Carnifex – The Economy of MotionSunday, 1st October 2023
Reliable headliners in the deathcore scene, California act Carnifex continually strive to establish new elements into a sound that has carried them since the mid-2000’s. Their latest album Necromanteum keeps the heaviness and aggression strong, along with the blackened/symphonic accents that heighten the intensity or chilling atmosphere on display. We reached out to bassist Fred Calderon to bring us up to date on the recent lineup change, riff bank process that blossomed into the new album, his influences and outlook on bass, as well as lots of honest discussion about the history of the band, touring opportunities, lessons learned throughout it all, plus hints at future tours for 2023-24.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the lineup change with guitarist Jordan Lockrey being replaced by Neal Tiemann – what do you believe Neal brings to the table that may be different or exciting to add to the dynamic of Carnifex currently?
Fred Calderon: Jordan was at a crossroads at the end of the album cycle with World War X where he wanted to try some non-musical endeavors. At the time DevilDriver wasn’t touring very much, and Neal is a friend of ours, so he was filling in. The dynamic kind of changed, he had been touring for so long that he was comfortable being in this touring environment. Jordan felt like he was no longer enjoying the touring aspect, it’s a lot of work versus the actual performance part. Once Neal came in, it was easy and laid back. He has been playing for so long, the solos are a little more fluid and tasteful in the way he plays. Jordan at the end of his time was trying to prove a little bit more technicality. Neal has it, he doesn’t have to show it off.
Dead Rhetoric: Necromanteum is the ninth studio album for the band. How did the songwriting and recording sessions go for this set of material – and where do you see this record slotting in the overall history/discography for the group?
Calderon: We usually have a riff bank where we put ideas in, and then Scott and Shawn act as kind of producers to make stuff out of them. We would fill it heavily, and then putting their spin on stuff with Neal’s stuff in there as well. Through that we ended up coming out with a record that sounds like what Neal thinks we should sound like, and also what we said to him we are influenced by. At the same time, we are still working with what we want to add in, those blackened elements, and some symphonic elements. We really wanted his leads on there.
Where it falls into the lineup. We’ve continued to add elements that we like and are influenced from before that we probably didn’t add (in), but still being influenced by things that come out now that we all individually like and all together vibe on.
Dead Rhetoric: Was the pandemic one of the reasons why you went for a multiple producer aspect on this record?
Calderon: No. We tracked everything ourselves, and the only guy we used was for vocals. When we went back to Neal, we asked him what producers he would like to work with. He had never worked with (Jason) Suecof, we had worked previously with him, we enjoy working with him. It was a good introduction for Neal to go with someone that we had already worked with and fits our style. We’ve worked with Mark Lewis on mastering, and two of the band members as other producers. Jason is a guitar-driven guy, let’s have Cory and Neal both work with Jason.
Dead Rhetoric: You worked with UK artist E.M. Gist for the first time on Necromanteum. How did you discover his work, and what did you enjoy most about the cover art he provided for the band?
Cameron: That’s a Scott thing. He follows artists on social media, he’s very graphic artist driven. He probably saw something that stuck out to him that fit the style. The really vibrant colors with a dark, graphic novel kind of look. He must have found some work from him, started the conversation and they passed on some ideas.
Dead Rhetoric: Scott’s lyrical content always stems from negative themes, referencing aspects of depression, betrayal, hopelessness, anger, and hatred. Has it always been important to match the intensity of the music with equally intense, extreme lyrics – and do you receive positive feedback from the fan base that these songs help them get through tough times in their lives?
Cameron: I like the range he pulls from. A lot of the previous stuff, he dealt a lot with heartbreak and relationship-type stuff. It doesn’t all to have to be the death metal stuff – and we do have some tracks on there too. It doesn’t have to be all macabre and pictures of violence. He pulls from personal struggles and personal relationships – those are real things and people can relate to his thoughts. When you mentioned earlier about the pandemic, those were some dark times for a lot of people. Their whole world was taken away from them, and a lot of people went through some dark times – us included. He was able to pull from that, and there is also the theme of the occult – which is on the new record. It’s another realm – can we get some sort of bridge to communicate with them and be on the other side? And then of course, it has to do with the specific types of people that have the resources to do so.
I see people talk to Scott about how the music helps them get through personal stuff, that they have something to cope with and channel things through. In the lyrical themes, they can relate too. I feel like sometimes he comes up with the concepts before he hears the music, then he comes up with literal ideas based on what he’s feeling.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been a part of the Nuclear Blast roster for almost a decade now. Do you believe their staff, promotional presence, and outlook on your work has helped elevate Carnifex to new heights in terms of reach and popularity on a global scale?
Cameron: Oh, most definitely. We got our foothold in Europe pretty early on, we had a good, established career because it was hard for us to get good supporting slots in the states, so we always had to headline. Out in Europe, we had plenty of support and festival offers. When we signed to Nuclear Blast, it wasn’t just hey – another label to put our records out. They promoted us worldwide, we got into every territory. We got to go back to Australia, Europe, the relationship we were looking for. We were able to go anywhere, and they were able to put the music in places when we weren’t there.
Dead Rhetoric: When looking at the long history of the band, can you think back to specific album releases, touring cycles, or other significant events when you knew you were making more of an impact with your style and reaching a bigger following because of your efforts?
Cameron: We took a hiatus in 2012 when we were having trouble with our old label. We decided to take time to reassess. And I remember our booking agent Marco Walzel at Avocado, he hit us up during the time we were writing a record. He said, hey this band dropped off a tour – I’ll pay you their money, we need you to fill the slot. We went out to support Emmure, and it surprised us. People didn’t think we were gone, the fervor was still there. It was a good thing that we were still practicing and writing. It was a snowball to get the meetings with Nuclear Blast.
Dead Rhetoric: I remember taking in the Summer Slaughter tour in 2016 – and the surge of deathcore at that time. Did you feel the same way on that type of tour which had a mix of deathcore and straight forward, veteran death metal acts?
Cameron: I think at that point deathcore was pretty established and there was another wave of bands that added more of the slammy, brutal stuff instead of just the breakdowns. They were adding more technical elements. I guess it was more of the elitism from the death metal bands was going away. When we toured in 2008 with death metal bands like Obituary and Unleashed, there was still that ‘you guys aren’t death metal, and that’s not cool’ vibe. But at that point with Cannibal Corpse, Nile, Suffocation, Krisiun, that tour showed that the lines were blurred, and everyone was having a good time.
Dead Rhetoric: There seems to be a heightened interest in deathcore over the past few years – especially during the pandemic. Why do you think there seems to be a stronger interest in the genre than ever before – is it related to the community, the larger media coverage, or other factors in your eyes?
Cameron: During the pandemic we had our own little microcosm. We did a Patreon to help pay off our merch debt that we had incurred. We talked to a very small, core group of fans, and what we got is that they were still interested in new stuff but really wanted to visit the nostalgia stuff that they had missed out on. We had fans that we were talking to since the beginning, ones there in the middle, and then right when we did that World War X tour and their first introduction to us was through that tour. We had people there that were talking to people that weren’t there, and then we played some of the old albums, we did podcasts and talks about those old eras, what we were going through at the time. Time being taken away with no live music, it made people be more nostalgic for any type of the era in general. They took it all back and loved it all over again.
Now when we play sets, people don’t stand there with their arms crossed about older albums, they love all of it all at once.
Dead Rhetoric: I’ve read in previous interviews that some of your influences include Metallica, Megadeth, In Flames, and Racer X among others. How would you say these bands shaped your outlook on the metal genre – and your approach/attitude at bass?
Cameron: Man, that’s cool! I was in bands with friends, and we would all geek out about music. Oddly enough, the person who introduced me to In Flames also introduced me to Racer X. This is cool, I didn’t know that this could be done in this style, two different types of metal and immediately digesting these riffs. I had to learn how to play this. John Alderete is such a big influence because he didn’t just stick to one style of music – he went on to play with The Mars Volta, Marilyn Manson, so many others. I love that he encompasses all this stuff, I have to get as much music as I can get my hands on to see what sticks.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe your advancement at the bass from childhood to how you approach things today?
Cameron: There is always something that someone shows me that I don’t know how it works. Early on, I was more into figuring out how to play and how something was. Now even today, when we write something and I try to write a part, the technical aspect I try to think about this funny phrase called ‘the economy of motion’. I try to play things in a way where I don’t have to exert so much energy to fight the riff to play it. I’m going to play it in a way where my fingers are moving so that every strike is measured, that by the time I’m done with it at that speed, it feels leisurely to the point where I can play it with my eyes closed.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing Carnifex currently – and do you believe it’s harder to sustain a following versus building things up as you did during the 2000’s and previous decade?
Cameron: It’s the rising costs of touring. Everything costs so much now. The bus, the bandwagon, the fuel, the hotels, everything is up across the board. We just did a van tour, it’s ridiculous how much hotels and gas are. The fight for ticket prices, we have to eventually raise the ticket prices, but then ticket resellers are ridiculous with the fees. The fans are the ones who feel it in their wallets. Everyone that wants to go enjoy the show and make the show happen, it’s just so expensive now.
How do we keep people constantly engaged when there is so much distraction out there? We see the bands that carry their personas off the stage digitally, and it’s kind of hard to separate. When I go home, I want to do things at home – I don’t want to be on all the time. But that seems to be the thing the fans want. You have to be on (social media) to let people know you are still there. You have to generate content, all the time. I need to do things I need to do for myself so that at the end of the day, the music is the focus, and the live show is another thing we have to make sure that happens. If we show the behind the scenes of everything, no one is going to be surprised.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it more of a balancing act between the music side and the business side?
Cameron: We’ve been doing the business for so long, we know when we come up with ideas for the merch, the live show, the record, we already know the numbers pop up and who we want to work with. How much we invest into time, the production ideas, the physical things, the transportation costs. At this point it’s second nature, the balancing act is more in getting the word out. Before when you were on Myspace, you would say something, and everyone would get it. Now we have to find out what is the best advertising strategy to get the word out so that everybody that is trying to pay attention to what we are doing gets the message.
Dead Rhetoric: So, do you see social media platforms for a band at your status as a blessing and a curse?
Cameron: Yes, especially when it’s run by corporations who are trying to nickel and dime every aspect of everything you do. Every person we are trying to reach is a dollar sign to them. We have to pay to play.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people to learn about the members of Carnifex as people and the relationships outside of what you do as musicians?
Cameron: That’s an interesting question, because I don’t want to blow up anyone’s spot. We are all big animal lovers; we all love dogs. Most of the time we just watch movies and relax. We are low-key, not big partiers. We do the work and then just relax, listen to music, try to make the touring as much fun as possible but it really works to us. Even when we are home, we are working.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the state of metal in general globally?
Cameron: It’s pretty good, the underground is still going. There’s plenty of people who have excitement for any kind of metal band playing any type of stage. The only changes that need to happen relate to this gatekeeping that can occur some of these higher booking agents that have these bigger arena bands and keep the same rotating support bands, when there are other bands who have reached a ceiling. We can’t headline two to three times every year over these bands that eventually get to our level and get stuck at this, so we end up competing. Even when a band that can get on the arena slot, there are these antiquated things where they can’t sell their merch like they could – you can only sell one type of merch. How can they offset the cost because of the expenses with such a low guarantee, beyond the exposure? The two bands playing above them will have drop tents with tons of merch, and that opening band gets one small section probably not even near a bathroom.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think festivals in the United States could ever get the reach that occurs all summer long in Europe?
Cameron: They are lucky with the infrastructure in Europe. They have the housing, the transportation, and that mindset. You saw how muddy it was at Wacken this past year? They still put up tents and showed up, I don’t think that would happen here. Everyone wants to have an Air B ‘n’ B, or a nice hotel, a shuttle going back and forth. I saw people complain about Coachella and how far they had to walk from the stages. There were too many sections cutting things off from the VIP area, people were so far back, you can’t get to the front.
Two of the biggest festivals in the US, they couldn’t secure the proper permits and they went under. A lot of the cities and towns work with the promoters. Metaldays for instance, the next week the stages all stay up for a Punkdays festival. There are rotating festivals that come and go. I think that’s cool.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the state of the world currently? What worries or concerns do you have that people need to spend more time, attention, and action making better?
Cameron: Wow! That’s a deep question. It’s tough when everyone is politically charged. Anytime when someone voices anything, it opens up the debate. Civil conversation has come and gone. It’s challenged, people feel like they have to challenge someone else. For us, we are trying to figure out how to sustainably tour, come back, and be comfortable to make money. With the rising costs, sometimes we have to bite the bullet on something we would normally do. We are trying to figure out how to navigate things with all these rising costs, and avenues we are used to being cut off.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for activities related to Carnifex over the next twelve months?
Cameron: We have a headlining tour coming up this fall. We have something else in the books I can’t talk about quite yet, it’s a territory we have been trying to visit that fans clamor for us all the time to play. We have some stuff planned for next year. We are working on something else that we’ve done before, and we get to do with peers of ours that we haven’t seen in a while.