Continuing The Rot: A Conversation with Obituary’s Donald Tardy

There are three things in life that are absolute, 100 percent, take-it-to-the-bank certainties: Death, taxes, and the perpetual heaviness of Obituary, the moving-into-legendary-status five-piece that emerged from the swamplands of Florida in the late 1980s to become one of the forefathers of death metal.

Their music can be described in a number of ways — as long as that description includes “heavy,” brutal,” “bone-pulverising,” and “uncompromising.” Whether it’s the band’s 1989 debut,  “Slowly We Rot,” or 2017’s self-titled opus nearly three decades later, the pedal is, and always has been, crushed to the floor.  

Incredibly (especially for their brand of ferocious metal), nearly 30 years in, the band is showing no signs of letting up. John Tardy (vocals), Donald Tardy (drums), Trevor Peres (guitars), Ken Andrews (guitars) and Terry Butler (bass) have a busy schedule in 2018, including a North American headlining tour with Pallbearer, Skeletonwitch and Dust Bolt that is slated to kick off in May. The tour will include a stop at Wooly’s in Des Moines on May 15.

Drummer Donald Tardy took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to speak with ListenIowa on what it was like to be at the center of the rise of the Florida death metal scene, and the frustrations of trying to sell records in today’s music industry climate, among other things.

Obituary has a heavy touring cycle the first half of 2018, with a European jaunt, followed by the North American headlining tour with Pallbearer, Skeletonwitch and Dust Bolt slated to kick off in May.
We are super excited about our 2018 schedule and really looking forward to both of these headlining tours. We have been fortunate to be a part of some killer touring the last year and a half with Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, Kreator and the Battle of the Bays Europe and U.S. legs with Exodus. We had a blast on all of them, but now it is time for us to put together a setlist of all the classics and new songs off the last two albums and bring it to the fans with a headline tour. We purposely selected smaller venues in Europe for this tour to really get intimate with the fans and allow them to be up close and personal with us. It is always fun playing big venues and big festivals, but this is what we cater to, and this is what we really love. We are also really looking forward to the U.S. headlining tour in May, digging deep and selecting songs from the catalog that we haven’t played in a while. We want to hear from the fans on our socials which classic songs they want to hear, along with songs from “Inked In Blood” and the new album, and we are ready to allow our American fans the chance to be a part of our VIP experience. We did this on the Battle of the Bays tours with Exodus, and the fans seemed to appreciate the opportunity to meet us, but this time we are going to step it up and give them multiple levels of a metal experience. Everyone just keep your eyes on our Facebook and official website for details.

Compare the thrash/death metal climate now in Europe as opposed the U.S. Are there any major differences you see at this point?
I am proud to say that metal is still very much alive, whether it is thrash or death metal. Fans in Europe and America/Canada are really just as passionate as they’ve ever been, and we are fortunate to be a band that they follow and support. We have always had a strong following in Europe, and it seems to be growing and as popular as ever here in the U.S. thanks to our heavy touring schedule and being apart of such a killer record label like Relapse, who have done a brilliant job with the last two releases. They’ve pushed it hard in getting it in the hands of the fans in such a creative and efficient way and have worked so well with us on everything these past three years.

How has the reception been to the self-titled album released last March?
We were so stoked on the reactions we got from the fans with the new album. It’s always a good feeling to see your fans enjoying new music, but the overwhelming positive reactions we got from our fans is simply amazing and reassures us that we are on the right track with who we are and what we do. We have been a band for over 30 years, and a lot of our fans have followed us the entire time. We know it is all about them, and for them, that we create album after album and pour our blood, sweat and tears into every song we write.

The new album seems to have a freshness to it, retaining all the integral parts of classic elements of the Obituary sound but not sounding derivative in doing so. How does a band stay relevant today amongst a huge glut of thrash bands.
We have always marched to the beat of our own drum, never letting outside influences disrupt our style or writing process. We are pretty down-to-earth dudes and are very comfortable in our own skin, so no matter what is going on in the music world, when it comes time to create new material, we just do what we do, which is just start jamming and the songs usually find us. We always just write music that we like, and we believe that is what our fans want and expect from us. “Keep it simple stupid” is our motto.

From the rip-your-face-off “Brave,” to heavy-as-hell, mid-grind of “A Lesson In Vengeance,” it’s a fluid listen front to back. Did you make a conscious effort when writing the new album, and in its sequencing, to make sure there were different elements with regard to tempo, guitar interplay (“Sentence Day”), lead breaks (“Betrayed”) so as to not just pummel the listener into submission?
I guess there is always an element of consciousness on what songs we are working on, what songs have been finished and what songs we would like to feel and hear, but we are not the band to analyze everything too much. We just get into the jam room, crack a cold beer and start playing, and most of the time we are able to come up with ideas that turn into songs without too much effort. As for the sequence, that is an absolute calculated decision and song order that I always look at, study and create to make it a smooth, exciting flowing album when the final product is finished. Even the spaces in between songs is analyzed even though most people don’t probably think about that. We try to put it together as fluidly as possible.

Let’s back go back in time a bit to the 1980s and early 1990s when Tampa was the death metal capital of the world with you guys, Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, etc. What was it like back then, during the infancy of the Florida (and in some respects the entire U.S.) death metal scene? 
It was a pretty amazing time and hard to believe it was 30 years ago. We were super young when we started as Executioner and had no idea that the Tampa/Central Florida metal scene was about to make such an impact on the world. I remember I would ride my bike to different neighborhoods to watch Nasty Savage practice, and Savatage were right down the road creating music that still today is some of the best metal music and our favorite sounds. The was before Cannibal moved to Florida and when Chuck and DEATH were carving their path in Florida death metal history along with Deicide, Atheist and Morbid. We were all making a big stink and killer music early on. I can remember there seemed to be a killer show every weekend, either at a club or keg party in the woods. It was amazing. We were way too young to be allowed in bars, but it was the 1986/87, and there was always a way in the back doors of the venues. We were lucky enough to be able to play shows with all these bands and the scene was unbelievable for Florida fans. We opened for Nasty Savage quite a few times at a couple venues, and we literally had to sneak in the back door because we were under age. Luckily these were much more innocent times and amazing experiences for all of us at such a young age. We were making history but didn’t know it or realize what an impact it would all have on the metal world. We were just going for it and having a blast being a band.

Talk about how working with Scott Burns at Morrisound Studio.
We were recording “Slowly we Rot” when the one of the engineers at Morrisound had family issues and had to leave, and Scott happened to be there as a studio helper, patching cables, setting up microphones, changing garbage cans, etc. So when Tom Morris asked what we would like to do, we said “Hey Scott, let’s finish together.” He was super young as well, and it was the first time and first album he took over and engineered, and it was the beginning of a long and great relationship together. We were super lucky to have such amazing studio right there in Tampa and to have Scott Burns, Mark Prator and the Morris brothers. Again, we didn’t realize that we were about to make history and put the spotlight on Morrisound so brightly, but along with Deicide and Morbid Angel, we showed the music world what we were producing there, and the final products were undeniable. The world took notice, and before we knew it, bands from around the planet were flying to record at Morrisound and Scott. Pretty amazing what a bunch of great guys and world class studio can do.

Early on, there had to be some extremely lean times without the support of radio or the larger audiences of today thanks to the Internet. Was there ever a point where you said, “ Screw it, as much as a I love this, this is an uphill battle.”
We still say that on a daily basis because even though the Internet allows us to stay in touch with our fans and it seems the entire world is listening to our albums, it’s quite apparent that the majority are not buying the albums — just streaming it — which is tough to swallow. We put everything we have into writing new material and dump all our money into recording new albums and paying for sick artwork for album covers, so it sucks to see the lack of album sales every year that passes. We know fans around the world are listening and enjoying the new album, it just would be nice to see actual album sales. But we can’t cry over spilled beer, so we just accepted that the times are changing so very quickly and the future will be much different for bands and for the record label.

What kept you going?
Beer, whiskey, weed.

Obituary took a break in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Looking back, did stepping out of it actually help the band to return later with a fresh perspective?
Yeah, looking back it was probably a blessing in disguise because for nearly two decades we were in the grinder and worked our young asses off in an industry that doesn’t care about the humans behind the logo or their lives and feelings, so to be able to step back and do other things in life was well needed, wether we knew that at the time or not. I think it helped us realize once we got back together just how lucky we are as Obituary and the opportunity we have to play music for a living and do what we love and want to do. Life is good!

Another Florida question, on another topic. Do you have children of your own, and did the recent school shooting hit home a little closer since it took place in your home state?
I don’t have children, and I don’t think you need to live in Florida or have children for this to hit close to home. It is the sad reality of the world we live in. Not just America, but everywhere. People blowing themselves up to kill other people for religious beliefs is about the stupidest, most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, but everyone only seems to want to focus on, and bash, America. It’s a world-wide problem with many fuses being lit from many angles. Mental health problems in young people is something that should be looked at closely, and I believe it starts with parents being held responsible for being there for the child from the very beginning and much of this would fix itself before there are problems. But when it’s a broken home and parents don’t know how to properly raise the children or don’t care enough to learn and who can’t even take care of themselves, this is where things go wrong. I am old enough to remember back in the day where, if I, or any of my brothers or sister acted up, there was a mom or a dad or a grandparent to snatch you up, pop you back into shape and make sure you don’t do it again. And if you did, guess what? You got one coming to you again. And again. And again. However many times it was needed. That’s being a responsible parent, not plopping your children down in front a TV for hours while you stare at you cell phone as well. Wake up people! Don’t have kids if you don’t want to be there for them throughout their lives teaching, protecting, disciplining and participating in their life for the rest of your life.

On a semi-related note, we’ve seen some violence at concerts as well, something that wasn’t really an issue years ago. Is this a concern for you as an artist totally exposed up there on stage?
It’s a different world we live in, but we are not the type of people to run and hide in our closet from the world. You have to live your life, but nowadays you have to keep your eyes extra open and be smart with the things you can control. A little common sense goes a long way. Things you can’t control can’t be the things that rule your life. Life’s too short to be worried or to be a dick, so don’t worry and don’t be a dick.

As a musician, what’s your reaction to seeing some of these “legacy” bands like Sabbath pack it up and call it a day?
Live life everyday as if tomorrow might not come. Love what you, do what you love — today.

Obituary, Pallbearer, Skeletonwitch + Dust Bolt 2018 North American Tour:
May 02 – Atlanta, Ga. @ Masquerade
May 03 – Greensboro, N.C. @ The Blind Tiger
May 04 – Philadelphia, Pa. @ Theatre of Living Arts
May 05 – New York, N.Y. @ Gramercy Theatre
May 06 – Boston, Ma. @ Sinclair
May 08 – Toronto, Ontario @ Opera House
May 09 – Montreal, Quebec @ Club Soda
May 10 – Rochester, N.Y. @ Main Street Armory
May 11 – Cleveland, Ohio @ Agora Ballroom
May 12 – Detroit, Mich. @ Majestic
May 13 – Chicago, Ill. @ Metro
May 15 – Des Moines, Iowa @ Wooly’s
May 16 – Omaha, Neb. @ Waiting Room
May 18 – Denver, Colo. @ Gothic Theatre
May 19 – Salt Lake City, Utah @ Metro Music Hall
May 21 – Portland, Ore. @ Hawthorne Theatre
May 22 – Seattle, Wash @ El Corazon
May 23 – Vancouver, British Columbia @ Rickshaw Theatre
May 25 – San Francisco, Calif. @ DNA Lounge
May 26 – Pomona, Calif. @ Glasshouse
May 27 – Phoenix, Ariz. @ Club Red
May 29 – Austin, Texas @ Barracuda
May 30 – Dallas, Texas @ Gas Monkey Bar & Grill
May 31 – Houston, Texas @ Scout Bar
Jun 01 – Pensacola, Fla. @ Vinyl Music Hall
Jun 02 – Orlando, Fla. @ The Haven Lounge
Jun 03 – Miami, Fla. @ The Ground

For more information on Obituary:
twitter: @obituarytheband

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