Along with Death and Possessed, California band Autopsy’s contributions to the birth of death metal are immeasurable. Taking a genre as young as heavy metal, and completely turning it on its ear was no small task. At the center of it all is drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert. After playing on Death’s seminal Scream Bloody Gore, he formed Autopsy, which recently reunited for a brand new album and a string of festival dates. Chris took a moment to speak with us about the band’s beginnings, his influences, and plans for the future.
How did Autopsy first get noticed in the metal scene? Was it slow going at first, or did it just explode?
The first time was slow going, because death metal was still sorta new, so we had to start by recording demos, selling them, and sending them around the world, so it was pretty slow. Once we got signed and starting touring, though, things picked up pretty quickly. And the next thing you know, we broke up! (laughs) We had a good run of a few years, and then things imploded, as they do sometimes. The second time, things went really fast, because we held out for 15 or 16 years, saying we’d never do it again, and then finally caved. At that point, it was instant, and the next thing you know, we’re playing festivals, and recording a new album!
So there’s more Autopsy in the works, then?
Oh yeah, we don’t have an expiration date affixed to our foreheads! As long as we’re enjoying what we do, and feel like it’s relevant and valid, then fuck it. As long as we’re having fun! Even if everyone hated what we were doing, we’d still be doing it.
What made you guys decide to reform Autopsy?
I don’t question it anymore, since it’s been two years since we reformed. All I’ll say is that we reserve the right to change our minds at any time! (laughs)
What motivated you to keep going as a drummer? What drummers inspired you?
I have no idea! I guess it’s just fun. It’s definitely hell on earth to break down drums, and there are times I wish I was a singer or guitarist! But after 30 years, miraculously, I still enjoy it. As far as drummers I like, starting out, definitely Clive Burr of Iron Maiden. Later on, I heard Slayer, Dave Lombardo. You can’t be in a metal band and not enjoy Dave Lombardo; it’s against the metal laws of nature! When I was a kid, I liked Peter Criss. I was a total KISS freak, and still am. But Keith Moon from The Who is probably my all-time favorite. He’s a complete fucking maniac, and he’s all over the kit, even more than most drummers today. Jazz drummers too, like Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Steve Gadd. Bill Ward of Black Sabbath…really anyone who’s all over the kit, uses it well, and makes it exciting.
Autopsy seems to go through bass players pretty regularly. How did you come to work with Joe Trevisano, Autopsy’s current bassist?
That was the cool thing; we had a built-in bass player! Danny [Coralles] and I had been working with him in Abscess since 1998, so it was just a matter of saying “Hey, Joe, you wanna play in Autopsy?” and he said “Yeah”, and it was done. We just had to get Joe and [guitarist] Eric [Cutler] to know each other, since it changed the chemistry of the band a bit, but it was a pretty quick transition. He’s already officially outlasted every other bass player we’ve had! The curse has been lifted!
The band has been playing many one-off festival dates this year, like Roskilde and the upcoming Gathering Of The Bestial Legion. Are there any plans to tour in support of the new record?
Touring? No, that’s what broke up the band to begin with, and we’re not looking to revisit that. It’s not even possible now. It’s one of those things: if it was possible, we wouldn’t want to do it, and if we wanted to do it, it wouldn’t be possible. We’re not teenagers anymore, we all have families and responsibilities. It’s better for us now to just jump around here and there, do a cool show, make our mark, and not get burned out.
The new record, Macabre Eternal, captures a lot of the old-school Autopsy magic, and parts of it remind me of Mental Funeral. Did you start writing the new material with a specific goal in mind, or did things just happen naturally?
We just wanted to sound like ourselves, which is easy, because we are ourselves! (laughs) This is what happens when we write Autopsy music: we don’t have to whip songs into shape, they just kinda come out like this. Having said that, we didn’t want to change our sound and modernize it, but we didn’t want to recycle things, either. Nothing like Mental Funeral 2: The Sequel! In 3D! (laughs) We just have new songs, and we hope you like them, but if you don’t, it’s too late!
Yeah, the production on Macabre Eternal was great, it had the old-school sound, but the drums were much clearer. Drum recording has really come a long way in 20 years.
We don’t have to fight engineers anymore! On some of the early records, we worked with guys who weren’t familiar with metal, and especially not with death metal, with sounds that aggressive. Now, everyone knows what it is, and how to get those sounds without starting a battle in the studio. The guy we’ve been working with for a long time really knows what he’s doing, so it’s nice and easy.
You’ve been known to have many projects operating at once, including Abscess, The Ravenous, and Eat My Fuk, Are there any more projects or guest appearances in the works?
No, everything that was in the pipe is already out. We’re pretty busy with Autopsy at the moment, so there isn’t really time for anything extra. If we have a lull in the future, we might do something wacky, but right now, there are no plans.
As someone who helped create and craft the death metal genre, you’ve seen death metal grow into its own over the years, and heard a lot of music from death metal bands. Are there any current bands that you think have properly captured the Autopsy spirit?
There’s plenty of good bands out there, in a lot of different styles. I’m certainly not someone who doesn’t like music past 1992! But pretty much anything that’s good, metal, death metal, punk, rock ‘n’ roll, anything as long as my eardrums don’t reject it. But over the past couple years, I‘ve had this thing happen when I can’t pick out band names anymore, and not because I don’t want to, I just get this brain freeze! In short, I like all kinds of stuff, old, new, in-between; whatever does good things to my brain.
I was going to ask what bands or types of music you were listening to at the moment, but that sounds like a lost cause.
It’s a lost cause, definitely! (laughs) All I can say is, at the moment, in my car, I have the last Trouble album, and some Fairport Convention.
You contributed a recipe for Mummified Jalapeno Bacon Bombs to the Hellbent For Cooking cookbook back in 2009. How did this collaboration come to pass? Was this already your signature dish, or did you craft it specifically for the book?
I just got propositioned, got an email one day for a metal cookbook, and said, “Hell yeah!” So I actually stole the recipe from my wife, and I tried so hard to get her to take credit, but she wouldn’t have it. So it’s kind of a rip-off, I took her idea and called it my own, but only because she refused to take credit for it. So there you go, the scandal has been unveiled! (laughs) I do eat my share of them, and I do make them, so that should count for something.
In the 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, director Sam Dunn sums up his passion for metal by reading some of your lyrics. Any thoughts or comments?
Yeah, that was nuts. It was awesome! Someone told me about it before I saw the film, so I didn’t just happen upon it. It was on VH1 or something, so I watched it, and thought, “This is cool!” I ended up enjoying the whole thing. Two twirling thumbs up!
If you could collaborate with one artist, alive or otherwise, who would it be?
Does it have to be a musician?
Oh, geez…Rip Taylor? Music might be kind of boring, though…Carrot Top? No, that would suck, that’s a dumb idea. That’s all I got.
What’s your take on the trend of music piracy? Does the potential for exposure outweigh the loss of income?
There’s nothing I can do to change it, so I’m not going to sit here and moan about it. It reminds me of the “Home Taping Kills” campaign back in the day, the records with the little picture of the tape with the skull and crossbones on it. It just happens a lot faster now. It just seems like a waste of time to be upset about it. Using myself as an example, I like to own actual albums, read all the notes and lyrics, look at the artwork, and all that. The only thing I hate nowadays is that print in CD cases is so tiny, but maybe my eyes are just getting bad! (laughs) It kind of sucks, in a way, but there’s really nothing you can do about it. I just hope that people who enjoy what we’re doing will actually buy the album, and look at the cool artwork, and give us money, too!
Where’s the most fucked-up place you ever slept on a tour?
That’s an easy one. One of the very early Autopsy shows, we played in Los Angeles, and it was this ultimate fleabag motel room. There was a used condom in the closet, and cockroaches everywhere! There were about six of us in the one room, since we didn’t have any money, and we were totally paranoid about turning off the lights, because of the roaches. And we didn’t even want to touch the floor or the beds, it was so bad, so I slept with my back against a bed, with my feet propped up on a box or something. I had my jacket over my face because I wanted to actually sleep, but we didn’t want roaches all over us. I don’t think I actually slept!
What do you think has been the greatest innovation in drum equipment over the past 20 years?
Drums are drums! I’m very anti-technology, as far as click tracks and triggers. You can either play, or you can’t. I’m just now getting over my technophobia, but to me, triggers just seem like cheating. Hit those drums hard, that’s what they’re there for! Plus, triggering kills all the nuances of the performance. Click tracks, too. Can you keep time, or not? You can? Great, then why do you need a click?
As far the drums themselves, some of my band members get mad at me because I never replace anything, I just let it fall apart with screws and bolts hanging off it. I don’t replace things until they’re completely in shreds, so I have to plead ignorance as far as new types of equipment. I just like to play them; I don’t really like to talk shop.
You’ve been in the business for a long time now. What does a person have to do as a professional musician, as far as making ends meet and such, as opposed to the 80s or 90s?
It’s a little easier now, since we’ve been around for so long. We do whatever we need to do, and the band is really helpful regarding that, so if we need to do something on the side, we do it.
Before we go, is there any message you’d like to give to your fans?
Just thanks for all the support over the years, and come see our shows!