Interview: Macabre Frontman Corporate Death on New Album ‘Carnival of Killers’ and Having Lunch with John Wayne Gacy

Nine years after their last gory release, veteran Chicago-area death metallers Macabre are back with Carnival of Killers, out today on Nuclear Blast. Long known by fans for their technical skill mixed with a dark sense of humor, as well as their outlandish live shows, the serial-killer obsessed sickos of Macabre are celebrating 35 years as a band in 2020. New Noise sat down with the band’s lead singer and guitarist Lance Lanconi, aka. Corporate Death, to talk about the new album. Along the way, we got into how he ended up meeting John Wayne Gacy, sitting ten feet away from Jeffrey Dahmer, and how he takes his karaoke very seriously…

New Noise: Thanks for sitting down with us, Corporate Death! First off all I have to say, I had so much damn fun listening to this album. For example, the song “Stinky” about how John Wayne Gacy’s house smelled so bad from all the rotting corpses. I was seriously laughing my ass off.

Corporate Death: Well, we are the band for that! [laughs] The “Stinky” song is just like a commercial that was on the radio, for that old toy the Slinky. That’s where I got it from, just growing up watching commercials and stuff, that’s where I get a lot of my ideas.

So, the last Macabre album was 2011, how come it took so long to put a new record out?

Wasn’t it 2009? I don’t know, actually. My cloudy memory, I have no idea. Well, anyway, to answer your question, there’s a lot of reasons. One thing is the COVID thing, the album would have come out before this if it wasn’t for that, and so everything was pushed back. But I’m at least kinda happy it didn’t come in the summer or the spring of this year, it kind of ruins bands, like for touring and stuff, we can’t tour. But like I’ve had a lot of these songs I’ve written over the years, and I never try to push myself. When I feel like writing, I do it. And when I feel like doing music, I do it, I take breaks from it sometimes, but that’s kind of how we’ve always been, I don’t plan like that for the future. Like we’re gonna put out an album now out every 10 years like Tool or something. We’re not like that. And you know, situations in life, you get older. Everything is harder, and this is kind of worked out like that. My bass player lives in a different state now, and we can’t even practice with him, me and the drummer got together and worked on this stuff. I wrote it over some years, and the bass player came out to learn the songs for three weeks or something, stayed in my house, and I was like, “Okay, you gotta learn these songs,” and I’m like, “Okay, let’s work on some vocals,” he’s like, “No, there’s so much vocal harmonies in there.” I’m just like, “Okay, we do some parts here,” and he’s like, “No, you just do it all.” So I did all the vocals on it, and I had a friend of mine come in for a few backing vocals in there on a few songs. It’s not the same as it used to be where we could practice two or three times a week or something and get together. It’s different situations with people, you know? Life gets more complicated as you get older. But I never try to force myself like, “Okay, I gotta do an album every few years or something.” I think if Macabre came out with an album every two years, it wouldn’t be as exciting. I don’t think so. But this is kind of the way we do it. I plan on doing more albums way sooner in the future. I plan on doing a Macabre Minstrels album, have you heard that before?

Oh man, a while ago maybe?

Well that Morbid Minstrels album is called Morbid Campfire Songs and it’s like me and the bass player doing guitars and children’s music, really nice vocals and stuff. I started writing a whole album on Albert Fish with Macabre Minstrels about 25 years ago, so I have a lot of songs for this, and I plan on doing this next, maybe. Where it’s like a drummer and they’re on traditional hand drums and all kinds of crazy drum stuff. Yeah, so it’ll be the three piece on there and it’s gonna be called Fish Tales.  

Is that going to be in any way metal, with distorted guitars or anything?

Not at all. No metal in there. It’s Macabre Minstrels, like Macabre unplugged. Kinda like how Nirvana did that unplugged version where they had acoustic guitars? [laughs] So there’s not going to be distorted guitars or anything, but still, it’s very crazy. It’s the life story of Albert Fish, from his confessions. Do you know about Albert Fish? this is gonna be like seafaring music and children’s music, and all the lyrics are very sick, and there’s really nice vocals in there all about Albert Fish eating little kids, and it just tells the stories.

Those were some crazy stories for sure.

You know, I never promote these guys in my music, I don’t say, “Oh yeah, they’re great guys, yeah, you should go out and be like him.” I never do that. If anything, I cut them down in my music, I say, “These are bad people and watch out,” it’s a warning to people our music, it’s a warning. And sometimes I take it from a first-person perspective of me being the killer singing this song, but this is just like my art form, this is what I do. Music is my palette for doing it. There’s no rules in music, there’s no rules and this is what we do.

Well yeah, like the “Stinky” song I mentioned earlier, that’s very matter of fact – they finally caught Gacy because of the horrible smell coming from his house, right?

Well yeah, and you’re talking about close by my house here in Chicago. I’ve been going to work and stuff, I do work a regular job when I’m not touring. I paint houses, actually Albert Fish did the same thing [laughs]. But yeah, I’ve been to Gacy’s lot before. Now they built a house on it. So I have a song on Sinister Slaughter from ’93 called “Gacy’s Lot,” where it was up for sale, and it describes, you know, who wants to buy Gacy’s lot? And I had photos of me on the lot with weeds growing and shit. Now someone’s built a house here. I was working out there some years back, I’d drive by that street every day, like every day going to work.

You still go past there every day?

Well no, I was just doing a certain job in the city, I was doing some crazy six-million-dollar houses and stuff. I do high-end work, but I wanna try to do music full-time in the future, I’m getting a little old for the painting thing. We’ve kind of always done that, the drummer’s a painter too. But yeah, I actually met John Wayne Gacy. I went to death row and met him three times.

You did?!

Yeah. It was quite an experience. It was a once in a lifetime experience. It was five-and-a-half hours’ drive from here, Menard prison. So, I was getting paintings through the mail from Gacy in the early ’90s, and by the way, I have the best Gacy painting of anybody, I have a one of a kind. It’s called “Pogo’s Circus,” and he called it “Pogo on a Stick.” And it’s got him on a pogo stick with a circus background. That’s where I came up with the idea for this album cover, was from Gacy’s painting. There’s circus tents behind them, and it’s got signs in there and everything, but that’s where I came up with the idea for this new one.

And then you met him too?

Yeah, sorry. So, I was getting paintings through the mail, and my friend from Florida is a big serial killer buff, he corresponds with many serial killers, like hundreds of them. I’m serious. And he’s met many of them. He went to Gacy. So, I was getting paintings and he had photos with Gacy, and I’m like, “How do you do that?” You just write them, he said. Then Gacy started calling me once a week on the phone.


“What’s up? This is Gacy, collect from Menard prison.” And I’m like, “Okay, I’d like to meet.” And he’s like, “Okay, we can set that up. So, I went three times. My mom had her lady friend actually came one time to see Gacy with me and stuff, she drove me out there, my mom [laughs]. And my drummer went. Me and the drummer went out there one time and he was being real perverted, super perverted with me and my drummer. You can’t even imagine what he’s saying, saying he’s innocent, of course. “I’m innocent. I didn’t do any of this. It was other people.” Even though he confessed to the stuff way before that, in the late 70s. And then he’s real polite around my mom and her friend and stuff [laughs]. But I have photos with Gacy in death row, I got a picture of me with my arm around Gacy, he’s got handcuffs on the front. I haven’t really released it, they’re like Polaroid photos. They would charge a dollar or two for a photo back then, this is the early ’90s.

The prison would charge for photos?

Yeah, the place would do that. And there’s guards in there, he would take the photo, and they charged you like two bucks for the film. So, I got a few photos I got with me with Gacy, but yeah, this was like a once in a lifetime experience to be able to do something like that.

How long did you actually spend with Gacy?

Well, me and my drummer went five-and-a-half hours the first time. Yeah. We’re there in a room for five-and-a-half hours with Gacy. I bought him all kinds of snacks from a vending machine in there.

Wow. What was Gacy’s favorite snack?

I can’t remember what, it was like candies and chips and stuff, I bought him some Diet Coke, something like that. I don’t know. But he brought his prison food at one point. It looks like dog food, it was like some kind of meat that looked like dog food, and there were some peas, some of those canned potatoes. I was like “I don’t eat meat, Gacy.” I was lying of course. But he was like “well, eat some of the peas!” So, I ate a couple of peas [laughs]. So yeah, I actually had lunch with Gacy. Nasty looking meal, believe me. And I actually went to Dahmer’s trial also.


Yeah, I was like, I don’t know, pretty close to Dahmer. I was in the front row with the glass wall up there, bulletproof glass wall. Yeah, it was like less than ten feet away from Dahmer. The interesting thing was the testimony. I went the day where the psychologist that examined Dahmer talked about what he’d said, what he did in the past and what he wanted to do, and so I got all this information you don’t see in books and stuff. So, I was like, wow. It went on for months, this trial, you know? But I’d brought a notepad and pen, and I actually started writing two or three songs right there in the courtroom. The song off our Dahmer album, “The Trial”? That’s where it came from. Yeah, it all came from the trial. And the track “Freeze-Dried Man” off an EP we did was about how he wanted to buy a freeze-dryer to have a freeze-dried man, but it was too expensive, he couldn’t afford it. It was like $30,000 for a freeze dryer to do something like that. Just crazy. It’s all factual. Everything I sing about is factual. But you know, I’m not the kind of guy that like, “Oh, I gotta meet more killers” and stuff, this was just close to my house, Dahmer’s trial was like two-and-a-half hours, and Gacy was five-and-a-half hours away. So, I’m not a freak like that, where I wanna be their friends. I just talk to all these killers. My friend in Florida sells a lot of their artwork and gets art from them, he’s friends with so many these guys, but that’s his business [laughs].

We just had the Golden State Killer arrested out here in California...

Maybe I’ll do a song about that, will I get some new fans in California?

Definitely! But I’m curious, how come we always end up talking about the old guys like Dahmer or Ramirez or Gacy, and there haven’t been any really infamous new killers since then?

Well, they’re out there. It’s coming. There’s so many out there. I have notebooks filled with killers that I want to cover. This is the evil history of man, it’s been going on since the beginning of man, and like on Grim Scary Tales, I went back to a lot of the old killers. I tried to start from the earliest ones known ones recorded, but that’s just touching the surface of it, there’s many more. And I started writing a lot of songs about many different guys, I just don’t wanna pick the ones that are too obscure where people are gonna be like, “who’s this guy?” Or whatever. I wanna take the ones that are kind of known in the country, or other countries, you know, like this person from Italy, the Monster of Florence, or whatever. Different killers.

Who’s that really crazy one from Russia, or the Ukraine. Chikatilo?

Well, look at the cover. Look at our cover for Carnival of Killers. It’s Andrey Chikatilo. He’s on the very front of the cover, he’s got the Olympic shirt that he had on him in jail. I have a bonus track about him on this one. And you didn’t hear it yet, it’s called, “How Are You, Kid?” I did do a song about him. And it’s Russian music, the music is from an old classical piece of Russian music. I think it’s gonna be in a magazine coming up on a floppy vinyl, they’re talking about putting that out, so we’ll see.

That’s cool. You did a song in German on this album too, called “Warte, Warte” about the German killer Fritz Haarmann.

Have you heard the original? Well, it’s based on a song by Hawe Schneider, and it was from the ’50s, a German hit song. I’m from an Italian family, but my grandma’s sister is married to a German guy, back when I first started Macabre, I told him what I think about. And he’s like, “Hey, there’s this hit song from Germany about Fritz Haarmaan. And it’s called “Warte Warte Nur Ein Weilchen.” But I could never find it. So I wrote my own songs about Fritz Haarmann, and then I finally found that song when I got a smartphone. I looked, I searched forever, and I finally found this old German guy doing a karaoke version in his basement, with a clown nose on and the hat. And it sounded great, and I’m like, “I gotta do this.” I finally found the original one, so I sent that version to my German friend here in Chicago, and he translated everything and figured out all the pronunciations. That was the hardest song for me to do on the album, I think. I speak very little German, I had a couple of German girlfriends in the past, but I speak very little German, and I have to do this song. I did our own version of it, but I tried to sound kind of like the old clown guy. You should look it up, I like to put it out so people can see the version I tried to cover, but it’s really hard to fight on the internet. You’ll probably be able to find it if you look around. But I was like, OK, I have to do his version of it, but make it heavier.

That cover song, the “nursery rhyme” stuff you do, the wild swings between styles… I’ve always wondered if you guys were big Zappa fans? ‘Cause there’s something about Macabre that always reminded me of Zappa, especially on this album.

Yeah. I saw Zappa three times. I saw his last tour, Broadway The Hard Way. Yeah, I’m a big Zappa fan, and I’ve always been. I’m definitely inspired by Zappa, big time, for sure. But probably one of my original metal inspirations is like Black Sabbath, you know? I’m older, so I grew up listening to music from the ’60s and ’70s, so I grew up with Beatles and the Monkees. The Monkees actually started me playing guitar, I saw these guys on TV when I was a kid, and I’m like, I wanna play guitar. And I sang along with the radio since I was probably like six, seven years old, so I always sang. And that started my musical career, I think. At one point I got into karaoke, probably about 15 years ago, I think, and I was like really hardcore into it, I was like listening to everything, like whatever I wanted to sing from my past, my childhood, the hit songs, I was singing along with hit songs. I would buy all these CDs and I would sing along with a microphone at my house, and I tried to get them perfect. I did everything from Elvis to Johnny Cash, the Beatles, everything, I could even do like Alice In Chains. So I really tried to showcase the vocals I can do on this new album.

There definitely seems to be a lot more cool and varied vocal stuff going on with this one. Did the other band members do vocals on it too?

Thanks! I did all the vocals on it, I didn’t have time to teach the bass player the vocal parts. But live, I can do it with some effects. I want to be singing it, of course, but you can do a harmonizer and they’ll double your voice, and we’re in like two of me and, I got a lot of that. This time around in the studio we thought about how to record vocals. Our engineer, Tomek Spirala, was just a great engineer, and he really put the focus on my vocals. We recorded the drum tracks at Kiwi Drum Studios, it’s the best drum place in the Midwest, the sound is like totally high tech. We did drum tracks in four days, and then we went to Tomek’s studio, he had one in his house, he’s got really good gear. We got some guitar tracks down and the bass tracks, and the bassist had to go back home, he lives a different state. And it was all up to me after that. It was just, like, me doing vocals and solos on top of tracking guitar. So, it was a lot of work, it was a lot of work for me, it really was. But I pretty much enjoy the studio as much as I do playing live to a big crowd, a festival or whatever, it’s my creative process. I really love getting in the studio and seeing what I can actually pull off.

Did the other band members write any of the riffs or the lyrics?

No, I did all the music and lyrics on it. It’s pretty much always like that. It’s a lot of work. Pretty much over the whole career of Macabre I wrote most of the music and lyrics and stuff, but I never gave myself credit for it. On this one, I did, ’cause I was like, “Okay, I’m not doing this and you guys are getting credit for it,” [laughs]. In the past, I always said, “Music and lyrics by Macabre,” people just assume it’s like everyone doing it. But yeah, it’s pretty much me doing it now. I figured this time I was taking credit. I don’t make any more money than they do, so I could use a little credit [laughs].

I saw you guys play Maryland Deathfest back in like 2012 or something, you guys were all dressed up as like redneck killers or something, you had that guy come out dressed as Zodiac pointing a gun at the crowd…

What time did we play? Was it a day show or a night show?

It was during the day.

Okay, then I probably wasn’t too drunk yet, but I had probably had a few [laughs]. You know, I want to do more stuff like that, with the killers coming out and stuff. It’s like we never had the promotion in the past that we needed from our record company. We were on some labels that got us out there and we did some world tours and everything, but it’s like, I wanna get to the point where we have screens with different videos and stuff going on, and they have all different characters coming out with really good masks and stuff where it looks just like the guy, and just make it real theatrical. I’d like to do that in the future, it’s just that we’ve just never had the backing from a label where they’re gonna do that, but with Nuclear Blast, they gave us money for music videos and stuff like that, we’ve never had that in the past, like. Most of it was out of our pocket.

I’m sure it sucks to now have that kind of backing and not be able to play live or tour.

Yeah, it sucks. It’s like, people wanna hear the new stuff and it’ll be out by then, but we have no choice, just nothing we can do. It’s like, I’m ready to play, I wanna do a U.S. tour, a Europe tour, but I want to headline. If we’re an opener I can’t do that much of this new stuff, people will wanna hear old songs and we’d have a half a half hour or 45 minutes to play or something. I can’t do what I really wanna do. So, we’d need like an hour and a half to be able to do a bunch of songs, a set that is like 75% of the new album, and do some old songs in there. But I’d also like to get the Macabre Minstrels singing for the next tour with this Fish Tales thing, to have all three of us come out there for an opener and perform all this Macabre Minstrel stuff, then have two more bands, then we come up and do a headline show. I think that would be… it would just be like, historic and I wanna do it, I just wanna do that.

Thanks so much for your time, Corporate Death. Do you have any last words before they stick the needle in?

Well, we’d like to thank all the fans over the years that it supported Macabre, we have a lot of old fans out there that have been checking us out for 35 years and coming to our shows. We hope a lot of do people check our stuff out on Nuclear Blast, and we thank everyone that’s supported us, and we’re gonna keep doing this as long as we can. I say, I wanna go back out there to California too, bro. Yeah, you guys got the best smoke out there too. I definitely want to go back.

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