Cannibal Corpse interview with Chris Barnes: From the Vault

Below is a cleaned-up version of an interview D.U.’s editor conducted that appeared in Deathcheese ‘zine #1 back in 1991.

On October 20th, 1990, Buffalo, New York’s Skyroom played host to 13 bands of unadulterated death metal. One of the more well-received acts was Buffalo’s own Cannibal Corpse. Formed in December of 1988 with an album out on Metal Blade Records’ Death Records called Eaten Back to Life, they horrified the crowd. In between the pummeling bands at the “A Day of Death,” I sat down in the parking lot with Chris Barnes, vocalist of Cannibal Corpse.

Deathcheese: Okay, question number one: what demos have you put out besides the self-titled one?

Barnes: Well, we haven’t done anything together other than that, but we had other bands that we did demos with. I was in Leviathan and I played with Tyrant Sin for a little while, and we put out a demo with them. And Alex [Webster, bass] and Jack [Owen, guitar] were in Beyond Death together, and they broke up, and then that’s how we kinda hooked up. And Paul [Mazurkiewicz, drums] was in Tyrant Sin and Bob [Rusay, guitar] was in Tyrant Sin.

How did you all get together if you all were in different bands?

Well, me, Paul, and Bob, we’ve known each other forever, y’know? I mean, ever since high school. And actually, I was in Tyrant Sin, like, a real long time ago when it first started. Like fuckin’ probably eight years ago. And then I got out of it. I was in Leviathan for a while. Then I got back into Tyrant Sin. We did that demo Mutant Supremacy, which was kinda alright but it didn’t get around or anything. [laughs] And then Alex and Jack, we knew them guys just from going to shows and stuff, and we went to go see Beyond Death play a lot, and they ruled, so fuckin’ we all hooked up.

So from there you turn around and you’re on Death Records. How did you manage that? Did you just send them the demo?

Yeah, we sent out our video [pause] actually, I knew a guy that I used to work with at a record store chain around here, and he, like, had some people at Metal Blade, and he just made sure that they listened to it, y’know, so we could get a chance. And they liked it and they sent us a contract, like, two days later, so we fuckin’ signed it. Now we got a seven-year contract with them, y’know, seven albums. [laugh]

So the whole demo is on the album, right?

Yeah, they’re all on there. We left out a couple, like, intros and stuff like that.

And then you wrote some more songs?

Yeah. We just got four songs done for the new album. We’re getting the second album half done, getting our ideas settled.

You got along with your producer, Scott Burns?

Yeah, he’s fuckin’ excellent, man. He’s so cool. [laugh] He’s just another one of the fuckin’ band members, y’know? It’s like, he knows, he is all knowing when it comes to this type of music. He knows what it fuckin’ is.

Okay, how do you feel about those parental advisory stickers they have now?

Y’know, it’s all fuckin’ a bunch of nonsense, man. It doesn’t mean anything. Fuckin’ it just fuckin’ means a kid’s gonna see that, he’s gonna buy it no matter what, just because he knows there’s something in there that he shouldn’t be reading. So they’re gonna buy it anyway and that just helps us out a little bit. I dunno, maybe they think they should have to do something like that, but I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s just stupid.

What bands do you take influences from?

Influences, I dunno. We listen to a lot of bands. I mean, we’re all probably influenced by Slayer early on or something like that, y’know, when we all were getting started. Those are the bands that probably influenced us. But bands that we listen to are bands like Autopsy, Sadus, Deicide, all death metal. All the bands that’re playing here we think are fuckin’ great. We love all death metal. [laughs]

What brands of instruments do you all play? I know you don’t have any endorsements yet, though.

No endorsements yet, but Paul plays a Tama drum set with Paiste cymbals. Bobby uses Marshalls and he’s got a Gibson Flying V. Jack’s got a fuckin’ guitar that came from hell, probably. I don’t even know what the fuck it is, man. He plays on a Crate stack. Alex plays on Peavey with a Fender Precision bass. And I use Telex microphones and JBL speakers. [laughs]

Who are you going to tour with in the near future?

Well, hopefully we’re getting something together with Deicide for a tour in January or February, a States tour. We wanna get out on the road and play all over the fuckin’ place.

Well, that’s about it. Anything you want to tell your fans, like “buy the record”?

Yes, buy the record and fuckin’ [pause] rot!

Rusay, walking by, carrying a guitar case: Uhryryryehruhyuhryuh!

Barnes: Ha ha ha!


Fast forward now four months. This time I had a phoner with Barnes. The phone rang, and it turned out that Barnes had been doing phoners all day long, and it was 8 p.m. when he called.

Let’s see what we got here. Question number one: when are you going in the studio for the next record?

We’re going in the studio April 14th.

Why don’t you tell me how the new material sounds as opposed to the Eaten Back to Life stuff.

Well, it’s pretty much based on the same lines. Um, it’s a lot more refined. Like, heavier sounding, just more brutal overall. And it’s the same basic style, what we are. And I think we went like that because we didn’t wanna sit around like some bands, like two or three years, before they get out their next album. It seems like a senseless thing to do, y’know? It’s like, while you’re really on a roll, keep writing. So we kept writing and we got over half the songs written. I think we have three more songs to write for the record.

By the date you have to go in?

Yeah. It shouldn’t be too bad, ’cause we’ve been writing a song every two weeks now.

Have people asked you that already?

What?

Those two questions.

Um, well, yeah, but that’s cool, ’cause I wanna talk about the new record.

Oh, okay. Is Scott “all knowing” Burns producing?

[laughs] Yes, he is doing this next record.

The thing is, I understand that bands like to switch producers each time to keep it different. You don’t have a problem with that?

No, not at all, because it was like, Scott is like a part of this band or something. He knows what we want, he knows what we want to sound like. And the last record, we just had such a good time in the studio, we were nice and comfortable there, and it was fun, y’know? It was cool. So we just wanna reproduce the same type of feeling for this album.

Is Metal Blade treating you cool? Oh, I guess Death Records, actually.

Yeah, well, definitely. Metal Blade’s definitely treating us good. We’re really happy and all that. They’re letting us do another record and stuff. And we’re just hoping that this record does double what the last one did. We’re not compromising for any record sales or anything like that. In fact, we’re getting heavier, each song we write.

So they’re not coming in and saying, “Hey, boys, why don’t you do it like this”?

No, no. I don’t think they really would, either, ‘cause they know what we are, what we’re trying to do. They know what our ideas are.

Okay, how’s the scene in New York right now?

It’s pretty cool, man.

What are some noteworthy bands?

Baphomet’s cool. This other band that’s just coming out, Immortal Terror, they’re pretty good. Right now I guess the Skyroom’s supposed to be closing up or something. I dunno, there’s some details, but it’s just that they’re gonna find a new club somewhere else.

The New York scene, do you think it’s jumping as opposed to L.A. or someplace?

There’s a lot of bands in New York that’re getting picked up now, but there’s a lot of good bands coming out in New York now. And it’s just taking a while for these bands to get really good. So I think it’s just kinda dumb luck that all these bands are getting picked up now. Y’know, every city has its time, I guess.

Do you have any early info on who you’re gonna hook up with for a tour?

Well, we have a tour set up right now for August and September in Europe to support the new record. It’s a headlining tour and we don’t know who’s gonna be playing with us yet.

Did that thing with Deicide ever happen?

No, we never got to go with ’em, ’cause they went to Europe and stuff.

That’s when Glen [Benton of Deicide] got beat up, right?

Well, yeah, they beat up on some people and they got a bunch of shit happen to them. They fuckin’ ran into trouble and came back, so they were kinda bummed out and then they didn’t wanna do anything. But I guess now they’re just gonna start a big East Coast type of thing, so they want us to play some shows with them on the East Coast. We still wanna tour with them, and I think when we go down to record the new album, we’re gonna do a few shows with them in Florida.

Can you give me your process for coming up with lyric ideas? Like, do you stare at a blank page until you think of something?

Um, yeah, pretty much. It’s like, we write the music and everything, the guitar parts and stuff and drums. And then the song’s completed and I take a tape of it home and—

Think about zombies for a while.

Yeah, well, I was always interested in horror and stuff like that, and gore, and I read a lot of the stuff on serial killings.

Yeah, all that juicy stuff.

Yeah, and I just guess it comes out from things I actually looked at. Y’know, I visualize everything on paper. It’s like, when I write a song, every line that I write, I picture what that looks like and I write it down. I think of what this is gonna be. What’s the name of the song. I get an overall view of it.


“The new album, it’s just gonna be the first of its kind. It’s the first all-concept death metal record.”


So, like, that one song—I don’t have any lyrics so I don’t know which song it is—where there’s a car crash—

Yeah, that’s “Shredded Humans.”

Okay, so you see the scenes happening.

Jack started that song off, so it was kinda like, I read what Jack had written down, y’know? And that song, I just kinda went with Jack’s notion. I worked the last half of that song, but I kinda got into what Jack was talking about. So I finished it off, kinda like.

Do you do a lot of collaborating or do you do your own lyrics?

Me and Jack on the first album did a lot of collaborating. Like, he helped with about three or four songs, and I did the rest. But the new album, I’m doing everything, all the lyrics. The new album, too, it’s just gonna be, uh, the first of its kind. It’s the first all-concept death metal record. The concept’s gonna be butchery.

Really.

Yeah.

It is going to be a continuing storyline?

Kinda, yeah, it’s like, all about the same type of thing. Just different phases, like, say it’s a movie, right? Different scenes are each song, alright? But they don’t always lead into each other. It’s more or less just different phases, y’know? It’s kinda weird.

It’s not in any semblance of order.

Yeah, kind of, but not really. When it comes out, I think everybody’ll know. It’s gonna be definitely cool, a lot of mass murders, a lot of zombies, a lot of blood.

All that good stuff.

Yeah.

Do you ever take part in the music end of it?

Not really. If they were writing something and they’re not sure about how it sounds, I put in my input like that. But I don’t really pick up the guitar and show the guys any riffs. I don’t think I can compete. I can play a little bit of guitar, but nothing what they do.

Taking an average week, how often do you practice?

We practice five days a week, about four hours each. We have a practice space. It’s a converted hospital for the incurably ill people and they converted it into a big warehouse for bands.

Is that kind of fitting?

Yeah, it is. It’s supposed to be haunted, too. The guy’s always telling us stories and shit. He used to live there too. Fuckin’ one night, like midnight, no one was there, it was closed down, all the doors were locked. [He was] hearing someone playing the drums. So that’s kinda fucked up, but it’s definitely a cool place, y’know? There’s prob’ly about 30 bands in the whole building. Everyone’s got a separate room.

When you think back to when you didn’t have a record deal, what advice would you give a band who’s in that position on how to get a record deal?

Um, basically now the way I look at it is, talk to the bands that you know of, y’know? Call them up and ask them for help or something like that, or someone that you know in the record business, ask them for help, or ask them if they know anybody. ‘Cause that always helps.

Like someone you can send a tape to?

Yeah, get a name or something, because that always helps. Just don’t send it to a record company, ‘cause it’ll get thrown on a big pile and they’ll listen to it whenever. Or if you really want it to get listened to, send it, like, next day air mail or something. Spend a couple extra bucks and send it overnight express and they’ll think it’s something really important and get to it right away. That’s an idea.

Are you guys still working the same day jobs as when you got signed? I have this press pack that says you all do drywall.

Yeah! [laughs] Yeah, we’re drywallers, boy. [laughs]

I guess the checks from the record company aren’t something you can live on.

Yeah, well, not yet. [laughs] Maybe the next album, we’ll have a few bucks. But we don’t really care. I dunno, I think the music’s more important to us than the money right now. But this is definitely what we wanna do for the rest of our lives, live off the music.

[laughs] Are you going to be doing this when you’re 60? Everybody going, “Maggots!”

[laughs] If my fuckin’ limbs don’t fall off. It’d be cool, wouldn’t it, seeing some gray-haired old man up there, y’know, looking mangled or something?

[laughs] That’d be really weird, ‘cause you think you’d give up by then and go get a real job.

[laughs] The oldest death metal band. They will become corpses soon.  

Okay, here’s the really deep question.

Uh oh.

What do you think of the war with Iraq right now?

Um, well, yeah, definitely I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. We should just fuckin’ kick some ass and get the fuck out, in my opinion. I dunno, I mean, today the one question this girl asked me was like the stumper: if you could be someone for 24 hours, who would it be? And I said, “It wouldn’t be Saddam Hussein.”

Who was that?

I dunno. It was one of the first ‘zines I talked to. Actually, I think it was this girl, Holly, from Serial Echo in Florida. Do you know her?

No. There’s not too many girls doing it.

Yeah. The girls, man, I’m surprised, though. I talked to, like, three girls so far, and they all ask some really fuckin’ wicked questions!

So I was wondering what you felt about all that stuff.

Actually, I mean, it’s not like we fuckin’ dwell on it. The only thing that we’re worried about is, if this shit’s still going on, is if we’re gonna be able to play Europe or not. So we hope it’s over pretty quick so we can go over there. Who knows, man. I just watched that Prophecies of Nostradamus the other night. [laughs] I recommend watching that, man. It’s pretty fucked up. Did you ever see that?

No, I don’t go for that stuff.

You don’t like that stuff? Really?

Nah, I think it’s bullshit.

It’s not, man. It’s fuckin’ true, man, it is. I get into all the supernatural and shit, that’s why. Fuckin’ I’m one of those people that fuckin’ definitely believes in UFOs and shit.

Oh, I believe in UFOs, but I just don’t believe this guy could predict all this bullshit.

Oh, dude, it’s true, though. It’s so true, it is. It’s like, how could the guy have done it, but he did it. It’s just because he had a special type of brain. It’s fucked up, but I believe it, definitely. There’s no way he coulda known about Hitler and shit.

That’s another thing. Would you ever start writing lyrics about that stuff you just talked about, or are you locked into the zombie thing?

Um, well [pause] yeah, we’re locked into the zombie lyrics, but there’s certain ways around things. 

Maybe if you made it really gory.

Yeah, we could write something about, uh, zombies from outer space, something like that, y’know? That’s fuckin’ definitely been done in the movies before, but, I mean, whatever. There’s always ways of twisting stories around, and I always have good ideas for stories that end up gory some way or another. But maybe they’re not gore subject matter or horror or anything, but gory from some other different concept.

Yeah. Look at Slayer, for instance. They’ve been doing the Satan and the death thing for three albums and now they’re sneaking in these political lyrics on the last two, so—

There’s not gonna be any of that. None of that.

You don’t think you’re going to get sick of it and go “Maybe I should start thinking about …”

No, because gore and horror’s interest me since I was, like, nine, eight years old, when my father let me watch my first Vincent Price movie. I was always into that weird type of stuff like The Twilight Zone or something, man. It’s just exciting and I’m really entertained by that type of thing. And politics and shit like that doesn’t entertain me. There’s only so much CNN you can watch. [laughs] I dunno, it’s just that I find that really fuckin’ boring.

Yeah. Well, that’s about it. My standard last question is, do you have anything to sign off with, to say to the fans that read the ‘zine when it comes out? If it ever comes out.

[laughs] Uh [pause] kill and eat rotten birth. How about that ending line? Um, the one dude HellFarmer [writer for Curious Goods] was like, “Make sure you tell Richard that you love the stickers on your album cover,” or something. [laugh] “Tell him that ‘we wanna put two on the next one.’” He said that’s your favorite question or something. [laugh] “What d’you think about the sticker on your record?”

Oh, you know what he’s talking about?

What?

The parental advisory stickers.

Yeah, yeah. I told him I was gonna tell you if you had asked that, we’re gonna put two or three on the second one. [laughs]

Someone will think it’s doubly offensive.

Yeah, if we got two or three on it, we’re twice as sick. They just might print something on there this time that says, “Don’t listen, you might die.” I dunno, I’ll tell Metal Blade to do it. [laugh] “We want two stickers,” definitely. That’s a good question, man. That’s an upsetting subject to a musician. That shouldn’t be there. It sells records, but it ruins the artwork. ■

Check out more Cannibal Corpse coverage: Butchered at Birth interview in archive ‘zine issue #2, page 14, and in archive ‘zine issue #41, page 6, an interview with Alex Webster from the Evisceration Plague era.

And check out more old-school content here at the blog From the Vault.

Live photos: Cannibal Corpse in Maryland in 1992 (D.U.)

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