Carcass: Not Dead Yet
British death metal veterans Carcass on reuniting and playing at BIG69 Festival in India
Technology usually helps speed things up, but when you’re a death metal band from the Eighties who reunited after more than a decade apart, it makes things tedious. Just ask Jeffrey Walker, the vocalist-bassist and founding member of UK death metallers Carcass, who reunited in 2007 and recorded their sixth album ”“ their first since 1996 ”“ Surgical Steel in 2012. The album, released on Nuclear Blast Records in 2013, was hailed as one of the best metal comebacks of the year. But Walker says that he and fellow founding member and guitarist Bill Steer spent over six months on Surgical Steel, which was also the first Carcass record that didn’t feature drummer Ken Owen on drums, after the drummer suffered a brain hemorrhage in 1999. When the band roped in 25-year-old UK drummer Daniel Wilding, Walker certainly felt the years catch up on him. Says Walker over the phone, “I think we scheduled six days to record the drums and Dan did the drums in three days. It was a lot quicker.”
Recording woes aside, Walker admits that everything about reuniting with Carcass has been perfect so far, including traveling around the world to play in countries they never had a chance to visit in the Eighties and the Nineties. Says Walker, “We want to avoid pitfalls of being a band that tours the same places or just go through the motions, you know? It’s exciting to travel to places we’ve not played. It’s exciting.” After shows in countries ranging from Venezuela to China, Carcass make their India debut at the first edition of two-day metal festival BIG69 this month. Excerpts from an interview:
RS: Carcass has been touring the world ever since the reunion and later, when Surgical Steel released in 2013. What were the trips like?
Jeff Walker: Yeah, we played Caracas in Venezuela and Colombia as well. Those shows were really cool. It’s been great. We’ve got play places we never did. We were down in Asia ”“ we played China, Borneo and I can’t remember where else we played! These places were places we never went to back in the Nineties. Surprisingly, China was the most well-organized gig, you know? Part of the reason we carry on doing is this to keep it interesting and to experience new things.
It looks like your music really gained more of a worldwide audience while you were gone.
Yes, definitely. We felt in the Nineties, when the band broke up, that no one really cared any more. We felt that style of music was kind of a dead end. That’s the way we felt. And surprisingly, after the demise of Carcass, that music grew. But for us personally, we’d been doing it for so long we were quite down. A lot of bands that came after us were just starting up or carried on the tradition of what we had been doing. We couldn’t continue at the time, though. We felt we were going so long we’d achieved everything we were trying to do. People kinda ran with our ideas. We lost interest in doing it, you know? I’d been playing in bands since I was 15 or 16 and so did Bill [Steer, guitarist]. By the time we were 25, that’s 10 years. And when you’re younger, that’s a long, long time. To say we were burnt out is the easiest way of expressing it. We couldn’t just go through the motions and keep going for no reason. There has to be a reason why we do this.
Did you think death metal would have this kind of impact when you started out nearly three decades ago?
No. I mean what’s kind of happened in a way is that the world has caught more bands like Carcass and what we were doing when we were younger. We never did this to get rich or famous. We thought what we were doing was cutting edge. You know honestly, as big as Carcass is, it’s still a fringe band, you know? Our record sales are helping, but they’re nothing compared to massive bands. The level we’re at is very subjective. For example, we’ve sold about 35,000 albums in the US, Surgical Steel, which is extremely, extremely brilliant for a band like Carcass, but compared to a band like [heavy metallers] Avenged Sevenfold, it’s nothing. What we’re doing is still a fringe activity, you know? We’re on the periphery of music, in a way.
Extreme metal has got bigger, but it’s still not mainstream. That’s what attracts people to it and that’s what makes it cool. You’ve got to be playing music for that person in the classroom at school, who is the cool kid and not listening to the same crap his friends are listening to. That’s the way I see what we’re doing.
In 2014, you released an EP called Surgical Remission/Surplus Steel, with a bit of extra material. Have you guys been writing some more, or has the focus been on touring?
It’s just been on playing shows. Literally, we’ve not stopped since the release of the album last September . But I know Bill has been saying that he’s got riffs and he wants to get down with the drummer and start jamming on new riffs, so he’s definitely got ideas. It’s the case of us finding time to get back in the rehearsal room. Hopefully 2015, we might have more of a chance to concentrate on writing new material. There’s definitely the enthusiasm to do it, it’s just [about] finding the time.
It’s interesting that the albums were released on Nuclear Blast. You’ve had disputes with major labels before. What is the equation today between metal record labels and bands?
I really don’t know. I know some bands always have problems with record labels. We’re extremely happy with what Nuclear Blast has done. I guess we’re still going through the honeymoon period, you know? Nuclear Blast is a bit like Carcass. We remember when they started, they were just a small label with no threats or competition and now, they’re the world’s biggest independent metal label. It’s grown massively. We’re very happy. Any outstanding invoice or money they owe us, they’ve paid us. So, I’m sure this band can’t complain. We don’t have any problems. We’ve been their priority for now. Maybe that will change now, when they sign a bigger band, and maybe Carcass will be put on the backburner and we’ll get less and less happy [laughs]. When the record came out, it was a priority and we got treated extremely well. We got everything we wanted. To be honest, I’m sure the label’s happy, because I know we exceeded any expectations that we had as far as sales go. It’s a three-way street. If we’re successful, the label is happy and the label will treat us right. I’m sure if we hadn’t sold any records, we’d be lost in the machinery of the label. I think because we’ve done so well, we get treated good.
What was it like getting back into the studio after releasing Swansong all those years ago when you had different members?
It actually started off as being fun, but then it turned into a bit of an ordeal, because it took longer than we expected. In the past, we’ve had maybe two or three weeks. But now, because of technology, it’s possible to spend a lot of time in a cheaper studio. We did the drums very quickly, but the tracking of guitars, vocals and bass took a very long time. Part of the problem with that is the technology. You can record as much as you like and it means the producer, the engineer and the musicians are not making as many immediate decisions as they used to. They’re recording more and more material and then kind of sifting through it. That just takes longer, you know? The process has changed a lot. There’s a lot more pressure and time constraints in the past, which has a positive side to it, to be honest. Maybe you had to make snap decisions about what would be a good take and which parts of the recording are you going to keep. Now, with computers, you can record so many takes that you can get lost in it.
Ken Owen wasn’t able to play drums on the record since he was still recovering, but he did add vocals to Surgical Steel. How is his recovery coming along?
After he came out of his illness, Ken’s condition has been constant. So people talk of him as if he’s never going to be a 100 percent again, but that’s the not the case. Ken is the way he is, the way he’s been for the last few years and he’s happy to be alive, getting on with his life. We try to make him involved in the band, because it’s unfair what life did to him. It’s not fair that he can no longer be in the band a 100 percent. But it’s also important for the karma of the band, if you like, for Ken to be involved ”“ it just makes the band more credible. He’s happy to still have his name attached to what we’re doing. In a way, we’re just continuing the Carcass legacy that he was part of.
Coming to your India show, what kind of setlist can fans expect?
Same as it’s been for the past year, so it’s a mixture of all six albums. We play something from every record. Songs from Reek of Putrefaction, songs from Symphonies of Sickness, a lot of new songs, a lot of songs from Heartwork, one or two from Swansong”¦
What are your plans while you’re here? Is it a fly in and fly out gig?
I mean it is, but we do have a day either side. Every time we do travel somewhere, we always arrive a day early and we try and spend as much time as we can. And for me, personally, it’s not my first time in India, though. I’ve been to Agra and Jaipur, so I’ve kind of got a vague idea of what to expect. Do you think there’ll be a crowd?
Oh yeah, the way they’ve been pushing this, Carcass was kind of a surprise announcement. People are really excited about it.
Pretty cool! We’re looking forward to it. It’s our first show of 2015, what a way to start.
This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of ROLLING STONE India.
Carcass performs at BIG69 on January 17th, 2015 at Richardson and Cruddas, Mumbai. Buy tickets here.