Cattle Decaptitation "Harvesters of Gore"

Interview with: Travis Ryan
By Joe Who?

San Diego Califorina's Cattle Decapitation have never really been the type of band to put us all in a state of bewilderment, in terms of the "theme" they've undoubtedly gravitated exclusively towards. By the same token, you'd think they'd be stuck in a rut or perhaps may have possibly painted themselves into a corner by now. As it turns out, lead vocalist Travis Ryan informs me that it's actually becoming more fun for him. "Being able to come up with new ideas that continue to push the boundaries is really rewarding."

I concur! Their latest offering "The Harvest Floor" is proof of this, and easily their best work to date. Musically the album is a guttural, savage, intense effort that punishes from the get go. Thematically it takes on corporations with the controverersial topic of factory farming. Whether you agree or disagree with them, one thing is for sure... their war with humans is far from over!

On a cold, rainy, mid October day, I caught up with Travis Ryan in Milwaukee as he and Cattle Decap were trail blazing the U.S with Soulfly and Prong. We discussed the new album in detail along with some other interesting subjects...

Wormwood Chronicles: Do you have any good memories of playing Milwaukee over the years?

Travis Ryan: Well, tonight was definately a memory. (Laughs) Yeah, it's been years ,dude. I don't know about Milwaukee, but,we've played Robot Mosh Fest in West Bend Wisconsin. How far is that from here?

WC: I'm not sure. I'm from Illinois! I think it's about twenty minutes or something like that... (Probably not even that much...Mapquest Mality)

TR: Yeah, I don't think it's too far from Milwaukee because most of the people that came to it are from here. But yeah, we've played that once or twice,and I remember that thing was fuckin' nuts!

WC: How are you guys holding up with these adverse weather conditions?

TR: Pretty good. Josh (Elmore, guitarist...) grew up in Chicago, so he's a good driver. That's always the sketchy thing... the driving. I can't believe it's this cold and shitty already. It dosen't seem like it should be.

WC: Yeah, I know. It feels like November weather already...

TR: Yeah, yeah, it's not even Halloween yet! My memories of Halloween are that it's still kind of hot durning the day, then it gets a little chilly durning the night... nothing too bad. But then again I'm from San Diego and we don't have the seasons. It's really weird.

WC: Congrats on "The Harvest Floor". I like it a lot. What's the reaction been like since you've been touring for it?

TR: Really good. Everybody says it's our best record yet, and we pretty much agree with them. We put a lot more thought into it, but the thing was, we still only had the same amount of time to write it, which was five or six months. So we were under the gun from the start. At the same time, this is usually when we work best as far as writing shit... maybe not so much recording, but definitely writing.

WC: What were the recording sessions like? Were they long and involved until you were completely satisified? Or did it come together quickly?

TR: It was pretty quick. We recorded the drums with Zach Ohren and Billy Anderson did everything else. So it was kind of a weird Frankensteining of styles. Billy is more of a big room sounding guy. So we had the tightness of Zach's drums and the big sound of Billy Anderson. I think the combination worked really well... it was a total crapshoot too, but luckily it paid off.

WC: Yeah, I agree with you man. Billy Anderson's production on this new one is awesome. It's brutal, fast, and it has cool dynamics that magnify the sound experience. I was wondering... these last two albums with Billy in particular, was he really adamant about focusing on the details and nuances of the music? Or was this the main objective you guys wanted to accomplish all along?

TR: Definitely, it's something we always wanted to do. In fact, it was kind of like we took "Karma Bloody Karma" and said, alright dude, here's what's wrong with "Karma"... not that it was bad or anything, but we were like, here's what we wanna change. He was totally open to it and between the time of "Karma Bloody Karma" and "The Harvest Floor", he actually amassed a greater knowledge of protools anyway... which is industry standard for recording in case anyone doesn't know. It just turned out to be a way bigger record than "Karma". The majority of it has to do with our new drummer...we tried to keep things tighter, plus we sat Billy down a few times. (Chuckles) We told him Ok, dude, if we're gonna do this, we need to do this, and this, and this. He's always been like, whatever you guys want. But this time he was really confident about what he could do and it showed through I think.

WC: I'm also sensing an old school death metal feel on some of the songs. Not that it wasn't present before, but I hear classic death metal riffing along with some slow groove parts that recall the likes of Suffocation, Morbid Angel, and Cannibal Corpse. Were you guys inspired by your older influences this time around? Or were you looking to complement the guttural vocals more?

TR: Definitely. We've always been more of the older school of death and grind. Anything early on Earache Records, Mosh 1-150 or whatever. I think our early Metal Blade shit like, "To Serve Man" and "Humanure" were way more focused towards that vein, but it wasn't really what we were happy with. We definitely wanted to keep some of that groovy style I guess. I'm actually not a fan of that kind of shit, you know... the groovy headbanging death metal...

WC: Like Obituary?

TR: Well, I definitely love the greats, but I skipped out on a lot of bands. I don't know, to me when the music just focuses on groove, it almost sounds like "Nu Metal". That kinda bothered me, because I hated "Nu Metal" when that shit was out. But yeah, there's a direct influence of those older bands, you know... Asphyx, Bolt Thrower, anything on Earache Records or early RoadRacer... all that stuff.

WC: What's the mindset when you go into the studio to record? Do you try to run the gamut of emotions? Is this the case for the lyrics as well?

TR: No, both are completely different. I wrote our first two or three albums when I was working at a record store. So you're dealing with fuckin' assholes coming in and that would set me off. That's probably what got me really focusing more on people being the problem, you know? As far as the studio goes, there's no way to get atmosphere. It's too cold and edgy. That's why I've never been 100% satisified with anything I've ever laid down on tape... But then again, I don't think anyone really is. There's a lot of stuff I notice that nobody else does, Thank God!

WC: Where do you find your best lyrics come from? Any particular scenarios or situations help?

TR: They just hit me I guess. The way I do them is, I always start with song titles, and I'll be walking around and I'll see something... like the song "Chili Dispenser" from our Caninus split for example. I went to AMPM, got gas, went to get a vitamin water or something and there was this Chili Dispenser that was fuckin' gross! It looked like a butthole with a bunch of gook coming out of it. So I was just like that's genius right there! We've written songs about equating people with feces and waste... it's a gross topic. That record was meant to be a little more cheekier and a little more like an exhibition of the funny side of Cattle, instead of doing serious doom and gloom covers.

WC: What's more important to you, the music or the message?

TR: Well, you know what? I don't think anyone has ever put it so bluntly. Fuck! I would have to say... and I'm gonna get tons of shit for it... but we're musicians first and foremost, and the message is interlaced in the lyrics, so I guess you could make your own assumptions from there. I don't wanna say... Oh, the music of course. I think everyone else might have a different opinion on it. For me, I think it's just half and half ,if anything... there you go, it's 50/50. The lyrics, imagery, ideas, and everything for sure make up at least half of our presentation. So I think the music kind of tends to go first. We're musicians, we're by no means activists really. People can do what they want... they're gonna anyway. (Chuckles) Why would anyone listen to me? (Laughs)

WC: With all the important issues you've written about over the years, have you seen things change at all? Or do you think everything is getting worse?

TR: I think there's no possible way to change this late in the game because industrialization has completely set us on the course for the future. I guess either things are gonna get worse or they'll stay the same. I mean, life in the U.S. right now is so fucking grim. This year and last year have been horrible for everybody I know. Personally, I'm doing fine I guess. (Laughs) We'll see how this winter goes.

WC: I see you have some special guests on the new album like Ross Sewage (Impaled) and Jarboe (Swans). How did their involvement come about? Was it your idea? Or Billy's? Were you looking to accent the songs more?

TR: We've always had people come and join on our records. Everybody that was on it was kind of local, except for Jarboe who is located more east of where we were recording in Oakland, Califorina. Her involvement happened because of Billy. I had that song in my head the whole time, "The Harvest Floor"...

WC: The introduction...

TR: Yeah, it was pretty much suppost to be an elaborate introduction... more of a funeral march into "Regret And The Grave", which it was, but since Jarboe is on it, it almost took on another form or whatever. As far as everybody else... Jackie Perez Gratz, (Grayceon / Amber Asylum...) Ross Sewage, and Dino Sommese (Dystopia / Asunder...) all live in that area. We got there and the next day we went to a show... Impaled or sombody was playing. I was like, hey, we're recording right here, it was literally across the street, you could throw a rock at our recording studio compared to where this club was. I've been wanting Dino on a record for a long time and I always liked Ross's guttural vocals. We did a little duet, it was kind of cute! (Laughs)

WC: Your new drummer Dave McGraw sounds great on the new album. Where did you find him?

TR: He was in a band called Sleep Terror and we had seen them a couple times. We always thought, you know what? His style would work really well with ours. It was actually more what we were looking for and obviously it worked well because of that. He seemed to have that tightness that we needed... or at least the knowledge and the awareness of the tightness that is needed. We've had drummers that just went with the flow, whereas Dave is more critical and that helped us step up our game. He actually wrote a few riffs on the new record too. So that was pretty rad. We've never had anybody contribute before, they've all just been typical drummers.

WC: I read you guys made a new video for the song "Regret And The Grave". Do you enjoy creating videos now? Because you haven't made too many in the past.

TR: No, I fuckin' hate 'em!

WC: I've heard them described as hurry up and wait...

TR: Yeah, well, that's what it's like being in a band...the tours and all the stuff we do, that's the name of the game. Everything about that video left a bad taste in my mouth. Luckily it turned out amazing, it's just they're hard to make. I feel stupid standing there lip-syncing, it bugs the shit out of me... I actually didn't even lip-sync, I was saying the words. I'm not trying to be all like, Oh, I'm so DIY, Punk Rock, or whatever... it's just embarrassing! (Laughs) You got a room full of people all giggling, it's totally embarrassing! I guess it's what you gotta do these days.

WC: I love that high pitch riff on "Regret And The Grave" by the way. Was it inspired by slasher flicks?

TR: (Chuckles) I don't know, man, that's definitely a question for Josh. He's a total amp nerd for one thing, plus he's really into tone. I think we're one of the better sounding bands just because he's hand crafted his tone over the years. He's also slowly starting to work on building amps, pedals, and shit like that. So he's getting way more knowledge of everything. I think Josh just wanted it to sound really fuckin' intense. When I first heard it, I was like, guys, this has to be the closer, because I've got a really good intro for it. So that's how it came about.

WC: What's the worst mosh pit causality you've ever seen or heard about at a Cattle Decapitation show?

TR: This one guy straight up broke his arm... or he had a big old gash, it was something really gnarly. I'm pretty sure it was a broken arm though. Anyway, I think it happened earlier in the night before our set started. So then later on this dude comes up to us and he's like, I'm gonna go to the doctor, but I had to stay around to see you guys. I'm like, you're fuckin' nuts! I mean, you could see his arm was broken, and he's just standing there. I'm like, dude, you better go to the doctor right now or you're fucked!

The only other thing I can think of is this group of ten kids all wearing the same Cattle shirt built a human pyramid right in the middle of our pit. The kid at the top had a lighter with a can of hairspray and blew a blowtorch! We had a picture of it, but I lost it. (I'd have to see that to believe it!-->
WC: 2009 was a pretty good year for grind. Do you see any kind of resurgence for the genre with a lot of these new "extreme" bands coming out nowadays? Or is it just a coincidence that all these grind albums are out at the same time?

TR: Well, when you say grind, what do you mean? Like Misery Index style grind?

WC: Napalm Death has a new album out this year, Brutal Truth, Agoraphic Nosebleed, General Surgery...

TR: Yeah, it's weird to see all these bands come back, that's pretty cool...

WC: It just seems like grind is making a come back all of a sudden, you know what I mean?

TR: Yeah, the weird thing about it is when Job For A Cowboy came out, everybody kept saying... Oh, they're grind. I saw it in print and I'm like, dude, they're not fucking grind... I don't care what anybody says. I think people were just misinformed and it became a whole genre of deathcore, you know? Then other bands started popping up that were ripping them off or ripping off other bands... like adding breakdowns every two seconds. So when I think of grind, there's very few bands that have come out recently that do it... Insect Warefare, Poser Disposer...

WC: Agenda Of Swine, Mumakil, Total Fucking Destruction...

TR: Yeah, I don't know... I guess you're right, probably the last six, seven, years or something. But, I don't see any kind of resurgence for grind, like the grindcore I know of. I think people are accidentally mixing it up with what everyone knows as deathcore or metalcore. I think they're fucking up by calling it grind. (Laughs)

WC: Do you cringe at a lot of those type bands?

TR: Yeah, but, I don't wanna talk shit about anybody...

WC: I can appreciate the brutality, but to be honest...

TR: You know what it is? It's fake brutality...

WC: Exactly...

TR: They're hiding behind the seven string... they're hiding behind the tuned A. You do anything tuned to A and you're gonna sound fuckin' brutal. Try doing it in E Flat or whatever we tune it in, you know? I'm not a fan of anything that's come out... as far as this kind of genre or what people call "death metal." Because none of it is death metal, I don't think we're death metal, either.

I haven't liked anything that's come out since Necrophagist probably. I can't think of anything good that's not black metal or somebody that's doing something new like Gojira. I'm not saying I'm a fan or anything, I've heard very little, but you know... these new sub-genres are unclassifiable, but you just throw them under metal or death metal or whatever. There's some of them that are ok, The Faceless I love, just because I pretty much like all things progressive. That's the only band I really give a shit about that's come out in this whole crop of bands really. No offense to any of our friends or peers. I don't expect them to give a shit about what we're doing. (Laughs)

WC: What's the best in between song banter you've heard someone say at a show? I've gotta give you props for the one you said the other night in Chicago, and I quote... "Alright, we've got one more for ya, and then we're gonna let Prong come up here and stick it to ya!"

TR: (Laughs) Dude, that's such a good question, because, I've heard so much shit over the years. (Thinks for a moment...)

WC: I can give you a good example. There's this old school band from Chicago called Cianide and I saw them at a show... I can't remember how many years ago it was. But anyway the singer goes... "Alright, this next song is from our 1987 fuckin' demo, and it's going out to all of you old school mother fuckers... that's right, all three of ya!"

TR: (Laughs) I remember the first I saw Deicide when I was a kid. Glen Benton came out before they played and everybody freaked out. He threatened the crowd and said... "If any of you mother fuckers stand there and stare at us, we're gonna quit playing. We're not here for you to gawk at"... or some shit like that. I guess the people the night before in LA didn't move or do anything and he was pissed about it. So the crowd tried to kill each other! It was fucking retarded, I was right up in the front.

You know what? Everytime I hear someone yell, Alright you mother fuckers... and I do it too, just by accident or whatever. But when it's quiet, I always try to yell..."I don't fuck my mother!"

WC: I remember the last time we spoke, you mentioned Carcass was a big influence on you. I was wondering if you caught any of the reunion shows and if so, what were your thoughts?

TR: Yes! I saw two of them, they were excellent...

WC: Are you a fan of the dirty sounding Carcass? Or the cleaner sounding Carcass?

TR: I'm definitely "Symphonies". I don't care what they did after that... even if they did another record like "Symphonies Of Sickness", that fucking record changed my world. Yeah, they were excellent. Jeff's voice has gotten fuckin' awesome, which I had no idea. Because back in the day... I've seen them like five times before this, and Jeff would be like... (Travis does a quick impression of Jeff Walker's vocals...) He'd just cut corners like crazy. But this time he was really into it. I thought it was a pretty triumphant return honestly.

WC: Thank you so much for your time Travis. Any final words for your fans?

TR: Stay Gore! That's what I always say... That's our motto!

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