Body Count’s Ice-T: “I’m always going to be hardcore, I’m always going to push the line. It’s what I enjoy doing”

Four years since COVID cut their Carnivore cycle cruelly short, Body Count are making up for lost time with Psychopath: the furious first single from their long-awaited eighth LP Merciless. We grabbed legendary frontman Ice-T for an exclusive interview to talk playing the villain, winning GRAMMYs, and how he wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t hitting harder than ever…

Body Count’s Ice-T: “I’m always going to be hardcore, I’m always going to push the line. It’s what I enjoy doing”
Sam Law

There isn’t anyone else in the world of heavy music quite like Ice-T. On one level, he’s amongst the precious few who’ve set aside a successful career in the generally more lucrative sphere of hip-hop to dig deeper into that of bloodstained metal. On another, he’s a successful actor who likes nothing better than to spend summer holidays alongside his Body Count bandmates ripping it up across the European festival circuit. And, at 66 years of age, he’s got an enthusiasm – a relentlessness – that puts musicians a third his age to shame. In short, he has no need to be here. But his love for the game has never been more infectious than on latest single Psychopath.

Long-awaited eighth album Merciless might still be just over the horizon, but these gore-strewn three-and-a-half-minutes are more than enough to stoke fans’ bloodlust. Sinister, snarling guitars bite and pounding drums bludgeon as Ice relishes the malice of a first-person perspective: ‘I hear voices / In my head / Making choices / Should I shoot / Or dismember / How many victims / Oh God I can’t remember.’ Chainsaws buzz. Blood spills. Skin crawls. Oh, and there’s even a roaring cameo from Fit For An Autopsy vocalist Joe Badolato, boldly name-dropping his own band.

Four years since COVID curtailed their plans for seventh LP Carnivore, Body Count’s appetite hasn’t diminished. And Ice assures us there’ll be no stopping while they’re still hungry for more...

How good is it to be back, ready for a full album cycle, four years since Carnivore was cut short?
“We dropped Carnivore in March 2020 and the pandemic dropped right on top of us. We never got to tour that album, even though we had like 40 different dates set up in Europe. Because I’m on television [as Sergeant Fin Tutuola in NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit] we only have this little two-month block where we can get out on the road. Then the label were like, ‘Give us another record!’ I was like, ‘What?! You want me to just go shit out another record real quick?!’ We’d just won the GRAMMY [2021’s Best Metal Performance for Bum-Rush] so we were on a real high, but it was still pretty difficult to grind another album out. I needed time. When you’ve released an album – having written maybe 20 songs, of which 12 make it – you’re all out of ideas. And you don’t want to rehash those ideas again. But once we got going, we got it done. This first single is one of the harder tracks we came up with: Psychopath!”

Are you feeling psychotic? Or is the song a tribute to any specific serial killer?
“Nah, it’s not about me. I’m just a big horror fan. I watch a lot of scary movies and torture flicks. I like TV shows about real crime, too. And by this point I think that every human being knows about the make-up of a psychopath. We’re all indoctrinated through Dahmer and all that shit. On the rap side, one of the things I said [on 1988’s Power] was, ‘I'm livin’ large as possible, posse unstoppable / Style topical, it's vividly optical / Listen, you'll see ’em sometimes I'll be ’em.’ On Psychopath, I became the psychopath. The same thing I did on Cop Killer. I sang from the perspective of a psychopath. I think I came off pretty convincingly.”

Is it hard for you to get into that headspace, or is playing the villain always more fun?
“I enjoy it! That song was really triggered by the track. When we start to make a Body Count record, I ask the band to make a lot of music. Their agenda is to make tracks that don’t need lyrics; a track that they could play and get a reaction from a live crowd without anyone singing anything. When I heard that track, I thought it sounded like the inside of a psycho’s head. It just told me that’s what that song was about. It would be hard to write a love song over that piece of music.”

A pretty fucked-up love song, maybe. Joe Badolato features on the track, too, even name-dropping his band. How did that come about?
“Will Putney is our producer. He also produces and plays in Fit For An Autopsy – they’re like our brother band. When I’m in the studio, they’re always there. So when we needed the breakdown for Psychopath, Joe jumped in and started screaming. When he threw his own band name in, I was like, ‘That shit is dope!’ Any time I put someone on one of our records, I like them to be someone very close to us, like family. I don’t like reaching out to artists I don’t really know.”

Onboard since 2014’s Manslaughter, how integral is Will Putney to this latter era of Body Count?
“Will is the greatest, he really is the rebirth of Body Count. The band had gone through a lot of hardships, losing three band members, and when me and [legendary lead guitarist] Ernie C went back in, our new guitarist Juan [Of The Dead] had a connection with Will through Sumerian Records. When we met, he just understood Body Count. A great producer can produce a number of different groups without making any of them sound the same. Dr. Dre made Eminem sound like Eminem – he didn’t make him sound like 50 Cent. Will has that ability. I refer to Body Count as ‘grindhouse’. It’s the musical version of a Tarantino movie. It’s so outrageous that, at points, it’s funny, and if you’re not laughing at a song like KKK Bitch, you’re missing the point. Will understands that. And we shift between thrash, more classic rock sounds, [and the more extreme]. Will’s with it. He’s made us sound better than we ever did. As metal producers go, he’s the best!”

You’ve not really made any solo hip-hop material since 2006’s Gangsta Rap. What is it that keeps you coming back to Body Count?
“Body Count is fun! It’s a family band. And hip-hop got soft to me. It got strange. I’m always going to be hardcore, I’m always going to push the line. That’s just what I enjoy doing. I find there’s more freedom in metal – I can go lyrically harder. And my metal fanbase is strong. When we got that GRAMMY – being nominated twice and finally winning – I was like, ‘Yo, this band is alive over 30 years in! Now it’s time to turn it up!’ I still do hip-hop, I still enjoy it, but when you perform rap, you’re onstage by yourself: just you and a DJ. On Body Count, it’s a band. It’s a different energy.”

If the Ice-T of 30 years ago could see you now – a GRAMMY winner, still onstage with Body Count in front of these huge crowds – what would he think?
“You’ve got to remember that, when we started Body Count, we didn’t know if we could pull it off. We didn’t know if the fans would accept it, it was just an experimental group. But we had a trial by fire: going out on our first tour with D.R.I. and Exodus. But with each show we got more confident. We got co-signed by Slayer, we went out on tour with Guns N’ Roses. We got embraced by the rock world so fast once they realised we weren’t posing, once they realised we were really playing our instruments and were dead serious about this shit. But I think I’d still be amazed at where we are today. Like, ‘Body Count are winning GRAMMYs?! What the fuck?!’”

How do you feel about that award with a couple of years’ retrospect?
“When you win a GRAMMY, they’re not judging on record sales or anything. They’re judging on some other shit. I think our music just landed at a time when there weren’t a lot of other big bands talking about issues. We put out Black Hoodie, like ‘Cut the bullshit!’ then you had George Floyd. I don’t think the GRAMMY people are really metalheads – there might be two people on there that really understand metal – but the rest of them still get it. Body Count is very digestible. I’m a big fan of very hardcore metal, bands like Cannibal Corpse. If you play that shit to a normal person they’ll be like, ‘I don’t understand what they’re saying!’ They need a lyric video or something. But you can always hear what I’m saying. When I worked with Tommy [Araya] from Slayer, he explained to me one time, ‘If you can’t hear what I’m saying, how can you hear what I’m saying?’ I always want people to hear what I’m saying. Plus, I can’t really growl anyway. I’ve gotta hire people for that!”

There’s no official announcement yet, but you first mentioned that next album Merciless a few years ago. How close are we to getting the whole thing?
“It’s done! We’re not really supposed to talk about it, but there’ll be a few singles, then the album. The label is just so excited that they want to lead in with a bunch of singles, to emphasise that every song has a point to make. I just shot the video for the title-track a few days ago, and wow!”

Your upcoming European dates have been dubbed the Merciless Tour. Will you be showcasing some new songs on the road?
“Oh yeah! We’ll be playing the new songs out there. We have two setlists. Our festival setlist is only 30 or 40 minutes. But our headline shows are like 90 minutes. I think we’ll be playing three or four songs off the album. What should you expect from those songs? Expect everything. Like I said, Psychopath is one of the hardest ones, but it’s all very hard. You’re gonna be surprised.”

And it’ll finally be a chance to play the Carnivore tracks, too.
“Absolutely. Every day after I wrap filming on Law & Order, I’ve been going down to the gym to get ready. When you do 27 shows in 30 days, you’re either going to end up getting in really great shape or you’re gonna die. You progressively get in shape over the tour: losing weight and getting fitter. So by the time we get to the last show, I’ll either be dead or ready for a pin-up calendar.”

Finally, what else should fans be ready for from Body Count over the rest of 2024?
“I’d just stress that Carnivore was so well received that I wouldn’t do this record unless I believed that it was gonna be better. But this record is way better. So brace for impact!”

Psychopath is out now via Century Media. Body Count will tour the UK from June 30 – get your tickets now

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