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Interview: Phil “Land Phil” Hall (Cannabis Corpse)

Phil “Land Phil” Hall has put in the work, now he’s reaping the rewards. Cannabis Corpse — the band he began with his brother Josh as an ode to pot, puns, and early ’90s death metal — recently released their fourth full-length, From Wisdom to Baked, on Season of Mist. His other projects have been just as successful: Iron Reagan‘s speedy crossover will soon rise again with a new record on Relapse and the thrashin’ party that is Municipal Waste is set to invade cities the world over later in the year. Though Phil Hall has reached the rarefied air of true metal success via an always-keep-busy mentality, he’s still just a normal guy, more than willing to make time for nerds like me who are armed with a long list of weed-related questions. We chatted about first experiences with the sticky-icky, the touring life, and, of course, Chris Barnes.

— Ian Chainey

You’ve got the new album coming out.

Oh yeah, got the new Cannabis Corpse record. Next month, the new Iron Reagan record is coming out.

And then you’re touring all over the place?

Yep, going all over, starting next month. I think Iron Reagan has an Australia tour and then Municipal Waste has a South America tour.

You’re going to be packing your passport with so many stamps.

I’ve already filled up three complete passports with stamps

Do you ever just stand back and think, How have I gone to all these places?

Well, I’ll tell you, I feel very fortunate to be doing what I do and I’m very happy with the way things are going for me. I mean, it’s a dream come true.

It must be gratifying to feel it pay off like this.

Yeah and it’s something that I enjoy doing. I enjoy making my art and I like the fact that I can make music that people actually listen to instead of toiling away in complete and total obscurity. I have a studio at my house now, so I’ve been able to double-time production. I can make records at home and then go on tour.

So is that the main hub for recording now?

Yeah that’s like the main hub now. I feel like my music has definitely benefited from it, because I can really sit there and nitpick every little thing until it’s the way I want it to be. I also have more time to do things like record four rhythm guitar tracks and really sit there and think about the basslines and make sure the basslines are super crazy. I live in a pretty central part of Richmond, so I can leave my apartment in the morning, go get a cup of coffee, and then start working. You know, almost like a full-time job.

I just generally try to keep working on something. Right now I’m between albums, so I started working on a heavy metal project, kinda like Trouble or Mercyful Fate. I can never sit around too long, because I always want to be busy.

Tell me about From Wisdom to Baked.

Well, From Wisdom to Baked, is our fourth full-length. It is our first record on Season of Mist, which is a big step up for us. This is the first record that features me on lead vocals. We have new guitar players adding solos, as well as guest vocal spots like Chris Barnes, Trevor from Black Dahlia Murder, and Sean from Ghoul. All in all I feel really happy with the end result because I have my home studio and I’m able to really work on things the way I want to work on them. Now that it’s finally in people’s eardrums, I’ve been getting some feedback from the fans finally and it seems like everybody’s feeling pretty positive about it.

That was one of my big takeaways from the album, its so meticulously detailed. I was listening to “With Their Hash He Will Create” and it’s pretty complex. How did you guys compose that? Was that practice space stuff or did you tinker with at home in the studio?

The composition mostly starts with my brother and I. We cook up a bunch of riffs and make like a riff stew. Then we go through and pick which ones we really like and we piece them together into a rough song and we make a demo. After we make that demo, we sit there and listen to it and figure out where it needs work. We keep nitpicking and then make another demo. It sort of comes together in the studio, per se. We don’t really rehearse the songs in the practice space, more we just make demos. And then, finally, when it comes time to record, we start to rehearse the songs and then record them.

Josh is able to really take his time with the drums because we have all the mics set up in the practice space, so if he’s not happy with a take he’ll do it again. He’ll spend an entire day on the song if he has to, just to get the end result that he wants. It’s nice to have an album that you can sit back and not think, Oh, I wish that I had done this better. Everything is pretty much the way we want it to be and we kept a pretty organic performance on the drums. We don’t over-edit.

That’s the benefit of recording on your own time, you’re not like, “Crap, we only have three days to do this, go go go go go.”

I would never be able to work in that environment ever again. If I tried to rush out a record in a week, I would feel like there were so many corners getting cut. Sometimes it takes a couple days to think of the idea that you want. It takes a couple days of going over and over the songs and then something might pop into my head. There are things like samples and weird atmospheric sound effects that I like to add later in the process. And that can take a little time just to create those atmospheric sounds.

I can’t recommend enough for bands to learn the recording side, and get into recording technology, because that was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my career: learning how to record at home and making my own music. I can create an album out of thin air, pretty much. I can take nothing and make something and I don’t have to be on anyone else’s time.

Do you ever feel like that helps the composition process, because you can hear something and be like, “That’s not gonna translate well.”

You know, that’s something that has come with experience. In the early days, we would just write the craziest thing that we could. Then when we finally got into playing it live, we were like, “Holy shit this is gonna be so hard.” After a while we figured out how to keep it within the realm of playability. And all the songs on this record are something that could sound strong live.

That’s the maddening thing about playing live. No one notices when you nail it, but everyone notices when you fuck up.

You got a little wiggle room with death metal because there are a million notes flying by per second, but live performance is so important. If I walk away from a gig and I feel like we didn’t play to the best of our ability, that’s not a great feeling. I want to be able to nail it every time I’m out there, and unfortunately I chose some of the most difficult music to play live. I look at some of these stoner bands and I’m jealous because they get to jring out a barre chord for like fucking three minutes and let it feed back and just chill, while I got to get up there and shred my ass off every night.

But that’s no big deal. I love death metal, that’s why I got into it, because of how crazy the musicianship was. That’s part of what I loved so much about it.

Do you think that’s something unique to death metal as opposed to other genres of music? I think other genres have really lost a connection to a live show, and yet with death metal a live show is so important to the overall aesthetic.

The live show is always gonna be super important. If you wanna get your music out there, that’s one of the best ways to do it. I mean no matter what, you can put up all the posts you want on the internet, put up as many blogs as you can, but nothing’s going to beat the audience seeing you with their own eyes and maybe even picking up a T-shirt and turning into a walking billboard for your music. Live performance is really important, and it’s something that we really enjoy and want to do more of. We took some time off from Cannabis Corpse playing live just to get this record together and now we’re ready to get back in the saddle. We should hopefully be hitting the road very soon.

Are there any states you’re wary about going through on tour?

Yeah, there’s definitely states where we take it a lot more seriously when we’re carrying weed. We won’t take more than a joint that we can eat. Like Arizona or Texas. We make sure we have an eatable amount of weed, because they take it super-serious in places like that and you do not want to go to a tent-town, especially in Arizona. Then you reach Denver and everything is totally okay and its pretty much a paradise there. It’s a strange thing. I’m looking forward to when they finally just decriminalize weed across the board.

Do you think that’s going to happen within our lifetime?

No, I don’t think so. But it seems like people are taking a step in the right direction. I guess if really positive things happen in the states where they did decriminalize it, it might make the process go faster. But on the other side of the coin, if those states just drop into total pandemonium, which I doubt they will, but that would be bad. I enjoy it when I get to go to Denver and fucking smoke some of that crazy weed they have there. I have never seen weed quite like the weed they have in Denver. I mean buds that are just completely purple. And its a really good thing, because here in Richmond, it’s kinda hard to find that kind of weed.

So is it still kind of underground there? Because out in California it’s wide open. Somebody smoking weed is like somebody saying they’re working on a movie script, it’s implied.

(laughs) That’s hilarious. Yeah, I guess it’s relatively underground. It’s nothing like it is in California. It’s still really hard to find super good weed, and when I do get weed, it’s kind of mid-grade here. So its a luxury to go out on tour and get to smoke some really good stuff. If they ever do decriminalize it here, and I have access to the super good weed all the time, I might become jaded. It’s nice to have special occasion weed (laughs). If I had access to that super crazy bud all the time I might lose my mind. I might just smoke myself into oblivion (laughs).

What was your first experience with weed?

Well I grew up in the suburbs outside of Richmond. I had a couple sketchy friends and remember smoking weed for the first time in the shed, in the backyard behind my parents’ house, and I didn’t get high, but I did smoke. After that, I smoked again, but the second time I got super high and it was crazy. It was almost like I was tripping out on acid it was so intense. It lasted all day long and I remember being like, “Holy cow this is great.” Every time I smoked weed after that, the effect got incrementally less and less to where it is now, where I smoke weed and it barely has an effect on me. I don’t think it will ever get back to the way it was when I was 14 years old.

It’s never as good as that second time, for some reason.

Yeah, yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. Everyone sort of has similar stories to mine.

The first time doesn’t have any effect on you, so the second time you’re just like, “Whatever, this doesn’t work. Let’s smoke it all.” And then you’re walking around like a zombie for like 8 hours.

Yeah just eating Oreos in a daze.

You wake up in a Denny’s three towns over.

(laughs) And you ask someone what time it is every fucking 30 seconds.

(laughs) Not that I’ve been there but yeah, totally.

So yeah, I just turned it into a band. You know, it’s not that I’m especially obsessed with weed or anything like that, it just seemed like such a great name to me, and such a perfect sort of clever spin on death metal; something fresh and different. And we do love weed and stuff but the band name was just more of a band name that we could do that wasn’t the typical gory death metal band name.

So, what’s the weirdest thing someone has offered you on tour? Has anyone offered you a bizarre edible?

I guess one of the most unusual times with Cannabis Corpse was when we were on tour with Six Feet Under and Chris Barnes would invite us on the bus. He would bust out his blowtorch and blowtorch this crazy metal piece and then dab wax on metal and you would inhale the vapors. Then he had had this bowl that looked like a big knife. I thought that was perfect, to smoke weed with Chris Barnes out of a knife. We would sit there and talk about old-school death metal stories. I thought Chris Barnes was one of the coolest dudes on the planet and after we got him to sing on this record, he’s been nothing but cool. I’m glad that we got to do that tour with Six Feet Under because I really love those old Six Feet Under songs. They’re super catchy and primitive and I kinda like that about them: how its just no-holds-barred, caveman death metal. The Motörhead of death metal.

I don’t know why they get such a backlash, because as you said, stuff like “Revenge of the Zombie” is so much fun. I don’t understand what people have against having fun with metal.

“Revenge of the Zombie” is a perfect example. There are three riffs in that song, and every time that one riff comes back, I want to get up and flip the table over. I was sitting behind the merch table and they would hit that song and I would want to mosh instantly.

Why doesn’t Joe Metalhead seem to be into Chris Barnes anymore?

I think those people have never met the guy and they’re just going by what they read on the internet. If you’re just going by what you read on the internet, then you’re just as bad as anyone else. Because, I mean, there might have been things that have happened in the past but, by now, it’s all hearsay. The only way you can really know is if you were that person who got wronged or something. As far as I know, he’s been the coolest guy in the world, and I have nothing bad to say about it. From what I can tell, people have spun these stories just to make themselves look better and to make him look bad, so that’s fucked up right there.

Anything else you’d like to talk about?

Well, I hope that the listeners out there check out From Wisdom to Baked, out now on Season of Mist, and look for a new record by Iron Reagan called Tyranny of Will coming out on Relapse Records next month. Municipal Waste is currently writing a new record, so that’ll be coming out in the future, as well. And like I said, we have a lot of tour dates and stuff coming up, so be sure to check us out on the internet. See if we’re coming through a town near you.

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