Carcass interview

"Metal on the surface is kind of a rebel position, but once you are in that, you are actually very conservative"

26/07/2013 @ 13:12
Carcass is one of the greatest and the most legendary bands of the extreme metal scene. For a second time we had the chance to see them on stage in Greece for Rockwave Festival a few days ago. After their set, burnt by the Greek summer sun, we met Jeff Walker and Bill Steer back stage and we had a very interesting conversation with them. The noise from the band playing at that time on the main stage made it difficult to unveil few details of the interview. Chris Karadimitris was there to help me with some really tricky questions and his usual jokes.

Ch.K.: I can see the sun in your face.
J.W.: We were cooking.

Ch.K.: Well, at least you can still claim that it was a “hot” show.
A.K.: Did you enjoy the concert under the sun?
J.W.: I hated it, but not for the wrong reasons. It was difficult for us to play under that heat, but we tried to do our best.
B.S.: It may not be difficult for you, all this sun, but for us it was. We come from a very cold country. That was too much. But, the audience was brilliant. I really liked the atmosphere. It was the same as the last time really, a very nice vibe. Even if you play in the daylight and it’s early, people give you some king of energy.

A.K.: Last year Paradise Lost did not manage to finish their set.
B.S.: Because of the heat?

A.K.: Exactly. Nick Holmes left the stage earlier.
J.W.: I have heard that a black metal band, maybe Marduk, had the corpse paint and it started running in their face.

CarcassA.K.: It was Immortal, more than 10 years back. [editor: laughing about heat and corpse painting] So, you are about to release a new record. Is it finished?
B.S.: Yes. We actually finished it last year. It took a while to get the mix sorted out, but fortunately for us Andy Sneap came in…

A.K.: So far, we have listened just to one song. Can you provide us more information about the album, the lyrics, the music etc or some general information?
J.W.: It is 40 minutes long, it’s called “Surgical Steel”, it is a Nuclear Blast record, it has 11 tracks on the standard album, 10 tracks and an intro. One song is 2 minutes long, one song nearly 8 minutes long and the other ones are in between. The song that leaked is not representative of the album.

A.K.: Compared to your albums, which are the differences? Is it something different or is something that follows “Heartwork” or “Swan Song” for instance?
J.W.: I think it is a bit of all five. Someone, who heard it, says it is close to “Heartwork”. I think it is a mix of “Necrotitism...” and “Heartwork” and a bit from “Swan Song”. It is hard to explain. Although it is a bit of all five albums, it still sounds different.

A.K.: You have not released an album since 1996. After almost 20 years, what are your expectations?
J.W.: It is either going to be fantastic or it is going to be a little drip. It is going to be a blow or it is going to be extremely disappointing.
B.S.: There are so many bands. I saw last week the sales in America and it was nothing. We take nothing for granted. For example, we saw less people here today than the last time we played…

A.K.: Maybe it was too early.
Ch.K.: No, I’m not sure it had to do with that. I think that most people came here today for Carcass, as they had the chance to see all the other bands quite recently. So, would they should come in 40 degrees under the sun and see them again?
J.W.: The line- up is quite mixed and it is a bit weird. I think even in the main stage the line -up is not very strong. Anyway… I think last week Slayer played in another festival. How many thousands were there?

A.K.: It was about 5-6 thousands. It was a festival with Slayer, Down, Napalm Death and others by the sea.
J.W.: I guess it was a much more beautiful location.

CarcassA.K.: At least the line-up was much more concrete.
Ch.K.: You ended up in Nuclear Blast. I guess you had too many choices in your hands to release an album, because Carcass is a strong name in the metal market.
J.W.: There are few labels left, Metal Blade, Century Media, Nuclear Blast. The thing is that it’s kind of the same in America, as there have the same distribution companies. There is an English expression, options choice, which means that there is no real choice today. Nuclear Blast is the biggest one. We expect that the Germans will be efficient… (laughs)
B.S.: You can feel that they wanted to release the record a little bit more than any other label. Some other labels acted kind of made an offer only because they had to. But, they only got serious when they found out what Nuclear Blast had offered. They tried to match the offer of Nuclear Blast that was already on the table. And the other difference is also that we met Markus Staiger from Nuclear Blast face to face and he’s still a music fan. I mean, he wanted the band because he’s a fan, he got the first album and not just because Carcass has a name. It’s a personal connection…

Ch.K.: Well, they surely wanted to have the brand name of Carcass.
J.W.: With Markus Steiger it’s almost like a game. He signs bands because he personally likes them. Even if it is not commercially viable, he will sign them if he wants to…

A.K.: Why did it take you so many years to release an album? You reactivated the band in 2007.
J.W.: It was not something that we considered in 2007.
B.S.: To be honest, we were not able to, because Mike was busy with Arch Enemy and he stated very clearly that he did not wish to make an album with Carcass. So, as long as the lineup was together we were just playing shows. Later as we hold it, Jeff and I talked about it to make a record. For me, I thought very mixed about doing reunion shows. So, I and Jeff realized that it is a good idea to do a new record.

A.K.: You mentioned Mike. Why isn’t he in the band anymore?
J.W.: Ask him when you meet him. Ultimately, his priority is not Carcass. No matter the other bands we play in, Carcass is our priority. For Michael, it is Arch Enemy first, Spiritual Beggars second and then it is Carcass. That’s not something we’re interested in. But, when he found out that we were writing an album and he wanted to be involved…
B.S.: It was just really about timing… He said he wanted out on the last show we played together. He said he had enough. And then when we were doing the album he said he wanted to be back in. It’s hard to go back and forth like that. As Jeff said, it’s a commitment issue. We started this band, he came later on and he left quite early too. So, it is not the same thing with him. It is always going to be something that matters more.

CarcassCh.K.: Let me make a tricky question. As death metal is a vague term right now, there is the death metal of Carcass and the death metal of Arch Enemy. Would you say you like the death metal of Arch Enemy?
B.S.: I don’t think they call themselves death metal. I’m not sure how they call themselves, but I doubt it’s death metal…
J.W.: When their first album came out, I was kind of impressed. But, with what they are doing… the audience they are trying to appeal to… it is not the audience we are trying to appeal to. I’ve said this in an interview before and Angela got very pissed off. I said that they play for kids, while we don’t. That’s the difference. We are in our 40s. We are writing music that we want to enjoy it now in our 40s.
B.S.: Today it is very hard especially with us. We do have young people in the audience. Every time we are in a festival we meet very young people, but the point is that we are not trying to appeal to them. I have no idea what’s in a kid’s head in 2013. I can only write music that I relate to and the same is for Jeff. It’s a complete mind-fuck to try to guess what people want to hear. I am not going with that mentality. I think Arch Enemy, to some degree had worked very hard with that, to deliver what people want to, and not everybody can do it.

Ch.K.: So, they play tailor made metal…
B.S.: It is just a different frame of mind. Jeff and I are not interested in reaching everybody and being popular. If this happens, that’s killer, but we’re not really of that mind set. Whereas I think Arch Enemy is much more successful than Carcass.
J.W.: It is also a dangerous game trying to make appeal to a teenage audience. I have friends in bands who want to appeal to young female audience, after some years these girls grow up and mature and they don’t have any interest in the same bands anymore.

A.K.: You mentioned before that you are in your 40s. Do you feel more confident right now or 20 years ago?
J.W.: Sometimes arrogance goes with you. If you get older you are usually more chilled out. You can do whatever you like. When you get older you realize that you listen to people before you do something.
B.S.: I think the main difference is that when you are younger you tend to be more delude. You have some crazy ideas, like your band is the best band. Then you realize that you’re quite fortunately that some people like what you do. It’s not THE band, it’s A band.

A.K.: If you could go back, would you change something?
J.W.: No.
B.S.: If we’d go into that mentality, it would take forever…
J.W.: If we changed something we might not be having this conversation (editor: he is laughing).

A.K.: Let me ask it differently. What are the best and the worst moments of your career?
J.W.: We did 3 gigs in Mexico with Iron Maiden. It was cool. They were the first band we ever saw playing live. The fact that we were opening for Iron Maiden. And the fact that we had our own audience. It went really well in Mexico. And we were paid. Most bands would pay to play with Iron Maiden. We were treated well. We were teenage kids. I never thought me and Bill would share the same stage with a band like that.
B.S.: That is the obvious for me too. Just to complete the circle. I saw Iron Maiden when, I think, I was 12 years old and some years later I played on the stage with them and we’re the main support and we’re getting a great reaction from their audience
J.W.: And we know what the Iron Maiden audience is like…
B.S.: There were also Atreyu playing and they got a lot of stuff thrown at them at the stage. They originally tried to pull their way as the main support and after one show they asked us to swap, because they were having a lot of abuse… You know stones, sunglasses… They went for it… They changed their minds and didn’t want to be the main support after that (laughs).

CarcassA.K.: What can we expect from Carcass in the future?
J.W.: We did an album. We are trying to keep it fun and do things we haven’t done, interesting gigs and shows. When the album comes out we’re going to tour, but we don’t want to spend the years on the road playing shows we don’t want to play just for the sake of pushing the album. Some bands are deluded if think that anyone ever is going to reach the level of Metallica. It’s just not happening. They are probably the last of their generation that big that they play in stadiums. For me, it is important to do an album, to learn from your mistakes and you carry on.
B.S.: We just got back into this. During the process of making this record we learnt a lot of stuff. If you want to carry on you carry that knowledge to the next record. It is very logical that we want to make another record, providing that it is an interesting one.
J.W.: To be honest it would be more sensible to play in Rockwave Festival next year when the album will be out, but our agent insisted on doing it now. We didn’t agree, but we thought “Oh well, it’s another festival, another show”.

Ch.K.: That’s how things right now. You have to do what you have to do. In terms of music industry, Carcass might have been away for too long, but yet you have not been forgotten. Your status is up there. What is the element of the band you think that people appreciate most and still think that Carcass is of that status?
J.W.: It is our music. We were just inventive. We were a clever metal band. We avoided all the clichés to play the usual bullshit. It’s not intellectual, but we tried to be more smart with what we were doing…
B.S.: It is a really tricky thing with metal. On the surface, it is kind of a rebel position, like we are not like anybody else. Once you are in that, you are actually very conservative. Everyone’s got to wear black, everyone’s got to look mean, the riffs have to be a certain way. So, it is very unusual for the band to try to do things that are out of frame. I am not saying we have not done that because basically we sounded like a metal band all the way, but…
J.W.: But, we introduced things into metal that people take it for granted now. We never invented the wheel, but we certainly added a few more spokes to the wheel. We kind of revolutionized metal to some extend but we’re not the ones to get the credit.

Ch.K.: From today’s bands or over the last few years, did you hear any of them that made you say that “they take the heritage of Carcass and they deserve to say that they take it a step forward”?
J.W.: Probably, none. That’s why we’re doing this album, in all honesty. If there was no space in the scene for what we’re doing then we wouldn’t do an album. We’ve done that album because we have something to offer. Ok, something has happened during the last 17 years. We’re just clueless (laughs). If you’re interested in reading reviews, someone while say that “this riff sounds like that” and that it reminds of something else…
B.S.: I’m fully expecting that. Back to the original question, I just think that music is a chronological series of events. Very rarely you can say that this person invented this thing. There was nothing before them and they were moving alone. That is a given really. But also it is very nice along the way when you take off your hat to people that inspired you. Hopefully, we have done that and a couple of people have sited us as an influence. We are just part of a chain of events

CarcassCh.K.: Let me set it in a different way. There are too many bands that name Carcass as an influence. Did you hear a band that you really liked what they do?
J.W.: Probalby, not (laughs).I could just say “Yeah, yeah”. But I can answer that question by asking “Have we bought an album of any of these bands?”. The answer is no. That answers the question. Or even you can say “Did this band keep your attention for the 60 minutes of the set or just for a couple of songs?”. Daniel got down well with the band, because he was playing with Aborted and we were impressed with his drumming. It stuck with our heads, that’s why he’s in the band. So, you do see things when you’re playing live with other bands (laughs)…

Ch.K.: Have you ever considered doing something apart from extreme metal like Bill does with Firebird?
J.W.: Well, yeah, but I don’t have the musical abilities to do so (laughs). When you are famous in one thing it is fucking impossible to try to do something else. The fans and the people that follow will never forget it. Very few have gone solo and got away with that. Ozzy Osbourne got away with that. People are never forgiving. They are like “bring them back in” to whatever they were doing…
B.S.: Whatever your primary success was, you are stuck with that. That is the price you pay for that.

Ch.K.: That is part of the conservative side of metal you mentioned before. But, I think that Bill is taking the credit for doing both things, as he does both things with quality.
J.W.: He resisted the whole thing for 15 years. Mike wanted to do it and I thought that he was the last one that could it. Suddenly, he can still do it… (laughs)
B.S.: In the past I was really-really bitter. I think from everybody that was involved with Carcass I was the most affected by it. It really just messed me up for years and I just wanted to get away…
J.W.: Ask him why… (laughing).
B.S.: It just felt like a failure to me. Everything about it. The circumstances around our last album and all the things about it were really hard.
J.W.: You took it too seriously…
B.S.: Yeah I did. That was exactly the thing, that I was taking it too seriously. And I just wanted to do something completely different. But you have all these people judging you and they start to criticize the staff you did in the past. It is just a new set of problems. You have to develop a fixed skill to play music

Ch.K.: Jeff, I have to tell you that I also like the Black Star album.
J.W.: Thank you.

Ch.K.: Why people don’t know about that?
J.W.: It is a long time since then, 1997. A long time ago. It is easy to forget it after so many years.

Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you too.

Antonis Kondylis