Reggie Watts Talks Exhumed’s Necrocracy

I talk about death in my comedy because it is something real, but also something that we don't necessarily like to talk about. That's why death...

I talk about death in my comedy because it is something real, but also something that we don’t necessarily like to talk about. That’s why death metal talks about it too. Death metal is about when death is occurring, or has occurred, and all the mythology that exists beyond that: demons and zombies and hell. And lots of decomposition. And the music is fascinated with that because it’s a fascinating topic: we all think about this stuff. Then the sound of the music matches what the content is: It just wouldn’t sound right to have that kind of music paired with lyrics about, say, going to your favorite coffee shop and seeing a cute girl. That just wouldn’t work. Although, come to think of it, that would be funny to hear.

It’s interesting to talk about death metal, which is a kind of music a lot of people wouldn’t normally think I’d be into, given the art I create publicly, or maybe how I look. But I grew up with a lot of skaters in the ’80s in Montana and people listened to death metal, or gore-punk like Samhain, and they listened to that stuff for good reason: because it has tons and tons of energy. So it’s their fuel source. And it’s also something most people won’t like. I don’t listen to death metal all the time but when I do hear it or I see a band playing that kind of music, I’m super down with it. I just appreciate the tones — and the new Exhumed record sounds fantastic. It’s really well recorded and they’re a super tight band. And it’s got tons and tons of energy. A bad idea would be to listen to this album while driving a Lamborghini. That’s a terrible combination — someone’s going to die, for sure.

What’s this album about? Lyrics are not my first go-to with pretty much any music. It’s more about the feel for me. But, like just about any other death metal band, Exhumed is creating a kind of mythology with this album, a little bit like a witches’ coven, a little bit of a ritual. The word necrocracy means rulership by the dead. It’s like death taking over everything and becoming the reality. So the album glorifies that idea — like, “Yaaaayyy, death!” It’s kind of a celebration.

So, about the feel: The problem with recording death metal, with all its distortion and overtones and volume, is that you can fill up the sound spectrum so quickly that it becomes very muddy and hard to hear anything — there’s so much sonic information that it turns into a wash. With hip-hop or standard indie-rock, you can get away with sort of sloppy recording. But with death metal it has to sound good, otherwise it all goes to hell (and not in a good way). That’s not easy to do, but this record is really well recorded. Everything has been done right. It sounds like what death metal should sound like: aggressive, very intentional, tight. And menacing.

Some of the song titles on this album are kind of funny, like “The Shape of Deaths to Come” and “Carrion Call” and “The Rotting.” But it’s the same thing as people who are into Dungeons & Dragons — they’re very serious about the game, but they also know they’re playing a game. Most of the cats who play this music are usually kind of sweet dudes — they love playing this music and creating this world for themselves and for people who are down for their music.

But the hardest thing about death metal isn’t the song titles, it’s the Cookie Monster voice. But any style of music is going to have a certain range of possibilities, and it’s hard to hear death metal in any other voice — it serves where the music is coming from. And Exhumed’s singer Rob Babcock sounds fantastic. With death metal you’re either going to get Cookie Monster 1.0 or Cookie Monster 2.0. And this guy is 2.0. It’s just higher res — he’s really fine-tuned it. There’s a lot of call and response between him and singer-guitarist Matt Harvey, who does a higher, shrieking kind of thing, so it’s not just one voice — it’s more affirmational that way, which is nice. It seems like an army.

Like all death metal, Necrocracy is aggressive, but it’s also a little bit mesmerizing, so I guess it’s a little meditative to a certain extent. I like feeling the zen inside of music like this. Part of that is because it’s actually pretty groove-oriented — it’s all about what’s happening rhythmically. Maybe some people can’t see that, but the groove of it is what makes you want to rock your head back and forth while you’re listening to it. Any great death metal band is going to have a strong groove. On Necrocracy, “Dysmorphic” has a really good one — that’s the song on this album that I gravitate to the most. It keeps throwing you back and forth, like you’re on a ship on the ocean and it’s tossing you back and forth. It makes you want to give in to that groove – the more you fight, the more uncomfortable you’ll be, so you surrender to it. But it’s not forcing you to do anything, it just kind of is. “Dysmorphic” sways — it’s like a waltz, in a way — it has a long swing, like a pendulum swinging back and forth. Most of the album is an onslaught of even metronomics but this one is different.

When you talk about death metal, you’re talking about really fine distinctions that people are going to make — it takes an aficionado to make an informed opinion. But Necrocracy has all the elements that death metal fans will appreciate. They are virtuosic musicians, it’s got some old school elements to it — some of the grooves sound like 1997 — but it’s got some new things, like “Dysmorphic,” that are an evolution of sorts. This album sounds timeless, basically. I guess Necrocracy is a concept album. It’s a complete system. Exhumed came up with a theme, a world that they created, and they populate it with these pieces that inform you and take you on a journey. It’s one whole experience.

Reggie Watts is an internationally renowned vocalist/beatboxer/musician/
comedian/improviser. A wildly popular live performer, Reggie will headline New York’s Town Hall on June 18.  He returns as one-man bandleader/musical cohort on season 3 of IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang! premiering May 8, and his popular Reggie Makes Music series has paired him with Aziz Ansari, Andy Samberg and Elizabeth Banks for impromptu music videos. Reggie is a founder of  with Michael Cera, Sarah Silverman and Tim & Eric. Many of his videos have gone viral.