Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Ancient Sumerian prophecies foretell that the end of civilization will come as the gods become displeased with humanity. Throughout his lyrics, Morbid Angel’s Steve Tucker has explored these themes and how they relate to our current social and environmental climate. In this interview, T&E discusses with Steve how these ideas connect with human nature, and how the band balances science with spirituality in order to obtain objective and honest truths.
I want to start by discussing your lyrics and approach to writing. You always write from an outside perspective, whether it be from a Sumerian god or just a general third-person objective position, all while maintaining a very passionate tone. How does staying neutral help you to finding a more honest truth to your themes? And how do you find the balance of staying passionate on your ideas without making it about ‘you sharing your personal opinions’?
You're right, I do write from a third person perspective and sometimes multiple perspectives as well. From verse to verse I'll go to different perspectives, and that's really to get both sides of the story. Let’s take a song like “The Righteous Voice” for example. It’s looking at situations in our society when one side will think they’re doing right and the other side will think they’re in the wrong, and it can be a confusing situation, especially when it comes to a religious conflict. If there's a religious question there, then it really starts to be just about what you believe as opposed to what really is wrong or right. When I’m writing, I think it’s really interesting to look at things in an impartial way. Same goes for any kind of literature. If you read a book and it only focuses on one thing, it’s kind of an empty book. It’s not interesting unless you have both sides of the story. Obtaining the most objective truth is always important.
You’ve mentioned this sentiment both in interviews and in the last album, Kingdoms Disdained, that the Earth was never meant to sustain this many people. Can you elaborate on how this isn’t just an environmental observation, but how this may also just be due to the general temperament of humanity? You’ve stated before that this metaphorical heat and tension can lead to a very physical reaction.
Even with that being said, it’s an environment observation at its core. I personally believe that there's been a society and civilization every bit as intelligent, if not more, than what we have now, but it wiped itself out. There are all these found relics in ruins around the world, and the story is really starting to change. The history behind so many of these things got erased for some reason. I truly think that this Earth may have already wiped out a civilization before us. We’re also finding a lot of radiation on these sites. I think we've nuked ourselves before, and I think we'll do it again. I don’t think it’ll necessarily be something like United States nuking Russia. It'll be some rouge fucking state that starts it all and causes it all to come down. And it always is. It's always the third option, the one that's forgotten about, as what usually happens.
I don't know how to say this without it sounding religious, because I’m definitely not, but the Earth has everything we need to sustain life naturally without us altering it. I mean, we have science working to alter things, like genetically modifying food to make things bigger. We’ve had to do that because we have so many people on this planet. I heard that watermelons used to be the size of grapefruits at one point. But I mean, one watermelon that would at one point in time feed one person now has to feed five to make a nice dessert at a picnic or whatever. It’s just that the world is so big, and there are only so many trees and so much fresh water. You know that movie The Road Warrior? That’s probably what's going to end up happening at some point.
We keep dumping shit in the water and polluting our air, and what do we think is going to happen? I personally think that the Earth revolts. That’s why we have tidal waves and all sorts of natural disasters. It all is just a natural cycle of cleansing and refreshing. We can take floods, for example. Floods do a fuckload of damage. They really hurt humans and man-made property, but the truth is that we’re the ones doing the real damage. We’ve stripped the ground of all its elements, and now the water floods the surface and re-fertilizes it by dumping minerals back into the environment. An area that was just becoming a cesspool is now replenished. It’s a natural cycle no different than what happens in our own human bodies, like a woman’s cycle or the way our bodies regenerate themselves after an injury. It’s all a very natural cycle that when things become dirty, they get cleansed. The earth takes care of itself, and honestly, it's pretty damn amazing.
I don't think enough people really realize that there are all these natural cycles constantly going on around us. We focus a lot on what humans come up with, but I mean, come on man, what the Earth's come up with for us is pretty fucking incredible. Not to be cliché because everyone knows I smoke weed, but that is the fucking miracle plant. It doesn't just cure one thing or help ten things or even a hundred things. It's literally meant to be a part of us, I believe. But that's all I'm going to say on that [laughs].
Would you happen to be a George Carlin fan? This conversation reminds me of his bit on the environment where he says the the Earth is self-regulating mechanism, and the Earth will be fine, but humans are fucked.
Oh, I’m absolutely a George Carlin fan. I know this dates me, but I remember watching him when cable just first came around to Cincinnati. I was barely 12 years old and I remember seeing him on HBO and thinking, “Man, this all makes so much sense to me.” He spoke truth back then and it’s still relevant now. It’s all tongue-in-cheek, but his way of looking at society is probably about as accurate as you could be. I mean things are always evolving and changing, but let's face it, the politicians aren't any different in 1965 or ‘75 or ‘85 or ‘05 than they are now. You have to love George Carlin because he recognized that Anybody that would think that that guy isn't an absolute genius of observation is lying to themselves.
Agreed. So, going back to your lyrical themes, there’s always been an element of Sumerian mythology. I’m interested to ask you about the Sumerian belief that everyone, no matter of their behavior on Earth, would go to Kur, which was a Hell-ish afterlife where the souls only eat dry dust. Do you feel like that’s becoming more of an actual event in our current reality, and not just a prophecy for the afterlife?
You know, I really don't know what point we are at now. Honestly, a couple of years ago I felt that we were at a tipping point. I thought that we were about to go past the point of a revolution, and that the chaos would increase, so to speak, until we’d just nuke ourselves. Oddly enough, things seemed to have pulled back in a way. It's interesting because now there's a common demon. I'm not going to get into names, but it's funny how once the hate can be focused, it can be controlled. And I have to say, I don't think it's a fucking accident.
Once all the chaos is controlled, then things start to move out of necessity. I think we're there now. I think we've hit a point where there's changes that are coming about due to the chaos that's happened over the past few years. But the chaos itself seemed to pull back a little bit, but it could just be a bit of a recession before a big haywire event. It will happen whether it's nature or man-on-man. There's not a decade that goes by where some big event doesn’t happen.
I also wanted to bring up the track “Piles of Little Arms”, which deals with themes of colonization. Did you hear about that story about the missionary who got killed in India? That story is like the exact representation of that song, and it happened just a few months after that song released too.
That Christian cat, right? Yeah. He deserved that shit. He really did. Honestly it's the year 2019 - why are you fucking with people that are doing good and not caught up in all this bullshit? Literally. Why do you want to fucking change them and bring them into this shit? It's like a heroin addict trying to get someone else to be an addict too...like, “Do it! It's great being a stinky ass heroin addict!” You know what I mean? I'll never understand why any religious person would want to go to any sort of tribe that's left in this day and age and try to alter them. Instead, these missionaries should learn from these people and look at their quality of life. Just because you're wearing a loincloth doesn't mean that you don't live in a functioning society. The problem with human beings is we all think that the way we live is the only way it should fucking be, you know? There are certain reasons for that. There are certain laws and things that mandate all that. But the truth is we all think that the way that we're living is the right way. And to be honest with you, we really don't know.
That reminds me, I was watching this program where someone said that when you die, you find out all truths. And this wasn't a religious show or anything, it was just about spirituality. They said suddenly it all just comes to you clearly, and for a moment, you see everything, all truths at one time. And I thought, “Well, fuck that. I don't want any of that bullshit!” [laughs] How about we just move on and we'll let it go.
The core of Morbid Angel is really based in something spiritual with very technical execution, almost like a science. Can you discuss the balance of spirituality and science, what they both mean to you, and how that relationship manifests into the band’s ethos?
I was born into a Catholic family. It was just a part of being where I'm from. By the time I was eleven or so, it was no longer a part of my life. It wasn't part of my family's life at all either., so we all took on our paths after that For me, spirituality is something that should be natural. The spirituality that I personally carry doesn't come from anything except for what I've observed in life and really, and what I feel without having an explanation for it.
Where it ties into Morbid Angel as I can relate...they’ve just always had that spirit of revolt. Ever since the Satanic days, man, they’ve always pushed away any option that’s been given without a choice. I always could relate to Morbid Angel in that perspective from the get go, and I think I bring a bring different element. Trey and I grew up in different worlds, and how you grew in your environment really makes you who you are. And I guess what it all really comes down to my spiritual connection to the band is that I can just relate to it and vice versa. Obviously, you've read my lyrics and you're asking me very deep, detailed stuff about it, so you've related somehow too. A lot of times I think the relatability spawns a deeper connection than it just being music that you like.
And as far as the precision, without that, it's crap. Even in religion, they try to keep an organized structure to deliver a message. Have you ever been to a mass? It’s the same thing every fucking time. And that’s their answer. It’s not a good one, but that’s their execution. In our own way, we have everything planned out well, but the difference is that we don’t all have the exact same opinion or the same outcome every time. We have similar goals, and the execution has to be precise or you’re not even in the conversation anymore.
Morbid Angel is more than just a band. There's a lot of significance to lyrics and there's a lot of significance to the opinions and the views and, but the thing is, man, I don't expect people to really agree with me. I expect people to hopefully hear what I say and then later go, “You know what? This kind of makes more sense than I’d want to admit.” That’s what I hope for, but dude, it's death metal. I'm not here to fucking make everybody love me. I don't want everybody to love me. That would mean I need to be around more people. I don't want to be around people, they disgust me, man. The funny thing is most people that see me walking down the street or whatever seem to be disgusted by me, so the feeling is mutual. [laughs]
Out of curiosity, have you ever read The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain?
No, I haven't actually.
It reminds me a lot of your lyrics describing how the Sumerian gods will wipe out humanity due to their disgust in mankind. In that story, Twain writes about the angel Satan revealing all the downfalls of the human race, and in some acts creating natural disasters to kill people off. It’s just interesting how across time and across culture, we’ve seen this theme in literature of the gods wiping out humanity for our own good.
You know, Mark Twain was living in a world that didn't have half the people we have now and he saw it then. He lived on the Mississippi River and saw cities like Cincinnati, where I grew up, being built and subsequently turning the Ohio river polluted and disgusting. He’d daydream and write about seeing his world turn into a cesspool. I can really relate to him because that’s where I come from. There’s this thing in Cincinnati called Mill Creek. It's the most disgusting fucking thing in the world. It's a literal shit stream that runs behind all the factories and oldest parts of Cincinnati. That's all it is. Shit and chemicals...and guess where it feeds into? The Ohio River. And guess where that feeds to? The Mississippi River. Guess where that feeds to? The Gulf of Mexico, and from there it goes into the fucking ocean.
I could see where somebody like Mark Twain came from because he was a very observant person. I’d like to think I’m a pretty observant person as well. It's interesting how we've kind of been to the same places and kind of come out with the same opinion and same views, if you will. It is interesting how we can see this theme in everything from Sumerian texts to Mark Twain’s stories. We all fucking know what’s going to happen.
How much of all this do you think is reversible? The lyrics in “Righteous Voice”, for example, talk about people who think their opinion is the only right solution. What extent of arrogance is just human nature, and what extent can we consciously change?
I think arrogance has been a part of human nature ever since man saw his reflection in the water. Ever since the first battle, ever since the first human felt defeat, there has been arrogance. We live in a world of hierarchy. We live in a world where everyone thinks they're a king or a queen - and you’re fucking not. Your daughter isn’t a fucking princess, your son isn’t a fucking prince. You should just love your kids for who they are and not make them out to be something they’re not. I have a big problem with that. That arrogance is just fuel for the ego, and then people go on and constantly compare themselves to others in disgusting ways. It’s like...how can I say this...if your ugly brother isn’t getting as many gifts as you are, you start to become arrogant. You notice that you’re being treated differently and you think that makes you special. That’s where the ego comes in. I think it’s natural, but not fucking necessary.
As for change, I think life usually smashes the shit out of people. Life is the great equalizer. It’s gotten me a couple times, and for some people it might not even happen. It’s like when someone takes a job because they’re following the money, and that job folds and now you’re jobless. Then the person you interview with next turns out to be the guy you were an asshole to a few years earlier. It’s karma, man. I believe in karma wholeheartedly. I’ve seen it unfold too many times.
Let’s discuss some collaborations and other related projects. I love that Nader Sadek, who you’d been making music with previously, directed the video for “Garden of Disdain”. Do you have anything lined up with him or anyone else?
Nader and I did that album, In the Flesh, back in 2011 and it was really cool, so that’s how we got him involved doing a video for us. It all just goes back to our ethos and being with like-minded people. Honestly, I don't want to be adored by people. I don't want to be in the midst of a lot of people. It’s not even a matter of being comfortable around people. I just want to trust them. I’ve known Nader for 15 years now. We talked about doing a video, and then he just wrote up a storyline and went from there. That’s what real friendships are about.
I’m not saying I’m old, but man, I’m no kid anymore. I really mean it when I say that I want to collaborate with people for the rest of my life. Morbid Angel is my main thing in life, but if a friend were to call me up I’d always make time to do something. Like if Alex Webster said, “Steve, do you want to sing on a song that I recorded with Jeff Loomis?” I’d be like...fuck yeah! Yeah I want to sing on that fucking song! [laughs] But yeah, hopefully I’ll get to continue collaborating with friends for the rest of my life.
RIght on. So just to wrap things up on a silly note, what have been Morbid Angel’s most Spinal Tap moments?
You know what man, I have one every fucking day. We just had one earlier today walking a mile in the wrong direction trying to find a Whataburger. It happens all the goddamn time. Whoever wrote that shit had obviously toured and been on the road because it’s so true to this lifestyle. Even earlier today, we were setting up and this venue has all their hallways painted black and no windows. We couldn’t see shit and I couldn't even find the door to get the fuck out of the venue. I got so fed up so I just decided to hang in my bus ‘til the show starts [laughs].
Haha, yes! That’s literally a scene in the movie when they can’t find the door to get on stage.
Yeah man. Spinal Tap moments just come with the territory. They really, really do
All interviews posted before October 2015 were originally recorded for KAMP Student Radio.