Interview: Bruce Corbitt (Rigor Mortis)
Before labels for styles such as “death metal” caught on, there was in the late 1980s a ghastly combat in metal to see who could produce the most archetypally extreme metal band and thus exceed the boundaries set by Slayer and Venom. Into the fertile time rose the spectre of Rigor Mortis, a band renowned for their intricate fast fretwork and energetic, gruesome vocals that did not yet become deathy, but were still forceful and raw. We were fortunate to catch up with the generator of those pipings, Rigor Mortis vocalist Bruce Corbitt, as he was exiting a slaughterhouse zipping up his pants…
You are writing a book on your experiences, including rigor mortis. How does writing compare to music writing?
Besides the obvious things like the length of text and the amount of time it takes to write a book. When writing lyrics for a song you sometimes have to think about the number of lines and syllables in certain verses and choruses. With writing a book you don’t have to worry about anything like that and you can just let the words flow. My book is also a true story and my lyrics are usually fictitious ideas.
The funny part of it all is that one of my biggest weaknesses was my lack of ability to write a lot of lyrics and now I have just written a 400-page book. I mean I have no problems with hearing where I wanted to place the lyrics and how I want to sing them. But, just coming up with enough words to fill all the verses and chorus was usually a struggle for me. So for me to write lyrics for 10 new songs back then would have taken me forever.
On the other hand, Harden Harrison and Casey Orr were able to write lyrics with relative ease and they also blew my lyrics away. So after writing some lyrics for a few songs after I first joined the band, they began to write most of the lyrics from that point on. I didn’t object to it because I knew their lyrics were better than mine and I thought it was just the best thing for the band. I mean Bruce Dickinson didn’t write anything for the Number Of The Beast album… but, you don’t hear anyone complaining about that album because Bruce didn’t write all of the lyrics.
When you were starting out with Rigor Mortis, you must have experienced a good deal of personal doubt and uncertainty. What factors helped you overcome those?
I think the title of their third album pretty much sums up the attitude that the band had in the beginning and until the band’s end. Rigor Mortis Vs The Earth… that is really how it felt for us sometimes. Us against the fucking World! When I first joined the band they had shitty equipment, hardly any money or transportation and not even a place to practice. They were also taking a musical direction that obviously wasn’t going to be mainstream. Along with our rebellious attitudes… the odds of us having any kind of success was stacked against us from the very beginning. But, we didn’t give a fuck about anything like that. We just wanted to do it all our own way without any thought of compromising the music or the bands image in any way.
But, I did have some personal doubts when I first joined the band about just being accepted as the new member of the band. Because many people already liked Rigor Mortis at that time the way they were as a three-piece band. Not to mention that I had only been in one band before and we mainly had just done a lot of Black Sabbath songs. I had never taken any singing lessons and didn’t have a lot of confidence in my voice yet. But, I just wanted it so fucking badly and I also wanted to prove the doubters wrong. So, I put my life into it and I had to have this… “FUCK YOU, I am a bad motherfucker!!!”… attitude in my head to silence any uncertainty that I had for myself or that anyone else had for me.
The Texas metal scene seems to produce one or two excellent bands per generation with the rest being sub-par. What’s your view on this?
I believe that there have always been a lot of talented musicians in Texas. But, sometimes the talent is spread out too thin among too many bands. Very seldom will you see a band with every member of the band being a badass motherfucker. It’s like if you could take this drummer from one band and put him with the guitarist and bass player of this other band, and then take this singer from this band… then you could have an awesome band.
I also know that a lot of bands do not always want to do the hard work it takes to keep progressing. They want the benefits and the rewards of being in a band without wanting to keep busting their asses for it. They get enough songs down to be able to play at clubs… and record a demo or a CD. Then, they seem to go on cruise control as far as the amount of practice they do and the amount of new songs they write comes at a slower rate. But, they are doing great in their minds because they are able to play at clubs, they are now getting chicks easier and they get to be the cool guys playing on stage on weekends. When in fact they should be spending more time on just writing original songs. I mean if a band wants to survive for a long time, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?
If you want to have 5 or 10 albums and be around for a while… hell, that means you need 50 to 100 originals. I see too many bands slowly stop progressing after they have 8 to 15 originals. They get too anxious and they want to start playing gigs. They gain a following and record a CD and things appear to be rolling. They hope they can get a deal with what they have and then they figure that everything will take off from there.
Of course I am talking from experience here and from some of my own mistakes. Because I also felt like the hardest part was over once we had signed with Capitol Records. But, looking back on it now… I can see that getting a deal even with a major label doesn’t mean shit. It’s what a band does if and when they do get a deal. I don’t think too many bands think past just trying to get signed and they don’t prepare for the longevity of it all by just simply writing as many originals as possible. That is the main reason why I feel this area only produces a few great bands for each generation.
Do you listen to any current metal?
I do listen to some of it through my friends that keep up with the newer bands more than I do now. I will never be a fan of any new bands like I was a fan of metal bands back when I was younger… but, I am behind the newer metal bands because they are keeping the torch burning. I also still like to get the local metal bands demos and CD’s to check out and just to support the underground.
Metal will always be in my blood and I am proud to say I never grew out of loving metal. I like other music of course… from 60s and 70s classic rock bands to punk bands. But, metal always got my adrenaline flowing more than any other type of music and it still does to this day. I know many people that loved metal and then they sort of grew out of it or something. They thought it wasn’t cool to like metal anymore, as they got older.
Even some musicians who were inspired and influenced to start playing because of metal bands and started out themselves in metal bands, became anti-metal after a while. It’s not their decision to evolve and change their musical taste over time that bothers me. I can understand that part and I respect that side of it. But, I never understood those that started slamming metal once they stopped liking it and went in a different direction. Especially when it’s the music that made them want to start jamming in the first place.
Would you do vocals for any current bands?
Absolutely! But, I don’t sit around and think about it or wish I were singing for any current bands. If the right situation and opportunity came along… I would go for it. As of right now, I am content with just starting or joining or forming a new band locally here in Dallas.
While most bands were getting “chunky” with muffled power chord riffing, it seems to me that only rigor mortis and slayer were taking the melodic approach. what inspired this direction?
Rigor Mortis was never the type of band that would go with the flow or do what all of the other bands were doing at the time. I think some of our influences like Slayer and Iron Maiden and maybe even some of Mike’s influences like Michael Schenker and Randy Rhoads might have had something to do with the melodic side of it. But, the main reason I think that Rigor Mortis didn’t sound like anyone else is simply that Mike, Harden and Casey each had their own unique style and technique in the way they played their instruments at that time. I really didn’t have anything to do with the musical direction that Rigor Mortis ventured into. They had already developed their own style of playing, they had those “fuck the world” attitudes and they were already singing about horror and gore before I was ever in the band.
Many metal fans consider the first Rigor Mortis album to be the best one that the band released Some even consider it to be a classic metal album now. Since the band didn’t have long lasting success and eventually disbanded, many metal fans that didn’t know the true history of the band, or they found out about Rigor Mortis after our breakup… many have this false misconception that I was somehow part of being the mastermind behind the first album, or that I was also part of being behind the style or image of Rigor Mortis.
When in fact all I did was join the band and I tried I fit in well with what they wanted to do at that time. Which was easy for me to do because I had already acquired a love for thrash and speed metal music by that time. Plus, I was always into horror movies and gore. I honestly always believed that the main reason many people consider the first album to be the best one is because it simply had the best material on it. Those songs had time to mature because we had played them live many times over the years. That is just my opinion and of course I am biased because I am not on the other two… lol!
If you were going to redo the Rigor Mortis experience, what changes would you make to style or content of your music?
I don’t think any of the changes would be anything too drastic. I do hear the vocal parts in certain lines in some songs that I know I would like to change. Hell, I think I could do my entire vocal parts better if I could do them now. I am sure all musicians hear their old recordings and think about how they would have done it differently if they could do it again. The sad part of it all is that because of the studio we picked to record our first album, the true definitive sound of the Rigor Mortis that I was a part of was never truly captured on a recording.
I guess other than that I think we should have added some rhythm guitar tracks over the guitar solo’s on the first album. I also think that because of the adrenaline rushes we got while we were on stage… the songs just kept getting faster and faster. It made some of the songs even better in most cases. But, in my opinion… the speed of the song Re-Animator on our demo tape was the right pace for that song. By, the time we recorded it for the first album we were playing it so much faster that I think it lost a lot of it’s intensity because of that.
Last but not least, I would now get my lazy ass in gear and contribute more to the writing process with the band. Like I was talking about back in your first question… I willingly let them start writing most of the lyrics after a while and I felt it was the best thing for the band at the time. But, now I see how I wasn’t putting enough effort into it and making myself just do it. It was the easy way out for me to let them write the lyrics and not do it myself. So, I now understand their disgust with the fact that I stopped contributing as much in the writing and ideas process after a while.
Many people, myself included, consider Rigor Mortis to be crossover music between speed metal and death metal. While I’m not here to talk about categories, I think it’s interesting how your music fits between generations. What do you see as the primary differences between what Rigor Mortis were doing and what the metal scene is putting out now?
Well, some obvious differences with some of today’s metal bands compared to back then is that they tune down their guitars and some are anti-lead solos etc. Nothing stays the same forever and so it’s natural for things to change… and that goes for metal too. I mean I often wondered back then as Rigor Mortis and bands like Slayer were taking metal to such furiously fast paced songs… how can it continue to just get heavier and faster than this before it’s just a blur and it’s not even comprehendible as a song anymore? I felt at the time that Rigor Mortis was already pushing the sound barrier to the limit.
Every Rigor Mortis song was fast at least somewhere during the song. But, if every metal band that came out played all their songs full speed… it wouldn’t give up enough variety like we have now. Metal can be fast and aggressive or slower and more powerful. It can be technical and difficult or it can be simple and lazy. The coolest thing about metal and why it will always survive even when many want to say it’s not cool to like metal these days is that we have so many different styles of metal to choose from. Black, death, speed, thrash or classic heavy metal bands ETC… take your choice.
Back when Rigor Mortis was producing records, there wasn’t as much of an underground. It’s amazing to me a band as metal as Rigor Mortis made it onto Capitol Records, but then again, it’s kind of rewarding. How do you think this appears to a generation raised on predominantly underground releases?
To some it might appear as if we were some corporately produced spoiled imitation metal band, or that we must have been sellouts to sign with a major label. For others it might be some kind of redemption that a band like us could was able to get total control of our music after signing with a big label. But, if anyone thinks we got rich and royal treatment because we signed with Capitol records… or that we sold out because we signed with a major label… think again.
The truth is that after getting some interest from many major and underground labels for a couple of years, Capitol was the first label to believe in us enough to actually tell us they wanted to officially sign us. It’s not like we turned down underground labels to sign with a major label. Once we knew that Capitol was going to give us 100% control of our music, it was a no-brainer for us to want to sign with them. It was a miracle how it all happened in the first place. So, I admit thinking at the time that by signing with a major label like Capitol Records that it was gonna increase our chances of getting more promotion and also our chances to succeed enough to survive as a band. It’s easy to try and blame Capitol for not promoting us like they could have. But, I think our biggest mistake was simply the wrong studio to record the first album.
Did you find having to be frontman for a band affected you personally, with stress or with positive changes, etc?
Being the singer for Rigor Mortis stirred up every type of emotion known to mankind. I had the stress of trying to be accepted when I first joined a band as I mentioned earlier, because many in the area already liked how they already were as a three-piece band with Casey doing the vocals. But, at the same time all kinds of positive changes started happening for me in my life as soon as I joined the band. I felt like I was somebody once I joined that band and I felt like I was part of something special. Rigor Mortis literally became my life 24 hrs a day and seven days a week. Of course I became more confident in myself as the band started having all kinds of cool things happening for us.
I mean going from such a positive highs one week after we got our deal with Capitol Records… to the very next week being stabbed in the back five times before a gig and fighting for my life. It truly was an emotional roller-coaster the entire time I was in the band.
We ask: what is there still to be dared that would be still more daring than Life, which is itself the daring venture, so that it would be more daring than the Being of beings? In every case and in every respect, what is dared must be such that it concerns every being inasmuch as it is a being. Of such a kind is Being, and in this way, that it is not one particular kind among others, but the mode of all beings as such.
If Being is what is unique to beings, by what can Being still be surpassed? Only by itself, only by its own, and indeed by expressly entering into its own.
– Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought
What other Texas metal bands do you consider great?
I would have to say Dead Horse, Sedition, Gammacide, Watchtower and Absu are the bands I have the most respect for. I think that all but Absu are now extinct.
Can you give us any timeline on a rigor mortis CD re-release? i know people out there will ask me this, so i’m asking you; sorry if it is a stressful question.
The question doesn’t bother me at all and I get asked about that all of the time. I just really have no clue myself since I have nothing to do with it. I just hope it still happens for those who still want it.
It seems that Rigor Mortis has influenced bands from diverse ranges of metal, from the most commercial to the most gnarly and underground. I hear a good deal of Mike Scaccia’s technique in Mayhem and other european lightning fast bands. Do you agree?
Yeah, I do hear it in some of those bands. I just don’t honestly know if they were really influenced or if they just have similar styles to Scaccia’s. I am kind of surprised that more guitar players haven’t picked up on Mike’s style of playing over the years… even though I do know of a few local Mike Scaccia clones. But, I don’t think Mike’s style of playing for Rigor Mortis was something that just any guitarist can do. He was born with a gift and his own style for playing the guitar. It was always natural for him and easier than it is for most who pick up a guitar. I am also certain that the rest of the guys from Rigor Mortis are also honored about any other bands or musicians that were influenced by the band in some way.
If you did form a metal band again, what kind of music would you make?
That would mainly depend on the musicians around me. I won’t know really myself until I hear it to tell you the truth. It would be old school metal for sure. I would never puss out and be in some wimpy metal band. But, I can’t tell you what it will sound like because I want to be in a band that doesn’t sound like anyone else. Rigor Mortis didn’t sound like anyone else… and I would never try to copy the Rigor sound with a new band even if it was possible. So, I just hope to find some guys that can also create a unique sound that my vocals, style and image can work with.
If Rigor Mortis were hypothetically to record another album, would it continue the stylistic progression of past or move to something of a different organization?
I think it would be like trying to do a sequel to some classic horror/gore/spatter movie for us to do another album together. Now do you want to make the sequel with more blood and twice as much killing? Do you want to go for a bigger audience and cut out all of the violent parts and make it not as brutal as the first movie? Or do you want to make the entire thing totally different than the original? Obviously we would go with being as brutal and gory as possible and we would keep the same style without copying the original sound.
We know what Rigor Mortis represents and stands for to the fans. We would never do anything that would disappoint anyone that ever liked Rigor Mortis. We all have hindsight on what we did back then and we are all a lot wiser now. But, it’s hard to recapture what you had back in early stages of a band. We were in our youth and the music was being written naturally without any thought. Because that was the music we all wanted to do at that time.
Since then the other guys have played many different styles of music in other bands. So it wouldn’t be easy to just pick up where we left off. I do however believe that our experience and wisdom on what we should and shouldn’t have done back then would prevail over anything else. I honestly feel that we would be able to create a horrifying metal masterpiece if we ever did make another Rigor Mortis album together.