Cannibal Corpse's Alex Webster talks about the band's 25th anniversary, playing for Cher and Jim Carrey, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and more

Alex Morgan

25

November

Does death metal have a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Alex Webster is here to make his case.

“I think if you listen to Elvis and you listen to Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel, it’s a pretty massive distance,” said the bassist and co-founder of Cannibal Corpse. “But the roots are similar. Without rock 'n’ roll, metal wouldn’t have happened, and without traditional heavy metal and hard rock, you wouldn’t have had thrash metal and death metal and stuff like that. I think there’s a place for death metal and other kinds of extreme metal in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — maybe not the official Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but figuratively speaking.”

Sure, it’s a long shot, but if any death metal band has a case, it’s Cannibal Corpse. This year marks their 25th as a band, meaning they’re actually eligible for Rock Hall enshrinement. And though they formed in Buffalo, N.Y., their home since 1994 has been Tampa, long known as the cradle of that grimy, splattery, visceral breed of metal called death.

Cannibal Corpse were already well known when they moved here — they’d toured in Florida, released four albums and filmed a cameo in the Jim Carrey film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective — but they quickly found their place alongside Tampa’s other influential death metal bands, including Morbid Angel, Obituary and Deicide. Today, they remain one of the most successful and best-selling death metal bands in the world.

On Saturday, Cannibal Corpse will play a 25th anniversary show — one of only two this fall — at the Brass Mug in Tampa, where they’ll perform songs from all 12 of their studio albums. (Click here for details.) Beforehand, Webster called to reflect on his band’s career and future. Here are excerpts.

At this point, which city feels more like home to you, Buffalo or Tampa?

We got the band together in Buffalo in 1988, and that’s where we got started, but all of our early albums were recorded in Tampa. That was really where the connection came from. You have Morrisound Studios in Temple Terrace, and they were by far the best studio for extreme metal for death metal and the other kinds of really heavy stuff. They were the best studio in the country, so we started coming down, and when we got signed we decided to come down and record there, because some of our favorite bands had recorded there, like Death and Morbid Angel, bands like that that are native to the Central Florida region. We’re a Buffalo, N.Y. band; we always will be. It’s where we started and where we cut our teeth and everything, but we really are a band with two homes, because we’ve been in Tampa longer than we’ve been in Buffalo.

This year you were inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. Were you there for the induction ceremony?

Yeah. The three guys in the band who are still from Buffalo went back up to accept that award. It was great. It’s a great honor to be recognized by the mainstream music establishment in our hometown, because when we started, death metal was not something that would have been on the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame’s radar, not whatsoever. It was a brand-new kind of music back in the ’80s. It just shows how far things have come that we’d get that kind of recognition from such a really prestigious establishment.

I have to think you’ve achieved milestones and done things that no death metal band could have possibly dreamed of in 1988. What’s been the most surreal, is-this-really-happening moment of your career so far?

We’ve had quite a few. It’s all been a big surprise. Like you said, none of us could have predicted this. When we got going in 1988, there were only a few bands that had albums out in death metal besides us. Maybe a dozen or so. Most of the big ones were from Florida, and nobody’d had a career that had lasted more than a couple of years at that point. So to imagine a 25-year career was very incomprehensible. The 18-year-old version of myself would have been bowled over by what the 44-year-old version would have to tell him.

But particular things? Doing that movie, Ace Ventura. That was shot down in Miami at the Cameo Theater, which is a place that we’d actually played. That was pretty surreal, being on the set of a major motion picture and being part of that whole world for a couple of days.

Another thing we did that was really unusual: A lot of people don’t know this, but Cher’s son Elijah (Blue Allman) is a killer guitar player, and he’s really into heavy music. About 10 years ago he had us come out and play his birthday party at the Viper Room in L.A., and Cher was in attendance. We actually partied at his house the day before and had a barbecue, and Cher was hanging out. Those are the kind of things where you’re like, Wow, we’re barbecueing with Cher. That’s pretty intense.

Did Cher offer a review of your performance?

She said she liked it. I don’t think she likes that type of music, but I think she enjoyed seeing something that different. I don’t think she’d seen a death metal band perform live before us.

But Jim Carrey was a legitimate fan, right? Isn’t that how you ended up in the movie?

He said he was into some of our stuff. He said he had Butchered at Birth and Tomb of the Mutilated; that’s our second and third album. And he was calling out songs by name that he was hoping we would perform for the movie. A couple of the songs that Jim requested, we didn’t end up playing, but we did do Hammer Smashed Face, and that was the only one that actually made it into the movie.

Does this milestone of 25 years really mean anything to you? Is it just an excuse to play another show?

It’s an opportunity for us to stop and look at what we’ve done. You’re just trying to live your life day by day, and you’re not thinking in terms of years; you’re just getting through one day and moving on to the next. I think if it were up to us, we might not have even really thought about it. But we had a lot of people around us saying, “This is a really big milestone and you should celebrate it,” and that got us thinking about it. I’ve spent more than half of my life in this band. It’s at this point where you completely realize, Wow, this band is my life. Twenty-five years — it’s not a passing thing.

When we were just getting started, we were thinking, Let’s just push as hard as we can and work as hard as we can and we’ll see how long this lasts. But I think we all had it in our minds that we’d be forced into doing something else just by things petering off and lack of success or whatever. We figured by now, it would have kind of wrapped itself up. But it hasn’t. We’re still doing it and still having a great time doing it, and we’re actually successful. So it is something worth celebrating, I think, that we’ve been able to spend a quarter of a century playing our favorite kind of music and actually making a career out of it.

How well do get along with the guys in the other famous local death metal bands — Deicide, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Nasty Savage?

We know most of them pretty well, and we all get along great. We’ve done shows with just about everybody. The first time we toured with Obituary was 1992, so we’ve known them for over 20 years. And then Morbid Angel, we’ve done shows with back in the ’90s as well. Deicide, we’ve played with. We see these guys out all the time. It’s rare that you go to a show at a place like the Brass Mug or State Theatre without running into some of your friends from the other bands. And I think especially at this point, with all of us being a little older, there’s not any kind of unfriendly competition or anything like that. There could have been some stuff way back, but we weren’t around for that. By the time we moved down, everybody was pretty well established and it seemed like everybody got along great.

There was some talk last year that you guys might embark on a Big Four-style tour with Deicide, Morbid Angel and a couple of other bands. You think that might ever happen?

I think it would be much more likely to happen as a one-off festival kind of thing. Because embarking on a tour with all those bands would be too expensive. Generally, when we tour, it’ll be us headlining and we’ll bring two or three bands with us, and usually at least two of those bands are small enough in popularity that they’re willing to play for not a whole lot of money. Now, if you have four bands that are used to getting paid like a headliner, they’re probably all going to continue to want to be paid like a headliner, so what you’re going to have is a very expensive package.

And death metal’s a niche market, so if you have 500 people that go see Morbid Angel when they headline, and the same 500, more or less, go to see us, when you put us together, it’s still just that same 500 people to draw from. So then put Deicide and Obituary on top of that, and I think the ticket price would end up being really high.

We don’t have the money behind us the way the Big Four of thrash metal (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax) do. Thrash metal reached heights that death metal never did. It’s killer music too, but it’s a little bit more accessible than death metal, so the biggest death metal band’s not even as big as the smallest of the Big Four of thrash.

Could Tampa support a one-off festival for death metal?

I think it could. If you did it at the right time of year, where hopefully there weren’t a whole lot of other tours competing with it, a time of year when a lot of people were thinking about visiting Florida anyhow — maybe spring break time or something like that — it would be great to get the whole Florida death and thrash metal scene together. Maybe see if Nasty Savage would do a reunion show. Obituary, Athiest, us, Deicide, Morbid Angel — I’d love to see something like that, and I think it’s a lot more feasible than trying to put together a whole tour featuring those bands.

Do you still feel like part of the scene here? Do you keep up with the newer, younger metal bands around town?

My wife and I are both big fans of metal, and we go and see a lot of local bands. There’s a bunch of good bands down here, like Ulcer and Contorted; those are the two we’re playing with. Dark Faith, Promethean Horde — there’s a bunch of good, heavy stuff down here, and I’m happy to be able to say that, because you wouldn’t want a scene as legendary as Tampa’s to be limited to the older bands.

How many shows have you played at the Brass Mug over the years?

You know, we’ve only played there once. We’ve all put in a lot of time at the Brass Mug, hanging out and partying and watching bands, but we only played there once, and that was just last year, about a year ago. The thing with us was, we moved down and already had four albums out, so we were playing bigger places than the Brass Mug by the time we moved down. Our first show in Tampa was in front of probably 600, 700 people at the Ritz. We played there the last time because we really liked the place, and they had just moved to their second location, and we thought it would be fun to play there and help get the word around.

What was that show like?

Oh, it was great. It’s fun to play a place that’s not that big, and it’s packed. I’m interested to see how things go at the new Mug. It’s definitely the biggest of the three locations by far, and it’s got a lot of potential, so we’re excited to play there. It’s really quite a big place. You could probably fit 600, 700 people in there. They’d be packed in, but it’s definitely twice as big as the original Mug.

Do you think there’s any chance you’ll still be doing this 25 years from now?

Whew. Honestly, I do think there will be a presence of our band in 25 years. It just won’t be what it is now, because it’s a physical kind of music, and in 25 years — let me do the math real quick — I’ll be pushing 70. So I don’t see myself being able to physically do the type of performance I do now on stage, or maintain the kind of touring schedule that we have. I would say for the next 10 years or so, things should remain more or less the same, but after that, we’re going to have to start tapering off the amount of touring that we do. I don’t see us ever officially breaking up, but I could see us being gradually becoming less and less active. It’s normal. Sixty-eight years and still playing extreme death metal? Check back in with me in 25 years and we’ll see if that actually pans out. (laughs)

You could play your 50th anniversary show at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

(whistles) Wow. Fifty? Like I said, check back with me in 25 years. We’ll see what’s going on then. (laughs)

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Friday, November 22, 2013 10:29pm]

    

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