CATTLE DECAPITATION’S TRAVIS RYAN: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
One thing has been made abundantly clear to me in conducting and writing up this interview: Cattle Decapitation is a multifaceted entity and a force to be reckoned with far beyond the realm of grind. The issues they bring to light, whether you realize it or not, delve far deeper than those who pigeonhole them as “vegan grindmasters” would have you believe. At their core, they touch on issues overwhelmingly human in nature, be it the suffering and despair we endure or the corruption and in turn eventual extinction of our species. As much as I would have loved to wax poetic about the evils of factory farming and the meat industry as a whole, frontman Travis Ryan insists that though such subjects remain important and worth discussing, there are bigger proverbial fish to fry.
With their most recent album, Monolith of Humanity (out now on Metal Blade), the band is breaking new ground and reaching wider audiences. Maybe this is due in part to the production quality of the album, or as Ryan humbly guesses, just a “happy accident.” Whatever the reason, the recognition is well deserved. After over fifteen years of churning out gut wrenchingly brutal and provoking deathgrind, Cattle Decapitation are making it glaringly obvious that they are in no way ready to halt production, or attempt to slow down. Even with the cancellation of the Shockwave Festival, which was announced after this interview was conducted, the band still has plenty on the horizon. I can’t imagine such a minor setback (in the scheme of things) would hinder the inner workings of a band with such integrity.
Was there an overall theme you wanted to present on Monolith of Inhumanity that was present on past albums or was it an entirely new experience?
Well, you always want to keep things new and fresh as far as an overall idea goes for each album; it’s always going to be different. With Monolith, there is an underlying depravity and despair and depression or lack of hope, but that goes along with every theme we’ve come up with, or every record we do – it’s always misanthropic. It’s always gonna be that way and its always been that way. So, there’s of course a continuance of that. As far as the idea: it doesn’t much play off of other albums. Like on The Harvest Floor we talk about rounding up everybody in the world and systematically destroying them and all of the human race. This is more of like “Well, if this doesn’t happen and if things don’t change, this is how we’re gonna end up.” It’s more of an environmental record, than anything.
I know you guys have done a couple records with Billy Anderson, Was there a reason you went from recording with him to Dave Ottero this time around?
Oh yeah, we love Billy! It was a hard call. For the band, though, there was just thing overwhelming, nagging feeling of “Don’t you think we should try something new?” Just as a way of moving forward, and progressing. I personally am not a fan of change I like to keep things simple, just for the sake of ‘no drama’ to just not try something new – but that’s just me personally and we as a band don’t work like that. For the four of us, the overall opinion was ‘You know, let’s try something new and see what Dave Ottero can do.” We had heard his work with Cephalic Carnage – I had actually done guest parts on a couple Cephalic Carnage Records – so I’d kind of already seen how he works on a very minute level. And it turned out I didn’t even get a taste at all of what it was really like to work with him until we really got in there.
Billy is fun as hell to work with and Dave… isn’t, so much? [laughs]. I mean – it’s not horrible! And yeah, he’s fun to work with but at the same time, that’s not what we were looking for. We were looking for someone to whip us into shape, get our asses in gear. We had a feeling that we had an ass kicking coming to us so we were kinda prepared for that and ready to try that approach instead of working with someone who’s very experimental, and wants to work with us on an experimental level and go with a guy who’s gonna crack a whip instead.
In regard to that, your album has been out almost two months now and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Do you think that was potentially because of this change in production, where you’re moving as a band, or both?
It’s definitely a combination of both, but – I almost feel like some people who felt so strongly against us and some of our previous material that there’s a certain quality in the new album that appealed to them, for whatever reason, and of course still appeals to people who have always really liked our band. So, I think that definitely helped things a lot, it maybe helped peoples perception of us. I mean, I don’t really feel that way, like it was so much of a stretch. It just seems like these days everyone is a music aficionado. We’ve got people on the Facebook page saying things like “Yeah, on this record I can really hear the high hat!” – shut up, dude! When did everybody become a fucking engineer? I don’t get it – when I was growing up I don’t remember listening to any bands and thinking ‘Ugh, this recording is atrocious!” Maybe I was just ignorant to it, I don’t know. I just don’t think it was that much of a jump where haters are now gonna be fans, that’s just weird. Obviously I’m glad, it’s great we made that kind of impact, but – I don’t know. I think people pay a lot of attention to mundane details. At the same time, and I don’t want to take anything away from Dave, but I think it was just kind of a happy accident. So, we’ll probably end up going in with him again and maybe try to recreate that – well, but still trying something new and pushing the boundaries a little further. I know a lot of people are tripping out on the vocals and the addition of melody to what would usually be rather abrasive; that’s something I’ve worked on for a long time and have tried to integrate it slowly. Hearing fans reactions to The Harvest Floor, at least as far as the vocals go, and I guess even as far as the music too, I’ve heard people say “Dude, do more music like this, do more epic riffs” and all that. So with this album I figured I’d just go all in. So, it’s good to see people reacting positively. Of course, there are those people saying “I don’t know what to make of it… it’s different! Whatever”! So, maybe this will be my little contribution to extreme music that will be looked at differently later on.
The video for “Kingdom Tyrants” is pretty intense, and pretty long. Did that idea come more from you guys, the director, or what?
I pretty much just went to the director, Mitch [Massie] and said “Okay: here are the lyrics, and here’s the theme to the album”. I don’t think we even had the album artwork yet, but I sent that to him too as soon as we got it. I just told him “This is where we’re going. You don’t need to reproduce everything that’s on the cover, but I trust you can come up with something.” I had seen what he’s done with friends videos and I just thought, “This is the guy – his stuff is fucked up and amazing even with limited resources, let’s just throw it in this guys lap.” We were in the studio – well, I went into the studio with lyrics to one song done, which I never fucking do. I’m always super prepared, but leading up to recording was just hell. We were working on getting ready to record this album and I was working on an album with my other band Murder Construct at the same time, it was just a little inconvenient so I was just like “Okay, I know this guy can do it [the video] so I’ll just throw it in his lap and he’ll take care of it”. I didn’t know he was going to do that good of a job. I gave him a few directors names as a reference of what kind of style we wanted done; bleak, despair, catastrophic – that kind of sense, and he was right there with me, on the same page. And he gave us a work of science fiction! When I saw the treatment for it I was just kinda like “Okay, maybe this guy isn’t the one” it was just so off the wall and so bizarre – I kinda called him out on it, like “You cannot let this be cheap. I will not put my name on something that’s cheap.” And he said “All I can say is don’t worry about it.” I don’t know how he did it, but when I saw the first few frames watching it for the first time – just judging by the quality, I knew that the rest of it had to be good. I couldn’t even blink for the first two minutes watching it. You know, when you create a piece of art and elaborates on it in a way that you did not expect, or feel that you’re even worthy of – not to demean my work or my friends’ work – it just seemed so out of our reach when I saw it and I just thought “Wow – this is a force to be reckoned with.” Then the record came out and the overall feeling was that people were really into it and you just feel like “Wow, we are worthy of it, and this is how things are supposed to go.” So that made us feel good – that we did something right, we came out with something we’re happy with and, really, our opinion matters first. I almost hate to say that, but that’s how you have to be. If you want to have any kind of integrity at all, you have to stand behind your own work, your art.
We’re actually going to do another video with him soon, and the concept is kinda gonna be “Fuck art. Let’s bum people out.” So we’re excited for that.
For Monolith? Are you able to tell us what track, or…?
Eh, I don’t wanna give it away yet, I have a tendency to do that [laughs]. I always seem to let things out way too soon and then when it comes time for something to come out or premiere it’s just old hat. That’s one thing I think we did well with this album, we kept a majority of the stuff close to our chest and didn’t leak anything too early.
I’ve personally always wanted to ask you guys this, only because I’m very pro animal rights as well as vegetarian, myself – does the band ever get sick of getting the vegetarian/vegan connotation when your name comes up or is it more a source of pride for you?
I just get tired of seeing people’s interpretations. Or opinions. What they think we’re talking about, what they think we do. It’s gotten to the point where I almost feel like we need to tell an interviewer “Just don’t bring it up!” because most of the time they don’t get it, they just don’t fucking get it. I’d rather have people read the lyrics. I get a kick out of comments people leave on message boards or youtube or whatever, because they just fucking get it wrong. They think we’re militant vegan Nazis and – we just fucking aren’t and we never have been. There’s just a big difference between somebody like me or Josh, we’re the only vegetarians left in the band, the other guys were hired on non-vegetarian; it’s not a prerequisite for this band. We talk about a whole hell of a lot more than animal rights, or lack thereof. At the end of the day, animals don’t have rights. We have laws set in place to protect animals, or certain species, but still they unfortunately don’t have rights. It’s a touchy subject. I feel that they should have every right that we do, but because we are the most advanced and most intelligent species on the planet, all of that goes out the window. So instead we created things like factory farming, and even the simple day to day things like having a pet – I think there should be a license to have one, I think there should be stricter laws in that regard. I just personally feel very strongly about animal rights and I think the main consensus of what people think we are is what we touched on on our first two records which came out in the late 90’s. So, it’s been a long time and really, we talk about a lot of stuff. The one thing that gets old is the way people handle it, the way people perceive it, and I can’t change that – all I can do it reiterate what I personally feel, and what we really are. And people will keep getting it wrong. I literally see it – I’ll say in an interview what I’m telling you right now and on paper, or online it’ll start out with “Vegan grind warriors Cattle Decapitation rah rah rah…” [laughs] And I’m just like “Is anyone fucking listening to me?” It gets old! So yeah, that’s the part of it that gets to me. It’s kind of hypocritical too, to think about such things and not wanna talk about it at all – I guess it’s really not like that. Sometimes just the way it’s brought about… it’s just kind of pointless. It’s not just bare bones, it’s more complicated than that but it’s what people want. I think it should be on more of a case by case basis, that’s the only way to combat ignorance – otherwise, everyone feels the exact same way and there’s no room for growth, no room for conversation. The list goes on and on.
There’s always been the metaphors for the destruction of the human race. Plus, my penchant for animal rights and other forms of life that have been shit on by humans, other things that we do wrong. There’s just all sorts of stuff that we talk about and again, I urge people to read the lyrics before they pass any kind of judgment based on what other people have told them. Really, what happens when you’re a band on this level, myths or rumors get perpetuated – someone says one thing and it gets turned into something entirely different by the time it comes around. What’s that game, that’s like that, you say one thing…
Yeah! You know what I’m talking about? It’s frustrating that that’s how people work, but that’s just the nature of society, I guess.
So, to completely change the subject, how did your involvement in the Death to All Tour come about?
A good buddy of mine is one of the key players in the creation of the project – my buddy Anton – he had been a big champion for us for a long time. So he was putting this together and called me a couple months ago asking me to do guest vocals and I was like “Are you fucking kidding me?” It ended up being just one track, which I was kind of thankful for because I’m kind of a stickler for making lyrics decipherable and recognizable – so that meant I would have to know the lyrics. Even if it’s all unintelligible, gutteral noises I still keep the lyrics in mind while trying to verbalize those lyrics. So, this was like – I mean, I listened to Death just as much as the last big fan but remembering word for word, that’s a different thing. The one song I did know word for word was “Living Monstrosity,” and when I asked what was going on and they told me I’d only be doing the one song I immediately thought “Please let it be ‘Living Monstrosity’, please say they’re doing that song.” So I ask what songs are open and they say “Alright, let’s see…” He starts reading them off and right off the bat says “Living Monstrosity” and I’m just like “I’LL DO IT!” So, I got that one right off the bat, lucked out there. There would have been a few others that I would be comfortable doing, but I would’ve had to do a bit more research. I didn’t want to go up there and just bluff and shit, it wouldn’t be respectful to Chuck [Schuldiner] in spirit, I think he would respect that. So that’s how that came about, it was a pretty amazing night. I’ve been a huge fan of Cynic, literally one of the best shows I’ve seen in my entire life was them in 1994 on the Focus tour, and I’ve been wanting to tell them that for years and just to say “thank you” for bringing Cynic back because that was one of the bands for the last 20 or so years that I was just like “Please, rear your head again” and they really did, with a vengeance. So I got to say “thank you.” Then, to go out there and jam with Steve DiGiorgio and Gene Hoglan and my buddy Matt Harvey [Exhumed] and Charles Elliot [Abysmal Dawn] – just the fact that I got to be a part of that was really, really special.
Do you have any other plans in the works, other than the “secret” video?
We’re doing a couple European festivals, which is new for us, I think we’re doing one or two over there. Then right after that we’re doing Puerto Rico for the first time, which should be interesting. Other than that, we’re trying to iron out new management – or management, period because we’re never really had that. Hopefully Australia, South America, just more international. Hopefully do another North American tour. Really, we don’t have any say it comes down to what our booking agent wants us to do, but hopefully we’ll get to hit some of the southern states. In the past we’ve neglected Texas and Florida big time and those are our – I hate to use the word “markets,” it sounds so cheesy, but – places where we do well. So, hopefully we can get down to spots like those rather than hitting the same places over and over again. We want to do less US tours and more international though, to be honest, just to get out there as much as possible. For one thing, we’re watching all our friends bands do it and we’re kinda just like “Hey, I wanna go to Israel! I wanna got to South Africa, come on!” But, we’re all getting older – we’ve all got limited time on this earth, you’ve gotta make the most of it, you know?