Latest release: Monolith of Inhumanity (Metal Blade/Riot!)
The charmingly named Cattle Decapitation has been brutalising ears for many years. Promoting an agenda against animal cruelty and environmental degradation in music is nothing new but to have it harnessed within such an intense style of extreme music is something of a rarity. About to go back out on the road on tour with Fear Factory and Voivod, Loud got a hold of founding front man Travis Ryan to deliver some insights on the realities of being in a tour hardened death grind metal band in the States. He tells it like it is.
Listening to the new album Monolith of Inhumanity, there is some very strong production on it. What are your thoughts on production in death metal these days?
I think stuff is digitally overproduced most of the time. For the last few records we’ve been trying to find a good medium between an organic sound and a new approach with cleaner production. Trying to find the marriage of the two is the thing because we don’t want to put out something that sounds like all of these ridiculous ProTools made bands.
Is it a case of having to compete with every other band starting to sound the same?
Yeah but I guess you don’t try to compete with it. We try to do something new. I don’t pay any attention to any of the bands that have come out in the last ten years and I don’t think we do musically. Our drummer [Dave McGraw] is into a lot of the new stuff but he’s into a lot of the technical, cleaner production and stuff that sounds all perfect and everything. That is cool but it’s just that I’m not sure that is totally 100% Cattle as we are more of a grind band than we are death metal.
Your music has a lot of different time changes so how do you keep in time playing live?
Sometimes it is hard but you just need a decent monitor mix [fold back onstage]. I was a drummer for eleven years so I have pretty good timing and I can find my way back into a song if I start falling off, unless I’m drunk. As long as I can hear the drums, it is usually fairly easy to stay on the same page as everybody else.
You’ve got a lot of different vocal styles with everything from shrieks to death growls. Since there are overdubs in the recording, what do you choose to do when playing live?
I just do whatever I want, I guess. Ha ha. In the studio I’ll do layering because I just like that sound but of course you cannot do that live. I don’t put too much stock into trying to sound exactly was we do on the record when we play live. I like to make it a different kind of experience anyway. There are some things that we have tried to do in the studio that just comes across better live. We’re very much a live band and adrenaline takes over and changes everything. I don’t think I sound different live than what I do in the studio and it’s an organic instrument anyway. Vocals are subject to fluctuations.
There are even parts where you are singing like standard rock against blast beats as heard on the song ‘Your Disposal’ which is a bit like Fear Factory vocals stylistically.
Yeah, that part is actually kind of harder to do live than the regular death metal vocals. That is the part that actually degrades my voice for that kind of singing. For death metal vocals, if you’re doing it properly you’re utilising a different part of your voice than you do when you’re talking or using your regular singing voice. I am pretty sure that uses a separate set of vocal cords. I lost my voice in Dublin and that is the only time I have lost my voice, ever. We’d done ten flights in the last week and so I did that show with no talking voice whatsoever. I was able to do death metal vocals but I only had about thirty percent of my voice. It was weird, I sounded like sh*t with thirty percent of my voice but I had something there. When I walked onto the stage, I couldn’t even make a sound, it was just whispers. It was freaky.
Have you learnt about looking after your voice from being around Deicide and Hate Eternal? Any tips from people like that who’ve toured relentlessly? Say Glen Benton?
Oh no, not at all. The guy drinks Jack Daniels before he goes up onstage. I’m the same way in that I don’t do anything pre or post show. I don’t know what I really would do or what would be deemed sufficient to do for these kinds of vocals as far as warming up or warming down. I have no idea; I should probably talk to Melissa Cross about it or somebody like that. I’ll drink a few beers or whatever and I stay well lubricated by drinking a lot of water and that’s it.
You’ve seen bands come and go, be it nu-metal and now metalcore.
Yeah, it is fun to watch. You can totally tell which ones are going to fail. There are too many fucking bands since MySpace came along. All of a sudden, everybody is in a band, has something to say and thinks their sh*t is good because they have a merchandise booth and a ridiculously edited recording. It is the Internet generation, I feel and labels are signing them because it looks, at least online, that somebody gives a sh*t about them. It is a totally weird phenomenon. Back in the day it was harder to get on a label, to get noticed and to get out there. Now it is not but it does not mean that just because someone has a band will mean that they are any good or have anything to contribute just yet. Maybe they will but there are too many fucking bands and they are all out there doing this and people are actually giving them money to do it. It is fucking weird. I don’t know why.
Surely they won’t survive as they’ll have to adapt to CD sales diminishing which undermines an obvious means of an income stream. Most income now is from playing festivals and touring.
Yeah, [CDs] that’s over. It just makes it harder to do a band like this, that’s all it does. I’m not against downloading as you cannot fight the future. The issue is learning how to evolve with it and if it means being out on the road eight months out of a year, fuck that, dude, I don’t want to do that.
So how do you communicate to your fans that downloading is potentially ripping you off?
They are so blasé about it that is would be pointless to freak out. If you were to say something to them, they would have no idea what you are talking about. They’ll go, ‘oh man, I downloaded your album the other night, its just fucking badass dude, you guys are fucking awesome’. They have no idea. The younger kids do not know that that is not cool and that is actually affecting people. For bands nowadays, the record sales you make dictate what kind of placement you are going to get on those festivals, shows and tours. They also dictate the kind of money you are going to make. Straight up, that is how it is unless promoters know what you are worth. So, it is just harder now, that’s all.
In that context, is having your album cover artwork banned or modified a hindrance or can it have a benefit to possibly generate more sales?
Oh that totally screwed us in certain countries. It basically kept us away from Europe for a minute. The label over there didn’t want to do anything with us because they couldn’t get the record into the stores properly. It was done through mail order. So we were useless to them and that sucked. In the States, there was only one album really that was screwed up; ‘Humanure’ got kind of jacked.
How do the West Coast and East Coast death metal scenes compare? Florida is seen as the home of death metal by a lot of people.
Ah, not so much anymore, man. Well, it’ll always be the home, I guess but it is not like it is some crazy ravenous scene there because it was the creator or something. It is just like anywhere else but when I think of the East Coast, I don’t even think of Florida, I think of New York. It is hit and miss out there because everything is so close together. In the West, everything is so far apart so that the populated places that you do play are big, huge cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and even San Diego, so you’re bound to have good shows. Talking to people whilst on tour, be it from the mid West or East Coast, they are always looking forward to going to the West Coast the most. If they’ve been around the block and toured at all, they are always looking forward to going to the West Coast. Seattle, Portland, all of that shit is awesome.
Is there much planning on touring or do you get in the van and go?
On my end, yeah, I do the merch and set up for it so I get that all ordered. The designs in and taken care of, all of that kind of crap, so I pretty much do all of the admin stuff for the band. It’s a big pain in the ass, actually.
Given personnel changes recently how has the approach to songwriting changed, if at all? [Bassist Derek Engemann joined in 2010]
Not much, we still do it the old school way of getting together. It is not done through email. We get together a few nights a week for really short periods of time because that is all we have, thanks to our jobs. Our new bass player added some interesting structure ideas and helped a lot with that. He brought some new riffs to the table. He’s more of a black metal dude and he brought lot of that buzz saw sort of riffing but we’ve been doing that kind of stuff for a while anyway. It worked out really well.