Inspirations can come in various different shapes and forms. Last year saw the limitless work ethic of Chris Barnes release Six Feet Under‘s brand new album Crypt of The Devil. Not knowing at the time that the singer would be releasing another instalment in the Graveyard Classics series hardly a top priority on the man’s list but the world works in mysterious ways. Choosing two of the most influential bands in Heavy Metal we spoke to the legendary Death Metal vocalist to find out just what this instalment of the Graveyard Classics contains, how the incredible pun ridden name was thought up and Barnes’ esoteric writing methods which may lead us to another new album soon.
You can listen to the entire unedited interview in the Soundcloud file or read the entire transcript of the interview below!
Today I have with me Chris Barnes from Six Feet Under, how are you Chris?
Doing excellent, doing excellent, how are you guys doin’?
Its a little bit dark and murky but not too bad! What have Six Feet Under been up to so far this year?
Well we did a tour over in Germany at the end of 2015 for the Christmas festivals. Came back and recorded the new Graveyard Classics album or finished recording it we had started it in the fall. I ended up doing my tracks in early January. We ended up doing that and the mix and mastering took us to about end of February or so and just been kind of writing new material since then. Getting ready to do some dates in June beginning of July. A festival date and some surrounding club dates in Europe thats pretty much it just kind of mapping things out for the rest of the year.
As you just mentioned the fourth instalment of Graveyard Classics is coming out. It called The Number of the Priest which I think is amazing, its the best pun ever! What made you decide to go with Priest and Iron Maiden?
Well I really didn’t have a big feeling that I was going to do another Graveyard Classics. I think it was August 2014 when I looked at my notes and I wrote down Graveyard Classics IV : The Number of The Priest so I was like it seems so cool if I was going to do one to do a split LP. Two of my favourite bands, one on each side. I kind of like to mix things up and the Graveyard Classics series is a good example of experimenting with different tones in my vocals and using other peoples tempos and vocal versings to inspire different things from my own side of things.
On all levels, on my personal attack, on my vocal presentation and whatnot also an artistic look from things some kind of enjoyment over what I have liked over my life and different things like that! It was a cool way to present this album I felt. For the second Graveyard Classics it was a little bit more of a subtle way, we didn’t do a whole album. We did two really important bands in my opinion.
Its a bit more freeing then is that what you mean?
I’ve always felt like I can experiment with what I do. Even when I was in Cannibal Corpse I didn’t really stick to any major outline. I still wrote about things I thought that were important and also used symbolism and things like that to put certain feelings across and maybe disrupt people’s thought patterns about certain subjects. I think the Graveyard Classics gives me a little bit more of a broader spectrum because I don’t have to think of those subtleties. Vocal patterns and writing my own songs. Especially these songs they’re kind of printed in my DNA because I’ve heard ninety percent of them for the past thirty five years or so haha!
Its just different but I have always felt like I can experiment with things. A lot of people don’t like it when I do and they don’t understand that I have always done that as far as different vocal approaches and vocal tones. From the first album Eaten Back To Life my vocals are completely different from Butchered at Birth. Butchered at Birth doesn’t sound like The Bleeding and The Bleeding doesn’t sound like Warpath! Warpath doesn’t sound like True Carnage or Undead or Unborn. People want to discredit me perse “oh his vocals are shot.”
They’ve been saying that from day one! I remember Kerrang! having a lot of nasty things to say about my vocals for their review of Butchered at Birth. I mean if I listen to people, worry about what others have to say about me and worry about all that nonsense then I would be really just treading water. I’ve always been one to do what I enjoy and enjoy feeling it. I don’t feel it like someone else feels things, I’m not that person, I’m just me! People that like me really appreciate what I do and I appreciate all those folks.
Its surprising that Kerrang! said that about one of maybe one of the most archetypal Death Metal albums ever!
It was a different way of singing back then! I remember even some fans from Buffalo at that time, when I really dug in and started when Butchered at Birth was just about to be released we did some live stuff and I premiered that vocal style and fans that love my vocals style on Eaten Back to Life they told me upfront to my face! There was no internet back then but they said no I like the way you sang before haha! I was like OK! sorry you don’t like it.
Thats how I heard it with the music and thats how I’ve always approached it. Trying to find the best vocal tone, I don’t like to blanket a certain style over every single riff that comes up. It doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t think it sounds good but thats just personal taste I suppose. There’s a lot of people that don’t like things I like and vice versa.
When you were figuring out the covers was it a completely different process to how you wrote Crypt of The Devil for example?
The songs, yeah well I mean we wrote those songs for that album. For this album as far as choosing songs by those two bands I left it up to my friend Brian Slagel (Metal Blade’s CEO). He’s a huge Iron Maiden fan, they’re his favourite band and Judas Priest very similar in our tastes of Old School Classic Metal. It felt like it was better for someone else, that I appreciated their knowledge of the style of music for these two bands. Kind of lead me on a thing like this, I’ve picked songs and I’ve written tons of songs so why not try and inspire myself through someone elses vision of what the best songs would be for us, especially someone that I respect so greatly as Brian.
I primarily meant the kind of recording process…
Oh recording! As far as recording process it was similar to the last album as far as everybody went off on their own and recorded their own studios. I recorded with Carson again, he engineered my vocal session on Crypt of The Devil. We had a really cool rapport and good feeling having him in the booth and me being behind the mic. For a singer, I’m way off in a room somewhere and he’s in the control room and all I hear is this voice! In my headphones “yeah man pretty cool”. Its important to have this good vibe with someone talking to you, leading you down the right path as far as your frame of mind when you are in a session. I work well with Carson hes a great guy and I hope to work some more with him as his new studio comes along.
Is it difficult to put a Death Metal slant on something that is so classic like Iron Maiden or Priest?
You know I don’t really try to do that. I just let myself loose on the songs and hear the songs in my head like I’ve heard them a thousand times. I just don’t want to sound like the person I’m singing. I’m covering their songs, I’m not that guy that tries to reperfect something that is pretty much perfect. I just try to put it through the meat grinder a little bit. Let it kind of breathe and open up haha!
Its such a stark contrast, especially with Halford! His voice is so high!
I tried to sing like Rob Halford when I was fourteen years old listening to Victim of Changes in my bedroom on my boombox and learned real quick that I couldn’t sing like that. I just kind of had to invent my own way! Even old Blues singers singing other peoples songs, they would just sing it how they sing it. Thats my formula, I want to do what I do and not what I did twenty years ago and not what I did five years ago because twenty years ago and five years ago I wasn’t trying to do something I did years before that. I was trying to do something right then and there with what I had in front of me and thats how I’ve always looked at it and thats how I will always approach it. Take it one song at a time, one riff at a time, trying to put those puzzle pieces together until it sounds the best to me.
I remember the last time that we spoke you had quite an esoteric outlook on how you would write a song.
For sure, its spiritual for me. Projects come together, like I said earlier, I never had an intention of doing another Graveyard Classics. I think on the last interview run I did for Crypt of The Devil a lot of the guys were asking me “Is there going to be another Graveyard Classics?” and I was like “No” hahaha! I wrote that down a while ago but I thought I wouldn’t do one for a long time and then right after those interviews Phil kind of texted me saying “Hey man” it was probably about a week after Crypt of The Devil came out and said “What do you think about doing another Graveyard Classics”.
I thought this is so weird, he’s just hit me up for this all these guys asking me that in these interview sessions so I guess thats a sign, lets do it! Then I went back to that note that I had and boom here we are talking. I had nothing to do with it, I was steered in a certain direction and you’ve got to listen to those hints and thats how I have always really walked through life, watching for those signs and walking through those nice open doorways!
Will you be touring the album?
We’ll be touring. We will be going to Europe like I said in the end of June July for some club dates and With Full Force festival and yeah we’re going to do a special tour on this one. We’re going to do a full set of cover songs Graveyard Classics the tour, we’re going to pick a good number of cover songs and have everybody listen to some fun stuff for the summer time!
Will you be coming over to the UK? Its been quite a while!
Its been forever and everyone keeps asking about it. I would love to, its really not my call. Its when the right people ask our booking agents and put a good package together I’m all for it!
As I mentioned before Halford does the highs, Dickinson speaks quite quickly, was that hard to do on some of the songs?
Not really, like I said I’ve known those songs for so long they’re just embedded in my mind! He’s definitely fast with his vocals but theres a lot of cool stuff too, I’m never satisfied that its really laid back and its real heavy and sits really nicely in a groove pattern you know. Probably the fastest song was “Murders In The Rue Morgue” Di’Anno was really fast on that. A very difficult song to sing on this album.
What’s the later part of 2016 got planned for Six Feet Under?
Well I’m hoping to be getting into the studio around September and recording the new album. That’ll get us going on and then we will have our European Christmas In Hell tour at the end of the year.
Is that a kind of annual thing?
Yeah its an annual thing, we’ve been going oh jesus its been about I think like eight years that we’ve done that now…
Always at Christmas?
Yep at Christmas Germany, Austria, Switzerland pretty much that run right there! They like their Metal around Christmas time in Germany.
Nothing better than festival bloodshed! Do you think that regardless of the boxing in of genres Heavy Metal and Death Metal have similarities?
Yeah for sure. Its all Metal number one, I think its just an extension of the classic days of Metal. The furvor and love of the fans is the same they’ve now accellerated a little bit, when I would go to a Judas Priest concert I wouldn’t do a circle pit and get up and bash each others brains in hahaha! It was more headbanging but it is, its an extension of it for sure.
As I think I aksed before over the last six months to a year what have you been listening to?
No not too much! If I’m listening to something it will just depend on my mood. Sometimes I will listen to Classical music, sometimes I would listen to some Blues or some Jazz. Whatevers kind of on my palette, the other day I was going through old stuff just old Metal that I used to listen to as a kid growing up. It just depends on the day.
I recently watched a movie, I don’t know if you have seen it, Whiplash?
Yeah, yeah I saw that!
It really got me into Herbie Hancock and stuff like that so I totally understand what you mean with Jazz. Is that a rough plan that you’re going into the studio for the follow up to Crypt of The Devil?
If everything goes good we should be able to get there for that!
It seems to me that you pump out albums every year, how do you do it!
Just try to stay as busy as possible and I just love to write. I love writing new material and seeing where that journey takes me, it gives me a good feeling at the end of the day to get something done that is meaningful to myself. Thats always a nice thing to do, its kind of an addiction man. I love writing new material and I will continue to do that for as long as people want to hear it or as long as I want to hear it.
Six Feet Under’s latest instalment Graveyard Classics IV : The Number of The Priest is set for a May 27th release.