Weed-Obsessed Death Metallers Cannabis Corpse Return with 'Left Hand Pass'
The Virginia-based band share thoughts on their dank new album, horror, creativity, and, of course, marijuana legalization.
Photo courtesy of Cannabis Corpse
For a band that exclusively writes death metal songs about marijuana, there are a surprising number of layers to the Cannabis Corpse experience. Of course, there;s the overt expression of love for weed and death metal from a band that was formed as a THC-laced tribute-slash-parody of the genre's biggest band, Cannibal Corpse. Then, there's the Richmond, VA-based band's updated take on the glory days of 90s death metal, which adds technical know-how and polish to the spirit of the classic albums that emerged from Tampa's Morrisound Studio and Roadrunner Records (the un-fuck-with-able ground zero dyad of the sweatpants boner set).
Since their humble beginnings in bassist and vocalist Phil "LandPhil" Hall's Richmond, VA basement, Cannabis Corpse has enjoyed quite a bit of success, including snagging a record deal with Season of Mist, their current home. In light of the band's unexpected ascension, they've strayed from strict Cannibal Corpse worship to pay resin-stained homage to Quebec's Gorguts (From Wisdom to Hate becomes From Wisdom to Baked), Morbid Angel ("Chapel of Ghouls" becomes "Chapel of Bowls"), Deicide ("Dead By Dawn" becomes "Dead By Bong") and Entombed (the title of the trio's new album, Left Hand Pass, is a take on the Swedish classic Left Hand Path).
In addition, if you're looking for a general mindfuck (or scavenging for ideas for your next horror screenplay), you'd be wise to look into some of Hall's lyrical tall tales, like this excerpt from the new album's "In Dank Purity" (itself a take on Monstrosity's "In Dark Purity"): "Not done yet, so frantic I've become obsessed / breaking the ribs to open up her chest / Take time to admire the heavenly organs / cannot wait to poke a small hole in her lung / inhale the smoke inside this pretty one / my repugnant vision is now done."
It's not only the elaborate, out-of-control gimmick that makes Cannabis Corpse so worthy of attention. In addition to piles of bud and the talents of new guitarist Ray Suhy (Six Feet Under), the band is powered by Hall and his twin brother, drummer Josh Hall, which makes for an unending array of "seeing double" jokes. Furthermore, Phil juggles Cannabis Corpse with his duties in two other notable bands, Municipal Waste and Iron Reagan. He's obviously got a lot on his plate (and in his bowl).
With all that in mind (and with the September 8 release of Left Hand Pass looming) I caught up with Hall during a packed day of rehearsals and preparation for a short Iron Reagan tour and Cannabis Corpse's upcoming tour with Soulfly to discuss… umm… sorry… what? I'm having trouble recalling…
Noisey: Let's start with Cannabis Corpse's history. Was it originally designed to be a one-off goof sort of thing?
Phil Hall: Well, if you want to trace it all the way back to the beginning, it was when Josh and I were 17 years old, in about 1999. That's when we came up with the idea, the name, and the concept of the band. We didn't get around to actually writing music until around 2006, when we wanted to start a band and were trying to think of a name. It was then that we remembered Cannabis Corpse. So, we got it together and started rehearsing songs. We thought that the name would be a clever way to set ourselves apart from all the other death metal bands out there.
So, the intent from the start was always to be weed-focused and have those parody takes on song titles and whatnot?
I don't know if any band starts off thinking that their band is going to take over the world. I guess some do, but when we started it was just a way to hang out and play music, we didn't have any idea that we would take this as far as we have. We asked Paul Mazurkiewicz, Cannibal Corpse's drummer, if we could do the band before we ever started. We cornered him at a show and we were like, 'Hey, we have this idea for a band,' and he was like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever.' I don't think even he thought we would take this very far either, but we've written a lot of music and put out a lot of albums, so I'm happy with the way things are going.
Was there a particular point or incident that you remember saying to yourself, 'Ok, this is getting serious'?
I guess once we put out [2006's] Blunted at Birth, the first album, people seemed pretty enthusiastic about it. We played a couple live shows and those went really well, so we just kept going with it. At the time, we were all in our early-to-mid 20s, so we had lots of energy and just wanted to go out there, play shows, smoke tons of weed, and play brutal death metal. But I guess it really changed when we put out the second album, [2008's] Tube of the Resonated, and people were still very enthusiastic about the music. And here we are more than a decade later and it's still cool. At this point, we're just going to keep going, just because.
When you started, it was just re-jigged Cannibal Corpse titles. Over time you've used titles from Gorguts, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Entombed and more. Do you ever have bands approaching you asking to be parodied?
No, we've never been approached by bands. Whenever we parody a band's song title, it's done from a very loving place. Of course, we're huge fans of all the old Scott Burns-produced, 90s era death metal, and we just wanted to have a band with that sort of vibe with killer artwork and make the whole package capture some of the essence those bands had, because that's what we love.
Speaking strictly for yourself, how are you able to juggling three band that are all essentially full-time recording and touring entities?
I guess you could call it being a workaholic, but I generally work on music every day as long as I can. Today, for instance, I woke up and had Cannabis Corpse practice at 9am until about 11am. Then, I went to the music store to buy some strings and stuff. Then, at noon, Iron Reagan had practice. Once that was over, I started doing this interview with you. After I get off the phone with you, I'm going to go over to the DMV to get my trailer registered and then meet up with my bro and have round two of Cannabis Corpse practice. I just keep working on things and fill up every moment of my day with music-related things. I enjoy it; it's what I like to do and I'm very fortunate to make a living off of playing music. It's been my dream and I'm living it.
As far as Left Hand Pass goes, was there anything done differently for its creation?
Yeah, this record was a lot different during the writing process. For the last couple of years, I've been really busy with Iron Reagan and Municipal Waste, so when I'm at home, I'll work on demos and stuff, writing new songs, and flesh them out on my computer to make them happen. My brother will take the songs and record the drums on them. Our writing process doesn't really involve us playing live together, it's more like sending tracks back and forth. We also brought in a new guitar player, Ray Suhy; he injected a lot of his own ideas into the music and brought a lot to the table creatively in helping the demos I wrote come to life. He added some slightly crazier parts that were note-ier and nuttier, because he's a better guitar player than me. It was fun to sort of pass the baton to him and see what he could cook up.
Did you record the record yourself?
I was in charge of all the tracking. My brother does all of his drum tracking himself, and then I took all the tracks and worked on them myself. Then, I sent the tracks to Ray up in New Jersey where he recorded all his guitar parts. Once they were all done, he sent them back and I put the vocals on. We have sort of a team thing going on, and luckily everybody knows how to engineer themselves, so these projects come together without a lot of in-studio time, which is nice because we can and get the result that we want and no one is ever looking at the clock and no one is sweating us for time. We can just sit there and make the album happen exactly the way we want it to happen, which is more comfortable for me. I don't think I could ever go back to going into a studio and paying for studio time and all that mess.
But don't you have a studio set up in your house?
Yeah, I have a studio in my garage, but the miracle of home recording these days is getting a lot more affordable and easy. You don't have to have some massive multi-million dollar studio anymore to get a decent result.
I'm going to take a wild stab and assume you're in favor of marijuana legalization.
[Laughs] Yeah, but I wouldn't consider myself especially politically motivated in any regard. I'm more a creative type who enjoys writing music and creating art. But, I definitely get offended when people treat weed like it's some horrible thing, because I think in the grand scheme of drugs, marijuana is a relatively G-rated substance. I would say that weed is less harmful than alcohol, yet alcohol is legal everywhere. But, legalization isn't something that keeps me awake at night. I've been smoking weed for so long that whether it's legal or not doesn't affect me.
What's Virginia's stance on it? Is weed decriminalized or legal there?
No. Actually, Virginia has more in common with Texas or Arizona. It's pretty harsh if you get busted with weed around here and lately it's been getting a little bit harder to find decent bud around. But where there's a will, there's a way [laughs]. I always find a way to bank my weed.
One of the parallels I was mulling over was the one between the growing popularity of Cannabis Corpse and weed. In a weird way, and obviously to different degrees, both the band and the substance have gradually become more a part of the conversation over the course of the last decade. Thoughts?
Well, I think that we've been around for so long that people are starting to notice our music; it takes time. AC/DC wrote "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock and Roll)" and it's not easy, but we've spent time in the game. We've gone to Europe three times, done multiple tours of the US, and try to put out albums fairly consistently and we're happy that people are starting to notice and appreciate our music. I think it's just time spent.
At the same time, back in the day, you rarely would have ever heard death metal in a regular TV show or movie. You guys have had your music used in a couple different places.
It's funny, we're very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have been on these great shows. We were in a movie called In the Loop, which was sort of the predecessor to Veep, the HBO show. We were also in a show called Mr. Pickles which is a crazy show on Adult Swim about a Satanic dog that murders people. The creators of that show were from Richmond and we've known them for a long time—they actually directed the first Municipal Waste video—and they've gone on to success and have moved out to L.A. and have a team of animators working in a warehouse out there. As far as mainstream acceptance of metal, I think that ever since social media became a thing, music in general has changed.
We sort of caught a good wave with that first era of MySpace, when people were really paying attention to what we were doing on social media and stuff. Things were a lot different then, and it seemed like bands could get popular just from having a popular MySpace page. Now, I feel like the whole social media thing has calmed down. But yeah, metal and marijuana have both become more mainstream and accepted at the same time with the legalization of it in some places. All of those are good things; it's only going to help if people are going to smoke big, fat doobies and listen to death metal.
Traveling around as much as you do, are there places where attitudes towards marijuana still surprise you in some way?
Well, I'm surrounded by people who are pro-marijuana all the time, though I'm sure there's a huge contingent of people who are anti-marijuana. I mean, I smoke weed every day, so there's sort of a side of me that's confused by people who don't smoke weed all the time. It boggles my mind; what do they do to relieve their stress and calm down at the end of the day? It blows me away there are people out there who don't smoke weed, but maybe that's me being totally crazy.
Has Cannabis Corpse even been approached by any pro-weed or legalization groups to be spokesmen in some capacity?
Yeah, we've been approached a few times here and there by a few organizations, but getting involved politically is not something that I'm super motivated to do; I'm just happy being in my crazy marijuana death metal band. Weed isn't the be-all and end-all of my entire life. I'm an enthusiast of weed and I love it, but it's not like I devote every single second of my life to marijuana advocacy. I just roll up a joint and smoke it now and again, just like everyone else out there. Though, I hope that these groups can make a change in the way the government perceives weed, and it's obvious they are making a difference. Of course, the states that have legalized it have probably profited a lot and all those states seem pretty chill; Colorado and Oregon are amazing places to visit, and maybe being able to smoke all the weed you want has something to do with it.
As you get deeper into Cannabis Corpse, are you finding challenging to keep coming up with title spoofs?
Not at all. I feel like there are a million different ways to do this. In fact, it might even make doing this a little easier, because I have a jumping off point for the lyrics. I know that it's going to involve weed somehow. It almost helps me creatively to box myself off a little bit and stay with the theme. Every song I'm going to ask myself, 'What sort of crazy, marijuana-related horror story am I going tell with this one?' The one thing that I've noticed is that a lot of horror movies out there have marijuana involved somehow. How many times have you seen the weed-smoking kids be the ones who get murdered? It happens a lot, and I feel that there are marijuana horror stories out there forever.
CANNABIS CORPSE tour dates
Sept. 30 Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock Social Club (tickets)
Oct. 1 Omaha, NE @ Lookout Lounge (tickets)
Oct. 3 Oklahoma City, OK @ Thunder Alley
Oct, 4 Albuquerque, NM @ The Jam Spot (tickets)
Oct. 5 Scottsdale, AZ @ Pub Rock Live (tickets)
All dates with SOULFLY, NOISEM, LODY KONG
Oct. 6 San Diego, CA @ Brick By Brick (tickets)
Oct. 7 Los Angeles, CA @ Whiskey A Go Go (tickets)
Oct. 8 San Francisco, CA @ DNA Lounge (tickets)
Oct. 9 Portland, OR @ Dante's (tickets)
Oct. 10 Seattle, WA @ Studio Seven (tickets)
Oct. 11 Idaho Falls, ID @ Diamondz Event Center 9 (tickets)
Oct. 12 Salt Lake City, UT @ Metro Music Hall (tickets)
Oct. 13 Denver, CO @ Marquis Theatre (tickets)
Oct. 14 Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room (tickets)
Oct. 15 Indianapolis, IN @ Deluxe (tickets)
Oct. 16 Joliet, IL @ The Forge (tickets)
Oct. 17 Cleveland, OH @ Agora Ballroom (tickets)
Oct. 18 Detroit, MI @ Token Lounge (tickets)
Oct. 19 Toronto, ON @ Opera House (tickets)
Oct. 20 Montreal, QC @ Foufoune Electrique (tickets)
Oct. 21 Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall (tickets)
Oct. 22 New York, NY @ Gramercy Theatre (tickets)
Oct. 23 Philadelphia, PA @ Voltage Lounge (tickets)
Oct. 24 Richmond, VA @ Broadberry (tickets)
Oct. 25 Lynchburg, VA @ Phase 2 (tickets)
Oct. 26 Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Soundstage (tickets)