The Power Of Metal.dk’s Philippe almost shat his pants when we were offered a Skype interview with Jeff Walker, bassist and vocalist of Philippe’s long-time heroes CARCASS. Read on to learn more about the long-awaited new Carcass album ‘Surgical Steel’ and the life and times of a band who pioneered a branch of metal.
13th of August, 2013
Jeff: Philippe? Can you hear me?
Philippe: Yes, but I cannot see you.
Jeff: I just don't turn the video on.
Philippe: You don't?
Philippe: I wanted to take a picture, but that's OK (Jeff is laughing). But you are Jeff Walker, you swear it.
Jeff: Yes I am, indeed. Eh! That's a good idea. I could hire someone to do interviews...
Philippe: Thank you very much to be here for powerofmetal.dk. We are metal and music fans, not professional journalists.
Jeff: I am not a professional musician, so you are in good company.
Philippe: First of all, I would like to ask you how Ken Owen is doing? I've heard he was back to school.
Jeff: He's fine. He's alive and kicking, and he's somewhere down in Mansfield. He was doing some music course. I don't know what he's up to. The last time I saw him was in March when we played three shows in London. He came down to hang out. If I wasn't still in the band with Bill (Steer), I guess I would also see him twice a year. He's rude: he just emailed me yesterday night, and never bothered telling me, that his parents live across the river from me. You sure see how close we are... (laughs)
Philippe: What are your feelings here a month before the release of Surgical Steel? Are you nervous?
Jeff: You should put some thought behind the question. Why could I be nervous?
Philippe: I mean, the last Carcass record came seventeen years ago. It's a long time.
Jeff: Well, I feel quite confident and vindicated. I personally think that what we've done is good and other people seem to think it too. Honestly, big fans of Reek of Putrefaction and Symphonies of Sickness are gonna hate it, but anyone who liked our three last records are gonna love this album. Let's be honest: people have heard the album because it's leet. I don't have a problem with that. If it was a really bad album, then I'd be nervous. And I've got faith in that people are gonna buy it if they like it.
Philippe: Can you describe in a few words the music and the lyrics?
Jeff: If we put our back catalogue in a mincing machine, then coupled a bit together into a pâté, like a burger on Friday, and serve it to you, that's what this album is. It's a kind of mixture of the past with a modern sound. It just sounds like Carcass. I'm not sure you could say it sounds like anybody else. Have you heard it?
Philippe: No. I just know the new single Captive Bolt Pistol, which is not on the record.
Jeff: Did you ask Nuclear Blast to get access to the record?
Philippe [slightly embarrassed]: No, I didn't. Kenn, who is the editor on powerofmetal.dk, forwarded the e-mail he received from Nuclear Blast with the slots available for interview, just after he received it a few days ago. I had the confirmation for the time slot I chose yesterday. So it was very short notice. As an old fan, I just jumped on this opportunity. I guess Nuclear Blast will soon send "Surgical Steel" to Powerofmetal.dk for review.
Jeff [embarrassed, too]: I feel a bit like an asshole. I am telling you how good the album you haven't heard is. I probably sound like every musician now. Everyone is telling their album is good.
Philippe: I will of course form my own opinion. But I think I can trust you, because I've been following Carcass since Necroticism and have never been disappointed.
Jeff: Captive Bolt Pistol is not very representative of the album. To be honest, no song is. Any song we would have advanced first could not please everybody. All I can say is, if you like Captive Bolt Pistol, you will like Surgical Steel, because that song is not the strongest piece of music on the album. But I think that's cool because that would be easy to pick the strongest song people want to hear as many bands do, but then, what do you hold in reserve?
Philippe: Anyway, a music fan, and especially a metal fan, is not focusing on a single but on a whole record, listened from the beginning to the end.
Jeff: Indeed. From my point of view, I would rather Nuclear Blast just releases the record without a song in advance, because we wrote an album: it is not ten hit singles, but a body of work. It's not the kind of thing where you can go on iTunes and pick up one or two songs, because they're the best.
Philippe: Colin Richardson is doing the production again. Is he almost a Carcass member?
Jeff: Well, he was (laughs). We wanted to make the album as credible as possible, and it's part of the recipe. Colin was part of the success, for want of a better word, of our previous records. It was an obvious choice to go back to him. We didn't think of anybody else. We know each other quite well.
Philippe: No reason to change...
Jeff: Maybe that sounds lazy, but it's not a case of being comfortable and not taking risk because we still did. Colin has changed since last time we worked together, as has the whole recording process. Colin has actually not recorded a band for a long time. He mostly mixes nowadays. He's used to record by the click tracks, but this album wasn't done with the click track. So we made his life difficult (laughs).
Philippe: Can you introduce Daniel Wilding (drums) and Ben Ash (guitars)? How did they join the band?
Jeff: We toured in 2008 in the U.S. Aborted with Dan were on the bill. Dan is British and that makes it easier for us for rehearsal. His playing style and his personality just suit the band really well. I actually found Ben on YouTube, playing some Firebird, Napalm Death and Carcass songs. I mentioned this to Bill who told me he already knew the guy, because Ben had played with Alan French, himself being a former member of Bill's band Firebird. He's a relative unknown player and that's kind of cool. To be honest, in 2010 we asked In Flames' guitarist Jesper (Strömblad) if he could be interested. He said he was then booked out. Then I was talking to Gary Holt (Exodus), but the Slayer job came along. Honestly, I'm happy that things have turned out this way. It is easy with an unknown player with no ego and no agenda, to keep humility in the band.
Philippe: The first time I met you was in January 94, after your show in Paris, at Élysée Montmartre, with Loudblast and Supuration, during your Heartwork tour. It was 19 years ago, but do you remember anything from this concert?
Jeff: I remember trying painkillers because my back was hurting. I remember Supuration were really killers. Wasn't it televised? I am pretty positive there were cameras there, but I never saw any footage. I wanted to see how it looks like, because I'm pretty sure it was a really good concert.
Philippe: The last time I met you was in Bergen in August 2008, during the Norwegian festival Hole in the Sky. You told me that I could not expect a new Carcass record. Why and how did you change your mind?
Jeff: I told you you could not expect one, but that didn’t mean we would not make one (laughs). Towards 2008, when we were in South America, I did an interview with Rolling Stone where I said I would be interested in doing a new album. I needed Bill to feel the same before it could happen, as he was in the beginning resistant to the idea. So that took him longer time. We never really discussed that. We enjoyed playing together from the first rehearsals, without messing with the past. But the more we continued to play, the more we enjoyed it. So you get this feeling «why the fuck not?». It was our own decision, without outside pressures: we just wanted to. We thought we could do a good new Carcass album. It's just simple as that. It would have been easy to get a record deal, get the money to deliver some shitty album. But we have pride, ego as well.
Philippe: So is Carcass back for good, ready for a long second career?
Jeff: I don't know about this. I'll be honest: we get paid well. But I don't consider what I do as a career. It's pretty «living for the moment kind». As long as it's fun, interesting and we wanna do it, we will continue. When it will be no more enjoyable, it will mean full stop. Easy come, easy go. Do I worry that Bill might quit again? The answer is no. It would not be the end of Bill or my life. I would survive. But don't get me wrong: what we do with Carcass is very important to me. So there is scope to do another album, definitely.
Philippe: Can we expect a new DVD soon, with shows from Wacken 2007 and afterwards [holds up Wake Up and Smell the... Carcassvideo)?
Jeff: No, I don't think so for the moment. Youtube serves very well for this purpose. I think, as long the band is active, people should come to the concert. Maybe when we call it a day, have the time to sit down and compile a DVD. Let's be honest here. What people call a live DVD is a band taking a concert recording to the studio to mess around with it, because they are not good enough live to capture the moment. I would love to do a real live DVD. I mean, for example, if you look at the Graspop footage (26. June, 2010): it's warts and all. That is a live concert. Now, most bands would suppress it. But I'm just kind of like: fuck it, what can we do? The live experience needs to be kept alive. To do a live DVD would take a lot of effort.
Philippe: But maybe so...
Jeff: I'm sure it will happen. I've got boxes of tapes upstairs from the shows we've done with Mike (Amott) and Daniel (Erlandsson). But it takes time and effort to see through all.
Philippe: Low tuned guitars are very common today, especially with 7 and even 8 strings guitars. But 25 years ago, Carcass was one of the first bands playing with 6 string guitars in B tuning. Where did the idea for that come from?
Jeff: I don't want to be an arrogant twat, but we were the first. The only other person I know of is Lead Belly, the blues guitarist. I think Entombed were in B. When I started playing with Bill, we were maybe tuned in drop C, which is kind of typical Black Sabbath. It was like a challenge attitude: if we downtune, it's gonna be heavier. We settled on B because it's five semitones below, it's actually the next string down. So it made perfect sense to do that. I can definitely remember Ken, Bill and me sat in Bill's bedroom and discussed how far we should go, and we felt B was the lowest we could go, without running into difficulties. Because, for example Gaz (Garry "Gaz" Jennings) from Cathedral, when they started, he deliberately went to like A-A, I think, to try and outdo us, but he started to run into tuning issues, you know. It was just childish stupidity, I suppose.
Philippe: All these pictures with pieces of dead people on your first two records, was it just provocation, did you want to deliver a kind of nihilist message through them, or were these pictures simply the perfect match with the records' contents?
Jeff: I think it was all of it. When Death released Scream Bloody Gore, we were kind of like very disappointed with the album cover: it was just an Ed Repka painting full of zombies. As fans of death metal, that's what we figured what death metal band should have on its sleeve: real corpses. We wanted to make a cult album, with maybe a thousand copies. We wanted to make a more gross album sleeve than Big Black's limited edition EP Headache, with the guy who has blown his head off. I don't think we succeeded to be honest, but we tried. We were never interested in cartoon paintings. A picture of a corpse is more horrific than a painting of a skeleton or something.
Philippe: Necroticism's cover has a kind of sick humor, with a dead Carcass quartet (Note: also done with «talent» by Cradle of Filth). I like very much the concept of this one.
Jeff: Yeah, very pretentious, trying to be 4AD... But you cannot just continue recycling the same stuff, these gore sleeves. Some other bands still do, we don't mind, that's cool, but that's not for us. We have done two albums banned in countries like Germany, because of the cover. It was finally nice to release an album maybe people could buy and get to hear it.
Philippe: From Necroticism, your music has been based on the perfect balance between dark, often complex and aggressive riffs, and a great sense for melodies. Do you consider this balance your magic formula?
Jeff: I think a lot people do, don't they? I was a bit skeptical with some of the riffs Mike first introduced, maybe too obvious. But I think we managed to marry very fucked up riffs and kind of obvious parts. I think it's good to have dynamic. Bill as a musician has always avoided repetition of what people have done. If he plays something to you, then he says that sounds like such and such, he'll change it. I think Mike has, for want of a better word, more pop sensibilities. And I do.
Philippe: One of my favourite songs, Pedigree Butchery, illustrates for me this duality, this magic formula.
Jeff: That's totally Bill's song. But I still think that's an awkward song compared to Incarnated Solvent Abuse. It seems people have decided that Mike joining the band magically transformed this into melodic. But identify yourself: it was already combining with Bill. And you know why? Because a lot of the riffs on Reek of Putrefaction and Symphonies of Sickness were Kenneth's. But the power balance was changing with Necroticism: still some riffs composed by Ken, but Bill started to take over as chief riff writer.
Philippe: It has been said in the press that you claimed that the popularity of grunge lead to Carcass dissolving back in the day, whereas more evil tongues suggested that it was because you had burnt out creatively. What is your take on this all these years after?
Jeff: Both... Well, I don't think we burnt out creatively. Whatever people are thinking about Swansong, it's what we wanted to do, not a Heartwork part 2. All of our five albums sound different. Regardless or whether people like Swansong or not, there's this idea that the album is a failure or is much derided, and that simply isn't true. We meet a lot of people who love the album.
Philippe: To be honest, I love Swansong. I used to cover R**k the Vote with a friend. For me, it's grindcore meets AC/DC. Death'n'Roll, full of killer riffs.
Jeff: That's exactly what Bill's head was at the time. He started to go back to his youth, with AC/DC and Thin Lizzy. It's basically a hard rock album. Then, had we burnt out creatively? Yes and no. We had, as far as Carcass was concerned. Bill continued to be creative with Firebird. I did the Blackstar album. So we still had things we wanted to do, but they didn't necessarily fit the framework of Carcass. Now, many years later, we are creative still, but we can do it within the framework of Carcass.
Philippe: I will buy Surgical Steel in the digipack version. I guess the majority of metal fans prefer a real CD in a nice package to mp3 files, just like me. What do you think of the internet and the download revolution?
Jeff: If Surgical Steel was a bad album, that would be a public relations disaster: people get to hear it, it's rubbish and don't buy it. But the album is good and the feedback is great. I think if people download something, maybe it's because they've been cheated so many times in the past, buying an album which is not worth the money. Everybody gets very suspicious nowadays. There's definitely a culture of... some people download and never buy anything. Those people are assholes. But I got friends who download music and buy what they like. You can't possibly buy every single metal album. The labels aren't doing themselves a big favour by releasing ten CD’s a month, because the fan base can't sustain that level of consumers. A compact disc is quite expensive. So maybe people pick and choose what they buy nowadays. I think there is a generation of kids who do download and never buy CD’s. But for my generation, I'm maybe going back ten or fifteen years in age, metal fans understood to buy of physical product, because they had music as a hobby, as main entertainment and escape, listening to the CD in their room, looking at the sleeve. We didn't have as many distractions as today's sixteen year old kids, with computers, computer games, internet, many TV channels. So the music is not as important for them as it was for us. Kids grow too early. They are buying perfume and designer clothes from the age of eight or nine.
Philippe: As a musician, especially as bassist, can you tell me about your influences?
Jeff: Any band where you hear the bass guitar. Billy Gould from Faith No More. Phil Lynott as a song writer and a bass player. What's his name from Guns N' Roses?
Philippe: Duff McKagan.
Jeff: Yes, killer bassist. He made the first Guns N' Roses album, from my point of view. Hüsker Dü bassist (Greg Norton). I like punk players. I'm not really music hero worship, but these bass players I've just mentioned, you can hear them in the mix and they are doing interesting stuff.
Philippe: Do you follow the metal scene? Are you impressed by any young bands right now?
Jeff: I do follow the scene. I like to know what's going on. Am I impressed? Occasionally. But I am not gonna lie to you. My mind is blank when people ask me a question like this. I mean, I'm old school. It's hard to impress an old dog like me. For me the best period for extreme music was the late eighties. Nothing much has happened since. It's just recycling.
Philippe: You contributed to the song Psykorgasm on the Danish band Mnemic's 'Passenger' album. How did that come about and are you still in contact with Mnemic?
Jeff: I bumped into Mircea (Gabriel Eftemie) at Copenhagen airport and he literally just asked me for doing it. He's also a graphic artist. He kept asking me if he could do some artwork. I gave in and answered okay... I gave him some ideas I've done myself and he kind of really brought them to life. So, yeah, I am in touch with Mircea.
Philippe: Four days in the front of your computer, answering the same questions: is it fun, torture, or both?
Jeff: It can be torture when the other person's English isn't fantastic.
Philippe: Sorry... (laughs)
Jeff: You're okay (laughs)... I don't want to be rude, but I do feel, like, why even bothering. I think it's hard to understand me, because I speak fast and with an accent. So can I feel sorry for them, putting themselves in a very bad position? It's also nice to get some feedback about the album, but that hasn't happened yet in an interview [Note: four time slots for interview were available before mine, but I don't know how many interviews had been done before me today]. That would be more fun, you know.
Philippe: That's absolutely right, but as I said, this interview was anyway a great opportunity, because Carcass' music, as Coroner's or Flotsam & Jetsam's, means a lot to me. I would like to thank you very much for your time. I will be thrilled to discover Surgical Steel as soon as possible.
Jeff: Merci beaucoup. Have a good day, Philippe.
Philippe: Merci beaucoup, Jeff, and good luck.
Interviewed by Philippe Leconte