interview: Dawid Krosnia
‘There is no shortcut and all starts with you, the hard work that you put into your art and your craft…’
photo: Chris Barnes of Six Feet Under
With almost 30 years of musical activity, Chris Barnes (Six Feet Under, ex-Cannibal Corpse) is certainly the guy that knows a lot about death metal. And he is striking hard again with another Six Feet Under’s record – Torment. We spoke to Chris to talk about the new album but we also brought some memories back from the Cannibal Corpse days.
The Goat Tavern: Hi Chris, How are you?
Chris Barnes: I’m doing good today man, just hanging out and enjoying the day and relaxing with my dogs, listening to some music on my stereo here (laughs).
I guess you’re tired of answering the same questions by now?
No, it’s been cool, it hasn’t been the same questions this time around (laughs). It seems that everyone’s grown up a little bit or something, it’s kind of nice man, everyone talked to me and it’s been very interesting in multitude of different things.
It seems that you don’t like to or you don’t know to how to slow down or relax at all. Album after album, tour after tour, how do you mange to work at such high speed? Where do you get your motivation from?
Jeez, I don’t think it is and I feel pretty tame as far as my work ethic. I think a lot of other people are doing more than I am but I just like creating music, I love to write and I love the process of working with people and creating something from nothing and something that I enjoy myself, you know, it’s the most fun for me. I guess if something is fun, you want to do it all the time. That’s my motivation and it’s always been like that. I’ve been lucky to work with some cool people so they keep me interested.
Six Feet Under discography to date, all released through Metal Blade Records
You’ve stayed loyal to Metal Blade Records for over two decades now. How do you create such a positive energy between the band and the label for so long? Have you ever thought of trying someone else in your career?
Well yeah, it’s close to three decades now, it’s 28 years this year and it’s been wonderful, everyone at label has been like family to me, like brothers and sisters, it’s been good man. You know, every time I felt like, I wonder if it would be better somewhere else, I always thought it could never be because this is like a dream come true for me. I’ve listened to Metal Blade stuff when I was younger, it was my only guide pretty much. Things that I thought were going to be good at the record store when I’m going to pick it up, I’d see a Metal Blade label on it. That was what I would buy over something else that I wasn’t sure of. So to be on the label, it’s a dream come true and I’ve been lucky to become close friends with Brian, Mike and Tracy and everybody so it’s just been kind of surreal because it seems like this is the place where I’ve always meant to be and I don’t think that I would have been treated very well at other places because, like I said, it has been like family experience.
There is a lot of bands trying out different labels from one album to another and they think that the ‘grass is greener on the other side‘ but it’s not always the truth I guess?
Yeah, It’s always not the truth that the ‘grass is greener on the other side‘ (laughs), that’s the problem! The thing is that those people are just looking for the shortcut in some way. There is no shortcut and all starts with you, the hard work that you put into your art and your craft, your instrument or your voice and the isolation that you have to take on in your life. It’s a strange way to live but you have to dedicate yourself in every way to it and it takes good people around you to be able to keep that momentum going. Like I said before, I wouldn’t be able to do it without Metal Blade people.
Torment is your 16th studio album and this monster of the record is about to be unleashed at the end of this month. Did it ever cross your mind when you’ve started Six Feet Under as a project that you’ll be touring and recording for twenty odd years later?
With Six Feet Under when I first started it, I had a very good idea that it was going to be well accepted by the fans, fans that I had with Cannibal Corpse and death metal fans in general. As I was starting to write the first 3 songs I had a vision in my head that I could see people in the crowd enjoying the music being played live. I saw that, so it was always pretty obvious to me because the music was interesting and there was the point in my life when I wanted to move forward and take the next step in how I worked and who I wanted to be.
Torment is to be released on February 24th through Metal Blade Records
When listening to the Torment album it almost feels like a comeback album. It feels like you’ve travelled in time, to the Warpath days. Your previous three albums had many melodic elements when Torment has got this heavy, chunky sound with many slowdowns. Was this intentional or did it just happen?
From Jeff side of things, he wrote all the music so I can’t really say where he drew his inspiration and his thought process from. I have only tiny piece of that, I know he knows where I came from and he knows that rhythm structures that I can tap into and do interesting things with vocally. I think for me, it wasn’t intentional. I don’t really think what I’ve done in the past when I sit down to write. I don’t think about that at all. I just want to accommodate the music with the right tone in my head I’m hearing and the right presentation. I know what I wanted to accomplish, I treated each song as I heard it. There was only one way to do it in my head. It’s like when you’re writing the lyrics with the music and the rhythm structure, vocal presentation, it’s almost like you’re not even a part of that, there is something else that is happening there that its very spiritual. I don’t question it so much as I sit back and wonder, I don’t have specific memories of how I did things within any song I’ve written. It’s more coming from somewhere else.
Which studio did you choose to record Torment and who was involved in producing this album?
We did it in our studio for the most part, Jeff wrote everything and recorded the bass and guitars parts in his own studio. I did all my vocal work at the studio here in Seattle. Marco recorded his drums at very famous studio with a great history, I’ve work there on Crypt of the Devil as well, London Bridge studio in Seattle. We mixed it with Zeuss , he worked on the Unborn album with us, which was one my favourite productions we’ve had, it was wonderful getting back with him and I’ve produced the album myself.
With regards to the lyrical concept of Torment, death, murder, gore and killings are the major topics. Where is your inspiration coming from? How do you come up with the ideas for the songs?
It just comes from the music like I was saying before, just taking each song at the time and I guess meditating to the music as I start to figure out what is about, as far as finding the song title and the story line in my own imagination as I feel the energy of the song itself.
Do you get inspired from like day to day stories in the newspapers? There is lot of murders around!
No, not that at all, I just draw my ideas from things I’m experiencing in my imagination.
The artwork cover for the Torment record looks sick. Do you still work with Paul Booth or this time is it someone else?
I haven’t work with Paul Booth since 2001. I worked with a guy called Septian Devenum, he’s a friend of mine and he lives in Indonesia and he’s just an amazing artist. We did some interesting things for this album. I was able to have him to do a piece of work for every song in the booklet through in the album for the CD, so there was lot of fun and work put in together for this one.
Out of your already released records which one was the most ground breaking and most commercially successful for Six Feet Under?
Well, I think the first album was the most ground braking because it was unexpected and the things that happened from that album, the career that was continued and embraced by the fans. It’s surprising that the album that sold probably the least amount is considered the most important. The most commercially successful album, I would think that… Well, it’s kind of a two sided question because you have the older albums that sold a lot but on the other hand you have the newer records that sold initially better and faster from the older ones as they were made in the digital age where download happened and other things. It’s hard to say, in the organic world, probably it would be the Maximum Violence.
Your music catalogue is huge. Is it hard to pick songs for the live shows and which song gives you the most pleasure to perform live?
It is. We have so many albums now and so many songs, we can at least play one from each album (both laugh). During the past couple of tours we did some interesting things, we only played cover songs on one tour plus a few other songs and we did the whole Haunted album live. It’s always cool. I don’t have a favourite really. Do you know what is my favourite? It’s whatever the crowd is enjoying the most that night (laughs).
There are not many bands that release full cover song albums. Most bands have one or two songs as an extra on the special edition of the album but Six Feet Under is doing something different. Where did this idea come from to record all the Graveyard Classics records and how do you come to decision which songs you should cover?
It’s just fun. I think those albums really clear the pallet between the albums, between our original work. It’s cool for us to try do something interesting in our style that I’ve enjoyed listening to when I was growing up, just make something out of that or just songs that I’ve always liked. So picking those songs it’s been pretty much easy, mostly they are personal favourites. On the last one, Brian Slagel picked all the songs for the Graveyard Classics IV. I look to that like bit of inspiration. It made it all just more interesting for me, not having any songs that I did myself so I’ve had to step in to a different way of thinking.
Before you started Six Feet Under you recorded one the most important albums in death metal history with Cannibal Corpse. Could share one story from those days that will stay with you for the rest of your life?
I always find interesting that, not many people know this, but the day I was finished with the lyrics for The Bleeding album was the same day I started to write lyrics for the Haunted. So I started to write those two albums pretty much at the time. It meant something to me at the time so yeah, this is my favourite memory.
In the recent radio interview you’ve stated that, with regards to your past experience with the Cannibal Corpse guys, ‘I just didn’t like being around them‘? Do still hold the grudge against them or you’re more like friends now?
I think, I’ve explained that in the interview. I don’t think that everyone doesn’t like each other. I think we’re all cool. No worries from me (laughs).
So can we expect co-headlining Cannibal Corpse/Six Feet Under tour in the near future?
I’ve already spoken about that but I wouldn’t hold your breath (laughs).
You are a kind of a celebrity in the extreme metal world. How do you cope with being recognised on the streets and asked for a photo? Are you this guy who says ‘yeah it’s fine let’s have a photo together‘ or you say ‘fuck off and leave me alone‘?
I guess it depends on the person and what I’m doing at that point. If someone is a nice person, I don’t have a problem talking to. I think anyone, no matter what they do for the living, doesn’t respond well to a negative energy. I don’t consider myself any different to anyone else, I don’t consider myself a celebrity. If someone wants to talk to me in everyday life they can. Most of my friends are people that I’ve met and they work in the restaurant or supermarket, they’re just normal people. I don’t consider myself as anything else than just a human being.
Did you ever think what would you do for living if you didn’t play and record music? Do you have any hobbies besides the passion for music?
I’ve always liked the stuff to do with cars and things like that. When I was a kid I always wanted to do pretty much simple things. I’ve never wanted to do anything crazy. I think when I was a kid, I wanted to be a bartender or something like that (laughs).
So when can we expect to see you on the road in Europe? Have you got any confirmed tours yet?
Oh yeah, we will be over there pretty soon, hopefully in summer for festivals. I’d love to get to the UK, we haven’t been there for so long. There is such a good fan base for us, I don’t know why we don’t get many offers from there or any festival offers. It would be great to play some of the bigger festivals in the UK.
I hope we can see you at Brutal Assault in Czech Republic again. It’s one of my favourite festivals in Europe. What do you think about this festival?
It’s one of my favourite ones too. I think our sets we played at Brutal Assault before were some of the best, we had some magical moments happening on that stage. Some real good fun and the fans are really into our music. It would be great to play the festival again.
I wish it could happen this year. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Chris, thank you for your time. I wish you all the best with the promotion of the Torment album. Do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share with your UK fans?
I hope to see everyone soon and I hope everyone will enjoy the new album.