For as long as I’ve been alive, to tweak an old adage, there have been three constants: death, taxes, and Cannibal Corpse. Releasing their debut, Eaten Back to Life, the year after I was born, Cannibal Corpse has been smashing faces my entire life across 15 (and counting) full-lengths of never-waning intensity. To stay relevant in any art form, let alone one as intense as death metal, for that length of time is no easy feat. That the band managed to never have a down period, never produce a lackluster album, and never compromise makes the career of death metal’s flagship band all the more impressive.
In my own personal journey toward extreme metal fandom, as in many other’s I would wager, there isn’t a band more important than Cannibal Corpse. The name alone gave me goosebumps in high school when I heard it for the first time but I knew that I had to check it out. I’d never listened to death metal before and it took a bit for it to take hold in my head, but the path toward lifelong fandom was cemented the first time I heard Corpsegrinder death growl his way through a lovely story about being consumed by rodents. Since then, there has been little within the world of entertainment that has gripped me quite like a Cannibal Corpse album and every time they release new music, it’s akin to a holiday for me.
To get the story about the band’s history, as well as the lowdown on the most recent album, the excellent Violence Unimagined, I went straight to the source and chatted with drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz recently over Zoom. Along with bassist Alex Webster, Mazurkiewicz has been along for the entire Cannibal Corpse ride from the band’s genesis through the wild years of the pandemic. In a wide ranging interview, we discussed the band’s history, adjusting to the pandemic, the newest record, and Mazurkiewicz’s exciting new rock project.
First off, I know you guys just wrapped up a big tour for Violence Unimagined. What’s the process like of coming home and readjusting to home life after so long on the road?
Paul: You got your two separate lives in the sense where when you’re on the road, you have your road life and then you’ve got your home life and it’s a big adjustment, of course. That’s just the way we’ve been doing it for years and that’s the way bands have to do it if you do what we do and you tour. You gotta unwind a little and get back to the home life.
How was finally getting to tour on Violence Unimagined after having to put it off for some time due to the pandemic?
Paul: It was great. It took a while, obviously, with us not touring since November of ’19 other than playing one show in Vegas over the summer last year so it was great to tour. The album’s been out almost a year so that’s a little different but it was good to be back out and it was a great run.
What was the crowd reaction like to the new material?
Paul: Oh it was awesome. The album obviously did well and has been doing well, and you can gauge it by first week sales when it came out and then the likes and the views on the videos we put out. Everybody seems to enjoy the new material. We played three songs off that record and they seemed to go over well live so that was a positive thing.
You guys obviously have a very deep catalog of records. How tough is it to put together a setlist for shows? Are there songs that you feel like you absolutely have to play every time out and how do you figure out that balance?
Paul: It’s tough, dude, with 15 albums. You want to represent everything and you can only play for so long and for so many songs. When you look at it, of course there’s the staples you have to have in there like “Hammer Smashed Face” and “Stripped, Raped and Strangled.” I would think those two have to be in the list, maybe everything else can be taken out here and there, but then you start going down the list and you’re like “OK, ‘I Cum Blood,’ ‘Kill or Become,’ there are so many songs that are very popular over the years that it’s almost like people expect to see those.” Then, you know what, you may be playing shows for the first time in front of people. We’re always gaining new fans so it’s kind of like, you know, you feel like you have to play these handful of songs. Then it comes down to wanting to promote the new record and you end up getting maybe three new ones in there like we do and that’s it. We’ll mix it up every now and then. If you saw the setlist from this tour, there were a couple in there that we haven’t done in years. You rotate a few but it’s not like a big overhaul of the list because, like I was saying, so many fans have never seen us before and they’re expecting to see a handful of songs and so be it, they’re good songs, they’re our popular ones for a reason, I suppose. It doesn’t get any easier the longer we’re around and the more albums we put out.
That was a hell of a tour package with Whitechapel, Revocation, and Shadow of Intent. What’s it like to be on tour with that lineup of strong bands playing music in the same kind of area that you guys are in?
Paul: Great. It’s always great to have a good package, of course, that’s important. People want to make an event out of it. You’re coming to see good bands and we always want to bring quality bands with us that are doing well, somebody like Whitechapel that has their own following and has been around a long time. Then you’ve got a newer band that hasn’t been around a long time like Shadow of Intent, that is up-and-coming and gathering a decent following for themselves. It’s great. I think it needs to be done and most bands do it. It’s something we’ve always done and most bands do it. It’s part of the touring world. You want to bring a good package for everyone to come out and have a great night of heavy music to enjoy.
So getting into your history, what got you into drumming?
Paul: I obviously got into music when I was young. My uncle and my cousin were drummers, actually. My cousin, mostly because he was two years older than me, was kind of like a big brother to me and I’d go to his house and he’d have his drum set set up in his room or his basement and I was able to see it and play firsthand like that. The same thing with my uncle, he was in a band and would play at my cousin’s birthday parties, in the garage, or what have you. Just seeing drums, early on, I think when you can see it close up like that, no matter what the situation is, it’s a big influence and it was a big influence on me. I started going to shows when I was younger before I was playing, and then you see bands that you love and I always seemed to be gravitating toward watching the drummer, I guess maybe just because (they) had the most going on in a sense where the drummer is moving more and that really resonated with me. I seemed to be fascinated with the drums early on and I guess it was inevitable that I became a drummer then.
You guys were part of that second wave of death metal when you started. There were a few bands already but not a ton. How did you initially get into death metal and who were those early inspirations?
Paul: When we were starting out, death metal was so new in the late ’80s and there wasn’t a lot of it happening, obviously there was (some happening), but not a lot, so it was really all those first bands that were true death metal bands that we looked at like Obituary and Death and Morbid Angel. Those bands that came just before us of course pushed us to make it what we wanted to do. Of course, we were already going around but we were more products of thrash at this time, but then that death metal movement was happening and you’re just taking it to that next level or wanting to take it to that next level because of the bands you’re hearing. It was those three in particular because, like I said, there wasn’t really that much in the way of death metal too far in front of us. We were after, but the fact that it was all kind of happening and those were the bands that we were able to hear and to be able to push off of was a big deal.
How did the band initially form?
Paul: We were in Buffalo, New York and there were two bands. I was part of a band called Tirant Sin. (Chris) Barnes (vocals) and (Bob) Rusay (guitars) were in that a little bit there and then Alex, and Jack (Owen, guitars) were in a band called Beyond Death and both bands kind of broke up around the same time in early or mid ’88. We were already playing the circuit in Buffalo at that time, playing shows together, so we all knew each other. It was kind of like the demise of those two bands brought us together to form Cannibal Corpse.
Who came up with the name? It’s such a memorable, iconic name.
Paul: Oh man, it’s a great name. That was all Alex. Alex came up with that name when we were starting out as a band. We formed in ’88 and you need a name if you want to play shows as a band and we didn’t know what to call it. Alex comes to practice one day and said “Hey, what about Cannibal Corpse?” and we were all like “Wow, that’s an amazing name, what a ring!” It’s two words that don’t really seem to go together but that fit perfectly. It didn’t take us long to prove that and we all agreed on that.
Did you ever have those times, especially starting out, where someone asks the name of the band and you end up getting those weird reactions?
Paul: Oh all the time, even to this day. “Oh you’re in a band? What’s the name of your band?” “Sigh, well do you really want to hear?” It’ll always be the case.
I remember some years ago I had on a shirt from Kill and it was a pretty mild shirt for you guys, just the logo and the guy with the knife, and someone came up to me in Target very offended and asking why I would wear that in public. I just remember telling him that it’s a band I like and him walking away angry but it’s like George (Corpsegrinder) said at concert I was at: It’s just music and it’s just to have fun.
Paul: That’s it, we’re going to offend some people of course, but that’s just the nature of the music. People don’t understand but that’s just what it is. Imagine if it was a Butchered at Birth shirt or a Wretched Spawn shirt, it would have been a lot worse for you I’m sure!
Those first few records, starting out, you can really trace the evolution of the band and hear the band trying to find it’s sound. What was that early feeling out process like from inside the band
Paul: That’s just it, we’re a young band (at that point) trying to find our identity. It’s not like you just start this band and have this sound in mind. We’re all still learning our instruments, we’re all new to the game in a sense, and we’re trying to find our way. I think the good thing about those records, the fact that we signed so early to Metal Blade…since (the band’s) inception in ’88 and then signing our contract with Metal Blade in summer of ’89…we’re recording our debut album basically only a year after we were formed. It just gave an opportunity for the fans to watch us grow, to see us grow right in front of their eyes. For a lot of bands, it didn’t happen that way. A lot of bands might sit around, play, and be around for six, seven, eight years before anything happens in the sense that they’re known now. Just think if that was the case for Cannibal. Say it’s ’93, ’94 that we got signed, then a lot of that early stuff may never have seen the light of day because we’re growing as a band and you’re looking to add your newer stuff as your better stuff. Maybe our debut would have been something like The Bleeding, which would be a great debut record, but then you wouldn’t have known what happened prior to that to get us to that point as much. You’d have had to (have) been there on the circuit and watch and see us live or maybe some demo tapes. I think that’s the cool thing about our band, fans were able to watch us grow and mature and become the band that we are today. Everything was new and fresh. We were just writing songs at that given moment because we don’t have anything so here’s the best we’ve got, here’s what we want to do at this point in time…Eaten Back to Life, Butchered at Birth, Tomb of the Mutilated, especially those three records where we’re really trying to find our way and gain our identity. That comes with being a band for a while and maturing as musicians and as humans. I really think we hit our sound, and most people would say that too, when you listen to The Bleeding in particular, that’s where more of the modern Cannibal sound started. It took those years for us to gel and be together and write material and be a band for a while to get to that point. I think it took those few years and The Bleeding was the start of what you hear, for the most part, today. It’s really cool to witness that process and I’m glad it happened that way.
You guys have been on Metal Blade your entire career now. What has their support been like for the band?
Paul: Amazing. To have the support of the label, you know, they’ve become our family and friends. Brian Slagel, the owner, and Mike Faley, and Tracy Vera, all these people that have been there since the beginning with us. They are great people and it’s pretty cool to say that we’ve been on the same label. It’s an “If it’s not broke, why fix it?” kind of thing. Here we are in our career, doing the best we can do, and there’s nothing in our eyes to fix or change. It’s just been a great relationship and it’s awesome to have that.
By the time you were really taking off in the ’90s, death metal was kind of in a lull period. How did you manage to stay on the ascent during those years as the band kind of took off?
Paul: Just doing your thing. We always did our thing. If you look at everything we’ve done and every album: we’re death metal, we’re Cannibal Corpse. There are some subtle changes and differences and things of that nature but when it comes down to it, it’s brutal death metal. We just stuck to our guns and didn’t let anything bother us on the outside like trends or things of that nature. That’s all it comes down to. I think we wrote some great songs and we stuck to it and we are doing it from the heart and that’s important. The fans know that and feel that. I believe that that leads to our longevity. We care and we want to do this and we are passionate about it so we will give it our all any given time we have to, say, write a record or play a show. It’s a matter of sticking true to yourself and keeping plugging away.
Then after The Bleeding you added George on vocals and things just kept building from there. How did you end up with him as your choice to do vocals? It was such a seamless transition and he’s obviously been there ever since.
Paul: Him being in Monstrosity, of course, at the time when we were listening to music, of course we were huge fans of Imperial Doom and we thought George was great. Of course Monstrosity being here in Tampa, we would go and see them play every now and then and we’d see George up there and were just blown away by his stage presence and his vocal ability and everything. When we made the move and we kicked Barnes out, he was our choice. He was our one and only choice. We knew George was the guy we needed to get in the band. Luckily, he accepted because we didn’t have a plan B at that point. It was all or nothing in our eyes, and luckily he accepted and here we are.
What’s been your writing process for the music side of things and has that changed at all as time has gone on?
Paul: It’s changed over the years. Definitely in the early days it was more of a band effort, more of a collaborative effort. When you are starting out like that, we’d just get in a room with all five of us or whatever and hash out ideas. One guy may have a riff and another guy has a riff and before you know it, you wrote a couple songs and everybody has contributed to those songs. That’s how most of the first three records were written. Around The Bleeding time, we started incorporating more solo efforts. I remember Alex coming up one day and going “Hey man, I just want to write a whole song by myself” and that was new to us. It was like, “Sure, why not?” That kind of started the process of us being a little more individual in the writing aspect per member. Alex would write his songs, maybe now and then you’d do a collaborative thing, but it gravitated to where we are today where if you look at the song credits you see Rob (Barrett, guitars) wrote his four songs, Erik (Rutan, guitars) writes his three songs, Alex writes his four songs. Of course they still come together and I gotta tie it all together, and the vocals and all that, but everybody is kind of doing it individually these days. It’s a little different. Looking back, I miss the old days, I miss the collaborative effort of us being in the same room but it’s just the way it is nowadays. We are still coming up with great material, probably the best we ever have anyways, but it is interesting to see how it’s varied over the years and what we ended up with now compared to what we did in the old days.
What’s your lyric writing process like then and has that changed?
Paul: That’s changed over the years. In the early days, when I started writing lyrics, when we all started writing lyrics for Vile, it was a lot slower process. I hadn’t written lyrics in years. Then you have your dictionary out, you’ve got your thesaurus out. I’ve noticed how I’ve changed over the years in how I write and probably over the last four records, for me, I just want to be as organic as I can. I just want to sit with the music and just sit and, if I have the title, then of course I know where I’m going with the song, and what it’s gonna be slightly about. Then I just take it organically, what comes to me naturally in my own head. I really try not to use anything like a thesaurus anymore or even the dictionary. I want the words to come to me naturally that I already have in my head, that I know, that I use or what have you. I found myself just liking that way more than I ever have and that’s the way I do it these days.
Obviously there’s a huge horror appeal to Cannibal Corpse and, in general, death metal and horror really go hand-in-hand. Have you always been a fan of the genre?
Paul: Early on, of course we were. We were like any typical teenager where you’re into heavy metal and, back then, it was all about horror movies and horror stories and everything was about the darker subjects of life. You’re really enthralled by that. We still are, but I’d be lying if I said I still watch horror movies all the time. I really don’t. I think we’ve absorbed all of it over the years for a few lifetimes. When you’re growing up as a teenager though, it’s very impressionable when the bands you’re loving are talking about the darker subjects of life. Obviously metal was that way from the early days of just the normal heavy metal like Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath and all that. It just went hand-in-hand and you like it anyway because it’s fun to be into horror and watch movies like that and read stories. They’re intriguing, they’re scary, and it’s beyond comprehension. I think the unknown like that is very exciting. When we had our opportunity to be a band and take it to the next level, we were fans of music and horror, and we looked at bands that were doing it before us like Slayer, Kreator, Sodom, and all the bands we looked up to. We loved their imagery and their lyrics and just wanted to take it to the next level because we could. Why not? We felt that we should be like that, especially if we’re going to be a band called Cannibal Corpse and were wanting to be one of the most intense bands in the world. It all goes hand-in-hand. I may not be watching as much as I used to, but it’s still a part of you and it’s still a part of what we do and that’s key.
With that violent imagery, you guys have faced censorship issues throughout your career. Does that ever play into the writing at all? Do you ever write something and stop and say “Well, maybe we should pull back a little here” or do you just say screw it and let what happens happen?
Paul: Oh yeah, screw it, we’re doing our thing. It comes back to doing our own thing, like we talked about earlier. It’s unfortunate because what ends up happening is the fans suffer in those particular countries. If they can’t buy a CD or they can’t see us play a song live or something like that, it’s not going to stop us. We’re going to do our thing and we have. You just have to let it roll off the back and keep plugging forward. It hasn’t really been a thought too much other than it’s unfortunate that it has to happen.
Do you have a favorite album from the band?
Paul: Eaten Back to Life, man. How do you not feel the most proud of the firsts that you ever accomplished? We were talking about that earlier with who’d have thought we’d still (have) been around here. It’s kind of like the same thing, with who would ever thought you’d be in a band that’s going to make a CD and go on tour. Those are all those dreams that you don’t ever think could be attainable. When you sign your first record contract, you just can’t believe this is happening and then you’re recording your first record and you get your album or first CD in your hands you’re in awe that this is a reality. How are all those firsts, in my opinion, not the most special memories that you are ever going to have. It’ll always come back to Eaten Back to Life, and our first tour of Europe, and all those kinds of stuff. Those firsts are so special and they’re never going to happen again so they mean the most to me.
Being 15 albums in, how do you guys keep it fresh for each new release?
Paul: I think we just try to do our thing, like I said, and you’re always growing as musicians, you’re always growing as people. You are always gaining, hopefully, more wisdom and more knowledge and what have you. I think, when you look back, you are given certain time frames to create music. We are not a band that says “Well when we get around to it we’ll put out a record.” There’s always creativity, otherwise we wouldn’t have 15 records here in 30 plus years where you’re averaging one every two years at this point. We always worked under a time frame and a schedule. We’ll say “Hey, we’ve got to write a song right now” so this is what you get for this time period right now. I think, and you’d have to ask those other guys about it, everyone is just trying to write the better song but still be Cannibal Corpse, but yet still have some subtleties that you might not have had on the last record or the last song. I think the true fans really see that and they hear those things. Like I said, they may be subtle but we’re death metal, we’re gonna be Cannibal Corpse but we don’t want to just blatantly do the same thing over and over again and I don’t think we have. Maybe to the casual listener or the person that doesn’t like death metal, they’re going to say we’re just doing the same thing. Yeah it’s brutal, intense death metal, that’s what we do but I think the true listener and the true fan hears those nuances and hears those little subtleties throughout our career that just makes it that bit more fresh.
You’ve got Erik Rutan fully on board now as a full member of the band. He’s produced albums for you for years but what’s it like to have him as an actual member of the band now?
Paul: It’s great, man. Of course he’s contributed amazingly on the three songs he wrote for Violence Unimagined. He’s done everything, up to this point, but being in the band and now that he is, it’s amazing to have him in that aspect as well. He’s a great guitar player, of course, and such a positive force and attitude. He brings a new touch to the band. He’s going to be writing Cannibal Corpse songs and it’s gonna be in the Erik Rutan style that he does. The three he wrote on the record are every bit Cannibal Corpse but they’re Erik’s take on Cannibal Corpse. It’s been amazing and it’s great to have him in the band. We can’t be happier with him.
What was the writing and recording process like for Violence Unimagined? Was that process affected at all by the pandemic?
Paul: We finished the touring for Red Before Black at the end of ’19 and then of course the pandemic hits (in) March of ’20, so we knew when we were ending the Red Before Black tour that we were going into the writing process and that we were going to record in April of ’20. So when the pandemic hits, we were pretty much ready to go. Our concern was more or less, are we going to be able to record? We were scheduled to start in mid-April and then the pandemic is hitting in mid-March, so we were going “OK, we’re 98 percent there with all the music and ready to go” and it was just a matter of if we were able to go and record. Obviously we had the gray areas of travel and are things going to be open, will the studio be open, and all those things. It really didn’t affect us at all other than Alex lives in Portland, Oregon these days and he couldn’t fly to do his bass tracks in the studio, so he had to do them in his home studio, which he is well capable of doing. You wouldn’t notice the difference by listening to Violence Unimagined that he wasn’t in the studio doing the recording in St. Petersburg here. That was the only real hiccup and it wasn’t much of a hiccup because the album turned out great. We got lucky in that regard with the way it all fell into place. The only main thing that happened was the delay of the release of the record and the non-touring. Once all those schedules went off normal, we were going to put the record out when we normally should but can’t and we can’t go on tour. That’s where the pandemic hit more but it all worked out positively. You just gotta stay positive, let it ride out, and hope for the best and, like everybody else, just wait for things to subside and for bands to hit the road again. Here we are, so it all worked out.
Was it frustrating to put that record out and then have to wait to tour on it?
Paul: Of course, this is unprecedented. It’s never happened in the world and in music history. What do you do? You don’t know what to do. There’s no right or wrong. If you’re looking at the management sides of things, of course they want to tie in a tour with the album. That’s what you do. What do you do? Do we wait until we can tour, because you don’t know when that’s going to happen. What if touring never happens and we can never tour? Do you keep waiting and waiting to put out a record? I don’t think that was a good idea or a good way to go about it. I think the fans need music. That’s more important to me. I think it was more important to everybody, to get the music out there. We delayed it as much as we could, and then just said that we can’t rely on putting it out and the tour happening right after because we don’t know when that’s going to happen. So let’s just get it out there because I think the fans are going to love getting music in this pandemic and it’s such a positive thing and it was. It’s our biggest seller. In the middle of the pandemic, with no tour dates, who would have thought? Obviously for us, you want to get out on the road and support the record so that was frustrating but knowing that the fans received the album so well and it did great and all that, you were pumped for that and you felt good about that. You go, “Man, we are happy to contribute.” If that makes people feel better, that they’ve got new music, and maybe they’re out of work, maybe they’ve lost loved ones, who knows, but at least you can help in some way positively by getting the music out to the masses. This is all unprecedented so you didn’t know what to do. You had to go by feel and by what you thought was right and I know that’s how I felt about it.
Speaking of which, you guys have a strong core of fans and always have. How does the support of that fanbase feel to you?
Paul: Incredible, man. If it wasn’t for the fans, we wouldn’t be here. We are all fans of the music. We started out that way as well so we know how important it is. If the fans weren’t there, coming to the shows and buying your records, where would you be? You wouldn’t be a band of our status, being able to go and tour and make a living off this. It becomes a business and your livelihood but at the same time it’s the fans that keep you going. They mean everything. We’ve got the greatest fans in the world and the most diehard fans and, without them, we wouldn’t be here.
Death metal in general, to me, feels like more of a community than a lot of different styles of music or scenes. What has that community aspect meant to you over your career?
Paul: Oh it’s amazing. It means everything. That’s how death metal was formed. It’s a fan’s kind of music. You’re out to play death metal because you love death metal and not because you want to make a living off of it or seek fame and fortune and women or anything, or just to party. That’s not why you become a death metal musician. I believe the fans are the same way. They’re out there because they love death metal and they know that death metal bands are like them. We are just people like everybody else and we’re just playing this crazy music. It’s not about being a rockstar and trying to bilk the fans for money and stuff. It’s a big community and a big family. That’s the way it started and that’s the way it will always be and that’s huge, man. That’s a big part of the death metal community, the fans and the bands being as one.
So, like you said, you put out the record and it does great. How wild was it to you, as a band called Cannibal Corpse, singing about what you do, and with such grotesque artwork, to have your album land in the Billboard top ten?
Paul: It’s amazing and so wild. Who would have thought? Putting out an album in the middle of a pandemic and then it being your biggest seller in the first week ever, where album sales are obviously diminishing and all those cliche things you hear? It was phenomenal and beyond our wildest expectations. We aren’t putting out records hoping for these things. If they happen, great, but at the same time we are doing our thing and hoping the fans will dig it. It seems like they really embraced this record right off the bat, more so than any other record we’ve put out. It was phenomenal, exciting and incredible for it to do the numbers that it did and to be a top ten record. It’s insane but it’s cool for sure.
With the record came two really cool videos for “Inhumane Harvest” and “Necrogenic Resurrection.” How did those two come about?
Paul: You gotta put a video out. You wanna promote the record with the videos to a couple songs. We’ve done that for years and most bands do. You gotta figure out which songs you wanna put out as those first couple singles. We definitely felt strong about “Inhumane Harvest.” We love all the songs on the record but you can only pick one, or two, or three. You pick them and then you leave it with the powers that be. You’ve seen the videos we’ve done over the years and there are the ones where we weren’t in the videos, there’s a couple on Red Before Black that way. We actually kind of liked that aspect for a little bit, kind of just making little mini-movies out of the songs like that without the band being in them. We got David Brodsky, who worked with us in the past with “Encased in Concrete” and “Kill or Become,” and we felt that he’s a great storyteller for what we are trying to portray in our lyrics. You just give him the songs and the lyrics and he comes up with those visuals. He did an amazing job with his interpretation and his representation of what “Inhumane Harvest” is about and what “Necrogenic Resurrection” is about. I think they’re great videos and they’re awesome. They turned out killer and David Brodsky did an amazing job with those.
Of course the record also came out with a ton of cool merch to go along with it. You guys always have some of the best merch around. How much input do you have on what those products end up looking like?
Paul: You’re always gonna want to have your album covers be on shirts, so those are key to us. Then, if you look at Violence Unimagined, Vince Locke did the accompanying pieces of art, the sketches for every song, which we usually never have done. Of course that made for a cool selection of merch when he’s drawing little sketches representing every song. Then you can go and say “Hey, we can make designs out of those two.” We can incorporate Vince by saying that we want him to make a couple paintings and designs that look like album covers but for certain songs as well to elaborate on those. I think it’s important having Vince do our designs and do our shirts too because people love his art. They love the album covers. We work hand-in-hand with our management and with Vince. We know what the fans want and we try to give them a good selection of merch to be able to buy and to represent the band. People love to do that, that’s what you do when you are a fan of music, metal especially. It’s cool to have some different designs and not just have the same one shirt or two shirts of the album cover. Mixing it up and having a plethora, I think, is pretty cool.
Speaking of Vince, how much input do you guys give him on what you want for the covers?
Paul: It just depends. We are always going to have a title, so you go into it saying that this is what we are going to call the record. You gotta give him at least that. Over the years we’ve gone “Hey Vince, here’s what we are going to call the record but we don’t know what we want to do visually.” Certain album covers, we’ve got a set piece in mind or a set visual in mind and others we don’t and just kind of trust his judgement. He’s a part of the band, he’s been doing it for years so we trust his view on what he may come up with for a particular cover. I know on Red Before Black, I had the idea of what to do and Skeletal Domain, but something like Violence Unimagined, we just knew that it needed to be brutal. When you’re calling an album Violence Unimagined, well, it should be something really intense and over the top and taking it to the next level so we just kind of gave him those ideas. We went, “Hey, here’s the title. We gotta make this brutal, Vince.”
Do you have a favorite cover?
Paul: I really do like the uncensored for Violence Unimagined. I think it’s pretty brutal as heck. Butchered at Birth, of course, very iconic, and how can you not like Butchered at Birth just being as intense as it is? Eaten Back to Life is a great cover too, what a cool visual that is. I would have to say it’s a tough one but I do like Violence Unimagined a lot. I like the uncensored version. The censored version is great too but the uncensored…man, something about that uncensored version is pretty disturbing and a cool piece of art.
You’re playing this intense, brutal style of music that I imagine has to take a toll on you after a while. Have you had to adjust your playing style at all over the years?
Paul:They’re not getting any easier. We’re still plugging away with the speed and the technicality so, if anything, you just gotta work harder. The older we get, it doesn’t get any easier so you just gotta push your body and push your mind and do those things to keep up. You can’t be relying on 20 or 30 year old natural adrenaline anymore since that’s not the case. I think it’s apparent when you listen to the records. It’s not like we’re just putting out doom records now that we are in our 50s. To the contrary, I think that the material is getting more intense than ever in a lot of ways. It’s a matter of trying to keep up and stay healthy and put in the extra work to be able to do this.
Has your kit changed at all over the years or do you keep it mostly consistent?
Paul: It’s been pretty consistent. You’re always going to work on things like heights and things of that nature but if you look back from the early days, I think I started out with four rack toms early on but then I went to the three rack toms fairly soon after we started and then that’s it. I’ve never changed my cymbal setup, it’s always the same. Maybe the tom sizes (changed). I went from using 12, 13, 14 mounted racks down to 10, 12, 14 and that was a few years back, but the drum pieces and the setup in general has been pretty consistent my whole career.
Turning to other projects you’ve got coming up or are working on, you’ve got the upcoming tour with 200 Stab Wounds and Sanguisugabogg coming up soon. How did that come about?
Paul: It’s just a couple shows, really. What ended up happening is we got an offer to do that Decibel Festival in Philadelphia, and it’s a good fest and something worth doing so of course we said we’re going to do that. Then we have two options: we either fly in to do that festival as a one-off kind of thing or we talk to our booking agent and say “Hey, you think you can book a few other shows around it?” and he did. It ended up being six shows so you can’t really even call it a tour. It’s like a six-show mini-tour which is strange for us. We’ve never really done that but it should be a fun thing.
You guys also have the honey wine coming out as well. How did that come about?
Paul: You get some feelers out or some people come to you. That one came about through Alex, who like I said lives in Portland, Oregon, and this company is from Portland. I think him and his wife were out and about and they went to this meadery, it’s called Wyrd (Leatherworks and Meadery). They’re fans of music and death metal and all that. You go to this place and they say that it’d be cool if we did something with you guys and we said “Alright, let’s make it happen.” It comes down to the companies, because they have the product, they’ve got the know how. All we have to do is say if you want to collaborate, cool. Then we work on certain things to figure out exactly what we want to do for the product, and then we maybe get Vince to do the art like he did for that. It was just as simple as that. It was a lot of fun to work with and Vince did a great label. The mead is really good. I never really had mead before and then I went and sampled some on the tour there when we played Portland before it came out and it’s a great product. It’s a great honey wine and we put our little touch of flavor in there working with the company figuring out what we wanted to do to make it our own. They did and here we are. I’m glad we did that.
Speaking of food and drink, I thought I read that you’re a vegetarian, too?
Paul: I am, about 20 years now.
Nice, ethical or health reasons?
Paul: Ethical. I didn’t want to eat animals anymore. Whether it’s healthy or not, I feel fine, but I didn’t want to eat animals anymore so I stopped almost 20 years ago now.
That’s cool, I’m going on 13-years now myself. I can see in the video that you’re clearly an animal person. How many pets do you have?
Paul: Too many (laughs)! My daughter loves animals as well. I’m definitely an animal person as well. If it were up to me, I would just have cats right now but my daughter is living back with me and we’ve got dogs, three snakes, a bearded dragon, we have a lot of chickens, and a couple birds. We’ve got it all here. We’ve got a virtual zoo but it’s fun. We love animals.
What is it with metal musicians and cats? I remember the Decibel issue years ago where they highlighted all the different cats that metal musicians have and it’s funny how having cats and liking metal kind of goes together.
Paul: Cats are awesome. They’re great creatures. I think they get a bad rap and people think they’re so independent and don’t want to be around people and they just want to do their own thing. I actually grew up more of a dog person when I was younger. We always had a dog but we never had a cat, and I remember my sister bringing home a half-dead cat once when she was like eight years old to the family and it had a broken leg. She said we needed to save this cat and we did. My mom and dad said this because I’m not that much older than my sister at that point. We had our dog and we’re not cat people and we’ll bring this cat back to health and find it a good home. Well, that cat lived with us for almost 20 years, of course, because it became part of the family and we became cat people then. Ever since then I was like, “You know, I love cats.” I’ve had many, of course, throughout my life here. I just think they’re great animals. They’re fun to be around, they’ve got great personalities, they’re very loving. I love them and, in my opinion, you can’t say enough good things about cats. They’re great, great creatures.
Just a few more random questions here before we wrap up. What’s your take on the current state of death metal? As a fan, there’s more of it than ever now and it feels like the industry is booming with great death metal bands.
Paul: It’s a tough question for me because I don’t know what’s happening in the world any more. I live under my rock and I know what we do and that’s the most important thing to me. I would think that it’s bigger than it ever has been and it’s just gonna get bigger. The way I look at it is that it’s been around for a long time now and we can play shows like we just did and be sold out and all that. For us, it seems to be going stronger than it ever has and I don’t see why that would not trickle down to any death metal band or just death metal in general. I don’t follow it as much as I used to, so I don’t know fully what’s happening out there but it seems to me, if I would just put an opinion on it, that it’s going great and it’s stronger than ever. It just makes sense to me that if there’s always gonna be new and upcoming bands that are existing and putting out good music then why wouldn’t the fans be there? It’s great to know that it’s going strong and thriving. I don’t think there’s any end in sight. There’ll be lulls here and there but death metal, I think, is gonna stand the test of time. It’s its own unique thing. There’s always gonna be a fanbase for it and I think it’s just gonna keep growing as generations get older.
How about your thoughts on the music industry in general? We live in a time when you have access to more music than ever but it can be hard for fans to know how to best support a band since most everyone is consuming music through streaming now. How should fans show that support to bands that they love?
Paul: I think when it comes down to it, yeah, bands like ourselves, if you wanna support the band then you go to our proper merch store and buy merch. You come to the shows and you buy merch there. You buy the CDs, you buy the albums. Those are where bands are going to profit the most, if you really want to support them in that way. You know, 90% of our income is going to come from going on the road, from playing these shows for people coming out to see us and buying merchandise at the shows. I think that’s how death metal thrives and how you keep bands alive and how you keep them sustained. It’s tough these days where the younger generations are growing up with streaming and everything is just downloadable and you don’t even have to buy it because everything is going to end up on Youtube for free or what have you, so it’s tough but if you really want to support the band, go to the shows, go to the proper sites to buy the merchandise, buy the merchandise at the shows. That’s the best you can do.
Have you ever wanted to step outside of the world of death metal and play something a little different?
Paul: I have a project going right now called Umbilicus, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll project, a hard rock project. We are about to get things a little more public. We put a post out, maybe two months ago, a little teaser clip of part of a song with more to come. We are in the process now of finalizing our debut album here and hopefully, by the end of this month or early May, we are getting out the first single to the masses, the whole first song. The plan is to release this debut, probably in September. It’s just a great project that I’m involved with with great guys. I’m passionate about rock ‘n’ roll music and hard rock and music from the ’70s and all that. That is what this is. I’m in the band with Taylor Nordberg, who recently just joined Deicide on guitar, and he’s in Inhuman Condition and The Absence, he’s the guitar player. A good friend of ours, Vernon Blake (Anarchus), is playing bass. He’s one of my best friends and he actually filled in for Shane (Embury) on a Napalm Death tour in the states a few years ago. We have an amazing vocalist named Brian Stephenson (Fore, Old James) from Canada and he’s an incredible vocalist. It’s pure rock ‘n’ roll. If people hear this and they’re gonna be expecting it to be anything like Cannibal Corpse, it’s nothing like it. It’s pure rock ‘n’ roll with great vocals, great songs, great riffing, and we are very proud of it. We can’t wait for it to get out to the masses.
That’s very exciting! How did that project get started?
Paul: To give you a little backstory, it was around 2000 or 2001 and Jack Owen was still in the band with Cannibal Corpse. Me and him have been fans of this music forever. It’s embedded and it’s my passion and Jack’s passion was that as well. I remember it was about 2000 that we said, “Let’s start a project like this,” you know, just to break up the monotony of Cannibal and do something different and do something that we love to do as well. Along with the bass player that’s in Umbilicus, we started this project about 20 years ago. We wrote about 15 originals and actually played two shows in Tampa here in a small bar, but we never did anything with the music. We made a couple demo tapes, but we never put it out to the masses, we never made a proper CD. We were always kind of lacking in a good vocalist or a vocalist that we felt was an interpretation of what we were looking for and, inevitably, the band fell apart. We were together for maybe two years and then we went our own ways. Jack ended up forming a different rock band and of course he left Cannibal about two years after that. This project just fell by the wayside.
The bass player Vernon Blake is a good friend of mine, and we always talked about revisiting the project over the years, but Jack didn’t want to do it any more and I was busy with Cannibal so it never really came up. So after we finished recording Violence Unimagined in April, then that’s when reality was setting in of not touring for a while and for Cannibal to be slightly idle for more months than we normally would be. I remember telling my buddy Vern that I’d love to revisit the project and get it going again. We had the time, so why not? You only live once and we’re getting older here so we can’t wait another 20 years. Well, we could but we’ll all be in our 70s, which maybe isn’t gonna be a great thing to be doing! I was like, let’s do this.
I got together with Vern and we started playing some of the old songs that we wrote with Jack. I got a hold of Jack, he doesn’t live in Florida, he lives in Illinois now, and he didn’t seem to have an interest to revisit it so we said “Let’s get a new guitar player.” We brought in Taylor Nordberg. He lives in Florida here and we went through some friends and they said that he might be interested. We had Taylor come out and we had him learn some of these old songs that we have lying around that Jack was a part of. He learned a couple and said that he loved this stuff. We practiced for a few times and he said he’s in, so basically the band was formed almost two years ago with us three.
We decided to drop the songs we had from 20 years ago and just concentrated on new material that Taylor was writing and that we would all write together. The timing worked perfect because of the time off from Cannibal and my love of wanting to redo it again and Vern’s love of it too. Taylor, luckily, has that same passion for this old school rock ‘n’ roll stuff as well and it all worked out. We wrote 10 songs that I think are really incredible rock tunes and then we brought in Brian Stephenson. Taylor knew him from a previous band and Brian sang over these songs, and we were blown away by it and here we are. I think it was well worth the wait of doing this properly and making sure the songs are what they need to be and getting everything prepared for this moment.
That has to be incredibly thrilling.
Paul: It is. It’s fun to play something different and to be a part of some really great rock songs. I’m totally excited for it. I’m very happy and can’t wait for the world to hear it.
Who are some of your big guys from that ’70s era of rock?
Paul: Oh man, so many. There are so many of the staples like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and all that kind of stuff. Then there’s a lot of obscure bands. I’ve went back and reverted and found all these bands that you’ve never even heard of like Sir Lord Baltimore or a band like Dust. Then there’s other bands that were known that I never listened to like Traffic, Steppenwolf, and things like that, and then a lot of the mid-’70s bands like Foghat, Bad Company. Man, there’s so much stuff from back then. I’ve been listening to a lot of bands like 10cc or Ten Years After and Trapeze, Cactus…there’s so many that you wouldn’t really even know existed unless you take that route and do some research. There’s a lot of bands that existed that never got the popularity or the notoriety of the bigger bands that we all know. It’s my favorite era of music, late ’60s, early ’70s, and then throughout the ’70s. That whole rock ‘n’ roll sound means so much to me.
That was kind of my dad’s era of rock too so it was a big part of what I started out listening to. One of my first tattoos was actually Jimmy Page’s symbol.
Paul: Nice, that’s how it happens. You start out with your parents’ stuff, depending on your age. I started out that way too. My first bands I was listening to were my dad’s old records…The Kinks, The Beatles, and those bands are incredible to me.
How did you guys come up with the name Umbilicus?
Paul: Taylor did. We wrote songs and there’s a title track called that. He came up with one song and said he wouldn’t mind calling the song Umbilicus. We said that that was cool and something different. Then when we really had to finalize a band name, we rolled a couple names around and we said that we thought Umbilicus would be a great name for the band. It’s something different and something you don’t hear too much. We figured why not?
Is it weird to be on the cusp of releasing new music with a different band?
Paul: Of course. It’s something I’ve never done before. It’s going to be a completely different feeling from what I’m used to. To be releasing something like this is out of my ordinary. It’s very exciting and I can’t wait.
That’s awesome and I can’t wait to hear the record. So, last question, what do you like to do to relax when you’re away from band stuff?
Paul: I just like to be home these days with my daughter and the animals and just to be off the road and enjoy my time. It’s pretty well known that I’ve played ice hockey my whole life, ever since I was five years old I’ve been skating and playing. That would be my biggest hobby, playing hockey. I still play to this day. It’s something that’s a huge passion for me, a part of my life, and of who I am. I love it and I will always be playing hockey on the ice until I can’t. My dad skated until he was 70 with friends and playing Friday nights. I’m still playing in a men’s league, kind of a beer league. I love the competitive nature, I love skating, and I just love hockey. I’ll be playing until I can’t walk anymore. Actually, if I can’t walk, hopefully I’ll still be able to skate so we’ll see but I love it.
Are you a Sabres fan then?
Paul: Of course. When you’re from Buffalo, it’s 98% of the time that it’s going to be embedded into the psyche of being a Sabres fan and a Bills fan, no matter where you live in the world. I’ve been living in Florida now for 30 years, which is longer than I lived in Buffalo but I’m not a Bucs fan, I’m not a Lightning fan. I’m from Buffalo, I’m a Sabres fan till the end and I’m a Bills fan till the end. You live and die with your team and that’s just the way it is. So yep, I’m a Sabres fan and hopefully we’ll have something to cheer about one day.
Follow Cannibal Corpse on their site, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, and Bandcamp and Umbilicus on Instagram.