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Moonchild Mindgames: A Conversation With Jørgen Munkeby

Jørgen Munkeby’s resumé is impressive for a number of reasons if only for the fact that the avant-garde jazz musician has remained largely unencumbered by distraction. It’s a familiar story and one not unlike that of someone like Bruce Lamont, whose own passion and love for both jazz and heavy metal were not something to be creatively viewed under different lenses. In fact, for an artist like Munkeby that coexistence is essential to fully capture influences ranging from Lester Young to Lemmy Kilmister. Munkeby’s collaborations with Ihsahn notwithstanding, the saxophonist’s crowning achievement so far has been conceived in the form of Shining, a band as perplexingly hard to define as they are irresistibly magnetic. Now fifteen years into its existence, Shining continues to forge its own path of existence in a scene too often saturated with the same old bullshit. SfB recently asked Munkeby a few questions about his own jazz beginnings, his love for metal, and what the future holds both for himself and for Shining. 


Shining has been through a few significant transitions regarding its sound going from the more acoustic and straightforward jazz of its early days to the much more experimental and heavier sound of the last few years. How important is progression for you personally with creativity just in terms of how easily bands stagnate, especially within heavy music?

I think I just easily get bored by doing the same things again and again, and I seem to always be on the lookout for new things to learn. This has led Shining through quite some musical changes throughout our career. But I also think most people change throughout their lives – their taste changes, their friends change, their relationships change, and just by getting older we all change – and I think that it’s just natural for musicians and for bands also to change their music when they themselves change as persons.


While it might be initially easy for listeners to dismiss what they see as a gimmick of “jazz meets metal”, what you’ve done with Shining is something incredibly forward-thinking and challenging, and the music more than shows a vast depth of knowledge regarding those complex compositional structures existing both within metal and jazz. Are those two seemingly very distinctive music forms something you’ve always seen as being closely related, or was that a gradual discovery for you as a musician? 

I grew up with metal music when I was a kid. I started playing the sax at age nine, but even then I didn’t listen to jazz. After some years, when I was around 14 years old, I got hooked on jazz music and spent every waking hour studying jazz for about ten years. But even though I had gotten both jazz and metal thoroughly into my blood, it took me about 20 years to figure out how to blend them together in a fashion that I felt sounded natural. Now I feel it’s the most natural thing in the world, and I really wonder what took me so long!


 

In a music industry that values easily digestible tracks over albums and compositions that require thought and oftentimes patience, you’ve largely resisted that notion of acceptability and supposed normalcy with Shining as the music manages to stay below the five-minute mark yet completely take on those characteristics of a movement. Is that compositional process one that comes fairly easy for you as trained musician, or is the struggle to create where you find most of your inspiration?

When I started writing music I was writing instrumental music, both in the jazz idiom but also for larger ensembles. In my first ten  or so years writing music I never offered a single thought towards conventional song structures, and I sometimes also thought that music was cooler if the most catchy part would only appear once in a piece of music – contrary to how popular music are being built up nowadays. What was the focus instead was to create interesting music in itself. I think I never left that way of looking at music, even though I’ve lately also experience with more traditional song structures with choruses and verses. And I think that way of looking at music will always stay with me.


You’ve worked with artists such as Ihsahn and Enslaved, and I’m curious to get your perspective on experimentation in music today with regards to heavy music. Do you see the heavy music genre as it currently exists as being much more conducive and welcoming to experimentation than other styles of music at the moment?

I am drawn towards people and musicians that inspire me, and more often than not these are people who push boundaries and experiment. Outside of that, I don’t really pay much attention to music and bands that don’t inspire me. That means that I don’t think I can say too much about the heavy music scene in general, since there are so many parts of it that I don’t pay attention to. But there are a lot of great musicians and bands in the heavy music at the moment which inspires me, and I’m very happy to have been able to work with some of them!


Do you feel that many listeners and even critics oftentimes value arbitrary shifts or changes in a heavy music band’s style over a band continuing to perfect the same style over a period of albums?

Yes, I do think that critics often seem to value shifts or changes in band’s musical styles. At least they value the will to try. And yes, sometimes bands that stick with their sound for a longer time to try to perfect it, might get shit about not renewing themselves. But sometimes it can be good to stick with something for a longer period of time, too.


 

Where did you first discover music, and was there a specific band or song that provided that initial creative spark for you in the beginning?

I don’t remember where I discovered music as a general thing. I guess it was always around me, through my parents’ vinyl records. A few bands and artists that have inspired me throughout my life are Sepultura, Death, Entombed, John Coltrane, Michael Brecker, Miles Davis, Olivier Messiaen, Arnold Schönberg, Gustav Mahler, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and of course the music my parents listened to when I was a kid, The Beatles, Cat Stevens and The Rolling Stones.


What do you see as your greatest point of creative growth since that initial moment or since your beginnings as a musician?

I would probably say the creation of our album Blackjazz, and with it the founding of what is supposed to be a unique genre, is the biggest and most important creative landmark in my musical career.


How large of a role do you see yourself in as a musician in terms of being a conduit for what you’re creating? Do you see yourself more as a facilitator for what’s occurring without regard to your attempts to control it, or are the creative variables something you see as being completely within your control? 

I don’t think I’m in complete control of things, but I do believe I control, and have control over, quite a lot compared to a lot of other bands and musicians. This applies to both creating the music, producing the music, and also to business and strategic aspects of our band. I have always wanted to be hands on, and I’ve never felt that it would be wise to wait for inspiration. If I’m not inspired, inspiration comes when I start working.


 

Do you utilize any kind of improvisatory approach to the music of Shining, or is the music deliberately structured and purposed?

I use improvisation as one of many tools when composing. I also try make sure there are room for improvisation during our live sets by deliberately structuring our sets and songs to make room for it.


What lies ahead for you and Shining in 2014, Jørgen?

Ooh, there’s a lot of things going on at the moment! It seems more busy than ever before! We’re now touring more than we have done, but I’m also trying to write and produce music at the same time. Not really while being in the tour bus, but as soon as I get back from tour I continue the writing and production process. We currently have quite some new music, but are not yet sure about how and when to release it. Right now I’m on the plane back to Oslo from Los Angeles, where I’ve lived for two months while recording and writing.

In Norway we’re doing a four weekend long tour, with one of the shows being designated to brand new music, and another show being designated to playing the Blackjazz album from start to finish for the very first time ever. After that we’re doing seven shows together with Marty Friedman in the UK and Ireland, as support for Kreator and Arch Enemy. We’re actually playing half of our set with Friedman as a guest guitarist! Then we’re doing a month long tour in Europe in March 2015. I’m not sure what happens after that, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be busy! In addition to this, I’m supposed to write a 20 minutes piece of music for a contemporary classical music ensemble. A lot of things going on!

Thanks to Jørgen for his time.

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SfB Podcast 015: Adam Bartlett of Gilead Media

Special guest Adam Bartlett, founder/curator/operator/custodial renaissance man of independent metal label Gilead Media, talks to SfB about why Modest Mouse sucks and how emo is still the jam. 

Guest(s): 

Adam Bartlett (@gileadmedia)

Contributors:

Erik Highter (@EZSnappin)

Jonathan K Dick (@Jonathan_K_Dick)

Podcast Questions? Email: sfbpodcast@gmail.com

SfB Questions? Email: steelforbrains@gmail.com

                                      SfB is on: Facebook - Twitter - Instagram 

Eaten From Inside: A Conversation With George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher (Part II)

SfB’s two-part feature interview with George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher of Cannibal Corpse concludes with this installment. Click here to read the first installment which includes George discussing his love for Celtic Frost and getting the opportunity to perform alongside Tom G Warrior. 

It’s always something special to see those artists and musicians who remain dedicated and unashamed as fans regardless of how much fame or credit they’ve received themselves. You guys are constantly producing, you’re constantly touring, and you’re doing it with the same passion and energy that’s been there all along. What’s the force behind that longevity for you?

I don’t know, man. When I heard Sabbath and the guitars, and when I heard Frost it was just like the next logical step. It was faster, but it was still a heavy guitar sound. The lyrics were even darker and about crazier themes than Black Sabbath. I remember when Into the Pandemonium came out. I bought it, and we went to my friend Tom’s house, and I’d been freaking in the record store like “Dude! We gotta play this!” He wasn’t really into them, but I was like “C’mon! Let me play it on your fuckin’ stereo!” I played it and he listened to it and was like “That’s pretty heavy guitar stuff,” and I was like “Yeah, but there’s nothing fast on it, man. There’s no fucking skank beat,” and I was really hurt but it still caught me like it was heavy. So fucking heavy. There’s a part of me that almost likes that now as much as any of their other stuff. It’s so heavy. I just kept listening to it and couldn’t stop. It was like “Man, this isn’t really fast,” but I’d be humming certain songs like “Mesmerize” and stuff like that. His voice was obviously way different, too.

Some people would be saying “Oh man, that’s kinda wimpy sounding. I didn’t like it,” but I thought it was tortured like he was distraught. There were heavier songs as far as the vocals. It was a great mix. I love that album. It didn’t take me more than a day to start humming songs and singing lyrics in my head like “I don’t care, man. I love this album.” That album has a lot of different experimental stuff on it like the instruments and orchestration, and it’s fucking awesome. Into the Pandemonium is one of the albums that made me broaden my tastes. I mean, me and my friends were listening to rap shit too like LL Cool J and fucking Beastie Boys, but not really a lot. It just wasn’t metal, and it wasn’t heavy. We had a few things and that was it. Punk rock, hardcore, or metal. We always hoped when we were gaining popularity and getting a lot more fans and pushing into the households that we normally wouldn’t have. It was always the big four of thrash people would hear of.

Slayer was always the bad guy because of their themes and stuff, and they were faster. They were the fastest of the bands. Now Slayer’s easily as popular as any of those. Well, Metallica is a light year away from everybody, but either way Slayer was kinda one of those bands that a lot of people just didn’t get it but now they do. I think we’ve done that now. We’ve pushed ourselves and forced our way into more homes just by people seeing us live and maybe hearing what we do, but I think all the touring that we do definitely. You’re gonna see us. We did Mayhem in 2009. We did it again this year, and we saw a lot of people who’ve never heard our name. Maybe they heard us at a party or something, but when do you sit and listen to an album at a party? You don’t. Even if you sit and listen to it at home, most people listen to music when they’re playing fucking video games or cleaning out their fucking garage. It’s really hard for people to sit down and really intently listen to music like they used to.

I’m not saying that they don’t, but it’s not as prevalent as it was back then I think. We’ve gotten to the point now that when people see you live that’s when their attention is on you. They’re seeing the band, they’re seeing the vocalist, they’re hearing the songs, and I think when you do that and you kick ass, it translates to them and they understand it. They transfer that to going and getting your albums and becoming a fan. We’ve gained a lot of fans that way who otherwise would’ve never given us a chance. We always try to come back with a bunch of death metal bands that we know people are gonna like and the kids that just got into us who think we’re the only band like this are suddenly like “Whoa! There’s other bands,” because it’s still underground music. It really is. You’ve got the internet, but you’ve still got people who are not gonna leave their comfort zone when it comes to the music that they like. Some people wanna go out and party, and some people wanna stay in their house and party.

But we’re hopefully making a dent in people listening to other bands. We don’t wanna steal all the glory for ourselves. We want people to like Immolation. We want people to listen to Aeon. For us, it’s an obligation to come back with other bands. It’s the same thing that people did for us. People that saw us at Mayhem who gave us a chance are now gonna do the same for these bands we take out on tour with us. The whole world opens up to them, and they start getting more and more into extreme music. I think now we’re in the same conversations as bands that are way bigger than we are as far as people knowing who we are, so we wanna take what we’ve been given and what we’ve worked for and hopefully other bands can reap the rewards from it.

 

You mention the underground, and it’s interesting to see that whole culture and the bands associated with it really experience significant growth over the last few years.

We’re happy. Obviously we’re in a good position now, but we want the band to be bigger and we want the band to always grow. Luckily with the internet people can, even if they don’t see you live, they can go online and check out any number of videos of us playing live if they’re even curious about the band. Let’s say you’re going to Mayhem, and you haven’t heard three or four of those bands, and then you’re like “Oh, I’ll just hop online and watch them on YouTube,” but it wasn’t like that before. You had to find somebody you knew, and there was always that one guy who was trading tapes with people that you always saw at shows, and it’s almost like you’re fucking drug dealer. [Laughs] “Hey man, you got any of that fucking band or this fucking band.” Not saying it was always like that, but now you just go online. You type “Cannibal Corpse” into YouTube, and there’s a thousand videos of us, and you can hear any of our songs. It’s that easy.

It’s good for that, but as far as illegal downloading it’s bad because obviously. In the old days we’d probably sell way more records at this popularity that we’re at now. If people were buying these records instead of illegally downloading, obviously we’d probably be seen as a lot bigger than some clubs see us. If you’re just talking money and selling records, people don’t make that much money selling records anymore. People just download the albums, and I don’t think they really realize how much they’re hurting the industry, the bands, the labels, everybody. Everybody’s fucked by it. Not to turn this into that, but we’re at a really good spot as far as our popularity, but I don’t think some places recognize that because we don’t have the record sales to back it up. You can’t trace how many people have our album. The internet is good for a lot of things like if I wanna hear this band I can go check them out, and if I like it I’ll go buy it. Before, you just had to buy the CD or record and check them out.

I was lucky that I had this friend who worked at a record store, and he would always tell me stuff to buy. I always trusted his opinion, and he never led me wrong. All that to say, if you like an album just go buy the fucking thing. We’re not all rich. Just because you put a record out doesn’t mean anything. It’s not like back in the old days when that meant you had a record deal. Now people can put out their own albums. Tons of people basically say “Fuck it, we’ll do it ourselves” and put out a demo that sounds just as good as any other album. You can do it at your house by yourself. It’s changed and a lot of it for the better, but there’s some unfortunate things as well.

 

Death metal is one of those genres where the progression at least in some ways is dependent on the listener’s desensitization. That is, it’s a genre constantly pushing itself lyrically, thematically, and musically to avoid stagnation and redundancy. What was extreme in 1989 isn’t extreme in the same sense in 2014. What’s the future for death metal from your perspective?

That’s when you had the “modern” death metal sound, and if you ask me – Possessed is the first death metal band. And I guarantee if you ask Alex Webster he’ll tell you the same thing. They’re the first death metal bands. It’s easy. There were bands that, to me, Kreator was like a thrash-death kinda thing, so there’s bands that you can make the case across the board, but Possession is definitely a different style than there was in the 90s. Even if you’re looking at bands like Death, Obituary, and Deicide, and say even Cannibal – four distinct styles and there’s the similar styles in vocals and guitars that link them all together, so there’s a modern death metal sound. But there’s bands back in the day you could definitely say were death metal bands as well. It’s just a different kind. There’s people I could play Possessed for that would be like “No way. That’s not death metal” because they’re comparing it to the stuff that they grew up with. That’s the way it’s always gonna be.

To me, I just say “Well, I win because fuck you I was there in the beginning.” [Laughs] We’re making the fucking rules. I think there’s a lot of bands coming out now that are better than any band I knew and any band I was in out of the box. People are just fucking tearing it up. Seriously. You have the technology and I think maybe kids are getting into it a little bit younger than back in the day. They’re coming out of the box and getting into us or whatever, whereas most of us it was Iron Maiden, Priest, and Sabbath, and then it evolved. Some people are going right for the fucking throat now. I hear people say “You’re the first metal band I listened to,” and I’m like “Goddamn. I heard Black Sabbath, and you’re listening to fucking us for the first thing.” It’s great. I love it, but it’s a big difference as far as how I grew up. People are listening to us and Dying Fetus and shit like that right after they’re playing with toys. Goddamn. It’s not like growing up on Waylon Jennings, and then all of a sudden you hear Black Sabbath. That’s fucking night and day.

 

I mean, Corpse was the first death metal band I heard. I thought you guys were the fucking devil, and that’s pretty much the reason I kept listening.

[Laughs] When you don’t know the band, and you’re just hearing it, and you’re like “Oh dude, these guys are gonna kill people. If you go see them you’re gonna die. What kinda people listen to this?” I think we’ve kind of broken away from that. Now that we’ve gotten a little more exposure in different mediums and whatnot, I think people get it now. We’re not crazy. We just love horror movies and we have graphic stuff. It’s serious. The music is definitely 100% serious. There’s no bullshit, and we’re not trying to write a bunch of fucking fairytales or something. But the lyrics fit the music. It’s pounding, it’s brutal, it sounds fucking evil. It sounds like a steamroller’s gonna run over your house. That’s what the lyrics should be, and we fucking dig the brutal stuff, and I think most people now realize that we’re not out to corrupt the world and murder its children.

Years ago we had all the groups coming out and saying we were corrupting their kids and it was like “Oh yeah? How are we corrupting them specifically? Are you saying we’re influencing them to commit acts of violence and murder? Because yeah, we want them in jail so they can’t buy our albums and can’t come to our shows.” We spend time hanging out with the fans and signing shit, and we’re not punching them in the face or biting their fucking arms off. Metal has got the nicest fucking people there are. I always try to make people understand that we never did anything to get publicity. We didn’t write these lyrics thinking “Oh man, people are gonna want this!” It’s just been a matter of let’s come up with the most brutal fucking lyrics we can come up with that can fit this super fucking brutal song. Nothing ulterior about it.

Some people critique us because we don’t stray from that path, but those are probably the same people that would say “I don’t like that band anymore because they got different and they sound poppy now.”We have a formula, and we’re comfortable with it. Most people coming to our shows are happy that we haven’t betrayed them. We’ve obviously evolved from Eaten Back to Life to now. We’ve gotten better at our instruments so to speak and better at writing songs. All the elements of being in a band where it was probably more undisciplined back then. We’re definitely a different band than we were then, but regardless you can’t say we’re not a death metal band. We haven’t stopped. We won’t stop.

Thanks to George for his time.

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Eaten From Inside: A Conversation With George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher (Part I)

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photo credit: Alex Morgan 

In the beginning there was Death or maybe Possessed or maybe even earlier with Celtic Frost. Whether your death metal genesis story allegiance lies in Florida, San Francisco, or Switzerland, the fact remains that no band has embodied the genre’s attitude, aesthetic, and abject rancor as successfully and as long as Cannibal Corpse. Beginning with their 1990 debut Eaten Back to Life to this year’s Skeletal Domain, Cannibal Corpse have been unwavering in sticking to the death metal formula they helped pioneer. Replacing original vocalist Chris Barnes in 1995, George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher was quick to dispel any notion that the band would soften or its image or dull its edge. In a metal world that too often suffers from identity crises, Cannibal Corpse remain unwavering and unapologetic with their obsession with terminal. In this special two-part interview feature, SfB spoke to Fisher about his own personal journey to the band and the humble beginnings that led him to where he is now. 

When you think about your very beginnings as a heavy music fan, where were you when it found you in such a way that you felt that first push to create? Was there a specific band or song?

Oh well, I mean Black Sabbath. My parents, my mother, listened to like a lot of old country and 50s stuff and later stuff like Frankie Vallie and all the older doo-wop bands – that’s what she really listened to. My father listened to that too, but he listened to a lot of rock and roll like the Stones and shit like that. Sabbath was just so much heavier than everybody else. Everybody was listening to Zeppelin and the Stones and KISS. KISS, to me, looked like Black Sabbath sounded. Black Sabbath looked like a bunch of hippies back then. KISS looked like monsters and Black Sabbath sounded like monsters. Black Sabbath to me is the first metal band. Not Led Zeppelin. Not KISS. No offense to them, but that’s more rock and roll music. Black Sabbath was not rock and roll. It was something else. It was heavier than anything.

As far as what made me go “Holy – what is this?!” I was already listening to older music like Elvis and stuff because my mother was listening to it. Of course from there, I was maybe eight or nine or maybe even younger than that, but really started to get into it really heavily probably around ten. It was just dominating everything I wanted to do, and all my friends in school and I kept up with it like when Ozzy drifted away from Sabbath and had his solo album and stuff. I was lucky because my parents – they never gave me hell about anything I wanted to listen to. I had Don’t Break the Oath by Mercyful Fate, and that’s a fucking Satanic album. I had Venom albums and Kreator and all of those. And of course most parents lump everything together thinking “Well, if they’re singing about this then they’re singing about that. It’s all the same to me. Even if I can’t understand the lyrics I know it’s evil.”

King Diamond you could actually understand the lyrics because he was singing, but either way obviously from Sabbath it’s Maiden then Priest and then Saxon and Accept and then so forth with Destruction and Kreator and Slayer and things like Celtic Frost. That’s how it all went. For me, it was just that I wanted to get into heavier and heavier stuff. Anything that was heavier and faster was what I was into. I really loved all the Bay Area thrash, too, Violence and fucking Forbidden. I was listening to everything, and of course at the same time I was listening to the fucking Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front. I listened to everything that was in any way just heavy and extreme and fast. It’s weird because obviously those are two sides of the fence when you’re talking about what Kreator is writing about as opposed to a band like Agnostic Front or Cro-Mags. They’re writing about reality and real life shit. Kreator – I’m sure they had some of that stuff too, but it was more the setting of horror kind of stuff.

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It was more brutal the way they wrote the lyrics. As far as when I started wanting to sing in a band, I used to always sing up in my room. I’ll never forget my sister and her best friend, I’d go in her room and put on Ozzy or fucking Maiden, and I’m sure I sucked balls trying to sing that stuff, but they’d sit up there and watch me, and I was totally cool with it. I wasn’t embarrassed or nothing. I was like the king, and they were watching me. I remember because I had a crush on my sister’s friend, this girl Dana, so of course I was doing my thing. But of course with doing the heavy stuff singing just went out the window. I didn’t even know if I was good or not. I couldn’t have told you one way or another if I was fucking worth a fuck singing “The Number of the Beast” or not, but I know that when I started singing heavier shit, when I started trying to do Slayer and fucking Destruction, and Kreator, and Death – especially Death – that’s when I knew. It just came more natural to me. I could emulate those guys better.

I used to sit in my room and sing everything. I would have stacks of all the albums that I had, and any album that had the inlay with the picture of the band on it or the back of the album had the picture of the band, I would set them up in front of me. It was in the attic where me and my brother slept, and the attic had the apex roof, so I would tack them and all my old albums if you look at them – they have a tack mark in the middle of them. You’ll see the indention of the tack mark and the hole. So I tacked them up in front of me, and I had this piece of wood – this board – and it was under my bed and helped hold the bed up in the middle, and I would just take it out and play that and pretend that it was my guitar. I put the lyrics in front of me after I’d bought the album, and I would just sing it. I just started doing that, and I’d put on an album from spectrum to spectrum like I’d be listening to the Cro-Mags and then the next thing you know I’d be playing fucking Eternal Nightmare from Violence, and then years later I’d go to Slowly We Rot.

I was singing all this different stuff, but it was all just more aggressive singing. Then this friend of mine who I went to school with, Jeff, he bought a guitar and was like “Dude, man. I got this guitar,” and I remember I convinced my mother to buy me a bass. Basically she got it for me, and my friend Jeff – he was taking some lessons, and he was like “Here’s some scales,” and he was taking guitar, but he’d say “Just practice the scales and get better.” I would just get in my room and put on a record like Hell Awaits and I’d set up all the pictures of the bands so they’re all watching me like my audience, and I’d just play whatever on the fucking bass. [Laughs] I really started realizing that I didn’t wanna try to learn an instrument. At the time when I got the bass there was the idea that we were gonna try and do a band if we could meet some other people that were into the music, because we had a bunch of our friends – we probably had twelve when we all hung out – but about four or five of us were into the really heavy shit.

All of our other friends were listening to Bon Jovi or Mötley Crüe and Poison. The first two Mötley Crüe albums we thought were pretty heavy, but then when they did Theater of Pain we didn’t think it was as good. They had the makeup and stuff on so it was kind of disappointing to us. [Laughs] But yeah, only my friend Jeff had a guitar and nobody else had any visions of playing an instrument or attempting to be in a band. But we would go to all of these shows and just one day we met these guys who one of them happened to live right down the street from my girlfriend at the time who’s now my wife, but right down the street – literally like three blocks away. But he played drums, and there was this guy Chris who played guitar and they were like “Man, we see you at every show, and you’re singing all the words. We’re trying to get this band together. What do you think?”

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But we just sort of talked about it and exchanged numbers, and we called ‘em up and they were like “Hey, this guy’s having this party at this hotel room,” which we ended up having to flee because the cops came. Which was weird because Cannibal’s never been about that. We don’t fuck stuff up or get crazy. We’re just not like that, but back then, man, I was eighteen years old or something, and people were just messing up the room and just throwing shit around. I don’t think we really broke too much stuff, but we were just really loud and had the door open to the hotel room, and of course they called the cops, and we had to run out the back door which opened up to this hill, and it’s like this ten foot drop with this tree right next to it. But that’s when we first hung out with those dudes, and we were like “OK, next weekend we’re gonna practice,” and we went back to this other party where a friend of ours was dating this girl, and I’ll never forget it because we were telling everybody: “Hey, we’re gonna be in a band.”

We were just freaking out. It was the biggest fucking thing ever. “We’re gonna be in this band, and we met these guys, and we’re gonna practice next week,” and of course everybody else is like “Oh cool.” [Laughs] To them it didn’t a whole lot. I mean, they were happy for us, but we were thinking “Dude, we’re gonna rule the metal world.” [Laughs] That was our thing, and we were gonna be the best, and that was my first band. It was called Corpsegrinder. It’s an old Death song, and that’s where we got it. When I first started doing it I just did it because I loved singing. I loved doing it. And then my friend Jeff was like “Dude, you know all the lyrics. You gotta be singing.” Then I started thinking about doing it and wanting to be in a band, and then it ended up happening.

Of course two years later after we did Corpsegrinder I ended up meeting Lee Harrison and going down to Fort Lauderdale, and we did Monstrosity, and then five years later Alex calls me up to do this, and the rest is history. I just started listening to music, though, and it had to be heavier. I just started singing in my room, and people ask me if I ever had vocal lessons, and I say “No,” but I really did. I had lessons from all the guys I tried to emulate. I remember one time I went to Godfrey’s Ballroom – I’m from Baltimore originally. I went to Godfrey’s Ballroom, though, and I saw Death. They were supposed to play with this Canadian band called DBC, but they cancelled, and I was really bummed about it but we were there to see Death, too. We had Scream Bloody Gore, and our friend Matt was really into them, and he had all their demos, so we’d already heard them for years, but I’ll tell you, I think some bands when you hear them on the record – and I’d heard Chuck Schuldiner and I thought he was awesome – but man…when I saw them play and Leprosy was just about to come out, they played a lot of songs off that, and they played a lot of older stuff.

They played songs that weren’t even on Scream Bloody Gore, and man, they opened up with “Infernal Death,” and when I heard Chuck do that scream, that “Diiiiieee!!!” I was like “That’s what I wanna do. I don’t care about any other kind of vocals. I wanna do those kind of screams.” Him and Rob Urbinati from Sacrifice were the big influence on me as far as like any of the high stuff. It’s those two guys. I gave up the pursuit of trying to do Rob Halford vocals. Even though he’s awesome! I gave up trying to be Dio because I just fucking fell in love with heavy singing. I just loved and love the aggressiveness.

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There’s such a commonality with those beginnings when it comes to heavy metal. Those early bands, that handful of bands have been the primer for a whole culture of music, really.

Absolutely. Yeah, man. You find and you just hear something, and it makes you go: “That. That’s it.” You hear a band that changes everything for you. Celtic Frost was really probably one of the first heavy, heavy bands that I heard. Or really Hellhammer. There was a lot of stuff coming out, and then there was Possessed, but Celtic Frost really grabbed me. Just the way they looked and the fucking lyrics, I don’t know, that was just one of the first bands where I just started freaking out. That was outside of the box of fucking Accept. Accept was kind of in the middle because Udo’s voice was more scratchy and rough. Everybody else like Halford’s got a great singing voice and Dio and Dickinson, too, and so is Udo, but it’s more like this screech that’s almost in the middle where you think he’s gonna use this thrashy death kind of voice. It’s rough and raw. It sounded like he was gonna fight you.

But obviously when you hear Tom G. Warrior singing, it’s totally different. We did some shows with Triptykon, and we shared a bus with them and of course I was in total awe. I just told him about my love for Celtic Frost and how I played “Dethroned Emperor” with my first band. I could sing it and play it on the drums. So I told Tom G. Warrior this story, and it was just an honor sitting there talking to him, and he was like “Well hey, in London, you should come and sing it with us on stage,” and I was like “Really?! Fuck yeah! I’ll definitely do it.” I go tell those guys, and Paul our drummer, he loves Frost as much as I do, and he’s like “Dude, you gotta do that,” and of course London is like 2,500 people or something. For a little bit during the day I was honestly like “Dude, I don’t know if I can do this.”

And our tour manager at the time just comes up to me and says “Listen, Fisher, you fucking pussy. If you back out of this, you’re never gonna forgive yourself. And you know this song like you know your fucking penis.” And I was just nervous because it’s Celtic Frost, and I remember Enslaved were there because they were on the bill, and I’m just sitting there next to a trash can just dry heaving. I was freaking out. I knew if I got through the first line it would be all fucking good, and I did. I just stood there, and I headbanged, and I sang. Tom G. Warrior came over and hugged me, and it was just like “Fuck yeah.” I told him “Thank you for letting me do that, dude.” That’s probably one of the greatest thrills of my life. 

Thanks to George for his time.

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