CANNIBAL CORPSE (Paul Mazurkiewicz) INTERVIEW
Controversy and censorship are things that Buffalo Death Metal legends Cannibal Corpse are all too aware of, these two concepts having followed them closely since their inception back in 1988. Only a couple of days prior to the release of their twelfth studio album “Torture”, the five noisemakers decided to embark on a short UK tour entitled Destroyers Of The Faith – one that found them headlining the stage of the rather large London Forum. Making sure to set up an opportunity to chat with a member of the band, I found myself inside the band’s tour bus, sitting opposite drummer extraordinaire Paul Mazurkiewicz with whom I analysed topics such as tradition, continuity, technique, aggression and future plans.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
• Paul, if somebody was to tell me back in the early 90s that I would one day be interviewing you I would have said that they are mental but here we are ready to talk about the release of a new Cannibal Corpse album!
Paul: And I would have told them “what do you mean; we will no longer be a band by 2012 or 2013”, so… (laughs). It’s crazy; it’s been a crazy run, you know? Who would have thought!
• The great thing about you guys is that even at times when Death Metal was not at all popular, and I am referring to the late 90s here, you were perhaps one of the few bands of both your genre and era that continued to generate interest in your music -quite an amazing feature really.
Paul: Yes, I think so! It has been crazy really, thinking since the inception of the band that there was a buzz going, you know, with the fans and I think of those years you are talking about where it was supposedly the time of Metal’s death and all that. I mean, we never really saw that much of that ourselves personally; we would still go out on the road and there would still be a lot of fans coming to our shows. We never had a time when we thought “oh man, this tour was just terrible” or “nobody came” or what have you. For some reason we lived through those fads and trends and all those changes in the way that people perceived music and the period when, as you said, Metal was at a low point and we simply kept doing our thing, I guess! I think that was very important, a key factor to our success because at that point, having had a few albums out or what have you, our fans came to our rescue as they knew what to expect from Cannibal Corpse, you know? So we were not going to do anything different or try to change our style in order to become more popular or whatever – we just did our own thing and that was really key, you know, and still is. It’s great that it’s doing better than it ever has this time, this year and the next couple of years before that as we have been arguably more popular than we ever were before and with record sales having picked up. There are obviously quite a few people into extreme music now, more so I guess than they have been ever before, but really it’s to do with keeping true to what we do I think that is so key and so important to our success and our longevity, especially as I said during the era when Metal was not doing as well for everybody.
• In my capacity as a music journalist I speak constantly with artists from numerous different bands, both old and new. Now any Death Metal musician, whether performing in a two year old band or an old-school outfit will only say positive things about Cannibal Corpse – their admiration towards your music is an element that brings them closer together in a certain way. Now that is really something, right?
Paul: Oh yeah! I mean, if we are to get those accolades from old and new musicians alike then that is indeed a great thing, you know? As I said, we have been doing our thing and trying to make relevant music since pretty much day one, you know, and when you still have older guys around talking about us and having new bands doing the same thing then that is indeed a great feeling! You really feel “being successful” I guess!
• Of course, success mainly came as a result of you guys doing a very good job. “Evisceration Plague” was an amazing album, everybody said so, as it got rave reviews and recorded good sales around the world and, to be very honest with you, I remember myself thinking “how are these guys ever manage to top that one”? Now, as we are having this nice chat “Torture” is scheduled to be released in three days’ time or so.
Paul: On Tuesday it will be released in the States and on Monday here in the UK. I believe that the album is already out there in the rest of Europe; in Germany it was released yesterday!
• Well, I can safely say that, once again, you guys did a sterling job with it!
Paul: Well, thank you – I really appreciate that! I mean it is crazy really to think that it is our twelfth CD and I really think that the last three we’ve done were pretty good Cannibal Corpse records, you know? I mean, obviously “Kill” was taking things onto a different level as did “The Wretched Spawn” which was another very popular CD and a lot of people I think were saying at that point “oh man, what are they going to do after”. Both these were indeed very good albums but what we did was to keep working hard and writing new songs in our way of thinking and our way of doing things and while doing that we were progressing I guess in some ways. When “Evisceration Plague” came out people seem to also like that album very much as you said and many of them said a lot of similar things as well to those you did. We had press and fans alike saying things like “wow, how are they going to outdo this one now”? Well, I really think that we did outdo “Evisceration Plague”! You listen to “Torture” and to me it is a very good album that I am really proud of, you know? I am very happy that we are still rolling and we are still turning up with some good stuff that we can be proud of – an opinion that hopefully the fans will share as well. I really think that is has been one of our best efforts and have this happening twenty four albums into our career and twelve CDs later or what have you is kind of crazy but we will just keep doing our own thing and now the next obvious question is “how are we going to top that” (laughs)? Well, I guess that time will tell, you know? A couple more years and we will see what happens! We are not actually going out thinking of how you outdo your last; you are simply trying to write better songs, you know? You are just trying to refine everything like the productions. You might go “wow, this is a great production” but then there is always something that you can do to make it better next time round – little things and that is where we are at in our career! It’s all those little things that end up making all the difference! This new album “Torture”? Yeah, I think that the fans will definitely like it a lot!
• The way I see and understand things “Torture” is pretty much the continuation of what you guys started with “Evisceration Plague” in the sense that they are both quite varied and they share quite a similar sound which I assume has to do with the fact that you have once again decided to hire Erik Rutan as a producer. Now, with all that in mind, do you feel that there is still enough space for both your sound and your music to evolve and grow in the years to come?
Paul: I think that this is another important aspect in what we do as a lot of it is quite subtle in a sense. I really think that we are not really doing that much different in a way, you know, but that subtle things are producing some different chords, different scales, different time signatures but they do not go overboard with that ending up sounding like a different band, you know? We simply add a little spice, a different element that you could not find on the last record but by still retaining that Cannibal quality I think. So yeah, we always try to do something a little bit different but as I said it is not going to be something so crazy that it’s not going to be Cannibal Corpse, you know? A song like “Scourge Of Iron” on the new record is a great track and Alex (note: Webster/bass) has done a great job and working around the way the drums fit with that theme is a little different, you know? It could have been put together in a different way with regards the drumming and the way the drumming fits in with the riffs and everything is good – it is heaving, it’s a pounding song and it is a little different than maybe other stuff. Maybe because Alex also writes a lot of the drum parts for his songs, knowing what I can do and by still retaining a Cannibal feel, maybe the song would have been a little bit different if he gave me those riffs and then I was to put in the drum parts – I may have come up with something completely different, you know? Or maybe it would have been too much the same stuff like in the past…well, we just decided to spice things up a little and there are enough things to make this album sound fresh and a little bit different but still be Cannibal. I think that this is what we tried to do a lot in our song writing, you know – especially in these latter day albums.
• Is it fair to say that two reasons why we see such good results by the band is first, because you and Alex, the band’s rhythm section, have been together since the very beginning and know each other so damn well and secondly, the fact that Cannibal Corpse has been enjoying a steady line up for the last seven years?
Paul: Sure, that helps! When you’ve got all those things happening it is a good positive thing, you know? It is positive energy and positive vibes all around. If you are not getting along and you are going through the revolving door with members and all that stuff then the end result is very negative and very wasteful and really not a very good environment to be in, you know? It definitely doesn’t hurt that we have been playing together for so long and that Alex and I have been in this band since the very beginning and all that. We obviously want to keep it going what we’ve started and I am sure that helps and enables us to understand and feed each other. The same thing goes with Pat (note: O’Brien/Guitars) and George (note: “Corpsegrinder” Fisher/vocals) who have both been in this band a long time now! Also with Rob (note: Barrett/guitars) being back in the band for as long as he has, this is obviously the most solid line up that we’ve had and we are all kind of like clicking in the same page I guess – we are all on that same kind of wave length more so than we ever have. I am sure that all this has to do with the whole stability factor, you know? Everybody can understand each other more and we are all able to work with each other easier and the more we work together things will become more positive and they have been and that helps, you know? I really believe that our last three albums are amongst the best we have ever done and “Torture” being the best. When I look at the band stability factor with Rob being back in the band, with him being back again for “Kill” (2006) for which he wrote a great song and then him continuing writing good songs for “Evisceration Plague” it is good. Now, all of a sudden, Rob wrote three songs, he’s got three on “Torture” and I really believe that those are the best songs that Rob ever wrote for Cannibal and I think that if you ask him he will tell you that he knows, he understands more what he needs to write now – he can write Cannibal-like, you know? It’s not that he didn’t write Cannibal before but I do believe that his style of writing was a little bit different on the songs that he did come up with prior to “Torture” and to me, when I listen to the songs that he did here for “Torture”, these are classic Cannibal, man – 100%, you know? I think that being in the band for years again and working exactly with this line up, it helped him to be able to write those songs.
• I cannot believe how fired up you guys are at the moment. A few minutes prior to meeting you I saw Pat walking down the stairs and he pretty much said that he is ready to work on a new album! I mean, “Torture” is not out yet and he wants to start working on new songs!?
Paul: Well (laughs) it is funny because, as I already said to other interviewers before you, we started writing…normally we never write on the road as it has never worked for the most part. For this album, when we were still touring for “Evisceration Plague” which was towards the end of 2010, then Pat ended up having some ideas already which was kind of unheard of for us. Normally it’s like touring is done, we take a little time off for whatever and we get back together say January the first, after the holidays and whatever and then we start things almost from scratch. Well, I remember that we had two songs done before December of 2010 and both were Pat’s and these were “Followed Home Then Killed” and “Torn Through”. Those songs were pretty much complete other than just fine tuning and all that kind of stuff but the whole main structure and the songs were pretty much done. So we went “wow, we are really ahead of the game now; we’ve got two songs and we have not even done touring for “”Evisceration Plague” yet and when we go an sit down to write this new record we are already ahead of the game by two songs”. That is what happened and then the fact that, you know, it took us a whole year of writing, way longer than normal; we gave ourselves a little bit of extra time. If you are talking from January to September then that is nine months, or eight months, eight solid months of writing which is a little bit longer than normal. Normally we use six months for writing and rehearsing before we hit the studio, so having that extra two months in there made it a long time. Then the two months that it takes to do the recordings and then the holidays…I mean, it seems like forever that we did this album! Obviously it is brand new and fresh to all the fans but to us it is “gee, it feels like ages since we recorded it”, you know? So I guess that this might be the attitude that everyone is having; well, not everybody’s but certainly Pat’s. I am ready for some new ideas and to get things moving again. As I said, we did like the idea of being ahead of the game, so if somebody can do that, if he can write a little bit on the road and have some ideas in our down time at home maybe for a week or two, if a song or something can get written then why not, you know? If the creative energy is there then we might as well utilise that – utilise it when you can instead of just waiting till we are done touring and then starting from scratch. This is fine too but hey, if we can be ahead of the game then why not? It’s all crazy though. For me personally, I am like…we’ve got a lot of touring ahead and so I am not exactly 100% thinking about writing right now. I know that those two (note; Pat & Rob) got to be the guys to come up with the riffs anyways and unless I was that guy I am not going to start working on drum parts for nothing…hey, whenever it happens, it happens! For now it is OK to relax. We have a lot of touring coming up and it is going to be in the very distant future before we can even start thinking of writing and recording a new CD, so we will take it as it comes but if these guys can come up with the riffs and get the energy flowing then we will utilise that!
• What an amazing billing it is that you are presenting us with tonight! It is an extreme Metal fan’s dream as we have you guys, we’ve got Triptykon who feature Thomas Gabriel “Warrior” of course and Enslave who might be from a totally different musical background but who come up with some amazing musical propositions!
Paul: Sure! And then we also have Job For A Cowboy as well, being a very extreme band in their own right and doing things much different than we do so yeah – it is a great package, a very evil brutal package. You’ve got a bit of everything, you know? So yeah, how can a fan of extreme Metal music not like this one? I mean so far, so good! The three shows that we have played so far or this tour have been great and I am sure that tonight it’s going to be awesome too as London has always been a great city for us to play in. We are expecting another great show here and the we are off to Birmingham tomorrow and I am sure that we will end up looking back on this one thinking “what a good run – what a great package we had for the people”. We are looking forward to tonight’s show as well – see the fans go nuts!
• There is video evidence during the recording sessions of “Evisceration Plague” with you ‘complaining’ about the intensity involved behind some drum parts and how you ‘suffered’ as a result. Now, the way I see it, you have not done many favours to yourself either with regards “Torture”, right (I laugh)? You realise that all these parts will one day need to be performed live! I mean, how do you do it?
Paul: Well, I see myself personally as a drummer who is working hard. I think that I have improved as I have been working on a lot of things to help improve my playing and my stamina and all that kind of stuff and things have really only changed for the better within the last couple of years. What we are talking about are little details such as sitting a little bit higher on the drum stool, you know, using different pedals, using different sticks and stuff. All those little things and then actually working a little bit harder on the songs at hand, you know? I mean, a big thing for me was, in comparison with “Evisceration Plague”, and if you know anything about the way we recorded it and I am sure you do, was that when we are incorporating the click track into writing and recording for that album that was the first time that we were doing that in our entire career! So here I am as a drummer, which I probably should have been doing that for years, but did not because of the nature of the music, you feeling that you are giving in to something that you shouldn’t – an unnatural thing! Well, it was a great thing and I am glad that we did it but my point being that when we started doing it for “Evisceration Plague” I didn’t have enough time to adjust to that, to get used to it, you know? We start writing that way, we are recording…I remember going into the recordings of “Evisceration Plague” being as prepared as I thought that I could but not feeling like 100% like “Oh yeah I’ve got this”. I mean no, I am playing to a click-track and I have started doing that five or six months ago and it is still very new and kind of weird to me! The way that I look at the drumming for “Evisceration Plague” in comparison to say “Torture” then I think that “Evisceration Plague” is a great album that has some great songs and all this kind of thing and the drumming is a lot of beats, which is good, but it is different, you know? There are not a lot of things going on in my way of playing like rolls and fills and all that kind of stuff, you know? There’s some but not a lot and I really attribute that to the fact that I was not 100% comfortable with the click-track, using that metronome! So, when we started writing and doing my tweaks and all that, get me to where I feel that I am being optimum, the click-track was the same thing for us. Now we get the click track started and we know that this is the way that we are doing stuff. It is not like a trial period where we go “Ok, let’s do it and I will get used to it”! Now I am already used to it to some extent so now, man, writing these songs for “Torture” was like wow – night and day in comparison to “Evisceration Plague” because I was like “yeah Ok, the click is there so I can do certain stuff with it and I feel so much more confident, so much more comfortable playing with that click”. It opened me up to do more things, to have that confidence to provide certain fills and explore some roads and so some stuff that I didn’t do on “Evisceration Plague” because it was weird in that way. So I think that was key as well to me stepping up the drumming; being more comfortable with that click-track and being able to take my drumming to the next level and in a way it was almost easier. As much as it looks like it was harder, In think that “Evisceration Plague” was harder to do because, as I said, I wasn’t fully where I wanted to be with my playing in general and the whole getting back to the tweaks and stuff like that which really occurred after “Evisceration Plague”. Before we started doing “Torture” we made a lot more of these changes. So yes, it is weird because exactly the drumming is no way more intense and that is because I felt no way more prepared and way more confident in my ability and with the songs and all that – it almost was a lot easier. It was not as painstakingly hard as “Evisceration Plague” was, you know? I kind of blew by this one and it was a good thing – it was a good feeling, you know? I am personally speaking very happy with my drumming on this record.
• Paul, as far as I know there are a few censorship issues relating to the album cover of “Torture” so it seems that once again you have to opt for alternative versions for certain countries. That must be quite tiring after all those years, right?
Paul: You would think that they had learned something by now, you know, but…we are too brutal I guess, we are too intense for some people in certain countries – especially Germany as this is the place where we have most difficulties…well, you know, this is something that has to be done but I guess that when it comes down to it, as long as the music is out to the people, because that is of course the most important thing, that is OK. I mean, we do hate having to use all those different album covers but that is the way it is so you just need to work around it the best way you can and just forge forward, you know? We have had problems with Germany over the years, not being able to play certain songs there but that did not stop us – we still played songs, as we had many others that we wanted to play. Sure, you could not listen to “Hammer Smashed Face” live but I think that everybody still walked away from our shows feeling satisfies as they saw some other songs – the ones that we could play. It is sad and unbelievably ridiculous but you just cannot let stuff like that bother you – you have to work around such problems and find the best way you can to get the music to the masses and that is all that we can do really.
• If you were to analyse this situation from a third person’s perspective would you come to the conclusion that the controversy surrounding your whole career was helpful or damaging to you? I mean, some people may say that any promotion is good promotion, right?
Paul: Sure, of course, dude – any publicity is going to be good publicity, there is no doubt about it. If you get censored people would want to know what’s going on, you know? They would want to seek that out and see why people think that this is too bad – it is indeed something that most people would want to check out, you know? Of course something like that is going to help and obviously backfires to those who are trying to oppose it more than anything, you know? Regardless to what they have tried to do over the years they have not succeeded in stopping us; we are still here, we are not going away. They had done nothing that could stop us but only perhaps put a couple of speed bumps in our road but, other than that, that’s it. But yeah, people like that are really helping us out – they are causing this controversy which is going to make people to go out and seek our stuff even more. So yeah, this whole reaction is pretty hopeless, of course!
• Paul, under the circumstances it would be perhaps naïve of me to ask you where you see the band being in five years’ time because, if anything, who knows what happens tomorrow, right? One thing I do know, being a fan of your music all these years, is that you have learned to adapt to the times and so I believe that you will be able to eventually deal with anything that is thrown at you. So, to wrap things up, I want to thank you for your time and wish you all success with all present and future endeavours!
Paul: Well, I really appreciate that and I want to thank you for the interview and your kind words. We are hoping that everybody has the same sentiment that you have there and, like you are saying, we take things day by day at this point. We never thought that we would be around twenty four years now, you know, and then arguably we are on top of our game more so than ever, so…exactly – who is to say what tomorrow brings let alone next years or in five years’ time! At that point, perhaps health may cause some issues. Obviously, mentally we are already there and we are probably writing some of the best songs that we’ve ever written so the issue is more of a mental nature. Are we going to physically be able to play and to be as convincing as we always are and we always have been? I think that is going to be the main question here and if we all manage to stay relatively healthy then yeah – who’s to say that we cannot be around for another five, ten or fifteen years? Who knows! We will just take things day by day and just keep plugging away, you know?
• Thanks Paul and good luck with everything!
Paul: Thank you, I appreciate it! Thank you so much!
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