AN INTERVIEW WITH OBITUARY

 

Obituary was one of the bands to perform at Wâldrock, July 9th 1994. The day was progressing. It had rained some time earlier but the whole rest of the day seemed to promise dry and sunny weather. 'Backstage' is actually far too ornamental a word for the mess behind the large stage. Basically it was a farmer's backyard filled with parked cars, Trans Am Trucking vehicles and tour vans, between which some people (primarily members of Anathema) kicked around a soccer ball and other ambled around nervously in search of something or other. Rather deep trenches had formed themselves where heavy trucks had ploughed through the sodden earth - a perfect place to sprain your ankle.

Anathema had finished playing and Skintrade was due to appear next. After downing another beer for courage I started talking to some official-looking people, asking them whether perhaps they were aware of Obituary having arrived already. The band was not scheduled to appear on stage until somewhat late in the evening but, as chance would have it, they had already arrived.

I was guided into a large shack. It was quite cool, on the contrary to outside, where it was sometimes a bit stuffy. Half of the ramshackle building, most of its windows broken, was occupied by stacks of hay, and there were even a few chickens that scattered away as we walked through. A bit further down provisional walls had been made of ropes and hanging sheets. All bands had their dressing rooms here, with the exception of Gwar (they were housed in a special army tent at the other side of the backstage area). Band name labels identified these dressings rooms, and as one sheet was flapped open I was ushered into the Obituary dressing room. Mitch of Napalm Death (who does a project together with some member of Obituary, called Meat Hook Seed I believe) was talking with some of the guys. I had trouble recognizing them. All long hair has been gathered in ponytails and stuck under baseball caps, and Frank Watkins (bass) had cut off most of his hair altogether. Trevor Peres (rhythm guitar) didn't look his usual evil stage self and John Tardy (vocals) looked altogether too small, too normal.

I was introduced to Donald Tardy, drummer, and we were guided to a van outside where we could commence the interview in relative peace and quiet. I was sweating quite profusedly, what with there being no breeze in the van to cool me down and there being enough sun to do some proper heating. With the Skintrade soundcheck in the background I started the interview.

 

Well, Donald, what's your place and date of birth, and do you know that of any of the others?

Donald: Miami, Florida, January 28th 1970. My brother was born in the same place, Miami, Florida, on March 15th 1968.

Before you were in Obituary the band was called Xecutioner. But what did you do before that?

Donald: Um...I was a junior highschool student. I was very young at the age we actually started the band, 1983 was when we first started it as Xecutioner. I was 13 years old, so I was still going to school and basically being a young kid. We were all very young at the time when we met. We were just kids, friends hanging around, that wanted to be in a band.

Why was the name changed?

Donald: Because when we were gonna release our album there was already a band called Executioner, from Boston, Massachusetts. We knew we had to change it before we did the first album, so that's why we thought of an appropriate name. And at the time that was Obituary.

What can you tell us about the forthcoming album, "World Demise"?

Donald: The new album has 12 songs. It was produced by Obituary and Scott Burns and help-mixed by my live sound man, Big Shirt. So it's a combination of these that brought the production together. I was pretty excited about the new album because we've gone through a lot of shit, I think, using Morrisound every time, if you're familiar with it, if not, it's just a basic...we were...you know this is our fourth album using Morrisound and Scott Burns and a lot of people on the last album said they think we should have changed to try and make maybe a better album. We're really confident in our decision of going into Morrisound. We knew we had 12 songs for the new album, we went in there, we had quite a few different things ideas-wise, we had some samples that we have going throughout the songs, some songs that we wrote just for the samples, em, just a little different in, how can you say, in the song style, in the writing of the songs, there's maybe just a twist, a little more groove to the music and maybe just not so fast, maybe not a million-mile-an-hour bass drum but still songs that are very heavy but [that] are very easy to listen to for everybody in the crowd.

Around this time the chauffeur of the bus, who had been eating his luncheon and not distracting us at all, is been joined by another guy who promptly starts discussing things with the man in Frisian. Instead of entering a discussion starting off with "Hey, would you mind? We're doing an interview here!" I continue.

Does the new album sound more 'live', what with your live man being involved in the mix?

Donald: The album was recorded a little bit more 'live', I think, because for one thing we didn't sample the snare drum and the toms and shit like we did on one of our albums. We did play live; I played my drums live in the studio, and the way we miked it has a lot of philosophy on what would sound good live. And we took that to the studio and really used that to the best of our ability to get a better production, I think, doing it that way.

Scott Burns is almost like a sixth member of the band. What did he contribute to the album?

Donald: He brought us the confidence that, even if we don't know how to run a computer or sampler, you know, the machine we bought to just go beyond death metal, em, he convinced us that as long as we make up the ideas in our brains that him and his assistant is gonna get this out of our brains and into the board the way we want it. And I think that was important for the band because a lot of bands have an idea but can't really explain it to a producer that they're not friends with or not close to or that they can't really relate to. And it was really important for Obituary on this album to stick with what they were feeling comfortable with, because it is our most important album, our fourth and biggest album that we're gonna release, so, em, it was a decision of staying with Scott because we're definitely comfortable [with him] and wanted to feel comfortable with this album.

Was it recorded with the same line-up as your previous album, "The End Complete"?

Donald: Yup. Same band members (Donald Tardy drums, John Tardy vocals, Frank Watkins bass, Allen West lead guitar, Trevor Peres rhythm guitar, ED.).

Why is the album this much delayed?

Donald: I think a combination of things. A very small portion of it was, I guess the recording and the preparation for the album took maybe 3, 4, 6 months more than we had actually anticipated. But even bigger than that, the band's been done with it for 4 months. It could have been released already. The whole key to it, I think, is timing. They're waiting for the perfect time to release it, not only for what other bands are releasing but also, when Obituary is gonna be here the album is there, so we're definitely on tour at the time of the hottest part of the album, which is gonna be the first three months of sales. And we really wanted the time to tour. It comes out in the United States in perfect timing when we're there, and in Europe. That's the delay now, the label knows when it is the best time to release the album.

What bands influence you most?

Donald: The band as a whole, I think, is not influenced by other music that we think...that we think is good enough to put in our music. We don't look at bands and say, "Man, this band's getting big, we need to kinda do something like this." We've been together for 10 years, and we have a very unique writing style from day one since we've been writing, and we've always stuck to that, which is listening to music which has actually nothing to do with our band and when we come down to write our own music. We listen to anything from rap to house music, techno, em, acid rock, country music. I listen to a wide variety of music, but one of the varieties I wouldn't say would be a heavy metal or a death metal band when I'm at home listening to my stereo, or in the bus listening to headphones. I stay away from it because I'm doing it all year long, I hear it every day of my life when I'm on the road. I can't say that a band that's real heavy is influencing me for the last album or is gonna influence me for writing songs for the new album. I think the thing that influences us has something to do with music but it's things like this, when we get to come to a festival and play with bands we've never played with before, play in front of some kids we've never played in front of before, and hope that these kids are going to enjoy Obituary. That's an influence for Obituary as a whole, to really keep their eyes and minds set on being influenced in the right way to write new music, I think.

What with Morbid Angel, Death and Obituary all sortof coming from Florida, is this state seething with death metal bands?

Donald: No, I believe people here and people in the United States that don't live in Florida get that concept that there's a million bands and a million people and a million fans and a million...em...whatever for death metal and the whole scene, but Florida is very laid back, the population is mainly, em, there are young kids that are getting into it and there are more kids than compared to 2 or 3 years ago that are getting into it, but it's just like any other part of the world. It got flooded in the last few years, with the scene, I think any place, including here, has blown up. There's a million bands, there's a million fans, and right now it's an important part, you know, to all these bands when they realise that they don't make it on one album. They write another album but it's hard to write 2 or 3 good albums. So, it's important right now for Obituary to realise that we have a good album, get out on the road, and wait for all these millions of bands to fade out and let the kids really concentrate on us.

It struck me as a terribly arrogant thing to say, but Donald's entire disposition makes it evident he doesn't mean it like that. There's no smug grin, no feeling of superiority here, just a matter-of-fact statement without the intent of weight. I continue with a question about the bass player on their debut album, Daniel Tucker. There was a story going around about the man disappearing altogether for months and retrieved much later, totally confused. What was true about that story?

Donald: Nothing, that's a bunch of hype for the band, we were just making a joke. Daniel just didn't fit the band and he wasn't very responsible. He wouldn't show up for a couple of practises, or he wouldn't, you know, contribute. It obviously wasn't going to work. The rumour just started like any other, but there's not much to be said about it, you know. He was a bass player that filled the spot until we found Frank.

OK then, who is your favourite drummer?

Donald: It's hard to say. I guess, I mean, for me being impressed by somebody it would have to be Vinnie Paul. He's a big influence on me individually. Actually not songwriting-wise, because I don't think Obituary and Pantera have any musical...em ...you can't say either has been influenced by the other musically, but for me being a musician and seeing how perfect of a drummer he is, how disciplined his feet are, and his legs, how determined he is...

At this moment Skintrade starts playing. Donald closes a van window, thinks for a while where he was, then continues.

Donald: I would guess, I mean, there's a lot of drummers, I'm not the type of drummer to buy a thousand videos and watch all these drummers, like Steve Smith, and...em...just a million drummers. I don't do that. I'm into bands, I'm into the live scene, I'm into amateur people that are getting better and better every day - like myself, like Igor from Sepultura, like Vinnie. They don't consider us a professional. I mean, I don't consider myself a professional. I consider myself a professional musician and a business man, but I don't consider myself to be the perfect type. So I'm influenced by anybody that impresses me. I think the whole key is being open to anything. I'd listen to anything - jazz, country, acid rock, as long as the drummer's impressive I respect that person in every way.

What's your favourite book?

Donald: I don't read (smiles). I just drum.

(Preparing him for a "fave film" question) But you do go and see films, do you?

Donald: To tell you the truth, we were home for a year and one month and I didn't see one video or one film. I didn't see anything. I think the last movie I saw was "The Fugitive", that was on video.

What's your fave Obituary song?

Donald: (Thinks for a while, there are obviously a few) Probably "Solid State", that's off the new album. We're gonna play it today.

The record company executive who introduced me to the band opens the door to the van, requesting us to relocate. It had to be used to pick up another band. We move to a spot behind another van, hopefully as much out of reach of Skintrade as possible (which isn't too much anyway). For some reason or other, this location also forms the start of the last section of the interview, the "words to react to" section.

Bill Clinton.

Donald: A man who's got a lot of shit to deal with and who I personally don't think is the man for the job. He's just like anybody in politics; he's looking out for himself and that's just about it. Any way he can, to suck up, to kiss ass to anybody, he will. But when it comes down to what he does for the earth and what he does for the people, what he does for the United States, is just as bad if not worse than what the basic public does, financially, for the United States. I don't like to say the word "idiot", but I don't care for the man at all.

Scott Burns.

Donald: One of my best friends.

MTV.

Donald: Not enough. Too much shit. They need more real music. I'd be happy with an hour of something like "Headbanger's Ball" a day.

Roadrunner (their record company, at least for Europe).

Donald: Doing the job for now (grins). We're not actually looking out for another deal, we would like to see one but Roadrunner does us OK. They're doing the job right now for us and I think to bring Obituary to the next level what it's gonna take is a major label and getting a major scene. Sepultura just signed a Sony record deal. We've just played three shows with them and I heard their manager tell them they had the word that they went gold in Australia. Kids are opening up and it's very important that they understand that Obituary is a serious band that will be around for many more albums.

Wâldrock.

Donald: Very, very...em...very, very cool thing for the kids. Not all death metal but also other music that at least the kids can relate to.

Last, would you like to reveal something with regard to Obituary's future projects?

Donald: This album will come out in the United States as an EP one month before the release. Three songs, one song of which is a bonus track. There's 13 songs for the album but there's only 12 on the album. So one of them is a bonus track for the EP. In Europe, after that album comes out, a 7" is gonna be released with that song, so that's something in the making. Also this year, hopefully within the end of '94 and recording through '95, by the end of '95 I would like to see Obituary with sufficient stuff that we're gonna put out live, maybe a live album or a live video. It's a wish, but reality is that Obituary is gonna release something live. We're not sure what it's gonna be, if it's gonna be an album release or whether it's gonna be a home video to see us live. There's definitely going to be something live released from Obituary. Probably "best live stuff of Obituary around the world" or something. If my live sound man has enough time with the board and he's got enough good shows we've got a lot to pick through. We've recorded some stuff, but this year we're gonna concentrate on some really good recordings, to really seriously do a live album, not an album that you're going to have to clean up, redo the solos, or re-sing it. It's gonna be completely live. If I drop a stick and it hits the drums you're gonna hear it, if my brother's voice cracks you'll hear it, if Big Al (Allen West, ED.) fucks up a little in the solo you'll hear it, because Obituary I think is a very good live band and that's what we want to put out.

That signifies the end of the interview. We walk back to the dressing room ("dressing bunch-of-blankets-held-up-with-ropes") because I had told Donald I had a few questions for John too, if he didn't mind.

Just outside, I get the chance to ask John the questions. It's quite a bit closer to the stage so there's a bloody racket, basically. I find it extraordinary that his voice is totally normal. Barney's voice (the singer of Napalm Death) is totally knackered, but John's isn't.

Say, John, do you use vocal effects?

John: For the most part none, nothing. Any effects you hear on the record or live are just obvious, well, delays or whatever.

I had read that many parts of Obituary lyrics are not true lyrics as such, but more a case of using the voice as an instrument. How does he go about that? And is a song different each time he sings it?

John: No, it's always the same. It's sortof a language I kinda developed of my own, so if I run out of words that don't sound right I'd just make up one that sounds right.

Will the next album have a lyric sheet?

John: No.

I thank John. Quickly I ask Trevor a question. I had often tried to play along with Obituary on my guitar, only to find out their guitars are tuned lower. How low?

Trevor: We're down-tuned to D (that's a full note down, ED.).

And thatís it.

RK

Written July 1994

 

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