Interview with drummer Paul Mazurkiewitz from Cannibal Corpse
Interview for Metalegion Magazine by Estelle on the 19th of October 2017
Hi Paul, thanks a lot for being down for the interview! Could you tell me a bit about your 3 most favorite albums?
That’s a tough one, a one-day answer. There are a lot of influential albums of course. But if we’re gonna stick with the heavier stuff, the bands that really got me wanting to play this kind of music, I’d say my Nr. 1 would be Slayer – Reign in Blood. Probably most people say that (laughs). But it was such a big influence for us, unbelievable. Especially that album in particular. Hearing Dave Lombardo’s drumming, that’s what made me wanna play like that. We were already fans of Slayer with their previous works, but hearing Reign in Blood just took it to a whole another level and it made me wanna try to emulate that. So that is probably the most important album in my career. Nr. 2 would probably be Metallica – Ride the Lightning. That was such a very influential album as well. It came a little earlier that Reign in Blood but when we were getting into music and Metallica was a new band and we were hearing this as teenagers for the first time, it took us to another dimension. “Whoah, what is this?!” So of course we were fans of Kill ‘Em All but then again, Ride the Lightning took it to another level. I remember hearing the song Creeping Death for the first time, it was playing on the radio and we didn’t know what this was, we got to know they were Metallica, the new album comes out, “wow we gotta see them”. Just very influential. And Nr 3 would be Sacrifice – Forward to Termination. It was such a great thrash album – every time I hear it to this day, it gets me going.
Red Before Black is your 14th full-length album. What was your main goal you wanted to achieve? What do you think distinguishes this record from the other 13?
The main goal is always just releasing the music, really. We were just excited to create new stuff and get it out to the people. It’s the way we’ve done things and the way out mentality goes: We’re just writing the next batch of songs. There’s no big skin behind it other than we wanna do good and a little better than the last time. That’s what we’re always striving for and trying to do. So that was our goal, to write the next better song. To keep going forward in our songwriting, in our musicianship and all that. And I feel we have.
I know I worked extra hard on this record, more than on any other so far and I work hard on all! For some reason this time around my mentality was “no rest whatsoever, go go go, double time, triple time” – I just wanted to do better than I ever have personally. The other guys are writing most of the riffs and the songs and when we’ve got three great songwriters spreading it all around… I mean we’ve got some diverse stuff and those guys write some amazing material. But I think on this record, to me it’s just a combination of what we’ve been doing our whole career. I listen to the songs and the whole definitely has more of an old school vibe to it, a little more of a thrashier vibe than our previous releases. So I look at it as a full circle. I tend to look at it as the best of all Cannibal. From the beginning to the 13th album, put it together, work hard, write some great songs and then you’ve got Red Before Black. I think it just stands out because the songs are so tight and precise, great brutal riffs. So I think this might be our best work – our catchiest, heaviest, most brutal work with a great guitar sound.
You even stated in the promo material that this album has got the rawest sound you’ve ever had. And I agree, it does totally sound old school!
Could you tell me about your most beloved song on the album? I’d love to hear your vision of the song, of the lyrics, some instrumental passages or a story in connection with its creation.
I guess the one that stands out to me in particular is Destroyed Without a Trace. That was the song that I had the most hand in. If you know much about the band you might have noticed the last few releases I ended up having myself more of a song that I wrote; if you see the credit it’s usually me and Rob or me by myself. So Destroyed was the one that I came up with. And the way I wrote that song was very interesting: I collaborated with Rob but this is the first time I ever wrote a song (or any of us for that matter) just by playing the drums. I had everything in my head, I wrote the arrangement, the riffs basically in my head, and I was able to play the whole song with nobody (laughs). Cause I wrote it by myself just on the drums. I worked on it for a couple of weeks by myself and then I just said “hey Rob, I wrote a song, I just need you to fill in the blanks here”. We went piece by piece and I showed them how I meant it and in couple of days we had the song done. Very interesting. But I’m so glad the way it turned out: Starting from the skeleton, just me playing a drum beat, to building the guitars and solos and putting the lyrics over the top. It turned out really good, I’m really proud of this song. But I love all these songs, all of them were fun to play and I just worked hard on all of them. Shedding My Human Skin is another one of my favorites, it’s such a great groove. The first one, Only One Will Die is another one that was so much fun to play.
It’s no surprise that the imagery of this album consists again of brutality, aggressivity, death, blood, gore, torture etc. Do you have any limit or border when it comes to lyrical themes or imagery?
I don’t know, we just do what we do I guess. We really don’t touch on religion of course – I mean we dabbled very little on one or two songs a few years back but that’s so minor. We don’t talk politics either. To me it’s all open if it needs to happen though. Personally, I am a father, I don’t wanna talk about murdering children, but at the same time it’s all fiction and it’s Cannibal Corpse. If I look at a song like Remaimed from the new album that Pat wrote and then I sat down and wrote the lyrics (I actually wrote the lyrics for six of the songs), I end up writing a pretty brutal story here. That’s talking about things exactly that I’m not very thrilled about personally. But like I said, it’s fictional gore, fictional horror, it’s not made to be serious so I think it’s okay. But yeah, it’s tough. In-your-face, completely brunt brutal lyrics, there’s nothing to mask and nothing to hide – we still have those but I think we like to be a little bit more of a horrific and read-between-the-lines kind of thing. But I would think pretty much nothing is out of context. It’s Cannibal Corpse, we just write what we write. I’ll just move onto the next question.
Some bands really take in into consideration what kind of a message they convey not only through their music but also through their press statements. Do you guys have a “press-plan”, do you negotiate between yourselves before the release of a new album or in a doubtful situation about what you will tell us about it?
That’s done through the record label and a third party, a guy that does an interview and then he pieces together what you read in the PR release for a new album. Of course we have the say what’s gonna go out to the public, if we’re unhappy with something we say it of course. And yeah, maybe some things we’re not gonna touch on. Some things don’t need to be mentioned I guess. We get the basics out what we feel the people need to know and if they don’t need to know, we won’t tell them.
After your first Demo “Cannibal Corpse” you have always been at Metal Blade. Did you ever receive requests from other labels and if yes, what makes you stay at Metal Blade?
Metal Blade was the only label that showed interest in us. When we were formed and made our demo tape, we had a guy helping us out back in the early days in Buffalo, New York. He wasn’t our manager or anything but he was running a record store and knew some people. And who did he know? He knew people at Metal Blade because the president at Metal Blade is from Buffalo as well! So he had a connection, we had our guy that knew a guy at Metal Blade through the whole city. I think we sent our tape to ten labels or something, mainly smaller independent ones plus Relapse and maybe Roadrunner. But I know this for a fact, the response we got back was from Metal Blade wanting to sign us. So what do you do? As a young band that’s hungry and ready to make music, you get an offer and you take it. You take it because this could be the only opportunity to get your foot in the door. Luckily Brian Slagel at Metal Blade liked the demo and we got through some red tape there – that was all we needed. As time went on: “Hm, we’re a small death metal band. We’re starting to do well. Metal Blade behind us, okay.” They’ve given us complete creative control, they were not interfering with anything we do musically and that’s what we needed. So if it isn’t broke, why fix it? That’s what we’ve been dealing with out whole career. It turned out to be more of a friendship than a business relation I guess. So I think it worked out well.
You are in the band since the very beginnings. Can you please tell me about your personal favorite and most unfavorable moments in the band throughout your whole career?
Almost everything has been a positive for us, beyond-our-wildest-dreams kind of a thing, so just the fact that we are still here after 30 years being – arguably – the biggest death metal band in the world, that’s enough right there. That’s amazing. We never even thought of any of that. So everything that has happened from day one to now is just remarkable, unbelievable and incredible (laughs).
Not many negatives, luckily. There were only some personal negatives and I guess the biggest one for me is being on tour about 20 years ago and getting stabbed with a key after the show in my abdomen. That wasn’t very fun. That’s probably one of the craziest things that have ever happened to me. It was back in ‘94 I guess, we just started a tour with 3 other bands, we were second show in, we just finished the show in Holland. It was a little town, 2 in the morning, everything’s completely dead, everyone left. And all of a sudden there’s a fight outside our bus. It happens to be a couple of guys from our band and our crew fighting some people. We’re like “what the hell is going on here?”. It ended up being five or six drunk guys looking for trouble basically. And they started with the wrong people, it was 25 of us. I’m not a fighter, I didn’t need to be involved in this, I was a bystander watching what’s going on. There was a bunch of yelling, a couple of crew guys involved… The next thing I remember, those guys are coming at me and all of a sudden I see blood and my side hurts. “I just got stabbed, I’m gonna die”. Five seconds go by and I realize it hurts and bleeds but I’m gonna live. Ambulance comes, gotta go to the hospital. This was the second show of the tour and we had like 30 more to go. But luckily everything turned out well, the tour went on and I was able to play. But yeah, that was probably the worst thing that happened to me. Not fun.
Which other band in the genre do you look up to? Is there also a band you have any stress or tension with?
Well I love Slayer, I mean that’s my influence, so how can I not look up to Slayer at all times? But any other bands, bands that came out around us, we know them and they’re friends. You can have that friendship and camaraderie and all that – bands like Suffocation, Obituary or Morbid Angel; bands that have been around for 30 years – that gives us some positive thoughts. I don’t even listen to any new bands at all though. It’s cool there are bands that were influenced by us – I’m glad, I feel happy – but I just don’t listen to a lot of that. So the bands that I still look up to are my “hero bands” that I grew up with. If we’re gonna play at a festival or share a stage with a band like Iron Maiden, man it’s Iron Maiden! I don’t look at them as peers, they’re above me. That’s the way I think. But yeah, it’s really cool that we’ve still got bands going after 30 years, keeping the old school alive, keeping the death metal going.
You are touring very actively promoting Red Before Black, from November in the USA and from February in Europe. What are the most satisfying moments while on tour?
Playing the show. It’s always cool going to places and different cities and everything but we’re there to perform and play for the people. That’s the most important thing. Once you’re up on stage and you’re seeing the fans and their reactions: that’s why you’re there. A lot of them are going to be new fans. Seeing the excitement on the face of new fans that never saw you before, that’s always gonna make you feel good. Just making people happy. If we can make anybody happy in a positive way, how can that not make you feel like you’ve accomplished something in life? So that’s what it’s all about.
What about your further future plans?
We will be touring pretty much all of 2018. If you look at how our cycles have gone, we tour for almost two years after an album. I can see that happening, that’s out immediate future. And that’s all you can really do at this point. I mean, I think we take it day by day now. We’re 30 years in, we’re not a new band looking ahead to the future, the future’s here. Now it’s like “how long have we got?”. Who knows? We’re all feeling healthy and we’re still all mentally on the same page so why can’t we just keep going and doing it for another 20 or 30 years – who knows, right? We’ll see. But right, at this point in our career we gotta just take it day by day now. We’ll do these tours and more than likely the plan will be doing the tour, starting the record and doing it again. Just like we’ve been doing our whole career.
Paul, thank you very much for the interview and for your time. I wish you all the best reactions to Red Before Black!
Thank you and have a good night! I’m sure we’ll talk again soon.