The word “pioneers” gets thrown around too lightly. However, sometimes it’s as precise as it is deserved. British extreme metallers Carcass, historically (and still presently) are at the forefront of grind. Returning last year with impressive studio album, ‘Surgical Steel’, the band is making another trip to Australia this June. We sat down with guitarist and co-founder Bill Steer to talk about the upcoming shows, shock value in metal and plans for the future.
Hi Bill, how are you?
Yeah, I’m going pretty good, thanks.
A brief bit of time off I see before you’re off to Mexico and then to our shores for the Australian tour.
We just got back from Japan a few days ago. We go to Mexico in a couple of more days. It’s good – we’re busy and we like it that way (laughs).
Good to hear. Talking about being busy, obviously the one we’re excited for is the Australian tour. It’s almost still a new frontier for you guys. What’s on the itinerary of things to do this time?
I’m really hoping there is some spare time so we can do a little sight seeing (laughs). The last time  it was pretty packed. I don’t remember much apart from a lot of early morning domestic flights and then just the gigs. We didn’t really get to wander around the cities as much as we would’ve liked. We’re just lucky [though]. Very few bands get to go and play in Australia. It’s going to be our third time. Not just as band, but also tourists, we’re privileged. It’s a beautiful part of the world and a lot of people in the UK want to go there but just aren’t able to.
Mentioning again a moment ago about it being busy and obviously now being back as a functioning band once more, talk us through the return initially. To A) tour again, but also B) release ‘Surgical Steel’ last year. At The Gates are in a similar position this year writing a follow-up to ‘Slaughter of the Soul’. Could it have gone either way when you were originally thinking of returning?
As you pointed out there, there’s two phases to all this. There was the initial reunion phase where we just got to play festivals and do a few tours and at that stage, making an album was just not on the agenda. Not because some of us didn’t want to but because a couple of the guys in the band at that time weren’t able to. They had commitments to Arch Enemy and that was their priority…and it wouldn’t have gone down well with their band mates (laughs) if they opted to go 100% into Carcass and make a new record, and get involved in all the promotional stuff that entailed. So there was a political situation really.
When we came to the end of that cycle and we had done a tremendous number of festivals and toured a fair bit, a couple of years down the line, Michael [Amott] and Daniel [Erlandsson] stepped out of the band to just go and concentrate on Arch Enemy. That was a shame in a way because they’re both great players, but it was also a blessing in disguise because it gave Jeff [Walker, vocals/bass] and I the freedom to write material and try a new album. We didn’t begin this with any certainty saying we’ll make a record, but we at least wanted to try writing material and if it felt good we’d pursue it. I guess that’s what happened. Very early on in the rehearsal stages we just knew it was working and that’s that – there was no stopping us really.
What have been some of your observations of the younger or perhaps “newer” audiences circa 2013-14? ‘Symphonies of Sickness’ is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, which is a significant achievement. What’s it like seeing new listeners getting into Carcass?
It’s great for a start because it is living proof the music has stood the test of time. As you said, there’s a whole section of audience now that is far too young to have been there in the original phase of the band. The fact that the music stands up for them is great because they don’t have the nostalgia factor. If there were an audience comprised entirely of our age group then you would be tentative to think there was something like that going on. But, in all honesty, I’d say at least ¾, maybe more, of the crowd tends to be very young – certainly far too young to be there when we were first around.
A band you’ve toured with – The Black Dahlia Murder – I was interviewing them when they were here for Soundwave this year. We were talking about shock value in metal. They said, these days, kids are desensitised to it all and nothing’s off limits. Does metal still have the ability to shock?
No (laughs). In all honesty, I think it has gone well past that. This is just an opinion, but I’ve always had the feeling every genre of music has its golden period when it’s dangerous or edgy. If you look at something like punk, that’s going back to say around 1976-77, now if you see someone dress that way or you hear them play that music, it’s kind of cuddly and harmless (laughs). I think that’s what’s going on in metal now. You’ve still got some people trying to write super offensive lyrics – the whole porn grind thing, but ultimately no one’s bothered, it’s not shocking for anybody. The biggest challenge then is just to write some good music.
Well that’s an interesting point Bill. I’m always interested in the metal stereotype. Carcass have had provocative and strong lyrics, but the music has always been at the forefront and the imagery is always done with a bit of fun. How much does it frustrate you that people still think you’re up on stage being angry and bitter for the sake of it?
I guess you have to develop something of a thick skin because yeah, you’ll be misunderstood or misinterpreted from time to time but that’s only natural. When I think of this band, I really just think about the music and forget the imagery and so forth (laughs). Plus, the other thing is, if someone were to glance at the song titles on ‘Surgical Steel’, they’d think it was in the same vein, lyrically, as the third album [‘Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious’]. But, once you actually get in there, the topics are different. It’s a pisstake on contemporary life I guess. I think it’s easily the best set of lyrics Jeff has done. I think he’d probably say the same thing. [Jeff] is just used to people not always getting what he’s trying to put across. I think that is part of the fun of it for him. Jeff has always been reluctant to explain his lyrics too much because it’s kind of a buzz for him when people interpret them in different ways.
One intriguing thing in terms of marketing a band like Carcass, social media and the Internet were non-existent when ‘Swansong’ came out in 1996. How is it using these channels in relation to your band today?
To be honest, I don’t know because I’m not directly involved – I’m easily the least online guy in the band. I don’t do Facebook or Twitter or anything like that. I find that stuff a little bewildering, but I guess there are people who make sure we’re present and those would be [the] label and promotional people. I guess it’s a necessary evil, there’s no going back, we have the Internet now, but I think it’s been said enough times, there’s so many negatives attached to it too. It’s very hard to figure out how much is good and how much is bad. I think we just have to get on with it and learn from the whole thing. People have been scratching their heads how it’s affecting music. There is a positive to it [though] as there’s more an emphasis on bands playing live now because recording music is almost valueless to the younger generation, I think.
In terms of looking into the future, you’ve got shows booked up for most of the year. What are the plans after that? Are you looking to play more or even start writing again?
We’ve pretty much got the calendar full up until late November. There simply wouldn’t be an opportunity to work on new material until the end of the year. But yes, we wouldn’t rule out the possibility [of writing]. I think we’d be quite keen to try and write some more stuff. I know I have ideas and I’m sure Jeff does too, but that’s not something that will happen quickly because we wouldn’t see the point in releasing another album that sounds similar to ‘Surgical Steel’. As long as we feel we have something to offer and we’re pushing it forward then yeah, there will be a new album. But, we don’t want to rush it because I don’t think any of us could face putting out something mediocre.
So essentially what you’re saying is that it’s almost an album-by-album type proposition? If you’re inspired and have the material, you’re going to go ahead and do it, but ‘Surgical Steel’ could equally be the last album?
To me, that’s the worst case scenario [‘Surgical Steel’ being the last Carcass album] because I do believe there’s a lot of energy left. The writing team that did ‘Surgical Steel’ – Jeff, Dan [Wilding, drums] and myself – I felt like we had only just begun, but we hit 15 songs and decided just to craft those because we had to turn the taps off at some point because there was just so much flowing out at the time (laughs). We realised, ok, we got to this point, we need to focus on our album. We had enough for a full-length record and there’s quite a few ideas left over from those writing sessions as well as things I have from the past and whatever’s cropped up in the past few years too.
This might be a bit of a generalisation but I find metal musicians are quite humble because they’re in it for the right reasons. If you wanted to make money you wouldn’t be playing death metal. The words “pioneers” and “icons” gets thrown around quite a bit in reference to Carcass. How does that make you feel? Are you proud or perhaps a little embarrassed?
(Laughs) I think you’re on the money there. It’s mostly embarrassment, if I’m honest. It reminds you of how old you are for a start (laughs). It just makes you self-conscious [too]. Of course, it’s lovely if people feel that way and they think the band’s influential, but we’d rather just get on with the present day. Neither Jeff nor myself are particularly nostalgic people. We’re very fond of the records we’ve done in the past and of the people we associated with back then but I guess we’re just more present day kind of people…and you’re only as good as your last record or last gig.
Really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us Bill. Looking forward to catching you guys in Melbourne.
I can’t wait; it is going to be great, it has been too long. Cheers man.
Carcass tour Australia this June. Dates and details here.