Florida's heat spawned a new style of death metal - not Florida death metal, but the primal, heavy stomp of Autopsy. In the late '80s, drummer Chris Reifert joined Chuck Schuldiner's Death, briefly relocated to Florda, and, recorded the death metal milestone Scream Bloody Gore. However, the heat and humidity drove Reifert back to his homeland, the Bay Area. He then started Autopsy, and the rest, as they say, is history (covered in this very thorough interview). After Autopsy broke up in the mid-'90s, Reifert formed metal/punk outfit Abscess. Abscess recently ended, only to propel three of its members into a reunited Autopsy, who received a heroes' welcome at Maryland Deathfest this year. After releasing The Tomb Within EP (reviewed here) recently, Autopsy are preparing to record their first album in 15 years. I asked Reifert about these things.
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What's going on with Autopsy these days?
We're just rehearsing as much as we can right now. We've got the album coming up, and we've got to get ready for that.
Does rehearsing feel any different now from when you guys broke up?
No, no. It's still pretty much the same feeling amongst the band. The band chemistry is really the same. We're not really thinking much about how it feels. We're just like, "Man, we've got a couple months to get ready for this record, and we've still got a lot of stuff to get down".
Dawn of Inhumanity was a big step up for Abscess and The Tomb Within is a great return for Autopsy. It feels like you and your bandmates are experiencing a creative resurgence. Is this true?
The way I look at it is that we're constantly keeping busy, really. We were doing Autopsy for a long time, and we did Abscess for an even longer time - and we're doing Autopsy again. I just always look at it as keeping busy and trying to do the best stuff we can come up with at the same time, whether it's something basic and raw and dirty, or something more thought-out and layered.
On both these recordings, the bands felt tighter musically than ever. Was this something the bands worked on?
Yeah, yeah. We definitely want to play as tight as we can. We're definitely really happy with both of those releases.
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The Tomb Within promo video
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Does the new album have a central concept?
It's not like a concept album or anything like that. It's just more horrific scenes going on - brutal, ugly, bloody, messy stuff.
Do you have any release information, like the label and the date?
We're going to be with Peaceville, still. We've already signed up with them for the album. We're going to record it in what looks to be the beginning of February, which is coming up awfully soon for us, considering the amount of work we have to do, still. That's pretty much all the technical information there is right now. We've got the album cover ready to go. We've had that for a year or a year and a half. We've been just holding on to it, trying not to look at it too much, so [that] it's fresh when we release this thing.
Who did the cover art?
It's Wes Benscoter.
Yeah, he's done a bunch of stuff that people have seen. He did what he said was his best work yet for our album, and I can't really argue with that. It's fucking amazing, just totally gruesome and grim.
When you were doing Abscess, did you miss Autopsy?
No, because we were just too busy with Abscess at the time. I don't really reflect on things very much normally. I'm just kind of more focused on the task at hand. You know, I always enjoyed listening to the Autopsy stuff, even when [I was] with Abscess. I could put on any of the Autopsy records and enjoy them just as much as ever. But we had our plate full with [Abscess], and I wasn't really thinking, "Aw, I wish I was doing something else". Same with now. We're just completely focused on what we're doing - working on the next album.
Are you going to tour behind the new record?
No, no, we're not a touring band. We're going to do a couple shows here and there, a very, very small handful. But, no, touring would just ruin everything.
When you're on stage with Autopsy, what's different from playing with Abscess?
There's really not much difference in the way I feel when I play. If you have a really good show, or there's a really great crowd, then it feels awesome, no matter what you're playing. But I do have to say that playing those old songs again has really been fun. I never thought I would enjoy playing the dusty old songs and getting into them [again]. But it's actually been really fun. Some of those songs still get stuck in my head to this day.
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Singing while playing drums - what's the secret?
The secret was having no other option (laughs). It was like, "All right, we're going to do this, or we'll have no singer".
When did you first start doing this?
When we first started the band near the end of '87. We tried to get a vocalist, and it just didn't work. We did an audition or two, and nothing happened. So Eric [Cutler, guitarist] and I decided we were just going to split up the vocals. And he ended up not enjoying it very much. So I ended up pretty much just doing them all. But now he's actually getting the itch to do a little more vocals. So he's going to do the vocals on a couple songs on the new album. He did a little bit on Mental Funeral and a song on the first demo. When he gets in the mood, it turns out great, so I'm happy he's doing it.
It seems that between singing and using all four limbs for drumming, that coordinating breathing would be hard. How do you negotiate that?
You pretty much just work on that until it becomes natural. It's just a lot of practice, really. It might sound weird that a band like Autopsy has to rehearse, because some of the songs are not that hard. But some of them are pretty intricate. Some of the songs sound easy, but they're not when you try to play them.
How good a guitarist are you, and how much input musically have you had in Abscess and Autopsy?
I do quite a bit of writing, definitely. I just play guitar at home. I write a song, I come down to the jam room and play it for the guys. That's pretty much how all of us do it. How good a guitar player am I? Technically, probably not very good. I can't read music or anything like that. I completely just play from the gut. But I've been playing a long time, so I can hold my own.
One word that always pops up when I read interviews with you is "sick". Where did your obsession with sickness come from?
(Laughs) I wasn't aware of one, but it must be there, because we keep making these damn songs and albums. I don't know. I pretty much was always into dark or weird or gross things since I can remember. Even as a kid, I'd watch horror movies at home and read horror comics. I just always thought that stuff was cool (laughs). That's pretty much all there is to it.
What's the last thing that truly shocked or terrified you?
I can't really think of anything. The last film that I saw that I thought was really cool was Human Centipede. That was a good one. But I don't really get shocked or terrified or anything like that. I'm kind of past that, as far as fictional stuff [goes]. How sick can it really be when you know it's just a story?
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Your return to the Bay Area from Florida is a prominent part of death metal history. What's made you stay in the Bay Area all these years?
I just like it here. I grew up here. I was only in Florida like a couple months. It was one summer, so it wasn't that long of a stay. People get things mixed up a lot. I hear all the time, "Chris from Florida..." I just didn't really want to stay there. I had the invitation, which was really cool, to stay there and keep playing in Death. But as much as I loved being in the band, I just really wasn't into being out there. It's hot and fucking humid. And everything I know and love is over here.
Do you follow the Bay Area metal scene now?
There's a couple good bands and stuff. But the Bay Area scene is super-weak right now. There's a few good bands. But as far as like a scene goes, it sucks, man. It's hard to get people to go to shows around here unless it's "insert black metal band here". Then everyone will come if it's something like that or maybe a bigger band. But as far as underground metal shows, it totally blows. I don't really "follow the scene". There's not really a scene to follow besides a few good bands.
Who are the few good bands, and why is it hard to get people to go out?
As far as people going to shows, people are just finicky in the Bay Area. There's a few old timers who [have been] there since the early days who will go to shows that are good and worth going to. But for the most part, people are into what's trendy. Besides a small pocket of diehards, it's still trendy, trendy, trendy. It's always been that way. I can't think of any glory days of the Bay Area that people talk about. That was all the shit we didn't like. To me, it's kind of always sucked (laughs).
There's a handful of good bands. I'm not going to name any, because I always forget ones that I wish I'd mentioned later. So I pretty much don't do lists or anything like that.
This is a fairly common story now that applies to Autopsy: metal band breaks up in the '90s because no one cared, but reforms in the past few years to return triumphantly to crowds that care. Why do you think this is?
A lot of it depends on how well they play, and if their hearts are really into it, or if they're just desperate and don't know what else to do and figure it's an easy buck. That's definitely not the route we were taking. None of us were desperate or lacking ideas or trying to relive old days or feeling nostalgic. I'm sure a lot of bands do it for those reasons. "Oh, the good ol' days!" Fuck the good ol' days! There's shit goin' on now.
Anyways, over time, it's natural for more people to get into something, I guess. Plus, now so many years have gone by that there's people that weren't even born when bands like us were around for the first time. And now they're old enough to listen to the records and come to the shows. It's crazy. I'm sure that's got a bit to do with it, too. There's literally a whole another generation of death metallers out there that are researching all these bands and totally digging up all the underground jewels.
Have you heard bands that are influenced by Autopsy, like Coffins and Hail of Bullets?
Yeah, yeah. We had our own influences, too. I made it no secret what bands we were listening to when we started the band. We took direct influence from all sorts of things. If anyone finds anything inspiring in what we do, then it's fucking awesome.
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What does Autopsy represent to you?
What does death metal mean to you?
The kind of music that we love to play, really. There's just not a lot else to it. We don't know how to do anything else. We don't have careers; we don't know what to do with ourselves, so we're playing death metal. Simple as that. That's what we do.
What is it about death metal that makes you love it so much?
The way it sounds. The aggression, the heaviness. It takes you to a dark place that's enjoyable to some like us. It's just like any other kind of music. Why do you like jazz music, or why do you like pop music, or whatever you're into? It's just what turns you on.
But not everyone gets turned on the same way. If death metal takes you to a dark place, some people might want to avoid that place.
That's true, too. It's like facing your phobias, maybe. It's something exhilarating, too. It's not just like you sit in a corner, miserable, like, [mumbles] "I'm in my dark place" (laughs). You could be fuckin' hangin' out, just excited out of your mind because you're listening to something great that gets your blood going. There's all sorts of good things about it.
Do you keep up on contemporary metal?
Oh, yeah. I'm always a music fan, 100%. Even if I wasn't in a band, I'd still devour albums as much as possible.
What are you listening to these days?
All sorts of different things, metal and not. Like I said, I don't really do the list thing because I'll think of a million names of albums and bands. I can't just pick one or two. It's a swarm of titles (laughs).
What do you think of the current old-school death metal revival?
Well, if a band's good, that's great. And if they're not so good, then I don't wanna hear it. I just look at it like bands I like and bands I don't like.
What's the biggest change you've seen in metal in between the time Autopsy broke up and now?
More people are into it because of time going by. Again, there's literally people who weren't born before who are now old enough to be into this stuff. That's the one. And that means more and more bands, too. There's more bands than ever - thousands and thousands. There's no way to keep track of all of them. But the death metal scene is definitely alive and well.
Another difference, of course, is the Internet. People used to write letters. Now everything is instant. You can record your demo and have it online all in one afternoon. So things happen really, really fast. I sometimes wonder if things are more disposable for that reason, too. Things happen so fast and so much, it seems like a lot of things can just get lost in a sea of everything. But, still, it's not a bad thing. There's plenty going on, so there's plenty to listen to, to find out what your next favorite thing might be.
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Since you're in the Bay Area, I have to ask: where is the best burrito?
(Laughs). Best burrito? They're everywhere, man, just like LA. There's not just one good place. We've got all kinds of killer places for Mexican food all over the place, man. You can't get away from it.
You don't have a personal favorite?
No, I eat everything, man. I'm a food person. There's no kind of food I don't like.
Are you a cook also?
A little bit. Not a whole lot, but I can not starve to death.
How different are your onstage and off-stage personalities?
Well, you hear how I am now. It's just a regular, boring kind of thing. Onstage, I'm just pretty much the same. I don't do a whole lot of talking or anything like that. I'm pretty much just busy with the task at hand, which is playing stuff. I'll say a couple things, but not really very much, because I'll usually end up saying something completely stupid (laughs). I'd rather just keep playing.
One thing that's unique about your drum playing is that you use the toms a lot. Where does this come from?
I think it sounds cool, for one thing. If you've got a full drum kit, man, what is it, scenery, or are you going to be doing stuff with it? It does drive me crazy sometimes - I'll hear something, and the beat will be strong and fast, and that's it.
Part of it [comes from] when I first learned how to play drums, I took drum lessons from a jazz drummer for a few months. I was always watching him do all these cool fills, and I thought he was awesome. It just made me want to try and do my own versions of that. All the drummers I've always gravitated to have always done really cool drum work with their toms - Dave Lombardo and Keith Moon and Neal Smith from Alice Cooper, and some jazz guys, too. I just think it's cool. It keeps it exciting. It keeps it alive.
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