March of the vegans
Cattle Decapitation, the San Diego extreme metal- death metal giants have been realising brutal metal albums since they formed and started spreading their message of animal rights and compassion through their lyrics and images to raise awareness. Their music is a solid wall of brutality, aggression, rawness and extreme grindcore. Their live performances are an explosion of power, in your face aggression and relentless energy. We spent some time on the Cattle Decapitation tour bus talking to lead singer, growler and legendary all-around grindcore act Travis Ryan about the band, their new project, a new album and the future.
HMA: Do you have any new material and, planning a new album?
Travis Ryan: We have zero new material, but we’re going to start writing when we get back. We have a tour after this in the States, and then I’d say all next year we’ll be writing. We’re trying to look for a release in 2019 because otherwise, it will have been five years if we go for 2020. We’re shooting for 2019, but we’ll be spending a lot of the year writing. We have tours popping up right now, they’re trying to get us back to Europe next year, but we’re thinking we should buckle down and get this thing going.
HMA: How important is it for you to spread the message through music?
TR: I firmly believe that lyrics and imagery and all that stuff is secondary and music because music to me is music, and all the other thing is just completely secondary. I think when people first started making music they were beating rocks and stuff together and maybe vocalising, but not with any kind of written language necessarily. I feel like if you are going to write something it should be about something. There’s a lot of bands out there that I don’t know what the hell they’re even talking about. I’m not sure what they do, or even if they care, a lot of people just don’t care. Some bands don’t have any lyrics, so they just make noises. I figure that as long as I’m doing this, it should be about something, or it’s just sort of been our take on kind of the stuff we grew up on that was politically-charged, not governmental politics like Megadeth and Nuclear Assault and shit like that. That’s what I grew up on. It just instilled that in me that if you’re going to sing about something it needs to be worth it, if you’re going to write lyrics to something like this maybe make it worth something.
HMA: Has anyone ever came up to you, saying that your music made them more conscious, aware and compassionate about animals?
TR: Yeah, all the time and It’s cool. I just want people to think for themselves. We’ve never tried actively tried changing anybody’s mind about anything.
HMA: Do you have rules for people when they join the band?
TR: We don’t have rules. We maintained a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. A couple of us were vegan at times, and we had a full vegetarian band for, like, at least the first 10 or 12 or so years of its existence, It just happened that way, but we do not impose it on anyone. We just had good luck for a long time.
HMA: Years ago you were featured in PETA, did you chose to collaborate with them and would you do it again if not for them for another animal rights group?
TR: Yeah, when we first came out they did a piece on us. I’m not a huge PETA fan; I think they make a lot of mistakes, they do so many cockamamie fucking ideas. Just ridiculous things sometimes and I feel it goes against the cause and it turns people off. That’s not a good way to represent yourself sometimes. We would collaborate with other animal rights depending on their message, on how they conduct themselves.
HMA: How did you approach writing? And what had changed the most from when you started to now?
TR: Well, that’s a good question because when I first started, it was chaotic. I wrote my lyrics while I was at work, I worked at a record store for the first two records ‘Human Jerky’ and ‘Homovore’. The way we wrote back then was I wrote lyrics, and I fit them to music that they made, so I wrote the lyrics separately just stream of conscious stuff, then, later on, they’d give me the music, and I’d try to see what set of lyrics might fit that song. It was a puzzle, and then I’d have to fill in gaps and fill in parts. Ever since our album ‘To Serve Man’ it’s been completely different. They write the music, they give it to me, and then I write the lyrics to it, which I feel is how it should be. I think there’s a lot of bands out there that would just fit lyrics to songs and that’s why sometimes people have a shitty cadence or just lame phrasing that’s just stupid. I think a lot of punk was maybe written that way. Not that I’m the most complex, but I like a structure.
HMA: You collaborated with Soulfly, how did that came to be and with which artist would you like to collaborate with in the future?
TR: Max Cavelera is awesome. His operation that he has gone with his wife and his kids is awesome. They’re very nice, and they were extremely gracious about everything. He had me write the lyrics, which I thought was cool. I’d rather somebody give me lyrics to write, but I was honoured that he wanted me because that’s an actual collaboration. I’m a lazy bastard, I would instead of the person just give me the lyrics to write, but in this situation it was different, I really appreciated that. That’s the coolest part for me about it is that he gave me the freedom and I was able to complement what they were doing, and he loved it, so I was pretty happy with that. I’ve always been a fan; we also toured with them. Our drummer, Dave, is from Chile, so when he was growing up Sepultura was their Metallica down there so we were just like, “Hell yeah we’ll do a tour with you.”
HMA: How did your journey into metal started and which have been your biggest influences and aspirations?
TR: It’s a funny story because I grew up Catholic. I went to a Catholic school, that’s why I write this fucked up stuff. It was a second grade, which is, like, I guess when you’re in second grade you’re, like, what? Nine? Ten? Something like that. They did this thing called the first communion were you accept the body of Christ, the little wafer on your tongue for the first time and your parents get you a present. They make a deal of it. Well, I took my mom to the record store and bought Quiet Riot’s ‘Metal Health’ and then right after that I got Motley Crüe, and just like that I forget about Jesus. Well, I was always kind of like this religious thing sucks, I did not like being on my knees for three hours doing the rosary, stations of the cross, shit is hell, I mean they put you through hell. Things could be worse, but … I consider myself a metalhead because I grew up that way, but especially back in those it was just like metal was it for me, and I wanted to hear the next heaviest thing. That’s why I’ve ended up doing extreme music, or whatever. I’ve listened. I learned at an early age to listen to all types of music. The first stuff I listened to was Beethoven, I even did an essay about him in school when I was a kid, so I learned a lot about him. I thought it was cool that he defied the odds being deaf and was able to make this beautiful, emotional music on top of it. I saw that kind of emotion in metal, and then there would always be the emotional interludes and stuff like that. It was always a very broad genre to me, but I listened to so much different stuff that when I started working in record stores in the late 90s, I just got turned onto too much different stuff to only listen to metal. Another thing, I don’t like, and It’s nothing against the bands at all, but I don’t like to watch the bands before us when we play live. Because I don’t want to know what, I don’t know. I want to spoil it, I want to go out there with a little more pure mind, I just want to go out there, and before the show, I just want to relax, I like the calm before the storm. I sit backstage with my legs crossed or something after I do stretches I guess.
HMA: Which do you think has been one of the best and most iconic moments in your career?
TR: It would probably be some festival. There are so many little great moments. There’s so many. I think when we first did it a festival season, the festival run. Those times it was just like, “Oh, this is awesome,” or, honestly, for me it’s I never thought I’d say this but to see Europe and Germany especially Germany because they seem to be the ultimate judge and jury of if something’s metal or not. To see them turn around and really start to like us, obviously not as a whole, but to see a lot more people in those territories being into the band that gets so much metal and so much stuff coming through, but for them to actually look at us and latch onto us that makes me really proud. A lot of that maybe has to do with also finally being able to play the festival circuit because I dreamed of that. We all dreamed of playing European festivals. Now that I’ve done it it’s just like, okay, that was weird. I much prefer smaller venues. It’s much more intense. It’s all about the intensity.
HMA: Talk me through your videos and artwork.
TR: When it comes to the artwork I come up with most of the concepts and lyrics and ideas and imagery and all that stuff when it comes to videos I don’t know why but I feel way more willing to give up the reigns artistically to the videographer. I think it’s mostly because I’m lazy like I said earlier. People hit me up. I mean, I had to turn down people sometimes because I’m just like, “I don’t know what I would do with you,” because it has to be a collaboration. I’m not just going to go and give you free reign for the artwork/videos. Don’t get me wrong, once in a while; I’ll see a design and say, “Hey, how much is this?” I’ll take this. Can you add this and this? But that’s rare. We just want I think everything to be kind of proprietary to our band. For the album artwork, those are all my ideas pretty much. The only one that wasn’t was the cow shitting out the human pieces.
HMA: Are there any band that you would like to tour with that you haven’t toured with yet?
TR: We’ve talked about doing some stuff with bands, like this guy from Author & Punisher out of San Diego. It was a weird ambient, like, a noise kind of project thing. I still want to do it; I’d like to do a doom record, something that’s just the complete antithesis of what we are. It would be cool to have Cattle do something like an EP or something like that one day. Will it ever happen? No. We just got so much writing to do. We’ll probably never have the freedom to be able to do whatever we want to like that.
HMA: What’s next for Cattle Decapitation live and in the studio?
TR: Start writing the album is the first thing and hopefully record it. We’re on a cycle, we’ve always been, we learned that from bands like Cannibal Corpse that you got to do it cyclically. You’ve put out an album, and you do the States, you do Europe, and then you do other weird territories in the middle, and then hopefully you write songs I guess in the middle of there. We never seem to be able to get songs together in the middle of there because we’re just busy touring. And we try to change and be cyclical; we’ve always further reached out on the limbs of the tree, further reaching out, pushing, trying to push the boundaries of what can be extreme music, I guess. What’s funny is the second we started writing catchier songs and had vocals that were more melodic, different, separate melodies from this already-catchy thing, that’s when Germany and New York started giving us credit. It seemed like that’s when people started caring a little more about the band out here. I’ve never had more fun with the band until the last seven or eight years musically. To be able just to say, “You know what? Fuck it. We’re getting older and have less and less to lose” the more we gained. Personally, even financially. We’re pretty content and happy with how things are going, and hopefully, it will continue. I know I got some decent ideas for the next record. I’m dying to start writing, and I already have the title and the cover idea for the new album, but it’s going to be awhile, and we got to write the thing first, so we’ll see how that goes. We hope to have spring 2019. Is that going to happen? Who knows? Well, I mean, hopefully, I hope but doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Everything changes. I know that if it came out in the spring, that’d be awesome for us because the spring is a decent time in the States. There are some festivals though popping up in Europe at that time. It’d be nice to do the States in the spring because we try not to tour in the winter. The winters are just too harsh.
HMA: Do you still party a lot when on tour or are you more behaved now?
TR: I’m 42. I’m over it, but there will still be those nights, usually like two nights on a tour where I get fucking shitfaced. Last time I was wasted it was with our buddy John, he does that band Scour with our bass player. He was doing merch for us. It was the last day; the tour was kind of hard and long and stressful. I had drunk wine, beer, and margaritas, which is the stupidest thing you can do. I think I killed almost a whole bottle of wine to myself, but then the beer and other stuff on top of it…forget it! I ended up just smashing into the merch; I was just standing there talking to somebody, which I guess I was annoying. So I decided to run and smash into the merch booth and just completely dive. I ended up cutting myself up. The next morning my shoulder was beaten to shit. I think that might’ve been the night that I- I think that was the night I dropped Danny from Suicide Silence, Danny Kenny, I picked him up, and we fell. That’s where I fucked up my shoulder. I mean, I just smashed my shoulder. He hurt his hand. They were about to play Hawaii for the first time, like, two days later. He’s just like, “Oh, shit. My hand.” He ended up being fine, but my shoulder was done. I don’t remember any of it. I think that might be the last time I’ve gotten that wasted. I try not to do that now; I’m too old for that shit anymore. I do feel that way. I want to be able to put on a decent show. I’m trying to hit pitches and stuff. It’s a bitch doing this kind of stuff while trying to do this kind of vocals.
Interview by Manuela Mattera – Copyright 2018 © Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.