We are very pleased to offer Blow The Scene readers around the world, an in-depth, exclusive interview with Cattle Decapitation vocalist and front man Travis Ryan. Cattle Decapitation have found themselves in the limelight in 2012 with the release of the band’s seventh studio album, Monolith of Inhumanity, on Metal Blade Records.
Having received almost unanimous critical acclaim, the album’s initial debut landed at #32 on the Billboard Top Independent Album Chart, #23 on the Billboard Top Hard Music Albums chart, #6 on the Billboard New Artist Chart and #177 Billboard Top Current Albums Chart, all in its first week. Aside from sheer numbers, Monolith of Inhumanity sees the band expand on their already impressive corpus of musical craft-work with faster breakneck speeds, intricately crafted guitar work, death-metal-infused grind drumming, all complimented by a barrage of extreme vocals that span other-worldly ranges. The band even dabbles in more melodic arrangements than ever, all while presenting their most ferocious aural assault to date. In short, Cattle Decapitation have crafted one of the best metal albums of 2012.
In this massive interview, singer Travis Ryan gives us an inside look into the making of Monolith of Inhumanity, the real deal behind the band’s vegetarian themes and political views, equipment picks, tour plans, daily life, and of course, guilty pleasures.
Without further ado, let’s hear from Travis.
Joshua BTS: Greetings and thank you kindly for taking some time with Blow The Scene readers from around the world today. Lets get things rolling by just having you introduce yourself and declare your on stage weapon of choice with San Diego’s crushing metal practitioners, Cattle Decapitation.
Travis Ryan and I do vocals
Joshua BTS: Cattle Decapitation just released a new full-length on Metal Blade Records entitled Monolith of Inhumanity. Can you give us a brief skinny on this record? When did the writing process begin and how did you approach the writing process specifically for this record?
Travis Ryan: We had just come home from headlining a U.S. tour and we took a couple months off for the holidays. It was November, Thanksgiving, Christmas, all that crap. So we waited until about halfway through January and we started writing. That whole year, just writing and playing one-off shows here and there, just writing as much as possible. What we wanted to do originally, was write for five or six months and then spend five or six months honing it and letting the songs mature. Stuff like that. But of course– we all had real jobs and real schedules that completely conflicted with each other, so we had like- what- an hour and a half maybe – two – maybe, if we’re lucky a few nights a week to do this.
So it was a real pain in the ass as far as that goes. We had a new bass player, so he was really ready to start writing riffs and everybody was really chomping at the bit to finally start writing again cause it had been a few years since The Harvest Floor. We had spent two and a half to three years touring for that one. So that was pretty much it. With the new guy starting and everybody really wanting to get in there and work, it helped things start off really well.
We didn’t really get the time that we wanted to sit and let the songs mature. So a lot of that happened in the studio. With that whole year long process, which I would think would be more than enough time, I still went into the studio with just one song down on lyrics. Didn’t even have lyrics for the song “Your Disposal” when we went into the studio. I’ve never done that – I’d never been that rushed before. But luckily we work well under that kind of pressure. So that helped.
Joshua BTS: It sounds absolutely crushing. In fact, it’s one of my favorite works of you guys have put out. I see a ton of stuff come across my desk and that album immediately stuck out as something special. So, congratulations on that.
Travis Ryan: Thank you.
Joshua BTS: Absolutely. Anything on this record besides the constraints of time and linking up schedules that saw you step out of your comfort range either vocally or musically? Did you try any new things while you were writing or in the studio?
Travis Ryan: Yeah, I mean, it’s stuff that we’d kind of been screwing around with for a while, like the elaborate intro for the last song and stuff like that. I personally wanted to follow the same kind of formula we had for The Harvest Floor. I just thought it was kind of a cool concept to do that. It was almost a critically acclaimed record – we kind of used it as a skeleton as far as the flow of the record and where things go. Trying to do it again, but differently, and blah blah blah. You know, the flow of the record isn’t something that people really usually take into consideration. But I thought it helped The Harvest Floor so much. That was one of the main things that like nobody else is gonna do while everybody is busy writing songs. I’m gonna be the one – I want to make sure that I remind everyone – that we make sure that the flow is also going to be a big key factor in making the actual album. I felt like that flow was a realized album.
Rather than just a bunch of songs like, ‘Hey this can go here. Fuck it. We’ll just put this song here.’ And vice versa.
Plus, we knew we had to step it up big-time after that record because it was, as you said, more of a critically acclaimed record than anything we’ve done and we really liked it. We thought it was our best record yet and we knew we had to out do that one, we just didn’t know we would do it as much as we did. [laughter]
Joshua BTS: So Cattle Decapitation has a long history of what I would say are politically motivated lyrics especially concerning animal rights. Is there anything happening in the world right now specifically that has your attention or any grass roots that have your support? Just for example, I recently read a recent report on Greenisthenewred.com that the FBI is using flawed and misleading information to train agents to identify and investigate ‘domestic terrorists,’ groups they consider black separatists and anarchists and animal rights activists and environmentalists. And we’ve definitely seen in recent years the government has amped up the sentences imposed on animal rights activists like Marie Mason, who’s serving an almost unprecedented sentence for her political activist work. Where is your focus with all that right now?
Travis Ryan: I don’t. There’s too much up in the world. There’s too much at all times. It’s 360. I wouldn’t know where to begin – my head would explode. It’s definitely a theme with our band – it’s obviously found a way in our lyrics. Unfortunately, we only offer problems and complaints [laughter] we don’t really offer solutions. I don’t know what the answer is to anything. I know that it comes down to personal fucking responsibility. If they’re breaking laws then they have to be held accountable for their actions – whether or not what my personal feelings are on that at all.
And that’s where I am with that regardless of what positive strides they’re making in – let’s say – the war against cruelty. However, it comes down to personal responsibility. Actually it’s a big – big dominating theme in our lyrics too, which is probably one of the most un-metal things you can think of. You know what I mean?
It’s just how I am and how I was raised. As far as even paying attention to any of it – there’s just too much wrong with this world. I’m kind of depressed personally as it is anyway. And I basically don’t stick my head in the sand by any means but I’m not an activist. Nobody in this band ever has been. Our activism, I guess, would be in our lyrics, imagery and themes and it kind of ends there. A lot of people assume that we’re crazy PETA activist warriors for all things green and it’s just not the way – never really has been. It’s just the medium and nobody really reads the lyrics apparently – our fans get it. They understand. And that’s kind of where it ends.
Joshua BTS: I got you. So the role you guys play is more of commentating on the situation from an artistic perspective rather than actually taking part in the inner workings. Now I know you said it’s more of a personal belief in taking personal responsibility – does that play a role in how you guys choose to print your merch products – that type of thing? Are you guys cognoscente of and do you take it on a personal level to that extreme or do you just kind of let the chips fall as they may?
Travis Ryan: We do what we can and that’s it. I personally don’t know that the band can afford American Apparel [laughter] or whatever. I remember the second I was like ‘You know what, we should probably start forking over the extra couple bucks a shirt or whatever for American Apparel instead of just going whoever which will mostly likely be sweat-shop clothing” and then I find out all this horrible shit about the owner of American Apparel and how everybody’s now switching away from this monster – or whatever. Again, there’s only so much.. do what you can and try to be responsible of actions and opinions I guess is my whole point.
Joshua BTS: Now I always like to throw in a question or two for the gear heads – cause I’m a gear head myself. Where there any special pieces of equipment or recording techniques or anything that you found pivotal when recording and when you’re brutalizing audiences around the world? Are you guys gear freaks at all?
Travis Ryan: Our guitar player, that’s definitely his area of expertise, for sure.. big time. He’s got a very carefully crafted sound and he’s definitely the gear head. The guy who, no matter where we go as long as we have our own equipment – we’re usually one of the better sounding bands because of his tone and attention to – and knowledge of amps and how they work and everything. He’s definitely taught me a few things just from listening and just going out of the country and having to see what he had to deal with and what the differences really are. Before I just thought it was just an amp and you put a pedal, but nope. There’s a whole other world. But that’s more his thing. For me I like the SM5 in the studio and live I use a SM58. For me it’s all about simplicity even though I have a sampler rig – and I’m saying something totally different – totally contradicts what I just said.
For me as a singer, it’s all about the Sure SM58 and no warm ups, no warm downs. You might see me with a beer in my hand and maybe a joint or something. So there’s that. Don’t smoke and try not to drink too much, stay well lubricated, and that’s really it. I see these people walking around and doing breathing techniques and all that bullshit – and shit, it might work and maybe I’m totally missing out on something that could totally step up my game or whatever, but I don’t know.. I just keep going and going.
Joshua BTS: When you are on the road and since you guys are an outspoken vegetarian band – do you have any favorite food stops or anything specifically you look forward to when you hit the road?
Travis Ryan: Easily one of the best places ever in the United States – for me personally, The Triple Rock Club in St. Paul or right in that area. And it’s run by the dudes from the band Dillinger Four and I think maybe a couple of them may be vegan or something like that. Whatever they have on their menu with meat in it, they have vegan and vegetarian options as well – they have everything and you don’t really find too many places that have that. Vegan sloppy joe – it’s more bar.. kind of junk-foody, but soy based. And its just fucking amazing. I look forward to going there every time. I can’t believe I am even pitching them right now because I am very, very, very pissed off at them. We recently came through- a couple weeks beforehand we were like, “Dude, we’re coming. We’ll be going from blah-blah to St. Paul. Dude. Triple Rock. Yes! Aw can’t wait!’ So for a couple weeks we were – it’s all we could talk about “aw can’t wait for Triple Rock. Fuck yeah!” So of course, after the show we look online and the kitchen closes at 1 am. Ok, perfect. We’ll totally make it. All right. Good. I think someone called and ‘1 am. Sure. Ok cool.’
We get there and, “Oh, kitchen closes at twelve.” We were just like fist fuck your face right now dude.
So they really blew it, as far as that goes. I’m fucking pissed. I was going to write something crazy on Yelp, but I’m not going to. Mother fuckers. Fucking pieces of shit. Fucking thanks a lot. Fuck you.
There food is fucking amazing when they’re open.
Joshua BTS: While we are on the topic- What would you say are some of your most guilty pleasures? Whether it home or on the road. Are you a book reader or into more cock n’ ball torture. Where do you get your jollies?
Travis Ryan: Ok, got one. This is pretty weird. I’ve realized I pretty much have an addiction and I find myself almost going through withdrawal when I’m on the road.
Going to garage sales and swap meets. It actually goes hand in hand with what I do for a living- I do resell. So of course I’m going to be into it. It’s that voyeurism, I think is what it is. The people watching kind of thing, but it’s different. Instead of watching the people, you’re learning about them through their items. I love going through other people’s crap. I’m a snoop, I guess you could say. Swap meets, garage sales, state sales, are the best. It’s like walking into someone’s house knowing everything is for sale. This person died or whatever and now all their shit is for sale. I’ve scored some awesome shit that way. I’ve made a lot of money that way. That’s pretty much it.
I make a living off of other’s misfortunes.
So it’s a continuation of our lyrics.
I think Nina Simone said, ‘I live the life I sing in my songs.’
Joshua BTS: While we are on the topic- What does your nine to five look like?
Travis Ryan: I work out of the house. When I’m not at home or out pounding the pavement. I kind of don’t want to give away what I do, I’ve seen a lot of people jump on the bandwagon, not because of what I say. Actually, I’ve seen a few friends pick up the trade from me telling them about it. And that fucking sucks because it’s just more sharks in the tank. So just going to thrift stores and going to garage sales. During the week I’m shipping orders and playing Modern Warfare. That’s pretty much it and just waiting for the next tour to come along. Last year I really stepped up my game as far as my business goes. Spent a lot of time on that and the band. I was worried that the lyrical parts, the theme, the cover and all that shit was going to be neglected because of it. That’s one thing I was really afraid of. I was like, ‘Man, I spending so much time on my personal work I hope that I don’t fuck up and drop the ball and can come up with something that people are into as far as the record goes.
So it’s good to see such a reaction after feeling that way. This is the first album where I didn’t have the title or the album cover ready months or years before enacting it. That had me shaking in my boots. I was like, ‘What the fuck am I going to do for this one? Oh, shit. They’re already six songs in. What the fuck am I going to do?’
You can’t force it. People are going to figure it out if it’s forced. They’re going to see right through it. Or maybe not. I will though, and that’s all that matters.
It took a long time and then it finally just dawned on me one day- the cover, the art, the idea- everything about Monolith of Inhumanity. This happened not too late and even months before I needed to start really worrying about it. I was thankful that idea finally occurred to me and that I was able to come up with something in a decent amount of time. Wes Benscoter liked it. That means a lot to me. He’s our artist for the album. So if he likes it then we’re going to get the best work out of somebody. If a person is having to work on it and doesn’t like it, you might not get the best results. So luckily everything worked. My job was taking up so much of my time I was like, ‘Shit! Am I neglecting this band that I’ve worked so fucking hard on for so many years?’ I really hoped that wasn’t going to happen because I was working so much. When you’re not watching a clock and wanting to get away from your boss as soon possible and you’re on your own terms, it sounds like heaven, but it’s hard to get much done. Spend a lot of time farting around playing video games and shit.
Because I can. It took some self-discipline to really sit down and make this shit happen. Sounds pathetic but it’s true. If I had a job I came home from every night tired and pissed off and had a weekend, I’d be wanting to get away from it as much as possible. But when I am sitting here constantly surrounded by my work, it’s harder to stop, sit, and focus, and write a record. Let alone two records because I was writing lyrics for my other band Murder Construct at the exact same time. Ended up recording that even before we went in the studio for Monolith, and Murder Construct one is not even happening until late August. Kind of funny how that works.
Joshua BTS: Any places Cattle Decapitation is looking to hit on tour in the future?
Travis Ryan: We’re really looking to get the hell out of the United States and get over to South America, little more Eastern Europe would be nice, love to see Russia sometime, South Africa would be cool. We’re going to try and get out and do more international stuff. Australia, Japan, and Southeast Asia, little less US and more international.
Joshua BTS: Apart from the awesome lineup of shows you guys have- What can fans expect from Cattle Decapitation as we approach 2013.
Travis Ryan: We’re going out to Europe to do the festivals, we’re heading out to Puerto Rico for the first time ever. We’re definitely going to be doing another video from the guy who did the last one (“Kingdom of Tyrants” deal). We have yet to announce which song and stuff, but we’ve talked about everything with him. Pretty positive this is going to be something nobody has ever seen before and attempted to do on the level we’re going to try to do it. It could be a make or break thing. It’s definitely going to be fucked. That’s the only word I can think to describe. I feel sorry for the people who are going to have to watch this thing.
It’s going to be that bad.
Joshua BTS: Sounds like something we’ll be looking forward to.
Travis Ryan: I don’t mean bad as in shitty, I mean bad as in it’s going to be painful.
Joshua BTS: Haha. That’s righteous. Well I really want to thank you for taking time with Blow The Scene readers from around the world today. We definitely look forward to keeping up with your future endeavors and show coverage next time you are in Philly. And final thoughts as we close it out?
Travis Ryan: Fans or potential fans that are used to seeing our name around- every time time we do a record we do 50 US tours, we’re going to scale that back this time. So if you see us coming through and give a shit about us at all, you might want to go because we might not be back anytime soon. It just depends on how much international stuff we get going. We really plan to just hit that part hard because we haven’t done enough international touring in the 15 or 16 years we’ve been a band. We really, really need to start focusing on that, so I would just kind of urge people on that. See us coming through, like us, might want to go. Got some shows you don’t want to miss. It’s our best record yet and we’re playing a whole hell of a lot of it during these shows and that seems to be the track everybody wants to go. This is the first time the crowd has really reacted stronger when I announce new songs then when I announce old songs and stuff we’ve been playing for 15 years. Lots of positive stuff going on and we hope people will come out and take advantage of that.
Interview by Joshua T. Cohen
Live Pictures courtesy of MetalAssault.com’s Carsten Steinhausen.
More info at: The Official Cattle Decapitation website
Cattle Decapitation “Kingdom of Tyrants: The Extended Minifilm Version” (OFFICIAL VIDEO)