INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA AND ARTO LEHTINEN
LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
The legendary Carcass returned with a vengeance! Their new album, SURGICAL STEEL, is an amazing piece of evidence showing how the band has remained stainless and sharp. The album has literally blown both new and old fans easily away. Carcass embarked on their European tour with Swedish Viking metallers Amon Amarth and British occult metallers Hell. They arrived in Helsinki to play a sold-out show for the Finnish metal freaks. Before the show, Metal-Rules.com talked to Bill Steer about touring, Carcass reunion time, past times, and of course, the new album.
Metal-Rules.com: This is the last day of your current tour with Amon Amarth and Hell here in Helsinki. How has the tour has been this time?
Bill Steer: Oh, it’s been okay. Some days have been great, other days not so good, but it’s been a typical four-five week tour. Whatever it was! “Laughs”
Metal-Rules.com: Andy (Sneap) just mentioned that Germany wasn’t that great for Carcass and Hell this time?
Bill Steer: It was really bad for us. Yeah. But then, it’s the Amon Amarth audience, it’s not our crowd, so they’re a very tough bunch of people to get through to. From what I can tell, they just wanted to see one band, Amon Amarth. We weren’t really welcome, but we just played anyway.
Metal-Rules.com: I remember when you toured big venues in Germany in the early ’90s, it was a huge package of bands, including you, Entombed, and many other bands on the bill. Do you think Carcass needs that kind of package to be able to play in bigger venues?
Bill Steer: For big venues, yes. Absolutely. But this is a discussion we’ve had amongst ourselves a number of times because obviously, the majority of us felt that we should do this tour – Play with a larger band, reach more people. I thought maybe we should have done just a small tour headlining. You know, smaller venues. But I got outvoted, and I guess they probably proved to be right. I hope so.
Metal-Rules.com: You did a couple of headline gigs recently in London, Club Underworld?
Bill Steer: We did three shows in a row there. Well, I mean that in London — I mean, obviously, we don’t have to play a venue that small and that’s why we did three, because we wanted to make sure that it’s the equivalent to playing one night at the Forum in terms of numbers of people. So we could have just done that one show, but we thought it was maybe more fun to play in an intimate venue. But I think that in a country like Germany, it would probably be Underworld size of venues because we’re not that popular.
Metal-Rules.com: You also toured in The States in November with Immolation. That tour went really well, from what I’ve learned from the reviews?
Bill Steer: Oh yeah, yeah. It was all sold out, yeah, but they weren’t huge venues, so. I think we would have to be worried if we didn’t sell them out. After all this time. “Laughs”
Metal-Rules.com: Is this tour different compared to the past few tours you have done? Besides, do you have a new album to support?
Bill Steer: It is different. I mean, the whole vibe in the band is different because we have a new album. Suddenly, it’s gone from being a kind of nostalgia act to a current thing. And I prefer that. You know, I wasn’t really comfortable just playing the old songs. The reunion cycle was a lot of fun to do, but it made me uneasy because I want to feel like there’s a future in anything I’m doing. Do you know? That’s just natural. So yeah, but this tour has been — as I said, it’s a different vibe anyway on this Amon Amarth -tour because it’s so clearly not our audience night after night.
Metal-Rules.com: It took several years for Carcass to record a new album, although the reunion started in 2007. Afterward, was it wise to wait for so long, or was it just something that wasn’t possible to do earlier?
Bill Steer: It wasn’t really a case of waiting. We just couldn’t do it before because of the Arch Enemy connection. They made it very clear they had no interest in doing a Carcass record. So as long as that line-up existed, we couldn’t make a move in that direction. Then later, they kind of made our minds up for us because they had to quit the band, and suddenly Jeff and I were free to do what we wanted. So the first thing we did was start writing material.
Metal-Rules.com: As you said, Michael Amott and Daniel were against the idea of making a new Carcass album. When you started doing press for the album, Amott announced that he was interested in being a part of it?
Bill Steer: Well, yeah, because it is actually that complicated because he quit in 2010. Actually, when we were playing at a Finnish festival (Jalometalli Fest ed. note). He just announced, “Look, I’m going to be very busy, guys, so, you know, I’m out. But you know, do whatever you want to do.” Because obviously, he isn’t a founding member of the band anyway. So it’s like I think he was aware of the fact that Jeff and I would want to continue. So that happened, and then we got involved in writing tunes and then eventually recorded an album. But at some point, just before we started in the studio, Michael got in touch and said he would like to be involved. Which, the timing was just very bad.
You know, it was a shame. I think it was quite sad, but it just would not have worked because this is always going to be a second priority to him. Whereas with us, this is the thing. It’s a very different situation. There would have been awful clashes as far as like dates and stuff like that. And also, his manager is his partner in the band – You know, Angela – so there are all kinds of ways it could get awkward. It’s just one of those things, really.
Metal-Rules.com: And after all, he never really played that much on the Carcass albums?
Bill Steer: Well, he didn’t play any rhythm guitar on any records. Not because he wasn’t good enough, just because it was a lot easier and quicker if I did everything.
Metal-Rules.com: There’s this one story saying that he missed the HEARTWORK recording session because he had lost his passport or something. Was it really like that?
Bill Steer: It’s true. Yeah, he lost his passport in Israel, and he got locked out of his apartment or something, so by the time he came back, HEARTWORK had been recorded. Everything was done except for solos. This is, I guess, a big factor in why he quit the first time. Because he didn’t like the record at all, he was really disappointed.
WRITING NEW MATERIAL
Metal-Rules.com: At which point did you realize that that the new songs you were working on sounded Carcass material again? I mean, you have been writing very different material as well, like Firebird stuff, etc., after Carcass disbanded in mid of the ’90s?
Bill Steer: I don’t know. I was just picking up the guitar and coming up with riffs that were clearly too heavy for any other bands I was involved in. It was just Carcass material. It was really obvious. And after a few occasions where this was happening, I realized I had the sort of energy and inclination to do a Carcass record. Plus, I had stacks of old ideas from the ’90s and so forth. So I was quite confident in that regard. I just needed to get together with Jeff and see how he felt. And luckily for me, he was very enthusiastic, and he had tons of ideas himself. So yeah, we just snapped into it. There wasn’t much discussion. It was just a case of getting down to work, and it was a nice vibe. Very focused because we hadn’t told anybody outside of the band what we were doing. So that way, you have zero pressure. You can do whatever you want to do for as long as you want to do it. People won’t be interfering.
Metal-Rules.com: Speaking a bit about your vocals, in the early days of Carcass, you used to do a lot of vocals, but during the journey, you just quit singing. But on the new album, you’re singing again. That’s great!
Bill Steer: Yeah, just backing vocals, really. So it’s not a huge amount, but I think we all realize it was going to be a useful texture on the record if there was, you know, that lower voice underneath Jeff’s voice in places. And he’s — he’s a better vocalist now than he ever was. So he doesn’t need help as such. It’s just a bit of shading or something. Do you know? To make things thicker in places.
Metal-Rules.com: What if you compare this writing/recording process or writing process to the last session you did with the band, SWANSONG? What has changed most since those days?
Bill Steer: I’d say the way we wrote the material for this album is very similar to the old days, let’s say around the third and fourth records. I’d say it’s the same kind of — I’d hate to say process because it’s not that complicated. It’s just I go into the rehearsal room with a bunch of riffs, and between the three of us, we hammer out an arrangement, and sometimes it happens really quickly; other times, it takes a long time. But we just work until we feel we have a piece of music we’re happy with. So very similar to the old days. SWANSONG, I think, was a different situation because the band was finished. Do you know? It was such an effort to get anything done because the relationships in the band were really poor. So that’s like an isolated example to me. It’s like I can’t compare that to any other record we’ve done. But there’s some good stuff on it. I like some of it. I just don’t feel good about the album as a whole. Do you know?
Metal-Rules.com: Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Firebird play some years ago at the Roadburn festival?
Bill Steer: Yes. Yes.
Metal-Rules.com: I remember seeing that gig, and I wondered if you still have the heart to play the extreme metal because Firebird is so different from Carcass, but it seems that you can do both styles?
Bill Steer: Yeah. I guess I went through different phases. There was a time in my life where I just wanted to play extreme music, and then a bit later, I guess I went the other way and wanted to go back to old school hard rock and stuff.
Metal-Rules.com: Like Angel Witch?
Bill Steer: Yeah, oh yeah, early heavy metal. And after a while, that has its own set of limitations, and you realize there was some freedom involved in playing extreme metal after all. So I kind of went back that way. To sum it up, I feel like it is all music, and I like listening to certain blues artists. I also like listening to the middle period Slayer, and, you know, I don’t see contradictions. It’s just music that pleases my ears.
Metal-Rules.com: In fact, now when Angel Witch was mentioned, you also played briefly with the band in 2012 when Carcass was temporary on “hold.” Would you tell me something more about that thing?
Bill Steer: Yeah, that was fun. I grew up listening to that band, so — well, the first album anyway. So when they asked me to help out, I was really into the idea. Do you know? But it couldn’t last forever, especially now that this is happening again. I had to step out because you could see some potential data clashes coming up, and I didn’t want to let those guys down, so I just told them straight away, “You need to find somebody else.” They have, so it’s — yeah, it’s all fine.
THE RECORDING SESSION
Metal-Rules.com: We have also learned that you had problems with your producer Colin Richardson during the recording process, and Andy Sneap came into the picture in the middle. So how much did that affect the results?
Bill Steer: It was awkward at the time. But with hindsight, it was a great thing because the album wouldn’t sound as good as it does if Andy hadn’t mixed it. You know, Colin put the work in on the recording sessions. You know, he was there for all of that. But you could kind of feel that he was maybe losing enthusiasm towards the end. There was a strange atmosphere and then the mixes. It took forever just to get some rough mixes back from Colin, and when they did arrive, they were just wrong. Do you know?
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, Andy just said that some of the mixes sounded just horrible?
Bill Steer: Yeah, it was just so far off we were actually panicking like how do we… Because if he thinks that sounds good, we really got a clash of ideologies going on. So yeah, I think after about three months, he announced, “I’m quitting.” And we were a little bit pissed off, but then we knew Andy was waiting in the wings, so it was a blessing in disguise, actually. You know Colin — as I said, I don’t think he had any more energy or enthusiasm left for that record, and as it happened, Trivium came along and asked him to do a record, and he loves Trivium, so he was quite happy just to jump ship and do that.
Metal-Rules.com: So it was a win-win situation after all?
Bill Steer: Yeah, it was actually.
Metal-Rules.com: Was that immediately on your mind to ask Andy to finish the record?
Bill Steer: Oh yeah, yeah. Absolutely. He’d been involved with the record from the start, you know, because he lent us gear. You know, we borrowed amps, guitars. So yeah, we kept in touch with him throughout the process. So it was very natural.
Metal-Rules.com: Are we going to see more albums coming from you guys in the future?
Bill Steer: I hope so. I mean, we’ve got a lot more touring to do and a load of festivals. But if we get through all of that and it still feels positive as it does now, I would say we’ll definitely make another record. It’s a fun thing to do. It’s a really nice challenge.
Metal-Rules.com: Actually, what kind of deal do you have with your record company now?
Bill Steer: I think it’s pretty much a situation where of course, they have an option for our next record IF there is one. Yeah, Nuclear Blast has been very cool with us so far. Like the deal we arrived at was very favorable to the band. So I guess they wanted us quite badly. Do you know?
Metal-Rules.com: I was just about to ask your old label Earache. Do you have any kind of connection to them anymore?
Bill Steer: No, I mean, it was very acrimonious. Like there was a legal situation which lasted a very long time, and I can’t really say more, just in case there’s — in case there’s another legal situation. Yeah, it’s a shame.
LINE UP TALK
Metal-Rules.com: Tell us something about new members you have in the band.
Bill Steer: Dan, I mean, I’ve known Dan for a while because he played in a group on one of our U.S. tours, and his drumming was superb. And so I made a mental note that whenever things went wrong with Daniel Erlandsson, this would be the guy, and it worked out beautifully because he’s a really cool person as well. Very well adjusted. So yeah, he blends in. He was a massive factor in the writing of the record as well because if you’ve got somebody who’s that musical sitting behind the drums, whatever I did or wrote, he just gets it right away. You don’t need to explain, “Oh, it’s that kind of riff” or “It’s that kind of feel.” He’s just there already. So yeah, he’s contributed loads. With Ben, he came in a little later. He came in about January, I think of this year. So he wasn’t on the record, but we knew — you know, we knew we needed a second guitarist for live work, and he was always the number one choice. So that was quite easy to really.
Metal-Rules.com: At which point did you begin to look for new band members to replace Michael and Daniel?
Bill Steer: In my mind, we weren’t looking. I kind of decided on the drummer straight away, and we didn’t have to think too carefully about the guitar player immediately because we were just making a record. You know, so… it was the same as the old days as far as recording guitars. Yeah, it was quite simple. The hard bit was ignoring people because people are constantly trying to tell us who we should have in the band. And if you go too far down that road, you get very confused. So we just kept it simple. Like we’re thinking about people we actually directly knew who we’d seen the play, and we knew we’re decent human beings. I think a lot of people were thinking; you need to have a celebrity. You need to get somebody famous from an American band, and I think it would have been a mistake to do that. You know, it would have been a logistical nightmare to start. And then the other thing is you’re back to the same problem we had with Arch Enemy where there’s a priority somewhere else.
THE STATE OF DEATH METAL, AUDIENCE, RECORD SALES…
Metal-Rules.com: How do you overall see the state of death metal thing compared to the early ’90s?
Bill Steer: I suppose it is doing great because it’s a bigger industry than it ever was, but maybe there are just too many bands fighting over a limited audience, but otherwise, it’s very hard to compare because the whole thing is so much bigger now. You know that’s very underground when you look back at like 1990 or ’91. It was a small group of people. In every country, they were keeping the thing going. Extreme metal now is not really — it’s not dangerous anymore. It’s not underground.
Metal-Rules.com: You are not able to shock the people anymore.
Bill Steer: Yeah. And you know, that’s just natural. Every form of music’s had it. Look at Punk rock. That was frightening in the late-70s. Now it’s just cuddly. Do you know?
Metal-Rules.com: Do you need to find a new way to impress the people, your older fans who still listen to the stuff? So do you think you have to make a true killer riff and try to impress them to get into the new stuff?
Bill Steer: Well, I don’t think about the age group that we’re attracting because I mean that’s like too much analysis for my liking. They certainly — it’s like market research. You’re trying to figure out your audience and what they want from you, and I don’t like to think that way. The other thing is it seems like it’s pretty widespread of ages. Because when we came back to do the reunion festivals. You know, there’s a whole series of those little festivals, like the front rows of every crowd was basically very young people…people are far too young to have ever seen this originally, so that was very interesting.
Yeah, I mean some of the old-timers, you know, the people from our generation are still there, but there aren’t that many from what I’ve seen. I mean, some of them have drifted away. You know, they’ve got on with normal life. They’ve got families and stuff, and then, of course, I guess some people saw us the first time around, and they see no reason why they should come back and see us again. You know, they probably think it’s going to be, you know, less impressive whatever, which is, you know, understandable. So it’s kind of -yeah, I don’t know. All I can say is it’s very hard to like pinpoint a typical Carcass fan. I’ve never really figured that one out.
Metal-Rules.com: One thing that has changed from the ’90s is that people don’t buy albums like they used to. What do you think about that?
Bill Steer: Well, I mean, I don’t think many people buy albums……in general. We don’t really care, we’re making the album more as a statement, and obviously, if you have a new record, it’s a way of declaring you serious about playing shows. You’re not just going out there – I don’t know, like a pantomime, mopping up a bit of spare cash. So yeah, the record is mostly done for us and for the handful of people that really care, and luckily for us, it’s done well. It’s been far better than anyone would have expected. I mean, the label have recovered their costs already. So they’re happy. I’m surprised.
Metal-Rules.com: That’s great to hear, and besides, there are great re-issues of all Carcass albums, both vinyl and CD versions out there.
Bill Steer: I heard about it. I haven’t seen any…
Metal-Rules.com: Those vinyls are just great, and finally, SWANSONG is out in that format as well,
Bill Steer: Oh, okay, great “laughs.”
Metal-Rules.com: Another thing that has changed a lot is that now you can play in many new territories, which were just impossible to do back in the day. For example, you never played in Finland back then?
Bill Steer: I know. It’s crazy when you think about it now.
Metal-Rules.com: Actually, you were supposed to play with Body Count in Finland in ’95, ’96, or something like that?
Bill Steer: Yeah, we did play with them but only in the UK, but yeah, I think you’re right. That says a lot about how the whole scene has developed because our band is more popular now than it was at any time in the original phase. So I don’t know what to make of that, but it’s nice.
A BIT MORE ABOUT THE REUNION CYCLE
Metal-Rules.com: Speaking of festivals, when we interviewed Jeff in 2006 on the eve of the reunion of Carcass, he thought that you never played in big festivals with Carcass. How was it to play in front of such big crowds when doing the first reunion shows?
Bill Steer: Oh yeah. I mean, it was very strange at first because I was the only person in the band who didn’t have that experience. You know, Jeff had done it with Brujeria, and Michael and Daniel had done it with Arch Enemy. I’d never played to, you know, an audience of like tens of thousands of people. So the first two or three shows, I was very nervous, and then all of a sudden, that’s kind of the new normal setting for you, and you just treat it like any other gig, and you’re not thinking about how many people are there. So yeah, it wasn’t too hard to adjust. It was just the first couple that were really, really nerve-racking. Yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: I remember when you played at Swedenrock Festival, and Jeff asked us, “How was it?” And we told him the truth “It wasn’t that great, to be honest, you were a bit rusty on stage.”
Bill Steer: It was really weak. I mean, I feel that on all those early festivals we did, the band was not good enough. We didn’t practice.
Metal-Rules.com: But it did get better over time.
Bill Steer: Oh, it did. I mean, within six months of that festival, we were quite a good live band, but it just annoyed me that we jumped into the deep end. We hadn’t done any club shows, hardly any rehearsals, no way of really warming up and suddenly playing — Hellfest was like the second thing we did, but that felt wrong to me, but you know it was just kind of impossible because if there are people in the band who have something else to do with a very packed schedule that’s how it is.
You’re going to get in maybe two rehearsals, and off you go….so yeah, I do have regrets about that situation massively, and luckily now, all of us live in the same country, so there’s no excuse. You know, we can practice whenever we need to. It’s great.
Metal-Rules.com: Right, I remember when we saw another Carcass show later in Helsinki, and you were improved a lot in such a brief time.
Bill Steer: Oh yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: And we are really eager to see you tonight.
Bill Steer: Yeah, see you there, guys!