Feature / Inhuman Evolutions: In Conversation with Cattle Decapitation Guitarist Josh Elmore

How are you doing?

Not bad, just kicking around by myself with my cats, my gal is in London at a screenwriting thing and I’m here in Berlin. I have a bunch of appointments because I’m seeking residency to try and stay here permanently.

Do you speak much German?

Zero, maybe the tiniest handful of words from cultural exposure but nothing as far as composing something on the fly when being asked something. But Berlin being the place it is, some days you hear every language but German. The district that I’m living in was traditionally called “international” by the Germans, because it was a mixture of all different groups, not just western European. It was affordable and so lots of artists and musicians moved in; gentrification starts and now, in the last five or ten years, it could be getting to the stage where it’s starting to push out families who have been dug in here for decades. But I’ve lived in multiple cities, even where I was part of the problem, where I saw places that were affordable for artist-musician types and then ten years later there are pet boutiques and stores that sell straws that you need to get an appointment to go into.

You were last here [in the UK] in August last year; did you enjoy your time here?

Yeah, for that entire tour, all the shows were really good actually. The show part of it. We’re not gonna get into the logistical side of things, but yeah show-wise, it was fantastic, cannot complain at all.

And you did Bloodstock, how was that?

We hadn’t played that before, so that was a good first experience, along with some other festivals that we played for the first time. There was a time where every show was at the Underworld [in Camden]. Oh the last time we were there, we played at the Boston Music Room [in Tufnell Park] and even at a kind of school auditorium.

Any plans on coming back?

Well, we are no longer with the booking company that we were with previously. We’ve had a few offers and we’ll test them out on a tour that we’re putting together loosely for the beginning of 2024, or fests around this time. Then there’s Hellfest, Graspop…

And then the US and Canada in May?

That’s right, US and Canada in May 2023, direct support tour with Dark Funeral and then a headlining tour in November this year. There are a few international offers coming up in August or September, shorter little two-week runs, and then next year we will have more, I mean, who knows? It’s crazy to think about planning up to a year after the new record comes out. You just have to take all of this into consideration when it comes to physical media, like vinyl or CD, because there’s an eight-month manufacturing backlog, you have to wait eight months before you can put out any kind of physical media.

Why is that?

Well partially because of the pandemic, but also because prior to that, all the vinyl plants were shutting down. There are only like two left in the world, one in Czech Republic and one in the US. Big labels will put in huge orders to these plants and clog them up for months with things like Frozen: The Soundtrack on vinyl, and I think to myself, really? I can’t figure out what the deal is, is this really the target vinyl audience? I don’t speak for the entire band, but it can be exhausting talking about the timeframe for everything, and right when you’re recovering from album writing, and you’ve just put yourself through the mental anguish and just kind of looking forward to touring and taking that creative headbutting part of your brain and not dealing with it for a couple of years.

Speaking of the new album, I know you’re always looking to enhance and explore your sound. You have a rhythm guitarist for the first time [Belisario Dimuzio] on Death Atlas and now again on Terrasite. How was that to incorporate?

With this record in particular, Bel and I are often playing completely different things or multiple guitar parts. On Death Atlas, we didn’t take advantage as much of having two guitarists. So now I’m trying to do more layering and more ambient stuff, Bel is doing more chord voicings and we will lock up on the heavy stuff.

I got the same impression from listening to the album. It’s almost classical or contrapuntal at times.

The opener, ‘Terrasitic Adaptation’, around three quarters of the way through, there are two interlaced guitar parts. Dave McGraw [drummer] pushed for more melodies layered together. When we recorded it, there was so much going on, but when we cut it out, we missed it, so we kept it in. It’s not super obvious, but if you’re properly listening to the record, you’ll notice it. I’ve had that for records I’ve been listening to for ten years, and suddenly you’ll listen to it in a different way and you’ll realize, “wow, I just noticed that”.

Do you think using Dave Otero as a producer for so long plays into that ability to riff off each other?

Yeah, Otero knows how to grease the wheels of every individual of the band. He’s producer, engineer, life and marriage and relationship counsellor, he’ll listen to you whatever you’re complaining about, and he’s become a friend of the band. He’s the sixth member of the band, his opinion is extremely valuable. He knows what we’re going for, he knows what each of us likes musically and he’s able to harness this and get it into a meaningful place. Without him, we’d probably end up strangling each other. You know, he’ll get the chair and the whip out. And that ability is so underrated. It’s one thing getting the sickest guitar tones or the sickest mixes, but if you can get the best out of someone without making them hate themselves [laughs], then that’s what to push towards.

From the early EPs to this album, you sound has changed a lot over the years. despite the constants like Otero, and I was wondering, from then until now, how have your own musical influences changed? In terms of what you listen to or what influences you musically?

When I joined the band I listened to a wide variety of stuff, and also a lot of my contemporaries—other grind bands we did tours with or played with. We all have extremely eclectic tastes, but as far as what we let seep into our influences; that’s broadened over time. Personally, music taste-wise, I grew up on the same stuff everyone else did, through the mid-90s listening to a lot of black metal. Recently, the stuff I listen to is so abrasive you can’t even tell what the riffs are, I love that kind of stuff. There are so many cassette-only or digital-only labels doing incredible stuff right now. It’s a golden age for that kind of heavier abrasive music. But I was a kid in the 80s, so I still do love Tears for Fears and all that stuff. The past twenty-three, twenty-four years I’ve been listening to gothic Americana, you know, sad bastard music [laughs]. A lot of chamber strings and pounding church or biblical-sounding dark pounding instrumentation. For the band; the first record I was on in 2002 [To Serve Man] was fairly basic. Me and the bass locking up for 90% of the record, it was a grindy, single note tremolo style. Two speeds: off and on. But after that record, we thought to ourselves “how do we make this more complex? How do we make it more in depth?”. Personally, I harkened back to bands I was in before, very dissonant and scrunky. Then again, I lived for most of the 90s in Chicago and at that time period, the city was very No wave, Skin Graft [Records], anti-music kind of stuff. There were all these super together guitar players creating this hellish noise that I had a great appreciation for. There was probably some element of that that rubbed off on me. This shows, in my playing anyway, in Humanure [2004] and especially in Karma Bloody Karma [2006] and Harvest Floor [2009] to a certain extent. These three records certainly showcase that abrasive side of me.

Your sound seems to have become more foreboding!

Yeah, especially when Harvest Floor came out with Dave McGraw joining on drums. He really was able to realize what we wanted to hear, from drum patterns and technical ability, and Billy Anderson produced the record as well, who has worked on countless classic stoner doom grunge records, Melvins, Neurosis, all those bands. He was very good at indulging us with like, spending six hours trying to get this really cool guitar sound using these two obscure amps and make all this noise, and all of a sudden, you’ve spent the whole day getting five minutes of recording. If you’re a huge band with a giant budget and plenty of time, then you can totally spend two months doing just guitar, but we had three and a half weeks tops for everything. So Harvest Floor was just like a blur of notes, tons of parts and intensity across the board. With Monolith [of Inhumanity, 2012], we tried to dial it back enough to where there is more to grab onto. Not dumbing it down but trying to write the best songs possible, and using our abilities to make memorable parts and replay value. After the insanity of Harvest Floor, that’s been our groove ever since. Monolith was the first record we signed on with Dave Otero, who’s been with us ever since. He’s an incredible producer and engineer who really got us in shape and disciplined us on how we record. Most recently, I was the only guitar player for so long and always thought I had to do all the notes and riffs, but with Bel [rhythm guitarist] with us now I can focus more on the textural or ambient elements. I’ve been using pedals a lot more as well, and writing riffs purely around pedals.

Do you have any upcoming projects, or maybe upcoming pedal projects, with Cardinal instruments, whom you’ve worked with before?

My friend Adam over at Satellite amps makes pedals, and he has collaborated with Cardinal instruments. But most of those are fuzz or overdrive, which sound great but not what I use. I use more practical effects, cathedral reverbs, or this pedal that Electro Harmonix makes which is modelled after a mellotron, which gives choral effects or strings sections, or EarthQuaker Devices has Astral Density which is a polyphonic reverberator which I used a ton on Terrasite. Just layer city. All that equipment is still sitting in San Diego so I’m looking forward to getting all my stuff back to prepare for this tour coming up.

We’ve been talking a lot about how your sound has progressed and the different chapters of Cattle Decapitation, and I found a quote from you saying how “Cattle Decapitation is an anomaly because we try to still maintain relevance in a constantly changing scene”. I actually put the band name into a tool called Google Trends to see the regularity that people search on Google for the band name, and interestingly since 2004, there has been a gentle and consistent upward trend, with spikes around album releases, until now. You seem to have stayed relevant and consistently in the spotlight, according to Google searches.

That’s interesting! We’ve been around through all the little trends. When we signed with Metal Blade in 2002, we came in when the Carcass clone thing came in like Exhumed, General Surgery, Impaled, we got thrown into that even though we were sounding less and less like that. Then a few years later the metalcore thing came along and all the labels were signing a bunch of metalcore bands. Then deathcore. And then post-metal and Russian Circles came in. Then metalcore and deathcore somehow came back again. And little old us are still doing our thing with each one of these successive interest groups coming and going. People have maybe grabbed onto us at whatever stage and thankfully because we didn’t stay stagnant, they stay in touch with us even if they move on with their tastes. We’re not changing our style dramatically, but it’s evolving and dynamic and there are old things as well as new things that work in our favor.

We’ll bring it away from music for a moment. I love growing my own vegetables and I wondered if you grew any of your own vegetables for your vegetarian diet?

I would love to be able to do that more, and our new place does have a balcony, but we need to stop the cats doing what they do and turning everything into a naked little stem. Because we did used to have a little herb garden, which was ripped apart by the cats, but we have plans to revisit this. I like chili peppers which are not available in Germany, so when I’m back in the States I’m gonna grab some seed packets to bring back. We’ll see what we can grow that the cats won’t destroy. I grew up in a farm in Illinois, and my brother took over that farm, and my parents and brother still maintain their own gardens as well as their crops. Gardening is a good meditative thing to get into.

Well good luck with the bureaucracy and paperwork of moving to Germany. I can’t wait to see you on stage soon!

Terrasite is out today via Metal Blade Records and can be purchased here

Words: Florian Michael

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