Carcass will surely go down in history as one of death metal's greatest acts, not to mention one of the innovators of the genre. Six studio albums showcased an immense progression from unadulterated noise into a more rock-driven terrain. Their demise brought about such rock-fueled acts like Firebird and Blackstar. Nevertheless, the band inspired and can be held responsible for numerous offshoots such as Exhumed, Impaled and countless others. Metal Update got the chance to talk to drummer Ken Owen about his tragic brain hemorrhage from 5 years back, as well as afterthoughts on the band's career and their new greatest hits release, 'Choice Cuts.'
Interview conducted on 6/3/04.
METAL UPDATE: How does it feel to have been part of a highly influential death metal band?
KEN OWEN: It was wonderful. Even today our legacy still exists. At the time it was fantastic. Touring the world. Getting the albums released. It was a special part of my life.
MU: Is 'Choice Cuts' part of a contractual obligation with Earache at all?
KO: No. Our contractual obligations with Earache have been up for years now.
MU: So why was it shelved in '99?
KO: I had my brain hemorrhage and it wasn't very good timing.
MU: So was it your idea to get it going again?
KO: That was Earache's idea.
MU: Are you happy with the results?
KO: Very happy. I think it's a brilliant album. I'm really pleased that it's coming out.
MU: "Wake Up and Smell the Carcass" was a greatest hits of sorts too, right?
KO: To a degree, yes it was.
MU: But then this one had some extra materials. A couple of 'Peel Sessions.'
KO: Exactly, yes.
MU: You guys were definitely one of the first to do the grindcore/death metal thing. What were your influences going into it?
KO: We've always been influenced by bands like Death, Possessed, Slayer. A few bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal as well like Raven, Saxon, Iron Maiden.
MU: What was your goal as a band?
KO: To be heavy and melodic, fast paced drumbeats. Basically to be one of the heaviest bands in the world, as probably every young metal extremist when they form a band. There's nothing special about the members of the band, so to speak, in terms of what we wanted to achieve. The same as every other band.
MU: Where did the early lyrics come from?
KO: Well, I was studying biology in school, so I had these textbooks. I was always interested in it. So the medical terminology came from me. I started writing some lyrics as more of a chance of fun really.
MU: There's also talk that you guys were ironically vegetarian. Is there any truth to that?
KO: Yeah. Obviously, we had become vegetarians beforehand, but the vegetarianism and the death metal imagery we used in the lyrics is ironic, yes.
MU: 'Swansong' saw you guys really leaning in a rock direction and ironically you all ended up in rock style projects. Were you all growing tired of the death metal thing?
KO: I think because we had been playing for so long, the band became slightly jaded. The band was getting tired of certain aspects of it.
MU: Looking back at it now, do you think your progression was natural?
KO: Very. Yeah. Especially looking back to it now. I don't think we were jumping around style-wise. It all occurred in a linear way.
MU: Did you feel like you'd sell more albums by stripping down your songs in 'Swansong'?
KO: This might come as a shock, but we never were completely taken up with the idea of selling albums in a commercial sense at first. It didn't really affect the music that we played. We just played music that we liked and hoped people would buy it.
MU: What led to the demise of Carcass?
KO: You know it's hard for me to remember precisely, but I think we were all getting a bit jaded with the scene. We wanted a new direction and the only way we thought we could do it was to disband and reform.
MU: And that came in the form of Blackstar.
MU: Did you feel the need to end the Carcass name to bring in this new style?
KO: Yeah, I think so. Yes. I think that Blackstar should be a completely different thing from Carcass. Otherwise it would have become confusing.
MU: Blackstar ended up folding, because you had to leave the band due to the brain hemorrhage, right?
KO: True, yeah.
MU: How's your health now? How are you doing?
KO: Fantastically well these days. I've gone back to drumming again. Double bass drumming as well. I've got a Roland V-drum kit that I can play any time of day.
MU: Would you say you've recovered fully, or as fully as possible?
KO: Sort of, yeah. I began the gym, going on treadmills so I do a lot of walking. After the surgery, I could not walk. My health returning was a very slow and painful process.
MU: So nobody saw that coming but everyone has been really supportive, right?
KO: Everybody has been fabulous. My family, my friends, the fans of the band, absolutely everyone without exception.
MU: Looking back now, what was your favorite Carcass album?
KO: That would be 'Swansong.'
MU: You pretty much felt you guys were progressing and peaking to your potential then?
KO: Oh certainly, yeah. I think we peaked. It was a shame to end it really but I'm glad we went on to form Blackstar.
MU: You're proud of that stuff as well then?
KO: I certainly am.
MU: Since the band's demise, has there been many copy cat acts that you like, that have obviously tried to keep the Carcass thing alive? I don't know if you've heard bands like Exhumed or Impaled or the County Medical Examiners. Have you heard any of those bands?
KO: I've heard a few tracks and there's been compilations as well of Carcass cover bands, mostly from Australia it seems. It's a worldwide phenomenon.
MU: This can be the "Where are they now?" segment. Do you know what everyone from Carcass is up to these days?
KO: Bill's in a band. He's been touring recently. I think he lives in Paris at the moment. Jeff is still in Liverpool. I haven't spoken to Carlo in a long time.
MU: How about yourself. Have you pretty much just been taking it easy and trying to get back to good health?
KO: Exactly. Five years ago I had my original hemorrhage. Four years since the surgery. In all that time, I've been in medical rehabilitation. I worked and tried to build my strength up and learned to walk again and do things that normal people can do like everyday tasks. I had to relearn everything.
MU: I understand you have a music collection. Is that correct? Would you consider yourself a collector?
KO: Yeah, I love music.
MU: What kind of stuff are you currently into? I think I read somewhere that you're into a lot of techno or electronic music.
KO: Exactly right, yes.
MU: What kind of bands or artists have you been listening to these days?
KO: I really like Jeff Mills from Axis Records from Detroit. I love hip-hop. Ice T, Public Enemy and all that sort of stuff.
MU: Do you listen to much metal currently?
KO: Bands like Quicksand. I haven't been able to keep up in the last couple years with what's been happening, so unfortunately it's gone by the wayside a little bit.
MU: Do you think there'd be any chance of a Carcass reunion in the future? Would it be realistic to think that you'd be able to pull that off?
KO: It's a great desire of mine to be able to play with those guys, but I don't want to squash any hope of reforming the band because I don't think it's very realistic. The other guys have other things now. They've got other bands, other projects and new lives now. I've been struggling to get back to the way that I used to be. It would be great to be able to jam out with the other guys, but realistically I think that we won't be able to do that.
MU: What are some of your goals for the future?
KO: Well, I've been living with my folks for the last five years and I'll be moving into my own place soon, so that's a great step forward. I'll continue making music. I've got a Cubase program, so I'll be making some electronic kind of music in the future.
MU: Other than that, keeping up the health and what not?
KO: It's still quite a struggle to be able to keep up my mental state. It takes a lot of energy and effort to maintain a positive outlook on life.
MU: Are there any final words you'd like to send out to Carcass fans worldwide?
KO: Thanks for the support through all these years. Without you we would have been nothing. A big cheers to anyone who has ever given us a second thought.
review of Carcass 'Choice Cuts'
review of Carcass 'Swansong'
review of Carcass 'Symphonies of Sickness' vs. 'Heartwork'
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