Cattle Decapitation were the first band which I interviewed at this year’s Brutal Assault festival in the Czech Republic. Prior to the meeting, the band were wrecking the main stage of the festival. As mentioned in the review of the fest (read here), the band put on a great show, they had a large audience regardless of their 11am slot and played as if they were headliners. I was supposed to be second in line to chat with the band but someone jumped the queue – I really loved that person for doing that. Hence, there was quite a lot of waiting time…
As the band finished talking to the aforementioned person, I quickly go up to them with the hope they don’t run away! Thankfully, they are all very friendly, smiling guys and obviously agreed to sit down for another 20 minutes (and then for another interview with Petra of the Bulgarian Metal Hammer). However, Josh (guitarist) and Travis (vocalist) had to run up to find the toilets and some water. As I was waiting with David (drums) and Derek (bass), who were looking through and praising the new issue of 7Gates magazine (Poland), we chatted about that day’s early performance. They admitted that they are not really used to playing so early. Especially when taken into consideration that their usual rehearsal sessions are at around 10pm!
Shortly after, Josh and Travis come back and we start the interview. Enjoy Cattle Decapitation below.
Dom: So, how are you feeling at Brutal Assault?!
Everyone at once: It’s awesome!
David McGraw: We want to play it every year.
Travis Ryan: Yeah, starting now.
Dom: You were first on the bill and you still put on a very good show and managed to get a big crowd.
Josh Elmore: We were super pleased that there were that many people. At 11am!
Dom: You arrived this morning before the show?
Travis: Last night. We are pretty well rested but I still wasn’t very ready. We were still asleep when we were up there [on stage].
Dom: You looked very awake.
Josh: Our jetlag, or at least my jetlag, will end the day or two before we go back home. I will be adjusted just in time to get back home.
Dom: You’re currently on your European tour. Are there any festivals which you’re especially looking forward to?
Derek Engermann: Brutal Assault, Summer Breeze
[Josh names all the festivals they’re playing.]
David: We’re looking forward to all those festivals!
Josh: Yeah, all of it is very exciting for us.
Dom: Awesome, I can imagine. Onto your new album now. Monolith of Inhumanity is probably your most death metal release so far. Is this the direction Cattle Decapitation will follow? Or will you keep on “breaking the boundaries”?
Travis: Probably that. We don’t really have a formula to follow.
Josh: Yeah, we’re really happy with the outcome of it. But I don’t think we’ll be like “let’s write another Lifestalker!”
Travis: We’ll be keeping around…
Josh: …the same spirit but…
Travis: …but move forward! Or not. We’ll see! [Laughs]
Josh: Add more elements… I mean, you’re on tour for so long after releasing a record so you learn so much, either as a player individually or new bands you get into, bands you toured with or whatever you take in. That creeps in whether you’re consciously there or not…
For me at least, if you can be – not all the time – as creative as possible – but still memorable; you know, something which you can come back to and something which will stick to your head. You don’t remember like “that band is brutal. I remember their brutality” – that’s just like a million other bands. It’s more like “oh, this song, this riff is amazing”; whatever it is, that’s what I will remember and not this “abstract brutality” or quality or something…
Dom: You talk a lot about inhumanity and negative attitudes with your music.
Travis: Well, we have a negative attitude. [Laughs] Speaking of negative attitudes through a negative angle.
Dom: Do you view all these negative attitudes as positive?
Travis: I think that’s the way punk and metal bands have always tried to seek positive. It’s threatening music, it has to have threatening images. It’s a kind of portrayal of certain images or ideas through a negative filter. That’s how we do it, I guess.
Dom: And I know that two of you are vegetarians. Vegetarians or vegans?
Travis and Josh: Vegetarians.
Josh: [Whispers] The guys who are wrinkly are vegetarians… The old ones… [Everyone laughs] Look for the old man hands! [Looks at his hands]
Travis: Yeah, they’re [points at David and Derek] tall and strong…
Dom: Do you get a lot of negative attitudes about vegetarianism?
Travis: It’s tapered off over the years. It started to dwindle. There’s always going to be that…
Josh: I think it was looked upon by a lot of people initially especially when we became more visible on a label. Then it was just a marketing scheme…you know, like “Heeey, they’re vegetarians!” Who cares? What’s your favourite colour? Green. I mean, there’s a certain lyrical content which backs that up but it was never ever, ever a plan for the media to be beating over the head…”For the Animals” blablabla. If you listen to people, that’s what we might have been saying but we were never like that.
I think in any element which you understand or disagree with, you’ll take it to this logical, well not logical but logical for their personal logical, extreme end.
Travis: The media has kinda blown it up.
Josh: Yeah, if you take all these ridiculous elements out then people will be like “oh, yeah, now I get what they’re about”. It’s not that straight forward.
Dom: So you don’t see yourself as a veggie band?
Josh shakes his head
Travis: Well, we can’t say that anymore as we have two non-vegetarian members. We’ve always talked about all sorts of things. The beginning was somehow heavily steeped with pro-animal image and the lyrics still are and I am still like that.
The lyrics will always come back to the fact that humans have done so much wrong to the world. In my eyes it’s giving the animals a chance which is one of the main life forms affected by our brothers on Earth. The animals and wildlife – giving them the upper hand. A kind of turning tide, turning tables thing.
Dom: On the webstie Metal-Archives I saw that your lyrics are labelled as “animal supremacy”?
Travis: Yeah. [Laughs] I think just eradication of humans would probably be cool… Animal supremacy is something which would be pretty interesting to see. We’ve come here and dictated what animal lives are going to be and what they’re going to do, everywhere all over the globe.
Josh: Metal-Archives is funny though with all those percentage charts and all that… It is all total grandpa stuff… Sceptical, folded arms, Dad [saying, looking down on everybody:] “Children!” [Josh imitates that] You know, there are records there that I grew up on and are classics and you see on the site: 70% [imitates an inferior dad] classic average release… WHAT?! What do you like?! [Everyone laughs]
Travis: Do you like anything?!
Dom: Haha, yeah, exactly! That’s why we, at MetalRecusants.com, don’t rate releases because we believe that music is not a statistic.
Josh: Yeah, and these people, how is it: “Let me show you my formula here” with all these percentage standards. Yeah, if you’re passionate about something, you dissect it and all that… but…
Dom: …but 75.5% is ridiculous… [David laughs]
Josh: Exactly. Where do they get those percentages?!
Or when the high hat was mixed a little bit too loud on the last three seconds of the last track, it’s like [raises both middle fingers angrily] Do you enjoy anything?!?! [Exclaims angrily]
Dom: Haha, I totally agree with everything you said, I’m glad that there’s other people who think like that… Moving on, you recently were a part of the animated series Metalocalypse. Was it surprise for you or were you informed about it before?
David: Total surprise. Total shock.
Derek: Yeah, we didn’t know, friends were calling us and saying “did you see it?!”
Travis: I do know one thing though. I kinda had a feeling that one day they might do that because I see what they do with other bands. I’ve been thinking they would have a field day with ours and they gave us a fucking pet shop?! [Laughs] I thought that was weird. And they misspelled our name on top of it…
Josh: I think they might have done that for legal reasons…
Travis: Yeah, it might have been for legal reasons… I saw Brendon Small recently at a comic convention so I should’ve asked.
Dom: Do you watch the show?
Travis: No, I don’t watch animated shows apart from South Park. It’s funny though, I’ve watched it before and I will probably buy the box set which has that episode on. But as a rule I don’t watch those kind of shows…
Dom: Back to your themes and imagery again. Are you guys responsible for the artwork on albums and T-shirts?
Travis: It’s varied from album to album. I usually come up with the themes and run it by the guys to make sure it’s not too weird. There’s been a couple time where I’m really glad that that did happen. [Turns to Josh] Remember? [Murmurs something to Josh which I can’t hear]
Josh: Oh, come on!! [Laughs]
Travis: I’ve had some stupid ideas in the past…
Josh: Haha he’s funny…
Travis: So it’s good to have a filter for stuff that could be stupid. Plus, it’s also collaboration between us and the artist, Wes Benscoter. He is a really important part of it. Hummanure was his idea! We… didn’t… even want that! Well, it wasn’t really like that. We saw it and we thought we have to have that. It was his idea though. It never completely sat well with me. Then the album got banned everywhere. They wouldn’t properly release it in Europe.
Josh: It didn’t lose out on infamy on the “Top 50 Worst Album Covers”…
Dom: How would you compare the European and US metal scene?
Derek: There are a lot of similarities and just a few differences.
David: It is definitely much more underground [in the US]. The big difference is that in Europe people keep going to these festivals like a tradition and a form of lifestyle. This wouldn’t survive in the States; it wouldn’t work.
Travis: They always have a lifespan. Maryland Deathfest hasn’t even been around that long. Earlier when we were talking I was looking at my wristaband: “Brutal Assault 17”?!?! Fucking shit!
David: Yeah, we have nothing like that. We had the Milwaukee fest, that was considered the…
Travis: …the US metal fest.
David: Yeah, and all of a sudden it went to shit. What happened there?!
Dom: The US, though, is home to a lot of big “cult” bands…
David: I think it’s the people that make the big difference; the people here are much more into it.
Josh: Your view is skewed. The percentage of the metal population in the US is really small [when compared to the total US population]. The big “Ozzfest” kinda stuff is really for… a certain generation of fans, no offence guys. [Imitates an old person saying “I like metal”] That sort of thing. You have a lot of that.
David: Well, there’s Vans Wraped tour. But that’s not really like this.
Travis: It’s crap!
Josh: There’s also Rockstar Mayhem and all that. There’s the bigger fests like that and the underground stuff. It’s not that metal is not accepted over there…. I’m not sure…
Travis: It needs sponsors for people to take notice.
Josh: Yeah, exactly, it’s something that needs to be shone for.
Travis: Out here [in Europe], there is no sponsors. The only reason you see Budvar everywhere [the beer sold at Brutal Assault] is because that’s the beer everyone’s fucking drinking! It’s not like they’re trying to sell you something…
Josh: Yeah, over there we have to have this person hooked up, this and that company.
Travis: Business. If it’s not worth as a business it’s not worth doing to anybody. Unfortunately.
Josh: Investors don’t want to care. There’s a lot of reasons fests like these wouldn’t work in the US. Not because there’s no interest, not because the fans are not as excited. There’s a million hurdles to jump through.
Dom: What do you think of the Central/Eastern European metal scene? There’s loads of bands which have been around for a very long time and yet the scene does not get much recognition in metal documentaries and books.
Josh: Yeah, Vader were around since ’83…
Travis: All I know is that two of the coolest fests I’ve ever played in my life with beautiful scenery, nicest people; the greatest experience I had: Czech Republic.
Josh: That’s the type of Europe we were led to believe existed. Versus, you know something like “Aaah, it’s like the US but with different languages and beverages”… The first time when I came over, and what I’m finding out now, is that Europe has a better vibe than from what I expected when I was coming over.
Travis: I love it. No offence West! I want to do more Eastern European gigs, all the way to Russia. I think we need to come back to do some club Czech gigs.
Josh: Yeah, and do a full set because this is a festival and there’s too many bands.
Travis: We’ve never been to Poland!
Josh: No Poland or Slovakia. No former Soviet states or any of that.
Dom: Hope you do explore Eastern Europe even more! The final words are yours…
Travis: Stay gore.
Josh: Yeah. We’ll see you soon.
Derek: Don’t worry, be happy.
Cattle Decapitation are:
Travis Ryan – Vocals
Josh Elmore – Guitar
Derek Engemann – Bass
David McGraw – Drums