Sea of Tranquility staff writer Carl Sederholm recently caught up with Josh Elmore, guitarist for Cattle Decapitation, during the band's stop in Salt Lake City.
Note: Josh and I talked for about an hour, a discussion way too long to transcribe for a printed interview. The batteries in my digital recorder also died after about 15 minutes. Oh well. I was glad Josh showed me how to use the iPhone's voice recorder, something I'll definitely use in the future, especially if I can learn to slow down the playback. Aside from my technical problems, I had a blast chatting with Josh about metal and about life, swapping stories about favorite bands and albums, and enjoying some good hearty laughs. If all interviews were this fun, I'd willingly transcribe them all, no matter how long it took. Thanks, Josh. Cattle Decapitation has a new fan.
SoT: Let's talk about Summer Slaughter first. How's the tour going for you?
Josh: We're actually coming down to the end. Of the tour proper, we only have two shows left—Seattle and Portland. We're doing a solo headliner after that in Bend, Oregon. I can sum up the whole thing, pretty much, by saying that we've all had a really good time. Attendance has been good; merch has been good generally for all the bands. All the bands are getting along—yay! Aside from some of the wacko drives—always something to be expected—it's been a really good experience.
We were on the first Summer Slaughter in 2007 and have been lobbying to get back on it ever since. Six years later, they threw us a bone and let us do this one. Since the lineup is as diverse as it is, we've gotten to play for a lot of people who wouldn't have come to see us otherwise. We've forced ourselves upon them whether they like it or not.
SoT: How long has Cattle Decapitation been together?
Josh: Nobody in the band now is an original member—kind of like TSOL ended up being in the 90s. Travis, our singer, joined really early on, about two months after the band started. They hadn't released anything at the time, but they had recorded something. When Travis was first in the band, they did release something but he wasn't on it. For all intents and purposes he's been with the band since the beginning. That was in '96 or '97. They wrote a couple of full-length albums that were basically demos on vinyl. They wrote songs super quick. They weren't bad quality necessarily, just really short grindcore songs. I think those two were out by '99 or early 2000. I came along in August of 2001. We released To Serve Man, our first Metal Blade record, in 2002; since then, we released Humanure in 2004, Karma. Bloody. Karma. in 2006, The Harvest Floor in 2009, and Monolith of Inhumanity in 2012.
SoT: I've seen a lot of mention of the new album lately. I honestly thought it had just come out.
Josh: It actually came out in May of 2012, but a lot of people treat it as though it came out this year. That's fine with me. Lots of people tell me "that's my favorite album of this year" even though it came out last year.
SoT: Maybe there's been a second wave of promotion.
Josh: Yeah, usually there's another push about six months after the initial release. Maybe things reached people at the end of last year or the beginning of this year. It's a good record. I think that a lot of people have had us typecast as being one kind of band for a while. With the last couple of records, though, we've broken away from people's expectations. The Harvest Floor was the beginning of that change. With the new one, we caused a lot of people to rethink things about us. People are checking us out again, not just writing us off.
SoT: There are lots of bands right now that have some kind of animal motif in their name. Have you heard Nothing Violates this Nature by All Pigs Must Die?
Josh: No, I haven't. Are those some of the guys from Converge? I really like Converge. That's a band that has really done their own thing. Their recordings are bitchin.' Their guitar tone is awesome. They are total tone weirdos. Their songs are great. It's what a lot of people who came from that era wanted out of a band—raw brutality and proficiency. They have both of those.
It's funny, with all the animal band names out there, we've joked about putting together a tour with a bunch of those bands. We could have Cattle Decapitation, Animals as Leaders, Pig Destroyer, and a few others. We only joke about it, but it could be a convincing package.
SoT: You were playing a pretty impressive looking guitar tonight. What kind of guitar is it?
Josh: It's called a Cardinal—that's the brand name. The model name is called the East. It's made by Sam and Ron Evans. Sam is out of Austin, Texas and his father, Ron, is out of Houston. I'm not sure how they divide the labor but Sam does a lot of the shaping and finishing, the neck stuff. I met him at an amp show in 2010 and kept in contact with him. He offered to build me a guitar and I was really intrigued by what he brought to the amp show as a sample. It went from there. I was able to get together enough money for a good deposit. Every step of the way, he made sure everything was to my specifications. He has his general model—body shape and so on—but the neck profile, radius, fret height, scale length, pickups, hardware, bridge, all that stuff is entirely customized. He built me one and I got it in early 2011 or so. It's a beautiful, fantastic guitar but I don't want to take it on the road basically for that very reason.
I casually told him that I didn't really want to take that guitar on the road. I didn't really want to ask him for anything special, but he asked me if I wanted a second one that would be more road-friendly. I had the money to do it, so I said "yeah!" He didn't skimp on quality, construction, and components. The first one, though, had such high quality woods that we wanted to use something more common. The first one had superb guitar work and great woods. He offered to make me another one with mahogany that would sound amazing, something that would make it worth my while. We went back and forth for a few months with ideas. It turned out that he already had a body around his shop, a guitar he hadn't sold yet. I commented on his Facebook page that it was a beautiful guitar. It was a two single coil guitar with a different kind of neck wood on it. He said, "you like that copper top, huh? I can wrap it for double humbuckers if you want." It was quite the deal. I got a fantastic guitar for an absurdly reasonable price, not stupidly absurd, but very generous on his part.
SoT: You are at the end of a touring cycle. Are you thinking about a new album?
Josh: We're going to start writing when we get back. We all have riffs and ideas here and there. I'm horrible about putting everything on a laptop—having 50 protour(?) sessions on it or something. If I'm at work and have no means to record something, I'll just write it out in verbal charades with some notation for timing purposes—any little hint I can use to remember it. Then I'll go home and work it out and record it on my phone or iPad or whatever. It's relatively old fashioned in some way. I might as well be using a cassette deck or a reel-to-reel. Derek has GarageBand on his laptop and he is much more adept at that. He'll present stuff to us that way—send us stuff through Dropbox or whatever. I need to get caught up with that.
SoT: Do you guys all write? What's your role?
Josh: Musically, it's been split for a while—everyone throws in their bit. With the earlier albums, there may have been one person who was more assertive or something, assuming some kind of control. It's become more of a democracy lately. Sometimes it helps to have a benevolent dictator to keep things going. But as long as we have a hazy vision, a goal, we can get there.
SoT: You mentioned you guys being labeled or stuck in a grindcore box. What kind of band would you say you are?
Josh: Good question. People before had it in their minds that we were just this kind of veggie / grind / blahhhggg thing. We were always trying to break out of that musically in our presentation. With some records we were more successful than others. But I think that with the last couple of records, we've been able to expand and get closer to the ideal that we want to present. If there are people that haven't heard the band, it's actually good to start with the newest things and move backwards. Other bands peter out after a few good albums. With our last record, we are starting to have more universal appeal. I don't mean that it's tamed down—in some ways it's our most aggressive and abrasive record—but it has elements and arrangements that are perhaps a little more palatable, not quite as chaotic.
SoT: One more question: Tell us about your guitar habits. Do you practice regularly? What kinds of playing routines do you have? Did you ever study with anyone?
Josh: I practice or at least have a guitar in my hand every day. As far as regimented study, I try to focus on song and riff writing as a vehicle to advance my own abilities. Every album I try to have several passages that are very demanding either technique-wise or in regards to theoretical approaches. I think that is a good exercise that will forward one's playing as well as having a practical benefit to the band overall. To be sure, I still do the old routine of running scale or sweep patterns to try to incorporate into my own playing or to develop more varied muscle memory or dexterity. Although it is not always the most exciting thing to do, it can be very practical. Also, METRONOME. I need to get back into that going into writing and practicing the riffs / leads for new Cattle material.
Keeping my eyes and ears open to new players (in diverse genres) and observing their styles is always helpful as well. At some time I would like to study with an aged super-advanced player who resides completely outside of the metal context. Having them wag a finger and shake their head at 99% of what I've been doing the past couple decades should be illuminating.
SoT: Thank you!
(Click here to read our review of Monolith of Humanity)