Interview with Obituary drummer Don Tardy | By Hutch
“It’s that band member cliché: when [interviewers] say, ‘What’s your favorite album?’ the fans that read that are hoping we say Cause of Death or Slowly We Rot,” Don Tardy says. “You’re only as good as your last album. I could not be more excited and proud of this album.” This is no token response from Tardy, the drummer and founding member of Obituary. Three decades ago, Tardy, his brother vocalist John Tardy, and guitarist Trevor Peres transformed their band – formerly known as Xecutioner – into forefathers of death metal. Possessed, Death, and Morbid Angel had started the sound, but Obituary defined U.S. death metal vocals when they released 1989’s Slowly We Rot.
Thirty years and nine albums later, Obituary now prep to release their 10th, Obituary, via Relapse Records on March 17. “It shreds,” Tardy proclaims.
Shred it does. Obituary crush with a down-tuned, sludge-drenched energy. The album is heavy—menacingly heavy. Angry riffs push fast drums, writhing in blast beats. The fourth track, “End It Now,” is a fierce ripper. While most of the track lies within mid-tempo, headbangers will relish the pounding rhythms. Obviously, fans cherish the early work, which defined a global genre that thrives today. Part of the Morrisound Recording scene in Tampa, Florida, Tardy and company—now joined by legendary death metal bassist, Terry Butler, and guitarist Kenny Andrews, who has been onboard since 2014’s Inked in Blood—represented their version of horror, blood, and vengeance. Inked in Blood alerted fans that the band’s new lineup was focused and vicious. For their 10th installment of studio ferocity, Obituary wanted to get back to simplicity.
For Obituary, Tardy reports that these veterans are honed and poised. After recording in their own Redneck Studio in Tampa—before heading off to Europe for a tour—Tardy says they “handed it off to our buddy, Joe Cincotta at Full Force [Studio] in New York. He mixed it. He did a fantastic job.” Cincotta’s magic helps, but it is the foundation of Obituary’s talent that shines. “The songwriting—I am so proud of it,” Tardy says. “It’s a really great feeling. All pistons are firing with this band. My brother’s voice—he’s getting to be an old man, but his voice is unbelievable, stronger now than it has ever been. My feet are faster than they’ve ever been. My drumming is some of the best that it has ever been.”
Obituary are booked for a solid year—through February 2018—and are talking about touring more after that. Tardy recently turned 47, but as his body ages, he rises to the demand. “Guitar players can get away with drinking whiskey or a few drinks before show time,” he says. “Just [their] hands, fingers, and wrists need to function properly. Me? It’s all four limbs. It is about being in shape. It’s a physical challenge to play 18, 19 songs each night. I keep myself in check. As much as I love burgers and fries, I do fruits and vegetables as much as I possibly can. I stay active. I play drums nearly every day. I still love practicing and learning. When we get on the road, it’s all business.”
Tardy relays that the health factor is important, but sees his familial bonds as the essential contributor to Obituary’s fortitude. “We’re fortunate. We’re very lucky,” he says. “The band has been together for 30 years. My brother and Trevor and I are best friends, true brothers. Other bands, even extremely popular ones—the thing that breaks up bands, it’s not the physical stature of their bodies, it is relationships. It’s being in a band together, the politics of being around other human beings.” Obituary not only record and tour the world together, they run the business of Obituary together. “We are three great partners,” Tardy beams.
Obituary have lasted this long, in a post-label paradigm, because they embrace the DIY ethos. “We are super self-sufficient,” Tardy explains. “We do all the recording, the producing, managing the band, building the website, organizing the merchandise, dealing with booking agents—we do it all. We are very happy with who we are and what we have going on in this day and age.”
Obituary opens with “Brave,” a blazing fast joint with a melee of sounds: piercing riffs, venomous vocals, and full drumming. This killer sets the tone for nine impressive new tracks, while the final, 10th track is last fall’s single, “Ten Thousand Ways to Die.” Obituary built their own Redneck Studio a decade ago. Their last four albums have been recorded and produced there. “Obituary is old-school,” Tardy explains. “We get in the same room, burn down, drink some beers, and you know, brotherhood. We write music together and record right there. If you mess up, do it again.”
Being a band since the 1980s, Obituary have remained steadfast and determined. They have adjusted to the changes, but Tardy has mostly maintained his habits and work traditions. Handing an Obituary album off to someone else to mix was new, but Cincotta was Obituary’s live engineer and a dear friend, so the transition made sense. Obituary were headed to Europe with Exodus, and the new album had to be mixed. Necessity breeds change.
Another new experience for Tardy and crew was the use of technology. They have always produced in-house, but this time, they needed technology to bridge the continents and provide constant feedback. “We trusted [Cincotta],” Tardy says. “We were on the phone with him, Skyping him, WhatsApp-ing, telling him our opinions and what tweaks to make. We knew we had a deadline. We were down to the wire. We knew what the release date needed to be, what date we had to submit to the record label so that they have their four months to get the album to be pressed, printed, distributed, and marketed.” The experience with this digital approach was intimidating, but became a salvation for the band. Tardy quickly and excitedly adapted to the process.
While most of the record was finished, Andrews had not recorded all his solos before the tour. “Ken was doing some solos right from his laptop and sent that to Joe,” Tardy recalls. “Joe re-amped them in his session. I know probably many bands do sessions like that these days, but this was the first time to us. It was cool to see Ken [plug] his guitar into his laptop. He got to get the solos that he was hoping for. It was a cool experience. I could not be more excited about the release of this record.”
March 17 is not only the release date for the album, but also the opening night for this year’s Decibel Tour, featuring Obituary, Kreator, Horrendous, and Cleveland’s Midnight. Obituary are anticipating nothing short of an epic journey. Tardy is a big Kreator fan. “[Frontman] Mille [Petrozza] is just awesome,” he says. “Kreator are the kings. Good songwriting executed right.” The bands play 29 shows in five weeks. “Then, the madness begins,” Tardy shares. “We’ll be busy for two years touring off this album and hit every corner of the planet. 2017 is a done deal. We go back and forth three times over the summer. We hit all the fests: Bloodstock, Summer Breeze, Hellfest.” Then, the band will do another tour across the U.S. in the fall. Tardy also hopes to bring last year’s European tour, Battle of the Bays—on which Obituary and Exodus battle song for song—stateside.
Obituary’s cover art—featuring a dragon blended into the band’s logo—was done by Andreas Marschall. Compared to the art from albums like Frozen in Time, Back from the Dead, and Cause of Death—which were intricate and ornate, soaked in ghoulish scenery and blood—this rendering is refined. But then, it’s hard to top the cover of Inked in Blood: a limbless, decapitated torso with the band’s name slashed into its bloody chest. “We are not trying to top Inked…,” Tardy assures. “In fact, we want to do the opposite. Andreas created a logo that is classic and basic, where the fan sits and holds the big vinyl and just stares at it. It’s classic and clean, not a bunch of color—exactly what we needed. We didn’t need to try to top Inked… We needed to go to a different realm.”
The boys did just that. The image is stripped down, simple. The logo is all impact. It appears to be glowing, as if freshly forged. “It’s perfect,” Tardy continues. “The logo is cool, but the game plan for Relapse is to have the logo embossed, the little skulls and faces raised.” Tardy roils with excitement while explaining further details. He thinks of the practical applications of the image, reminded of the loss of detail in Frozen in Time’s artwork when it was scaled down. He considers the image as it will appear on the larger vinyl and the smaller CD, and what will transfer well to a t-shirt. “The gold and metal are rich, like a piece of pewter being pulled out of molten,” he elaborates. “This is exactly what we need. People will be proud to walk around with this on a shirt. For the 10th album, we needed a clean, classic, plain, but rich looking cover.”
“After being in a band for 30 years, we’ve learned that you’ll never please everybody,” Tardy concludes. “And this band is totally okay with that. People that don’t love it, you’ve got your opinion and we’re not mad at you. This band’s not going away anytime soon. Next album, look out.”