Jeff Becerra is the lead singer and former bassist of legendary death metal pioneers Possessed. He formed the band in 1983. The band recorded three albums between 1985 and 1987 for Combat Records: Seven Churches, Beyond the Gates, and The Eyes of Horror. In 2007, Jeff reformed Possessed with his longtime friends in Sadistic Intent. The lineup now is Jeff on lead vocals, former Sadistic Intent drummer Emilio Marquez, guitarists Daniel Gonzales and Claudeous Creamer, and bassist Robert Cardenas. Their latest release is Revelations of Oblivion (Nuclear Blast).
Jeff looked back on what it was like for him being a musician in the eighties, attending and performing concerts at Ruthie’s Inn, and being managed by Debbie Abono.
Jeff can you give me an introduction to yourself?
I am Jeff Becerra. I started my first band in 1979 with my good friend Larry Lalonde (Primus)…. I was [also in] Marauder, Blizzard, [and] then Possessed.
Just wondering what was more exciting to observe, the wild times of the early black metal scene or the crushing brutality of the nineteen-eighties punk scene?
For me, black metal was really exciting…. hardcore punk was really exciting…. I think it was like a perfect storm. I was really turned on by what Venom was doing, as well as later on by some of the more obscure black metal bands…. Hearing bands like KISS along with Angry Samoans, Agent Orange, Dead Kennedys, Fang, Discharge…. The singers would often times have this primal yelp that came out of nowhere. Whenever I saw that it was cathartic. That really affected me in a way that was life changing. Being in the Bay Area underground with bands like Exodus, Testament, younger guys like Death Angel, Mordred, Legacy, Attitude Adjustment, Heathen, Blind Illusion, Aftermath, and Outrage…. It felt like and was a revolution. It was something more then what it looked like on the surface. It made you crawl out of the window and sneak out of the house. You might hitchhike, walk for 30 miles, ride your bike, or do whatever you needed to do to get down to Ruthie’s Inn on a Friday or Saturday night. Ruthies was like our CBGB’s. It was our spiritual epicenter, our church of metal….
Who were the major songwriters when it came to the writing for Revelations of Oblivion?
Both myself, and my guitarist Daniel Gonzales. I wrote all the lyrics…. Dan and I co-write much of the music… I wrote almost 50 percent of the music on this album. But [it’s] always with me and Dan as a team. Some of the songs, Dan wrote all the music…. With the songs I take part on, I will put a package together of 7 to 12 core component riffs. I then hand them over to Dan, him being the fine guitarist he is….
With you and Dan being in charge of producing the album, what do you feel you were able to do on this go around compared to earlier albums from Possessed?
It was pretty much doing the same thing but getting the credit for it now. When I was first asked into what later became Possessed, Mike Torrao had seven really rough scratch tracks that he recorded onto a cassette Walkman through an external mic…. [Recording] is always a life changing experience with blood, sweat, and tears. It takes a lot out of you, but we thrive on that shit. We love it. It is not enough to be avant-garde anymore. There are so many great guitarists and drummers out there. We are not the only death metal band in the world. All my guys are veterans, and they deserve to be here just as much as I do. They all bring added value and are equally talented.
Can you tell me about some your favorite times from recording at NRG Studios?
We used that because they have a massive drum room. It has a lot of echo, which I think is really important for drums—to have that natural big room sound…. When I first walked into the studio, every wall in the studio was covered with platinum records from Madonna to Michael Jackson to the Footloose soundtrack. A lot of history went into that unannounced, converted house of a studio….
I have noticed your song “Abandoned” has been in set lists of yours going back a few years, how has it changed over time and what was the original inspiration?
The original inspiration for that song came from a previous jam session…. What was unique about that song [is that] at the time, my guys were very tentative about writing new music. They were afraid to step on the legends of the past. My main objective as an artist is to always create new art. My way of warming them up to the idea of a new album, and a new set list, was to write a few songs as a cherry on top [of the set]…. We wrote “The Crimson Spike,” shitcanned that song and cannibalized the lyrics and it became “Graven.” Then we wrote “Shadowcult.” Once we started getting our demo together, we ended up making half the album. It was so good I tried to shop that around and see if we get any bites on a contract. Sure enough, within a week we had several offers. Nuclear Blast being the apex predator of the metal world, they offered the best negotiated contract. It took us about ten months to write the other half of the album. Once we were signed, it was like clockwork. We were just pumping out songs. It was kind of like a warmup to my endgame which was to make a new album.
What would you say is the most intense song for your band to perform live and how you guys get through it?
We have only played two of the new songs live. “Shadowcult” is really challenging because of the middle vocal part. That part is really tough to do and get it out vocally. It’s like a barrage. With the new album I didn’t cut myself any slack. The rest of the band didn’t cut themselves any slack, either. There is a lot going on in rapid succession. Songs like “Ritual” are just super heavy. They can take a lot out of you physically; you need to get in shape and prepare for those songs. It is kind of like Satanic aerobics at times. Without being in shape, you are not going to be a band like Possessed… it is very challenging.
What do you miss the most about the heyday of metal and horror fanzines?
I miss it all. On a foundational level, just being able to see it for what it was. It was so out there, culty, and special. These things mean a great deal to me, like older horror movies with Bella Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price. There also were the black and white creature features, the magazines, and Edgar Allen Poe stories. Even the Chapter of Revelations from the Bible is cathartic. It is spiritually satisfying in a way. It felt good and we really took pride in being that kind of a wild and rebellious teenager. It was really cool going through old stapled together and xeroxed rag mags like Tales from the Pit. You could see what your friends were doing and what shows were going on. You could learn about what horror movies were cool and in vogue. Everyone was trying to be so avant-guard and passionate about metal….
How did you get involved with Debbie Abono?
Debbie was like one of the gang…. Debbie was a really free-spirited person…. She basically said ‘I will run all the business of everything. I want to help you get the word out….’ She took us to Guitar Center and said you can have anything you want. We all bought monster fucking amps and several different instruments. Those were the first real, funded instruments that we got. That stepped us up from being keg party kids to being professional musicians…. It allowed us to become gigging, professional musicians at a very young age…. Debbie let us be ourselves, work out our band politics, and fight for the survival of our music.
Revelations of Oblivion is available now across all formats on Nuclear Blast Records. Visit www.nuclearblast.com/possessed-revelations for more!!