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Bill Steer (Firebird)

Interview with Bill Steer from Firebird
by Yiannis Dafopoulos at 15 October 2010, 3:10 AM

When you have the chance to meet a legend like Bill Steer in person you just can't miss it! When I found him we grabbed a couple of beers and had an interesting chat about various subjects. Damn, I wasn't expecting such a calm, smiling and easy going person. He is the man!

You have been here with CARCASS, FIREBIRD and you will also play live in Athens with GENTLEMANS PISTOLS. How many times have you been here in total?
I am not totally sure. The first time I visited Greece was as a tourist and that was in 2003 maybe. Then I was here with ALABAMA THUNDERPUSSY, that was the first time for FIREBIRD. Then I came for Rockwave Festival with CARCASS and now I'm back again with FIREBIRD. It should be fun!

How did you get in GENTLEMANS PISTOLS?
I always liked them as people but I was also a fan of the band. One day they got in touch and said "our guitar player is leaving, are you interested?" and I said, yeah, why not? I had the chance to play the guitar in a band again. Not my band, anybody else's band. So I'm not singing, I'm not writing music. I'm just playing.

So you haven't written anything in GENTLEMANS PISTOLS' new album?
I didn't need to because they have so much material. There's the new album coming out, but probably there's material enough for another album. My role is just to play guitar and sometimes just come up with a harmony or something.

What about the new FIREBIRD album? Are you satisfied with the outcome?
I'm never really satisfied. It's alright. We did it in January and it came out in Japan this summer. For various reasons which are too complex to go into it hasn't been released in Europe yet.

You're still in Rise Above Records, right?
Yeah, but they didn't want to release it very quickly because they felt it was too soon after the previous record. In our position it wasn't too soon because we had to wait a year for that record, "Grand Union", to come out. So in our minds "Grand Union" is more than two years old. Because there was a delay with the release of that one and now there's a delay with the release of this one. So, we're not too happy about that but that's just life man. Anyway, it's definitely different from the previous one. There are differences. We pushed the riffing side of things much harder. Around the time we were doing the record I was listening to a lot of BUDGIE, DIAMOND HEAD and that comes out in the music a fair bit, it is more aggressive. There are also differences in the production. For the first time we tried to make it relatively dry and really up front in the speakers. We normally go for lots of ambience but just for this occasion we felt like trying something different. I thought it would be predictable if we make an album that sounds just like "Grand Union". It sounds pretty strong to me. I mean, if I do another record tomorrow it would be different. I learn from some mistakes in this record, like you always do.

Are there any covers in it?
No, "Grand Union" had three covers but this time we didn't do any, hahaha!

What about the cover? It is once again pretty simple. Who designed it?
A friend of mine called Tim Burn. He usually designs book covers so doing an album sleeve was quite weird for him. I think he always does a good job. He's very tidy, very minimalist. Very basic but very strong. He's done three sleeves for us now.

Was it his or your idea?
It was kind of a cooperation between us. We asked him to do a simple logo with this kind of feel. We sent him lots of different logos particularly from nearly 80's British bands. Anyway, that way he had a feel for the kind of thing we were looking for. He did a few attempts, and the last attempt is what you see on the sleeve.

How's the feedback you've got from the press until now, since the album has only been released in Japan?
Generally very good feedback. I believe it's almost caught up "Grand Union" regarding sales. I really don't know. It's such a strange time for music right now. I do not take record sales that seriously. Because I've observed there are some bands that don't sell that much but have such an amazing following. They play live shows and it's crowded, people sing the songs…

Now you are in two bands actually, that both belong to Rise Above Records let's say. From what I understood you are not that happy with the label, at least with FIREBIRD. Have you thought of changing label for your future releases?
No, I mean we are very limited in our choices of labels. To be really honest with you there aren't many labels who'd be interested in us. It's a difficult time. Nobody's selling records anyway. With Rise Above we actually have a good relationship with them in the sense we can call and ask for something or go there in person and collect records and CD's to sell on tours and they're very easy going about that. The bad side as I said is just the situation when you end up wasting a year for an album to come and by the time it's released it's already old. Labels have got their own agenda, it's never gonna match the band's agenda. That's just how it is. I really don't want to complain about that label because generally they've been good to us and I know how bad it can be with a label.

Where do you get the inspiration musically and lyrically to write the songs for FIREBIRD?
Hmmm, good question. I guess the approach of the songwriting in the new record is quite different from the previous one. In the previous record, most of the songs were written home and then I brought them to the band. More like "here's the verse, here's the chorus". This time me and Ludwig went into rehearsal and put songs together day after day. I always came with a riff but not finished. That was the first time we had an album with that kind of structure. I guess that explains why this album is kind of "riffier".

Have you written any parts with more guitars or keyboards for instance like you have done in the past?
There's no keyboards in the record. We decided it wouldn't work, it didn't suit the music. With guitar overdubs I've started to relax a bit more. In the past I was kind of against them. They were on the records but in a very discreet fashion. This time there's just a bit more guitar. That's just the mood I was in at the time.

Have you thought of having a session guitarist for your live shows?
Nah, people have mentioned it. The whole of this band is like it is a triangle. If you bring in an extra person it's gonna mess with that chemistry. We've been doing this for so long it'd be really weird if we threw in a new guy.

Talking about the chemistry in the band. Do you think that you've found the right line up after the addition of Greyum May?
Yeah, absolutely. But you know, things change. To give you an example we've had a couple of bass players who were primarily guitar players. When they asked us to play we always said "Are you sure? Because you're a guitarist!" And they really wanted to do it. The fact is for the first year he really wants to play the bass. Maybe after 1-2 years he wants to play solos again. Sometimes such things happen…

Have you managed to make a living out of music out of all the bands you've been involved or did you have to work to pay your bills?
Well, for the first ten years (17-27) I didn't have to work at all so I was very lucky. Then I think at around 27 I had left CARCASS and I was actually doing nothing for two years and I started running out of money. That lasted for about ten years. I was doing all low commitment, low paying jobs. When a job doesn't suit you or they don't like your lifestyle you jump to another. Then the CARCASS reunion happened and I had to quit my job because we had to be away for almost half a year. Right now I'm ok. Next year who knows what the story will be?

Is there going to be a new album with CARCASS?
People often ask about the album. With things being as they are, nobody's approached us for a record. There's no demand from any label for us to do an album, so it is very unlikely we will. Another thing is that the ARCH ENEMY guys are really busy so despite they're not founding members this kind of changes things.

Don't you have any riffs buried somewhere?
Oh, I've got tons of riffs! You know, everything's just got to be right. We can't do a half baked album. Maybe someone may give us money to do the album in a week, but it needs to be right. We can't do something that's weak.

Why don't you release it on your own?
I don't know, maybe it is possible, but Jeff's running the CARCASS show. I just play guitar and he makes the business decisions. I listen to what he says a lot. He actually stays in touch with the extreme Metal scene, keeps up to date with it. For me the extreme Metal scene is only about the late 80's and the early 90's. I know nothing about the modern scene really. For example when we went to Los Angeles on the second US tour of the CARCASS reunion we played with REPULSION. It thought it was fantastic. We played with many modern, strong Death Metal bands that are extremely tight. You know, it is like sports to them. They lift weights, they're jogging. Everything needs to be perfect. REPULSION is sloppier though. It has a more Rock & Roll approach. But to me it just stood up head and shoulders above everybody else, and that's what I miss from music.

What is your opinion on the British Metal scene nowadays? There were once many great bands coming from there, but nowadays the quantity/quality has somehow been lost.
I don't know what that is. To me the UK isn't in very good shape musically. Every night there's a live show somewhere, so that's something. There are bands everywhere. If you go back to the 80's being in a band didn't mean necessarily becoming massive and famous. The whole idea was that you were doing something that belonged to a subculture. What you have after SLIPKNOT and KORN is a lot of people selling their success. They want to meet girls and be on TV and stuff. It's hard to explain but I can actually hear this motivation in their music.

What differences can you see between the studio and the stage?
Well, it's all about that moment when you play live. It's all there! In the studio everything's under the microscope. The number one thing though is the audience. The difference between a good crowd and a bad crowd is enormous! One can pull out an amazing performance out of you; another one might make you feel like giving up.

What are your expectations from the Greek audience tonight?
I don't expect anything but I have to say this. Last time we were here it was fantastic. If it happens again tonight we would be very happy!

How do you manage to find free time for yourself between all these bands?
Well, mostly it's fine. I chose this life. If I wanted a normal life I should get a proper job. This is the reverse! I'll be away every weekend playing somewhere. It's a bit too late to change, hahaha! I can find a little time to relax, but I live in London so you can behave like you're busy even if you're not. It's crazy there! The only way I can relax is just to go into my local pub. It's really quiet and you can have a drink, read your newspaper…

Well, thank you for your time. It has been an honor talking to you.
Thank you mate! See you later!


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Edited 09 June 2023

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