I checked my mobile phone and I had a voicemail message from Nick Lord, editor of HEAVY Music Magazine. I dialed it up and listened to the message.
Nick sounded breathless and troubled.
“OK I asked it. It wasn’t good. It sooo wasn’t good. Oh dude. I can’t believe I asked it. Give me a call.”
Let me back up and explain.
I’ve been friends with Nick for years. Interestingly enough, we met through a bunch of house-music friends despite us both being metalheads. I developed skills in playing really fast music, screaming, mainframe support, fine dining, and writing. Nick developed skills in djent guitar, running magazines, chess, and speaking Russian and Spanish. I ended up returning to Australia to a job that affords me ridiculous amounts of spare time. Nick is editor of Australia’s premier – and only – heavy music magazine, HEAVY.
Nick contacted me one day, wanting to know if I could write an article on short notice. The topic was ‘Bass playing in black metal’. I was like sure but what happened to your usual columnist? The guy, ex-Superheist bassist Drew Dedman, had not only failed to submit a column by deadline but hadn’t responded to calls, emails, or texts for a few weeks. So I pumped out the article overnight and it went to print four weeks later. When it hit the newsstands, Drew finally responded to all the attempts to contact him with a message to the publisher, asking if he’d been fired*.
Nick asked me if I wanted to take over the bass column, and I said yes. I found the fact that I was writing authoritative print columns on bass-playing hilarious as I hadn’t touched mine in a few years. Occasionally, I’d wake in a cold sweat, afraid that someone like Alarum’s Mark Palfreyman was reading some of my dribble, but I did a few more columns over the next months and all was well.
One night I was again contacted by Nick who asked another favor: there was a Carcass interview coming up and the journalist he’d organized to do it had bailed out on him with a few days to spare. Nick was going to do the interview himself at super short notice and, knowing I’m a longtime Carcass fan, asked if I had any interesting questions.
“Who are you interviewing?” I asked.
I’m a huge fan of bands from the late 80s/early 90s death metal scene and know almost every single thing there is to know about them, especially the old Earache ones. I have enormous respect for all those bands. For those who don’t know them, Carcass were making a comeback after being defunct for many years. They’d just released a kickass album and were now playing every big festival around the globe. Even more heartwarmingly, they took along their previous drummer Ken who could no longer play drums due to a stroke he had a few years back. ‘Necroticism’ was one of my all-time favourite albums, and Ken wrote a few songs on there.
I needed to explain all that, because the questions I fed Nick went all the way from ‘hot’ to ‘extra crispy’. I was drunk when I wrote them, and the few times I’ve been around Jeff before, he was a bastard. Charmingly so, but nevertheless.
Here are the questions I presented with no omissions:
1: Why are you such a cunt?
2: Is it true that Jeff spent his non-Carcass years working in the passport office? Or was it the post office?
3: Which one does he hate worse: Columbia Records, or Earache Records? (their previous labels)
4: He recently went on record as saying that bassists are failed guitarists. In which case, what are failed bassists? (needless to say, Jeff is a bassist)
5: ‘Surgical Steel’ came out and blew everyone away. Is it too early to ask about a new album?
6: Does Bill Steer really like playing death metal still? Or does he just have an uncanny talent for writing good tunes, and his heart still rests with Firebird and wah pedals and the harmonica, and does Carcass for shits and giggles?
7: Tempted to do a ‘doom’ album with Ken on drums? As that’s the only speed he can play after the stroke?
8: What does he prefer now – tours and fest slots with big paydays, or the early days when he had dreadlocks and was neck-deep in the burgeoning grind movement?
9: Who were his most hated labelmates, back when he was on Earache?
10: When are you going to apologise to Sam Bean from Berzerker about releasing ‘Swansong’? I mean, fucking really
11: Ken composed some top shit, like ‘Symposium of Sickness’ on Necroticism. Seeing as though Jason Becker can compose symphonies using only a straw in his mouth, is Ken going to return to the composition process at all?
12: Ken, Ken, Ken, Ken, Ken?
13: Was this comeback ever meant to be this comprehensive – new album and world touring? Or was it just going to be a few festivals? Why’d they change their minds?
14: When you were at the peak of your career and Britpop was possessing every human soul on the British Isles, did you ever stare at yourself in the mirror in the dead of night and go “who….am….I”
15: When are you going to admit that the real reason Colin Richardson finished work on ‘Surgical Steel’ early was because you’re insufferable pricks and he couldn’t bear to work with you any more?
16: Which would prefer to set on fire: Dig Pearson, or Nottingham Rock City?
17: Why no more Michael Amott? Really, like the real reason, not that “he’s too busy with Arch Enemy” nonsense you keep trotting out
18: Ever tempted to get drunk and go back into the studio and belt out a new album with the sound and skill and performance of ‘Reek of Putrefaction’? It’d be ace, you could be super hammered and wouldn’t even have to rehearse. You wouldn’t even need a producer
19: The facebook announcements from the Carcass page are sarcy as fuck. It’s you writing that stuff, isn’t it Jeff ?
20: If you received a penny from every track that has been released by every metal band ever that has either ripped off your music or lyrical approach, what would you do with the tsunami of bling?
And we laughed and laughed and laughed.
Of course a lot of those questions weren’t serious, I explained. Use your discretion. But Jeff is a cunt, and he totally knows it. Everyone knows it. If you ask him that question, every musician and record label he’s every worked will probably be queuing to high-five you the next day. Totes. Digby Pearson will probably buy you a box of chocolates to thank you for being the one to finally say it. But they’ll be cut-price chocolates cause Dig’s a cunt too**.
It was all a good laugh, the kind you have with a mate and you both get in touch with your immature side and milk it for all it’s worth. I left it there and kind of forgot about it until I received the voicemail message from Nick.
I called him straight back.
“You did WHAT?!”
God I wish I could paraphrase what Nick said. I nearly had a prolapse I was laughing so hard.
The gist of it was that Jeff was on the interview circuit for Australia and they were all phoners (phone interviews). Nick was first up, and the call was at some ungodly hour. There was a bit of fluff chat between them before they got going, where Jeff was having a genial whinge about how hard it was for everyone to do these interviews at this time of day, and how it’d be OK if the interviewers didn’t all ask the same questions over and over again. I mean, Jeff had said, it’s as if no one’s even heard of Google.
The seed I had planted in Nick’s mind caught the sunlight and pushed out of the soil.
Nick explained to me that he felt Jeff was throwing down the gauntlet, and that if he didn’t rise to the occasion then he’d get just another interview filled with the usual press-release scraps. It was only when the question was halfway out his mouth, that he realized how badly it was going to go. But it was too late to turn back:
“Well, there are plenty of questions I could ask that I’m pretty sure haven’t been asked before” he said, pausing, “like ‘Why are you such a cunt?’”
When Nick told me that, I was so overwhelmed by joy and wonder that my facial expression was the same as the 6 year-old girl meeting the unicorn in this picture:
“And then there was silence,” Nick said. “Just SI-LENCE.”
I can’t even begin to fathom what must have been going through Jeff Walker’s head at that moment. Here he was, on the phone at ridiculous o’clock, being called a ‘cunt’ straight off the bat by an Australian from the same bastard convict country that stole his band’s backdrop the last time they were out here.
I know what was going through Nick’s head though, because he told me: “He said nothing. NOTHING. And I was shitting myself like, oh no, I’ve lost the interview. He’s going to hang up any second, and I’ve got no idea what I’m going to run… and it’s a goddamn cover story and we print in three days! Fuuuuuuuuck.”
But Jeff didn’t hang up. To his credit, he came back with something like, “Well, you could ask that and you might think you’re trying to be funny but maybe you wouldn’t be as funny as you think you’re being, now would you?”
From there, Jeff actually opened right up and Nick managed to retrieve an absolute killer interview. Jeff was right, of course – most interviews in metal are conducted by halfwits and student writers who don’t do any research, are disastrously under-qualified to handle the interview and appear entirely unaware of how the internet might help them to write better interviews. They ask bands the same boring questions over and over without even realizing that it’s the exact same material that appeared in Terrorizer last month, Kerrang the week before that and some Spanish blog the week before that – all of which they’d know if they’d just googled ‘Carcass interview’.
Despite Nick’s obvious chutzpah, I’d like to think I had some part in bringing this interview to life. With that almighty opening question, Jeff was allowed to give his famously-sarcastic wit full reign and although he was justifiably sharp in places, the interview was exceptionally candid. Nick managed to goad Jeff into giving figures, money figures, for how much their label was investing in their latest album and how much they’d made from their latest record so far. Jeff had swatted at the topic laconically with, “My mother told me it’s rude to talk about money” before opening up and declaring that the band had made around $250,000 so far from the Surgical Steel release and the related tour. Amazing. BANDS NEVER EVER GIVE THOSE FIGURES.
Nick didn’t get everything I wanted out of Jeff, who didn’t apologize for ‘Swansong’, for example, but I didn’t care. I was stunned at the information Nick did manage to get. The resulting article was a triumph. Not only did Jeff not terminate the call after that tricky start but he also spoke for an extra ten minutes over the allowed timeframe.
But that’s not all.
Remember how I said earlier that Nick wasn’t supposed to be doing the interview and how he’d been dumped in the shit at the last minute because the writer he wanted had backed out on him? Well, it turns out that Nick found out that the journo in question interviewed Carcass anyway… for a rival publication. This came out when Nick saw the interview schedules for Carcass – “Nick from Heavy” was listed first and the journo who’d pulled out because of blah-blah-blah was on straight after him… writing for someone else.
After the interviews, Nick emailed the journo to slam him… only to discover someone had beaten him to it. The writer didn’t care that he’d been busted pulling out to do the interview for another mag but he did care that his interview with Jeff went so badly that he didn’t actually have a story. Apparently he’d opened with a question about whether their old guitarist Michael Amott might work with them again in the future and Jeff had exploded: “HE’S NOT IN THE BAND! HE WASN’T ON THE ALBUM! WE’RE NOT PLAYING WITH HIM! HE’S NOT COMING BACK!!! EVER!!!!”
Then Jeff slammed the phone down.
*Here’s the full Drew Dedman deadline deal. I can’t help laughing every time I read it. It’s a transcript of the editor frantically trying to get this dude to submit his piece. This is what it’s like trying to get anything done with the metalheads in this country, in a nutshell:
Jan 2 – briefed in writing (email) after a personal phone call to every columnist to get them to OK the brief and deadline. They all said OK, no problem.
Jan 9 (to all columnists) – “Columns must be in by tomorrow morning”
Jan 14 – “Drew, I really need that Strings and Skins piece. It’s well overdue, mate. How’s it going? Nick “
Jan 16 – “Drew, your article is now one full week overdue. I’ve sent texts and emails and have called you but all to no avail. Can you please tell me when we’re going to receive it? This is now an urgent matter. Nick “
Jan 21 – Still no response. Email to Publisher – “I’ve found a replacement for Drew Dedman, who is still avoiding all contact. I’d like to switch over immediately. Are you cool with this?”
Publisher: “Go for gold”
Feb 10 – still no contact. Drew Dedman removed from the Facebook magazine contributor group.
With the magazine on the stands for four weeks, Drew finally got in touch with the publisher and asked why he’d been removed from the Heavy contributors group on Facebook. It was the first time he’d contacted the mag since he’d been replaced and it was two months past his original deadline to the day.
** Just kidding. Both Jeff and Dig are lovely people. The full interview with Jeff appears in HEAVY magazine issue 10.