I just wanted to clear that up. Now onto why he was kicked out. We did not leave, as he says. We had our manager, Eric Grief call Rick up and tell him he was out after me, Bill and Terry had a big meeting and decided that he was totally holding us back musically.He's a very unprofessional guitar player. We can't go on stage worrying about someone being out of tune or whether they changed their strings or not, and that's what we had to worry about every time we went on stage with Rick. Not to mention that there was a lack of room on stage. We put up with it for too long and we got really sick of it. We got a lot of mail criticizing his appearance and his lead work, and that right there was the final straw. When people speak out and write in that the only weak point of your band is so-and-so, you have to do something about it. I was not too excited about going through another change, but it was just something that had to be done. This band is so easy to be in because everyone gets along so easily. Rick had it so easy being in this band it was pathetic, and he took advantage of it. If someone's in this band, they're going to work their ass off and keep improving for as long as we're together. I'm tired of gossip and things like that in the underground, and people need to be informed, and that's why I'm glad we're doing this interview. I speak on behalf of Terry and Bill when I say that it was a group decision and that it was obviously for the best."
Between the ousting of Rick and the summoning of James, Death tried working with guitarist Mark Carter, but had only minimal success.
"We had Mark in for a few weeks because he was a friend and always will be, but unfortunately he just wasn't in the swing of things as far as knowing and living the music, " explains Chuck. "You really have to be into it to play it. He just didn't fit in on the musical side, and we just ended it as soon as we felt it wasn't right. We've known James for a couple of years, and we knew at the time that Hallows Eve really wasn't doing anything because of their singer quitting and their drummer was out. So we called James and told him the position was there. He actually auditioned while Mark was still in the band just so we'd know what he was all about, which was a great idea because once Mark was out, we knew who to call."
Now let's hear James' story and find out how and why he went from two progressive metal acts like Hallows Eve and Agent Steel to vicious, brutal death metal band like Death.
"In '87 I was in Agent Steel for about a year, then I quit after we got back from touring Europe because it was a really bad situation - they were real assholes and treated me really bad, so I quit," says James. "It took me a while to get into another band, and I tried putting together a few projects, but they didn't work out. So I ended up finally hooking up with Hallows Eve. I went up to Atlanta and played with them for about six months, during which time we really didn't have much success in finding a replacement for their singer, Stacy Anderson, so that was it. Luckily Chuck called me and asked me to come join Death, and I did. It was the best thing I ever did because I've always liked Death's music more than Agent Steel or Hallows Eve. Whenever I would make a band of my own with people from around here, it would always be more death metal orientated because that's really what I'm into. I would not have minded if Agent Steel had stayed together and went on to super-fame and then I was in Death because I'm happier being in Death - I like the guys and the music better."
We established earlier that there has never been a solid Death line-up for any length of time, and it raises the question whether or not James was apprehensive about joining a band with a reputation of being personally unsteady.
"Terry and Bill have been with Chuck and Chuck's been back in Florida for three years, and it's stayed pretty stable for the past three years. For a while before that, it was really unstable - for like two years they were constantly changing members, but it didn't really worry me."
Seeing as Chuck has been the only member since the beginning, he has handled the majority of the songwriting, which has helped to lessen the potentially disruptive effects of new members. But Chuck had some solid help with the writing on Spiritual Healing - mainly from newcomer James Murphy, which as Chuck explains, was more of a pleasant surprise than a calculated move.
"I was very cautious about that (having James help with the writing) because we've been playing a certain style through the years, and I write most of the material, so I'm a little wary about new people. But the stuff James showed us was excellent - it fit in really good, like a puzzle piece. Terry also had some input on this record, which was excellent, so it was a full-band deal. Everyone had really good input this time around. I've always been super critical about my playing, so I hate talking about my leads or anything like that," comments James. "I'm really happy with my writing contributions because I co-wrote half of the songs, and I played leads on all of them and I guess I'm really happy with everything considering I only had about three weeks to prepare. I definitely got to give a lot more input than I thought I would get, and that really made me happy. The really cool thing about it is that it's very hard to tell which parts I wrote - they all fit in really well. I'm not trying to be derogatory toward anyone, but one thing that's different now is that there's no more crazed-whammy bar or flailing," continues James, commenting on what he sees as a significant effect he's had. "If you listen to Leprosy it's all over the place. It's cool maybe once or twice, but on eight songs? - give me a break, play something else. According to Chuck, Rick's writing always involved just tons of double-picking stuff, and I'll write chunky riffs and that instead of just one type of riff."
Earlier this year, Spiritual Healing was unleashed and completed a near two year gap since Leprosy, and Chuck feels the time spent and the line-up change helped make it their finest work yet.
"The entire band is just totally thrilled with how things came out," says Chuck. "We went in with a much better outlook on things this time around - having a new guitar player and much better material. We worked our asses off to put out an album that is going to make people take notice of us. A lot of sweat was put into this record. I really strived to make my vocals a lot clearer, which is so crucial because I'm tired of people saying that death metal is noise. The musicianship is much better, there's far more variety, more tempo changes, more melodies. This is the album I wanted the band to do. We're at the point where this is the style that I've wanted to obtain, but could never do so because of the other guitarists we've had. We wanted to maintain the sound but naturally progress, and if you don't progress, who wants to hear it? And I wouldn't want to play it. We've put out something that I'm real proud of, and it feels good to say that. I think it's a lot catchier. I think more songs stick in your memory after you listen to it a few times than Leprosy," says James on Spiritual Healing. "A couple of people I've played it for have commented on Chuck's singing. It's still totally brutal and heavy, but he just sounds deeper, yet more clearly understandable, and it's still very much him. Even before we started recording he said that he wanted everyone to be able to understand the words yet still be as brutal as ever. And he strove for it and achieved it as far as I'm concerned. When you listen to the album, the rhythms are 50% me and 50% Chuck. He would usually lay down his two tracks first, and I would stack two more times on top, so the rhythm tracks are four-times thick - it's heavy stuff."
After working with producers Randy Burns and Dan Johnson on their first two albums respectively, this time Death opted to have their recording supervised by noted thrash/death metal producer Scott Burns at Morrisound Studios in Tampa, Fl.
"We had a great time working with Scott, who helped on our last album, Leprosy, and the production came out great," says Chuck. "We got what we wanted, which was a very clear but brutal production, which is very crucial in this type of music. Some albums come out and have no separation and you just have to have that in order to come across as professional. It's so crucial to have everything layered and not thrown in together - each instrument has it's own place on this record. Scott is just the best person to work with. He listens to the music, and that is the biggest plus ever. If you get someone who's a great producer and listens to the music you're playing, you can't do any better than that. Working with Scott was the greatest thing ever - I praise him, he's the best guy I've ever worked with in the studio," says James. "He's so easy going and friendly and he knows what he's doing I'd love to work with him again and I hope we do. He really helped me a lot - he helped me play better and gave me more confidence."
Even back in the days when Death was just a noisy, gory demo band they were heralded as not only the most popular band in the death metal field, but also one of the best. And while generally the best and most popular outfit in any musical category will achieve the most success over the rest of the pack, the fact remains that Death is leading a genre so extreme that it might never be as readily accepted as other forms of music.
I totally believe that Death can land a major deal and can at least achieve the status and level of success that Slayer has, because I really don't think that there's anything that we lack compared to them," states James boldly. "I think that if Slayer fans will listen to a Death album they will find that they like it just as much, if not better. I think Death can easily get that big if not bigger because I really don't know how much bigger Slayer will get. There are tons of Slayer fans that don't even know who we are - they need to be made aware. I definitely believe Death can get a lot bigger and will get a lot bigger."