They've signed to a major label, but where are post-Death Metal mutants Carcass heading? Jason Arnopp corners the fearsome foursome and picks an individual bone or two!
Currently nearing the end of a wall-to-wall UK tour comprising 20 dates, Carcass will soon be thinking about recording their fifth album.
Interview the Liverpudlian quartet together and there'll be two sure outcomes. Firstly, they'll argue amongst themselves. Secondly, Bill Steer and especially newcomer Carlo Regadas will say little.
Time for a change of tack, then...
The former Napalm Death guitarist, who has thus far blagged around 60 CDs from Carcass' new label Columbia Records, is fairly lucid about where the band's music is headed.
"We're trying to get to the core of what we're about, and strip away some unnecessary frills. There'll probably be less lead guitar. The stuff on Heartwork (the '93 album) was something that just happened, to fill out space as much as anything. As much as we tried to, we hadn't quite abandoned our old habit of making our stuff extremely elaborate"
Carcass have 'only' sold around 10,000 copies of Heartwork in this country. Their situation would appear similar to Paradise Lost's.
"But there isn't that much of a discrepancy between our profile here and the States. England's a very small country and several American states are bigger! You couldn't possibly make a comparison."
Eight years ago, when Bill was in Napalm and writing the very readable fanzine Phoenix Militia, how would he have reacted to someone predicting him being signed to a major label?
"I would have laughed! I suppose if I really stopped and thought about it deeply, I'd say it's very surprising. But being on a major label isn't really quite what you might expect. When you start a band, it seems impossible that a major label might be interested in what you do. Especially when we started, because we released what was perhaps the most all-round offensive album (Reek of Putrefaction, 1988)! Aurally, visually, whatever. So how we came from that to being in this position, I don't know!
"This is not such a could-be or would-be success story anyway - all it means is that right now we belong to this label. They can drop us any time, and we can't drop them. We've got a good deal, compared to a lot of bands, but to us, things haven't changed very much."
Bill left Napalm for full-time Carcass activities when he was 19. He's now 25, and, "It feels like a hell of a long time!"
Possessing an all-consuming love of music, he always appears to be the band's resident shy, retiring type. Does he worry a lot? Think too much?
"Yeah, but I wouldn't even be able to say how much is worrying and how much is general neurosis. I don't think anyone in this band is particularly confident, to be honest. Even underneath Jeff's front, there are... other things going on!"
Ultimately, Bill remains pragmatic.
"We just like to be realistic about what we can achieve. None of us have particularly high expectations about what's going to happen to us. We just feel like doing another album, and we've never looked further ahead than that."
The drummer has blagged around 100 CDs from Columbia so far, and notes, "I've still got the back catalogue to go through!"
He's perhaps the band's most openly cheerful figure - the son of a vet and an English Literature-teaching mother.
"My Mum's actually read over our latterday lyrics," he smiles, "and she reckons there's a lot of political qualities in there. I don't really give a toss about the political content, because Jeff can write whatever he wants. I've known him for seven or eight years now, so I know he's not gonna write anything dodgy.
"Me and Bill both came from different backgrounds - we've been friends since we were six - but we still agree with Jeff's politics. On the new album he'll present himself in a clearer way. We're 24 or 25 now, so it's about time we had something to say!
"I grew up from a working class family. But I was in the first generation that became middle class. Carlo (Regadas, the new guitarist) grew up with a tough life because of the house and area he was living in - while I was in university, and didn't really grow up until I left that isolated, safe environment."
Around the time of that first Reek... album, Ken was still aiming for his degree.
"The band wasn't doing much at the time. It wasn't until the 'Grind Crusher' tour in '89 that things started getting f**king crazy! I was balancing so much! In my last year, I was writing essays while travelling. I managed it, but now I'm out of university there's nothing else I want to do but be in a band."
And if Ken hadn't joined Carcass...
"I'd probably have a PhD! I suppose I'd be Doctor Owen, but only in a really specific field..."
Carlo, the third (and hopefully the last) guitarist to join Carcass since 1990, has blagged a meagre 40 CDs from Columbia Records. It's early days yet.
Formerly with no-hope Scouse deathsters Devoid, the quietly spoken, half-Portuguese lad got the job partly because he'd known Bill for five years.
"I started writing to him when Reek... was released. I suppose I wasn't really that impressed with their album - it was more the whole image that drew you to it. I was fascinated by the sleeve at the time. The production didn't help - you can't really hear any riffs on that record!"
A fan of straight rock and metal, Carlo turned 20 the day Carcass set off for their most recent US tour.
"I'd never been anywhere before. It was great, although I found the people a bit intimidating at first. I'm scared of my own shadow, and I believed all the stories everybody kept telling me!"
The local papers erupted when Carlo joined Carcass.
"According to the papers, I've got it made!" he laughs. "There was a headline saying, Carlo Makes The Big Time: Joins Millionaire Rock Band, and stuff like that. I couldn't believe it..."
Unsurprisingly, the bassist/vocalist has now blagged well over 120 CDs from Columbia - a throwback to the days when he would emerge from the stockroom in Earache Records with piles of CDs scraping the ceiling.
"I'll take any old crap," he admits. "Harry Connick Jnr., anything..."
While confessing to being the band's big-mouth, Jeff is often the most cynical and guarded member.
"It depends what mood I'm in. If someone's weakening me then I'll take the piss out of them. I'm pretty vocal I guess, but I know when to say it to someone's back! Bill can be pretty sharp, too. Everyone thinks he's such a nice guy, but they should hear what he's saying behind their backs!
"I think I've got more bitter over the years! I can be one of the funniest people you've ever met sometimes, but other times I'm pretty miserable.
"It's been irritating to watch bands overtake us, but it's good that it's taken this long to get a proper record label and budget. Musically we're in our strongest period. None of the other albums would have made sense on a major."
Jeff wears no rose-tinted glasses when it comes to the UK Rock Scene.
"You might look in the back of Kerrang! each week and see bands who are playing all the time, but you've got to realise that most of these places are half empty! On this UK tour, we could have taken out a production and charged a band tour support, but that's crap!"
Of the next album, to be produced by the band's mentor Colin Richardson again:
"Hopefully it will be uplifting, and make the back of people's necks stand up. Affect them inside. The new stuff's more like No Love Lost or Buried Dreams, but better than that. It's more repetitive and chorus-heavy. All the things people like in music, and the things it's taken us seven years to realise!
"I still can't write happy-go-lucky songs, and we're still a Death Metal band at the end of the day. But I've got ideas in my head which are difficult to articulate into the way I sing. We possibly need to add some different vocals. Carlo expressed an interest on the American tour, but he's been backing away from it ever since!"
Of the band members' attitudes to each other: "If you'd have been talking to us seven years ago, we would have had a lot more in common. We're friends, but everyone in this band has got a different idea of what we're doing," he chuckles. "And mine's the most important!"
Jeff sees his outlook as:
"Positive in a negative way! I'm always pessimistic, but if you're so geared towards something being successful, you've got further to fall. There's no point in telling people you're the biggest band in the world or lying about how many records you've sold... why bullshit?
"It's because I was such a punk rocker when I grew up," he smirks. "I'm living in denial, trying to avoid the trappings of the rock lifestyle! I don't wanna be f**king David Coverdale!"
It would finally appear to be the dawn of a new era for Britain's most underrated metal band.
"I'm sure we're going to do alright. But if we get dropped, so what?!"
Carcass are on the road in the UK this week with industrial quashers Cubanate in support! Their 20-date tour concludes on December 17!