Alex Webster has spent the last 20 years flying under the radar. All he's done is start one of the most influential Heavy Metal bands of all time, released ten full length CD's, DVD's, and a box set of the band's work. And he's never stopped touring all over the world. So why isn't Alex Webster a household name? Unfortunately that's how it works sometimes when your band is Cannibal Corpse, one of the most devastatingly brutal Death Metal bands to ever take the stage. Devastatingly brutal doesn't lend itself to mainstream success. People don't see the talent, the hard work and the sacrifice. Players like Alex and his band mates never seem to get the credit they deserve, as musicians or more importantly, as people. Alex's passion for his craft and talent as a bass player is matched by few. When the conversation turns to the Heavy Metal greats like Geezer Butler and Steve Harris, it's time people started to realize that Alex Webster's name belongs firmly in that group.
Cannibal Corpse made a recent stop in Poughkeepsie, NY to play at The Chance. Sea of Tranquility's Ken Sanford had the privilege to sit down with Alex and talk about everything from the latest Cannibal Corpse album KILL, to Jack Bruce, to Alex's highly anticipated heavy progressive metal side project, "Blotted Science".
(Also sitting in on the interview were two all time greats of heavy metal drumming, Cannibal Corpse drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, and the legendary Reed St Mark, former Celtic Frost drummer, who happens to be a big Cannibal Corpse fan and was in town for the show).
Read on for Ken Sanford's full interview!
Sea of Tranquility/Ken Sanford: Australia, Japan, Europe...you've been around the last couple of months.
Alex Webster: Yeah, actually we did not get to go to Japan. We were hoping to as part of the trip to Australia, but it didn't pan out. So we're still looking to go there actually.
KS: So now you're back in the USA, I mean, things are kind of winding down right? The album came out a year ago and you've been touring now since last year?
AW: Yeah, it's been about a year, but we have spread the tours out a little bit this time. You know, some of the guys in the band, since the last album, since we recorded "The Wretched Spawn", some of the guys ended up having kids, and that sort of thing. So once "KILL" came out we wanted to stretch out the touring a little bit, and that's what we've been doing. So we're touring about an equal amount, but it's taking a longer time to do it because we've got like a month or two between each tour.
KS: Speaking of touring. With all the controversy over the years, you know, album covers, lyrics, all that fun stuff, is there any place now still to this day where you guys go, where you guys roll into town and its like, protests, "the devil just rolled into town", so to speak?
AW: No. You know it was never really been that bad. If anything there were just some places in Germany where they had; (pause)…Early in the mid nineties there was some lady that was writing letters to all the local governments wherever we would play, and translating our lyrics into German for them, so they could see how bad they were, whatever, and a couple of the local city boards, you know the city councils, shut our shows down a couple times, but that hasn't happened in a long time. And in fact we're able to perform everything, you know, all the songs in Germany again. That was the one country where we had a lot of censorship problems but everything is ok there now.
KS: So let's see, it's been over a year now since "KILL" came out. Has it met your expectations as far as fan reaction, and the sales and everything?
AW: Yeah, it's been even a little better I think. You know, we're pretty steady as far as how we sell and everything, we have pretty much a dedicated core fan base, but I think we did expand just a little bit on "KILL" and that could be due to the album itself, but also due to us getting on "Sounds of the Underground" last year, and putting out a couple videos and things like that. For whatever reason it's doing a little bit better than the past couple records before it.
KS: On a personal note, the album is amazing, and from what I hear from friends of mine, and other people, they think it could be your best album ever. People think it's awesome.
AW: You know every band hopes that their most recent album is the best one. So….
KS: Speaking of "KILL". Erik Rutan produced it.
KS: How was that working with him as opposed to other people you worked with in the past?
AW: Oh, it was cool. I mean it's definitely different because he's like,…(pause) you know all the other producers we've worked with are always people we met as a producer, where as Erik we've known for a long time as a musician that we toured with. You know he's in Hate Eternal of course, and when he was in Morbid Angel we had done shows with him, so we've known him for a long time just as a friend and a guitar player before we ever thought about working with him as a producer. He's a good friend of the band and a very good friend of mine actually, and working with him was great, you know he did a great job. He works so hard on every record that he does and ours was no exception. He worked; I mean I don't even know when he sleeps really, the guy's just constantly working on the record and putting in a huge effort, so it was great to work with him.
KS: Well from a fans point of view he did a great job. You can really tell the difference, it was amazing.
AW: I'm happy everybody likes it because it was a big deal to him. I think we're pretty much the biggest, you know the most well know band that he had worked with up until that point. Now he's got a chance to work with some other bands like Six Feet Under that are pretty big too.
KS: He didn't do their latest album did he?
AW: He did the most recent Six Feet Under…
KS: I just reviewed that for this website, Sea of Tranquility.
AW: Yeah. Erik did that although I think, I believe he's credited as an engineer on that one and not the producer, but I don't know I haven't looked at the album.
KS: So I know it's early but do you think you might, you'll probably use Erik again for the next album?
AW: I get the feeling. We don't usually like to say until we're done with our touring and we get together in the room and start getting the new songs together. Then we think about who we're gonna work with. It seems like it would be a good idea to work there again, I mean we had great results on "KILL" and the studio is near by. It seems like a good idea to work there again.
KS: I don't know how you guys do it; do you ever write new stuff while you're on the road or do you just leave it until you get back home?
AW: Yeah man, on the road, I think most touring musicians will tell you, you're more concerned with finding dinner……
KS: Or taking a shower…..
AW: yeah, is there gonna be towels for the shower or something like that. We don't have time to really think about writing new stuff.
KS: I wanted to ask you about Buffalo. You guys are from Buffalo; do you still have family and friends there when you go back to Buffalo and hang out. It's always a good time I'm sure?
AW: Yeah, anytime we're back in Buffalo it's always one of the highlights of the tour if we play a show there. And the just going back to visit is always great. I mean, we miss the food. You know Tampa's got some good food, but they don't have the kind of food they have in Buffalo. We miss that. All these northeastern cities have some of the best mom and pop restaurants you can find. It's just not the same in the rest of the country in my opinion.
KS: So are you guys Bills fans or Buccaneers fans?
AW: Bills for sure.
(Paul takes this opportunity to chime in)
Paul Mazurkiewicz: When you're from Buffalo your stuck being a Bills and Sabres fan.
AW: Yes, Bills and Sabres fans for life for sure.
KS: Rob's back in the band now, we don't need to talk about anybody else leaving, because we don't care. (Laughs) Now that Rob is here, is this the lineup we're gonna see for a while? This is gonna be the lineup for a long time?
AW: Yeah I hope so. It's really, it's not up to us, its up to each individual member of the band. If someone is disgruntled and wants to quit or something there's nothing we can do about it. If it were up to us this would be the five guys that are in the band for good, but you never know, people change after time so who knows. Its working as well as it ever has. The five guys that are in now, it's working very well.
KS: It seems that way, it's good. Fans can see that stuff, believe me. So you guys are like old veterans now on the Metal scene. Look at these bands your touring with, Psyopis and Job For a Cowboy. Do you think it's easier for these bands or harder now, as far as the sacrifices and what they have to put in to do these tours and try to make it in the business. Do you think it's harder now than it was for you guys, or do you think it's a little easier?
AW: It's hard to say because it's easier to get information out there with the internet and everything and that sort of thing. You know they can announce their shows and get it out to a fan base with things like myspace or whatever, so there's that. But, there is also the added thing of there's a lot more competition because there's like, you know, kids go on myspace or the internet and that sort of thing to learn about bands. And you could learn about a thousand bands in one day. Seriously, probably a thousand, if you sat there for six hours. So you have to do something to stand out these days. The bands that wind up doing well they must stand out in some way; where maybe it was a little,… (pauses) like when we started out, there were probably only a couple dozen Death Metal bands that were really ready to record an album, if that, you know. So there is a lot of competition these days.
KS: And you guys stood out right away, I mean, you know, just because of the brutality, and the graphic content.
AW: Yeah, somehow we managed to standout, we're lucky. (everyone chuckles)
KS: Heavy Metal today, it seems like there's a thousand sub genres. Death Metal, Black Metal, Blackened Death Metal, Grindcore, Goregrind, etc. Do you think that's bad or good, what's your opinion on that? Do you think it's too much?
AW: As long as we don't divide the scene up to a point where people feel like "well I'm a fan of this kind of Metal, so I can't be a fan of those other kinds." I think it's great that there's all this different variety in Metal, and I think it's totally ok for a Metal fan to be into like ten different kinds of Metal. I know I am. Death Metal's my favorite but I like pretty much all that other stuff you mentioned. And I like Progressive Metal and Power Metal and all these different things I'll listen to. So yeah, the more variety the better, it keeps it fresh.
KS: Cool. So some easier stuff now. What are you listening to lately; Metal or anything else?
AW: Well, just the most recent thing I listened to, if you want to know what I was just listening to the last time I was listening to music was Infernal Majesty's "None Shall Defy". Which of course is an album that's been out for like 20 years, but you know I just broke that one out again. Newer albums I've been listening to; I actually got a bass solo album from a guy named Doug Johns when I was out at the NAMM show, and that's just some really great stuff. He's a great bass player. Who else? There's all kinds of stuff. As far as newer Death Metal I've been listening to that band Dominion from Sweden, that's a really good band.
KS: Nothing that will surprise us though? Nothing crazy that we wouldn't imagine you listening to?
AW: Oh I don't know. Paul loaned me one of Cream's CD's, and I was listening that. Jack Bruce you know, killer bass player.
(Reed, Paul and Ken all perk up)
KS: That's awesome. Yeah definitely! Paul what CD was it?
Paul: Disraeli Gears.
Reed: Oh, classic
Paul: Some of the younger fans might say; "Cream"? They may not know it.
KS: Ah, that's a classic. We grew up on that stuff. (Everyone agrees enthusiastically)
AW: Jack Bruce, awesome bass player.
Reed: And don't forget the vocals. Those aren't too bad either. (Everyone agrees aloud again)
AW: It's just an awesome album. We love music you know. I think if you're a musician you just love music in general. To limit ourselves to listening to only the kind of stuff we play would be crazy. We love the kind of music we play, but we love a whole bunch of other stuff too.
KS: A bit of a personal question. I heard that you don't drink or smoke anymore, is that true?
AW: Well I don't smoke at all. Drinking only happens once in a while, and I usually get more drunk than I should. (everyone laughs) It happens about once every three years, and I'm always like, "why did I do that?" The next day I feel terrible. Then I don't drink again until I pretty much forgot how terrible the hangover was, then I'll get drunk again.
KS: Did you notice it made life, or touring rather, easier?
AW: Oh yeah! But like I said, the one day I finally come off the cross, so to speak, and party with everybody, then the next day I'm miserable because I'm not used to doing it. I feel horrible and say I'm not doing that again. Once in a great while I party, but I prefer to stay completely sober out here. It's just easier. I like feeling good the next day, and you don't if you drink.
KS: To be serious, it is very admirable.
AW: To summarize it, I'd say that I really don't drink. I haven't drank on this tour at all for example, but once in a while. I'm not gonna say that I would never have another sip again, but once every couple years I may get drunk and we'll leave it at that.
KS: Ready for a few bass question?
KS: Was the bass your first instrument?
AW: More or less. It was the first instrument that I was really serious about, but I did try playing acoustic guitar when I was like six years old. I always wanted to play music, I wanted to play guitar. I really didn't even know what was going on I was so young, but I wanted to play. I started taking lessons for maybe about three or four months and it was always folk music kind of stuff and I just really wasn't enjoying it the way I hoped I would. I wanted to learn Chick Berry or Elvis stuff, like the records my dad had. I listened to all his 45's that he had from when he was a teenager, and that's the kind of stuff I wanted to do when I was six years old. I was like, " I wanna do rock and roll stuff!" But nobody was teaching that so I stopped until I was about 13 or 14. There was a friend of mine who played bass in high school, and he was like three years older than me. We were in Spanish class together and he was like, "yeah, I'll teach you how to play bass." So that's when I got started and I haven't stopped since then. It was 1984 when I started playing bass.
KS: Who were your earliest influences on bass, and who influences you now?
AW: Well you know it's weird. You try and imitate the stuff that you feel like is within your reach. You know when I got started I was like, "Man, I'd love to play like Geddy Lee or Steve Harris", but that's impossible. In my mind that was like something that was not going to happen, maybe ever, or at least not within five years. But I'm like "I think I can play",..…I love Accept, their bass player Peter Baltes, or Cliff Williams of AC/DC. I was like, "I think I can do that". When you're getting started you hear it, it sounds great, but it sounds easy enough that it's not impossible. Like if I was to pick up a guitar and say man….(pauses) I give guitar players credit, because it sounds; even the easiest lead guitar playing to me sounds like something that would take you a couple years to be able to do; minimum. Where as something like the easier bass playing to me, it sounded like, man, that sounds great in the band, but it also sounds like something you can do within maybe six months or something if you put your mind to it. And it was like that. We'd get together with friends and juts play regular Metal stuff, like Scorpions songs, Accept songs, those kinds of things were a little bit easier to wrap our brains around than the real hard stuff that we also listened to.
KS: Bass question. I know you played Modulus for a long time, then started using Spector. I noticed in New York last night you were using the Modulus. Do you still use them both?
AW: I play both. I used the Spectors for the past couple albums. I've been recording with, I have a blue European made Spector, one of the Czech Republic ones, and I use that for recordings. It sounds great in the studio. Live I've been using the Modulus, they just seem to work better for our live sound man, he just loves those basses, he wants me to play 'em most of the time. But I do have a Spector that I use live sometimes. Generally the Modulus is the main live bass for me, and the Spector is the studio bass. I love both of 'em and I don't want to stop using either. I guess it's like a different tool for a different situation.
KS: Blotted Science. What's going on with Blotted Science?
AW: Well, I'm done with the bass playing for it, like the tracking. At this point, I mean Ron Jarzombek is the guy who's in charge of it, he's the guitar player for Watchtower….
KS: Ron is Bobby's brother, correct?
AW: Right. They play together in a band called Spastic Ink, and that band has a fantastic bass player named Pete Perez. Actually, when Ron approached me to do the project it was definitely daunting you know, because I knew the caliber of bass players he's worked with before in Watchtower and Spastic Ink, you know, they're really some of my favorite players; really scary players quite frankly; guys who are just all over the neck. It was a lot of hard work but I think people are gonna like it because it's like heavy instrumental music. If you're a fan of instrumental music like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, or Planet X, this is something that's even going toward Death Metal as far as heaviness goes, but there's no vocals or anything, so if you're a fan of instrumental music but you always wanted something that was leaning more in an extreme direction this might be something that you could get into. You know, it would be difficult for me to describe it any more that, you'll just have to hear it. It's technical and very heavy.
KS: Do we have any tentative release date?
AW: I'm hoping before the end of this year. The drums are done, the bass is done, the rhythm guitar is done, like I said, right now Ron's the boss. He's in charge of the project really. He's doing all the production. All the guitars on the album are Ron. He wrote probably eighty percent of the material and he's in the middle of mixing and recording the remaining melody guitar parts, and the solos and that kind of stuff. Then after that we have to get it packaged and get it out there. We still haven't decided if we're actually gonna release it on a label or release it ourselves yet either. So we've still got a few hurdles to get over before it gets released, but it should be before the end of the year.
KS: Thank you Alex, that about wraps it up. Any last message for the Cannibal Corpse fans that may be on our website?
AW: Sure. Just thank you very much for the support and hope to see everybody on tour.
Thank you for the interview!