By Aniruddh “Andrew” Bansal
Rejuvenated death metal band Six Feet Under will release their ninth studio album “Undead” very soon, an album that has delivered on all fronts, in my opinion, and the material is as good as anything the band has ever done. The new lineup has injected freshness and fervor into the songwriting, and the result is in front of us, on tunes such as “18 Days”, “Formaldehyde”, “Missing Victims”, and the likes. Judging by the kind of performance the band put on during last year’s Summer Slaughter tour, it’s safe to say that the new songs will make them an even better live band. Today, on May 12th 2012, two hours or so ago, I spoke to vocalist Chris Barnes on a variety of topics including the lineup change, lyrical inspirations, Summer Slaughter, and the reason he really wants to visit India. Read this conversation as Chris speaks his mind, and order the album or visit the band online using the links posted at the bottom.
It’s great to get a chance to talk to you, Chris. How are you doing man?
I’m doing great! What time is it over there?
1 in the morning.
Wow, that’s wild! Actually, we were supposed to go over to India to play a show last year. We tried to book a show but it never came through. But I’d love to go over there, play a show or at least just hang out and eat some good food (laughs).
Well, hopefully it’ll happen soon! We’d love to have you over here. Anyway, your new album is sounding pretty intense. Would you say it’s probably one of the most aggressive albums you have done, at least in a long time if not ever?
Yeah, yeah. I always think whatever we put together is good, and I’m really proud of everything. But this one is pretty special for me, I think. The whole process of writing and recording was so amazing, and working with Rob Arnold, Kevin Talley, Steve Swanson and a couple of other people that I worked with. It was such a great writing experience that something really exciting was bound to come out of it. I surrounded myself with some really amazing writers this time.
Absolutely. Well, I’ve been following you on twitter, and you’ve been interacting with the fans a lot. They give you their opinion and you retweet it, and stuff like that. So, do you think you get more of a direct feedback these days as compared to the age before twitter?
Well, I was still very active when Myspace was big and all that. I didn’t really give much time to the Facebook stuff, but yeah. Ever since day 1, a lot of people criticized me, saying things like how I don’t like to sign autographs and stuff that. I guess that a lot of those times they caught me on a bad night or something. But, going back to the beginning of this band, during the time we released the Warpath album, we had a fanclub. I used to respond to fans by mail, personally. I got hundreds and hundreds of fan letters that I would write back and spend time on them myself. I still run into some of the people who wrote to me back then, and one of them said to me, “Hey, I remember in ’98, you wrote me a letter back when I wrote to you.” That was the most amazing thing, and I still have that letter. People come up to me at shows and show me those letters, you know, still to this day. And it means a lot. I remember doing that, and this [twitter] is just another new way of talking to the people that really mean the most as far as the music goes. I like talking to them, man. For me it’s fun. If I act like a dipshit at times, it’s just because I’m a real person like anyone else, and when fans understand that, they find out that I’m real, you know. I actually enjoy listening to what they have to say. I can’t reply to everybody, but I do as much as I can.
That’s amazing, man. I’m sure all the fans are glad that you do it. You mentioned the members of the new lineup. I think that’s made a pretty big difference, specially Rob Arnold coming in on guitar and bass.
To work with Rob has been amazing. It really wasn’t anything to do with the fact that Rob already has a great fan base. That was not even a question in my mind when I wanted to work with him. It was really when I worked with him in 2005, when we were on a tour where Six Feet Under opened for Chimaira, we became really good friends, and even Matt, Kevin, Mark and all of the guys in the band. At the end of that tour, myself, Kevin, Matt and Rob gave each other a hug, and we were like, let’s work together sometime, do a side project or something. It was such a blast, and it’s been a long lasting friendship. We didn’t talk all the time but we definitely cross paths, and Rob was always the first guy at the back of my head as a writer, as someone I wanted to write with, just because of the things we talked about and how enthusiastic he was to meet me and how he’s been a fan of the music all these years growing up. He’s a very honest person. I could tell that he’s a very real person, and there’s nothing hidden in him. He does what he wants to do and I respect that so much. This guy knows my background. He knows what I’m about, and it was immediate when we started writing together as to how much we were in tune with each other. While writing the music, he was very conscious of my vocal parts and what I do. It’s been a really refreshing experience working with him and Kevin on the album.
That’s great to hear. So, last year you did the Summer Slaughter tour across North America, and you toured with a bunch of bands who play new styles of extreme metal these days. Some of them headlined over you. Was it a challenge to go out there and win new fans on every night of that tour?
Well, it was a challenge but it was pretty awesome. Because yeah, as you said, there were a lot of new fans who had probably never heard of us and never gave us much thought. But I think once they saw us, they enjoyed it and I think we gained some new fans, and some fans of those other bands crossed over to us a little bit after seeing what we were doing on that tour. I enjoyed the hell out of that tour. It was one of the greatest tours I’ve been involved with.
Six Feet Under has invariably played a slower, more groovy style of death metal. Do you think that separates you from the other bands that started out around the same time as when Six Feet Under did?
Yeah, probably. We’ve always been kind of different in how we approached things. We’ve not really tried to write a new style of music. We just write what sounds cool, for us anyway. I work closely with the other guys in the band and write what makes most sense to me as far as the lyrics and the vocals go. So, the guys that I have writing music for me in myband have always laid the foundation of it all.
Right, and because of the brutality of the music, does that put pressure on you as a lyricist, to come up with stuff that is as intense as the music itself?
Well, I won’t call it pressure at all. I really never stress about it, and I never worry about it. It’s more like excitement to me. To me it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be fucking badass!’ It’s challenging to me, but it’s never any kind of pressure or anything. But as a writer and as a vocalist, I just tend to run with emotions. I’m not the kind of guy to sit and do the same things that I’ve always done for every single album. I mean, it’s so predictable and so boring to do it that way. I like to keep myself guessing and searching for something that satisfies me, and being surrounded by guys like Rob Arnold and Steve has really helped me to get to that place. All I want to be, really, is in this inner state of pushing myself and try to match the great fucking talent that I have around me. I have to do the best I can, because they are 110 per cent on top of it. So I enjoy pushing myself to the limit. When you’re writing and singing based on the strength of the kind of catalyst that’s provided by such great writing partners, it really makes you focus.
Right, exactly. You did an interview with Metal Blade Records a couple of years ago, in which you talked in-depth about horror movies and your opinions on those kind of movies. So, would you say that it’s an absolute must for a death metal lyric writer to watch horror movies?
I don’t take inspiration from movies, ever. A lot of people think that I do, and I don’t know where that ever came from. But I’m really not that keen on watching horror movies. They aren’t really any good ones these days. I’ve seen most of the ones that I wanted to see, numerous times. I’m just a fan of movies and I like filmmaking as far as the storytelling aspect of it, and I just really enjoy a well-written script, book or something like that.
What inspires you to write lyrics then? Is it just your personal experiences or anything other than that?
What inspires me is the music that I’m presenting me. The music itself actually takes me on a journey in my mind, along with the meditative use of cannabis. To me that’s really how I involve myself with inspiration. I go within my own mind and it’s transcendental in some ways. It’s like over there, man. The Sadhus sitting there are looking for messages in the smoke. That’s what I’m doing, except that instead of looking for messages in the smoke, it’s the smoke in my mind and I’m looking for the messages through there, on that journey with the music.
I’m glad I asked you that. But at the beginning you said that you tried to book an India show and it didn’t work out. For fans over here who are reading this interview, can we expect to see you guys here any time soon?
Yes, you can expect us, I think next year sometime. We’ll try to book something and it’ll be part of a world tour where we’ll make sense of it by stringing it along with stops in other parts of South-east Asia possibly, and may be Maldives and stuff like that. We’re trying to make all that happen because it’s really something that I want to do, because, not to sound like a cheesy tourist or something, but a lot of the things that I’ve become interested in is through the spirituality that’s evolved from India. So I’m very interested in coming there.