Thursday, February 4, 2016

Exhuming the Carcass

We haven't posted a new article/interview on here since 2014 so we took this time to interview Bill Steer and Jeff Walker of Carcass on the eve of their USA tour in support of Slayer and Testament. For this interview we did things a little different and enlisted the help of Greg DiPasquale (Seplophile) so we'd have questions that the generation below us would wonder.

 Front of the 1990 Carcass "Nauseating North America" tour shirt

GT: let's go way back to begin with. jeff, how did you first get involved with Electro Hippies?

Jeff -I was friends with Andy the guitarist from being involved with hunt sabotage (fox hunting with hounds & horses) and I later met Simon Guest the drummer - he lived pretty close to me. I kinda drifted into it - I guess cos Simon knew I’d sang in a band called BOMB CULTURE (which also consisted of Mark Griffiths who would later form CATHEDRAL with Lee Dorrian). Simon asked me to “audition” at a rehearsal. I was TERRIBLE!!

GT: any fond memories from your time in that band?

Jeff - Not really - in rehearsal the band was TIGHT and at the time Simon was a much faster drummer than say Mick Harris of NAPALM DEATH - in fact I remember Mick was a bit jealous of the first 12” EP EH did cos of the speed of one of the songs. Live though - yuck, a SHAMBLES - probably cos of the drinking. At least I got to play The Mermaid (Birmingham) with them in ’87 Funnily enough I recall seeing Ken and Bill at a show we did in the audience - I can make a funny observation about their personalities summed up by their denim jackets and how they were “decorated” ha ha!

GT: Bill, even before your time in napalm death you had started an early incarnation of carcass. how did the original lineup of carcass come to be?

Bill - We were all at school together. At that time Ken was just doing vocals, I played guitar and a friend of ours named Chris Gardner handled bass. We were all fifteen. On drums there was an older lad, Dave Mottershead. That line-up didn't last too long. Just a few practices, then it fizzled out.

Back of the 1990 tour shirt

 GT: for your 1st north american tour carcass was able to come over as support for Death. you were barely out of your teens when you were offered the tour, did it feel unreal to be so young and know you'd soon be flying thousands of miles to tour on another continent?

Jeff - We weren’t REALLY that young - me and Bill were 21, Ken was 20 so couldn’t drink legally ha ha! It was an adventure, a trip of a lifetime (or so I at least thought). You’ve got to understand it was a big deal back then, trans atlantic travel wasn’t as cheap and popular as it is now - I never expected EVER to travel to the USA - sounds crazy to say that now, but you know I was a penniless bum at the time!

Bill - Well, not to nit-pick, but Jeff's slightly off there... I was 20 at that time, didn't turn 21 until December that year (1990)! But yeah, it was a massive buzz for all of us. Like most British kids, we'd grown up exposed to a lot of North American culture from watching TV, films and so on.

GT: any particular show/city stand out in your memory from that 1990 tour?

Jeff - I can remember almost every show, day on that tour - every day was an adventure where something crazy would happen….West Palm Beach stands out to me, but I don’t want to go into it - I’d sound like a sleazy asshole ha ha!

Bill - In all honesty, I don't remember as much from that tour as I should. We've done numerous American runs since then, but that first one was unique in every way. The things that stick in my memory tend to be some of the characters we encountered on our travels, and some of the nutty situations we found ourselves in. That's the stuff you will never, ever forget... As far as the gigs themselves, the one that stood out for me was the Country Club in Reseda. By our standards, that was a large audience and there was a real energy in the air. Before we played, Jeff rushed out front to sort out the projector. When the Carcass logo appeared on the screen at that back of the stage, a big roar went up from the crowd. That was nuts.

GT: as early death metal tv stars... what do you remember about your experience as "smeg and the heads" on Red Dwarf?

Jeff - Well I remember the pay cheque ha ha! Was a lot of money to a “kid” at the time - we got picked up from home in limos and dropped off at the end of it - easy money! We still get royalties from the BBC to this day for it! It was a trip - I always had flights of fancy about being on TV so….

Bill- I don't recall being as keen as Jeff - I'd already made a fool of myself on TV with Napalm. But he twisted my arm without too much trouble. It ended up being a decent laugh. No real complaints there!

GT: did they tell you specifics in what to do musically or do you guys completely improv that?

Jeff - We just improvised - it was done over a few takes - if you listen closely I’m actually playing the riff from “Reek Of Putrefaction” all fucked up!

Red Dwarf episode with Bill and Jeff 

GT: is your writing process any different now than from what it was in the earlier years of the band?

Jeff - Not really, what I would say is there’s been a “power shift” over the years - what I mean by that each album has had a different “core” of people writing the riffs- “Reek” was probably Bill, Ken and Me almost equally, “Symphonies” a hell of a lot of Ken, “Neuroticism” still a lot of Ken, But Bill and a bit of Amott, “Heartwork” Bill & Mike, “Swansong” Bill, me & Carlo Regadas and finally “Surgical Steel” Bill, and one song by me. You can see how/why each album is “different”.

Bill - Ha, not sure I'd completely agree with that analysis... But one thing nobody would deny is that Ken contributed a lot of killer riffs to the first three albums. As for the actual process itself, I'd say it's scarcely changed at all, in the sense that we still get together in a rehearsal room and work on a bunch of riffs.

 Carcass at the Skyroom in Buffalo, NY 1990

GT: bands have been known to reform (or let's say become active again) and just live off the past, ie. tour but not release any new material. will there be a new carcass album?

Jeff - I think it WILL happen given time - we’re in no rush. If we wanted to capitalise on our momentum off the back of the “success” of SS & we were “clever” we’d rush it out - but that’s not our style - it WILL come given time.

GT: with 6 albums of material under your belt does it bother you at all that some of the older fans are vocal about wanting to hear more tracks off of the first 2 albums performed live?

Jeff - No, not at all, we DO play songs from those albums, but you know the reality is those albums are not as popular as the later ones so…we have to satisfy as many people as possible in a limited time, and some songs work better live than others so it’s a trade off. That said let’s be honest, there’s bands that basically sound like cover/tribute acts that we influenced that play that style 100% better than we can ha ha!

Bill - If those people are vocal, somehow I haven't heard much of it. And in all honesty it's possible you've inadvertently put two separate groups of people together - the few who are genuinely fans of our early work, and those who just want to score a few underground points on social media.

GT: with each album carcass's sound has changed slightly. should we expect another slight change in sound as carcass continues on?

Jeff - i think, and hope so. To me SS is our “thrash” album and having Andy Sneap mix it worked - but I’d like to get a different over all “sound” not he next one…I think our next album will be our “NWOBHM” album ha ha!

Bill - Personally I wouldn't want to make any predictions at this stage. But if we were to make another record, it would certainly need to be a little different stylistically. No question about that.

GT: in 2014 carcass toured the usa as a headliner, but now in 2016 you're coming back as a support act for slayer and testament. did you anything differently to prepare for this tour?

Jeff - We haven’t done anything (yet) besides get all the backline arranged…we’ll rehearse for a day in Chicago when we get in the country. We only get to play 30 minutes so….we had a similar time slot when we played Download Festival (Castle Donnington) so we’ll do a set like that - non stop with no gaps for me to talk drunken bullshit- it will be a relief for the audience!
GT: any plans for after this tour?

Jeff - Yeah - we have some euro festivals booked and we are actually come back to the States - we have a festival (yet to be announced) in Chicago & Heavy MTL (Montreal) so we’ll book more dates inbetween those two dates (possibly a festival in Mexico City in the middle). As well as that Bill plays with GENTLEMANS PISTOLS & I’ll possibly have shows with BRUJERIA - that album is meant to finally drop in September on Mexican independence day (if it’s ever mixed!!)

Bill - And if we really are going to tackle a new album, we'll need to set aside some time in the rehearsal room.

Carcass at the Skyroom in Buffalo, NY 1990

Greg: Bill, what inspired you to tune down to B? Given the time period that was very unusual, and ultimately ahead of its time.

Bill- Obviously plenty of people had tuned down over the years, Tony Iommi being perhaps the most obvious example. The B tuning just felt right to us, and at the time it seemed no-one else had gone that low... Although naturally we're open to correction on that one.

Greg: Jeff, what happened with Columbia Records?

Jeff - One word - NIRVANA.

Greg: Do you think that whole experience led to the initial demise of the group?

Jeff - Not really, but where do you go when you get “dropped” by a Major Label? It just seemed like we’d “tried” and that was that.

Bill - To me, it felt as if the band had been on its last legs for quite some time. The label issue was just one of several problems we were going through back then.

Greg: Any perks to the partnership?

Jeff - yeah, all the free CDs you could pack into a suitcase! We got a great advance, and even more money when we walked with the tapes of Swanson which we THEN sold to Earache.

Greg: Bill, given your love of NWOBHM how much fun was your stint in Angel Witch? Did that influence any of your writing on Surgical Steel?

Bill - It didn't really influence the writing of "Surgical" in any direct way. For a start, a lot of the material I brought to the table had been written prior to joining Angel Witch. But yeah, I felt privileged to play with that band. I'd grown up with the debut album, so it was amazing to stand onstage next to Kevin Heybourne and play that material. 

 Jeff at A Day of Death (1990) in Buffalo, NY. Photograph by Sharon Bascovsky

Greg: Jeff, memories of the 1990 day of death festival in Buffalo?
Jeff - I recall meeting Scott and Matt (REPULSION) for the first time & finally getting to meet Chris Reifert (we’d been writing to each other). I tell you if that line up was put together today….that would be THE dream line up for Neurotic Deathfest in Holland, and that’s 1500 cap venue over 2 days!

Greg: Bill, at what point did you start to feel disconnected from the death metal scene, and ultimately Carcass as well?

Bill - I think we all began to feel a lack of interest in the Death Metal scene quite early on. It wasn't just me - we were all branching out, exploring new music or even just returning to some of the stuff that we liked as kids. We had a lot of  respect for the founders of the genre - Death, Repulsion, Master - but it was hard to get enthusiastic about some of the newer acts. I know plenty of people felt (and still do feel) differently, but I'm just being honest with regard to how we were at that time... As far as the second part of the question, in the original phase of the band everything peaked for me around the time of "Heartwork". When we re-grouped to work on what later became known as "Swansong", you could tell that something was wrong. Some of the ideas I was bringing in weren't appropriate for the band, and Ken didn't seem happy playing in the straighter style that was more or less forced on him for that recording. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy some of the tracks on the album, but there was a bad atmosphere in the band for much of that period.

Greg: Bill, the feeling you got the first time you plugged in, with full distortion on a guitar tuned to B after years of playing bluesy hard rock in Firebird?

Bill - It felt very familiar, needless to say... After so many years playing in that style, it wasn't likely to feel entirely alien going back to it.

Greg: Bill, any plans to resurrect Firebird in the future or is your spare time now being occupied by Gentlemans Pistols?

Bill- Strangely it seems there's a lot more interest in Firebird now than there was at the time. Sometimes I feel like it'd be nice to do something of that nature again, and I still have plenty of ideas in that vein. So who knows... Currently though I'm quite happy being a member of "just" two groups. Gentlemans Pistols are a great band to be involved in.

Greg: Bill, since your return to extreme metal have any newer bands or bands formed since your absence from the scene caught your ear?

Bill - Along the way I have heard and seen bands that made an impression, for one reason or another. But there's nothing contemporary that I'd feel like playing at home. If I wanted to listen to intense Metal, I'd put on some of the earlier extreme stuff, whether it be Venom, Wargasm, Zoetrope...

Greg: Jeff, what brought about the Carcass Cuntry album?

Jeff - Me on a Gram Parson’s trip! Just a product it’s time - a dumb idea of fusing “doom metal” and “country” that went off on a tangent - was an excuse to indulge myself and have some fun!

Greg: opinions on the Carcass clone bands like The County Medical Examiners?

Jeff - I think it’s cool and flattering - they serve a purpose - we don’t play in that style anymore so when people “complain” to us we can advise they go listen to bands of that ilk!

Bill - Definitely flattering. No two ways about it.

 Carcass at the Skyroom in Buffalo, NY 1990

Greg: Did this glut of bands help make you realize how much the band was loved and missed?

Jeff - No, not really, immediately after the release of “Reek” there were bands like that, Xysma etc spring to mind

Greg: bands like Carcass and At The Gates seemingly skyrocketed in popularity while both bands were dormant, was that bittersweet or confusing at all?
Jeff - I think of it as the fact that our demise created a “vacuum” where you had substandard stuff filling the void - not just us and ATG disappearing but also Vincent leaving MORBID ANGEL, Nicke leaving ENTOMBED - something was DEFINITELY “missing” in that period….some dreadful bands got big on German labels off the back of this….maybe it made people appreciate what was missing?

Bill - I wasn't aware of this development until Jeff, Michael and a couple of other people alerted me to it. If what you are (and they were) saying is true, that is very interesting. Either we did leave a void in our wake, or the remaining bands just weren't delivering strong enough music. Or both.

Greg: Bill, favorite song you wrote in Napalm Death?

Bill - Ha, I must confess that I can scarcely recall which tunes I brought in for that band. It wasn't many, that much I do know.

Greg: 1992-1994 were very important years for the band and it appeared carcass was gaining momentum at a very high rate. Because of this, do you think expectations for "Heartwork" were a little too high or unrealistic for a band that still had screamed vocals and blast beats?

Jeff - I don’t think there WERE any expectations? From Colombia you mean? I don’t think they really expected anything from it - it sold 70k in the year they had it which sounds like FANTASTIC sales in todays age…back then bands were selling millions!

Greg: Repulsion or Master? Why?

Jeff - REPULSION for me. To me it’s “Garage Death Metal” - I mean that as a compliment - when I first heard them it reminded me a bit of good US hardcore as much as “metal” - lots of hooks and even though they were cruising on blast beats it has groove and doesn’t sound like noise.

Bill - Both are essential listening for the genre. I wouldn't wish to choose between them as they're such different beasts. What they did have in common was that both were utterly brutal, yet somehow had a kind of groove and flow that hasn't been heard since.

Greg: Bill, will you continue performing back up vocals going forward on record or was it just a special return for surgical steel only?

Bill - If we make another record, the chances are I'll do some more backing vocals. Jeff established himself as lead vocalist a long time ago. But on "Surgical" he gave me a hard time about how important it was to have another voice on some of those tracks. He was right.

Greg: Jeff, lots of the vocabulary on the first 4 albums is incredibly obscure and impressive, anything push you in that direction or was it just creative instinct?

Jeff - I was influenced by Ken’s writing - I just ran with it...

Greg: Bill, right around the time the band first broke up your name started appearing more in mainstream guitar magazines as a player to keep an eye on. Despite the impending demise of the band, did you enjoy that press or are those kind of accolades unimportant to you?

Bill - Really? I don't remember much of that. Which ones are you thinking of? Playing this style of music, one wouldn't really expect to be taken very seriously by those publications. We certainly weren't back then, and it doesn't seem as if much has changed. It's nice to get recognition now and then, of course. In our case that would tend to come from people we meet at gigs and festivals.

Greg: Bill, napalm death, carcass, firebird, Gentlemans pistols. What do these bands each represent to you in your evolution as a musician?

Bill - Napalm was a band I'd been a fan of for a while. When Mick Harris asked me to join, I was delighted. The following two years were fairly insane. We crammed a lot of experiences into that time and I was lucky to be involved. Musically it was just a lot of fun to play to those extremes, and the reactions we got from audiences were...well, hard to describe if I'm honest... Carcass meant (and still does mean) a lot more to me personally, as I started the group with friends on home turf. It also felt as if we had some scope to develop musically. And I guess you could say history has borne that out... Firebird? Tricky to summarise that one. You could say I learned a lot. As a guitarist, it was a deliberate case of back to basics. Plug in and go. Plus the 3-piece vibe is still my favourite in many ways. But it was the wrong band done in the wrong way at the wrong time. I'd wanted to explore that side of my music for ages - and in many senses it was a very liberating thing to do - but ultimately it was like swimming against the tide... Gentlemans Pistols was a band that I'd long been an admirer of. I loved the songs and the people, and that hasn't changed since joining.

Greg: Jeff, which one of your post carcass projects did you enjoy the most?

Jeff - The “solo” album I guess - was good times just hanging out in Helsinki a lot staying with Miika (That’s Gas from HIM to you).

Greg: Jeff, was Blackstar still together when Ken Owen had his health problems?

Jeff - I think so…

Greg: Is that what ended the project?

Jeff - No but it was a DAMN good reason. It had ran it’s course anyhow.

Greg: Bill, was their any particular moment or event that broke down that wall and made you say: "yes, Carcass can live again as a band that makes new music."?

Bill - That was more of a gradual realisation, rather than a sudden decision. Jeff and Michael had chipped away at me for quite a while, suggesting that the band reform for a few shows. Initially I was sceptical, but before long I started to warm to the idea. Once we were up and running, it felt entirely natural that we should go on to work on new material. Of course, the Arch Enemy guys felt differently, but once that line-up disintegrated Jeff and myself were free to work on a new album.  




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