“Fighting Fire With Napalm:” An Interview with Cattle Decapitation

For more than two decades, Cattle Decapitation have been traumatizing innocent bystanders with their shockingly brutal music and disturbingly graphic imagery. With the arrival of their ninth album Death Atlas in November, the band has completed their transition from misanthropic jokesters to harbingers of the apocalypse. Bucketlist spoke with vocalist Travis Ryan about the end of humanity, plagiarism of their album covers, and his side project, Anal Trump.

The next album Death Atlas comes out next month. What are the themes discussed on this album?  Would you say the themes are an extension of the Anthropocene Extinction, or has the global situation become much dire?

Yes, the overall theme of the record is very much post-anthropocene, posthumans. It’s a sort of emotional love letter to Death, embracing the reaper and signaling in the end times. It’s very apocalyptic and revolves around the element of fire. Its all heavily steeped in metaphors and lyrically, is the most poetic record we’ve done. The “global situation” is now a non-issue as there is nobody left. Hopefully, this is a stark reminder that we should be living for tomorrow, not this very second, especially those who are actively having children and building families.

How have the lyrics developed over the years? Would you say they still have the humour of your early material?

They deal less with gore and specific things and have become more lyrical, more poetic, very image-based if that makes any sense. I’ve been referring to myself lately as more of a failed comedian than a frontman and that’s because I’ve always tried to incorporate humor when applicable. There’s a little amount of it here and there at least. That’s just how I am. Rather on the immature and hyperactive side, one more reason why I don’t feel I should have kids haha.

A Soundcloud rapper recently ripped off the cover for Death Atlas for their mixtape. Didn’t even bother removing the band logo in the corner. Why couldn’t you let that slide? Why did you feel the need to humiliate him by putting his posts on shirts when he refused to desist?

Interesting, I hadn’t thought of it as “humiliating” someone. Shows you how much I really give a shit about someone RIPPING US OFF. Instead, I thought I was making light of the situation by doing that. He got a few more followers and we got a little mini-viral news piece that was rather hilarious. Rap and Hip Hop have always been bashed for sampling and using other musician’s work. This was the most gratuitous I’ve seen, as you said, he didn’t even bother removing the logo. So, we decided to have a little fun with it instead. He actually posted about the shirt and drove what traffic he could to the page! We entered a symbiotic relationship that ended up being fun for everyone instead of a boring, simple cease and desist letter which we easily could have done as we own the merch rights to that image as well as the trademark on our name and logo. The fact he is involved in a completely different arena was rather non-threatening to us financially or namesake wise and so we had fun with it instead. I tend to fight fire with napalm, so it might have come across a little mean, but maybe DON’T go using other people’s intellectual property and you won’t have to deal with such people as myself.

Also, this wasn’t the first time someone stole your album art…

Haha, no. And boy did THOSE people get destroyed. They got full-on death threats and that’s why they removed it. A rapper using our stuff, whatever. It’s lame but whatever. A hardcore fundamentalist Christian group using it? NOPE. Kiss my ass and go fuck yourselves. I didn’t suffer through seven years of Catholic school to emerge with a disdain for monotheistic religions to have something that was important to me go and be molested by some fucking religious freaks. Again, they received the napalm and it was brutal. It’s simple. Don’t use our shit.

It’s impressive that you’ve been singing aggressively for more than 20 years, as well as having developed a melodic style that’s both unique and haunting. How do you prepare your voice before a show or before recording?

I have a couple of little warmup things but I’ve only started doing them the last few years. Before that, I didn’t warm up at all. I’m getting older though and so this stuff is getting more challenging to do and I wanna hang in there for the long run so I now do a couple of warmup exercises and I try to stay away from alcohol directly before the stage. On stage, I might have a beer or two but that’s it.

I’ve enjoyed what you’ve been doing with Anal Trump on the side. Why do you feel it’s important to donate the money made from vinyl sales to charities and advocacy groups?

That band is pretty much ALL Rob Crow. He’s a true professional musician, he is writing and recording music every workday of his life. It’s incredible. So, considering we’re doing short songs and it’s all in good fun, its the best idea to just donate it to charity. The label Joyful Noise that does all this takes care of the logistics that come with donating to charities. There’s actually a lot of red tape to cut through in order to legally use an organization’s name when conducting a donation to a charity and they facilitate all that which is nice. That’s the main reason Cattle doesn’t do more charity work – there’s a set of legalities that come with it and that makes it harder to do when you’re a full-on working band. It’s a shame, really.

What is on your bucket list?

I would like to visit the pyramids in Egypt, Red Square in Moscow, The Great Wall of China, stuff like that. I used to want to play massive venues and stuff like that but I’ve gotten enough of that feeling. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. haha.


Written and Compiled by Chris Aitkens
Header photo by Stacy Basque
*edited by Danielle Kenedy

About Chris Aitkens 69 Articles
Chris Aitkens has been writing about music since the tender age of 16, getting his start writing reviews for Vermont-based zine Verbicide. More than a decade later, he has dedicated his life music. Having graduated from Concordia’s journalism program, he is now working graveyard shifts as a board operator at Virgin Radio, CJAD 800, and occasionally, CHOM. He also hosts his own radio show on CJLO 1690AM called Sewer Spewer, a weekly guide to Montreal’s punk and extreme metal scene. In the little free time that he has, Chris sings in a shitty punk band called Gutser, and from time to time, writes about horror movies for Nightmare On Film Street. None of these ventures have made Chris wealthy at all. In fact, he’s more broke than ever. But it’s all worth the sacrifice to live a life filled with art.

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