Chris Reifert Death, Autopsy, Abscess Drummer – The full in bloom Legacy Interview
Autopsy, Death, Abscess
full in bloom: When did you take up music? First instrument?
Chris Reifert: I’ve always been a musical person, starting with my folks setting me in front of pots and pans with wooden spoons to bang on. Fortunately things got better from there. When I was a kid I was in marching band playing the bass drum. That was around 1978. Pretty boring, but hey…it was a start. Not to mention the sweet uniform of course. Heh heh! After that I graduated to an actual drum kit after a stint on a drum pad and it was off to the races!
full in bloom: What was your first band?
Chris: It was called Guillotine after a few other forgettable names. It was me and a friend who played guitar and we were trying to figure out how the hell to run a band and write songs. It didn’t go too far but it was a decent start anyways.
full in bloom: About your time with the bands Burnt Offering and Guillotine, are there any recordings floating around out there?
Chris: Guillotine made a rehearsal tape or two of a couple of partially finished songs and Burnt Offering actually recorded two demos in 1985. I don’t have the first one anymore, but I do have a copy of the second one. It never went anywhere, but we did play a few shows and I was really getting the hang of being in a band and writing actual complete songs.
full in bloom: Before starting Autopsy, you spent a short time in another legendary extreme metal band, Death. How much were you involved in the Scream Bloody Gore sessions?
Chris: I played all the drums. I didn’t write any guitar riffs of course, but I’d like to think that I successfully put my individual stamp on the songs from my end of things.
full in bloom: Are there any memories that stand out when you reflect on those sessions?
Chris: I remember the whole thing quite well, which is remarkable since it was so long ago. It was 1986 and I was 17 years old. The entire experience was one big stand out memory, to be honest. We were set loose in L.A. with no one to watch out for us. Haha! It was a blast and the recording, partying and everything else that went along with it was insane. Looking back it was a real privilege to have been there in that place at that time. Fucking bonkers.
full in bloom: What was it like working with Death founder Chuck Schuldiner? How would you describe him?
Chris: We were best friends at that time and both teenagers wanting to have a blast and make the heaviest fucking music imaginable. He was really laid back, yet very focused. He knew exactly what he wanted from Death. The cool thing was at that time, pressure was at a minimal state. I know shit got intense with record company crap and all that stuff, but when we recorded Scream, it was feeling like a party, but with a purpose. Hopefully that makes sense. Anyways, we got along great…never fought and it was a total blast to be a part of that phase of the band.
full in bloom: What led to your decision to leave Death and start Autopsy?
Chris: After bouncing around between Florida and California, Chuck finally decided to stay in Florida for good. I received the invitation to move there and remain in the band, but California is truly my home and it’s where I feel comfortable so that’s where it ended for me. I was bummed at first, but at the end of the day it was my choice. The logical thing to do was to start a new band, which was to be Autopsy.
full in bloom: Did you and Chuck remain friends as Autopsy and Death gave shape to a new genre in heavy metal music?
Chris: We did. I visited him in Florida again and we got to hang out when Death toured over here. We also played together at Milwaukee Metalfest 3 in 1989, so all was cool ultimately.
full in bloom: Any cool memories of Schuldiner you’d like to share?
Chris: Tons, man. Like I said, we were best buds at the time. We hung out all the time and had plenty of fun just goofing around and being teenagers. It was a pretty innocent time in some ways. It’s hard to single out specific episodes to fit in one tidy answer and I am a crappy storyteller to boot. Haha! I did get to speak with him on the phone not too long before he died, which was nice. It was hard to hear him feeling so shitty, but I managed to get a joke out of him and we parted on good terms.
full in bloom: I realize it’s an impossible question to answer, but how would you describe the Bay Area music scene back then?
Chris: It was really fucking good. Tons of amazing shows, demos and all that cool stuff was going down, but it was also weird in the way that there were groups of people who, though part of the same scene, just didn’t get along. For example, there were plenty of mixed bills (that featured both) metal and punk, and the crowds pretty much hated each other and there was clear friction. In hindsight, it was a good thing to get all those folks in the same mix, and over time the animosity lessened more and more to the point where it just didn’t matter anymore, which is where we are now. It was definitely weird at times though in the early underground days. I remember seeing DRI play with Possessed and the punks threw eggs at Possessed. That’s just one example. I dug both bands, so it was a drag to see that shit going on, but what could you do besides not join in with that sort of behavior. Death Metal was another story. When I joined Death, I had friends who just didn’t understand and thought it was a stupid thing to do. In the bay area, Death Metal was sort of a joke since it didn’t fit in with the thrash bracket. We didn’t sing about politics or headbanging in the pit and the lyrics were hard to make out. I knew what we were doing was killer and I really didn’t care if we were branded outcasts or whatever. That kind of shit just fuels the fire.
full in bloom: John Marshall produced Autopsy’s debut, Severed Survival. How was it working with Kirk Hammett’s guitar tech?
Chris: John was super cool, friendly and happy to help us turn our wacky ideas into reality. He had no problem with the whole death metal thing and it was a fun experience with no stress or anything. He let us do what we wanted and did the best he could to make it sound heavy as fuck.
full in bloom: What kind of budget did you have for for Autopsy’s debut record? How long did it take to record?
Chris: Here’s a funny story. Our budget was $5,000. Wait, that’s not the funny part! We literally spent half the recording budget on weed. That’s right folks, half of our meager budget was spent on weed and we smoked it all. Good thing we had our priorities straight, huh? Haha! So that left us with $2,500 and that gave us four days in the studio, which boiled down to two days recording and two days mixing if I remember correctly. Luckily, we were well rehearsed, had our shit together and John Marshall didn’t seem concerned with our tiny window of time to crank that sucker out. We plugged in, let it rip and the rest is semi-history.
full in bloom: Any memories stand out from those recording sessions?
Chris: I don’t remember a hell of a lot from that session, honestly. For one thing, it was 25 years ago and we were only there for four days. For another, we bought $2,500 worth of weed and fucking smoked it all. I have a vague recollection of what the studio looked like on the inside and seeing the records that had been recorded there on the walls. I remember drinking a warm Spaten beer while doing vocals and not much else. A true blur of madness!
full in bloom: Any memorable stories from the Mental Funeral recording sessions?
Chris: That one raised the levels of partying depravity. That was the one where we started drinking more heavily while recording. The one thing that stands out the most for me was putting on the headphones waiting for the “rolling” cue and thinking to myself: “Wow, I’m pretty fucking drunk… I hope I can play this stuff good enough.” And I’m proud to say as soon as we started jamming it took off and there were no worries. It was a bit crazy in there though, I have to say. There were probably around 18 of us, including Hammy from Peaceville drinking and smoking our asses off the entire time like it was some kind of crazy party. And I can’t really describe it, but there was a weird vibe in the building, like some kind of murky dark magic or something. It really comes through when you listen.
full in bloom: How long did it take to record? Where did you record it?
Chris: Around seven days from start to finish I think. I’d have to look at my album to get more specific, but it’s upstairs and I’m downstairs drinking and doing this interview. Haha! It was recorded at Different Fur studios in San Francisco. My reasoning was “Hey, The Residents recorded there, so let’s go there and grab some of those weird vibes.”
full in bloom: What was a typical recording budget for a band in your genre?
Chris: I have no idea. I’ve heard things about bands making records for tens of thousands of dollars, but that definitely wasn’t us. Our budgets were always minimal, but we showed up well rehearsed and ready to kill, so we could do a lot in a short amount of time. Plus, when you think about it, the band ultimately has to pay the budget back in the end, so we got out of the red pretty quickly. It’s funny because you always hear about bands being in the studio for weeks or months and I always think: what the fuck were you doing all that time? How could making a metal album possibly take that long?
full in bloom: Share some of your memories from touring for the first two albums. Specifically, how was the reception from the crowds in Europe back in those days?
Chris: We actually did two European tours for Severed Survival but none for Mental Funeral. The reception was really damn good for the most part, particularly in Holland and Germany. There were some absolutely nutty shows there.
full in bloom: Who did you tour with? Any great stories from the road?
Chris: We toured with Bolt Thrower, Pestilence and Morgoth on the first tour and Paradise Lost on the second one. We also did some gigs with Benediction for the UK gigs on the second tour. I have a ton of crazy stories in my head from those times, but like I said, I suck at relaying stories and I could never pick out just one or two. I’d definitely need more space to make it worthwhile. There’s already several books written in my head that folks may or may not get to read someday. Haha!
full in bloom: Autopsy went through a bit of a shift after Mental Funeral to a more grindcore-influenced sound. What prompted the change?
Chris: I don’t think we ever thought about our style changing, it was just more Autopsy music in our minds. I have heard that comparison plenty of times, but only in later years. Maybe it’s the production or the abundance of short and fast songs? Anyways, I think it stands right up there with all of our other albums and I’m just as proud of it as anything else. It is a filthy ride, that’s for sure and there’s nothing wrong with that. Haha!
full in bloom: I’ve read from multiple sources that the supporting tour for Acts of the Unspeakable led to Autopsy’s mid-90s breakup, though I’ve yet to read an explanation of just how that went down. Would you care to share some of the turmoil that went on in 1993?
Chris: Yeah, it was the US tour in ’93 that did us in. It was way too long, way too poorly organized, and things got stressful pretty damn fast. There were good times and some laughs of course, but ultimately the enjoyment of being Autopsy was drained away and the end was clear. When we got home from the tour, we had a short talk and all agreed it was time to call it quits. However, we refused to go out with a whimper and decided to record a final album, play a farewell gig on our home turf and go out with heads held high. Looking back, I’m glad we handled things the way we did. We managed to stay friends and keep the integrity of the band intact we well.
full in bloom: After Autopsy, you and Danny Corrales set your sights on the hardcore punk genre with Abscess. Why the shift from a style that had cemented your place in metal history?
Chris: Well, Abscess was still rooted in Death Metal, but there was a generous helping of sleazy punk rock lunacy scooped in for a chaotic and combustible mixture. We still loved the heavy stuff of course, but we also wanted to let it rip, go nuts and not take ourselves overly seriously, while still taking the music seriously. It was cathartic and necessary. We had to go insane to keep sane, if that makes sense. Not everyone could get their head around what we were doing, but that didn’t bother us a bit. And funny enough, now, after the fact, I’m hearing more praises for Abscess than ever. Strange how that shit works, eh?
full in bloom: What drove the decision to bring in another vocalist in Clint Bower? How did that decision affect your drumming?
Chris: Clint was an automatic choice for us since he was a good friend and we also loved what he had done with Hexx. It felt like a no brainer. He was into the idea and it all came together like it was meant to happen. We loved his crazy screaming vocal style and figured it would blend well with my more guttural sound, which it did. As for my drumming, nothing changed there, really. The main change was the chemistry and overall attitude. Things got really insane and reckless and it was an amazing time, like being reborn in vomit. Haha!
full in bloom: Abscess released seven studio albums over its 16 year run. Do you have a favorite? Least Favorite? How did your sound evolve over that time?
Chris: We did release a bunch of crazy ass stuff. There’s the full length albums as well as plenty of ep’s, 7″s, splits and so on. I can’t really pick out a favorite though. They are all a bit different from one another, but they all still sound like Abscess. It was a nutty and chaotic band, to say the least. As time went on, I guess we veered toward more of a death metal approach, but that was also there in the early days…we just increased it a bit more perhaps. There are also a few albums with blatant psychedelic overtones, or even saturations at some points. All the while keeping things heavy, sleazy and sick of course. Haha! Each release is a bizarre chapter in the Abscess story and I dig it all.
full in bloom: In 2010, you and Danny disbanded Abscess and reformed Autopsy? What inspired that move?
Chris: It was Clint’s choice to leave the band, otherwise we would have kept going. He had been making a two hour drive to practice each night, which was a pretty grueling commute. I suppose he was getting burned out and when we told him Autopsy was going to do a couple of shows, he let us know he was finished with Abscess. I tried to talk him into sticking with it, but his mind was made up and that was it. It’s a bummer since we put so much into that band and had such a great time with it, but we also had to respect his decision. And unfortunately, without Clint a crucial part of the Abscess chemistry was gone. There was no use even trying to continue, as it just wouldn’t be the same, so it was the end of the line for Abscess. Originally Autopsy was only going to do the aforementioned gigs, but with Abscess defunct, it left the door open for us to go at it full force, which we did.
full in bloom: The Tomb Within EP was Autopsy’s first new material in more than 15 years. When were those songs written?
Chris: Right around the time that Abscess fell apart and we knew Autopsy was going to be officially back in action. We didn’t even make a conscious decision to write new stuff, the inspiration just started blasting away out of nowhere, like a faucet with the handle broken off. Riffs were flying in every direction and it was all we could do to harness them and turn them into new Autopsy beasts.
full in bloom: Autopsy dropped Macabre Eternal in 2011, followed by an extensive round of touring. How had the crowds changed in the 15 years you were focusing on Abscess?
Chris: It was more one-offs here and there throughout the world as opposed to proper touring, but the end result was still invading various countries and assaulting them with horrifying death metal. As for crowd reactions, it was out of control, our best gigs ever. In the old days, if we played for a few hundred people, it was a good night and here we were all of a sudden headlining for 10,000. It was bonkers for sure. As for actual changes, we saw kids 16,17 years old right in the front row screaming out all of the lyrics and losing their minds right alongside the old farts. It was fucking amazing to see to say the very least.
full in bloom: You have worked with Peaceville Records for a number of releases. How has that relationship grown over the years?
Chris: It’s stayed consistent. When we signed with them, they were new and so were we and we’ve sort of grown up together in a way. They do the best they can for us and we do the same for them. Hard to believe it’s been 26 years so far!
full in bloom: Do you have any regrets? I understand when everyone says that they have “no regrets” but if you could do one or two things differently, what would they be?
Chris: I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. Everything has been part of the learning experience, you know? There have been times where people would have liked to see me do things differently maybe, but I’ve always stuck to my guns and did my best to get past hurdles and headaches while playing the music that I like to play and staying true to myself.
full in bloom: For our equipment junkies out there, tell us about the drum kit you use nowadays. Drums, heads, sticks and cymbals: what allows Chris Reifert to produce that bone-crushing sound?
Chris: Here comes the disappointment. Haha! I am one of the worst people to talk about gear with. I like to play, but the actual equipment doesn’t interest me very much. What a horrible thing for a musician to say, eh? Haha! I don’t care to get into details about hardware and all that stuff, as I usually buy the cheap stuff which is always breaking, which makes way for buying more cheap stuff so I can never remember what I have. Or I just keep playing broken stuff instead of replacing it. Now, maybe if someone would endorse me and help out with gear, I’d see things differently. Maybe. Haha! Anyways, right now I play on a black Premier Carbria kit, which is low end for Premier, but they really don’t make bad drums, so it’s still a good, though badly beaten up set. Cymbals…I’m not sure what I have since the logos have been pummeled off of them. I do like Promark 2B wood tips, as far as sticks go. They’re pretty cheap but durable to some extent.
full in bloom: How has your set or set up changed from the earlier days?
Chris: I used to have a white Ludwig set, which I played on the first Autopsy demo, then I got a red Tama Rockstar kit, which is on everything I played on from about ’88 to 2000 or so, then I got the Premier kit. I still have the Tama one, but it’s beat to hell and rotting away in boxes in our rehearsal room. It is a huge, monstrous beast though, and maybe someday I’ll resurrect it.
full in bloom: Autopsy is often cited as a major influence by some of the biggest extreme metal acts in the world such as Deicide, Cannibal Corpse and Entombed. Are those guys doing an admirable job of carrying the torch forward, in your opinion? Who are some of the modern bands that you enjoy listening to?
Chris: Hey, we’re all in this together as far as I’m concerned. Plenty of us all came up around the same time, or at least within a couple of years of each other. Of course I’d be lying if I didn’t think it was amazing anytime someone says we influenced them in any way. That rules, but also remember we had plenty of our own influences when we started out, just as our influences had their own as well. We’re all “passing it on” as Keith Richards says. That makes a lot of sense to me. That’s the cool thing about music in general, it weaves in and out of time and it’s constantly changing, yet staying the same depending on your perception. Hmmm…modern bands as far as Death Metal goes…I really like Sordid Flesh and Gluttony. They’re really doing it right. There’s more too, and if I could just bring myself to go upstairs, I could list a few more titles. Maybe that can be in part 2, eh?
full in bloom: I love the band Pestilence…you guys toured with them in 1990. Could you share a story involving the two bands from that tour?
Chris: They were super friendly and fun to tour with. We had plenty of laughs as we all had a twisted sense of humor. There’s no one story that stands out for me. It’s all more of one big noisy drunken blur. They were really great though and heavy as hell to boot. I still see Martin (van Drunnen)here and there in various parts of the world when we cross paths with Asphyx (van Drunnen’s next band after Pestilence), which is a cool thing.
full in bloom: Band association time. I’m gonna name off a handful of metal bands from various eras. If you would, please share any thoughts, stories or opinions you have about them.
full in bloom: Death?
Chris: A band I was a fan of, then got to join. It doesn’t get much better than that for a fan, eh?
full in bloom: Mercyful Fate?
Chris: They blew my mind, big time. I got to see them live in 1984 and they absolutely killed! Their entire catalog is amazing and there’s not a bad album in the bunch. Same goes for King Diamond’s solo stuff.
full in bloom: Venom?
Chris: Kings! One of the very first over the top filthy and evil bands of all time. I got to briefly meet Cronos when Autopsy played with them in 2011 and he seemed to be a really cool guy, which goes miles for me. It sucks when you meet someone you look up to and they’re a dick to you. Fortunately that wasn’t the case.
full in bloom: Pantera?
Chris: Never was a fan, to be honest. I know they influenced a fuck ton of bands and people, which is fine. I just wasn’t one of them.
full in bloom: Cannibal Corpse?
Chris: Great, consistent band and nice guys too. You always know what you’re going to get with them, and I mean that in the best possible way.
full in bloom: Possessed?
Chris: If Seven Churches doesn’t knock your socks off, you need to get your fucking ears checked!
full in bloom: Metallica?
Chris: I love Kill ’em All, like Ride the Lightning and feel so-so about Master of Puppets. After that, forget it. I do remember the first time I heard Kill ’em All though, and it absolutely blew my head off! Still sounds great today.
full in bloom: Sodom?
Chris: Love, love, love that band! The Final Sign of Evil (2007 album) was another total crusher that melted my teenage mind. I dig all their stuff and they’re STILL going strong! Hell yes!!!
full in bloom: Exodus?
Chris: I really enjoy Bonded By Blood, but that’s where it stops for me. I remember going to the record store to get it the day it came out. I waited for the UPS truck to show up with the records and there was a crowd of us at the store counter foaming at the mouth to get that thing. It’s still fun to listen to.
THE FAST 5
full in bloom: What is your most disgusting habit?
Chris: I can only pick one? Forget it then. Haha!
full in bloom: What is the most feminine thing you do?
Chris: You officially have me stumped on this one. Congrats!
full in bloom: If there is a God, what is the first question you would ask God when you arrive?
Chris: Arrive where? If it’s in a bar, I’d ask which bourbon is most recommendable.
full in bloom: Greatest Metal band of all time?
Chris: The one in the middle of course!
full in bloom: What were you doing 40 minutes before you sat down to do this interview?
Chris: Either pooping, listening to music or playing Mario Kart 8. Perhaps all three at the same time.
full in bloom: Thank you so much for taking the time to do an interview with us Chris. It was a real honor and very much appreciated.
Chris: Thanks for your time and groovy questions. I am now spent and feel I deserve a fresh beer to go with my Finnish beverage. Cheers to you and to anyone who’s read this far. Over, under and out!!!