Jeff, the last time we spoke was in 2005 when you had just started up a new project together with several members of the band HIM, JEFF WALKER UND DIE FLUFFERS. How did that album actually do?
“Well, to be honest, I had no expectations whatsoever regarding that record. All in all, that album has sold reasonable, I think that about three thousand copies went over the counter. JEFF WALKER UND DIE FLUFFERS was much more a pure fun project. I certainly did not see it as a return to my career or anything like that. That was much more the case when I started playing in BRUJERIA under the name El Cynico in 2006. That’s really very enjoyable to do, there’s no kind of pressure whatever, that is pure fun. By playing in BRUJERIA, I noticed how very big the extreme scene had become in recent years. And that made me start thinking. Somehow, I got more and more the idea that perhaps it wasn’t a bad idea to give CARCASS a second go. Don’t get me wrong, the decision to make a new start with CARCASS was not a cynical business-idea or something like that. I mainly wanted to prove that we can still deliver as a band. CARCASS never was a really big band. We never played in front of a really big audience or sold big amounts of records, contrary to what many people may think. CARCASS has only become more popular and bigger since we split up in 1995.”
In the summer of 2008, you played your first reunion shows with CARCASS. Did you somehow have the feeling that the CARCASS chapter wasn’t closed yet?
"Not really. Our career ended with "Swansong" (1995) and that was ok. You know, there are the strangest stories going around regarding “Swansong” but that album certainly was not a total flop like some claim. The sales were even pretty good and there are quite a lot of people I’ve met over the years who love that record very much. “Swansong” is just an album which is very difficult to classify in our backcatalogue. If you overview all the things we have released over the years, starting from our first demo “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment” (1987), you can only come to the conclusion that we have become more and more accessible over the years. Instead of making a more intense record after “Heartwork”, we became even more melodic on "Swansong". If you take a look at a band like PANTERA, they became more brutal with every record. “Swansong” is definitely still a heavy album, but there are just no very fast or aggressive songs to be found there, something for which we were quite known for. I think that with “Swansong”, we have opened the gates and paved the path for bands like AT THE GATES and IN FLAMES. If we would have released “Surgical Steel” back then, our careers would have probably looked completely different. But it was just a very frustrating period back then. The band fell apart. And it also took a very long time before “Swansong” got released. We also have not toured for that record."
How does it actually feel to release a new CARCASS album after all these years?
"I would not really dare to say that I still get a sense of excitement from it. But I find it interesting and I am somehow curious what others will think of it. I am particularly pleased that the album is finally finished and will hit the stores soon."
In 2008, I interviewed Bill Steer regarding the reunion shows which were scheduled back then. When I asked him if there was also a chance for a new CARCASS album, he said: "I think that’s not entirely impossible. I would be very surprised if that would really happen in the future but never say never. I ‘m always the last one who needs to be convinced.”
"I even read that interview (laughs). Ironically, it’s Bill who got the ball rolling. Without him, "Surgical Steel" would never have happened. Michael Amott had absolutely no interest in recording a new album. Already very soon after our first reunion shows, I felt like I wanted to put my shoulders under a new CARCASS record. It seemed simply stupid not to do it, especially after Dan Wilding joined the band. The more we played together, the more Bill also started to enjoy playing the old CARCASS songs again."
Both Michael Amott and Daniel Erlandsson are no longer a part of CARCASS. Why is that actually? Because there’s not really much going on in ARCH ENEMY at the moment, is there?
"That was their decision, you would actually have to ask to them. The CARCASS reunion would first take a year. Then it became two years and then three years. After that, Michael let us know that he wanted to concentrate on ARCH ENEMY the next two years. I think it mainly had to do with timing. A few months later, Bill and I decided together to really go for it. Regarding Erlandsson, I think ARCH ENEMY is his main priority. However, I am more than happy with the way things turned out. Dan Wilding is a great drummer who fits CARCASS better, without minimizing the work of Erlandsson. We are now once again a complete British band and that makes a huge difference. Also the fact that we do not have ‘rockstars’ in the band anymore makes our cooperation much easier (sarcastic laugh)."
Daniel Erlandsson got – as you just said – replaced by Dan Wilding (THE ORDER OF APOLLYON, THE SOULLESS, TRIGGER THE BLOODSHED, ex – KILLING MODE, ex – MISERY, ex – AOSOTH). Michael Amott got replaced by Ben Ash (PIG IRON, ex – DESOLATION, ex – LIQUEFIED SKELETON). They are both not very wellknown musicians.
"Well, it depends on how you look at that. Dan is already almost a true veteran. He has performed live a lot with HEAVEN SHALL BURN and has played a lot in South-America. He also used to tour with ABORTED in the U.S. and throughout Europe. It’s also through ABORTED that I got to know him. Ben has already played in several cool bands. He may still be a little bit green behind the ears but he is a great musician. On “Surgical Steel”, he already proved that he can definitely stand his ground. And Bill has also been very active over the past years, constantly gigging with ANGEL WITCH and GENTLEMANS PISTOLS."
Was it difficult to write new songs or did you get the right vibe rather easily?
"That was actually pretty easy. If it really would have been a struggle, we would not have made “Surgical Steel”. Having fun making this album was our main goal. And we had."
Is there only new material on "Surgical Steel" or did you also use old riffs?
"There is a song – ‘Thrasher’s Abattoir’ – which has a bunch of riffs that Bill had written when we worked on “Swansong”. I had never heard them before and I was therefore not familiar with them. Back then, he had never let me hear those riffs because it was not the musical direction we wanted to go. The album kicks off with the instrumental track ‘1985’. That number refers to the year in which the band was formed. The guitarlick that opens that song comes straight from a recording which we made in our rehearsal room twenty-eight years ago. So there are some old ideas that we have worked on for "Surgical Steel". But it’s not that we really had to dive in our vaults in order to come up with something. CARCASS is an old school band, all the songs on "Surgical Steel" came together by playing together as a band in the rehearsal room. Exchange ideas through a laptop does nothing for me. Bill wrote about ninety percent of the material, there’s only one song on the album that is completely written by me. But Dan also came up with many ideas regarding rhythm and structure."
It is remarkable how flawlessly Dan’s drumming matches with the way Ken Owen used to play.
"This album is the first album on which Dan plays without a click-track, you can really hear that. A click-track makes an album sound very sterile if you ask me. CARCASS has always been a spontaneous band, we also wanted a live feeling in the studio. The drums have always been a big part of the sound of CARCASS. I think that Dan has listened very well to our back catalogue and unconsciously got influenced by Ken’s way of playing. Ken doesn’t play drums anymore since he had a stroke a few years ago. But he is also a part of “Surgical Steel” because he has done some background vocals on some songs, together with our original bassplayer. It seemed like a great idea and it was not more than justified to involve him also this way."
What’s also striking about “Surgical Steel” is that you immediately recognize the album as CARCASS. Your way of singing, the drumming, the guitarsound, the structure of the songs… it seems as if time stood still for twenty years.
"That’s because Bill and I are involved in this. Bill is in my opinion one of the best guitarplayers out there in the Death Metal scene. Nobody can play like Bill. Many bands and musicians have tried to imitate the CARCASS sound. They buy the same amplifiers, go to the same studio and work with the same people as we did, to no avail. Bill is unique, it’s that simple. The same applies to my way of singing. I’m not a big fan of my voice but I guess that I can put a mark on a song.”
As in the past, you went into the studio with Colin Richardson for “Surgical Steel”. However, Andy Sneap finished the album.
"Andy has done the mixing and we did the recordings – like you said – with Colin. If you would ask Colin why he also didn’t mix the album, Colin will probably give you the diplomatic answer that he had a burnout. It’s actually a long story. We started recording in August last year. We recorded the music the first months in several sessions because both Bill and I were on the road with our other bands. In January this year, the album was finished and Colin had only just to mix it. However, the mix was constantly postponed by Colin because he supposedly had no energy. I started to get more and more pissed and then – during a phonecall with him – I let all my frustrations run free. And that didn’t do much good to our mutual cooperation because Colin went on and started to work on the new TRIVIUM record. I think “Surgical Steel” reaches a way too limited audience for Colin. TRIVIUM is much more mainstream and more successful. I think he wants to be on good terms with Roadrunner because he desperately wants to produce the new SLIPKNOT album. The management of TRIVIUM has narrow bands with SLIPKNOT, you can therefore draw your own conclusions (sarcastic laugh). It’s all political bullshit."
The cover and the title of “Surgical Steel” is quite a genius move. You have an immediate link to your past and at the same time you have that hint of black humor that CARCASS always had and was known for.
"I’m glad you picked that up (laughs). On “Heartwork” and “Swansong”, the humor was somehow a bit gone and that was something that we wanted to put in “Surgical Steel” again. It’s rather difficult to take a song titled ‘Unfit For Human Consumption’ very seriously. There’s a lot of macabre humor in “Surgical Steel”. It’s not like you’re going to burst out in hilarious laughs, it’s all quite subtle. Regarding the link to our past, I agree. We refer quite directly and very consciously to “Necroticism” and “Heartwork”. The cover of “Surgical Steel” is a very strong image and I find it somehow strange why we have never used it as a cover before. It is very clear, it’s almost impossible to interpret it in a wrong way. And it is also very ‘Metal’ (laughs)."
In the chorus of ‘The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills’, you sing “6, 2, 2, 6, 9, 6, 1”. What is that song all about?
"I’d rather not say if you do not mind. It’s more interesting if you use your own imagination there, that makes it all a bit more exciting. Maybe I’ll reveal the details one day but for now I prefer to keep my mouth shut about it."
No problem! What do you think John Peel would have thought of “Surgical Steel” if he would still be alive?
"I think he would have found it a very interesting record. Peel was always very interested in what we did with CARCASS, already from the very beginning. Especially because we did things and made music he had never heard before. I think the more ‘smooth’ CARCASS started to sound, the more he lost interest. Peel was always looking for new sounds and bands that surprised him. On “Surgical Steel”, we sound like a modern Metalband with many links to the past. I think he would have appreciated that."
How ambitious would you say that CARCASS still is in the year 2013?
"I think we are realistic and certainly not expect too much. It is also almost stupid to still dream about a great career in music. Earlier today, I read an interview with the drummer of QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE in which he said that the days where a band could become as big as METALLICA are over. And he’s right. Our ambitions are very modest. A still pretty extreme band like THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER are with their new album in the top thirty in America. I’d be lying if I would pretend that I would not like to have that much success too. But that’s not gonna happen, I’m realistic in that."
These days, an original pressing of "Symphonies Of Sickness” (1989) on vinyl gets sold at recordfairs for seventy euros or more. In recent years, your old albums have been re-issued on both vinyl and CD several times. Do you think that’s a good thing?
"I’m not a collector so I am not the right man to give you an answer here. But I think it’s good that these albums are available again for people who are interested in it. If you do not want them, you do not have to buy them. The consumer has ultimately always the last word. It’s nice to see that Earache put us back in the spotlight a bit. But we should also not be stupid or naive about it, they just want to earn some more money with our back catalogue.”
With CARCASS, you did some very interesting things in the course of your career. Would you say that, with CARCASS, you were ‘at the right place and at the right time’?
"I would put it this way: we were the right band at the wrong time. There are many bands that have become very successful and who based their work for a big part on what we had done before with CARCASS. Just look at our sleeves, lyrics and the subjects on our albums and then you know what I’m talking about. As a band, we were completely stuck after our second album and we made some drastic changes. When you listen nowadays to the albums that followed, one can only say that we were an enormous influence for many bands and revolutionized the genre with CARCASS. I am very aware of the impact we have had."
In a few weeks, you are going to tour throughout Europe, supporting AMON AMARTH. I think it’s somehow odd that a band with a history and reputation as CARCASS should play as support.
"I have no problem with that. Maybe we do have the reputation but we definitely don’t sell as many records as AMON AMARTH. We have received this offer and it seemed the perfect opportunity to tour together with a strong band that draws full clubs. When we toured in 1992 with ENTOMBED, CONFESSOR and CATHEDRAL – the infamous "Gods Of Grind” tour – our management had discussions with the management of ENTOMBED all the time who would play as headliner. And when the tour was well underway, every band wanted to play just before the headliner. For a band that is really hungry and wants to prove themselves, that position is actually the best."