Carcass bassist Jeff Walker: "Every bass player is just a failed guitar player."
Carcass (due Wednesday, April 2, at The Summit Music Hall) were pioneers of grindcore alongside their friends in Napalm Death. By the time of its classic 1993 album Heartwork, the band had transitioned had all but fully into its melodic death metal phase. Carcass had already had a lasting impact on extreme music and when it split in 1995. Its ability to bring a melodic hook into savage angular rhythms with lyrics unblinkingly casting a critical eye on political issues that go beyond the merely topical set it apart from many of its peers. Despite calls for the band to get back together for years, the members of Carcass didn't want to tarnish its reputation for live mayhem with a subpar reunion.
Adrian Erlandson Carcass
In 2007 Carcass returned and now it has embarked on its first international tour in nearly twenty years. We spoke with singer/bassist Jeff Walker about how he came to design the cover art to Napalm Death's Scum, how he ended up on an episode of Red Dwarf and why Carcass re-recorded rather than remixed songs by other artists.
Westword: You were very young when you were in Electro Hippies. How did you get into playing that kind of music back then?
Jeff Walker: I kind of grew up with what we call classic rock now and I drifted off into stuff like Sex Pistols. From that I went into faster and harder punk rock and then American hardcore. Electro Hippies was really a crossover band. It was heavily influenced by bands like Siege from Boston and Dirty Rotten Imbeciles from Houston and Millions of Dead Cops from Austin. It was that mixed with bands like Slayer and other thrash metal. I guess I was just at the age. I was sixteen or seventeen when I was in that band and that was just the music I liked. I was also getting back into metal and at that point metal had become harder and heavier compared to what I was listening to in the late 70s and the early 80s like Thin Lizzy and Rainbow.
You played guitar in that band, how did you get into playing bass for Carcass?
I was just a vocalist. I tried to learn guitar as a kid. As you know, every bass player is just a failed guitar player. Just as every music journalist is a failed musician, you know? When I got kicked out of that band I was asked by another band that hard heard I'd played the bass and they asked me to join. Playing the bass was easier than trying to play the guitar.
Were there any bassists you looked up to?
Probably Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols. He played bass on the album, Nevermind The Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. That's a fantastic sounding record. Now I'm old, of course, and now I respect the usual people like Entwistle or whatever. But I'm not really musicians' musician. I don't really classify myself as a musician. I really don't take myself that seriously. For me it's a trade-off because I've got to do the vocals as well and something's got to give and something's got to suffer and unfortunately it's both things in my case.
You created the iconic album art for Napalm Death's 1987 album, and one of the founding documents of grindcore, Scum. How did that come about and what inspired that piece?
What it was is that Bill Steer, who was in Carcass, had a fanzine at the time and I drew a picture for that. Mick Harris, the drummer in Napalm, who I was friends with at the time anyway asked if I could do a cover for Scum. Basically I was given a brief from him that Nick Bullen had given to him and it was the typical, anarcho, crappy, post-Crass idea. He wanted starving people with business men, crooked skulls and mini corporate logs.
So I started to work on that but then I drew in what I thought would be cool because I'd heard that Justin [Broadrick] described what we do and it was spot on. The A-side of Scum is basically Celtic Frost meets Siege. If you look at the picture, the skulls at the bottom are off a Siege flyer. And the Angel of Death is basically the Celtic Frost logo, the old one with the wings, but made into a creature. I really tried to encapsulate that. I metalized, or tried to make cooler, what I thought was a cliché, crusty punk idea.
Had you already seen Napalm Death at that point?
Oh yeah. I was in a band that was faster than Napalm Death. At that time Napalm Death still sounded like Killing Joke. I saw Napalm Death in Birmingham and I was blown away. I also saw Heresy, which was a thrash band from that period. Napalm Death blew me away because I liked the heavy bits and the speedy bits but they looked cool as well. They had this kind of typical, for that time, punk rock look but it was almost a fascistic look--that post Crass look where everyone is wearing black. They just looked cool. Whereas my band did not look cool. I was just jealous. There was no humor to it. Well there was but it was more quasi-fascistic. They looked more intense.
That was probably when Justin Broadrick was in the band.
Mm hm. It was a three piece with Bullen, Justin and Mick Harris.