Six Feet Under’s Chris Barnes: ‘I Know for a Fact That There Is an Afterlife’
Six Feet Under is approaching 20 years as a premiere death metal band, but in this stage of their career, founder and frontman Chris Barnes is entering a kind of stage two. On Undead, their ninth full-length album – produced by Mark Lewis (Deicide, Devildriver) – due May 22, there is a band new lineup: guitarist Rob Arnold and drummer Kevin Talley who joined in 2011 and bassist Jeff Hughell, who came onboard this year. The three join Barnes and guitarist Steve Swanson, who has been in the band since 1998.
Noisecreep spoke to Barnes about the affect of these new players creatively on the band, but also on some subjects far more interesting – near-death, death and the after-life.
How are the interviews going today?
The interviews have been going great so far. All of you people [laughs] seem to be rather enthusiastic for some reason about this record. I always said that when the press starts liking something, then I become very worried [laughs].”
It’s not too late to not put it out, you know. What’s significant about this whole process for this album is that you have a new rhythm section and guitarist?
Yeah. The biggest change on this is having Rob Arnold, as my one and only songwriter on this record. The rhythm section came later.
Came after the writing?
Well, Kevin came into the band early on, but we didn’t really have a bass player until after the record was done. Matt [DeVries] was just filling in for touring that we had to do last year, which was awesome of him because he’s one of our best friends. I love him to death. He’s an awesome player. So Jeff came into the picture after the recording was already done and Matt went on to do other things.
What’s it like to have such a major shakeup with the lineup when it had been solid for well over a decade?
It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating. I’m definitely feeling good about it. I felt good about it, working with Rob throughout the writing process and all the other writers that I worked with too. On some other songs, we wrote all together – myself, Rob Arnold, Steve Swanson, Jari Laine from Torture Killer; Ben Savage from Whitechapel. We wrote 26 songs in 14 months, so it was really just such an exciting process, so many different ideas and good stuff to me to write lyrics and storylines from. My imagination was just so rejuvenated. I was just so in tune with what these guys were throwing at me, I just felt like we could go on forever.
“And I was actually a little depressed when we stopped writing because I had such a fuckin’ great time with these guys. They were just such great talented musicians and writers; it just lit a fire under my ass as far as creativity and pushing myself to match their great stuff that they were giving me. It’s always an important thing to me because I’m only as good as the people that I have around me. My creativity is spurred on by those guys. I could go back to a lot of points in my career with a lot of different albums and see that, but when I hooked up with new writers, I was able to get things moving forward again.
Did Rob come in as a new guitarist or did you know that you would be collaborating with him?
Before Terry [Butler, bass] and Greg [Gall, drums] left the band, three months before, I contacted Rob because I was really concerned about the new album and wanting to go full force with it and I felt like I was going to have to go with some outside writing sources. Rob was the first person that popped into my head. We’d been friends for a while, since I’d toured with Chimaira back in ’05 and we always said, ‘Hey, we should do something one of these days.’ When I stated getting my whole game plan together, what I wanted to accomplish with this new album, Undead, he was my first choice, just knowing him and listening to the stories he told about being a fan of mine, and listening to death metal and Cannibal Corpse and Six Feet Under growing up, and knowing that he’s an exceptional player and writer.
So when I went outside to look for other sources, I gave Rob a call first off and threw the idea at him. He was still in Chimaira full-time and it wasn’t like I was looking for another guitarist. I was just looking for a writing partner. He submitted the first three songs and things just sounded really good so we continued to work together. Like I said, I worked with the other guys too. Steve wrote a song; Jari from Torture Killer; Ben from Whitechapel, all of us. It was a great experience. And all the songs on this album are 100 percent written my myself and Rob Arnold.”
There’s no song called “Undead” on the album. Were you building the album song by some and the title emerged at the end?
Yeah. The album title didn’t come about until really come about until after the album was totally mixed. It came very late in the game because it just didn’t speak to me yet. It kept its mouth shut for a while. I didn’t hear whispering in my ear on that one until it was all said and done and then when I looked at it, that’s what I heard.
Writing these types of lyrics must take research, more so than writing love songs.
Well, what’s the difference between love and hate and life and death? Let me ask you, seriously. You say you can write about love; why can’t you write about death?
What you’re doing is stirring up an image that we don’t experience in regular life.
We experience love more often than death, but we force ourselves not to think about death because it’s the most horrifying experience in life and forces us to do more with our lives. It makes it easier to ignore death. Two or three people have asked me, ‘Are these metaphors, the lyrics that you write? I find this to be about lifestyle, more than it is about death.’ And I applauded those guys when they said that because I was like, ‘It’s exactly what it is.’ When you sit in the darkness by yourself, alone at night, and you think about that last minute that you’re gonna be alive, and what that will be like right when that happens, that last second, right there is where I live and breath, as far as where I write from. That’s all the research I need.
One of my questions was going to be what do you think it’s gonna be like when you die?
I know what it will be like. I already have proof and have experience – secondhand of course – but I know for a fact that there is an afterlife – a FACT. I’ve communicated with the dead. I’ve seen it happen. Sounds silly and people might laugh at me for saying it, but I’ve seen things happen that have to do with spirituality and the afterlife, that no one can take from me. And that is brought out in what I write because I believe it to be fact and truthful, about the soul, the spirit. And the ugly things I see in life remind me about all the beautiful things that we forget about and how precious and short those things are to our experience.
What you’re saying, though, maybe it’s not research per se because it’s your interest, but if you’re writing a song called “Near Death Experience” not everyone could do that without some familiarity with the topic.
You can imagine it. That’s what writing is all about. It’s about opening your third eye and delving into your imagination. That’s what it’s about to me. That’s how I go about it. I think the research is all there from your daily life. And you just have to be open to yourself.
Are you afraid of dying? I would guess not.
Yeah, sure I am. I think that you should be because it can happen at any second, but you can let that consume you. I’ve had near-death experiences, sure. The worst one was a motorcycle crash. I hit barbed wire at about 45 miles an hour rolled a four-wheeler. It was probably the thought had never come into my mind. I had thought about it but the actual thought. Slow motion. I don’t know how I lived through it and I walked away, but that feeling never leaves you.
Undead will hit stores on May 22 via Metal Blade.
6/08/2012 The Masquerade – Atlanta, GA
6/09/2012 Empire – Springfield, VA
6/10/2012 Palladium – Worcester, MA
6/11/2012 Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY
6/12/2012 Alrosa Villa – Columbus, OH
6/13/2012 Reggie’s – Chicago, IL
6/14/2012 Peabody’s – Cleveland, OH
6/15/2012 Harpo’s – Detroit, MI
6/16/2012 People’s Court – Des Moines, IA*
6/18/2012 The Gothic Theater – Denver, CO*
6/20/2012 Studio Seven – Seattle, WA
6/21/2012 Hawthorne Theater – Portland, OR
6/23/2012 The Metro – Oakland, CA
6/24/2012 The Whisky – Los Angeles, CA
6/25/2012 TBA – Tempe, AZ
6/26/2012 House Of Rock – El Paso, TX
6/27/2012 Scout Bar – Houston, TX
6/29/2012 Brass Mug – Tampa, FL*
* – No Dying Fetus