Bassist Ken Sorvari is about the beginnings of Autopsy
Autopsy is definitely one of the most unique bands in the death metal scene and have influenced a lot of outfits during the years. Besides the nucleus of drummer/singer Chris Reifert and guitarists Eric Cutler and Danny Coralles, the band have had several bassists, including Eric Eigard, Steve DiGiorgio, Josh Barohn and Ken Sorvari. About the early days of the band Ken Sorvari told me the answers.
Ken, at which point and how did you discover hard rock/metal as a whole?
Me and Eric Cutler were in a band early before and I was friends with Sadus so it was bound to happen.
How did you end up becoming a musician?
Basically to piss off my Dad. Not really, I just loved music.
Were you mostly into well known, established bands or were you rather into the underground ones?
Underground was mostly what was around. Couple of cover bands though.
Was Turmoil the very first band that you were involved in? Is it correct, that they originally called Apocalyptic Judgment?
I got with Turmoil after the Autopsy Europe tour. Obituary was playing in SF and Zoran from Turmoil was in the lobby and asked me if I wanted to play. So it was cool.
Being based in San Francisco, what were your views on the scene that was called Bay Area metal? How familiar were you with groups such as Forbidden, Testament, Führer, Desecration, Vio-lence, Defiance etc.?
The most familiar band is Testament because Steve and Jon of Sadus were playing with them recently. Forbidden and Vio-lence I only saw their shows. I would listen to their music but that was a while ago.
How about the originators, forerunners such as Vicious Rumors, Anvil Chorus, Exodus, Blind Illusion etc.?
Vicious Rumors, Exodus and Blind Illusion played at the Omni in Oakland a few times. Very heavy and precise, Blind Illusion had Les Claypool so it was cool to watch them, very inspiring to an early bass player (myself).
Do you agree with, that along with South Florida, the Bay Area scene was widely regarded as a starting point of American thrash metal and death metal?
Of course. Death, Obituary etc. were from South Florida. Can’t remember the others though, got a little stoned.
Can you tell us detailed about the Turmoil period? What was the line up, did you record any demos, did you often play live etc.?
Turmoil was a tough band to be in. Zoran was nuts on the stage and Ricky Dias is an awesome guitar player. If it weren’t for Stuart on drums I wouldn’t have been able to keep up. We played a lot of shows, some very fun. We actually had a manager who took care of all the bookings, name was Ben Laws. He took care of the demo but the engineer was unfamiliar with the equipment so the sound quality needed improvement.
Then you joined Autopsy to replace former bassist Eric Eigard. Do you still remember, how did you get in the picture exactly? Were there perhaps other bassists auditioned as well?
Chris and Eric came up to the resort I was working at to ask me to play. I couldn’t make it back to the Bay Area for a couple months to they got Eigard to play. They did the first demo and then Eric Eigard got a bad wrist injury after the demo so I played with them after all.
Did guitarist Danny Coralles (ex-Bloodbath) get in the ranks of Autopsy at the same time as you? Didn’t cause any harm that both of you were older than the rest of the guys?
He got into the band about 2 weeks before Critical Madness. We wanted a second guitarist and I went to school with him, plus he played with Bloodbath. As far as age, there were a few disagreements on a few things, mostly with me, but Danny was kind of the rock that kept things together.
Did you perhaps know or listen to their first demo? Were you familiar with that stuff?
Of course, Eric Eigard and Cutler were family friends, it wasn’t possible not to hear it. We would play the songs at underground parties, an abandoned bowling alley with Sadus and Hexx.
In your opinion, did Autopsy manage to draw the attention of the fans to the band with the help of that demo? Was it distributed, widely spread around at all?
Yes, very much so. Mailed a lot of cassettes around the world back then. 5 bucks a demo. Cash only lol.
On July 9th & 10th, 1988 you entered the ATR Studios in Lafayette, California to record your second demo, titled Critical Madness. How did you write the songs? Who was responsible for the music and for the lyrics?
Chris and Eric wrote the songs.
What about the recording sessions?
The demo was done in a few hours.
Is this the crucial point in Autopsy’s career where they veered away from the blueprint set by Chuck Schuldiner’s Death and Possessed and began to move into their own sonic territory?
Autopsy always had a distinct sound from the beginning.
Was it also important that lineup had expanded from a power trio to a four-piece with the addition of second guitarist Danny Coralles?
Danny definitely added to the band.
Songs are longer and ideas feel more fully developed, it has a more accomplished feel. How do you explain this?
When I first got with Chris and Eric, they had established a very heavy sound. It was to me, like Sabbath but a lot more dark. The slow grind was then followed by some nice thrash metal and some basically very morbid lyrics that can only be described as sick and demented. I was like, this is fucking cool. I mean, just check out the lyrics, and picture them in your head.
Did the song structures essentially become more developed with this demo causing Autopsy to establish a unique placing for themselves compared to the last?
So the basic formula was to research more material. When I say research I mean just that. Fangoria magazine, any and all gore flicks and a very intense study of traumatizing headlines.
You went for a slower and more doom-like sound mixed with death metal, was it a logical decision/step or was it because you started listening to bands such as Black Sabbath and Trouble?
The Critical Madness songs were in the making and we played a few gigs with them, plus the first demo songs. Back then we were just a trio and to make up for another guitar I played my bass through a distortion pedal to fatten up the sound. Trouble was an influence, we actually, in the early days, played one of their songs at some side gigs. Later before the tour they wrote a couple new ones, that we used for the set.
Did you with this newer attitude separate yourselves as a band and it was basically a diverse change of setting compared with some contemporary groups continuing to use the typical thrash-like momentum?
Very crude but you can see what it led up to. I think Ridden with Disease has got to be my favorite. It has a nice drive for the pit and I think, is very well written. The whole point was to just be fucking heavy. More than your run of the mill shit, don’t get technical, don’t make a point, just be brutally heavy and let it sink in.
Was it a better representation of the band? Was it a musical and lyrical maturation from the band?
To get the low sound, I don’t know what to call it, we would drop the strings down as low as my bass could play. Chris would then tune his drums down to sound like a funeral drum. And the lyrics well, Chris was the master of writing some really fucked up shit. But it went well with the songs.
You released also a seven tracks material Rehearsal 09. 04. 1988. Was it a kind of pre-production stuff to the debut album Severed Survival?
So yes, the practice release was what we were doing before the second demo.
Did you gig quite a lot at this early stage of the band? What do you recall of the early Autopsy shows?
They were always at the moment.
Severed Survival was released by 1989, the bassparts were play by Steve DiGiorgio, but you went on European tour with the band. How did that happen? How much time did you have to learn the songs and prepare for the tour?
I had other priorities at the time and couldn’t do the album. Steve sat in on them and did a damn good job by the way. But when the Europe tour came up Steve couldn’t go because he was working on a Sadus record and other things so they asked me back for the tour. We only had a few months back together and played a few shows so we would be ready for the tour.
Was it your first touring experience in Europe?
Yeah, it was my first tour in Europe. Did a lot of travel in the Navy but this was a bit different to say the least.
How did the tour go as a whole? Can you speak us detailed about it?
The tour was tough. As a whole it was good promotion wise. Lots of crazy shit happened as does most tours. For instance, in Baumburg, Germany, a bunch of concert goers decided to show up at the hotel. The management was pissed off and next thing you know there are people climbing from the balconies to get away. They were sleeping in the bathtubs etc. We had to leave in a hurry. Most of the time we were in cramped in small vans and eating from the gas stations. Typical tour I guess. Most of the shows are a bit of a blur when you do one every day. The last show was in Berlin the day of the election for a unified Germany. We couldn’t go on until the election was over. After we played we didn’t stay at the hotel and just drove to Amsterdam that night. Too many other things to mention but overall we played well and the audiences were killer.
Was the tour successful? Did you manage to make a name for the band in Europe?
I believe it was successful and with the help of Pestilence, Bolt Thrower and Morgoth we managed to make a name for ourselves. The audiences there gave me an appreciation of what metal is all about…
At which point and why did you decide to leave the band? Did you follow their career after your departure?
How much do you like the Autopsy records and what do you think about them?
Are you still showing an interest in metal these days?
Ken, thanks a lot for your answers! Anything to add to this feature?
When we practiced at my house in ’88, it was a Sunday morning and the church on the left, and the church on the right were having Sunday morning worship. Our amps were much louder than theirs. So they both got together the next week, all holding hands and surrounded the block praying to get the demon from their neighborhood. We didn’t have practice that day, I had a hangover, so I shut the shades and went back to sleep. I just think that was funny as hell.
Epilogue: Don’t need this printed but one of the reasons I played music was because it was a release. I spent four years in the Navy working on communication and navigational systems. On the aircraft carrier and shore based antisubmarine warfare aircraft. On the ship I worked on the same systems on the fighters, F-14, A-7, A6, etc. I have seen people die and participated in death on shore leave in other countries. Metal was my release. Most of my time was spent in specialized schools. So when I say I had other priorities, I had to pursue what I spent 4 years training for. Getting in a band with a couple 19 year olds did not help me pay rent or advance a career I worked hard for. Still I gave it a try. It helped me cope with military service and the fucked up shit I did and saw. So that’s why I got into metal. When I say they, I mean Chris and Eric and Danny. Damn I almost forgot how killer it was in the early days. Thanks bro for bringing me back!