In the past ten or so years, Great Britain's contribution to the music world has been limited to a precious few brilliant moments... the majority, wuss jangle pop that, if you're anything like me, makes your stomach crawl. That said, I'd bet dollars you couldn't find a more progressive force in brutal music than Liverpool's Carcass. Throughout their four LP career, Carcass has evolved from all-out primitive savageness to epic classical precision. And whether you are a fan of the old school or new school, you just can't deny their output. With several of their contemporaries force-fucking lucrative trends into the grave, Carcass stand as one of the few bands in severe music to survive the trends atop a major deal - an idea that has some folks shouting "compromise!"
But let's face it: if a band was really into compromising music for cash, wouldn't they be insane to play extreme music? Why not mumble something about Zen or Elvis? It's easy enough, with the right video and a snotty attitude, you too can be molded into an English pop tart sweetheart hitting the charts!
Approaching completion of their fifth LP, Carcass are set to sever their ties with skeptics, corporate bullshit, and deliver their gut instincts. With each release, they've dealt with the pressure behind the picture with marketing, personnel and business expectations, studio patience... the whole deal is enough to ulcerate your insides, yet the gratification seems to make it all worthwhile. As I talked with Carcass driving force Bill Steer on their new recording trip, I became more aware of the pressures to come.
"It's the obvious thing to say," confesses the well-respected guitarist. "The only pressure I felt, and I think I can speak for the rest of the band, is the pressure of trying to please ourselves again, which is sort of hard 'cause we didn't want to repeat what we did with the last album. We were happy with it at the time, but a few months after, we started to pick faults with it. When we got together to write songs, the challenge was to do something different. What we have is different. I don't think it is drastically different, although some people might think so. I think it's pretty recognizable as Carcass. As far as the label goes, we couldn't begin to think about what they expected from us. We would just end up twisting ourselves into knots. These days music is getting very contrived, at least the business end of it, and if you listen to situations of what you should or should not be doing, you'll get very confused very quickly."
Having heard a few tracks from their upcoming release, I can honestly say it's pure Carcass - crunch in the guitar, rasp in the vocals, and fine-tuned rhythms and structure. Yet their perspective of the artist recording versus the fan listening are splintered opposites. Bill elaborates on his view of Heartwork (their critically acclaimed landmark release of last year) compared to their current standing by stating, "I don't think there is that much difference with this record, maybe the approach to recording it. We told ourselves that we wouldn't go for that big sound that we had on the last album. It was a little overproduced. It's the kind of thing that when you put it on the first couple of times it's kind of stunning, but it wears off real quick. The whole thing is so monstrously heavy, it never really gets less than or more so. It stays the same throughout, and there is no breathing space. This time, we tried to get a more honest sound out of our instruments. I think what we have is a lot more of a live sound than the last time. That's a weird thing to say, because we actually spent a lot more time in the studio with this one. But that might have something to do with how much material we recorded."
Nine weeks and seventeen songs later, objectivity can be tossed out the window, making it extremely difficult to judge what's genius personified or total crap. At the moment, Carcass are dealing with the aftermath. "Everyone is just recovering," confesses Steer. "It's actually pretty difficult to talk about the record 'cause it's still kind of a sore subject for us. We are exhausted. We couldn't even listen to the record with any objectivity in the studio, and we still can't. I think it went on for nine weeks and don't want to ever work that way again. I'm completely sick of it. That's the thing, I know I'm a very critical person, but I don't have that kind of patience... however, Colin (Richardson, grind producer extraordinaire) has that kind of patience. He's just a driven man when it comes to getting something and he'll pursue every avenue to finding it."
As for the tunes: Generation Hexed, Child's Play, Tomorrow Belongs to Nobody, and the Neil Young word-play salute Keep on Rotting in the Free World may suggest sarcasm replacing clinicism. However, the lyrics suggest more personal issues. "The lyrics are out-in-out negativity, to be honest," reveals Steer on lyricist/vocalist/bassist Jeff Walker's war of words. "The titles might suggest otherwise, but it's pretty bleak. They're kind of personal and I can't say the rest of the band agrees with them."
Bar minimal contributions on the first couple of releases, Walker's contributions have been limited to the lyrics, leaving most of the musical contributions to drummer Ken Owen and Steer. However, with the addition of the local guitarist Carlo Regadas, Carcass finally have the facilities to work as a band, with all members contributing. "This album is the first time in a long while... in the whole seventeen tracks, there are three songs that Jeff wrote all the music and lyrics. As everybody already knows, he has always written the lyrics, but now he's crossed over and started contributing to the music. One of the tracks that Jeff wrote pretty much everything for, Go to Hell... in rehearsal, it didn't really sound that special. But by the time we put the music and vocals down, I began to like it. Now it's one of my favourites.
"Carlo has contributed quite a lot as well. (On) a song called Black Star, all of the music is his. There (are) a few other songs... actually there is another called Third Hand (where) he wrote all the music (as well)."
For those who saw the Carcass/Life of Agony tour last year, you got a good look at rookie guitarist Carlo. Over the past couple of years, his slot has been sort of a revolving door until now. "It's difficult to say," speculates Bill on Carlo's interaction in the Carcass ranks. "When you're on stage and there's a general racket going on, it's difficult to draw comparisons. We haven't really done that much together. We've done one short US tour and a British tour. I think, to be honest, the band came to the conclusion that we should get someone who lived over here; we wouldn't have as many travelling expenses. The fact that Carlo was from the same town as Jeff and myself definitely helped. He was already into Carcass; it's the background he came from."
The conversation drifted at this point to their career, musical progression, and eventually full-circle to their current pressure situation. "It's very difficult to experiment; the general attitude is to do something a little different. We do what we do and sort of see what happens. I've prepared for whatever happens. It's very difficult to read people's minds as far as the music goes, if they think it's commercially viable or whatever. I think with the major label... it's, in a sense, the band's chance to actually go somewhere else, to break out. In those terms, I think that the pressure of this being our fifth album... it's very difficult to keep surprising yourself, it's easy to become jaded. I think it's better than the last one, it's a bit more honest, more humanity. The last one... I can't think of another record that has a denser sound. This one is closer to what you might hear if you were in a good room listening to Carcass on a good day.
"It's very difficult to define what a band is really about. This is the problem: once you release something, the public have their hands on it; they can make of it what they want, and people that buy a band's record have pretty strong ideas of what a band is," he continues. "It's very weird. I think the broadest way to see if a band is still a band is to see if it's the same people. Each record is those people getting together and re-assessing what they do musically... I mean you never really get it right. All the signs are there on each record of what kind of pushing and pulling is going on in a band.
"Certainly Carcass' first album, and maybe the second, was (the sound of) a band that was desperate to reach the furthest limit of what a band could do with music. Part of that was naivete. When you are that age, that inexperienced, that kind of thing seems attractive. We just wanted to play as fast and heavy as possible. The first album didn't really turn out that way, it's really just a wall of noise. That wasn't quite what we were after; we wanted it to be brutal, but not that harsh. The second album, even that sounds totally over the top. But even then, everyone in the band was listening to a lot of hard rock and other kinds of popular music. It didn't come out in the music; we still had a lot of heaviness to work out of our system. With the third, we accepted it. We established a certain musical language. When the three of us sit down to write the music, it's only going to come out one way. That's what brought us together in the first place, to write intense music. It's impossible to stop it in a way. We bring in outside influences, and by the time (they're) put through the Carcass machine, (they're) totally unrecognizable. The third album is when I would say that we started getting more experimental. I mean, I wouldn't call it experimental, but in the context of the style of music that we are playing, yeah, I guess it is."
Outside of priority one, finishing and releasing their new LP, Carcass have been busy remixing other projects as well. "We remixed a Bjork track called Isobel, but it's not going to be released after all. I believe that she herself didn't like it. To some extent, I don't blame her, I'm not entirely happy with it myself. It's one of those things... we're not the kind of band that everyone sees eye to eye (with). So, like everything else we do, it was a bit of a compromise just working on that song. Isobel is a very sparse and weird song. I get the impression that her solo stuff is centered on the vocal; some of the song is unbelievably basic, musically. She's such a strong vocalist that she's managed to elaborate on a really small musical idea. Actually, we heard that we might get another track to remix. You see, the impression that we got is that the label sort of handed over a track without consulting her, and as it turned out that song was really personal to her and she didn't like the idea of anyone touching it to begin with."
Following some remixing of their own release, the record (still untitled, at press time) should hit the record shelves in the fall. After that, touring... writing... more releases... a vicious circle for this rot 'n' roll affair.