Liverpool goregrind/death metal troop Carcass have just released their seventh album, Torn Arteries (read our full album review here) and are heading into the 35th year together. Following the release of the record, we spoke with guitarist Bill Steer, one of the mainstays of the band, about their popularity, the new album, and the creative relationship he has with fellow mainstay, vocalist Jeff Walker.
Thanks for your time, Bill, how are things at the moment?
Bill Steer: “Yeah, can’t complain. It’s alright. We’re just massively relieved to be getting this record out. Finally.”
Your seventh studio album is out now. For a band like Carcass who have been around for 30+ years now and came from a very underground beginning, how does it feel saying that? Also, was there a vision to look that far ahead back in the early days?
“Well, I mean, when you’re 17, you can’t even imagine turning 25, never mind becoming middle-aged. So, yeah, we pretty much just did it month by month, we didn’t have a long-term vision. Getting to the point of making a first album was nothing short of miraculous for us and then when you got to that level, then you do have a slightly wider perspective. You start to think, well, maybe it’d be nice to play some gigs overseas one day, and it just goes from there.”
What was the point when the perspective changed to something to having a wider vision?
“It was gradual. Doing the first demo was a huge thing for us. Then, a few months down the line, the offer from Earache (Records) came, and that was kind of a shock. We were starting to gig more around this time so everything was happening, I wouldn’t say harmoniously, but, you know, we were in the right place at the right time to what we were doing. Then, by the time we get to the second album, I guess that we were a slightly more proficient group. A little bit less amateurish.”
You and Jeff have both been mainstays of the lineup throughout the years. Now at your seventh album, how does it feel to still be on the same page creatively and musically after so long?
“I’m not sure we are really. I think that’s part of the reason it’s lasted because we both bring such different things to the band so, what you end up with is a compromise between two very different approaches.”
How would you describe Jeff’s approach compared to yours? What would you say the differences are?
“Good question. He’s a today kind of person, like, ‘let’s get this sorted now.’ I have a tendency to give up for an easier life. If it’s not working out, let’s just shelve it for now. So, that would be one thing. He’s a little bit more extrovert. He doesn’t shy away from telling people what he thinks. Then there’s the kind of music we listen to and stuff. I mean, there’s a lot of differences.”
It’s a partnership that clearly works though because, seven albums down the line, Carcass are still at the top of the game, because it’s a fantastic record. Can you talk us through the writing process for this record?
“It’s been the same for everything we’ve ever done. It’s really a case of walking into the rehearsal room with a bunch of riffs and getting to work with the guys on the arrangements.”
I read that you wrote all the riffs this time around?
“Yeah, generally speaking. I mean, on this record, yeah, pretty much the last record, there is one tune that kicked off with a bunch of Jeff’s riffs, but this time around, I think he was quite happy to just focus on vocal lines, lyrics, song arrangements, and stuff. So, yeah, I bring in the raw material but it really is just that in the initial stages because I know that it’s going to go through the mincer. It’s potentially going to have a lot of changes because the guys have some really cool ideas on how to give a song a few twists and turns to make it different from something we’ve done before.”
Going back to what you said earlier about, obviously, the creative differences and you both coming from different viewpoints. I’m guessing it must be good to know that you can be left to kind of do that and then work together and create something quite special?
“Whatever I bring in musically I might think that it has a Carcass style, but by the time those guys have got their hands on it, it really becomes Carcass. It’s that kind of process of filtration that gets to a point where you feel like we’ve got a song here.”
Sticking with the early days then. The band had a particularly gruesome start, but over the years, while you’ve still got that surgical, medical, gory twist, it’s become a lot more refined and a lot cleaner with things like the artwork and things like that. As you’ve became more successful and something you touched on earlier, did that affect the way you approach writing material or look at the whole package?
“Well, as far as music goes, no, we’ve always been quite stubborn and just done what we wanted to do at any given time. Sometimes that means you’re going to be out of step with the prevailing trends at that time but it’s definitely better to be honest about where you’re at and what you’re into because, if you go chasing the audience, you end up making a clown of yourself. As for the sleeves, well, you know, by the time you get to say, album number three, we couldn’t really stay in that bag as the band that you see on the first album. It’s cool for what it is, but it’s very teenage and you can already see, by the time we hit our early 20s, we were looking to do something a bit different. You can’t repeat the same stuff over and over as you just get bored.”
As you grow older, I suppose life becomes a lot less chaotic…
“Hopefully you burn off some of that unfocused anger that can build up, you know, with a lot of teenagers. Anyone who’s been a misfit at school or whatever, that’s the kind of person who’s more likely to start an underground band. Or at least it was back then. There were no top-selling artists who happen to be extreme. I mean, in subsequent years, we have seen some groups do that so it has become a legitimate career path for ambitious people, but that wasn’t the same when we were kids. You did this music because you were unpopular, not because you wanted to be popular but I think that shifted over time.”
Did you feel you were forced to change your mentality and approach when Carcass started to became popular and people started taking an interest in the band, outside that group of misfit teenagers?
“I don’t know? I mean, we never felt like we did become popular. We were aware that we had an audience. That was undeniable because we were able to tour, do stuff in mainland Europe and the U.S. and so forth. So, we knew that there was some kind of audience for us, but we never felt like we were a popular band. To me, the word popular, that immediately sets me off thinking like mainstream or having a name that’s well known and we’ve never really been in that position.”
I find it a bit surprising hearing you say that considering some of the biggest rock or metal bands have been seen wearing Carcass T-shirts on stage…
“Yeah, but they’d be the exception to the rule. I’m trying to think of an example here… There’s a restaurant around the corner from me where I live here in East London and the boss at some point discovered I was in a band, right? Now, I mean, we didn’t mean much to him, because he’s not a metal fan, understandable, but if I was in there, and someone came in who was a metalhead, he’d make a big fuss. These are the kind of people you see somewhere like Bloodstock so, yeah, I feel like we’re in quite a good position in that we’re known to the people that know what we do but, other than that, I mean, I wouldn’t say we’re a particularly well-known band.”
I’ve been reading other interviews with Jeff on when he talks about the title. He said there’s obviously a bit of humour in the title, and it has obviously come from an older demo. What was the thought process behind using that title?
“That was purely his decision. I think he was just very taken with the whole story of that tape that Ken did when we were teenagers at school. We didn’t know Jeff at this point, that was a couple of years away. He didn’t even have an electric guitar, or as far as I’m aware, at least he didn’t use one on this recording and he didn’t have drums either. So, he just using a really cheap Spanish guitar and books and a couple of crap tape recorders and made this recording with himself screaming.
“That kind of thing is a rite of passage for certain people. So, he did that and it just got insanely distorted with the copying, and so on. The condenser mics just couldn’t take it so it became something else. It sounded like this really, really heavy, sick, twisted thing, right? When you’re 15, that kind of thing was just brilliant. I thought it was very inspiring. I told Jeff that story at some point, long after the tape went missing and he just loved the title and here we are now.”
How do you think it fits in with the new record considering the sound has developed a lot from those gorier beginnings…
“I’m guessing that might have been part of his reasoning because you’re right, it doesn’t sound anything like early Carcass. The connections are tenuous, but I think, with us, every record is a few steps on from the previous one even though you can hear that it’s the same group two years, five years, eight years, whatever it is down the line. I guess there are enough similarities between, say, Torn Arteries and Surgical Steel. The first album maybe resembles the second slightly, but almost doesn’t resemble the third one at all. It’s just kind of how it is with this group.”
That being said, you’ve still got a distinct sound in that you can put the record on and you know it’s Carcass. After 30-35 years, how difficult or how challenging is it to keep the sound fresh or exciting for you and the fans?
“We don’t really analyze it. All you’ve got is instinct. I think in terms of the direction it’s going, the primary motivation is the same that we always had, which was to make music that we wanted to hear. Obviously, when you start a group, you set certain parameters for yourselves, stylistically and some of those elements are still there in our music now, it’s just we’ve managed to broaden our scope over the years. But yeah, I just tend to feel like, if you try and guess what listeners will make of it, you’re already a bit lost, right? You just got to complete it to the best of your ability, craft it until you feel like you can stand behind this thing.”
I believe Torn Arteries was written and recorded pre-pandemic. What was your reason behind holding off releasing it? Or was that a label decision?
“I’m sure that if it’d been left to us three, we probably would have put it out. But you know how labels are very nervous about doing anything that defies conventional wisdom.”
Recently, Jeff described the early Carcass days back in 1986 as three guys wanting to create havoc. Now that you’re about to release your seventh album, what does Carcass mean to you personally in 2021?
“That would be hard to encapsulate into a sentence or a soundbite. It’s this weird musical entity that has developed in directions we never expected. The very fact that we were able to come back after breaking up, that was unimaginable. Everything since then it’s been absolutely bonkers. But you know, we’ve enjoyed it and our feeling is that there’s no point making a record unless you’ve got something new to say.”
On the subject of the length of your career, Metallica has just released the Blacklist covers album. Are there any bizarre or random artists you’d like to be covering Carcass tracks?
“That’s a difficult one. I guess over the years, we’ve probably heard a couple of covers, but we aren’t the most coverable. For example, you mentioned Metallica, there’s a good reason why they’ve done a fair bit of Diamond Head stuff. Those are classic riffs but they are also pristine. It’s very clear what notes are being played. The nuances are quite different than the music already. You don’t have to dig deep for that. Some of our recordings in the past are kind of murky in places, you know, the riffs get a bit submerged in the chaos. We realized early on, we weren’t going to be that type of band, right?”
With the advances in technology, is the old material that something you’d look at re-recording if you had some kind of downtime?
“I think the only way I could justify that would be the first one, because so many of the riffs on that thing are lost. But, for that very reason, I’d be reluctant to do so because that would be like archaeology. You’re going to dig up some of that stuff? I can remember some of the parts, but other bits will be just lost in the mists of time and that would be very exhausting. I have heard Jeff say he thinks it’s something we should consider but I’m not convinced at this stage.”
You mentioned release day is a big deal for the band. What’s it been like sitting on the record for essentially two years?
“I don’t know about the other guys, I just made a decision to give the whole thing a rest. So I didn’t listen to the album for well over a year. When I went back to it, it was fresh again and that was the hope. To be honest, by the time we had got to that stage and finished the record, we were pretty battered from it so it was good to take a break from it.”
Ok, that’s fair enough. I think we’ve pretty much got everything covered now. Just in terms of the new record, it’s obviously out this week, have you got any message for fans who are looking forward to hearing it?
“For those who’ve stuck with us, thank you. It’s pretty weird to have got this far.”
Perfect, thanks for your time Bill. Hopefully, we’ll catch up when you’re on the road…
“Great, thanks for your time and have a good day.”