In-Depth Interview With Cattle Decapitation Frontman Travis Ryan

By Aniruddh “Andrew” Bansal

San Diego-based deathgrind masters Cattle Decapitation recently released their seventh studio album “Monolith Of Inhumanity” via Metal Blade Records, a killer album without doubt. Almost immediately after the album’s release, they went on a North American tour with Origin, Decrepit Birth, Aborted and Battlecross, as the main support act to Origin on that lineup. Now, the band is gearing up to go on another massive tour, this time taking part in the Shockwave Tour featuring Fear Factory, Voivod, Misery Index, Havok and The Browning. A couple of days ago, I caught up with vocalist Travis Ryan to talk about the new album, the Origin tour, Shockwave Festival, and various other topics. He was very insightful and candid, as he always is, and it was great talking to him. Read the conversation below, check out the single off of the new album using the YouTube player near the bottom, and visit the band’s facebook page for more info on tour dates and album order links.

I’ve always loved the album covers Cattle Decapitation have put out, and I think the cover artwork for “Monolith Of Inhumanity” is probably the best one since “Humanure”. Would you say it’s a good representation of the band and the music on the album?

Yeah, but it’s kind of more conceptual. It requires some explanation to somebody looking at it with the naked eye, I would think. I guess in that respect, do does the music, for people wondering how or why we’ve changed our sound or whatever, or how we’ve stepped it up. I don’t think it’s so much of a changed sound, but it’s more to do with the approach towards songwriting you could say. I think in that respect, it’s progressed from previous albums in the same way as the cover. And a lot of people are picking up on that, which is cool.

Some of the song titles on this album, like “A Living, Breathing Piece Of Defecating Meat”, “Projectile Ovulation” and “Lifestalker” really grab attention. How much time did you spend on coming up with those?

Actually, that’s something which is an ongoing process. I basically have a file of future song titles that I’m going to use one day. I just kind of keep it all collected, and use stuff that makes sense. Titles are being constantly taken away from and added to my collection. The titles always come first, and then I write the lyrics to those after the guys start giving me some music to write to. That’s pretty much how it works.

In terms of the music on the album, you said that it’s more of a changed approach. I think the music has come out more intense and straightforward as compared to some of your recent albums. It’s not as technical, I’d say. Would you agree with that?

I think it’s just put together I little better. Usually, I don’t really feel like we don’t enough time to write. We had a year to do this one, but we did it at a slower pace. We did about the same amount of writing that we do in five or six months usually, but had to do it at a slower pace because of the way everybody’s jobs were conflicting with each other and stuff like that. We all have regular day jobs and it’s just a pain in the ass to keep it going and make things happen. But we manage to somehow sling it and pull it off. It was just a lot of elbow grease as far as scheduling and stuff like that. I think may be because we did it at a slower pace, it gave us more time to decide whether or not we liked certain parts of whatever. I think that helped a lot.

That’s interesting. Because this slower pace of writing has clearly helped you with this album, do you think you’ll take more time with future albums also?

Yeah, who knows. We don’t write on the road and we never have a tour bus. So it’s not like we can sit there and write all day, sip coffee and have a nice time (laughs). We bust our asses when we’re out there on the road. It’s kind of a pain in the butt, but we’re probably always going to write the same way where we just come home from tour supporting a whole album, and then just sit back, write the new record and do it in a cycle like that instead of constantly writing and putting the songs together. Although I think everybody has already started getting at least the riffs together, so may be it won’t take so long next time (laughs).

I think straight after the album came out, you went on tour with Origin. How much of this album were you able to play on that tour?

A majority of our set was the new album stuff. At this point, we’d rather play the new stuff more so than the old stuff. We’re just kind of bored with the old shit. We’ve had the same set for a long time too, so we kind of needed to switch that up a little. We added a couple of old ones that we haven’t been doing in a while, took a couple away that we’ve been playing for like eight years, and we just want to play more new stuff than anything else. We feel our new material is more fun for us to play. If we’re having a good time, we sound better and people have a better time as a result. So while we try to play the new stuff as much as possible, without bumming anybody out in case they’re not familiar with it and they want to hear more of the old stuff. Luckily though, when we did play the new stuff, people were responding even better to it than they did to the old songs. They just seemed very happy that we were playing new songs instead of the same old shit, I guess (laughs).

Before the tour, how do you identify what songs you’re going to play? Is it something you know when you’re writing the songs?

Yeah, there’s definitely some stuff that while we’re writing we go, ‘We’re gonna have to play this live’. I think we kind of make mental notes of that all the time. We try to get a good variety of stuff for the set list instead of stuff that sounds the same. Like for example there’s a couple of really heavy groove-oriented songs on the album, so we try to not play both of those in the same set, or back to back. So we just try to keep a good variety of songs, in an order that has a good flow. We pay more attention to the way a set flows, at least we try to, rather than which songs we want to play. Sometimes that doesn’t even get figured out until you’re on stage for a few shows, and then you decide to switch things up.

Yeah, obviously a live set is a mix of old and new songs, but these days a lot of bands are playing full albums to celebrate an anniversary or something like that. I have mixed feelings about that, because an album is not usually written to be played live in its entirety. What’s your opinion on that?

Yeah that’s the thing … it’s a tough balance, because we don’t really write stuff to appeal to anybody except for ourselves (laughs). I do try to keep in mind what the kids want to see while we’re writing, but it’s not our main focus. We don’t really write stuff that’d make people go crazy when we play it live, I think. Luckily, some stuff just gets transferred over to being stuff that people can freak out about in the live situation. So, we just write stuff that we kind of want to hear, and luckily people are into it, you know. At least some people. Not everybody (laughs).

You have the Shockwave tour coming up very soon. It’s a huge bill, including the likes of Fear Factory, Voivod, Misery Index, Havok and a few other bands. You must be looking forward to that.

Yeah! They just dropped a few bands which actually might make things a little smoother and easier to deal with, to be honest, because there are so many 10,12 and 15-band packages going around these days and they’re not exactly doing very well (laughs). To be honest, we’re already worried that this one might be kind of too much. So it looks like they changed it a little, but it’s still going to be a good tour. There’s a lot of good bands, and we’re looking forward to going out with Fear Factory. I’ve always been a fan of theirs. A few years ago, I really liked their first couple of records. So that’ll be really cool. Same with Voivod, and it should be awesome touring with them. And we’ve been friends with Misery Index for a long time, so we’re looking forward to touring with them too. They’re always cool dudes. We love those guys.

You said that a lot of these tours are multi-band packages. In what ways does it affect you as a band on such a tour? What are the negatives associated with being on a 10-band package?

We’ve got to be there extremely early. Merchandise booths get taken out if you’re not there at a certain time, and that kind of shit happens. You better have a really good tour manager. That’s another big thing, because tour managers can make or break a tour like that, when you have a ton of bands and they have to watch after all of them. If they suck, then the tour’s going to falter from that, or at least for some of the bands individually. It’s also a little more expensive for promoters, and we don’t really want to see anybody lose their ass. We want people be happy as far as that goes. So there’s a few weird things that go along with a multi-band package tour. Having to wait so long to play is another pain in the ass, and just having to be there at a super early time. If it’s just a regular three or four-band package we won’t have to be there till 5 or 6. But now we’ve got to be there at noon. That’s a big fucking difference when you have to drive ten hours from the last show, you know. It’s a huge pain in the ass, when you are doing it the way we are. If we were on a tour bus, you wouldn’t be hearing me complain, but unfortunately we don’t feel like shelling out all the money that we’re going to make, so we can have a tour bus. We have a different work ethic, I guess.

Right, but other than these big tours you’ve always been doing local headline shows in San Diego. Do you have any of those coming up for your hometown fans?

We did a bunch of shows during our off time last year. But we’re going to be doing so much touring for the rest of this year that we’ll probably come through San Diego and they’re going to see us all the time anyway. So we probably won’t be doing local headline shows for a while, just because we’ll be touring. And when we’re not touring, we’re going to be home taking it easy, or being at work. Pretty much being at work, busting our ass and trying to make money.

You mentioned that all of you have jobs. Whenever I hear that from any band, it makes me curious about how you get to take so much time off from your jobs, to do long tours. How does that work? Are your employers cool with it all the time?

Luckily they are! I mean, I’m self-employed so I don’t have to worry about it, but the other guys have regular jobs. Dave [McGraw, drummer] works at a drum store, so they are used to dealing with musicians in bands and them taking time off and all that stuff. The other guys are just waiting for the one day when they can’t do this band anymore, and luckily that day hasn’t come yet (laughs). We’ll see what happens. It is something that we’re kind of constantly worried about, but it’s pretty much a new development for a couple of us. There’s always been at least one guy who’s been complaining about having to leave the job and then come back. Sometimes they don’t have a job when they come home. For our first ever US tour, I had to quit my job, a job that I loved. A lot of people I’ve known, seen and talked to over the years lost their band members to jobs that weren’t even anywhere near as cool as the one I had. So I was like, shit. All this time I felt bad about quitting my job, but I found out that people leave their jobs all the time. So it’s just something that you have to do, I guess. But luckily, we haven’t had to do that in a long time.

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