[the original interview recording is now available to listen to]
4th of June, 1996 and Carcass’ next album was the swansong, erm, Swansong. Ken Owen kindly spoke to me on the phone to discuss the band, its past and what was going to happen in the future.
Hi, Ken here.
Hi – nice to speak to you at last! The new album [Swansong] came out yesterday, I believe?
I think it’s next week actually. It was supposed to be the third, but it’s been put back a week.
So it’s coming out on the 10th [of June] then? It was originally supposed to be coming out on Columbia…
[sidenote – album release has been delayed until June 24th due to problems printing the limited edition shaped CD. To make up for the delay, an extra CD with a bonus track, Emotional Flatline, unobtainable else where will be included. Ain’t Earache nice? – Mosh]
So what actually happened with them anyway?
Well, I don’t know if you know the story that led up to us signing, but basically we were licensed to Columbia in America for Heartwork after which we were out of contract with everybody. So we said, well you know, we can sign to whoever we want, Columbia wanted to sign us and it seemed the right thing to do at the time. And it was also a break – something different. So we decided to go with them. Not just because they were a major label, but because we knew a bit of their history, and saw the people who worked there in our department. The other people we’d known in fact for a long time. Things seemed to be working pretty well in our favour to begin with, with everyone behind us at Columbia. So then we had the record and I guess it just wasn’t commercial enough for them to push with those kind of vocal styles on. They didn’t actually get back to us and tell us straight what they thought, so they just let it hang around for ages and ages and never set a date for release. When we started to know what was going on we thought, if we don’t do something positive we’re going to end up with a record on the shelf here, so we may as well attempt to get it back off them. It worked out really well – it worked out fine for us. They were happy to give it back, we got the record back and went back to Earache.
Apparently, they asked Jeff [Walker – vocals] to take singing lessons?
They never said direct to him. It was just kind of the idea. I don’t think Jeff would have ever changed his style anyway. It was just asking far too much. A sudden change just wouldn’t have worked. And it was really strange for them to just start laying the law down with a band that’s already established its sound. So we decided it probably wouldn’t work with them, so let’s get off!
Was that your decision to go back to Earache?
Oh, yeah. I mean, we could have gone to anyone else. The whole link between Earache and Carcass has been there since day one and it just seems a lot more sensible. Plus they made us a better deal, so… [laughs]
What was it actually like dealing with somebody the size of Columbia as opposed to somebody like Earache?
It was a bit of a jump and it was also difficult as we had to work with the New York office who signed us. So, though we were introduced to the London office and the other offices round Europe, we weren’t actually supposed to talk to them directly. We had to talk to New York and then they’d have this international go-between who would contact London from New York and tell London Columbia what we wanted to do. It was a bit weird, like a big communication chain. A bit odd. We preferred to go down to London and talk to the people there, but apparently that wasn’t the way it worked. So there were quite a few odd little things we had to get used to. Just cogs in a huge system, basically. It kind of became obvious after a while that everyone just sings your praises while everything’s going well and people just go and sit behind once everything goes a little down, and doesn’t want to know who you are any more. We’ve still made a few friends from there, but it’s a pretty fake background.
I believe there was a problem, not the last time you toured but the time before, in that Earache couldn’t push the album you were touring on because Columbia owned it.
No – they only owned it in America. All Europe and Japan are separate from America. But, yeah, it did turn out in the end, though, that Columbia did want us to be over in the States more than we actually wanted to be. They were really targeting the States, like that was the only thing that really mattered to them no matter how well we’d done in Europe. I mean, if it had carried on I think it could have turned out really poorly for us because we’d have been pressurised into being in the States too much.
Did you ever actually tour the States at all?
Yeah. We’ve done there four or five times.
How did you go down over there?
First time was in 1990 with Death and everyone came to see us, really! We’ve been playing the same circuits for four/five tours, so we never had that big a following. About equal to Europe really. So in effect, we’re quite a success story really, compared to so many other British bands who are trying to break America. We’ve been doing it for four/five years!
Just nobody mentioned it! Like, I haven’t seen anything about you in Kerrang! for a couple of years…
Oh, fuck them! They’re just being pathetic.
Exactly. All I’ve seen is one small ad for Swansong recently.
Well basically, they’ve refused to do anything with us as there’s been too big a gap between albums, unlike Metallica…
What’s it been with Metallica? Five or six years? And it’s not like it’s worth waiting for.
Exactly, but they’ve got a big push behind them and now that we weren’t on Columbia, they just weren’t interested. But we’re just going to sell as many copies as we did of Heartwork in Britain, or getting on for. The band’s not around to exist any more, but I think people are still going to be interested in the music and I think Kerrang! is just shooting itself in the foot a little bit.
It’s been doing that for a while, actually!
Yeah! I know a lot of people from there and we get on well personally, but I think the whole policy for it is just… backwards thinking. I can understand if they just want to promote Brit rock bands who are doing well, but I think we’ve got a lot to say. We were the only band of this genre to be on Columbia, or any other major world-wide label or anything. We were one of the only bands from Britain to actually have done well internationally. We’ve got a lot to say, but it’s a shame the fans aren’t going to get the chance to read about it.
I noticed on the album that you’ve got a new guitarist as well.
Carlo [Regadas], yes.
Where’d you get him from, then?
Well, we would have had him a fair while earlier, actually, except for just… circumstances, really. What happened was when Mike Amott left and we needed another guitarist, we already knew about Carlo from Liverpool anyway because he’s friends with Bill and knew Jeff a little bit. He used to be in a band, Devoid, from Liverpool. But we got another guitarist, an American, to fill in for some of the tours and that didn’t really work out, so eventually we got back to Carlo again and said, you know, we’ve got a bit of time to practise. Learn some songs and come and see what happens. So he came and toured with us and helped with writing the new album.
Personally, I’ve only seen you the once, on the Body Count tour about 2 and a half years ago.
Newcastle – I was back home for that one.
Yeah? I think that was the first time we’d ever played in Newcastle directly. We played the Riverside after the Body Count tour, but previous to that we’d never played Newcastle. Wow! Kids actually liked us and we hadn’t been up there before!
Well, as the title suggests, this is the last album from Carcass. But is there any possibility of you touring on it?
No. Definitely not, no. We decided a while back now that it wouldn’t have worked out for us to do that again. We’d had so many problems with other guitarists in the past… Not, I mean, with personal problems. It’s just going through the whole process of finding a guitarist who seems to work with the band, and also personality-wise. Because, you know, if you’re on tour for two months it has to work or it’s more hassle and you have to replace them. So we didn’t want to go on the vicious circle trying to find a guitarist who was good enough to replace Bill. We found that having the three core members from around 1987, we could write really well together. There was no ‘forced’ writing – it all just came together really simply. All three of us contributing. Bit that’s over 8 years of working together and I don’t think we could have just found someone to replace Bill. I think it would have been impossible. So we just decided to call it a day rather than tour with some band that just wasn’t Carcass.
Are yourself or the others considering starting another band or doing anything else musically?
Well, Bill left because he wanted to go and do something different with music. So that left is with the situation. We could have carried on with Carcass, but the rest of us just decided to call it a day. We’re carrying on together, actually to start a band called Black Star. That’s going to happen in the future, and Bill’s going to go off and do some other style of music – get a band together as well.
So what sort of stuff are Black Star going to be doing then?
Well, it’s not exactly Carcass, but it’s got some of the elements of it. It’s got the heaviness and I think it’s more Swansong than any other part of Carcass’ history. It’s more to do with songs and melody. Jeff’s vocal style’s changed – a bit of a contrast, really. I think the riffs are more… upbeat – not so bleak sounding. It’s different, but it’s got the same sort of elements.
Well, you have changed a lot in the past. You’ve gone from the old Reek of Putrefaction album, then middle-of-the-road with Necrotism and then it changed quite drastically when Heartwork came out. Was there any particular reason for changing? Were you just getting fed up doing the old ‘splatter’ sort of stuff?
Yes, there was that part of it. I think what you do, is you end up being away for so long – like a couple of years – and you’re playing the same kind of music from whatever album you happen to be promoting. When you come back, you’ve already worked out why those songs don’t seem to be working – why you’re fed up with certain things. You just want to do something you haven’t done before, something a bit different. Move on a little bit, and something that work’s a bit better live. One problem with Carcass in the past has been that we’ll start playing the song, especially if you haven’t heard it before, and you can get into parts of it. But then it goes and jumps off into a tempo change or a different riff that suddenly comes in and it doesn’t keep the same groove throughout the whole song. It just jumps around too much for some people. I think with Swansong we’ve accomplished more of what we set out to achieve with Heartwork. It’s been the same with every record. Every record has been a jump in some way. We’ve got a logical line of evolution, if you like. It’s never been a matter of an extreme jump. It’s always been working in one direction.
Reading the blurb that comes with Swansong it says that there are a couple of songs about Columbia.
Hmmm… there are definitely a couple of songs that could be released in the future that are to do with certain characters at Columbia. Just the whole mentality. We thought we were an established band – that we didn’t need someone going about telling us how to do things. But I think Columbia’s just full of people saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and encouraging you because they know it’s the right thing to say. It is kind of hard and it did wind Jeff up especially, as most of the flak was levelled at him about his vocals.
I notice that track 3 is called Black Star. Is that an inspiration for the new band name?
Well we didn’t know at the time, but I think out of most of the tracks on the Swansong album, Black Star is more like what we’re trying to do in the future. I think it was kind of a brave effort for a Carcass song. It is different to what we’ve done before.
Who did the cover art this time? I know you got H.R.Giger last time round.
It’s a woman called ‘G’ [I think. Not sure of the spelling – Mosh] who used to be in Crass and do their covers. Jeff commissioned her to do it based on her other work.
Well, it’s a cover to watch on the shelves. And I’ll certainly also keep an eye out for Black Star and anything Jeff gets involved with. Swansong comes out on the 10th of June and I hope it does as well for you as Heartwork did.
Well, I think we’re all at least as happy with this as we were with Heartwork. It’s a shame the band’s over and we can’t support it but at least at the end of the day people have got the music in their hands – and that’s going to last for however long they want it to. Well, thanks for the interview. At least some English press is interested and giving us chance still!
You’re welcome and I hope to see Swansong in the top 40 this time!