Interview with vocalist Jeff Becerra
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 14, 2023
Thanks to Jerry Kurunen (Rauta YouTube channel) and tour manager Tomasz for all their help.
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
San Francisco, California's Possessed needs no introduction. The band invented the term "death metal" back in 1983/84 (some of you may disagree with this statement due to another band, named Death) when they put that title on their 3-track demo, also featuring the song "Death Metal."
Possessed's debut album, Seven Churches, released on Combat Records in 1985, took the world by storm. There was no other album so extreme or brutal sounding at that time, outshining even genre classics like Slayer's Hell Awaits or Destructor's Maximum Destruction. Seven Churches soon became a genre-defying album, a notion that has only increased over the decades.
The band's follow-up album, 1986's Beyond the Gates, was recorded at Prairie Sun Studios in California, with Carl Canady (The Rods, Manowar, Thrasher, etc.) turning the knobs in the studio, and took the band away from the Satanic topics and proved they weren't a one-trick pony, still maintaining the band's dark and evil sound. In 1987, they released the 5-track, somehow underrated The Eyes of Horror mini-LP, which was the end of the band's first era of recording. They toured a lot between 1984 and 1987 and gained a positive reputation all over the world for being a hard-working, extreme death/thrash metal band. However, as has been proved many times before, nothing lasts forever and the original Possessed split up.
Possessed tried to return in 1991, this time without Jeff Becerra on vocals and Mike Tarrao taking care of that department and also handling the guitar. With the band's renewed lineup, they recorded a couple of demos (1991 and 1993), but they didn't lead anywhere and the band again called it quits in 1993. Nobody knew if the story was over or not.
Third time is the charm for Possessed, now with Jeff Becerra back on vocals and basically the Sadistic Intent guys being hired to resurrect this beast from its murky grave in 2007.
I had the true pleasure of sitting down backstage with "The Godfather of Death Metal," Jeff Becerra, in Helsinki, Finland on August 4, 2023, and we talked briefly about quite a few topics for about two hours before the band's showtime. Jeff kindly also apologized beforehand because he had barely gotten any sleep for a couple of days, so if he sounds a bit disorientated here and there, lack of rest is why. Read on...
NO SLEEP 'TIL GETTING BACK HOME
So, Jeff, do you feel more relaxed now after some getting some rest?
Jeff: No, man. I just got all dizzy and out of breath. Some shit happened and I panicked. I think we slept three hours or something.
Wow... Oh really?
Jeff: Three hours in three days.
Uh, that's not much. Anyway, how was your gig in Tampere (Finland) yesterday? Did you get a packed venue?
Jeff: It was great, man. They were super, great fans. They were supporters and it's the loudest I've ever heard the chorus of death metal.
This is your second time in Finland with Possessed. Your first time happened at Jalometalli Festival in Oulu, back in 2008. What are some of your memories from that festival?
Jeff: That's when I got super sick, remember?
I do remember that.
Jeff: I was sadistically possessed, so to speak, hehe!
Other than that, how was it overall for you as an experience regarding the people over here?
Jeff: I love Finnish fans. The Finnish fans are awesome, man, very unique, and unto themselves.
Touring with Possessed obviously means more than just playing constantly in different countries and cities but it's also about meeting your fans and old friends, which I guess makes all this touring worthwhile for you. What's your own take on this, Jeff?
Jeff: It's hard to explain, man. It's like there's this reserved kind of metal in Finnish bands that they're quiet until they're not. Do you know what I mean? There are specific types of people here, just like everywhere, that are just very unique somehow. It's hard to explain, man. I haven't figured it out yet, but I love it, that's for sure.
What about other northern European countries like Sweden or Norway? Are the fans up here a bit different compared to people in southern European countries? Have you seen any difference between them?
Jeff: They're very honest, you know. I think I'm an oddity here. That makes it easier, I guess. How do I put this? It's like tribes. Every tribe is different. It's hard to put your thumb on it to fully explain this but everybody is very unique and pleasant in their own way.
Would you say touring is your lifeblood, I mean, without it life would get a tad boring?
Jeff: Yes, for sure. It's been a challenge to get back here. I did 15 years in bed and not less than 11 months a year. I had that lifesaving surgery. That was well, when was it? Jalometalli? Since 2008, I've been sick until I got back now. It's been a victory lap.
Do you still enjoy touring as much as during the eighties? I mean, we are all getting not only older but also grumpier and that's just a bloody fact.
Jeff: I think it's better now because in the '80s the primary function was to get food and gas and hopefully, a beer or two. It felt like there was always this sense of want and, of course, it was great. I liked it. I loved it there as a young man, but I think I appreciate it more now as an old man.
You have obviously met and talked with a lot of famous faces on this tour like guys from Carcass, Saxon, Raven, Autopsy, Dark Funeral, and so on. What's been your most memorable meeting with some special person on this tour so far?
Jeff: Uh, I have no idea. There's so many. I try not to pick favorites. I see us all as equals, but it was cool meeting Saxon, for sure. It was cool meeting Raven. That was really cool and I am completely just a fanboy. I wasn't even cool about it. Embarrassing to say, but I was just like, "Fuck, Raven band." People that you heard on the radio, getting to see in person is really, really cool. It was cool to meet them. Seeing old friends, like Glen Benton from Deicide and everybody. That's always fucking cool.
You have Chris (Aguirre II) on drums on this tour. What happened to Emilio Marquez? Is he still a part of the band?
Jeff: Emilio is spending time with his family and concentrating on his life and Chris has been our new drummer.
So, he's the permanent drummer these days?
Jeff: Yes, or this is his trial by fire. This is his first actual tour.
1984 – THE TERM DEATH METAL WAS INVENTED, BUT BY WHOM?
You are, of course, known as one of the people in the metal community who was there when the term "death metal" was coined. Your 1984 demo was even called Death Metal, so do you consider yourself the true grandfather of death metal, the one who started the whole genre in the first place?
Jeff: I'm the guy, yes. Anybody else is fucking posing. I am 100% right about that.
Can you still remember why you ended up naming that demo with such a genre-defying title as Death Metal?
Jeff: It's a branding thing. Naively, we thought that we would be the only death metal band and that way people would say, "Oh, Possessed, that death metal band, right?" We knew we had speed metal. We knew we had black metal. We knew we had thrash metal. We had power metal and so we thought, we can be death metal. It was a band meeting in the front driveway of where we used to practice. We said, "death metal," and that was it. It was almost immediately stomped out because every time we said, "death metal," nobody wanted to hear that. They wanted to hear thrash or speed metal. We didn't make those kinds of metal and they didn't want to sell it. Then, of course, when our record started getting pulled off shelves and stuff, we eased back from it, but we've always identified as death metal, privately and publicly.
It was Venom who originally came up with the black metal term back in 1982 and you came up with the death metal term in 1984...
Oddly, there was also a German compilation album with the same title, Death Metal, released in 1984. It had four European bands on it (Hellhammer, Dark Avenger, Helloween, and Running Wild). Do you remember that one? None of those bands were death metal much, neither or concept-wise, except maybe Hellhammer a little bit I guess...
Jeff: I think those are two different things though because Possessed is a fast band. It's a satanic band. We're not a slower or light band and so, I think, that was also kind of a kicker of it, too. As for Hellhammer, well, Tom and I have been friends for 40 years now.
It's still a funny coincidence that someone at Noise Records used that term as the title of a compilation album in 1984...
Jeff: But it was me, man. It was me who came up with that term first. That's 100% God's honest truth. It's us. It's Possessed, 100%. That fucking '83, '84 Death Metal demo, that shit took off like wildfire. That's with Brian on it before Larry but we put it out when it was literally handwritten. We put out gold and silver Ampexs that we ran off and duplicated ourselves, spread them out to all the tape traders. Back then, man, the fucking tape-trading scene was like wildfire. That thing took off. It was in Europe within a month, and then it was everywhere. It was big talk, you know.
38 YEARS AGO HISTORY WAS MADE...
Indeed, it was. Seven Churches, which is, of course, Possessed's debut album, is considered one of the cornerstones of the death metal genre. Now 38 long years later, how do you personally see the album's impact on the extreme metal scene?
Jeff: There's a difference between saying something is cool and being inspired to do something. All I said is that Possessed was the first, right? Everybody else is their own machine. I think it's really, really cool to see the way that it's branched out and what people have done with maybe a spark or an idea. There's just so many brands of death metal now, and I love that. I think that rather than hyphenate like a black and thrash, or black and death, or whatever like that, I think that people should just make the genre bigger and bigger and a lot more variables and a lot more variety. I love to see that. I love all forms of death metal.
Slayer released their second album Hell Awaits back in 1985. Did you feel like you had to be a tad more extreme and brutal-sounding than Hell Awaits?
Jeff: No, I've never been in competition with anybody. We toured on the first and second albums with them. It was really cool watching them and seeing what they did and opening for them in 1985. Then we kicked out that one. We kicked that off with the Possessed Slayer Venom show at the Kabuki on April 20, 1985. That show was a monster. It was very cool. I watched the show after we played with Cliff Burton, and we just sat there watching it. It was really cool.
NEW ALBUM – WHEN?
What's the current situation with new Possessed material? When are you aiming to go back to the studio and record your next album?
Jeff: We have new material. We're lagging a bit; we want it to be right. We have like seven songs or something.
Will you take your time to get those songs finished or is your label pressuring you?
Jeff: We're trying to rush it, but Possessed isn't a rushed band, man. We want it to be right. If you put out one turkey, everybody's going to be saying, you're only as good as your last album, which is odd because you made the other albums, too, but unfortunately, it works that way. And, of course, I'm still looking for that album that's the one that I remember like that Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath, or Motörhead by Motörhead, Melissa by Mercyful Fate, Sin After Sin by Judas Priest. I want one of those. Those are fucking rare, and that's a big ask that will probably never come, but you can't help but try.
Indeed. Revelations of Oblivion, the band's comeback album that was released in May 2019, was amazingly well received by your fans all over the world. Do you feel you managed to capture the essence of the Possessed sound on that record?
Jeff: Thank you for your kind words. I think it hit pretty hard. We recorded the initial tracks, the scratch tracks, because what you do is you do a demo, but it's really got a hit-and-click track. You take that into the big studio and then that way the drummer can play with the click track and the guitar. We don't have to be there and that saves time and money. When we were doing it, it felt really good. It was really organic the way that Daniel and I worked together. Daniel flew around and got everybody's recordings after he did the scratch guitars. We were in my basement doing vocals and kind of just collaborating on what to do and how to work it up and it felt right. It felt good. I was very hopeful. I'm glad that people liked it.
Do you think there's a chance you might enter the studio to record your next album this autumn or perhaps at some point during next year?
Jeff: That's hard to say because we just don't know yet. Hopefully soon, though.
So, you've got like seven raw tracks right now and you are working on them to get them to sound right?
And they are going to follow pretty much the same musical recipe that you used on the well-received Revelations... album?
Jeff: Well, with Revelations of Oblivion we had to stay in our lane because if we got any more progressive or if we went this way or that way people would say, "Oh, that's not Possessed, it's just Jeff with a bunch of guys." I think now that we've reestablished ourselves a little bit, we can try to have a little more freedom.
The contract is for three albums. Relevations... was the first of three, so I have two more full-lengths for Nuclear Blast. We will work from there. Nuclear Blast is very cool about my processes where they don't rush you, they just want a good outcome.
I think it's nice your label doesn't push you too much and allows you to do things on your own terms.
Jeff: Yes. As I say, this is my plan, this is what I want. We definitely need to put the album out when the time is right.
Can you perhaps reveal any raw song titles yet?
Jeff: Not yet, I am sorry. But one is called "P6" or what's it called? "PJP666J" or something. Our working title, the one we did together, it's like "P666J" or something. No, I mean "D666J."
Dan: I put a fake name somewhere.
Jeff: Dan, Jeff, like "D666J," and so we have raw titles like that. I have some good things in mind, some good concepts. When I have all 10 songs, I want to make the story complete. I don't want to piecemeal it and then it doesn't sound put together. It's like a novel, you have a beginning, you have a middle, and you have an end.
Okay, well, I don't want to take too much of your time because I know you're trying to focus on tonight's gig and have not had much sleep for the past couple of days. Thank you so much for time, Jeff. It's always nice to see you.
Jeff: Thank you so much.
|Other information about Possessed on this site|
|Review: Seven Churches|
|Review: Beyond The Gates|
|Review: Revelations of Oblivion|
|Review: Revelations of Oblivion|
|Review: Revelations of Oblivion|
|Review: The Eyes of Horror|
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