner. So for them to give us that much time is great. It has been really easy; we all get along really well. It is cool because there is a bunch of different types of extreme music. I would say that if you are into any of the extreme forms of metal and hard core you will be able to find something you like on this tour for sure.
You guys are no strangers to controversy. Through the years, you have had numerous issues with the banning of your songs in the live environment. What is your reaction to this and do you feel it has affected you as a band?
Alex: Most of the problems we have had have been in Germany where we had trouble with the first three albums. I believe it was because of the artwork of those albums which were banned. That created a loophole which legally allowed them to keep us from performing those songs. This of course had nothing to do with the artwork because there are songs that have lyrics that are just as bad on the other albums. On top of that, the vocal style is so guttural that people are not necessarily going to understand the lyrics when they see us live anyway. It never made very much sense to us, it just seems like there are people in the German government, one in particular that really wanted to make life difficult for bands like us. That is it, this was just their effort to try and make things difficult for us.
Do you feel as if the ban and the controversy may have worked in a reverse sort of way at all?
Alex: Yeah, definitely. The irony is that they are trying to stop our band and stop people from listening to us and it seems to be a pretty miserable failure.
Do you feel Cannibal Corpse is getting more respect nowadays than they did 10 or 15 years ago?
Alex: Yeah, just because with any band, if you are around long enough people at least have to give you respect for that; I mean lasting a long time. So we definitely get a bit more now than we used to, you know a lot of people did not realize we could play very well back in the old days. I think now people know that we are decent players and it seems like we are getting a good amount of respect. The other thing is a lot of the other bands in the metal scene are younger and they grew up listening to us. So we end up touring with other bands who liked us a lot when they were young and they are always very respectful of us. We are really grateful for that.
All of that passion that you play with must be tough on you physically. How do you prepare for the physical demands of a tour?
Alex: I just try and make sure that I just stay healthy. I do not party a whole lot and I like to work out. I am obviously not some huge body builder dude but anyone can lift weights and have it affect their health in a positive way. I think it does help to be fit. My personal thing is to try and stay fit and eat well.
Do you feel it gets tougher to tour as the years go on?
Alex: It is a little harder, I mean my lower back will hurt some times from being hunched over on stage and it didn’t used to do that. I am 40 now and there is no covering that up.
When you compare the early days of Death metal to the scene today what do you feel has changed for the better? What do you feel has become worse?
Alex: For the better, it is just easier to find out about bands and it is easier to go and see them live. It is easier to find out about bands because of the internet and sites like MySpace because you just put a bands name in a search engine and you are hearing it. In the old days you would hear about bands through fanzines that you would get in the mail. Everything was done through snail mail so a lot more effort had to be put into it. There was a lot of camaraderie among people who did all of the tape trading and that sort of thing, everybody kind of knew each other. Now there is much easier access to concerts and the music itself and a lot more people know about it. This also might make it a little less cult like. There is still a dedicated Death Metal audience but when there is such easy access it can make room for more ‘fair weather fans’ that, like this now and then maybe tomorrow they like something else; there is a bit of an over saturation. There are pros and cons to the technology but the changes in technology are probably what affected the scene more than anything else.
How do you think the current economic slump is affecting the band? Or is it at all?
Alex: It probably is. I mean this tour is doing great all things considered but it is tough I mean people have a limited amount of money to work with and there are five or six really killer tours out right now. We are confident that we have a good package that people are going to want to go see so we are not that worried about it. It is something that is going to affect everybody, I mean when people have less money often entertainment is the first thing to go. So if people have to make a choice between paying their water bill and their mortgage or going to see a show only an irresponsible guy like me would go to a show.
What are some of the songs that you get the best audience response to?
Alex: “Hammer Smashed Face” is the biggest one. That is a no brainer. For some reason, I can’t even explain it. There was no video ever made for that song and we don’t release singles at all. It was in ‘Ace Ventura’, but I do not think that is enough to make it a hit. It just somehow turned out to be a song that everyone liked and it wound up becoming our big track. The first couple of years it was “Skull Full Of Maggots” but that song is more of a song we should play in Buffalo. The real old school fans are in Buffalo and “Skull Full Of Maggots” was one of their favorite songs when we were starting out.
Are you playing a good mix of old and new songs on this tour?
Alex: Yeah, We will play thirteen or fourteen songs tonight and if it is only thirteen because of time, then we will probably skip “Skull Full Of Maggots”. That is right before we play “Hammer Smashed Face” so if we get to a point where we have to choose one or the other we will have to go with “Hammer”.
What is the toughest lesson you have ever learned on the studio or on the stage?
Alex: That is a good question. Dealing with people and not losing your temper about things. Anytime I have lost my temper in dealing with the band, if we are arguing with each other or arguing with someone in a club, it never helped anything. If you stay cool and calm and deal with the problem in a rational way even if you are dealing with someone who is being irrational. It doesn’t always work you know, everybody still has the potential to snap, that is just humanity, but I have learned that this is counter productive. The best way to deal with people is in a way that is not going to make them upset. Anger builds on anger so if you get angry and start yelling at someone they are generally going to get angry and start yelling right back and things are not going to go anywhere good.
When you have some time off between tours and projects what do you like to do?
Alex: I really like to spend time with my wife and our couple of little dogs. They are funny little dogs that are fun to hang out with. Just the family kind of stuff. I do not have kids but it is still a family oriented lifestyle we are living. We do not party a whole lot. We will go see other bands just for fun and stuff like that.
You guys have been at this for a long time. Can you offer any advise to younger musicians who might be just starting up in the business?
Alex: Obviously you could write a book on that sort of thing. I would say the best thing to do is to make yourself easy to work with. Try to be cool with people you work with, don’t be a jerk and don’t be difficult. I mean you should stand up for yourself of course but you should go out there and try and make yourself easy to work with. If the guy at the club says to be there at 4:00, be there at 3:45 with all your stuff ready to set it up. When the stage manager says to get your shit off the stage, get it off as soon as possible. You make yourself easy to work with and that will go a long way as an individual as well, not just as a band. Listen to your band mates, treat them with respect, I am sure I have not always done that but it is something you learn along the way. If you want a head start, be somebody that people are going to want to work with. Good attitude will get you farther than good chops. People would rather work with a guy who is cool and a decent musician than an extraordinary musician who is a complete jerk.
In a hundred years from now what will the music history books say about Cannibal Corpse?
Alex: It is hard to say, but hopefully they will say that we added a lot to the metal scene. Hopefully Cannibal Corpse will have added something to the metal scene besides controversy, hopefully we will have added something good as well.