Jay Rollins talks with Jeff Becerra
About the Possessed Sound, Partying, and Death Metal.
Jeff Becerra was barely 17 when he contributed to writing sessions that lead to the release of the initial death metal album, Seven Churches. Some consider the album precursory; most others cite it as the beginning. Chuck Schuldiner humbly nodded to Possessed for being there just before Death were to engrave their own metal legacy. Things may have been different if Jeff had not endured a barrage of bullets which left him without use of his legs, but this tragedy would mark the immediate end to Possessed. Decades would pass without utterance from the sinister trope. Now after attaining a degree in labour studies, becoming a father, and engraining the Possessed sensibilities into the new members, Jeff has decided that Possessed is finally ready to reawaken with new material.
Thanks for joining me Jeff, I have a few questions here on behalf of Metalheads Forever that kind of jump throughout your journey with Possessed.
So, we’ll get to it.
A press release for Revelations of Oblivion guarantees, “that fans will know immediately… the familiar sound of POSSESSED.” As the band’s creative force, I was wondering what do you consider to be the essential elements to a Possessed song?
Well, like you were saying we do have a signature sound and I think a lot of mine is that I’m just trying to be myself. I don’t try to be anybody else, of course there’s things with Possessed that is kinda off timing; I used to call it like a three quarters, three fourths off timing. Shit man, we’ve had this discussion so many times, what makes Possessed Possessed, and it’s almost it’s not like any one thing it’s more like a whole set of nuances. That’s why I wanted to tour so long before we made an album, just to make sure that the guys not only knew the Possessed songs but felt the vibe. From the slightly jazzy drum fleurs to the off-timing, and you know the structures of the way we put the music together. It’s really difficult to explain, its like usually you could some sort of mathematical equation but it’s not that way with Possessed, it’s more of a vibe you know?
And it’s smart that you went that way to instill that vibe in the band as opposed to going into the studio, coming out with something that might sound somewhat inorganic and doing it that way, being out on the road, learning and feeling the passion of Possessed and then going into the studio makes all the sense in the world.
Yeah, it’s like you can always tell if someone’s going to work out if you’re on the road, because the road is the great equalizer, it makes everybody show their true colours. Everybody cracks on the road.
Nowhere to hide.
You can tell, some people are just in it for the money or they just want a quick buck or whatever. Some people are just way into it but they don’t like the road, they wanna live normal lives. So that kinda breaks them, the normal factor. But some people just thrive out there, I think it’s important to have people that are just into it.
I’ve asked a similar question to other bands and they are very into the mathematical side and they give me very structured answers, and then other bands it is a feeling, and they’re like “no you just have to play the music.” It comes across in recordings as well and that’s what the fans enjoy, those unique qualities.
Compared to your signature style of Death metal, Thrash is a fairly up-beat music overall, and on The Eyes of Horror I feel many of those songs are comprised of Thrash elements. How much of that sound do you think was influenced by working with living legend Joe Satriani as a producer?
Well, Larry was writing more and more by the end, Larry had become very important. I think that there almost was a dependency on Larry by that point. Larry was playing all of the rhythms on the albums plus his solos. Also, what we wanted to do with the three albums, the two albums and the one EP, is we really wanted to widen our swath of what is and isn’t considered Death metal. So we wanted to make sure all of the albums were as different as possible so we’d have a wider variety of what we could and couldn’t play instead of just being buttholed into being one thing. I think that Thrash has that, like you said that happier, kinda bouncy element to it. It’s easier for a regular person to think that “oh this sounds like Thrash.” You know I’ve heard people compare us with a lot of Thrash, but if you really listen to it, it doesn’t have that happy element. Although it’s very early Death metal, still I think it’s easy to confuse it with Thrash. But it doesn’t have that happy element, it was very intentionally Death metal. Yeah it is really Thrashy too, so.
Cool. Not to overlook the current rhythm section but your guitar duo with Daniel Gonzalez of Gruesome and Claudeous Creamer, who I primarily know from Dragonlord, is nothing short of savage. Recently, you’ve noted that Daniel was a great writing partner, in addition the current lineup is the real Possessed. How does it feel to be about to release the first album under the iconic moniker in over 30 years?
Well it feels good, I mean it’s always been my intention to get the band back together. Unfortunately you know, before I could get it back together I got shot, so it feels really really good. Daniel’s really great, he went to college for Producing and Engineering and so he’s really valuable. And I think the difference between Possessed back then and Possessed today is, back in the day like if you were original and you had something new to offer you didn’t necessarily have to be the most talented person. But today there’s like a whole different standard, there’s so many kids out there that can produce and engineer and write and play, and play well. I think that it surprised me because with my music you’d think, I’m an OG or whatever, you know I can really play, me and Larry could always really play, and so whenever you find people that you know just have talent by the gobs you’re like, fuck. Back when Death metal was new, Possessed was only Death metal, that was special, but now there’s thousands of Death metal bands so you’ve gotta have something more to offer. When you start working with true studio professionals and road professionals and people that have really forsaken everything else for music, the true Death metal artists, it’s like a dream come true. I’m not sixteen years old like on Seven Churches, it feels good to work with people who’ve made music their career, their life, their bread and butter. Not to say that they’re hired out guns, because they’re not. Possessed is very much a travelling, working, blue collar band, in true Death metal fashion. You’re never gonna get rich so you might as well enjoy the ride!
Absolutely, and as you mentioned after Possessed disbanded you went back to construction and in ’89 you were shot twice. You’ve been open about substance issues, the difficulties that you conquered, and listening to a lot of underground music. I was wondering out of all the band submissions you listened to at that time in your life have any stuck with you ‘til today that you still listen to?
Oh yeah, I mean Sepultura, I’m still kinda really oldschool, Morbid Angel. I remember Morbid Angel sent me demos back in the day, and of course Death, and Obituary.
POSSESSED – “Shadowcult” (OFFICIAL LIVE VIDEO)
To be an influencer of all these bands that are now, when I interview a band that’s been around for 3 or 4 years they’re citing Obituary and Death as influencers and then you talk to Obituary and they’re citing you, it must feel good to see your music and what you produced spread out in so many ways.
It’s nice when people give me props. I always think, whenever I hear bands like that, they sound so different than Possessed but its cool that they got the point. The point of Death metal is not to be like everybody else but to be different and to have some artistic freedom. While they’re very kind in citing me, there’s just gobs of differences between us, but yet the same. Death metal is becoming this organism, this living breathing thing that has become anything from Folk Death metal to uber Cookie Monster blast beat death metal, it’s just become everything and more. I’m really proud of the genre. Of course any one band can never make a true genre but to be the first of the genre I am very proud of it. For all those people to cite Possessed as an influence, that just takes my breath away. Its unbelievable, such a great honor, and at the same time I know that these bands are completely individualistic, completely got the point of the freedom of Death metal and being themselves.
Well it seems there is a real mutual respect there and nobody is really trying to take all the credit and everyone’s like oh yeah we cite Possessed for being there first, and you give credit for them taking and developing those ideas into something of their own. It’s awesome, and I guess that’s really why Death metal fans are Death metal fans.
Yeah, to the laymen they would say, “Oh Death metal that’s that cookie monster popcorn machine” they don’t understand, and I say that people are still calling us Death metal bands Thrash or fucking whatever. I think that if a band identifies as Death metal, they put themselves out as Death metal man, they are Death metal. People should recognize that. It’s great to see bands out there, we jammed with this band called band called Necron the other night in Oakland, I was like fuck. They’re a three piece and you think there’s nothing new under the sun and then you hear a band like Necron and you’re like, “shit, wow!” There’s still so much possible in this genre. This genre’s still so young, and it’s such an exciting time. It’s like the revolution has only just begun.
Man and speaking of what’s ahead, this September Possessed is a headlining the Québec Deathfest. One of the band’s first major gigs was in Montréal supporting the Seven Churches release. What do you remember from that WWIII Weekend Festival back in ’85?
I remember a lot, that was a cool fuckin’ show. We did the World War III, No Speed Limit, and all that, God, I don’t how much I can say on record… but I remember Martin (Celtic Frost) spin kicked Tom (Celtic Frost) in the jaw and had to get his jaw wired before the show. According to Tom, I’m not sure how valid this is, I didn’t see any wires but it was a good story. They were friendly with each other. And I remember the weird things, I was young and stuff. I remember walking past a hotel room and Nasty Ron goes, “Jeff,” he has the door wide open and he was layin’ in a big giant king size bed with a big fluffy cover over him. He flicks the cover off the bed and he has three perfect naked girls in bed with him. I was like, “Ronnie, you fuckin’ rule.” But the strange thing, that he had to show me, speaks volumes.
And kickin’ it with Voivod. They had this practise pad, like a loft, at the top floor of a big industrial building. One side of the walls was almost a glass you couldn’t see through but would let light in, like a dance studio with all these hard wood floors. This giant studio and I remember going and watching them play, and goin’, “fuck man one day we’ll be that professional.”
It was kind of like the first of the American metal festivals. Really I don’t remember seeing too many real European style festivals in America until ‘til that day.
When I spoke with Snake he mentioned Voivod organizing those events and what it meant to the band.
The cunning title Revelations of Oblivion thematically distorts the biblical Book of Revelations which details the end of Earth. On this record you explore a godless world where Satan has ultimate control, revealing true horrors. Of the new songs which do you think is the most terrifying in terms of topic or lyrics?
I think they are all kind of terrifying. “Ritual” is fucking heavy, unintentionally heavy. I was actually trying to write a more commercial song. I’m like chef that can’t stop using salt, everything is “more salt, more salt.” I’m like, “more heavy, more heavy!” I originally started out to write a little bit more commercial but it doesn’t work with me. “Dominion” is pretty fuckin’ sacrilegious. A lot of them are heavy.
Like you said that was the concept I started out with but I also said, “what if Satan was real and how would he manifest himself?” And then you look at all the ways that he could manifest himself and all the things that are going on, and how fucking right on they are.
With that I’ll thank you for your time, myself and everyone here at Metalheads Forever can’t wait for May 10th’s release of the first Possessed album in over 30 years.
Thanks man, have a good one.