Josh Elmore of Cattle Decapitation [2016]

I talked to Cattle Decapitation’s guitarist Josh Elmore on the band’s European tour in support of Suffocation on March 22nd in Copenhagen, Denmark. We talked about their upcoming music video, expectations for their next album, and the solo on Clandestine Ways, among other things.

I remember reading an interview with Travis a long while ago – several years – where he said that it had taken a while to release Monolith of Inhumanity and he was hoping that the band could release the next album a bit quicker but it ended up taking about the same amount of time. Why is that?

I think at the time he said that it was more of a momentum thing. Maybe we were seeing some positive response and we kind of got into a groove with writing. I think the ideal was to continue that. [The writing process] did happen the same way, it’s just that the timing got extended – you know, life happens in between writing. People had things come up. It didn’t leave the band on hiatus, it just took a little longer than we’d hoped. At the same time, we were happy with the outcome, so it worked out for the best.

Obviously all of us would like to say, “I’d like to do same thing, keep whittling down time for the next [record],” but who knows how we’ll feel when we’re done with this tour cycle. We could be like, “eh, let’s take a few months to stare at the wall.” We’ll see.

You have a new music video in the works. What can we expect?

The gentleman responsible is Mitch Massie, who did the three videos for Mono. It’ll be consistent with his style.

So you’re going for a theme, like in the previous three videos?

Yeah, yeah. He sent us his full rundown of his idea for how the video would go and it’s typical for him – extremely detailed. Even if it’s not super-big sequences on every element with the outlines, you do see touches of [the idea]. Everything is in there.

We filmed our part – the performance portion – back in October, and he finally was able to start working on it in February. Maybe when we get back we’ll see a 10-second snippet or something. He had mentioned that he wanted to get into doing short films as opposed to music videos so this might be – for now – his last hurrah so he wanted to make this the, “Oh shit,” end of everything. From what we’ve been told, it’ll have the gore element to it but it’ll also have the more artsy element, which I’m totally fine with. I don’t think he necessarily is setting out to outdo Forced Gender Reassignment or whatever.

As a follow-up to that, I heard that there was a music video done for Pacific Grim that you were trying to do with [a different director] but it didn’t pan out.

Originally Mitch had decided he was done with bands. So in the interim we were like, “well, we have to have a video for album release,” so we talked to this other fellow and we’d seen some of his past work and it was good. Granted, to get the things we wanted conveyed in our video, even though it’s one of the longer songs, it’s hard. We didn’t want it to be the typical metal video where there’s a beginning, a bunch of nonsense, and then an end and he knew that but it didn’t end up being that way at all, that version. There were concepts that weren’t what we were really looking for. The cinematography looked fantastic. We saw the first 10 seconds of the opening sequence and it was like, “Holy shit, this is gonna be gnarly.” And then it got into it and it was like “well, what about… why is it….” which I know can be nitpicky but at the end of the day we [wanted] something that could fully represent our song as a concept we felt and it didn’t embody that to us.

Next few questions are about your music. I’ve heard one of you [say] that some of the evolution in your music is due to the band getting older and having less and less to lose. I’d counter and say, isn’t part of that experience as well?

I know Travis has said that, but I think that’s not necessarily the case now. I think we’ve built a little bit so now I feel like we do have more to lose, but I think people have kind of come to expect us to not… care about that. We have more to lose, but let’s not care less, let’s feel free to go directions other bands in the genre – or [we] – previously wouldn’t have. And that might be okay – might – but every time we do it, it’s like, “well….”

You have to see what happens.

Right. We’ve barely talked about what to do for the next record. I’m sure everyone has their own individual idea of where they’d like to go. Myself, I don’t want to take a dramatic turn, but at the same time, I don’t want to be like, “oh this worked out pretty good the last couple of records” and settle for that. Whatever it ends up being, we have to do something that ends up defining the next record from the previous. I don’t mean anything stupid stylistically, but there are gonna be some things we’ll do that’ll make it distinct from [our] previous work.

And considering that – and this is another thing I read a while ago – when you finished Monolith, Travis already had the idea planned out for the album that turned out to be The Anthropocene Extinction, are we going to be able to expect something different just because it’s going to maybe be more spur-of-the-moment?

It’s almost to the point where there’s a coast now. Where do you go from here? It has to almost be like this sort of black-like nothing. But how do you write songs about that without being fully conceptual? I don’t know where we’re going to go with the subject matter. I’m sure [Travis] will come up with something. I think it’s part of the musical aspect to come up with something that’s gonna be engaging, interesting, and have really cool artwork. We could do a sort of “Dead Earth” kind of theme but you don’t have humanity being the antagonist, so then what do you do? We’ve got some work ahead [laughs].

Clearly. On this album, there are two bonus tracks [Cannibalistic Invasivorism and No Light and No Life]. What decides which of the tracks you write make it onto the final album and which ones become bonus tracks?

It all depends what our engineer/producer Dave Otero – that we’ve used on the past couple of albums – says. Obviously it’s ultimately up to us but usually members will be like – not that it’s bad – “I don’t like my performance on this song.” With the past couple of records, we’ve been fortunate that the bonus tracks, I think, have been just as good as some of the songs on the record. It’s kind of like flipping a coin – you’re good either way. Like on Monolith, I really like An Exposition of Insides, it just didn’t make it onto the record for whatever reason – maybe there was a song that has similar elements. We second-guess ourselves all the time so maybe that’s part of the reasoning too.

I think it maybe sounds a bit like Gristle Licker, but that’s just me. Second part of the question is: isn’t [having two bonus tracks] also a reflection of being more prolific or having more ideas for this album?

Yeah, we have two bonus tracks and there’s actually another track – that we’ve never released – that’s a cover which may or may not come out, I don’t know. So there are actually three songs that haven’t been released, which was a lot of “how many extra days at the studio is this?” But maybe that is the case. It’s good to have extra stuff for like the Decibel singles or as a Japanese bonus tracks that you’re always supposed to have since the CD’s cost so much there.

The one serious criticism of the band that I’ve heard is the very sanitized, perfect production style with the flawless guitars and punchy triggered drums, which leads to some of the character to be sapped out of the performances on the album. And while I feel your new record is a bit more organic with, for example, the raspy vocals soaring over the mayhem and heavier, groovier riffs, it’s still polished. Do you think that’s necessary for your albums to sound coherent?

Well, yeah, I can see that. There’s so much going on in certain points that you need that sort of surgical pickiness to it. You have to commit [to] one way or another. Maybe I want to hear something more raw and noisy. At this point, there’s a certain extent to which you can’t go back. There are bands that have super raw-sounding records that I love but [that] would never work for us in a million years. Then again, there are records that I hear that I think are so insanely polished it makes ours sound like four-track records. I can see people who are more grind-oriented saying, “what’s that, it’s all triggers,” but there are other people that say it just sounds like a grind record. You’re never going to please everyone, but the thing is that it’s all us playing those instruments – there’s no faked anything. There are certain bands where every note is punched in, every lead is done at half-speed – it sounds like it’s a keyboard doing everything. [If we did that] I would be like, “Well, guilty, but, uh, it sounds good.” But it’s us playing, is all I can say. It may not be the first take, but there’s no cheating or anything like that.

Second part of that question is: do you think you provide a contrast to that your live performances?

We try to be as tight as we possibly can, but with the spontaneity and chaos of [playing] live it’s gonna have to happen, it’s gonna be a little different – a little more raw. It is what it is – Travis is up there flailing around, and him being able to hit every note and pitch isn’t going to happen, it’s not human. We just try to do the best with the instrumentation that we can. As long as people don’t feel shorted, like it’s missing all these bells and whistles that the record had because, really, the record didn’t have that many layers. The keyboard track is not there, the ambient filler stuff is not there. Yeah, the guitars are double-tracked on the record and there’s vocal layering here and there, but aside from that, no instruments are missing live.

This one’s kind of a personal question for me: in my opinion, the solo on Clandestine Ways is maybe the bands best,

Oh, wow. Okay.

So I have to ask, was there anything different in the writing process for that solo?

I had an idea for how it begins. What I do is I write phrases at once and then put them together and “eh, maybe I don’t like that one,” or maybe I’ll change the key to juggle them up, but there was literally almost half a day spent in the studio figuring out the last half of the first phrase on that lead.

Wow.

Everything else was done but like, “this is in key, it just doesn’t sound right” – it’s not aggressive enough or it’s not moody enough. Just to hum it out [he hums out the part he’s talking about – it’s 2:45-2:49 on the album track], we spent how much on that like, “a minor third on this one? Doesn’t really sound right, we’ll go down, do the fifth… but, no, that’s not–” it just didn’t sound right until I was basically playing the octave and bent it out a little bit and back down again to get some tension and it’s like, oh, that’s stupid and simple, but it works. Do the easiest and most logical thing last, of course.

It’s got a bit of everything – it’s got the kind of sad, minor stuff, the noodly stuff at the end. I think it’s kind of like a compilation of everything I’ve tried to do put into one. There are others – on that record and the other records – that  are – I don’t want to say one style – more like just one element, whereas that one’s a lot of things put together.

Like the outro on Do Not Resuscitate

Oh, yeah [laughs]. It’s a pain in the ass to play live. I can totally do it, but it’s like, “ugh, this song again.” It’s all about those last 10 seconds. The rest of the song is certainly easy. It’s one of those things where it’s fun to write and do in the studio, but then you have to play it every night. For a few tours we didn’t do Gristle Licker and then we did for a couple of tours and it was fun. And actually The Ripe Beneath the Rind off of The Harvest Floor

The one that’s really… weird

Yeah, all squiggly and skronky. In Fall 2010 we were finally like, “we have to do that song live,” because people would be like, “they’ll never do that song live,” and we did, for a whole tour. And then we said, “okay, we did it, let’s never do it again,” and walked away from playing it. But maybe we’ll [add it to the set] sometime soon when we feel like torturing ourselves.

Last question, not music-related: you have the perhaps unusual job, at least for someone in a metal band, of working at a law firm. In what capacity do you [work there]?

I’m just a legal assistant, nothing that important. It’s pretty much just preparing case files and information if there are motion hearings coming up or something and going, [mimics giving a stack of papers to someone] “here you go, make your life easy.” All the information is in there. It’s not that exciting.

I’ve been there since… wait, has it been that long? October 2000, and they’ve put up with this crap in varying degrees since… late 2002. In the mid-2000’s – like 2004 to 2006 or 2007 – I was gone all the time. There was one year where I was gone for a total of nine months. And other people may disagree, but you’re just gonna run your band into the ground if you [tour that much] – you’re going to burn yourself out and get sick of each other. We did so many tours in the mid-2000’s that the joke was, “Is Cattle on this tour? Is Cattle opening this tour?” And yeah – the joke rang true. The booking agent we had at the time really worked us – and I don’t mean that that’s a bad thing – to where it would be like, “oh, this tour you’re on ends in Pennsylvania. Are you going to go all the way back out to San Diego when you have another tour I booked you on in two weeks starting in South Carolina? Just do some fill in shows and start the next tour.”

Oh boy.

There were tours with Deicide and Cryptopsy and Suffocation and others and everything was butted up against each other, so for a while I had to take a leave of absence as if I was on maternity leave. But then I came back and [now] I’ve been there for 16 years – actually, of all those years, maybe only eight, with all the touring I’ve done [laughs].

All right, great, that’s all I have. Thanks for the interview.

You’re very welcome, thank you.