Rigor Mortis Is Dead, Long Live Rigor Mortis

The 80s thrash stars reunited just long enough to record a new album before tragedy struck.

|
Sep 24 2014, 3:30pm

After releasing their self-titled debut on Capitol Records in 1988, Texas thrash metal stars Rigor Mortis started circling the drain quickly. Shortly after the record hit the shelves, vocalist Bruce Corbitt and bassist Casey Orr had a falling out that resulted in Corbitt’s departure. Meanwhile, Capitol fumbled the record—though it’s considered a classic of the genre today—and the band was summarily dropped. After one more album and an EP, guitarist Mike Scaccia split and embarked upon a long career with industrial overlords Ministry. Orr briefly tried to keep Rigor Mortis above water, but ultimately ended up joining GWAR in 1994, a band he would play with on and off until 2011. Around that time, Rigor Mortis decided to make a new record with their original lineup—Corbitt, Orr, Scaccia, and drummer Harden Harrison. On December 22, 2012, just a few days after Scaccia finished tracking his parts for the album, Rigor Mortis were playing a hometown show for hundreds of friends, fans and family members when the guitarist suffered a massive heart attack and died onstage, Les Paul in hand.

As if that wasn’t enough, Orr’s longtime friend and GWAR bandmate/mastermind Dave Brockie [a.k.a. Oderus Urungus] passed away earlier this year. At least Rigor Mortis’ first new album in nearly a quarter-century is finally seeing the light of day. Appropriately entitled Slaves To The Grave, it will also be the band’s last. “It’s hard to talk about, but it’s good to talk about,” Orr says of the passing of his close friends and musical partners. “That’s what life is—the stories you create. The only thing you can hope to get out of life is to be remembered well. That’s it. Mike and Brockie have taught me so much that I would feel like I was doing them a disservice if I didn’t keep trying to do better musical projects. It makes me want to make more stuff. It’s either that or crumble up in a ball and be useless.”

Listen to a song from Slaves To The Grave, "Ancient Horror" below.

Slaves To The Grave is the first Rigor Mortis album with the original lineup since 1988. It has to feel good to get it out, but at the same time there’s a tragedy that comes along with it.
Casey Orr: Yeah. When we started working on the record, of course everyone was really excited. We had every intention of doing this record and touring, and Mike was already wanting to write new stuff. We all have other projects going, but Rigor Mortis has always felt like home. For all of us, it was our first real band. We’re brothers. We talk in twin-speak, you know? It’s a language nobody else understands. So we wrote this record that I think is the best thing we’ve ever done and the rug was pulled out from under us in the worst possible way. But it’s Mike’s finest hour in a lot of ways, so there was no doubt that we had to finish the record. He would’ve wanted it that way. So it became this labor of love and real hard to let to of in a lot of ways. It was hard to say, “OK, this is the final mix. Let’s go.” But we’re all real proud of it.

Why did you decide to get back together in the first place?
Well, we always stayed in contact, always remained friends, and helped each other’s bands. I went out with Ministry as their bass tech in ’92 on Lollapalooza. Mike and I had a few projects here and there. It was never like we were never gonna work together again. It’s just that with GWAR and Ministry going on, we just kinda drifted away from each other. But we always kinda talked about it. I always thought we would get back together at some point, and I think everybody else did, too. I’m surprised it took as long as it did, but when we finally had the time frame open, we said, “Fuck yeah—let’s do it.”

What about Bruce’s involvement? He left the band after the first record.
Originally when Mike called me, he wanted to do it as a three-piece. But I was like, “Hell no, man. I’m not gonna sing all this shit.” I never wanted to be the lead singer. I said, “If we’re gonna do this, we gotta get Bruce. It has to be the original lineup.” It was a no-brainer, because that’s what everybody wants. The timing was right, so we got together and played a few shows. Then Mike went back to Ministry and I went back to GWAR. So it wasn’t full-time until about two years ago, when we really started working on this album.

Did your relationship with Bruce originally end on bad terms?
Well, yeah. We were young and stupid. We got this big major-label record deal and a bunch of money for gear, blah-blah-blah, and the next thing you know, they don’t know what to do with the record. It wasn’t everything we thought it was gonna be. We were young and cocky, and it just got to the point where Bruce and I weren’t getting along. I can’t remember what exactly led up to it, but it got to the point where I was like, “It’s either him or me.” So we moved on without him. In hindsight, I’ll be the first to admit that that was probably a bad decision. [Laughs] But at the time, there was no way around it. We were just not getting along, and we’re both bull-headed. So Bruce left, and for better or worse, that’s what happened. I pushed for that; I take responsibility. But at the same time, when we got back together, I was first one to say, “We’re not doing it without Bruce.” And now we get along great.


Rigor Mortis, shredding in '88.

Had you already rekindled your relationship with him before the reunion?
Oh, yeah. We’d been talking to each other for years and years. It was all good. It was just some stupid petty shit, you know? We got Doyle [Bright] in the band after Bruce left, and he was kick-ass but other things kept dragging us down. We never had our business shit together. We never had good management. We never had a good solid label that supported us. We were the total underdogs. We were punk rock in the metal world. We’d make a few hundred bucks at a show and we’d just split it up and go to the bar. There was no putting money aside for merchandise or to pay our taxes. It was just straight to the bar. It was stupid, and it kept getting worse and worse. So when Mike got the offer to join Ministry full time, I said, “Fuck yeah—you gotta do it.”

So it wasn’t like the band really broke up. It just kinda fizzled out.
Yeah. As a matter of fact, Mike felt so bad about leaving at the time that he pushed me to try and keep it together. But by that point, we hadn’t been doing anything for a long time. Doyle had moved back to Atlanta or Birmingham or wherever he came from. I hadn’t talked to Harden in months and months. There was just a lot of friction going on because things weren’t great. After Mike left, we did a little West Coast tour with me and Pete Lee, who was in GWAR for a while, and Mike Dunn from Blohole on drums. We went out as Rigor Mortis like that, and it was the dumbest thing I ever did. I was beating a dead horse. So that was the real end of it. That was sometime in ’91.

How long was it before you joined GWAR?
It was a couple of years. I did that one tour as a bass tech with Ministry and that was about it. I was living like a slob, doing odd jobs, selling weed to my friends. Shit like that. The only thing I really did was I went down to Austin with Mike Dunn to jam with Lee Ving from Fear. We stayed with him at his house and had a great time, and he called me back a few days later and said he was going to LA to talk to some labels, but he thought we could get something going on. So I was like, “Fuck yeah.” A few days after that, I got a call from Tommy Victor from Prong, but I told him that I thought I had this Fear gig, so I passed on talking to him about playing with Prong. And then the next day, I get a call from Lee, who was like, “I met these guys in the studio, and I think they’re gonna be the band.” And like a total dumbass I didn’t even bother to get Tommy Victor’s number, so I couldn’t call him back. But then I got the call to join GWAR.

Joining GWAR must’ve been a pretty big transition—just playing with all that fucking gear on.
Yeah, that was weird. And it was always weird. It’s weird shit to wear onstage. You’re wearing football pads with all this shit on top of them, plus helmets and giant floppy fucking feet. [Laughs] It’s like 40 or 50 pounds’ worth of shit. But at the same time, once you walk out onstage nothing else matters. Once you’re there, you own the crowd. You could play like shit, the equipment could explode, the lights could go out—it doesn’t matter. They just fucking love you. We’d have times when the backline would go out and we just stand there flipping off the crowd or making jokes to the people in the first few rows. And they fuckin’ loved it because they were getting something that no one else gets. It was like being in a cartoon every night, and it was a lot of fun.

Were you with them when guitarist Corey Smoot passed away in 2011?
I had just left. That was the first tour they did after I left. But I quit the band and came back like four times. It’s hard being in GWAR. It’s a lot of work. Plus, they all live in Richmond, Virginia, and I live in Texas. It’s so much cheaper to live in Richmond than it is here, and they all have their built-in gigs, like bartending or whatever, that they do when they’re not on tour. And when there’s no touring, no recording, you’re not getting paid. You only get paid if you’re working, if there’s money coming in. And GWAR is a very expensive machine to run. It just got expensive for me to go back and forth from Dallas to Richmond and try to scramble for odd jobs to pay the rent. It’s disheartening because you know there’s profit in the band, but it’s not enough to pay everyone what they deserve. GWAR should be a lot bigger than it is.

I wonder how long it will last now that Dave Brockie is gone.
Yeah, my heart goes out to those guys. They can’t afford to not generate income. Like when Corey died, of course they had to continue to tour. There’s just too many people counting on it. At the same time, the fans need that closure. And that’s what this tour they’re doing now is—the fans can come out and pay their respects to Brockie one last time. As long as you spray some blood in their face and play good music, the fans will support them. But how long will the fans support them if they don’t put out something new? I hope this new lineup will really come together, but it’s gonna be hard because Brockie is the only member you can’t replace. He’s more than just the singer, more than just the frontman. He was the genius behind the whole operation.

He really was one of a kind. They broke the mold after they made that guy.
Yeah, I’m sure they broke it on purpose. [Laughs] But he was a genius. I’d see him do interviews on the bus, completely ad-libbing, while he was also on his computer, and painting, and reading a war novel at the same fucking time. He was brilliant. The one thing GWAR is gonna lack now is that real twisted, perverted mind that Brockie was. There’s nobody in that band that has the devious streak of a Dave Brockie. Nobody in that band has the truly perverted wit of Dave Brockie. Nobody on this planet does. He was a very unique personality, onstage and off. There was a very blurry line between Dave and Oderus, and that’s why I loved the guy.

I hate to go from one passing to another, but of course Mike died onstage in Texas…
That was one of the weirdest things that will ever happen to you. You’re in the middle of a show, having a great time, and you look across the stage and your brother just falls backwards and he’s done. But at the same time, he died onstage, you know? He died with his boots on, doing what he loved. He died in front of his old-school audience. It was our singer’s birthday, and it was around Christmas so a lot of people were off work. There were people there we hadn’t seen in 15 or 20 years. It was an old-school homecoming. If it had happened anywhere else, like if he had been in Montreal with Ministry or something, it wouldn’t have had the same closure as it did with him coming almost full circle playing with Rigor Moritis. He had just finished his guitar tracks for the album, had had a good job working as a clinician for Gibson guitars, his kids and wife were healthy. He went out at a happy point in his life. The way I like to believe it, the last thought in his head was the guitar part he was playing.

Still, it must’ve been terrifying.
Oh, you could see the look on the EMTs’ faces. He was gone. But there were 400 people in the room, so they weren’t gonna say that. I couldn’t really come to terms with it for about 24 hours. I went to the hospital and laid my hand on his cold hands. I knew, but my mind couldn’t process it. It was very, very surreal. The worst part is that my friend isn’t around. We’re not gonna laugh about stupid shit anymore. My writing partner is gone. You notice these little dimensions of your relationship when you try to tell someone a story that only you and him were around for. It’s the little things like that. But he gave us this beautiful fucking record.

And now you’re doing this Wizards Of Gore thing, which is all the remaining members of Rigor Mortis playing Rigor Mortis songs, right?
Right. Originally we were just gonna do it for Mike’s birthday, the birthday after he passed, as like a tribute thing. At first we called it Scaccianators, and people were like, “You should keep doing this. Don’t let it die.” But we have no intention of ever playing as Rigor Mortis again. There’s no question of that. After the Scaccianators thing, we decided to do it again for the release party, and then we got asked to play at the Housecore Festival. But we wanted to change the name to Wizards Of Gore, more of a proper band name. There’s no intention to make this a full-time thing, though. It’s weird to us because we’re rehearsing now, and it sounds great. I don’t think Mike would want us to just never play this stuff again. I mean, it’s our music—we’re the four musketeers. But it’s weird to think of us doing a tribute band to our own band. We don’t wanna be disrespectful to Mike’s family, either, because it seems weird to them that we would just carry on. It feels weird to me, too. We can’t just do that. I don’t want anyone to think we’re exploiting Mike. So I really don’t know what’s gonna happen with us.

J. Bennett also hopes to die with his boots on.