Obituary Drummer Donald Tardy
Interviewed by INFAMOUS BUTCHER
Death metal kings Obituary are about to embark on THE CARNIVAL OF DEATH TOUR in the United States, performing a set made exclusively of material from their first three classic albums, SLOWLY WE ROT, CAUSE OF DEATH, and THE END COMPLETE. In addition, the tour marks the return of Chicago’s favorite brutal sons Broken Hope, who have just recently re-formed. I caught up with Obituary’s drummer Donald Tardy to discuss the tour, the classic albums, and the death metal scene in general.
THE CARNIVAL OF DEATH TOUR is going to focus on songs from SLOWLY WE ROT, CAUSE OF DEATH, and THE END COMPLETE. The old school fans are going to love this! Why did you decide to do a tour like this now? Does it have anything to do with the recent 20th anniversary of THE END COMPLETE?
It did not have anything to do with that. We just knew that, ya know, America’s tough man. As we know America’s a very spread out country so it’s very tough nowadays with the time of just people with no money. We knew it was hard to get ticket sales, so we figured you know what, why don’t we try something? Something special, and put together a classic set so that people who have seen us five, ten times are gonna see something different and people who have never seen us will really see what the heart of Obituary was from back in the day. So that’s why we decided to try and pick from the first three records. Some classic songs that we maybe have never even tried to play live before so it’s exciting. It’s gonna be fun but it’s definitely a challenge for the band to relearn some of these songs after twenty some years.
That sounds awesome Donald. I’ve seen Obituary before and there’s always a couple of songs that don’t get played like “Body Bag” or “Infected”. I’m really excited about the tour!
That’s exactly why we’re doing it. Obviously we’re running out of time with the fans but we really wanted people’s input so we’re asking people to go to Facebook and Twitter and to literally give us their two cents on what they think would be cool. Because honestly the day before yesterday me and my brother were in the studio listening to the old stuff and all it is is an argument. I mean we could not stop arguing on what song we should play, or what song we definitely do not want to play. And then we got to the point where me and my brother just put on the SLOWLY WE ROT album and half way through it we’re like dude, what if we just played the whole fucking album from start to finish? Don’t worry about every other album or whatever and what if we just told fans we were gonna play SLOWLY WE ROT from start to finish? My brother’s like you’re crazy and I was like well think about it. Then he agreed and he was like ya know what it would be cool as shit if we did that!
It sure would Donald. That would be great. That’s very common right now with bands playing full albums. Recently Megadeth did a RUST IN PEACE tour, Judas Priest did BRITISH STEEL, and Slayer has played REIGN IN BLOOD and SEASONS IN THE ABYSS in their entireties for a tour. I was wondering that since THE END COMPLETE is twenty years old if you might play the whole thing, but if you guys wanna do SLOWLY WE ROT I’m cool with that, that’d be awesome!
‘Cause ya know once again we were just sitting there discussing it amongst each other and literally arguing over it. Cause it’s tough ya know because some of those songs are so old that it’d be a challenge for the band to relearn them and to pull it off live but I mean that’s a very cool challenge. On the other hand what are we gonna do? Are we gonna pick from the first three records the songs we know we wanna do live or are we gonna listen to the fans when we get their opinions? So that’s why it’s still up in the air right now. We’re not sure what we’re gonna do about the set list. We’re just starting now to relearn some of these old songs but we really wanna encourage people for these next couple of weeks to get out there and tell us what we should and should not be doing.
That’s great. I actually posted two things myself on your Facebook page. Death metal was at the height of its popularity when you put out those three albums between ‘89 and ‘92. What was the scene like then compared to now? Was it easier to book big tours?
Ya know Obituary has never been a big tour band. We’ve never been invited to the big tours. As far as the ones that were big Ozzfest type tours or festival type things in America we never really were down with that. So even though in the early 90s it was ruling when it would come to like us and Sepultura on tour that was a different time. The fans were I think more focused on the bigger bands, the older bands, the bands that were just starting to get going. Nowadays its tough because not only are there a million bands out there with records labels signing all of them, but kids ya know I don’t understand. I can’t afford it. I don’t know how fans can afford to buy every record and to go to every show that’s out there coming through their town every day. So it’s very tough times nowadays compared to then but ya know on the same token the shows, the crowd devotion, is there still with the kids that do show up to the shows. They are 100% committed. They love the music. They’re there, it’s amazing still. It’s just not as big of crowds as we had in the mid and early 90s. So we’re looking for another outlet with the social networking sites so we can get the word out there and make sure everybody knows that Obituary’s coming to their town. If not then coming to a town close enough where hopefully everyone can get in their friend’s car and drive a few hours to go see ‘em.
I live outside Philadelphia so I am going to your show in New York City at the Gramercy. So now it’s tougher to draw a bigger crowd because there are so many bands and so many different types of bands. Whereas back twenty years ago there were big death metal bands that would attract a crowd, but it sounds like now it’s a little bit more diluted and it’s tougher to get a bigger crowd.
It is but honestly if it’s a band like Obituary that is just coming across America with one other pretty decent band it’s hard to draw the crowds that we used to. I think times have changed. There’s the underground death metal bands like Obituary where there’s no more drawing 1200 people to one club by ourselves anymore. These package deals that have 15 bands on it, we’re not really into that ya know right now. Like the other night I just saw Cannibal with the Summer Slaughter tour and ya know it drew a lot of people and I was pretty impressed when I first walked in. We got there late but I think it was Between The Buried And Me or some shit on stage and my first reaction was this is not my thing. Ya know I’m here to see Cannibal. I really could care less about what this band in front of me is doing. I don’t really feel it and then by the time Cannibal started it felt like majority, well not majority of, but a lot of people that were there for these opening bands, they were gone. So Cannibal was now back playing in front of their 500 people that they draw every night and the Between The Buried And Me young kids fans they’re all gone. They didn’t stay around for the real band and it just bummed me out. So ya know it seems like a good idea when it comes to putting these festivals together and the ticket sales are good for the clubs and the money is hopefully good for the headliners like Cannibal. But the reality is when Cannibal started I kind of said to myself wow where’d everybody go, and it’s that reality that all those As I Lay Dying or whatever the hell these new bands are, and they’re all shredders. It’s just not my style. All those young kids 25 years old and younger were there to see these bands that they hear of and they read about and maybe hear on the radio, but then grown men started with some brutal death metal and people left and it just, it pissed me off.
I hear ya. I’m going to see Summer Slaughter this weekend at the Trocadero in Philadelphia and the only bands I really wanna see are Cannibal Corpse and Exhumed. I like Exhumed because they play old school Carcass style grindcore.
I’m curious in Philadelphia if the same thing happens that just happened here the night before last in Tampa, where it felt like almost half the crowd was gone. And of course I’m sure you read on Blabbermouth that the Ritz Theater was evacuated in Tampa because there was a death threat on one of the bands. So I know with the late shows it was postponed so maybe that’s why a lot of kids left. But it just felt like there was a lack of interest on those young people who call themselves true metalheads that are watching these younger bands but they didn’t stick around for some real brutal metal.
Yeah that’s a shame. You would hope having a bigger bill attracts a bigger fan base. Maryland DeathFest was well attended. Most of the fans that come are hardcore death metallers. It was a great festival with a good vibe. I’ll have to see how it is on Sunday (Author’s note – about a third of the crowd at the Trocadero left before Cannibal Corpse started, so sadly the trend continues). I haven’t seen Cannibal Corpse in a long time. I saw them back in 1994 with Chris Barnes on THE BLEEDING tour, but I have never seen them with Corpsegrinder (George Fisher).
You’re in for a treat man ‘cause Corpsegrinder is, he’s fuckin’ an awesome singer but he is also just a born leader. He’s so entertaining in between songs. He’s not afraid to just tell people the way it is. I love how he’s just, he is as brutal as it gets and he doesn’t try and keep things too serious. Because I think people go to shows to release the stress in their lives and to have a good time. You get Corpsegrinder up there saying some pretty funny shit every now and then. I like it and that’s where I think you’ll be in for a real treat because those guys still are awesome live. Corpsegrinder is just a great front man. (Author’s note – Cannibal Corpse KILLED! – look for my review in the concert review section of the Metal Rules website!)
Great. I like it when guys keep it loose. Twenty years ago most extreme metal performers were dead serious on stage. Now when I see Suffocation or Slayer there’s more fan interaction. We’re there to have a release, have a good time, enjoy ourselves. Nobody’s trying to hurt anybody.
Absolutely. Ya know and it’s the same thing with Obituary nowadays and we never were that taking metal too serious kind of guys anyway. We’ve always been loose on stage but nowadays especially we just realize we’re privileged for what we do. We’re super fortunate that we actually do this for a living and onstage we take the music seriously. We take the performance serious but we do absolutely have a blast on stage because we are there to have fun and to show people a good time and that’s what I believe.
Awesome. Of your first three albums, do you have a favorite?
THE END COMPLETE is just awesome ya know. It’s probably my favorite album simply because the songwriting during that time of our lives. I think we were just, we were honed in. We had two albums to practice to figure out in the studio but looking back now it’s so long ago. You can’t look past SLOWLY WE ROT because we wrote most of the album in ’85, ‘86 and then we recorded the album when we got signed to Roadrunner. They made us write and record four more songs for that record. So the last four songs on that album were actually written and recorded at a different time so you can actually hear a little bit of a difference in the recordings. A lot of people don’t realize that Morrisound Recordings at the time when we did SLOWLY WE ROT was an eight track studio which is so hard to believe. It’s so hard to believe that it was done on eight track.
Wow. So you would say THE END COMPLETE is your favorite of the three?
I’d say THE END COMPLETE just cause the songwriting, the band’s performance, it’s something I can look back, I can say for me personally it’s an album I can listen to now and not cringe. SLOWLY is cringeable because I was so young. A lot of the songs I’m playing just too fast and I didn’t know any better. Live I perform much more solid nowadays. The CAUSE OF DEATH album was in the era of when triggering just started and for some reason we found it necessary to sound replace the bass drums and the snare drum and it was just a big mistake. It didn’t seem like it at the time but when I listen to that album now I literally would rather jump out of an airplane then have to sit through and listen to that whole album because of the production. I love the songs and the songwriting. It sounds brutal but as a drummer listening to it, why in the world did they talk me into sound replacing my snare drum? I will never know.
Wow, interesting. CAUSE OF DEATH is my favorite and I never really noticed anything with the drums. I’ll have to go back and listen to it now with the drum sounds. So what exactly did you do with the drums?
After I performed, while you’re mixing, it goes through a computer and every time the computer hears that I’m hitting the snare drum it sound replaces it with the snare drum that you picked. So we got the best sounding snare drum, cracked it a couple of times, and recorded that crack, and then when the computer hears my snare drum it sound replaces it with the snare drum sound that you want. Now that’s what everyone still does nowadays. With bass drums almost every album on this planet is sound replaced bass drums, and the Pantera’s and the Lamb Of God’s of the world that have amazing sounding records, I would have to guess that almost everything is sound replaced. Snare drum, bass drum, toms, everything nowadays. Of course if they read that they’ll think I’m an idiot. I don’t mean its 100% sound replaced but I think there’s an element of using the microphone sound that was there. But they also in the background of that tom sound or bass drum sound there is sound replacement going on.
Very interesting. So for example now when you recorded DARKEST DAY, did you record the drums more live rather than sound replacing?
Absolutely. DARKEST DAY, XECUTIONER’S RETURN, and the TARDY BROTHERS album, I’m proud to say that’s 100% drum mix. There’s no sound replacing of anything. What you hear is what I was playing.
Awesome. XECUTIONER’S RETURN is a real throwback album!
Yeah it is and yeah ya know, I know DARKEST DAY got looked over by the whole world and including the record label that we handed it to. Honestly I didn’t realize it until about, oh it was probably right before we went to Europe so I would have to say maybe 3 or 4 months ago, we were in the studio and we were hanging out and my brother put it on and my jaw was like on the ground. I was just going, I forget, even though this is the latest record, I forget how full these songs were and how quickly we recorded this album. I’m telling you man DARKEST DAY has some cool songs on that album and it’s sad that it didn’t sell for anything. No one bought the album. Nobody knew about it thanks to Candlelight and it’s a killer record.
That is a shame. I actually don’t have it, and I definitely plan to pick up a copy of it. (Author’s note: I got a copy of DARKEST DAY on August 6th, it’s like a continuation of the superb XECUTIONER’S RETURN, like a killer mix of SLOWLY WE ROT and THE END COMPLETE).
You’re definitely in for a treat man. I’m very proud of it because we had a good time writing it. When it came to recording the album we just knocked it out. We didn’t spend weeks in the studio ya know it was right there at John’s house in the studio and we just recorded it live. I mean there’s no sitting around for four weeks trying to do drums. I was doing ‘em. I was doing a song a day just knocking them out.
A lot of the best records are recorded very quickly. The first Black Sabbath album was recorded in like six or nine hours. It’s more spontaneous that way rather than overproducing. Going back to THE END COMPLETE, it was my introduction to Obituary. There was a video on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball you guys had for the song “The End Complete” which I saw around April of 1992. I liked it so I went out and bought the album at my local Sam Goody. It seems THE END COMPLETE was your biggest success. I think it is the album that sold the most copies and it got a lot more press than SLOWLY WE ROT or CAUSE OF DEATH. Why do you think that became your biggest success?
I don’t know man I think that the first two were the stepping stones for people to be interested and introduced to and I think the timing was right with Roadrunner. I think there was no internet so there was no pirating of the record. Stores were very well equipped with THE END COMPLETE stocked. I think Roadrunner did a great job of promoting it. I think they did a smart decision on putting enough records in stores so when the kids go to find it it’s not already sold out. That’s what we learned is a big problem. Candlelight Records is classic complete idiots. We would hand them a record they would put it in stores and they would hand like every Best Buy like two of them or three of them so I would have friends across the United States saying, dude your album came out yesterday I just went to Best Buy and it was sold out. We come to find out each Best Buy got like two albums so how do they expect multiple album sales from all our fans if they’re not in the stores? So back to THE END COMPLETE I just think it was a smart decision. I think it was very smart of the band. We were busting our asses making sure we were on tour. We were talking about it, we were doing the interviews, Roadrunner was backing us 100% and they had that thing out there in stores. And like you said a lot of people would see Headbanger’s Ball and it was a cool video for obviously at that time. The album spoke for itself. It was just a really well written and a pretty damn well recorded album.
CAUSE OF DEATH has some atmospheric creepy sounds in between songs that blend the songs seamlessly. I think it’s brilliant and it contributes to the overall foreboding vibe of the album. Whose idea was it to do that?
It was the band. It was all of us band members. We did have that idea of almost wanting to make people listen to the album from start to finish because there’s nothing more annoying to me when people go and buy an album and they unwrap it out of the plastic and then they put it in their CD player and they fast forward to like song four because it’s the one they remember, or it’s the one they want to hear. It drives me crazy. So with CAUSE OF DEATH we said ya know what, what if right when the album starts it just doesn’t stop? At Morrisound Recordings there was a dude there, he had the most incredible set up with samplers and stuff, with just crazy sounds and he just made some of the most amazing sounding hell kind of type noises, that it just really fit that album so it worked well. I don’t know, it was a good thought, and it ended up coming out pretty cool.
It’s very creepy and totally fits the music. It’s hard to find an Obituary album in a record store. I don’t know if that’s a Candlelight issue or a record store issue.
Ya know we definitely got the short end of the stick in this whole world of metal because Roadrunner Records owns the rights to our first albums that they have. We begged them. We offered them to tell us what price it would take to get the rights back to these albums because they are our lives and the owner Cees Wessels in literally short order basically just told us to go fuck ourselves and he would rather it sit in a room and collect dust then to give it back to us. Yet he has not one plan to ever put an Obituary album in a store ever again.
That’s sad because now if I you want to buy any of the old albums you have to buy it online from Amazon and it’s all imports. Several years back Roadrunner put out compilations where you get two albums together for like fifteen bucks, like SLOWLY WE ROT and CAUSE OF DEATH on the same disc.
DT: Right. Which we actually begged them not to do. We are furious with the idea of it and we don’t see one penny from any of those sales. In fact it actually cost us money. It’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard, the record label can actually bill the band if they go back and they remix it or remaster it. Because in the contracts you know the band was contractually obligated to produce the records and spend their own money on mixing it. Then the record label is there to put it out to all the stores in the world so now twenty years later they go back and they remix or they remaster it and they send us a bill. We have not got one penny from any of those sales.
So if someone goes on Amazon and buys a copy of THE END COMPLETE, you don’t see any of that?
We don’t see shit. That’s why we tour. The only way we can make money is touring and selling some merch at the merch booth live. That’s the sad reality.
And I guess any album sales through Candlelight.
Right and even then now Candlelight was simply a licensing deal. They’ll be handing the albums back to us and now finally obviously we can take control at least of those two records and redistribute them in America. Or obviously more effectively would probably be through our website and offer for a very, very, very cheap price for fans that don’t own it because now it’s just simply owned by the band. That’s something were waiting with Candlelight to finally just get the rights back to it and figure out what we’re gonna do with that.
Sounds good. Good luck man. James Murphy played on the CAUSE OF DEATH album. In the early 90s he was playing with Death, Cancer, Disincarnate, you guys, and he later played with Testament. How did you go about getting him to replace Allen West on CAUSE OF DEATH, and how long was he in the band? I was under the impression he wasn’t in the band very long because Allen West was on THE END COMPLETE.
A lot of people didn’t know this. Allen wrote the CAUSE OF DEATH album with us. Allen wrote the song “Cause of Death”. Just at the time that we were in the studio, we were preparing to start confirming tours, Allen was just having a baby. He wasn’t having a very good time with his wife, his family, the baby was on the way, and it turned into a mess and so we just made that decision that we need to move here. We needed to get ready to do something so we were already in the studio at Morrisound, the album was already recording, and we were almost done with it. Scott Burns suggested James Murphy because he was local. He was right around town, he’d been to Morrisound multiple times, he’s great, he gets the job done in the studio, he’s a good studio musician, and we made that decision. He was only with the band for a couple of tours, maybe a year or so, and then once Allen’s child was born and things were back to normal with Allen and we got him back in the band.
There’s definitely tour footage out there with James. I’ve seen it on YouTube. The upcoming tour is about a month. Is there any chance you’ll extend it to include more cities after September?
No it is what it is ‘cause the band’s gotta get back home. We are still focused on writing the new album and we hope to confirm another European tour so we are quite busy for the rest of 2012. Ya know for America we’re still very, very eager to get out there and do more extensive shows, more extensive touring of America. Because we’re getting all the fans that are begging us in a lot of those towns are like, dude how come you’re not coming here, can’t you come here in Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Indiana. Those kind of dudes, they’re begging, and we wanna get there ya know we wish we could do every town in America. So next year with the new album we’re gonna definitely focus and make sure that we do get out there and play the towns that deserve it you know. We’re always playing New York City, we’re always gonna play Los Angeles, but I’m more eager to find the towns that people are dying for it even though it might not be the biggest crowds. They’re just as deserving for a show as anyone else so ya know it’s a little frustrating for us but once again America is a big market and it’s very tough with fuel costs. It’s almost nearly impossible to tour America effectively when you don’t have tour support with the record label or with ya know sponsors so we’re looking forward to that 2013 for sure.
At some point if you hit Philadelphia play the Trocadero, or if you hit Baltimore play Rams Head Live. There are lots of metalheads here and in Baltimore. In New York City you get more people, but in Philadelphia you get the true deathmetallers!
We played the Trocadero a few years ago and we’ve played it multiple times and I like that venue, I like that town. You’re right there are some true old school fans that show up and diehards that show up to Philadelphia shows for sure.
Yeah thanks. So after the U.S. tour you’re working on a new album?
We are working on it. We have a few songs already written. We’re gonna start recording some rough mixes of ‘em because we’ve learned in the past once you record it one time you’ll be driving down the road listening to it going, damn I could of done that better, or man I should have done this. So we’re already in the midst of recording three or four of them right now and we’ll get home from this American tour and really put the hammer down and try and finish writing these songs.
It will be out in 2013 then?
It will be out probably summertime 2013. We are definitely gonna focus on a monster album. We’re taking our time with the songwriting and once it comes to the mix and the recording of it we’re just gonna do like we do, we do it right there in our studio and we have a blast doing it.
Buying Obituary albums I know exactly what I’m gonna get. It’s good grinding old school death metal. I love that with a lot of bands I like, like Slayer, Motorhead, and AC/DC. When you buy those albums you pretty much know what you’re gonna get. It’s not like with Metallica where you go out and buy LOAD or RELOAD and you’re like what the hell is this?!? I love that with Obituary and I think all of your albums are solid.
Thank you very much and you know you’re right. You go out and you get excited about a Slayer record when it’s coming out cause you know what it’s gonna be and they never disappoint. It seems to me like it gets better and better that, ya know, the WORLD PAINTED BLOOD album is just ridiculous. That album is so awesome, it is so good live, they are definitely the kings, they are definitely probably the best band in the world when it comes to metal, there is no question. That’s why we buy the records ‘cause you know what you’re about to get and you’re so excited about it. Obituary always got fans, and Slayer will always have those fans, that they always ask why don’t you try and change it up a little bit, I think you guys should try this, I would like to hear this. Ya know what, no! We have a formula here that works and we’re cool with that.
I prefer the consistency like you guys have. I know Obituary did the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise a few years back. What was that experience like? Would you do another cruise?
I would do another cruise. I didn’t know what to think when we agreed to it. I was pretty worried because you’re stuck on the ship with the fans. You can’t hide in your little 2×2 cubicle room the whole time for five days. But the minute that the cruise started we realized ya know what, the fans are cool man. They’re all being civilized. Yes they wanna come up, talk to you, shake your hand, and it was not overwhelming at all for the band members. Now being out for five days on the ocean, that is not my thing. I don’t like the water. I live near the beach, have forever, I haven’t been to the beach in almost two decades. I don’t care about the beach. I don’t like the sun. So for me to be out in a ship out in the middle of the Atlantic for five days, that was a little bit too long for me, but I would definitely do it again. It was a cool experience and the fans deserve to be able to hang out with the bands they love if they want to.
That’s really cool Donald. There’s another 70000 Tons coming up, and there’s the Barge to Hell cruise. A lot of the bands are like some of the stuff you mentioned earlier that’s on the bill with Cannibal. Unless they add some old school stuff, I’m not gonna go.
Right they need to do that. It would sell and I think that last 70000 Tons, what a lineup with Venom, and fuck there was so many bands it was ridiculous. I think they need to keep it what the fans would pay for. They need to do it with old bands that have been around forever that don’t necessarily tour the world anymore. Ya know I think that would make a very cool ship along with bands that still go and play every corner of the globe like we do. I think it would be just awesome to have very legendary bands bands that have been together for at least twenty years and put them on a ship with all the fans.
Sounds good to me. That’s what I’m looking for! You guys are touring with Broken Hope in September. Sadly vocalist Joe Ptacek committed suicide a few years ago. I think the guy from Gorgasm (Damian Leski) will be singing instead?
I think you’re right. Jeremy (Wagner)’s been a friend of the band for a long time. We’ve known Broken Hope for a long time. So it is cool that they’ve been away for, I don’t even know a decade or more. It’s cool that we invited them on a tour right when they got back together so the fans can see some old school death metal. I mean Obituary and Broken Hope, I think it’s gonna make for a pretty good package. I think the fans are gonna walk in wondering what’s gonna happen and that’s why we’re trying our best to make a classic set. You know Obituary’s gonna be playing some old school death metal and Broken Hope’s gonna hopefully be throwing it down also. It should make for a good ticket.
Metalheads seem to have an affinity for cats. I have four cats myself. How did you get involved with setting up the Metal Meowlisha and helping homeless and feral cats?
It started simply because ya know I live in Tampa and in Tampa the homeless cat situation is serious. There’s no winter time here to stop the breeding cycle so they breed year round so overpopulation is a real problem. So me and my girlfriend figured out what we can do in our community which is TNR, trap, neuter and return, and we simply cut down the overpopulation problem by getting them all spay/neutered and getting them all vaccinated. Then you return them right where you trapped them and they live their lives out there without getting pregnant again. So that’s how it started and I’ve just always been an animal person and I see the problem with cats here and I wanna do something about it so that’s how we stepped in.
That’s awesome Donald. I saw it on your website and I was very touched by it. I’m also an animal person and I think that’s a great cause what you’re doing.
Awesome well thanks dude.
Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate you giving me the interview. It’s been great. I feel like I’ve gotten to know Obituary a little bit better and definitely learned some things.
Awesome man. I appreciate it dude.
I’ll see you September 11th at the Gramercy.
See you in New York dude.