By Andrew Bansal
British extreme metal legends Carcass made a triumphant comeback in the year 2013, with the release of their long awaited and overdue sixth studio album ‘Surgical Steel’, their first since signing to Nuclear Blast. To celebrate and promote the new album, Carcass played a few gigs in various parts of the world, including two intimate back-to-back sold-out shows at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Now, they are gearing up for a full North American run, the Decibel 2014 Tour featuring Carcass as headliners along with support acts The Black Dahlia Murder, Gorguts and Noisem. A few days ago, I spoke to guitarist Bill Steer to discuss the tour, ‘Surgical Steel’, gear, his short stints in radio and Angel Witch, negative reviews, and more. Check out the conversation below.
Bill, it’s great to have you on Metal Assault. We’ll mainly talk about the Decibel North American tour that you have coming up. How’s the band’s preparation going?
It’s been pretty good. We’ve just been doing what we usually do, which is practice a bit. I guess we started early this year anyhow because we had the 70k cruise festival thing in January and also the Kirk Hammett festival. So we’ve already managed to get out there and get into some kind of shape after Christmas.
It’s your full tour in this part of the world after a long time. In terms of the set list, how are you approaching it? Is it going to be more of a comprehensive thing or is it still going to focus largely on ‘Surgical Steel’?
I’d like to think we’ve taken the common sense approach, which is finding middle ground, because with a band of this pedigree people will expect to hear a lot of old material. They want you to represent all of your old albums if possible. So we bear that in mind but we also do have a more recent album and we want to include that in the set too. You can never get a perfect balance but we’re always doing our best to include tunes from everything.
In your own opinion, how are the newer songs fitting into the set? Do you think it’s flowing well with the older stuff?
To be honest, we haven’t had any problems. We just go out there and play whatever set we’ve knocked together that afternoon. It seems to flow nicely. I guess you’ll have to ask an audience member, but we’re fairly happy with it.
You have some good support bands on this tour as well, with Gorguts, Noisem and The Black Dahlia Murder. So aside from your set, there’s good reason for people to come out to these shows.
Yeah, I think it seems like nobody really wants to put a tour on the road without a huge package angle to it. I guess the days of seeing two groups touring seem to be gone, really, unless you’re absolutely massive which we’re not. I don’t really get involved in the booking so I was just told it’s a four-band package and we’re playing with an extra local band every night. That sounds very similar to what we did last time in the States.
Right, and last year you played two shows at the Troubadour in West Hollywood and a couple of shows on the US East Coast. You were revisiting the Troubadour after many years, so that must have been like a trip down memory lane for you to play there again, right?
It was! It was lovely. It’s a classic venue, and I love playing clubs anyway. That’s the most comfortable environment for me, musically. Yeah, there was a real buzz at those Troubadour shows.
Talking of ‘Surgical Steel’, it’s been out for six months now. How do you look back on it and are you personally satisfied with how everything turned out?
Yeah, I’m about as satisfied as I could be. I don’t think any of us would say that the album is perfect, because it’s clearly not (laughs). But realistically, we got what we wanted and we sort of spent a long time on that. As with any creative endeavor, you have to let go at some point. It was just a mutual agreement when we had a mix that we were happy with, that the record was done. There’s always things you question, about your own playing and stylistic angles on certain tunes. But overall I’m pleased with the album. It feels like an achievement on a personal level, because me and Jeff, we took this seriously and we didn’t want to come back after taking all this time and deliver a turkey.
Moving to your gear, you’ve been known to use old guitars and vintage amplifiers, if I’m not wrong. Do you take that stuff on tours, and do you ever worry about causing damage or wear and tear to a piece of gear that might be expensive or irreplaceable?
I only really use old guitars with Carcass because the kind of tone that we go for, you have to use a modern high-gain amplifier. There’s just no other way to get that kind of crunch. So the amplifier side of things is quite easy. We’re lucky to have a bit of help from the people at Fender because they do their new EVH amps, and that’s a big part of the sound that you hear on ‘Surgical Steel’. So, often we’re out and about and they’ve actually provided amps for us, whether it’s for a club gig or a festival or whatever. So that’s really nice. With the guitars, yeah the ones I take out are old-ish. They’re 70s guitars, so they’re not worth a fortune. But I don’t really worry about wear and tear. To me a guitar is something that’s to be used. If you just keep it at home and hang it on the walls to look at it, it’s no longer an instrument, is it? It’s not being used for the purpose it was designed for.
For guitars, you’ve pretty much stayed away from endorsements, right? That way you’re freer to use what you feel like.
Yes, there’s a few reason for it and that would be the main one. Also, I haven’t really been approached by anybody. It’s hard to explain. As a metal musician in a medium-level band, you will get people approaching you to do something but sometimes the offers are a bit cursory, like “let’s just get another person to add to the roster”. They’re not really interested in doing anything special for you. It’s just another thing that they’re going to put in their catalog. So, that would be another reason I suppose. I mean, I don’t really need to have free guitars just for the sake of it, because I’d rather have a couple of guitars that I absolutely love and relish playing rather than five free guitars that I’m not quite happy with.
Exactly. So, a few years back you were involved in a radio show in England. What was that like for you?
It was a fun opportunity to just play stuff I was in to! They didn’t really give me any kind of brief about what to do (laughs). It was just a case of them opening the door for me to their studio to do whatever. As for some of the technical aspects, I had no idea how to even do the show. So I had to keep nipping out asking people in the office what I was supposed to do with the gear. But the nice side to that was they never critiqued what I was playing musically. It didn’t last long, it was just a few months.
And during the time Carcass was not exactly active, you played in Angel Witch for a short while, which is a band that I really love. They have a very cult following kind of thing. Obviously now you’re busy with Carcass again but how was your experience with Angel Witch?
It was a lot of fun. I grew up listening to that band, particularly the first album. It was really enjoyable playing those songs alongside Kevin Keybourne. But I was well aware that it wasn’t something that would last very long, because of my commitment to Carcass. It’s been quite easy for them to find a replacement for me. There’s been so many people that have gone through the ranks of Angel Witch over the years, it really is just all about Kevin, his singing and style of playing.
That’s very true. Well, I was watching an interview that Jeff did recently and he was talking about reviews of ‘Surgical Steel’. He said that he actually prefers negative reviews if they are well-written. What’s your take on that? As a band, are negative reviews important?
I would kind of agree. I mean, obviously I’d rather have a positive review and that’s a given, but if it’s just somebody trotting out the same old clichés or almost like recycling several other people’s reviews, it’s kind of meaningless, you know. So yeah, it’s frankly kind of refreshing to read somebody slagging off your band (laughs), if it’s written well. I have read a couple of bad reviews, needless to say, and the problem that I had with those reviews was they were just kind of almost like a desperate attempt to score underground points.
You mean they were just trying too hard to be different and stand out from other reviewers?
Yeah, it was their way of showing the world how deeply hardcore they are, or would like to be. I can’t really relate to that outlook because I actually do enjoy different kinds of music and I don’t have this kind of elitist mentality where I’d only listen to music that normal people hate. I don’t really get that mindset. That was something I may be had when I was 16, but it didn’t last very long.
That’s interesting. The reason I asked you about this subject is, I keep it very honest on my website and a lot of bands and musicians get really offended by that. I don’t mean anything bad personally, it’s just supposed to be constructive!
Yeah exactly, Jeff has said this a million times, but with the internet being as broad as it is now, everybody has become a critic. I don’t think bands have ever been happy with journalists, but now it’s kind of this situation where everybody is a journalist, you know. Everybody is just blurting out their opinions all over the internet wherever they feel like it.
Decibel Magazine Tour 2014Carcass, The Black Dahlia Murder, Gorguts & Noisem
03/18/14 The Beacham Theater – Orlando, FL
03/19/14 Masquerade – Atlanta, GA
03/21/14 Prophet Bar – Dallas, TX
03/22/14 Mohawk – Austin, TX
03/24/14 The Press Room – Phoenix, AZ
03/25/14 The Observatory – Santa Ana, CA
03/26/14 The Regency Ballroom – San Francisco, CA *WITH REPULSION
03/28/14 Commodore Ballroom – Vancouver, BC CANADA
03/29/14 Showbox at the Market – Seattle, WA
03/30/14 Roseland Theater – Portland, OR
04/02/14 Summit Music Hall – Denver, CO
04/04/14 Mill City Nights – Minneapolis, MN
04/05/14 House of Blues – Chicago, IL
04/06/14 Newport Music Hall – Columbus, OH
04/07/14 Stage AE – Pittsburgh, PA
04/08/14 Sound Academy – Toronto, ON CANADA
04/09/14 Metropolis – Montreal, QC CANADA
04/10/14 Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
04/11/14 Best Buy Theater – New York, NY
04/12/14 Trocadero Theatre – Philadelphia, PA
04/13/14 The Fillmore – Silver Spring, MD