A profound chat with Chris Barnes of Six Feet Under

Sweet Kali weed and nude belly dancers. It's a hard life...

A tired and sleepy Albert launches into an in-depth interview with Chris Barnes, vocalist with Six Feet Under. Chris is in Tampa, Florida. He may well be baked. I don’t know...

Despite being half asleep, I launch into my best impression of the Spanish Inquisition; every album that every band ever releases is usually described as their best so far. Why is Six Feet Under’s new album Undead their best so far? Tell me, Chris, tell me! There’s a bit of a pause before Chris responds “Aw man! I hate to make claims and stuff but it’s obvious when you hear it; it’s probably the best album I’ve put out since The Bleeding (1994, Cannibal Corpse).” I’m a little perplexed that Chris would say it’s his best work since a Corpse album, especially as, prior to the interview, I decided to stay away from all Cannibal Corpse related questions (I’m sure he’s pretty sick of them by now).
So it’s better than Death Rituals (2008)? “Yeah, I think there’s a lot of interesting writing going on between myself and Rob Arnold (guitars) – we worked well together on this album.” And speaking of producer Mark Lewis (Deicide, Devildriver) and mixer Jason Suecof (Whitechapel, Job For A Cowboy), Chris adds “It was amazing – both of those guys are very, very talented at what they do and I had a great experience with the recording and mixing and all that stuff.”

You’re originally from Buffalo but currently living in Florida; is it full of weirdos? I imagine crocodile skinned old ladies , dripping in gold; much like Queensland’s Gold Coast? Chris cracks up with a throaty laugh; “No, I don’t think so; there are weirdos everywhere you go – I think I may be one of ‘em...I’ve been accused of worse!”

You’ve been with Metal Blade since ’89; why so long? “Well, they’re like family to me; they really are. I’ve known these guys for half of my life, they’ve treated me real well and they’ve always been a fan of my art and my music and they’ve stood behind me one hundred per cent and have protected me at times from danger - there were times in the mid-nineties when a lot of weird things happened when I was in Cannibal Corpse. It wasn’t always daisies and fluffy clouds!” He adds “There was a lot of violence that happened at those shows; sometimes physically, and other times a lot of different things happened. So they’ve stood behind me on all levels and have always had my back.” So they’re Kevin Costner to your Whitney Houston? Again, he cracks up laughing...

Chris is a bit of an artist; he designed the original Cannibal Corpse logo, Six Feet Under’s logo and the artwork for Warpath (1997); would you like to do more in this area? He doesn’t think so: “I just like to scribble, man! I just like to mess around – I’m not even very good at it. I like to mess around with logos and stuff like that...” He mentions how he worked the font from Haunted (1995) into the new logo for Undead ; “It was fun. It was cool.”

You’ve got a US tour in June with Dying Fetus and Revocation then a couple of festivals in Germany during August including Wacken – that’s a fekkin’ huge one; what’s your take on it? “I haven’t played there in a while; I think the last time I played there was in ’06 so it’s been about six years. That thing [Waken]; it’s just a monster, just massive, the size of the festival...I’m sure there’ll be at least 80,000 people out there. It’ll be amazing – it’s just so weird – it doesn’t freak me out to the point where I get stage fright or anything but it is kind of fun. It’s really a different level of performance...” He continues with “It makes you smile. It definitely makes you smile (I can hear him smiling down the phone as he says it); it makes you smile because you’re like ‘Wow! There are a lot of people here all at once...’ and it’s a good representation that a lot of our fans are there from all over Europe. It’s a good time for everybody and I wish they had festivals like that everywhere because it’s such a rush.”

So you enjoy touring then?  He agrees most heartily, adding that when he has said that he doesn’t enjoy it, it’s often been taken out of context; “People say I don’t like to tour or be on the road and I think at times you don’t like to do that but you know, people don’t like to go to work at McDonalds - it’s just hard work - if you’re on the road for a whole year, it definitely wears on you but at the same time when you get home from a long tour, the first day that you’re home by yourself, you’re pacing the room and climbing the walls and wishing you were back out on the road. When it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood and you just can’t get it out.” AND he’s most stoked to be coming to Australia next month with Devildriver and Darkest Hour...get your tickets, boys and girls, it’s going to be a damn fine tour...

Chris breaks my heart when I ask if he has any ideas for the cover songs on the next Graveyard Compilation: “I don’t think there’s gonna be another one; that’s gonna be put to rest for a while – that’s gonna be put to the graveyard...” What?! Nooooooo!

So what happened with ex-bassist Matt Devries? In from Chimaira in 2011 then out in 2012 to join Fear Factory, replaced by ex-Brain Drill 7 string bassist Jeff Hughell; Chris is quite philosophical about the whole thing. “He really didn’t ‘join’ – I never made a formal announcement that he was our permanent bass player - he’s a really good friend and we needed someone who was an excellent musician to fill in on our tour that we did last year in the States and some European dates. Matt helped out and I would have loved to have him on the ride forever but I did need to get a solid bass player who was going to be a permanent touring and writing member and Matt had a great offer from Fear Factory and went with it.” It worked out well because, as Chris points out “I was able to get Jeff to join the band; he’s just an incredible, incredible bass player – he’s the sort of bass player I’ve wanted to work with since I got out of Cannibal Corpse. It’s really refreshing to be involved with someone who really knows the bass to that level. It’s the same thing with Kevin Talley who is an extraordinary drummer; his musicianship and drumming style is something I’ve wanted to incorporate into this band since Day One. The same goes for Steve [Swanson – guitars]. We’re really trying to surround ourselves with the best musicians in death metal and by doing that we have a lot of people in the back pocket who have written some great songs and are able to create a refreshing new Six Feet Under.”

I know you enjoy hearing fans interpretations of your songs; what’s the weirdest take on a Six Feet Under song that you’ve heard? He’s laughing hard as he explains “A girl just sent me a video of herself doing a naked belly dance to a collage of Six Feet Under songs; that was probably the strangest and most interesting performance I’ve seen so far...I just got that today...not too bad! I’m not gonna divulge the information on who she is but God bless her heart!”, and when I ask if he ever wants to set the record straight about a song, he tells me that he’s happy to let the fans interpret his work how they like (“I don’t wanna spoil it for people.”)

Chris has always struck me as someone who embraces life yet his often extremely violent and explicit lyrics seem to contradict this. Please explain? “Because life is a contradiction; I think that’s repeated over and over that nothing is working in a straight line. There are no perfect circles, man! Life is really exciting and wonderful and that, I think, is the focus of all my lyrics that people over look - that’s really what those lyrics are about - that stuff is really fuckin’ scary and so frightening, those ideas are real horror and ideas like human emotions and things that trap us and by knowing how awesome being alive is and seeing that should make you feel good about being alive; a kind of warning, you know? I don’t ever laugh at horror or horror movies or my lyrics – I may cringe a little bit and chuckle [and think] ‘Man, should I even put that down on paper?!’ but it’s never something that humourous to me so I take it pretty seriously. I try to enjoy every living moment because I know personally that it’s not here forever and it can be taken from you whenever and we do have something else to look forward to but I tell you, we never get this back, like it is, right now in this moment.” 

Do I detect an almost indistinct hint of sadness to his voice? Possibly. But then he adds “I try to hold on to that idea and live each day to the fullest. I really love what I do and the best way to get it out of me is to try and push myself by being the best at what I know what to do. Some people like to branch out and do all sorts of things but I’m one of these guys that’ll watch a movie a 150,000 times, over and over [sorry Chris, that’s just plain weird...] and just experience every level of it; and that’s kind of like how I look at what I do; I just wanna hyper-focus my attention and abilities and try to do the best thing I can. And that’s enough for me, that’s enough of an outlet.”

So are you still smoking dope, hooch, mary-jane, bhang, chronic...“I don’t like to call it dope; it’s not a drug – it’s a naturally occurring herb, it’s a plant that is beneficial to humanity. It’s something that we all have in our bodies already, that we need to take into our bodies on a daily basis to boost our immune system and all sorts of bodily functions so I truly believe that the cannabis plant is put on this earth specifically for life on this planet, to benefit from it. By making it illegal for the better part of a 100 years, it’s been the most hypocritical and the most dangerous and the most horrible persecution of anything that has ever been on this planet and it needs to change.”
I’ll take that as a 'yes' then..

.I point out how bizarre it seems to make a plant illegal; it’s like banning an animal. Chris agrees. “It’s absurd, and what makes it even more absurd is the two things we’re allowed to use recreationally on a daily basis, and are promoted to us to use, are the things that kill more people on a daily basis than any other substances that we use in our lives, namely tobacco and alcohol. And there has never been one death from the direct use of cannabis. You would need to smoke 1500 lbs of cannabis in 15 minutes to overdose – and you wouldn’t overdose, you’d actually asphyxiate just like you would in a fire in your home. There’s no dying from it – your body has it in it right now, even if you don’t smoke.”

I don’t know about the stats but I’m with Chris. Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. Now where the hell is that jumbo pack of Doritos?