Alex Webster / “We want the Cannibal Corpse songs to be memorable”
Part One. 7 April 2021
Since the release of their 1990 debut album ‘Eaten Back To Life’, Cannibal Corpse have been at the forefront of Death Metal and have become the best selling Death Metal band of all time. On 16 April 2021, the band will release their fifteenth studio album ‘Violence Unimagined’ via Metal Blade Records.
Interview: Brandon Oberkrieser
MetalTalk recently spoke to Alex Webster, co-founding member, songwriter and bassist for the legendary band about the making of the album, songwriting and more.
MetalTalk: I know in addition to bass duties for Cannibal Corpse, you are a primary songwriter for the band, was this the case on the new album Violence Unimagined as well?
Alex Webster: “Yeah I wrote four of the songs musically and three of those I did lyrics for. The fourth song, ‘Cerements of the Flayed’, our drummer Paul [Mazurkiewicz] did the lyrics for that one.”
Nice! I am curious if you have a general process that you follow when writing songs that you approach with each album, or is it different depending?
“You know lately it has been kind of the same, the past two or three albums what I have been doing is, I get the idea “ok I am going to write four songs for this album”, and each of these have to be different. How can I make them different from one another?
“So, I start out… I will pick a tempo usually just to kind of break the ice with the writing…you know, maybe 200 BPM or something, and then pick a scale I might want to start the riff with and then pick a rhythmic idea… maybe the song will be in 5/4 instead of 4/4, something like that, and just kind of dig into that way.
“So if that all works out, I will have a song written in a few weeks or whatever and when it is time for the next one, I’ll be sure to not use the same tempo, rhythm or scale.
“Every now and again I end up using the same scale again because some of them work so well, you know? But in general I try to keep mixing it up that way. With the goal being to make sure that my songs that I contribute to the album, each, are quite different from the other.
“I feel like that is a key thing in making a great album, in having each song be pretty different. It makes, you know, the person who is listening want to listen to the whole thing. And that s hard nowadays… I have been thinking about it… considering how we are fighting for peoples attention… everything in this world seems to be based around getting people to click on an ad or get your eyes on a screen.
“So to ask a listener to spend 40 minutes with your album, you better figure out a way to keep them engaged right? [Laughs]”
For sure, yeah. I had an opportunity to hear the album, and that is something that stood out to me as a listener, that there is a great amount of variety, sometimes within a single song. You have songs that are fast, kind of classic blast beat type stuff, but then you have an incredible amount of groove on the record, and perhaps for some, a surprising amount of catchiness.
I know in the song “Surround, Kill, Devour” I could not help but sing along with the song title when it came time! [Laughs]
“Yeah! [Laughs] Yeah! Hey, well that is the idea, you know. We do not mind writing hooks, as long as they are super heavy hooks, you know what I mean? We want the songs to be memorable, as long as there is no sacrifice in the level of heaviness.
“And those two things should not have to be exclusive. I think you can have really catchy things that are all really heavy. I mean if we can manage to write some lyrics that are going to make you want to remember them and sing along to them each time they come around, then mission accomplished I think right?”
Totally! And it seems that, and I am not sure if you will agree or disagree as a songwriter and performer on the album, but it seems you have been able to capture the classic Cannibal Corpse sound, but sort of push forward in terms of heaviness and technicality at times.
“Yeah… I think the primary area we push in really, is developing our song writing. But to do that, it helps to… be able to play your ass off! [Laughs] So we practice a lot trying to push it that way.
I mean, you want to continue to push your boundaries as a musician, so whatever is on your mind you can make it happen with your hands… or your hands and feet if you’re a drummer. So yeah we practice a lot and the stuff you hear on the album that sounds pretty technical, it is not necessarily written to show off that we can do it, as much as it is written because it sounds cool.
“And we are happy that we are able to do it, you know what I mean? Like I am glad we have the chops to do what is in our heads. Because, you know, it would suck to have some idea and be like ‘well that’s a cool idea but I can’t do it’.
“So anytime we think of something, we want to make sure we can get to the point where we can play it. And I think, out of the whole band, the person you hear really, if you listen throughout our catalog and then you listen to the past, maybe three or four albums, and listen to how Paul has been playing, he has been spending so much extra time practicing.
“You would have to ask him why… he just really enjoys practicing and also us guys in the band who have been writing, we have been writing some fairly hard drum stuff for him to play. But yeah, he has really put in a lot of effort and like, for example with Erik [Rutan, new guitarist] coming into the band, Erik is used to having sort of busy drumming in his songs and he did not want to change that, nor should he have to when he joined our band.
“So Paul just stepped up to the plate and practiced real hard and got it. I mean if you listen to some of the rolls in ‘Condemnation Contagion’, they are some of the craziest rolls Paul has ever done. And that is a pretty cool thing to say when you are on your fifteenth album and you are doing some of your best work at the present time, rather than looking back… you know looking back to the… ‘oh my hardest album I did that when I was 25. It is like no, Paul is doing his hardest stuff in his early fifties.”
Yeah, that is incredible. And you mention Erik Rutan who has produced the last several Cannibal Corpse albums and he has an impressive resume in his own right, fronting Hate Eternal. He is the new guitarist in the band, so how has that changed, or impacted the band in terms of songwriting and recording?
“Well for recording, you know of course he is our producer. So it makes even more of like, a well oiled machine, I guess you could say, where we were able to do pre-production in his studio where we were going to record the album.
“Normally, we are not entering the main studio until, you know, it is the main time to begin the actual album, but in this case, Paul was able to go over there and do pre-production demos in the months leading up to the recording of ‘Violence Unimagined’.
“So that was an advantage there. And then as far as songwriting goes, as I mentioned, the drum parts are an additional challenge for Paul to tackle. And he has his own style and knows how to implement it into our music.
“Like the three songs he wrote on this album… they are Cannibal Corpse songs! You know, they do not sound like something he would have written for Hate Eternal… they are definitely Cannibal Corpse songs, but you do hear Erik’s musical identity in there. And that’s a good thing I think!
“You know, and anytime we have somebody come into the band, we invite them to contribute and Erik immediately did… in the past, everybody who has been in the band, has had an opportunity to contribute, so I think that is a good thing. The musical personality of your band… it should naturally change at least a little bit when there is a lineup change, if that person is really contributing and if the person he is replacing used to contribute, there is going to be this little change.
“And I think it is a good change! You know, we have had a few of these throughout our career and they have always been good things that have added something. So it is no exception with Erik. He is adding his own identity, while keeping it well within, you know, the boundaries of what Cannibal Corpse is.”
Of course another thing that really cannot be ignored right now is COVID-19, which has affected the whole world. Did that have any impact on the writing or recording of ‘Violence Unimagined’?
“Not so much the writing, but the recording it did. A few years ago, my wife and I moved up to Oregon… just for personal reasons really, we just really wanted to live out west and had the opportunity to make that happen, so we went for it and it had not been affecting my participation with Cannibal in any real way.
“You know, I was able to go down there and practice when I needed to… and you know everything was rolling along fine.
“But with COVID, I did have to stay up here during the album recording. So I recorded my bass tracks in my home studio, so that was the main difference. Really I think for the other guys it was not that different. I had recorded albums before in my home studio, but it was always for side projects, but I did have the experience and it worked out fine.
“For me personally, it took a little longer because I was doing two jobs. You know I was the guy hitting the record button, plus I was the guy playing the stuff…I kind of had to keep track of the engineering on my end of things a little bit, where normally if I am just recording with Erik or whoever the producer is, they are taking care of all that hard stuff and I am just playing.
“So it was a little harder and took me a little longer because I did not have somebody there telling me kind of… it’s nice to work with a producer, they will tell you ‘that’s good enough, let’s move on’ or they will say ‘do it again’.
“When you have to make up your mind on your own, you can second guess yourself down a wormhole sometimes [laughs] to where you are spending more time on something than you should be probably. It is not the way I would want to do every album with Cannibal, I would much rather be down there with the rest of the guys, but considering, you know, how unusual that circumstance was, like it is something we never dealt with before.
“Hopefully the pandemic ends sooner than later and everything can get back to normal, and by the time we do another album, I would like to do it with the rest of the band again.”
For sure! I mean on previous albums, would it be like you do a live take with the band and then you cut your individual tracks?
“You know on the really old albums like ‘Eaten Back To Life’, me and Paul recorded the bass pretty much, I think it was all just live in the beginning. They had me mic’d… so they have an isolation room, so the bass is not bleeding into the sound of the drums right?
“And they got me mic’d up and I’m going in there, but I am in the same room as Paul and the guitar players… you know at the time it was Jack and Bob and I remember recording ‘Eaten Back To Life’, and if me or Paul screwed up something, we would just do the song again and we would get through the whole thing in one take, and then ‘ok next song’…
“But it is not like that anymore. Now we record the drums first, then rhythm guitar, then bass, then vocals and solos. And they will usually split the vocals and solos sometimes just so that George [Fisher, vocalist] is not screaming his head off for 12 hours. You know that will do a number on your vocal cords.
“So we like to, you know, kind of pace it that way. But yeah, that is how we do it now, things are tracked individually, but yeah in the old days, at least the very first album, I am pretty sure it was all just me and Paul doing everything in one take… you know, like one good take.
“Like I said, if we screwed something up, we would just start the whole song over again and just do the whole thing… it is not like that now.
“And even then, we could have done it a different way but we did not have the budget. We did ‘Eaten Back To Life’ in a week and a half… now we do albums, we take our time, take a couple months… you know we might spend a week and a half working on getting a good rhythm guitar sound.
“It is just a different thing now that we have a little more of a bigger budget to work with.”