Dancing on a Bloody Tight Rope: An Interview with Autopsy's Chris Reifert
Whether playing in the small clubs of the late 80s, or the packed ballrooms of the 2000s, Autopsy have remained one of the truly unique and inspiring acts in the metal world. And despite having gained the honor of being one of the bands that jump started what would become known as death metal, they have been able to maintain the heavy, electric and just bizarre atmosphere, the same that made them into an icon in the eyes of many of authenticity and idiosyncrasy in heavy music.
The band was formed in northern California by drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert, who had an instrumental role in the formation of the seminal death-metal band Death, and guitarist Eric Cutler. Soon after they were joined by guitarist Danny Coralles, with the band, aided by a string of different bass players, one gory classic after another, both making and breaking the rules of the sub-genre they helped bring to life. Many would point at the band’s sophomore album, 1991’s Mental Funeral, as the classic early Autopsy album, and it is pretty amazing. But the truth is that they have yet to record a bad album to date.
They disbanded after the wonderful fucked-up-edness that was 1995’s Shitfun, and instantaneously their legend grew even further. Reifert and Coralles continue to collaborate in the hardcore outfit Abscess as well as in the death-oh-my-god-what-is-going-on band The Ravenous, where they were aided by, among others, ex-Anthrax and Nuclear Assault man Danny Lilker. Alas, a world without Autopsy, despite Reifert and co’s continued creative outpost, was really no world at all. To our great fortune that suffering ended in 2010, when the band obliged to make a reunion for that year’s Maryland Death Fest, and decided to keep things going, bringing bass plater Joe Trevisano (Abscess, Von) on board.
For me, if it wasn’t clear until now, Autopsy isn’t really a death metal band, nor is it a metal band, or, for that matter, a band at all. With its raw music, its elephantine drumming, it’s mammoth riffing, and oh so gross lyrics, Autopsy takes the same ingredients any bands gets to make heavy music, and makes art instead. Which is the reason I wanted to chat with Mr. Reifert, and pick his brain on art, metal, and all that.
As is par for this blog’s course, this will not be a short interview, but I hope you feel it was worth your time. As a last note, if anyone out there in the world was inclined, who knows why, to keep posted with the blog and music, and can take the odd post in Hebrew, here's Machine Music's Facebook page.
I’ve been writing my blog for about five years, but about a year ago it was picked up by a very big Israeli newspaper. So it’s kind of a strange animal where I get to write about batshit, crazy music in a very respectable kind of place.
Metal’s come a long way over the decades.
Yeah, I don’t think they notice what I do, because I don’t think they care about me that much.
But, you think that it’s like that? That metal has become more respectable over the years?
In a way, yeah. At least everyone knows what it is now, and knows that it’s nothing really to be afraid of, it’s just another form of music. It’s not as shocking as it once was. But I suppose it depends on who you talk to.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
It’s OK, it doesn’t matter, because it just makes you try and think of different ways to keep it interesting, instead of just having a ripped-in-half body on the front of your album cover, or whatever [laughs]. That you should be a little more creative maybe. You know, there are still some people out there that are terrified of metal, which is OK too, but everyone knows what it is now. I mean, you hear in TV commercials and all sorts of things now, it’s just pretty crazy. It’s definitely different from how it used to be in that way.
I have this tendency to start with questions I thought I’d end with, so I’ll continue that tradition with you. I’m 34, and my formative metal-listening years were the early nineties, and albums that came just before that, and there seems that something weird happened to metal in the mid-nineties. There was this creative explosion in the 80s and early 90s, where people were just being crazy, and new genres kept popping up, and then somewhere in the mid-90s someone caught on to the fact that you can make money off of this..
This is true, that is true, though.
…And everything became really branded, really kind of marketed. You had to look metal, you had to sound metal. And to me that’s kind of when metal had a bad patch. Does this make any sense to you, this description?
Well, you know what, it’s interesting that I’ve been hearing that opinion from a lot of people over the last few years, you know how people say: “Oh, death metal died in the nineties” and stuff like that. I see where those opinions are coming from, but I don’t necessarily agree, because, to me, I never strayed from the path, I guess, it was always a consistent thing for me, on a personal level. I never said “Oh, it’s ‘95, now I have to be tired of death metal” or something. It was never that way for me.
You are right, things did get commercialized, you know, Columbia Records buying Earache Records, things like that. That’s nuts, and obviously it didn’t work, the big labels thought that they were going to make a fortune off of these bands, and that didn’t happen. But, you had to dig a little deeper during those years, and if you didn’t like the commercialized aspect of what was going on, then you had to scratch below the surface to find the good stuff – there was always good stuff going on, other bands.
Yeah, obviously. These are the same years black metal was exploding, so it wasn’t like death to all metal, but on the American side of things it really felt like a distinct slowing down, at least creatively. I think Autopsy was always the odd man out in that respect…
Because you guys were always doing your thing, seemingly regardless of anything. So, even when metal was relatively underground, you were doing your own thing, and when metal was above ground, you guys were doing your own thing. Maybe you would have been the least affected by this kind of change.
I actually wanted to ask you about that, because there’s this distinct sense that Autopsy, being the unique band it is, that you guys pride your selves on not giving a fuck in a way, about doing your thing, very consistently, whatever it is. And it seems to me something that might be very hard to do. Because freedom and artistic freedom are things that tend to encounter challenges
Yes, oh yeah.
So, how is it that you guys maintain it? Is there a set ritual or schedule that helps you avoid disturbances?
Oh, it’s the opposite of ritual or schedule, we just kind of did what we felt like doing, or what we felt like we could do. It’s just pretty much ignoring everything that’s around us, you know, in our personal lives we like to listen to things, whether it’s metal or rock n’ roll or whatever that had no impact on what we played, and just pretty much not caring about what people thought we should be doing. That’s the main thing.
Even going back to the first album, we didn’t do anything that maybe we were supposed to be doing [laughs], what would be the quote/unquote “norm” of the time. We never went to Morrisound studios to record, we never used Dan Seagrave to do our album covers. You know, nothing against those, but we just wanted to do what we thought was right for our band, and we didn’t care if that affected records sales, or reviews, or opinions, or if anyone was offended – to be honest, we always thought it was funny when people were offended by our shit [laughs]. It’s just music, you know, no one is going to hurt anybody. We always thought that was hilarious.
So, if you see the albums, the progression, they just get, in the early days, now, it’s different now, but in the early days, every album was more offensive than the last. You know, we’d get reviews and we’d talk to journalists, and it’s “Oh, this album is so terrible, how did you manage to make it more terrible!” Seriously! By the time Acts of the Unspeakable came out, I did a press tour in Europe, and people were mad at me! Some people in the German press in particular were like “Why do you sing about these things?” and “Why do you do this?” and basically saying that I was a bad human being. I just thought that was funny. I mean, metal makes you feel that way? Wow, wait till you hear the next album, you’re going to really freak out” [laughs]. Kind of like fuel for the fire.
Yeah, like extra motivation
It was, for us. But now it’s different, because it’s all been done, and everyone has tried everything they can do to shock people, and we’re not interested in shocking people. We’d rather make, I don’t know if this is the right way to put it, good metal music. You know, not “good” as in “virtuous,” but just good quality, good heavy, good riffs, brutal lyrics, you know, we’re not holding back on the brutality, it’s just as brutal as ever, but we’re not thinking about it saying “This is going to shock somebody,” you know? It’s more like “These lyrics sound good in this song.”
When you came back as a band into a time where metal wasn’t a hunted animal anymore, you weren’t supposed to sell millions of records, but you could sell a few thousands, it’d be OK. Metal became respectable again, in a way, after going away for a while. Do you feel like it’s a different audience out there?
You know, I think it’s more of an expanded audience. Because, we broke up for 15 years or so, and of course I and Danny did other things, we had Abscess and other things, so we were never out of touch with the scene or anything like that. But, when Autopsy got back together all of the sudden things were bigger. The first show we agreed to play, it was kind of the one that made us want to get back together, was the Maryland Deathfest in 2010. They just kept bugging us, like “Hey man, we really want to play” and finally, to be truthful, we got an offer we couldn’t refuse. “Alright then, we’re going to do this.” And if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right, not just do it for the money, or whatever.
Because that could be the worst thing of all, you play something for the payment but you don’t care about the music, and then it really backfires. And people, fans in the underground are not stupid, and they’re merciless too. If you screw up in the underground metal scene, it’s hard to recover from that, like if you quote/unquote “sell out” or whatever, people are very unforgiving. I think that’s a worldwide thing, not an American thing or European, it’s universal – people do not forgive you for that. So we were very aware of that whole thing, and we took that first show very seriously, we rehearsed really hard, and we said we were not going to be one of those bands that reforms and sucks, and then have to go away and hide under the ground.
So, getting back to your question, the audience is much expanded. And it’s great to see a lot of those old farts from the early days, a lot of throwbacks to the 80s.You know, looking into the crowd, walking around going “Hey, there’s that guy! I used to write letters with him in 1987!” or ‘86, or whatever. And then, a thing that was really shocking in a cool way was seeing kids there that are either 16 or 17 years old, who clearly wern’t born when we were around the first time, and they are up there knowing all our lyrics. Like, I can see them in the front row while we’re playing just yelling out all the lyrics. It’s a part of their lives.
I know, it was incredible, they’re just having such a good time, and just letting their aggressions out and just having a blast. It was really, instead of a change more of an expansion. It's like “Wow, these guys are here, and some of them have their kids with them, and the kids are at least as big a fan as the adults. It’s amazing, it’s such a cool thing to see, it’s mind blowing.
It is. Cross-generational influence, right?
Yeah, yeah, You know what’s cool? None of us are young anymore. Not that we’re old, but we’re all going to die one of these days, and someone’s gotta keep it going, and it looks like it’s in good hands, from what I’ve seen.
I remember you saying somewhere that you found it kind of amusing, I think you said this before you guys came back, that you found it kind of amusing that Autopsy was this buzz-word band, with everyone saying how huge you were for death metal, but when you were active, no one came to your shows, you know? Like five people at yout shows.
[Laughs] That’s kind of true.
I think that’s indicative of a lot of legend, you know? Legend is built on absence sometimes, and once you guys went away, everyone who ever went to an Autopsy show is suddenly a celebrity.
All of a sudden we were cool. Don’t get me wrong, we had some good shows in the early days, but a lot of bad ones, you know? We definitely played shows where there were like 10 people there, that happened, that was not an uncommon thing. And when we got 100 or 200 people we’d consider that a great show, like “Oh, my god! Did you see that?! There’s 300 people out there, holy shit!” It was a big deal. Once we played Milwaukee Metal Fest in 1989 and there were 1,500 people there. We didn’t headline or anything, but being a part of that was just like inconceivable, you know? Like “Man there’s so many people here!” But now, we get back together and we play for 10,000 people.
That makes a big difference.
Yeah, at one point you play for 10 people and the 10,000 [Laughs]. It’s nice, you know, I’m glad it went that way instead of the other.
It is more gratifying to play for more people, to know you’re being heard, that people are buying the records?
Oh, hell yeah! Definitely, man. You got people out there yelling for you and chanting your band name and stuff, it’s great. If I’d said anything different I’d be lying to you, it’s a really good feeling. It just feels like you’re doing the right thing, and, you know, living out your crazy dreams and people actually appreciate it.
And it just seems like there are certain things that make you feel like you’re experiencing a real thing, you know? Like when there’s only 10 people at a show, and then the band goes away, then that somehow makes it more real. Or with violence, violence has that effect on people. If you wrote on fantasy dragons and castles, I don’t think anyone would suspect you were talking about a real thing, or that you mean it seriously. But, somehow when you’re talking about gore or shit or whatever, people take it very personally.
I mean, with death metal the gore is so over the top. Obviously there’s plenty of real-life gore in the world, all over the world, that’s unfortunately another world-wide and universal thing – there’s violence out there, everywhere. So maybe that works on more of a personal level, you know, these things actually happen, as opposed to…. You know, I’ll look at the sky right now, I’m definitely not going to see a dragon flying around [laughs]. Cool as that would be, I’m just not going to see it. So, maybe people take it personally, it puts fear, you know: “These people are talking about this, so maybe they actually have it in mind that it’s a reasonable thing to do,” you know?
But then, you know, in death metal, nine times out of ten it’s not going to be realistic violence or gore of the kind you see in the news, it’s going to be something really over the top, so it would never ever happen in real life. And even if it did you have to separate reality from what ultimately is fantasy. It’s a dark fantasy, but it’s same…. I’ve always said since day one, it’s exactly the same as watching a horror movie, and you cheer for the gore scenes, like: “Yeah!! did you see that head blow right off?! That was awesome!” You know? If you saw your next-door neighbor, that happen to then, you’d be fucking horrified, it would be the worst thing in the whole world. But, in a movie it’s great, it’s not real. You read a horror novel, it’s exactly the same thing. You read a horror comic book, it’s all the same.
In a way, you could argue that it’s a pretty decent way to cope with the real-life gore out there – playing fantasy with gore that isn’t real, you know? The kind of gore you can cheer for instead of getting depressed over, or whatever.
Yeah. It’s a great outlet for people, man, and the funny thing is…. You know, you can go to a lot of different concerts, the odd thing is…. You know, I’ve been to, and I know you’ve been too, a lot of metal concerts, and I can probably count the amount of fights I’ve seen on maybe one hand. Everyone’s there for a common cause, they want to see their favorite band play. They’re going to get all their aggressions out, whether it’s yelling out the lyrics, running around near the front of the stage in the pit, knocking each other around. No one’s ever really hurt or kill anyone, they’re just getting their aggressions out. By the time you get home after that, you’re wiped out, you know? The last thing you want to do is go shoot somebody [laughs], or punch someone in the face, or something like that, you get it all out.
I mean, oddly even listening to death-metal albums in you car or whatever, there’s something about it, you get a release out of it. i just have a feeling that if you went to a country-music concert or something, or a NASCAR race or something, you’re probably going to see more fights or something like that.
You know, sometimes the pit gets personal, and there’s a guy that shoves you too hard and you kind of want to get back at him, so there’s that aspect too. But, eventually someone falls down, and it’s that guy that picks you up.
Yeah, all of a sudden 20 hands reach down to help you out, you know?
Exactly, so even at the height of all this macho bullshit going on, they’re still going to pick you up, make sure you’re alright, pick up your shoe if you dropped it.
That happened to me once, I dropped my shoe and someone gave it to me. That’s like the opposite of violence.
That’s crazy. It’s a huge cathartic outlet, really.
Skipping along, as we do…
I wanted to ask you if you had like a moment you remember that, as a kid, you heard this music, whoever this was, doesn’t have to be metal, that kind of blew your mind to the point of actually wanting to play music as well?
I have one, I’ve talked about this a lot of times, whatever it is you want to call it, a signal event or whatever, but mine was very very clear. I mentioned it a lot of times, but I always like talking about it. I grew up listening to music, and there were always records played in the house, everything from Beethoven to the Beatles – bluegrass, all sorts of things, Jazz, whatever. Which is great, now I look back I’m like “Man, I’m glad I was exposed to all those things.” It just makes my musical-listening adventures interesting, all the time.
But, just being a little kid, nine-years-old, 1978, watching TV, probably Saturday-morning cartoons or something, and then the TV commercial came on for the KISS solo albums, and I just freaked out. You know, they showed all their solo-album faces, and it was “Gene! Paul! Peter! Ace”, and they played like five seconds of music off of each one. It really did something to me. I’m like “Man, I need to go and mow the lawn, and wash the car, and make a few dollars so I can get this album, which I did. I got the Ace Frehley album. It seriously changed my life, there’s no question about it. I mean, I liked rock n’ roll and things like that, but that was like “Whoa!” Seeing those covers with the makeup on the face, the little snippet of “New York Groove” and all that. I turned into an instant Kiss-freak.
And it’s funny how, just like in metal, or anything, all of a sudden the pathway to discovery opens up, and you’re like “Well, I like KISS, and my friend, he told that if I like KISS I’m going to like Aerosmith.” And then this guy says “Oh, if you like that you’re going to like AC/DC, and Cheap Trick, and Alice Cooper,” and you start buying magazines, and you start seeing all those things you need to investigate. And then, if you’re into that quest for the next thing, like I was, you know, it was a progression. You know, I liked KISS, and Alice Cooper, and all that, and now I’m hearing about this thing called Iron Maiden, or Judas Priest, and the next thing you know you’re hearing about Venom, Slayer, you know? It’s a very clear B-line from one extreme to the other.
I know you had a band in high school, but did you start up as a drummer, was that your primary instrument from the get to?
Yeah. I mean, I started off, that same year, in 1978, in a marching band. My parents put in me in a marching band as a bass drum.
I guess little did they know.
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah. They were cool about it, they always encouraged it, which is strange. They bought me a snare drum, and I learned how to do a few things on that, and then they actually bought me a drum set, a real cheap, used drum set at the flea market over here for like 65 dollars. Sparkly orange drums. And they let me learn how to play drums. And, you know, a couple of years after that I wanted to learn how to play guitar, because I thought guitar was cool too, and kind of taught myself how to do that. That was probably around 1982 or something like that.
Did you have any direct inspiration for your drum play?
Part of it was starting to play… that I wanted to play like the people I thought that were good. Like: “Oh, I wanna play like Peter Criss,” or, you know, when I discovered Iron Maiden, “If I could just play like that.” And then for about six months maybe, something like that, I actually took drum lessons, when I was, I guess, 12 or 13, and my drum teacher, he was a high-school student who gave lessons, but he was a jazz drummer. He knew nothing about rock n’ roll or heavy metal, he was just a strictly jazz player, and I thought that was…his playing was incredible. I’d show up for my drum lesson, and I could hear him jamming in the room, and he was playing all these crazy drum rolls and all these time signatures, and that made a big impact on me. I wanted to learn drum rolls first. I was like “Man, can you teach me that drum roll, that was insane!” and he was like “No, you need to learn this rhythm, it’s going to be very boring, but you need to learn how to do this first.” So, my goal was always…. I wanted to get right to those drum rolls, just of hearing him play. I wish I could meet him now and tell him what a big influence he was on me.
Do you know where he lives? Could you locate him?
I have no idea. I mean, if I tried to search for the guy then maybe I could maybe find him or something. But, it’s OK. The information’s there in my brain. Like, if you listen to my drumming on records there’s always lots of drum rolls, and that’s mostly because of watching my drum teacher at the time.
That’s interesting, because other death metal bands, not that that should be your only point of reference, but explicitly technical death metal bands, they exist, and they have drummers, and they have a much more explicit emphasis on technique. Whereas with your drumming, it’s obviously complex, and it’s obviously super interesting, and it’s obviously driving everything – I personally think drums are the most important instrument in metal. Because, they are.
And a bad drummer ruins everything. That’s just from being a fan. This may not be a very popular thing, but I grew up a huge Megadeth fan, and when Megadeth had a good drummer, they had a good album, that’s just the way it was.
So, your albums, and the riffs, and all the heaviness, there’s something about it that seems as though it shouldn’t be complex, but it is. So do you think perhaps this is part of it? Kind of you playing out your jazz aspirations, or background?
Umm, I don’t know. That stuff is kind of weird in a way, because I do hear people sometimes say “Oh, this is a really primitive, cave man kind of band,” and not a very technical kind of band. And I kind of appreciate the references, like “Oh, they’re so primitive!” and I don’t take it in a bad way at all, I actually think that’s kind of cool. But, if you listen to our stuff, not all of the time, but sometimes it’s with weird time signatures. And it’s not easy to play, you know, some of it is deceptively weird. But, there’s a looseness about it too, you know? We don’t play to the metronome in the studio, or a click track, like most…. I think we’re in the minority these days, everyone plays with a click track – I don’t think I even could do that. So, there’s moments where we’re a little loose, maybe a little bit looser than some people would feel comfortable with, but the whole emphasis for us is just being real, I guess. Like, “Here’s how we play in the rehearsal room, here’s how we play on a live stage, therefore we should play that way in the recording room.” And if it’s not 100 percent perfect, then that’s OK because we’re not 100 percent perfect. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, and I think that the looseness contributes to the disturbing factor. When something is supposed to be kind of simple but ends up not being simple, there’s always a kind of undercurrent of strange timing, and maybe that’s the more interesting kind of disturbing, you know? Not the gore type of disturbing, but the “I don’t feel real comfortable listening to this.” And I think that’s the reason a lot of people love your band, because I think that’s kind of one of your hallmarks – that listening to you is…weird.
[Laughs] Or kind of like watching someone walk a tightrope, and they’re just starting to wobble a little bit, and there’s no safety net on the ground, and you’re like “Are they really going to fall? Oh No!” And then they make it across at the end. That’s kind of a similar thing, you know? “Oh, they’re getting a little loose there! Oh, OK, they’re back!” That kind of thing. Definitely not on the quest for perfection.
Absolutely. I mean, I can appreciate bands that strive for a technical thing, and sometimes it works out well. But, I think that more often than not being who you are works better.
That’s the way it’s always worked out for us, otherwise we’d probably get tired of it, trying to sort of put on an act, you know? Some sort of image that’s not accurate, or something like that. I think that would be pretty tiresome pretty fast.
I mean, one of the things that was noticeable when you guys came back, was that you came back in a way that seemed as though you were never away. Your albums still sound like Autopsy albums. I know you’re not planning anything, but do you feel like Autopsy is here to stay? Like this is a vehicle that serves its purpose?
Oh yeah. I mean, if things were going to be different, you know, the atmosphere, the way we’re communicating with each other in a jamming situation, if any one of those things were different or felt off kilter we just would know that we were making a mistake and we’d stop before anyone heard anything from us, that sort of thing. We had to get together in a rehearsal room and make sure it felt right, and if something felt weird, like “OK, we need to address things differently, because of this or that or whatever” then we might of had to rethink the whole thing.
But, the cool thing is that once we start playing, playing a song in a rehearsal room or on stage or whatever, we feel like we’re 18 years old. Not even that much of an age thing, like [makes infantile voice] “I feel like a teenager again!” but more like “This is what it was like when we were playing originally.” The feelings we get, and the way it sounds, those things. So, as long as that’s intact, I think we’re good to go.
If it felt like a struggle, like [making super-old voice] “Oh yeah, I’m a 46-year-old man trying to sound young,” you know, or try to play something that we’re just not anymore, then that would be different. But, we feel the same way once we start plugging it in, no matter what we talked about before, or whatever we did before we started playing. As soon as the music starts, it’s like someone flicks on the light switch – or turns it off [laughs].
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly, black light. Then, all of a sudden we’re in that zone, I guess, to use a cliché.
It sounds like a great gift, to be able to do that and feel that.
Yeah, I don’t know, It’s what keeps it fun too. If we felt like we’re forcing ourselves, like “Yeah, I really don’t feel like doing this, but here we go!” then we would say, “Alright folks, we’re not doing this anymore.”
Or do a documentary about how you need a therapist to talk to each other.
Yeah, Metallica. Yeah, “Our personal therapist, lawyer we use to talk to each other.”
“Lets call Eric’s lawyer and do an album,” I guess that wouldn’t work as well.
Yeah. We get along, and we argue, all that stuff, like normal human beings, but when it comes to the music that’s where we let [those things] down,
Just a few other minor things, one being that it occurred to me that “autopsy” is something you do after “death.” Did that have anything to do with why you chose that name?
Yeah, it makes sense, but the reason we chose that name is a lot weirder than that. When we started the band, it was just me and Eric at the time, and we had no idea what to call the band, we didn’t even have any first-guest band names or anything like that. We had no idea what to call it. And one day we picked up the newspaper at Eric’s house, which, at 18 years old, we didn’t do very often, we weren’t avid newspaper readers [laughs] more into horror comics. But, there was an article that caught our eye about someone who’s been killed, involving a band called Bloodbath. We actually knew who the band Bloodbath was, not the Swedish one, it was an underground punk-thrash band from the Bay Area at the time. And I’ve seen them live, they were really good, but there was an article about how their roadie killed their manager – he beat him over the head with a lead pipe and killed him, over drugs. And we read the article and there was a line about like “Autopsy has yet to be preformed,” or something, and we saw that word and we said: “Autopsy?! Ha! There we Go!” But the weird things was that our guitar player Danny, he was in the band Bloodbath at the time that that happened.
It’s a really weird tie-in. So, he told us about the story of what happened and all that.
It is, it’s really crazy. Kind of a weird cosmic thing. Brought on, by violence, unfortunately.
The other thing I wanted to ask is that…. I mean, everybody knows you played on Scream Bloody Gore and then you and Chuck split, and Chuck went back to Florida and you….By the way: Why was Florida the capital of death metal in the eighties and early nineties? How does that happen?
I’m not sure, because…. I lived there for a short time during the summer, and it was not like that, that happened later. We were the only people…there was like maybe three people that we knew in the area who were metal, and the rest was just kind of….not-metal? [laughs]. So, if you wanted to find someone to start a band with, you were out of luck, it just wasn’t going to happen, at that time.
Someone told me that maybe because it was so boring, that people had to freak their shit out, you know, just to stay sane.
Maybe. It’s really hot, and really humid, and so maybe that has something to do with it too. I actually didn’t care for it, I couldn't deal with it, I wanted to be back here at home. I mean, I wasn’t there to live permanently, I was just there for the summer. We tried to record the album down there, but it didn’t work and everything. But, as to why Florida became such a big metal scene, at least certain areas, like Tampa, I have no rational explanation whatsoever. I don’t know, because when I was there was no one…. I think we knew about Nasty Savage, that band, they’ve been around, they weren’t from the area that we were in, they were from a little father away. But, besides that, there wasn’t anyone from Florida, at that time.
What I wanted to ask you was that, after the demo and the first album you chose to stay in the Bay Area, and Death went on and became the band that it became, and I guess it’s kind of a split question that can go both ways: a) did you ever feel regret seeing how big they became, and b) did you ever feel gratified for staying, given the style change that Death went through later in their career?
I didn’t feel bad watching them get popular, that was fine. I was happy that Chuck was happy, or at least on the surface he was happy, you know, I don’t know, he went through a lot of band mates and everything, as everyone knows. But, I didn’t bother me, I was totally cool with it. I mean, it’s like he had a very clear vision of what he wanted the band to be, even throughout all the changes and all that he knew exactly what he wanted. There’s no reason for me to feel slighted or anything like that, like “Oh, I wish I was a part of that popularity!” Not at all. I’m more the kind of person where, you know, I just say: “OK, I’m going to do my thing, and whoever’s popular or not popular that’s fine, that’s their gig.” Just happy to do my own thing. We're Autopsy, whether we got popular or not, we liked playing what we played.
But, I mean, there is a stark difference between Scream Bloody Gore and Sound of Perseverance, sound-wise…
Oh yeah, yeah.
And obviously you’re not comparing yourself to Death, you’re doing your own thing, but in a way isn’t the kind of sound that they reached in Sound of Perseverance a kind of way of saying “You know, this really wasn’t what I was supposed to do.” Like an affirmation of what you were doing in Autopsy, in a way?
No, not even that. I can’t even think about it like that, you know? I can’t think of things like “How would I have felt about that material had I stuck around in the band?” or something like that. I wasn’t in the band all that long, a year to a year and a half, a pretty brief period of time, it’s just that a lot happened in a short period of time. I didn’t think about it, as far as what their band ended up doing, it wasn’t anything that entered my train of thoughts. I’m just kind of…. I’m kind of in a bubble, you know? Just in my life, and in many ways, I don’t really care or pay attention to things that are going around me, when it comes to music, especially, I really have kind of a tunnel vision I guess, not worrying about what other people are doing.
You’re a family man now, and the house you describe growing up in seems like a very special environment, very musical, very open, very encouraging. Is that in your mind now that you have your own family? Making sure that your house isn’t just skulls and Autopsy posters?
[Laughs] No, it’s pretty normal here. My son gets exposed to all those things, but he doesn’t care, he’d rather play video games. It’s not shocking to him, it’s not special to him, it’s what I do.
Yeah, it’s like “Oh, that’s what old people do, I'll go and play video games.” I mean, he’s in his room playing video games right now. I tried to tell him about what we do he’s just kind of [dismissive tone] “That’s nice” [laughs]. You know?
There’s something nice about that, I think. You understand at some point I guess that your family doesn’t have to know everything about what you do, as long as they support you and want you to be happy.
I agree with that, I agree 100 percent. As far as my son is concerned, as long as he’s happy doing what he’s doing, he’s not hurting anybody, then I’m cool with that. It’s fine. I don’t expect anyone to think death metal is cool, it’s up to them. But, on the other hand, he has come to our shows, and even helped sell t-shirts and stuff like that, and he had a good time doing that. So, it’s not like he shuns it with every ounce of his being, but I think it’s just boring to him. The skulls and all that, there’s worse than that in video games now. Our shit’s probably light-weight, you know? [laughs]. The games he plays, it’s probably not that much of a big deal, like: “Yep, that’s boring.”
“Oh, yeah they’re playing that weird shit song while I’m killing 900 people in my video game”
Exactly, yeah. You put in stuff like that, and maybe we’re not so shocking.
The horror of video games.
Oh yeah, they’re crazy now.
Don’t have to tell me, I gave up on that early.
Same here, man. As soon as there were more than two buttons I had to push then I just kind of gave up.
Me too. The four arrows was getting confusing anyway.
[Laughs] Exactly. I can only handle so much.
A couple of last quick-fire questions before I let you go, and they’re both equally stupid.
Oh, great, cool. I’m ready.
There’s this thing I got exposed to recently, in that, I’ve been listening to metal for the last 20-odd years, and only now have I realized that there’s a kind of division between what could be called “gross metal” and “un-gross metal.” And these are my terms.
So, gross metal would be like this expressive, heavy, non-technical, sometimes gory metal. So this would include you guys, though you may be on the cusp, we’ll get to that, but bands like Slayer, Venom, European thrash, Sodom, stuff like that. And then there’s “un-gross,” with more technical, maybe nerdier bands, like Megadeth, maybe Morbid Angel in a way, and, you know, the cleaner bands. Later Death.
And it would seem to me that your preference would lay more on the “gross” side of things, in a way? Does this division even make sense?
I know what you’re getting at, but for me, listening to music, I don’t really think about that. It’s just one of those things that if I like it, I like it. I can listen to Possessed’s Seven Churches or I could listen to the newest Fates Warning album, and be equally happy.
Is there a more technical, more clean-sounding band that you really like?
Yeah, that’s fine. I’ve always liked all sorts of things, you know, so it’s not a…. Though I have to admit that when I was maybe 17, there was a two-year period that if it wasn’t brutal then I didn’t like it. It’s because…. Man, when you first discover brutal music, especially when that music is brand new, there’s a moment where that’s all that matters, it’s the most extreme thing there is, but, you know, I still had to admit I liked other things, even though I was going through that phase, like I still liked my Mahogany Rush and my Frank Zappa records, and all that, The Residents, and weird things like that. But, you know, for the most part it was brutal or nothing.
But, maybe that’s not even true, because I liked Iron Maiden, and Fates Warning, I loved Fates Warning when they first came out, and I got their last one, and I love it man, it’s so good. It’s really matured, really polished – it’s as un-gross as you can get, but man it’s just so good. It’s just good music. So, I don’t know. I just like what I like, you know?
I guess I was just surprised by that division, that it never occurred to me to think of it that way.
When you start talking about genres and sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, it gets ridiculous. But, trust me, I know what you’re talking about.
OK, good. And the last question is a very niche stupid question, and it has to do with my aforementioned love of Megadeth. Now, Megadeth is a kind of the thrash band that went away, because it seems like all the bands are either influenced by early Metallica or early Slayer, those are the big reference points. And no one’s talking about Megadeth, and I find this offensive.
I mean, I just think it’s stupid
But, one of the points that made me think of this is Gar Samuelson. Now, I think he’s an amazing drummer, and I wanted to say that you. I think you should listen to Gar Samuelson, and the reason I say this is that I think he’s the closest reference I have to your drumming in metal.
Because he’s loose, and he’s crazy, and he’s not loose in a way that makes you think he doesn’t know what he’s doing. So, if your not a huge Gar Samuelson fan, I encourage you to be one. So that’s my gift to you, I guess.
What happens with that is that my Megadeth knowledge is limited. I have the first album, I bought the first album when it first came out…. Actually, I heard the demo they did before the first album, and I thought that was great. Like, “This is good, and probably better than what Metallica is doing,” it was pretty similar at the time, as you know. And I got the first album, and I loved it, I still do. Killing is My Business, great album, I really really enjoyed that album a lot. And then I just kind of got swept away with the brutal stuff.
I think that’s why they get forgotten for the most part too, because you kind of listen to it, and you figure out “Alright, it’s kind of like Metallica” and then you discover the brutal stuff, and you’re like “Fuck that shit, I’m going 100, and you kind of forget about them, because your first reference point was Metallica. It’s a very boring story, but I have been obsessing about it my entire life. But, all I can say is that whenever you feel like listening to an album you haven’t listened to in a long time, you can listen to the first one and the second, those are the only ones Gar drums on, he quit after that.
I’ll tell you what, I’ll go and listen to the record I have tonight, for the first time I think since around the time it came out, and I’ll let you know what I think.