After years building up a cult audience on the tiny Earache label, Carcass became the most unlikely band to land a major label deal when Columbia picked the band up with it's Earache deal last year. The first release in the big leagues, Heartwork, has just been released, showing a new audience (yourself included, most likely) the intensity Carcass provides. Live Wire hooked up with bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker via phone from Los Angeles as the band was shooting its first video for the new album. May God help us all...
Live Wire: Are you surprised to be on a major label?
Jeff Walker: It's where we belong! With each new album we've released, we've gotten better, and a bigger following. We were moving, not into the main-stream, but to the point where we couldn't be be on an independent label whose distribution wasn't big enough to cope with the demands. Besides, it's really a licensing deal; we never actually signed with Columbia. They hooked up with Earache and took the bands that they think are more marketable, and more viable.
Cathedral was the first band to release a product for Columbia, even though you and Napalm Death are the biggest sellers.
I think Napalm still sells more albums, but I think things are going to change, to be brutally honest. It's very funny, because even when Cathedral was being courted, we played at The Ritz with them and Napalm. The head of A&R was there (from Columbia), I got to meet him, and he was more excited about Carcass. They were really enthusiastic way back then, so we were condident that we were going to end up there. We were jealous, of course, because we were still going through Earache Records through Relativity! With the recording of this album, we waited until the deal with Relativity was over, because there's no way we wanted it to come out on Relativity. We could've recorded it last year, but we wanted to see if Earache went over to Columbia.
Good business move! On Heartwork, it seems that Carcass has removed much of the extremeness to its sound.
I don't know. I would like to think that this album is a lot more focused. I think the extremities are definitely still there, and we never really considered heavily into the extremities anyway. Yeah, of course what we've been doing has been kind of against the grain of traditional rock music, but it's not for extremities sake. All we've done is fuse the extreme with a more traditional feel. At the end of the day, we're still going against the grain. On this album, I think we've gone out of our way to be more accessible, but without compromising the parts that make Carcass unique. We still have the blast bits, as we call them, the really fast bits. Just because it's not 100% like that all of the time, it doesn't mean we've wimped out, sold out or got old. It's more mature and we're more comfortable doing it this way. If you have a record that is just extreme from from beginning to end, where's your point of reference? It just gets mundane and just boring. If you have slow parts to counterbalance the fast (parts), you're going to have more textured, nicer sounding musical parts that make for the album to sound heavy. It's kind of like an equalibrium. We've just matured and moved on, basically, and that's all we want to do musically. This is what we want to do. We've still got our roots on it; we're not cynically manipulating what we're doing just because we're on a major label. But we do want to cross over to a larger audience, but as far as I'm concerned we still choose the same. This is our most aggressive, heaviest album at the end of the day. It's our best album.
Many bands are taking the speed from your early recordings these days. Did this prompt your change at all?
At the end of the day, there are bands doing what we were doing at say, our second album, but we're not competing with that! We're competing with bands that sell a few hundred thousand as far as I'm concerned. That's the level that we want to be on, and we'll never go to that level by perpetually churning out the same album.
It doesn't surprise me that you grasp traditional British heavy metal values more firmly now. After all, you are British. [Duuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!]
Yeah, it's funny. If you really did compare our albums to a Judas Priest or Iron Maiden album, we don't really sound like that. We did grow up with that kind of stuff, but then again, I grew up more into punk and hardcore. Judas Priest was pop music to me; so I ignored it! Simple as that! We're not as narrow-minded as we were when we started playing music, and all we listened to was Genocide from Michigan, and German black metal bands. It was real tunnel vision. Whereas now, we listen to really anything. It doesn't mean we've necessarily mellowed out or anything, it just means that it gives us a better perception of what we're doing, and a bigger range to work with.
What do you think of the grindcore tag, and do you still think it would apply to Carcass?
That whole grindcore thing existed kind of from Napalm Death's background. The only reason they called themselves grindcore was that the grind word conjures up the speed they were playing, and the core comes from hardcore punk. That's just so generic. It's the same with the metal thing. I would say that we're a heavy metal band to a certain extent, but that doesn't mean we're a lame cock-rock wannabe reject. I mean, when you say heavy metal to most people, they think Spinal Tap. That's what I think! It's the same with the death metal thing, to be honest. Yeah we were really into death metal that was about then. I really would say that we're a rock band; ultimately we do sound new, but that we do takes the whole rock spectrum into account.
Lyrically, are you still dabbling with cadavers, so to speak?
I guess you could say that! The lyrics are a little bit more focused. It's kind of dabbling in cadavers, but with a big dose of reality. There's a big reality check going on and it's more about - this is going to sound really grandiose and pretentious - but it's about the humanized aspects of life and death...God, I don't mean to come across like this!
That's okay, I'll put your disclaimer in.
In the Carcass concept, there is a change, but I think it will still appeal to the people who are into the big words! You really have to read the lyrics to understand, but it's like looking at the institutions in which we live, but with morbid aspects and death.
On the earlier records, did you shock for pure shock value?
No, that's wrong. It was definitely nihilistic, but it was nihilistic in a sense that we could see why people would find it shocking, but we had always done it with a certain intelligence. If we ever had been taken to court, there would've been no grounds for the prosecution. But getting back to the lyrics, the lyrics now are like what I wish I was writing years ago. It's been an evolution of the albums to get to this point now. It was there on the last album, but just a bit more abstract. Now it's more simplistically achieved.
So now you've reached a point in your songwriting where you can take the macabre and put it in terms that are more common.
Yeah. The thought-line is that the truth is always stranger than fiction. These lyrics are actually sicker, you might say, because they're more about real life. In the past, they were based on real life, but they were more off-the-wall. But now, we're singing about things that really go on in human nature. It's just the way life is.
It seems like you're a lot more serious about the band now.
Well, you have to realize that when we started, we were just 18-year-old kids, and we were happy just to make an album. We never started this band to have a career in music, it just kind of happened that way. Now we're in a situation where we can sell 300,000 albums. We still do it because we enjoy it, but we can counter-balance enjoying it with the artistic edge much better with the economic edge as well! I think people have trivialized what we've been doing over the years, and I woke up and saw the coffee and realized that people have not really known where we're coming from, thinking it's immature, childish, absurd and all that. We 're not really peddling extremity for extremity's sake, and we want people to give us credit where credit's due, because we are a very valid musical force. I think people are going to have to sit and notice that.
Does it bother you when people write off Carcass and other bands of your ilk as being bad musicians?
Well. I won't talk about any other bands, because I really don't care about anyone but Carcass. I think the bottom line is that there's going to be a lot of people now who will say that we've changed, and we have become better musicians. I think people have started to catch up to us, basically.
Transcribed by Shaun, EARACHE666@aol.com.