Interview: Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation
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The biggest cliché in music is “this is our best album.” If you’re Cattle Decapitation that’s not a cliché but the truth. Not only is Monolith Of Inhumanity their best album, it’s a leap above almost anything that’s been released this year. Who else would dare to mix anthems, grind and asphyxiation sounds? And who else could make it sound good? There were hints that Cattle Decapitation was distancing themselves from their peers on The Harvest Floor; Monolith of Inhumanity is a further step down the sonic rabbit hole. Cattle Decapitation has come a long way from a band that people noticed because of their ardent stance on animal rights. We caught up with vocalist Travis Ryan on the road somewhere in Illinois and talked about dystopian science fiction and how his band is one of the few to make good on their promise to progress.
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A lot of bands talk about progressing but I listened to To Serve Man recently. I think you are one band that’s actually progressed.
That record is kind of embarrassing. Records are forever; they are going to be a part of music history. We’re just glad that we are progressing record to record. On To Serve Man, the songwriting is OK. But we’ve definitely matured over the years. It’s kind of hard to have songs that sound mature and go in new and different directions, especially the directions some of our stuff goes.
Looking at the cover the first thing I noticed was the big black obelisk. Was the nod to 2001 intentional?
It’s not a concept album based on (the film) but it’s a film that stuck with me as a kid. The scene the dawn of man--it was the first time I’d seen a monolith or even heard the term monolith. It really intrigued me. I always had it in the back of my head as a cool idea. I thought that it went well with some of the themes we dealt with on the last record and this record as well as the environmental aspect, what humans have done to the world.
When you watched 2001 did you think Kubrick was being hopeful or insinuating that mankind will descend into chaos?
I would assume the latter statement. HAL, the robot in the film, signals how far technology has spiraled out of control. And that’s what the cover depicts as well. That’s what the monolith represents.
With the simian figure tearing itself apart and the obelisk it almost feels like a combination of 2001 and Planet Of The Apes. Both are heavily dystopian.
I never saw Planet of The Apes entirely as a kid and I’m not sure I ever revisited it. I saw the new version of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and that was cool. For a new film, for a Michael Bay-looking action film, I thought it was decent.
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2001: A Space Odyssey (film clip)
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What’s interesting is that while you have these critiques of where man is headed with technology you rely on technology to expand your sound.
Well, we’re a metal band, y’know what I mean (laughs).
I always dislike when people pin a sound on another band but a lot of people have compared elements of this album to Anaal Nathrakh. I don’t think it sounds like them but I agree in the sense that you have a strong, emotional response to the music.
We’re fans. Josh (Elmore, guitarist) is a huge fan. I never got that but I keep seeing the name pop up when people try to describe this album. And it’s kind of cool, I mean, I would love to tour with them. But citing them as a reference? I’m not sure they were an influence. It is kind of funny. Not to question the questioner but what similarities do you see with the new record?
I would say that you feel like the music overwhelms you. You’re not overwhelmed in the sense that you want to push it away bit you want to dive in.
That’s awesome. I didn’t really write the music so it’s different for me to stand back and look at it and give an answer for the people that did. But we didn’t try to draw from any outside influences as much as make music we really want to hear. I think any kind of things like the scenario you mentioned are happy accidents. But I’m glad we’re giving off that vibe because that’s something we’ve always wanted to do. We tried it through cheaper means like brutal intensity. But it’s cool you said that and maybe that’s an avenue we should explore.
We did try to apply some of the things people said they liked about The Harvest Floor. We wanted to give people something they wanted to hear. At the same time, we play what we want. We won’t be adding breakdowns or technical or arpeggio parts for the sake of doing it. There’s nothing there to cater to the masses. I mean, how far can a band like Cattle Decapitation really go?
Is this album going to make it into Best Buy?
Does Best Buy even carry CDs anymore? Who knows if they are taking in new releases. I’m sure they’ve scaled back. I hope (they’ll carry it) because I don’t know where anyone is going to get this thing. I think a band like Cattle Decapitation needs the physical format, we need an explanation. I like to do that visually with a layout. The layout of this record has all of us in these different scenarios that deal with the cover. I’m trying to give people more reasons to have to own a physical copy because it is kind of a waste of resources.
Aren’t you worried the physical releases could end up on a junk pile like the cover of this record?
I don’t think so. It’s funny you ask that because I live off the sales of secondhand CDs and DVDs. I think there will be resale value for years. I do see benefits of going straight to digital but my part of the band is to come up with lyrics and themes. And all of that has to be represented in the layout and the artwork. I’m really passionate about it. As much as I don’t want to see it go it would probably be better for the environment.
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Cattle Decapitation - "A Living, Breathing Piece of Defecating Meat"
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On this record there are a few parts that are almost like anthems.
That’s definitely something Josh has wanted for a long time. Derek (Engemann, bass) came into the band and is also anthem-minded. I am totally for it and I like how they were used on the record. Having them in sporadic parts is what kept the album fresh, so it’s not so European where you rely a lot of chanty kind of melodies. We just want them to be little flashes, glimmers in the stew, not the main focus. Troy (Oftedal) our old bass player, was really good at coming up with these parts. So we’ve been building to this. I sort of expect the speed but I’m listening to this album and then there’s a hook that rally grabs me. Derek added a more “metal” element to it. I know Josh loves to rock. I’ve never been too much of a fan of groove because it’s music I never got into. For instance, I never liked Pantera, a band with incredible players and talents but one that relied on the groove. Dimebag was awesome but I just never got into the band because the aesthetic didn’t appeal to me. So I’m glad any of that is done sparingly and to add to the flavor, like part of a four-course meal rather than one dish.
Where did the choking sound on “Dead Set On Suicide” come from?
That’s a sample of a dude being hung. You definitely need to read the lyrics to understand that, decipher what’s going on.
It’s an actual hanging?
Yes, I put that together through a few different means I’ll keep to myself.
I remember seeing you a few times on your Harvest Floor tour cycle and you were bringing a sampler on stage.
I’m doing that again. It’s more that I got sick of talking to the crowd. I hate being the frontman. I don’t like the frontman vibe or aesthetic. I’d rather people just play their music. I didn’t want to come off like that at all and didn’t feel like talking to anybody. So I decided to use samples between the tracks, keep things a little different. And I’ve been doing electronic music for years and enjoy it.
So you couldn’t see yourself busting out a Paul Stanley like “we love you Detroit, where are the women?”
(Laughs). Y’know, the problem with me is that I’m reactive to the crowd. If the crowd is going crazy you’ll probably get a better performance out of me. I always pay attention to my vocal delivery. But if the crowd is going nuts I’m generally going nuts. I guess I’m just a little too honest.
Are you introverted for a frontman?
Yes, but solely because of my viewpoint on the subject. I don’t want to be ‘that guy.’ There’s no real insecurity. The typical frontman vibe is cheesy and I’ve shied away from it over the years. But if the response is genuine you’ll get a genuine response from me.
Could it also be that your vocals are challenging and you need to pay attention?
That and we play music that sort of requires you to ask, “what can you do to this?” There aren’t long enough parts to mosh; there aren’t circle pit parts and there aren’t breakdowns for floor punching. I’m not sure what people are supposed to do. The weirdest thing is when people are standing there with their arms folded. Then they come up to you later and say “oh my God, it was amazing.” And you want to ask them why they were standing there like they were writing a citation?
What are the strangest things you’ve seen the audience do?
The people that use their bodies to mimic what the music sounds like. They literally act like they are going into convulsions between sporadic bouts of jumping into the pit. I love the real crazy front two rows. When it matches the music, that’s the best. But the strangest thing is when we are freaking out on stage and people have their arms folded. That’s an imbalance that doesn’t seem right.
The special release for the album is incredible. I don’t know how another band is going to beat a trash can with four tee-shirts and Garbage Pail Kids style cards and a poster. How did you meet (Garbage Pail Kids creator) Tom Bunk?
Our friend Jim Mills worked for Metal Blade and was our manager. He befriended him years ago because he was a huge Garbage Pail Kids fan. He’s always kicked around the idea of having him do something. So we whipped up this idea and it turned into something insane. I’m ecstatic that it came through. It’s amazing that we even have this opportunity. You have to make it happen and Jim made it happen and we took over with the artistic part. We had to really nail the Garbage Pail look on the card. And then IndieMerch came through. They are the best. They made the whole thing a reality.
I don’t think the new Van Halen had something remotely this cool.
You have to give people a reason to buy the record and these promo packs look like the way.