Latest release: Undead (Metal Blade)
Chris Barnes, legendary death metal vocalist for Six Feet Under, was last in Australia fronting Cannibal Corpse in 1995. With a stack of SFU albums under his belt now and, up until recently, a fairly consistent band lineup, he is finally heading our way for a tour with Darkest Hour and headliners DevilDriver, and to give us a taste of forthcoming album Undead. We caught up with Barnes via phone to chat about Six Feet Under, smoking weed and doing TV ads.
Q: You’ve just released a single from upcoming album Undead. What can we expect?
A: Oh man, we released ‘Formaldehyde’ and we’ve got a lot of great responses on our Facebook page from all of our fans. They all seem really enthusiastic about what they are hearing.
Q: What was Mark Lewis like as a producer, compared to say, Scott Burns?
A: He was a good producer, man. I think Jason Suecof helped out a lot, he mixed the album. He brought the whole thing together on the production side of things and helped us find our focus. Both Mark and Jason did a great job with helping us with this one.
Q: What have you noticed has been the biggest change in the death metal scene in the last say 20 years?
A: I don’t know, man, it’s hard to say. I really have not looked at things from the outside. I’m kind of like on the inside but it is pretty much the same as it has always been. It is just, you know, a different album for me and the fans seem to react the same way and are having as much of a good time as they did 15 or more years ago. I can’t see there being any great change other than people having a bit more knowledge of this style of music and it being a bit more recognised as a serious genre.
Q: How have recording techniques changed in death metal?
A: Well, recording techniques have changed immensely over the past 20 years. We’ve gone from tape to tape and digital to completely digital. It is a totally different process and is a lot more user-friendly. It is a lot easier to get things done. A lot of people use the technology for evil, though, as far as cheating. We like to use it to make it easier to track and to mix but as far as creating things in the studio with the technology, those are dangerous things, I think. I’ve never really liked or been a part of it.
Q: Production has come a long way from the cold, brutal sound with scooped mids.
A: I think we’re still looking for an aggressive and raw production like we always have. We have learned our lessons from various things as far as what we can accomplish in the production and the mix. It is quite crowded as far as frequencies go and so it has always been a struggle with dynamics and separation of instruments because there is so much encroachment in the mix. It is a very difficult thing to figure out. We’ve kind of got it better understood a little bit more with this album. This album is the first album I have ever done where I am one hundred percent happy with everything. Not just in the production but in the performances as well. I think we were able to keep a lot of the low end bass and a lot of the crunch with the guitars and stay true to my vocal tune. That has always been a real struggle with those three things that are have such a similar frequency response. It is really difficult to be happy with all of the low ends that are around. Being able to keep that and not lose that tone has always been a real animal.
Q: Has it been difficult to bring growled vocals out in the mix?
A: Well, it hasn’t been difficult because I have always fought for it to preserve the acoustic tone of the vocal and the depth of that frequency. I really go into protection mode when I got into the studio trying to keep that in there. I really feel that with this album I was able to really come back to that and conquer that more than I have with anything with this band. I mean it was a little bit easier to do that when I was working with Scott Burns and Cannibal Corpse because he had more of a grasp on that.
Q: On ‘My Hatred’ from the Bringer of Blood album, you’ve got the vocals still up in the mix on the outro while the other parts fade out in terms of volume, a bit faster. It’s good to hear your vocal clarity.
A: Yeah okay, right. That album had a loud vocal mix but it wasn’t too bad. It is just trying to keep that tone and try to be at the same level as the guy that is recording with him, knowing what you’re doing and why you want the song like this and sometimes that’s a bit of a battle. This time it wasn’t and I worked with some great engineers who understood what I was trying to bring across. We tried some different microphones on this and I went back to a microphone I used on the old Cannibal Corpse stuff.
Q: Do you have a similar work ethic on the Graveyard Classics releases or is it more fun?
A: No, I have the same work ethic on everything. It is just trying to do the best I can and trying to focus on everything. It’s only different in you’re taking the writing part out of it and just going in and rehearsing it then recording. So it is a little bit easier but I still have the same intensity as far as trying to portray things as the way I see them in my head, or hear them.
Q: What was the idea behind doing the Graveyard Classics album series?
A: It was something that has never been done before. I always like to venture into uncharted territory. I think that no one has ever done a complete album of cover songs or at least no one has ever done a complete album of cover songs of just one album. So, it was just interesting to me and I felt like it was a dynamic thing. If I put all of the songs I’ve ever recorded on shuffle I think there is a variety there. It kind of sets things off in a different mood or off on a different tangent. It is just interesting to me.
Q: Have Kiss or AC/DC heard the covers?
A: Oh, I don’t know. I never heard if they actually heard it but that was a lot of fun to do.
Q: You’re touring here with DevilDriver and Darkest Hour. Have you played live with DevilDriver before?
A: Yeah, at some European festivals. Myself and Dez [Fafara] are really good friends. It’s going to be a blast. I’m really looking forward to that tour. We did a tour with Darkest Hour last year in the States so yeah, it is going to be a lot of fun. One thing you can count on if all of the bands are having a good time backstage or are good friends then you can count on having a great show at the front of the stage. That is what makes it much more fun for us musicians being on tours, if we can tour with people that we are really good friends with. That is what makes it a lot of fun for us and keeps our spirits up. I’m looking forward to this tour. I think it is going to be a blast.
Q: You’ve got a new seven string bassist [Jeff Hughell] and a new guitarist [Rob Arnold]. How is that working out live?
A: It is going to be great man. We are rehearsing with Jeff in San Jose right before the tour comes down there. We’re coming down as a four piece this time. The band touring is myself, Steve Swanson [guitars], Jeff and Kevin Talley [drums] so it is going to be a lot of fun. It is also great to have musicians in the band with their vibe on the new songs. I’m so excited that Jeff is our new bass player as he’s such a great musician and he just knows his instrument so well. I’ve been looking for a bass player in his style of bass playing for so long. He is a great musician and it is going to be a lot of fun to work with him.
Q: Do you have any Cannibal Corpse classics in the set at all?
A: Yeah, we do. We did some touring last year where we played ‘Stripped, Raped and Strangled’ and we played ‘Hammer Smashed Face’. So I’m sure we will throw one of those songs in the set when we tour Australia.
Q: Have you heard Cannibal Corpse’s latest album [Torture] yet?
A: Oh yeah man, I’ve got a copy of that, its great man. I really think those guys did an excellent job on it. Erik Rutan did a killer job on production on it. Paul [Mazurkiewicz] did his best ever work on his drumming. I just think it is a really driving album and it is just totally brutal. I’m really happy too that both bands are putting out new albums within a couple of months of each other. I think it says a lot. Metal Blade is doing a great job, they’ve stepped it up so much, man, it is just phenomenal with all the work people have done in the past couple of years. Their album is a crushing album and like I said, it’s great to be able to put out such great albums within a couple of months of each other. It is going to be a great year for death metal.
Q: I remember when the death metal vocal style hit. Where you aware of being part of that change in the scene when vocals from your demo to the next release changed?
A: Yeah, I don’t know that it had clean vocals (laughs). I don’t know, I think I always go for a different sound on each album, just a little bit, to try to accompany the music. I think that as things progressed in that band [Cannibal Corpse], I was really young and learning my voice. I kind of look at it like this; as the music started getting heavier, then the vocals started getting heavier. That is really what happened. I was just trying to match my vocals with the intense, awesome, crunching, powerful writing style that those guys had. I was just trying to hold my own and make my voice as heavy as the music and the instruments that were playing it and as I was hearing it. So, that is really how I progressed in my vocal style and where I really learned what my voice could do.
Q: What do you have to do to keep your voice in shape?
A: Ah, just the same things that I always did: just smoke a lot of weed (laughs) That is the best remedy man. That is the best medicine out there.
Q: (Laughs)There are styles were you can damage your voice box over prolonged periods. Have you had any problems with your voice?
A: No, not at all. The only time a vocalist really has any problems with their voice is just when they are fatigued or just not very well rested. So that is dehydration and that all plays into it. Getting tired and not being well rested is your worst enemy as far as being a vocalist goes.
Q: Can we expect a live DVD soon for the latest lineup?
A: I am not sure. It is not something I have really thought about yet. We just put out that Wake the Night DVD last year and I think that we’ll hold off on DVDs for a while. It is up to Metal Blade. I’d be into doing whatever, really but maybe in a couple of years before we might do another one.
Q: You’re a big fan of The Grateful Dead, does it ever find its way into Six Feet Under?
A: Oh wow, I don’t think so, I mean, you know, not really. I just think that maybe in a strange way we are looked at as an awesome band to see live. I think that The Dead were only really experienced in their purest form live too. That would be a great kid of connection but I don’t there is really anything that I bring in from anything that I really enjoy in my own personal life either directly or subconsciously. I just try to let the music that I am being presented with lead me. I don’t try to analyse where the ideas come from but I don’t really think that anything directly comes from music or movies that I enjoy in my own private time.
Q: What I’m getting at is if you jam on riffs and ideas in a live setting?
A: Well yeah, that’s interesting; I don’t think that we really do things like that. I mean, we write differently to that. Especially with this latest album which was written in solitude in different parts of the country and the put together through the Internet and email and stuff (laughs). It was through modern technology.
Q: So, did you cop much flak from your colleagues for doing the used car commercials?
A: Ha ha. No, I know that a lot of people got a kick out of it. I think that people like that stupid shit I do and get a laugh out of it. I am just surprised that it got that much recognition. It is probably the thing that I get recognised for the most here in Tampa. I’ll walk into a grocery store to get some food or some snakes and the cashier will say, ‘hey, I saw that commercial’. It is kind of strange that I have been here for so long, doing so much music and stuff yet the thing that I get recognised for is a car commercial (laughs). But hey, you know, whatever it takes, I’m just happy that people are recognising me even if they are having a chuckle. That is okay with me.