Guitarist/vocalist Bill Steer of UK classic rock power trio Firebird is one of few individuals in the realm of heavy music who has been able to pull of a total stylistic 180. Beginning in the ‘80s as the lead guitarist for grindcore gods Carcass, Steer began a decade ago to concentrate on a sound fueled by ‘70s leads, fast cars and bellbottoms, without ever crossing into retro unoriginality. Joined by bassist Smok Smoczkiewicz and drummer Ludwig Witt, Steer has just released Grand Union, Firebird’s fifth album, through Lee Dorrian of Cathedral’s Rise Above Records.
Where does the title Grand Union come from?
That was a name that seemed to be everywhere around the time we were preparing to make the album. I was working in a warehouse for a couple years and every time I went to lunch, I’d always go to grab a quick pint during the midday, the beer they served was called Grand Union. Then I moved into a room in Hackney on the corner of the Grand Union Canal. And then, I guess extending it, I also felt like this line-up of the band is the best we’ve had, so in a sense, that was a ‘grand union’ as well.
The thing is, there’s a grocery store up and down the East Coast of the U.S. called Grand Union.
(Laughs) I heard about this, in the States, yes.
How did the timing for writing the songs work out? Were they written after the Carcass tour or before?
Oh no, the whole record was recorded before Carcass even played a show. For various reasons we ended up sitting on the thing for close to a year. Some of the material goes way back, actually. At least a couple of tunes Ludwig and I demoed a couple years back, and then by the time Smok was in the band, we were playing those tunes live. Some of this material has really been worked on. Even a cover like the Humble Pie tune, ‘Four Day Creep,’ that was used to open our sets on our tour with Alabama Thunderpussy on our tour across Europe. When we recorded it, we were thinking of using it just as a bonus track, but it just came out to be good enough to be on the album proper.
There were also one or two tunes which were written very close to recording. ‘Blue Flame,’ that was a real band effort. I just found myself hacking that riff out, and then the other guys stopped me and said, ‘Play it again,’ before I quickly forgot what I was doing. Then they had ideas springing off that and suddenly we had a track that sounded like the opener. This was the day before we went into the studio. So it’s a good blend of old and new.