There is no wrong time for an interview with Jeff Becerra. Having been/still is a part of one of the most influential extreme metal bands, Possessed, he should be known to everybody. And with new material on its way I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to interview him. Anders Ekdahl ©2011
To me “Seven Churches” is probably the most extreme metal album ever released even today. What went through your heads when you wrote the songs for it?
-We really set out to write, play and record the heaviest music of all time. And for back in those times, I really think that we actually did accomplish what we started out to do for that period in time. I wanted to just kill everything out there music-wise and be known as the “heaviest band alive”. As far as “what went through our heads”, well I can’t speak for any of the other guys, but as the lyricist I can say without a doubt that I wrote many of my songs about dreams I had. Also I was influenced a lot by EDGAR ALLEN POE and his writings. I was and still am really into the occult and Satanism, comparative religion, and have always had kind of a war going on between good and evil in my mind.
Today death metal is huge but back in the 80s it was pretty much unheard of yet you had a song called “Death Metal”. Do you have any theories as to where death metal as a term originated from?
-I know exactly where “DEATH METAL” came from. We all agreed that our goal back then was to become the heaviest, fastest, most satanic band of all time. We also were (and still are) extremely concerned with not being “stereotyped” or grouped with any other bands out there. Now back then there was no such thing as “DEATH METAL”, in fact, we purposely made it a point to call ourselves “DEATH METAL” so that people would know that POSSESSED was its own type of music/lyrics. At that time there was, “SPEED METAL”, “THRASH METAL”, “BLACK METAL” etc. already, so since we weren’t trying to be like any other bands out there we decided to call POSSESSED “DEATH METAL”. To us it was stupid to just be thrown in with all of the other bands in an already invented genre… so we made our own genre which was “DEATH METAL”. Back then I truly thought that the only “DEATH METAL” band would be POSSESSED. This was our own term of what we called our own music. I would have never thought in a thousand years that others would start calling themselves “DEATH METAL” As well, and I would have especially never have imagined that “DEATH METAL” would become an actual genre of metal music. At first I really was angry that others were saying that they were “DEATH METAL” because that was a term for us to describe POSSESSED and POSSESSED alone. But after a while, I of course saw it for what it was. DEATH METAL actually started to grow into a complete genre of music and this, of course, made me quite happy and proud. Then as time went by I just wanted DEATH METAL to survive the test of time and wanted DEATH METAL to live forever, and for POSSESSED to live forever. And as you probably are getting to know by now it has become my life’s work.
If been trying to figure out where the harsh, growling vocal style that is death metal first came from. What influenced your vocal style?
-I was actually trying to sing as heavy as I possibly could. I loved MOTORHEAD and any PUNK ROCK that was heavier than hell so that was an influence. Also I had heard CRONOS singing with VENOM. But mostly I just sang as close to my normal sounding voice as possible, of course with a lot of distortion …LOL… Really just trying to make the words, lyrics, and singing style fit into the music that we were playing. It was a very organic and natural thing for me to do back then. It just made sense.
I remember reading in the Danish fanzine Blackthorn that they didn’t like the drumming on “Seven Churches”, that they thought it was cheating. An opinion that seemed common back then. Listening to the album today it’s hard to image why they had such a hard time with it. Did you get a lot of bad press when the album was released?
LOL! I can personally tell you that MIKE SUS never cheated with his high-hat or ride. It was all very correct drumming, just sped up immensely. Again, there was no such thing as a “DEATH METAL DRUMMER” so MIKE had to come up with some really original stuff. He was actually a jazz and rock drummer until joining up with POSSESSED and for some damn reason; we all just meshed together very naturally. In the beginning and back in the garage days, me and MIKE SUS had a very big argument. I wanted for him to get a double-bass set-up and MIKE just wanted to stay with his single-bass rig. We had an extremely heated argument and I think that we even threatened to kick him out if he didn’t fall into line, so in the end through sheer intimidation and heckling MIKE finally came around to my way of thinking…LOL. Back then MIKE was one of the most seriously avant-garde drummers out there, but by today’s standards he is not so powerful. In fact now I have EMILIO MARQUEZ drumming for POSSESSED who is a very strong and solid drummer. And this makes such a huge difference on the positive side for what POSSESSED sounds like today. Of course giving credit to MIKE SUS for really coming up with the actual drumming style of POSSESSED. There is only so much to be learned from the guitars in DEATH METAL, and while the guitar riffing is important, it is also equally important for the others in the band to create their own unique style that in turn can turn simple rhythms into complex songs with different feelings and emotional content. Like the drums and the drummer’s riffing, the bass and the runs and riffing of it, as well as the singing and solos. All these come together so that it is never just one person that writes the music, but through all of the members of the band comes the uniqueness of POSSESSED back then, and now as well.
When it came time for the second album Possessed had moved in a more progressive/technical direction. While I still like that album I’ve always thought that the production was kinda weak. How hard was it to get a recorded sound that matched your intended sound back in the 80s with the technology available back then?
-Actually B.T.G. (BEYOND THE GATES) was/is an album that I’m very proud of. We put a lot of hard work and dedication into making and producing this album of ours. LARRY LALONDE finally actually got some writing credit in on this one. And while in the studio it sounded super heavy and our tones were right on the money, something went south during the final mix-down production stages. Again, in the studio the sound for B.T.G. was fantastic, our producer irreversibly mixed the tones down too much in the end stages. Still though, it was one of our most commercially viable releases to date and at that time was the all-time bestselling album on the COMBAT label. I am happy with the outcome none the less. We wanted to do something experimental and different than “SEVEN CHURCHES” in order to not get pigeon-holed into playing the same exact style as “SEVEN CHURCHES” and I think there-in lies the real success of the album. We practiced almost 5000 hours writing and learning this album and this is my favourite of the three original releases. The technology back then was all analogue so once it was mixed-down there was really nothing more we could do to get back the “heavier” sound that we originally had. But still, I think that it really held its own just on the music and lyrics alone.
I guess you get asked this a lot but what feelings do you have on your recorded past and the impact it had and still has on people?
-I am extremely proud of what POSSESSED has accomplished. No matter what anybody says we did invent “DEATH METAL” and were the very first to really put the “COOKIE MONSTER-LIKE” lyrics along with super-fast guitar riffing, strong bass lines/riffing, staccato drum-beats, and the distinctly sounding DEATH METAL soloing. DEATH METAL became a distinct and well-known genre because of POSSESSED and we just seemed to be lucky in our timing and that led to POSSESSED breaking out of a lot of metal’s COOKIE-CUTTER molds. I don’t want to sound like I’m being braggadocio, but those who know and where there know the truth about exactly when and where DEATH METAL began, And it is undeniably POSSESSED that created it. Of course it takes a lot more than just making three albums and being “lucky” and I believe that we have stood the test of time, and tnow that we are in the process of creating a new album/ep I want to show the world that POSSESSED is here to stay and will always remain on the cutting edge and avant-garde, and hopefully the new material will be just as successful and bring metalheads what they want both now, and in the future.
I keep returning to “Seven Churches” every so often and I still enjoy it as thoroughly as I did when it was originally released. Does it surprise you that people still are interested in your music and that it gets re-released every now and then?
-Most-definitely, it does surprise me very much! When we first came out we never in a million years planned on becoming a big band. We wanted nothing more than to be the heaviest out there and to be eternally “UNDER-GROUND” our albums kept selling and selling and then kept being re-released with much success it was/is extremely surprising. It is really a dream-come-true to be in POSSESSED and I never forget what it has taken to get where I am at today, and more than just commercial success, what matters to me the most is how it makes people happy and go fucking crazy in the pit. The truth is that for me it has never been about money or fame, but just to be able to play my songs to an audience who digs my music and as long as people still come out to see our shows you will most-definitely see me out there playing, writing, singing and enjoying the DEATH METAL lifestyle.
I guess the reason Possessed went separate ways was the usual musical differences with people going off to Primus and whatnot. If you would be allowed to speculate where do you think Possessed would have been today had you stayed together?
-We are still together !! LOL! I think the easiest way to look at the member-history of POSSESSED is like this: it has been a very long and hard rocking 27 + years that POSSESSED has been a band. I am the only one who has stood the test of time. And while it is heartbreaking and terrible whenever various members have quit on me throughout these many years, this is still my band and I will keep on playing and living POSSESSED until I die or am just no longer able to physically play anymore. There have been over 20 members in and out of POSSESSED during the past 27 years, and here I am, still playing and about to release what I think will be the best POSSESSED album ever!! As long as i am breathing POSSESSED will never die no matter what!! Recently we were able to open for OZZY, JUDAS PRIEST, SCORPIONS and a ton of other super cool bands at the HELLFEST OPEN AIR FRANCE. This, of course , was a dream come true for me. Also we have been recently touring Germany, South America, the blackest of the black UNITED STATES tour with DANZIG, POSSESSED, MARDUK, TOXIC HOLOCAUST & WITHERED which was a fucking blast. We also did the WACKEN, Germany in 2007 to over eighty-thousand screaming fans, and have a lot of up-coming shows in the very near future. Our next show will be a benefit show for GARY HOLT (EXODUS/SLAYER) to help pay for his up-coming wedding and honeymoon. This will be an old-school SAN FRANCISCO show with such bands as DEATH ANGEL, HEATHEN, EXODUS, ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT and many more which is going to be a fucking blast!!! POSSESSED is going harder and heavier than ever now, and I still have a lot of songs to write and play for you brother.
How much contact do you have with the metal scene today? What do you think of the evolution of metal over the years?
-I am still very much involved with DEATH METAL/POSSESSED & the scene Anders. Still touring and performing and writing and playing every day. I am extremely pleased with the evolution of metal over the many years I have personally been around it. I wrote the lyrics for “BURNING IN HELL” in 1979 and back then I would never have thought that our kind of music would be around, more or less still thriving alive and well!! But I think that truthfully us metalheads and death metal soldiers need to keep the genre alive and never sell out because there’s always the risk that if too many people turn fucking poser sell-out shitheads it could end up like GRUNGE… non-existent.