Jeff Walker isn’t done gnawing on his good old Carcass

For a band to get back together and produce a new album seventeen years after its split is hardly ever dreamed of! Regardless, this is what Carcass managed to accomplish in a beautiful way. Indeed, whereas time passing by usually intensifies the doubts concerning the capacity of a band to honour its work, the English came back with a genuine Carcass album, almost unanimously greeted by the critics and the fans along. So what’s the secret behind this achievement? Not thinking too much, doing what they felt like doing and being aware of their past and their own story. The bassist and singer Jeff Walker, interviewed below, even admits how much it was important that drummer Ken Owen be a part of this, despite unfortunately not able to hit the drums anymore.

With kindness and sincerity, Walker tells us the secrets of this honest and authentic new album. It should be noted that the following interview will also tackle topics regarding Whitesnake, Trivium, Michael Amott (Arch Enemy) and grindcore music.

« I don’t think this is a nostalgic album but we are very conscious of the past, we have to be. That gives the album its strength, I think. »

Radio Metal: Carcass has made many reunion shows since 2007. What are your thoughts now about all these shows? Did they live up to your expectations?

Jeff Walker (vocals, bass): Now that we’re playing with Daniel Wilding and Ben Ash, I think that the band is playing better. At the time of reunion shows, I thought we were good but, for example, we just played Colombia this week end and the shows were fantastic. So we actually stepped up again.

Is this the reason why you chose to make an album, because the band is better? Because, at one point Bill Steer said about the possibility of doing a new album that he “would be very surprised if that would happen”

Well, maybe he’s very surprised, because we just made an album! (Laughs) He’s not the only guy who said it wouldn’t happen. I mean, I would’ve been in agreement with him. But things change. You said something ten years ago and then said something else yesterday, people change, you know. We just felt the need, I guess, to get this out of our system. We had the riffs and the ideas, so, why not?

Was there a conscious effort while making Surgical Steel to have it in the vein of Necroticism and Heartwork because this is what the fans expected or is this what came out naturally?

It’s just what came out naturally. We didn’t deliberate or think about it too much. In all honesty, we recorded fifty tracks and it’s all very varied, we didn’t deliberately pick on any period or style of Carcass. You know, we actually tried to do something new, but by design as soon as we do it, it sounds like Carcass. We didn’t sit back and listen to the old albums; it’s just naturally in our vein to play the music that we do. So, if there are any similarities with Heartwork or Necroticism or Swansong or even Symphonies or Reek, it’s purely coincidental. In a way, this album is a solidification of our past. It’s not a deliberate attempt to recapture something we’ve done. It’s just accidental if it’s turned out that way. In a way we consolidated our back catalogue and kind of compressed it in one album, I guess.

Actually Carcass has been through several styles throughout the years, so, do you think that this album represents the classic Carcass style?

(Thinking) I don’t know what the classic Carcass style is! Obviously, people would agree to disagree about what the classic Carcass style is. You have people who are going to hate this album because it doesn’t sound like Symphonies. And for some people our classic Carcass style is our third album, Necroticism. So it’s open to arguments, isn’t it? All I can say is that this is yet another chapter in the Carcass story, because it doesn’t necessarily sound like any one of our previous albums.

The first song on the album is called “1985” which is the year Carcass was formed. Is this because today feels like a rebirth for the band?

Well, I think you’re looking in too deep into that track! (Laughs) That is just a spontaneous thing that we did into the studio. We never planned to do that. It was just an idea I had when I found the riff. We called it “1985” because, yes, that music is from 1985. But also it’s a kind of joke in a way, because Bill (Steer) was a big fan of Whitesnake’s 1987 album. So we thought: “Let’s have a track called 1985, like Whitesnake!” (Laughs)

Are you too fan of this Whitesnake album?

Yeah, I mean, we all were in the band. I actually prefer the oldest stuff, the Moody/Marsden more bluesy kind of stuff rather than the cock rock stuff. But yeah, Whitesnake’s a great band!

Did you hear the albums Whitesnake did recently?

No, it really doesn’t interest me. What was interesting about the album we just discussed it’s that it was when John Sykes was in the band, but still, I prefer the older bluesy stuff, the kind of more boogie rock when John Lord and Ian Paice were in the band.

« I don’t want to take any credit away from Mike [Amott], but I think people attribute more credit to him than what he is actually due. »

Does the fact that Surgical Steel was conceived and recorded as a three piece band made you feel like being back in the early years? Was there any nostalgia involved in this album?

Well, in all honesty, the basic albums were always recorded as a three piece anyway, regardless of whoever was in the band. It was always Ken and Bill doing all the rhythms and then me doing the bass and the vocals, whichever guitarist was in the band, Michael Amott or Carlo (Regadas), who came in to do the lead parts. Was there any nostalgia? Yes, definitely. I don’t think this is a nostalgic album but we are very conscious of the past, we have to be. That gives the album its strength, I think. Even if there’s a seventeen years gap, there’s definitely a lineage in what we’re doing and what we’ve done. You talked about the track “1985” and the other elements in the album that are, like you said, classic Carcass. There are old riffs, there are old lyrical ideas, even the cover is based on an old design. Again, I’m going to use that word: we’re consolidating our position by playing on our strengths. We’re not embarrassed by our past and we’re not claiming to be reinventing the wheel. We’ve just made a strong Carcass album. We’ve always been very conscious of our past and our influences; you have to be as a band. There’s absolutely nothing original about Carcass. As influential as we are, we have our influences.

Carcass have always had these typical weird song titles, mixing gory and medical terms, which have become the band’s trademark. How the hell do you actually come up those?

It’s quite simple: you just avoid the obvious; you avoid reiterating what someone has said or done and you avoid the clichés. If you do that you’re going to end up sounding clever. It’s not as clever as it appears but we do deliberately avoid obviously plagiarizing other people. We don’t want to copy what other people have done.

Is there any humorous side to this?

Yeah, definitely. Especially in the new album compared to Heartwork or Swansong, those albums were lacking in humor. In the really old Carcass there’s a lot of black, gallows humor, typically English. I’ve definitely tried to bring that back into the band. It’s a lot more light-hearted than people would have imagined. The music’s very heavy and it might sound depressive but there’s a very light-hearted side to it.

Original drummer Ken Owen made some guest vocals on the album. Was it important to have him be part of this?

Yeah, of course, I think it’s all about credibility, it’s about keeping the history of the band intact and it’s important to make Ken feel like being part of the whole thing. Carcass was as much his band as it was mine or Bill’s so we can’t just write the guy out of the history. Just because he can’t play the drums on this album doesn’t mean we have to ignore him. He casts a long shadow over this album. Even though he doesn’t play the drums on this, you can hear him still in the drums, the lyrics and the ideas because he’s part of the whole Carcass concept. A lot of the ideas that people take for granted with Carcass came from him.

And did you push Daniel Wilding to play a little bit like him?

No. The only thing I would say that I did personally was getting him to stop playing the blast beats with the double kick drum. All the other bands he has ever played with have done that kind of cheap beat. And it’s very important for a band like Carcass to have the fast stuff done on a single kick drum, because that’s how we’ve always played. It brings a different feeling to the band and the music. In all honesty I never really applied much pressure. I might have made a comment once and I think that Dan just pushed himself into that direction. If there’s any kind of Carcass influence on his playing, I think that’s of his own volition. It’s not like me or Bill asked him to go that way, he’s done it off his own back.

Do you think there’s hope for Ken to fully recover his drumming abilities and be drumming for the band again one day?

He can’t. He was in a coma fifteen years ago and had two brain operations. Why do people think he could have somehow a miraculous recovery? His condition is the result of a brain embolism. He has convalesced and got back to the healthiest state he possibly can. He can never fully be rehabilitated. I’m sorry if I sound a bit pissed off but it’s kind of a dumb question. It hits a nerve, you know. Because, if people paid attention to what happened to him, they would not ask these questions. His short-term memory is affected as a result of what happened. I mean, the guy nearly died. And his physical strength is not the same as it would be for a guy of his age. He’s very lucky to be alive after what happened but he could never be fully rehabilitated because of the damage that happened after being in a coma. Sorry, I don’t mean to sound like an asshole but it’s a very sensitive subject!

No, that’s OK! I was asking just because the fans are wondering about it and there are people that sometimes go through really bad accident and traumas who…

Yeah, the thing is, my friend, if he was going to recover then it would have happened almost immediately. It’s not going to happen after seventeen years, you know.

« Well, what is grindcore? There are blast beats on the new album! Isn’t that what grindcore is? »

On another subject: Michael Amott and Daniel Erlandsson who were part of the reunion tours aren’t on the album. Was there no chance for them to do both Arch Enemy and Carcass or were they just not interested to go further with the band?

Obviously, as to whether there was a possibility, that’s a question you would have to ask them. I guess their actions speak clearly: obviously they weren’t interested. I mean, in all honesty, Mike did contact me when he found out that me and Bill were writing an album, but it was too late. The guy decided to walk away from the whole thing, to dedicate his time to Arch Enemy, which is fully understandable. He needs to do his thing and we need to do ours, that’s perfectly understandable.

Anyway, are you disappointed about Michael Amott not involved in this album?

Am I disappointed? No. Why would I be?

Because he was part of the two albums that are now considered as the most classic Carcass releases, Necroticism and Heartwork…

Well, that depends on your point of you, doesn’t it? Because some people think that the best album was Symphonies! (Laughs) I understand where you’re coming from but, I don’t want to take any credit away from Mike, but I think people attribute more credit to him than what he is actually due. So, am I disappointed that he was not involved in the new album? Not at all! If I was extremely cynical then I’d think it would have been great to have him on the record because he has a large fan base. But in all honesty, I don’t think the album misses the guy. The writing process with Carcass has always changed on every album so, am I disappointed? No. I mean, at the end of the day, people can go and listen to Arch Enemy if they want to listen to Mike, can’t they?

Apparently producer Colin Richardson walked out on the mixing sessions. There’s a live video on the internet where we can hear you sounding kind of bitter about that and saying that Richardson actually didn’t quit because he was burnt out – which was the official reason – but to mix the new Trivium album. Were you actually mad at Richardson for that?

If it comes across bitter, then people obviously don’t know, because there’s no real bitterness in that statement. It was said with a bit of light-heartedness. Well, what was slightly annoying was the way Colin went about it. As far as I was concerned, making that statement on stage was a bit of a drama, you know. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of drama in a show. As far as I’m concerned, everything happens for a good reason. Sneap (Andy) did a fantastic job on the mix. There’s no bad blood or problem. It sounds very dramatic to say “Oh Colin has quit to do the new Trivium!”, but I think people project their own feeling onto that statement more than any intent behind my words.

Actually what made it more dramatic is the way the audience reacted by shouting…

Well, in all honesty, I knew that, at a Carcass gig, if you said that it would provoke that kind of reaction! (Laughs) We have a different fan base than Trivium at the end of the day.

And do you like Trivium actually?


What do you think about them?

(He sighs then laughs) I have nothing to say. It doesn’t interest me. They’ve got their fans; they’re a more mainstream band. Good luck to them. I’m not here to talk shit about any band. I mean, it’s not music that is aimed at a person like me, in the same way Carcass’ music is not for Trivium fans.

Do you think so?

Yeah! (Laughs)

Why not? I’m sure I know people who listen to Trivium and also appreciate Carcass…

Yeah? Well, that’s cool! I don’t think we share the same artistic sentiments. We write music for ourselves and I’m forty four years old. I’m not interested in trying to appeal to a wide audience, teenagers or people in the mid twenties. If they do, that’s cool! I’m not getting down what we do to appeal to a younger audience.

« As long as I feel that we’ve got a better album in us, then we will continue. And I do think that we can deliver a stronger album than Surgical Steel. »

Apparently four more songs that are not on the album were recorded during the sessions. Are you saving those for an EP or something?

I think that at some point old material will get released, whether it’s an EP or something else. We had to give a track for Japan and it’s always cool to have some material in reserve for cool things. It’s not a deliberate ploy to keep the stuff back for an EP but we do want people to hear it. So I guess that at some point we will have to release everything. But it was important to keep the album around the forty minutes lenght because we didn’t want to over overburden the listener with an album that’s over an hour. Anyway, those tracks will see the light of day, obviously.

Carcass has never released any proper live album. Haven’t you thought it would be a good idea to record and release one of the reunion shows?

Yeah, we’ve recorded stuff. But this idea about live albums… The thing is that the listeners may be not aware that most stuff that bands pretend is live is never live, they go back in the studio to fix everything. And that’s not something I’m interested in doing. If we’re going to release a live album or a live DVD, then I want it to be authentic. At the moment I don’t think we’re playing to the extent that we can be perfect. At some point there will be a live DVD, I guess, but I like to think that it’s going to be when the band no longer exists. If you want to hear us live, you can just go on YouTube.

But it’s not good quality…

Yeah, sometimes it’s good quality, sometimes it’s not. You’ve got to understand that to do a live album or live DVD in the context that people work in the industry, you’re basically going back to the studio to spend a lot of time working on an album, and we simply don’t have the time or the stomach for that at the moment.

What are your thoughts now about the Swansong album, which sounded less aggressive, and that time period?

I have as much time in my heart for Swansong as I do for Reek Of Putrefaction or Heartwork. I’ve never had any malice towards it. The album has pretty much a bad reputation but the reality of the situation is that the sales dictate otherwise, and the fact that people do generally like the album. It has its place in Carcass’ back catalogue. With no stretch of the imagination can people say it’s a worst album than Reek Of Putrefaction, you know. (Laughs)

Will you one day come back to grindcore?

Well, what is grindcore? There are blast beats on the new album! Isn’t that what grindcore is?

I’m not sure this is what people think of the definition of the genre… (Laughs)

Yeah, well, the reality is that we’ve never been a grindcore band. This is as simple as that. Other people have labeled us. I think that what you mean at the end of the day is: are we ever going to go back to having a nasty under produced bad recorded album? Well, hopefully not! (Laughs) The reality is, if we ever recorded Reek Of Putrefaction today it would have the same production values as Surgical Steel. It’s that simple.

Because you think that what people call a grindcore album is in fact an under produced death metal album?

Yeah! That’s all it is. I mean, Symphonies Of Sickness doesn’t sound that way because… We wanted to sound that way, but that was the best we could do with the budget and the equipment at the time. The same with Necroticisim: we were trying our best to get the best sound that we could but you’re limited by time, budget and equipment.

Do you think the new album is a one shot or do you have the feeling there will be more from Carcass in the future?

Well, at the end of the day, you would have to ask me whether I’m satisfied with the new album, and the honest answer is no. As long as you feel that you can achieve something better, then you have a purpose and a meaning to go on. As long as I feel that we’ve got a better album in us, then we will continue. And I do think that we can deliver a stronger album than Surgical Steel.

What dissatisfies you in Surgical Steel?

It’s just small things, you know. It’s just that I don’t think we’ve made our classic album. And as long as you feel like that, then you continue. As much as people heap praise on Heartwork or love Necroticism or Swansong, objectively, I can’t feel the same because I’m part of the creative process. I’m still looking to satisfy myself. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the new album but it’s not perfect. Maybe I’m chasing a carrot at the end of a stick and I’m never going to catch it, but I have to continue. I do see a direction we can go into. We don’t have to do another album but as long as we feel the need to, then we will. We had no reason to make an album after seventeen years, it’s just that me and Bill wanted to.

Do you think it possible for you to be satisfied with an album?

Probably not. It’s like a dog chasing its tail, I guess, but you’ve got to pursue it and try your best.

And outside of Carcass do you have any other things on the horizon?

I’m still involved with that band Brujeria. It’s still working on an album. Hopefully it will see the light of day in the next six months or so.

Interview conducted by phone on August, 22nd 2013
Transcription : Spaceman

Carcass on Facebook

Album Surgical Steel, out since September, 13th 2013 via Nuclear Blast

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