SIX FEET UNDER
TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE
In early March of 2005, Tony Belcher caught up with Six Feet Under founder and visionary Chris Barnes by telephone to discuss, among other things, 30 year old teenagers, religion, Deicide, Jamey Jasta winning an award, taking a jab or two at Cannibal Corpse, and even biochemistry. You read it right, biochemistry. Oh, and there was also the matter of addressing SFU’s then forthcoming record simply entitled “13” that is out now on Metal Blade Records.
Chris, what’s goin’ on?
What’s up, man?
Is it the “same ol’ same ol’”?
Yeah, you know it.
Alright. Well, how’s the knee?
Uh, pretty much on that road to recovery now, man.
It’s like 90% at this point.
Cool. You’ll be ready to tour then.
Yeah, yeah, I needed to get that done before all this mayhem starts up.
Right on. Where are you at the moment?
Hangin’ out at home?
By my count 2005 marks the 10th anniversary of Six Feet Under. You have been very busy over the last decade with basically some sort of release coming out every year. What were your goals when you first formed SFU and has this changed in the intervening years?
Uh, my initial goal was just to continue writing and creating quality music and being involved with good people that I was able to work with. That’s what my goal was in the beginning and it hasn’t changed. It’s been, y’know, a constant thing, an ongoing thing -- just trying to write the best music possible since day one.
Well, you’ve personally got 15+ years in Death Metal -- at least on record, right?
That’s not an easy thing to accomplish, so kudos in that regard.
Personally, how do you account for your own longevity in the scene ‘cause obviously bands come and go?
Um, I think it has to do a lot with the subject matter that I write about. It’s interesting to, um, y’know, a certain age group of people and no matter, y’know, if it’s 5 years ago or 5 years from now, y’know, teenagers are still [gonna be] interested in horror stories…
I just think I know how to write a good horror story to some heavy music and I really haven’t strayed off of that mindset so far and [I’ve] just really concentrated on what I do well, or what I think I do well, so….
Cool. Well, some of those teenagers are like 30 now, so, haha….
Yeah, I know! Hahaha. Some of ‘em stick around for a while, but, y’know, it’s a rotating type of thing it seems, fanbase-wise.
Right on. Inevitably comparisons to Cannibal Corpse will always abound based on your killer and groundbreaking work in that band, but when did you feel that you and SFU were finally out of the shadow of your former band, so to speak? Or was that never a consideration?
Yeah, I don’t think that I’m ever really gonna lose that title, y’know? And I think that’ll follow me around forever but I’m really proud of that, so it doesn’t bother me at all because I’m really happy with what I helped to create in the early stages of the game.
This actually goes back a couple of records, but listening to “Impulse to Disembowel” off of True Carnage (2001) instantly invoked “Stripped, Raped And Strangled” and that was intentional, right?
Yeah, pretty much it was. I think people missed that one. Haha.
Was that a sort of nod and wink to your fans that followed you from Cannibal [Corpse] or was this maybe even a nod to your former bandmates or a little bit of both?
Hahahahahaha!! Yeah, there’s a certain, y’know, kind of a jab there, I guess you could interpret through the type of lyrics.
Right on. Well, hopefully this is my final SFU vs. CC kind of comment, but you had a song called “Cadaver Mutilator” [from 2001’s “True Carnage”]…
And the release that came out after yours by Cannibal [Corpse] actually had a song called “Mutilation of the Cadaver” [on 2002’s “Gore Obsessed”]…
And so the question is: Is this just a not so clever coincidence? Or do you think they’re still kinda following the lyrical blueprint you created?
Ahhh…. Uh, well, yeah I don’t think their ideas are too original, so, hahahaha. But I think that when you put ‘em up side by side, y’know, haha, there’s a definite difference in presentation of, y’know, actual content. When you think it’s just surface value, I guess that’s how it comes out, but you know, I kinda have a little deeper thought behind my stuff than just, y’know, descriptiveness. It’s not just about that.
Okay, cool. Let’s talk about the new album. Why the choice of “13” as a title?
Um, [it] just seemed to fit. I had that written down for a while…
And you just kept coming back to it?
Yeah, I came back to some notes and I saw that and it kind of jumped at me and uh, it seemed like, the idea of that number being linked to supernaturalism, and whatnot, and also having, y’know, multi[ple] meanings, in our, like, reality, it seems that it fit the overall theme, you know?
Cool. Who did the cover art? ‘Cause this is definitely a cool cover, but it’s got a totally different vibe to it than most of the other SFU releases.
This guy, his name is Marand [?], and he’s a German artist and he came at me with, like, e-mail one day just sayin’ “Hey, I’m an artist, check out my website.” So I looked at it and wrote him back and said “Well, we’ve got someone doin’ the cover, why don’t you try some T-shirt designs?” And he sent me some T-shirt designs and I was kind of up in the air on what the cover would be at that time and I saw some of the designs [and] I was just like, “Man, there’s the cover right there.” Hahaha.
[Note: the artist’s name is apparently “Kara” and his website is www.darkmouth.com. The original version of the art adorning “13” has a pentagram on the central skull instead of the reversed 6 icon that SFU uses.]
[I mean] this guy just came out of nowhere, so, and he was a fan of ours, which was really interesting, like, he definitely, you know, knows about the subject matter and the lyrics and stuff, so he kinda definitely pulls out something from that.
Well, there’s one thing that’s kind of thematic on there, if you will. There’s a crown of thorns on that central skull and that’s certainly a little different [for SFU]. I mean, you’ve had what can be interpreted as anti-Christian lyrics creeping into a song or two here and there…
But I don’t think that’s ever been a major theme for you. Is [the crown of thorns and the related religious implications] something that’s kinda incidental or maybe accidental in the art or is it just a cool image that worked?
Um, well, I think when he explained to me what the cover meant, it seemed to very much closely follow a lot of my beliefs and stuff. The idea of the three faces of religion being, uh, which would be like, uh, Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist, and those three skulls represent that and how those religions have caused nothing but death and without them there’s [still] death, y’know? [Those that participate in these religions] can’t follow their own hearts. They have to follow a book or some holy script [and I don’t agree with that].
Okay. Getting back to “13” -- how was the self-production this time around? It seems like you’ve gotten more and more “hands-on” in the recording process over the years.
Um, it’s definitely been a learning experience and y’know, I’ve been 100% involved since day one, in the early days of Cannibal [Corpse], y’know, and my first demo even. I was, y’know, always kind of the guy with the biggest mouth in the studio, that put up the most of a fight about certain things, y’know, and soundwise. And uh, I’ve always been really dedicated to having things sound as good as they can possibly sound. Y’know, like I said, some of it’s been a learning experience and I think I had a certain focus on this record and I accomplished what I needed to do with it and I think we got a really warm, rich type of guitar sound and overall it’s a little bit better than the last album. That’s really what I aim to do is to step it up a notch every time productionwise, and kind of accommodate, y’know, the overall feeling.
In your opinion, how is “13” different or perhaps better than your previous releases? I’m not just talking about Bringer of Blood which I think this already pretty much blows away. This may be the best record since Maximum Violence.
Haha. Um, I think that it stands up pretty good, y’know? I think we definitely kind of shook off the dust a little bit in the writing process and stirred it up a little bit, stirred up our train of thought and really, we were able to tap into where we were at mentally and physically at the time, y’know, by attacking the writing process a different way than we usually do.
Yeah, I read that you guys basically jumped off the tour bus and hit the studio.
Yeah, it’s really what we did. We had like 4 days off and [then] we got right into the studio and it was a really intense ride, y’know, and we accomplished everything and then some. I mean, we could’ve wrote 3 more albums in those sessions if we would’ve had the money to stay in the studio. But it just kept comin’ out, I mean we were on a really good roll.
Well, I think that it shows in the material on the new one, so that’s definitely killer.
Yeah, we definitely are happy with it, man. I think if you’re a Six Feet Under fan you’ll recognize the step in the right direction on this CD.
Great. Let me ask a little about writing. Does an SFU song start with a riff, a vocal line, or a lyric -- or does it change from song to song or record to record, and is this something that the whole band is in on, or can that vary, too?
Oh, wow. Uh, it starts off with a riff usually, or a drumbeat -- or both, and uh, I, y’know, 99% of the time will write the lyrics after the music’s completed. Contributionwise, really on this album, Steve [Swanson -- guitarist] wrote 95% of all the music on this. And, so he had a lot to do with the writing. He came up with tons and tons of riffs, and uh, yeah, but we were all there when things were being written and those guys collaborated with arranging things and linking parts and stuff like that.
How is it different working with Steve versus [former SFU guitarist] Allen West [also of Obituary], y’know, from the early days of the band?
Um, it’s different because Allen used to write everything himself. Like, musicwise, he’d write all the music at home and pretty much do 4-tracks of things and then -- you know, with drum machines and really map everything out in his own way -- and he’s a very talented songwriting partner that way and then he’d just present things to the other guys -- to Greg [Gall, on drums] and Terry [Butler, on bass] -- and then show them the parts and then I’d get a tape of everything and either write [lyrics] to the demos or rehearsals, y’know?
But he was definitely a different type of writer -- very structured. He could write drumbeats real well on the drum machine and stuff, and structure out songs that way, so. And Steve’s more of a, you know, a hands on type of [writer/composer] -- y’know, [he] needs the drummer there with him to kind of write…
Is it more organic that way?
Is the writing more organic that way, where it’s living, breathing music rather than one guy kind of presenting [music to the other band members]?
Well, we’re all really, you know, in tune with each other and being on tour all the time, we kind of, really, y’know, we pay attention to what moves the crowd and gets them goin’ in the right direction. I think, y’know, that’s what, y’know, what’s cool about us is we have something the crowd can follow in the live situation you know, and uh, so we recognize that and Steve definitely works with that, too.
Cool. That actually segues a little bit into my next question and that’s one of groove vs. technicality. The technical aspect of Death Metal is…
Yeah, I mean we’re definitely not a musician’s Death Metal [band], by any means, you know? I mean, we work more on the idea that if it’s not moving your head or your foot, what’s the use of it, y’know? Because I’ve seen many technical [Death Metal] bands in concert, and, y’know, the only thing that the crowd does is watch them.
You know, when I think of Rock and Roll and music in general, it’s something about, y’know, an energy that transfers through you [laughter] and gets you really moving, you know?
So it’s more important for that groove to be there for the crowd to lock onto…?
Well, I like to share an energy -- with feeling -- with the crowd, man, and be a part of something. You know, when it’s just musicianship, that’s like, sports to me. Y’know, I am really not a fan of sports. Just watching something [is] crazy [to me]. Hahaha.
But uh, y’know, I don’t like, y’know, sports and I don’t like, y’know, kind of technical Metal. I mean, I find it really cold and boring.
Okay. Was there any specific inspiration for the lyrics on the new album or was this just a normal quote-unquote “day at the office” with brain-eating zombies, bleeding bodies, and the like?
Um, no. I think there’s always specific thought that goes into everything. I try to write a good story that says something within, y’know, the subject matter that I’m dealing with and, um, y’know, I’m just inspired by my own imagination about, y’know, wherever I’m going with a song and that usually doesn’t end up taking form until, y’know, the third verse in, so.
Well, last time you kinda got socio-political on us with your “No war, not for oil” lyric. Are we going to see Professor Barnes lecturing college kids like Marilyn Manson recently did or is that just far, far away?
Nah, that’s not my whole thing, y’know? I mean, um, y’know, I don’t -- #1, [I don’t] believe in school, like, y’know, structured college and stuff like that. I think that’s more of a danger to our society than it really helps too much, you know? I mean, people being thrown in and forced to do things like that. I’m a true believer that people should do what they want to do and have a good time with their life while they’re here. And, uh, y’know, I’m not into lecturing people or anything like that. And I don’t want people to follow my train of thought unless they think it’s the right way. I would like people just to appreciate my art.
Well, let me switch gears a little bit here and ask who, if anyone, do you consider to be your true peers in Death Metal?
True peers? Um, well, I respect everyone that’s, y’know, that’s out there doin’ what they want to do, man. I have a good time with a lot of people out there in the music business. Y’know, whenever Six Feet Under and Hatebreed gets together it’s always a blast, y’know? I mean, I respect the hell out of Jamey [Jasta, vocalist of Hatebreed, host of MTV2’s Headbangers Ball, etc.]. I think he’s probably the hardest working individual in the Metal scene, y’know?
[He’s] done more for the underground than anyone could have ever asked him to do and he’s definitely kept things moving in a positive direction with his positive attitude about things, y’know? And I truly believe that kid should get an award for all the hard work he’s done and all the help that he’s giving to new bands and everything like that. I mean, everyone has always talked about someone really good comin’ along and doing good things for the scene and he really has, man, and I think a lot of credit should be given to him ‘cause he’s the right person for that job and he’s done a great job pulling this thing together.
This one’s about, sort of just you hangin’ out by yourself, or with the band, but what do you guys listen to when on tour, or while at home? Are there any skeletons in that musical closet?
I have a varied musical taste, you know? I mean, I listen to all sorts of stuff, y’know. I don’t listen to too much Death Metal or anything like that, y’know? That’s really not my vibe, so. It’s just, uh, I dig all sorts of music, man, so it’s a good thing. Lately I haven’t been listening to anything but really our stuff, ‘cause I’ve been trying to get ready for tours or producing and all that stuff, so…
But I’m really into -- I do like music and I love movies and videos, man. It’s great. I love that visual entertainment, y’know?
Cool. Well, something that I’ve always enjoyed about your music is that you are a fan, first and foremost. By recording so many cover tunes over the years it’s obvious that you’re a fan and I remember reading some of your comments about having Ice-T on a record, too. How has it been for you to be a fan, basically, and able to work with some of your personal heroes, like Ice-T, for example?
Oh, I think it was, um… Uh, it’s been great to be able to do that, y’know? I was given an opportunity to work with him and it was one of the best moves I think I’ve ever made because I learned more -- in those, y’know, 2 or 3 hours working with him -- about myself than I did probably in 10 years prior. And he really gave me a fresh look on the philosophy of being an individual in this business and stuff, and uh, everything, so, he’s another -- one of the other hard workers out there that has never stopped, y’know, believing in his abilities, y’know and I respect that 100%. It was a great, great, great collaboration on that song [“One Bullet Left” on “True Carnage”]. It’s fun, man, being able to work with people that you look up to, y’know?
Definitely. He may be the real “King of All Media.” I mean, he’s got movies, TV…
Uh, records, books…
Forget about Howard Stern!
Yeah. Haha. He’s a talented guy and definitely portrays himself in a positive way.
Alright. I’ve got maybe a tough question here, but what do you have to say to critics or others that might say that you should put down the pipe? Has weed ever negatively impacted your work? I know it’s a big part of how you create….
I’ve been smoking since I was 12 years old and all the music that is created [by me] is created under the influence of marijuana and I use it as a meditative substance, in my spiritual belief, and in my religious practice as well. So, uh, y’know, I use it as a gateway to open up centers of the mind that are unattainable through, uh, y’know, daily life, and uh, it’s an herb that I believe is meant to be used by, uh, humans, y’know? There’s a specific enzyme in our system that’s only used to digest THC and for that to be present in our body, genetically proves to me that that plant is harmonious with human existence.
[Note: The principal psychoactive component in marijuana is Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. However, I could find no evidence of an enzyme specifically used to metabolize only THC.]
And I think that people that say those things [about weed being bad, etc.] are just afraid and are afraid to look within themselves and, y’know, they don’t realize that every single lyric that was written in Cannibal Corpse and in Six Feet Under and everything that I’ve ever done was done with the great, great gift of marijuana. And um, y’know, I think that it spurs creativity in those people that use it in that way.
Alright! We’ve now got Chris Barnes the biochemist. I love it! Haha.
Well, no, not really. It’s a known fact. I mean, I’ve researched every aspect of the plant and I’ve been relatively close to it all my life and I worship it like a god, so, I mean, I know exactly what people have said about it over the years and the propaganda that has been portrayed in the media for the past 75-80 years now and it’s all based on myth, racism, and keepin’ people under control.
Okay. That’s a deep answer and I appreciate you opening up like that. … I actually had a specific request for this question, so here it is: What the hell were you thinking with Graveyard Classics 2 and covering an entire album at once? We all know [AC/DC’s “Back in Black”] is a great record, but that is a question that I had a specific request to ask you.
Um, it’s something that was really planned for Graveyard Classics 1 and it was put on the backburner until I felt like it was the right time -- and it was the right time to do it. The other guys were behind me 100% with it. They really thought it was a killer idea and it was something that was never done before, never attempted. I think a lot of people missed the point behind it and the actual work that went into it and how good it really is. I mean, you can play it simultaneously with the original and it’s beat for beat…
Right, note for note…
Y’know, people like to use things to [create] negative press, but for the most part I believe [our cover of] that album is ahead of its time and it’s an awesome, awesome production.
Yeah, I think it’s a great homage to the original as well as a testament to Six Feet Under doing what they want to do. … This is a completely different kind of question, but how do you keep your voice in shape? I mean that's got to be tough even after a couple of nights on the road…. It hurts my throat after only a couple of minutes! Haha.
Um, nah, it’s just who I am, man, it’s not what I do. I mean, it’s not something that I really have to worry about. That’s just my voice, y’know? And, y’know, I smoke a lot of herb -- that keeps it in shape and keeps my mind focused.
Okay, I hope the next question isn’t too personal, but I wondered what happened to the right side of your forehead? I don’t remember when I first noticed it, but…
Oh, I have a birthmark on my forehead.
Okay. That settles that. Do you, or does Six Feet Under, like so many other bands, have ‘regular’ day jobs when not on tour?
No, no. I’ve been 100% employed as a musician since 1991, so.
That’s gotta be badass.
Okay, these questions are related to your friends in Deicide. I know that Glen [Benton, vocalist/bassist in Deicide] was obviously on the debut Cannibal [Corpse] record doing backing vocals with you [on the songs “A Skull Full of Maggots” and “Mangled” and later on the sophomore album with “Vomit the Soul”] but the question is “Do you have any thoughts on Jack Owen actually quitting Cannibal [Corpse] saying he was going to focus on his [non-Death Metal] thing and then he ended up touring with Deicide and helping them out on a couple of tours?”
Oh, that’s great, man, y’know? More power to Jack. Good for him.
Did you know or do you have any comment on the Hoffman brothers no longer being associated with Deicide [the band they founded/formed]?
Um, I’m not in that band so I don’t know what really went on, but y’know, hey, if that’s [how it is…]. I think Glen’s made, y’know, the right moves for himself in the past and I think that he’ll continue to do so.
This is an issue -- an event -- that has hovered over the Metal scene for the last three months or so, but do you have any comment on the tragic murder of Dimebag and has that affected or changed the way that you approach the stage, for example?
Um, I haven’t been on stage since that happened but I don’t think it’ll effect the way I approach [the stage] or think about the set list at all or worry about something like that happening [to me]. I think it was just a, y’know, horrible tragedy that occurred randomly, y’know, and I don’t think that could -- it possibly could happen again but, y’know, I don’t anticipate something like that happening. I don’t worry about those things too much because you just can’t protect yourself all 100%. But that’s a horrible thing, y’know and definitely, definitely tragic.
Alright, here’s a more upbeat question, but what did you think about Motörhead winning a Grammy?
Um, y’know, I didn’t see that, I didn’t know anything about it, haha, but that’s great, man! They deserve it.
Cool. Okay, I’ve got a few more questions here to wrap this up for you. Your fans, and myself included, are certainly excited about the new record and the subsequent tour. What are your current tour plans and with whom?
We have a European tour comin’ up here in about a week and uh, we start that and then we’re on that all [through] the month of March pretty much until the record’s released and we’ll have the U.S. tour planned in June. We don’t really know what’s goin’ on with it yet but it’s starting to come together. And uh, we’ll be continuing on through the fall with another U.S. tour and another European [tour].
Do you have any ideas for tour partners or are you still working that out?
That’s getting put together now, so.
Kind of related to that, do you have a favorite place to tour -- home sweet home or European festivals?
Oh, yeah, I really enjoy doin’ the festivals over there and uh, I like headlining over in Europe, y’know, all through Germany is great for us.
I wanted to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Do you have any parting words for your fans, friends, and listeners?
Oh, I just hope everyone enjoys “13.” And we’ll see everyone soon on tour.
Alright. I appreciate it Chris, thanks again.
Alright. Thanks a lot.
Links of interest:
Six Feet Under
Metal Blade Records