Job for a Cowboy: Second Coming

Originally published in Guitar World, October 2009

Job for a Cowboy get in your face with Ruination, their hard-hitting follow-up to Genesis. Bobby Thompson and Al Glassman shoot the shit.

By conventional standards, Job for a Cowboy’s 2007 full-length debut, Genesis, was a resounding success. The disc entered the Billboard album chart at No. 54, the highest position for any metal debut since the first Slipknot record, and earned the death metal band slots on 2007’s Sounds of the Underground and 2008’s Gigantour. To date, Genesis has sold more than 77,500 copies, a considerable amount in an age of illegal file sharing.

But although the album catapulted Job for a Cowboy out of Glendale, Arizona, and into the metal mainstream, the two-year supporting tour was sometimes torturous for guitarist Bobby Thompson. It wasn’t the touring he disliked—it was the album.

“It just wasn’t very mature sounding,” Thompson says, speaking from the band’s shared home a month before the release of JFAC’s second record, Ruination (Metal Blade). “The riffs weren’t very technical, and a lot of the songs sounded the same. When we finished it I was excited because it was the first thing we had done, but after a while I realized a lot of it was really lame. We tried hard not to make the same mistakes on the new record.”

In that they succeeded. Ruination isn’t just a step up from Genesis, it’s a monumental leap, a crushing album filled with precise and multifaceted guitar work that should distinguish Job for a Cowboy from the deathcore pack. “There was a bit of a conscious effort to put some distance between us and that deathcore thing,” Thompson admits. “It’s something we’ve been lumped into from the start, but only because that’s all we were capable of playing when we wrote our [2005] Doom EP when everyone in the band was 16.”

Ruination rips and roars with songs that range from ominous and doomy Neurosis-style chugs to world-ending conflagrations reminiscent of Morbid Angel. While it has plenty of the slow breakdowns that are a staple of modern, extreme metal, they’re written as a way to raise and lower a song’s tension level rather than to incite frenzied moshing.

“A lot of people write a record because time’s up and the label needs it,” says Al Glassman, the former Despised Icon guitarist who replaced Cowboy axman Ravi Bhadriraju late last year. “We wrote a record because we needed to, as musicians, and we worked our asses off to make sure it was the way we wanted it to be.”

Glassman brought new life to Job for a Cowboy, whose members include singer Jonny Davy, bassist Brent Riggs and drummer Jon “The Charn” Rice. Glassman has a strong right hand and writes riffs requiring rapid-fire down picking; Thompson favors his left hand and creates passages filled with textural embellishments and multi-note fills. “I think having to adapt to one another’s styles helped us both grow as players,” Thompson says. “It kept us challenged, and it was cool to work with someone who came from a completely different perspective.”

Glassman says, “A lot of times I would come up with the beginning of a riff and Bobby would just do this cool left-hand thing for the tail of it. So we were writing everything together as opposed to writing our parts separately and then showing them to each other.”

While all the tracks on Genesis were in drop A# tuning (drop D down two whole steps), Ruination features eight songs written in D standard and two in C standard. Exploring different tunings was creatively rewarding for Thompson, who often found himself at odds with Bhadriraju’s preference for drop tunings. “I just never felt right playing in drop tuning,” he says. “Standard feels more like home. The higher tuning allows you to get better tones and the riffs come through more clearly. It doesn’t sound like you’re playing through mud. That’s something I was never able to get through to Ravi before.”

Even so, when Bhadriraju quit last December to go to college, it was the last thing his bandmates wanted. He had co-founded the band in 2003, and his churning riffs and rudimentary leads formed the backbone of Genesis.

Thompson recalls, “At first, I was like, Shit, this dude brought me into the band and he’s one of my best friends. I don’t want him to go. We work really well together. At the same time, I could tell it wasn’t working for him any more and he had to go do what he needed to do. And in the end, I think it was a blessing in disguise. It helped us move forward creatively.”

With Bhadriraju out of the lineup, Job for a Cowboy called Glassman, who they knew from their numerous tours with Despised Icon. As it happened, Glassman was frustrated by Despised Icon’s sonic limitations and his bandmates’ unwillingness to let him help write. He immediately made plans to relocate to Arizona.

“I was in Europe at the time,” he says. “As soon as I got the news, I flew home from Germany in two days, caught the first plane to Phoenix, got a bed off Craigslist and started a new life.”

After just a few rehearsals with Glassman, Job for a Cowboy launched a tour with Hate Eternal and All Shall Perish. They had planned to write new songs on the road, but various obstacles made it impossible: they were traveling in a van, most of the venues where they were booked didn’t have dressing rooms and there was too much drinking to be done. When they returned to Arizona in mid December, they had just two songs completed and were scheduled to hit the studio in one month. After wrangling an additional month of prep time, Job for a Cowboy got to work. To conjure the moods they were after for each track, they bombarded their ears with music from other metal artists.

Glassman says, “We were like, ‘Okay, let’s take today and listen to nothing but Cannibal Corpse and write some fierce death metal.’ Or, ‘Let’s listen to nothing but Phobia and Disfear all day and then write some wild grindy shit.’ We tried to reset out brains for different styles of music so that none of the songs would sound the same.”

For the first half of January, the guitarists worked on their own because Rice had prior commitments to Austrian Death Machine. When Rice finally arrived, the band began piecing the riffs into full songs. With only six weeks left before entering the studio, they worked on each song until they felt they could go no further with it, and then moved on to another. If any of the members didn’t like a part, it was binned. “We didn’t have time to sit around and argue,” Glassman says. “It was stressful as fuck because it felt like the clock was ticking over our heads the whole time, but it kept us all stoked on the songs we had. The momentum was there the whole time.”

To alleviate the stress of writing all day, the band members met every night at a bar with just two edicts: drink as much as possible and never talk about the band or the songs. Glassman says, “The only thing that kept us from going completely nuts was the bar. We’d just get trashed and bullshit about whatever.”

Thompson agrees. “I think it helped us from feeling too overloaded,” he says. “No matter what shit went down during the day, we were still hanging out together. We didn’t hate each other.”

At the end of March, Job for a Cowboy flew to producer Jason Suecof’s Audio Hammer Studios in Sanford, Florida, to begin tracking. Suecof, whose production credits include Trivium, Chimaira and DevilDriver, was selected earlier in the year after Job for a Cowboy recorded two tracks with him and with a second producer. Not only were they impressed by Suecof’s knowledge of death metal, they were stoked by his improvisational abilities and his never-ending reservoir of ideas.

Thompson says, “If I could play like any other guitarist it would be him. He’s really creative and kept us thinking outside of the box the whole time. In the past, we’d always do the same kind of shit as far as harmonies went. He just said, ‘Why do you keep playing minor thirds? Let’s try a fourth. Let’s try a fifth. Let’s try an octave.’ It really opened up a lot of possibilities.”

While other artists have complained about Suecof’s inability to stick to a schedule, Job for a Cowboy vibed with his lackadaisical approach and the odd hours he keeps. Thompson says, “Going out there and recording with him was the most relaxing experiencing we could have had. If we wanted to take a break for two hours and go goof off, smoke weed and watch some TV, he’d be down. We started tracking at 5 p.m. every day and wrapped up at five in the morning, which a lot of producers aren’t open to, but we’re definitely not interested in waking up at 8 a.m. and starting to play guitar at nine.”

Having such a loose recording schedule gave the band most of the day to kick their hangovers and repair or hide damage from the night before. Sometimes that was easier said than done. Thompson says, “We’re not Mötley Crüe or anything, but occasionally we’ll get a little too hammered, and then one thing will happen that will set off a chain reaction.

“In Orlando, someone handed me a light bulb and I threw it and it broke. Next thing I knew, picture frames were torn off walls and telephones and remote controls were being cooked in the microwave.”

Glassman adds, “All the lights got torn off the wall, all the legs got ripped off the table, and Jonny smashed a chair. Everything that could be broken got broken. But at the end of the night your work’s done for the day; everybody just wants to party and have a good time. You throw the whole band in a hotel room, you’re drunk, something dumb’s gonna happen. We were expecting a $4,000 bill the next week, but for some reason we never got charged.”

The band was considerably more thoughtful when it came to recording. For the album, Thompson used his Ibanez RG for all of the songs in D standard, and played through a Peavey 6505 amplifier. When it came time to work on the two songs in C standard, he and Glassman noticed that the Florida humidity had warped the RG ’s neck, so they switched to Glassman’s go-to guitar, a Jackson U.S. Soloist. Both guitars were equipped with EMG-81 pickups that were wired to two nine-volt batteries.

Thompson explains, “The EMGs are built to handle 27 volts, but you typically run them with just one nine-volt battery. That gives a very compressed signal, but running them at 18 volts adds more dynamics to the sound.”

For the Ruination tour, Thompson will play his new Ibanez RG 1515 through a 6505 Plus that he has used for the past two years, and Glassman will use his Jackson and 6505. Thompson plans to run his amps on the “666” setting recommended to him by Red Chord guitarist Mike “Gunface” McKenzie. Thompson says, “I loved his tone when we toured with them, and he told me he sets everything to six. So I tried it—bass, mid, treble, gain, presence/resonance at six—and it sounds awesome.” In addition, both guitarists will use Boss DD 2 and DD 6 delay pedals for their few solos.

When Job for a Cowboy play the Hot Topic stage at the Rockstar Mayhem festival they’ll share the bill with Cannibal Corpse, Black Dahlia Murder, Behemoth and Whitechapel. Admittedly, Cannibal Corpse’s legendary status and Behemoth’s technical skill will probably take a backseat to Job’s crowd-pleasing death metal, but Thompson hopes their popularity will help introduce fans to the music of their elders.

“Kids are automatically into us because we’re younger guys and they can relate to us,” he says. “But then they find out that the bands we’re touring with were our influences, so hopefully they start getting into those as well.”

In that respect he and his bandmates see themselves as a bridge not only to metal’s future but also to its past. “I see us as a stepping stone for kids that aren’t that familiar with death metal,” Thompson says. “We’re not very technical, so maybe it’s easy for them to get into us. But hopefully they’ll go further and discover the bands that inspired us and so many other modern death metalers. I think it’s cool to be a part of that.”

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