Interview: Cattle Decapitation Vocalist Travis Ryan Discusses New Album, 'Monolith of Inhumanity'
Vocalist Travis Ryan has been fronting vegetarian grindcore band Cattle Decapitation since 1997, back when the band was a side project for members of The Locust.
With more than nine albums under his belt, including a new one with his side project, Murder Construct, Ryan recently sat down with Guitar World to discuss all things Cattle Decapitation, including a switch in their lineup and their new album, Monolith of Inhumanity, which came out May 8 via Metal Blade Records.
GUITAR WORLD: Was there a difference in the songwriting process between 2009’s The Harvest Floor and Monolith of Inhumanity?
For one thing, we got a new bass player [Derek Engemann] since The Harvest Floor, and you know that’ll always change things up. We hired him from touring with him, and I was always amazed by how quickly he picked up on things. That always says a lot about somebody. But luckily, you know, we didn’t really know what to expect from him as far as songwriting goes at all. So, it totally worked out. He always told us, “My main thing that I’m trying to do is add structure,” you know, so I think he helped bring a lot more structure to the songs.
We spent like a year writing it, because all of us, we all have day jobs, you know, we’re grown men. It’s not like all these young bands, where I don’t know what the hell they do -- nothing, I guess -- Mom and Dad gave ‘em all MacBooks and they know how to use ‘em. We don’t, we do it the old-fashioned way; practicing an hour or two a night. Not even a night, more like three nights a week. So honestly, it’s a miracle we could even pull off a record.
What we wanted to do was to spend five months writing it, like we usually do, and then another five or six months rehearsing it, playing it live. ‘Cause you know, when you play things live you come up with so much, you come up with so many different things to do to these songs, and it’s usually after the record comes out. And you’re sitting there tooling around on these things going, “Shit, I should’ve totally done that. This song would have been so much better. This part would have been so much better.”
We’ve never really been afforded that opportunity, ‘cause just getting all of us in a room three nights a week turned out to be such a nightmare. But luckily, I think we work well under pressure, you know?
The album cover art is an interesting play on the imagery from Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Do the album and the film have any common themes? Does the album have a consistent theme, or does it vary from song to song?
The album’s definitely got a theme all on its own. I mean, the only thing that it really draws from is the theme in 2001 with the dog-man, and it shows the same kinda scenario, except more so how humans have evolved, but it takes place in the future. it’s just filled with metaphors. It’s about how we’re regressing back to apes as a result of the byproduct of our technological advancements and, essentially what the monolith represents is the unwavering self-destruction of man through our technological advancements.
It really does play into the vegetarian section of the band, and that idea or aesthetic. Again, anything we’ve ever really talked about has been either revenge or anti-factory farming and the industrialization of how we live and our food supply. You know, it’s just more of this condemning humanity for damage we’ve done. Pretty much.
How extensively will the band be touring following this release?
We’re gonna try to cut down; we’re known for doing like five US tours for every album we do. So we’re gonna try to cut that out and do more international touring, stuff like that. We haven’t hit any other countries. We need to do South America, we need to do Australia, we need to do South Africa. We just wanna explore all those areas, you know? As opposed to 50 US tours, ‘cause everyone’s sick of us by the time we’re on our 20th anyway.
How much new material will you be incorporating into your live set?
Currently, I think we do three old songs, and that’s it. It’s funny, dude, because the audience reaction to the new stuff has been pretty unprecedented for us. Usually it’s been like, “Oh, new song? Cool, that’s cool.” And now it’s been like, “FUCK YEAHHH!” just when I say the words, “Okay, we’re gonna play a new one.” I almost feel dumb playing the old shit, anything pre-Harvest Floor, there’s so much other better stuff that’s, you know. But you wanna appease people, you've gotta play stuff they know. Maybe we’ll cut it down to only one or two old songs when the record comes out [laughs] because we really just wanna play the new stuff, to be honest.
The band worked with producer Billy Anderson on your previous two releases, The Harvest Floor and Karma.Bloody.Karma. Did he return to work on Monolith of Inhumanity?
No, we decided to go with this guy Dave Otero. We talked to Billy a bunch, you know, it was almost like we kept our options open, we’ll put it that way. We made sure Billy was going to be available and it was gonna be cool, just in case, but we still just kept our options open. And we went with Dave because we were like, “OK, let’s try something new.” Because we’d already done a couple records with Billy, they’re great, but let’s try something new because that’s what we do.
Especially with this record, and if anything it’s going to be our best one. I keep seeing that on the comments online; I try not to look at that shit anyway. So we’re pretty confident with this one. It’s really helped bring a lot of stuff to the table, as far as like arranging issues. We’d bring something in and be like, “What about this part? I’m not sure what to do with this.” And Dave would say, “You know, why don’t you try this?” We never really had anyone do that before. It’s weird. It’s always been like, we play our part, and that was cool. Little pitchy, or this or that, but it was cool. Not like, “That’s cool, but what if this?” you know, like a producer does.
I think a lot of that’s our fault, because we’ve always been like, “We want production credits on this too. We wanna be in control of what we sound like.” And maybe that was our downfall. Because we came into the studio and we kinda dropped it in his lap. “Work your magic, make us sound cool” [laughs]. The same with the director of the new video. As long as it sounds like the band, and it matches the band, and you’ve got trust in this person that they’ll make it sound cool or look cool, then you can add all these different dynamics by dropping it in this person’s lap and saying, “work your magic.” And that’s kinda what we did here.