OBITUARY: interview with Donald Tardy
It’ s a way too rainy evening for an italian summer and it’s gonna be at least the seventh or eighth time I see Obituary live. The first time had been exactly ten years ago, in Reggio Emilia. It was the first reunion tour, with the classic line-up still intact. Frozen In Time had not been released yet. And, needless to say, it was a fucking blast. It was also my first time interviewing Donald Tardy. The second one is the chat that follows, where the drummer of the historical death metal band – still the same laid-back, straight-forward guy from the South everyone would love as a neighbor – talked us about the new album and the Kickstarter campaign to fund it, introduced the new guitarist Kenny Andrews, discussed the reasons of the departures of Ralph Santolla and Frank Watkins and explained us why Allen West is never to come back again…
You financed the new album by crowdfunding and the Kickstarter campaign has been a huge success. It pretty made sense to me because no one is buying records anymore so, if the fans really wanted a new album, they had the chance to prove it…
It came to our minds in a couple of different ways. Honestly, back in the day, 10 years ago, 20 years ago you needed a record label, of course you needed a record label to borrow the money, ’cause record labels would lend the band money to do the album and then they would do all the money back before the band gets paid. The sad reality is that the band would make a fraction of the sale and it was not the greatest life for band members. And 20 years ago, 15 years ago, in the early nineties, before the internet, albums still sold very well, people around the world had no choice but to buy records, everybody’s who’s gonna read this interview knows that internet changed everything. People now stream it for free, find it on the internet for free, album sales have completely gone down the drain; this is not anything new, we’re not crying about it, you can’t cry about spilled milk, so internet gave us the power to not bow down to a record label, it empowered us, like you said, it allowed the fans to show their colors and, if they really wanted an album, they needed to help us and they did that and we’re really proud of the people that funded it and gave us the power to go to a record label and say ‘now let’s discuss a real contract and let’s discuss a partnership and become partners’.
We’re not just a band on a record label, we’re partners on the record, which means we split the cost of making the record, printing the record and distributing the record and the marketing campaign to get the word out and we also split the profit with Relapse. It’s exciting, it’s a little bit different and this is why some people and some fans might still not like this idea but this to me it’s the way of the future. Maybe not for all bands, I know that record labels will always be around but I think that Obituary at least are showing that there is a different way than just the traditional, even because traditional it’s not gonna work anymore.
It seems you’re the first ones to realize that… Aren’t you the first major death metal band to launch a crowdfunding campaign for the new album?
Yes, we are, we’re not the first band but I think you are correct: we’re the first death metal band to not only have the idea and try but we really went for it, we raised a lot of money because we had a lot of cool shit that we gave away, important shit, historical shit: cymbals that we recorded with on the Cause of Death record, the snare drum I used on World Demise… It was cool for the fans, if the persons wanted to be part of something, they got their hands on some really cool shit.
Now you have finally a new guitarist, Kenny Andrews, can you introduce him? Even because I never heard about him before…
Kenny is a long-time friend of ours, he started his career when I was drumming for Andrew WK. He was part of the crew and he was such a nice guy, he went from crew member to Andrew’s guitar player because he’s just a really cool dude and a good guitar player. For Obituary he was perfect because Ken is a metalhead, he studied what Obituary meant to the fans, he studied James Murphy‘s solos in the early days and he really studied what Allen West did in his career with Obituary and I think you’ll see tonight and you’ll definitely see on the new album how Ken is a perfect combination of Allen and James. It’s really strange, it almost sounds like bullshit, I’m not trying to make it interesting but it really is that way. He”s a fuckin’ metalhead that’s friend of ours and friend of mine, he’s the last piece of the puzzle. This is the band and this will be the band forever.
You’re playing a couple of songs from the new album during this tour. Did Kenny contribute to the songwriting?
He contributed to the studio part. Me, Trevor and my brother still write all the music. The good thing about this album is that we really took our time and we literally took year of writing and so there are songs from 3 or 4 years ago and recent songs we were still working on and Ken gave us his opinion and helped us and gave us fresh ideas and, most important, he took what Trevor and I wrote and he put some stuff on top of it, harmonies and really cool tasting shit. It’s really easy to work with him, even if it was his first time really recording an album. He had been in bands before but this has been the firs time really recording an album. He really overflowed into our excitement on this album and we had a blast recording it.
Do you already know the title?
Yes, the new album is gonna be called Inked in Blood. The album cover is finished, the master copy is done, the marketing campaign has been set right now. It’s gonna be released close to Halloween, probably the end of October.
A couple of years ago I saw you live as a four piece. You just split with Ralph Santolla and Kenny was not on board yet. I must say that there was definitely something missing without the solos. Why did you do that tour anyway?
Things with that tour went really fast, like a blink of an eye. We could hire somebody but we looked at the big picture, as we already asked Kenny to join, instead of bringing a friend or a stranger in just to fill the gap for only one tour and knowing it would have been filmed and recorded and we would have been asked for decades about who that guy was. We know the most important thing about Obituary is the groove and John with his vocals so we knew that that as a 4 piece it would have been good. We knew there would have been something missing but we also knew we had to look forward and wait ’till Ken was ready. Ken had a lot of opportunities as a guitar tech at that time and he had some really high-end bands he was working with when he agreed to be in Obituary. At first he said ‘I’d love it but I’m busy for the next year’ and I said ‘ok, you’re in in one year and we’re seriously gonna wait’ because we’re talking about a lifetime of fun.
What was wrong about Ralph?
The main thing was the style, he was so technical… He was good on the record but, listening back, he didn’t fit 100%. Personally, Ralph is still a great friend of mine, we still talk everyday and we still write music together. Some of the stuff in Darkest Day is amazing but the most amazing guitar player for Obituary was Allen, his solos fit so well. Also James was technical and almost too pretty for an album but it was in the 90’s , 25 years ago, I don’t think Murphy’s solos would have lasted forever with us, either if we had done multiple records with him.
Yes, it was an amazing record. James came in at the very last minute and he played solos on songs he didn’t ever heard before so it was amazing what he did on Cause of Death. He was like half-way between Allen and Ralph.
Are you still in touch with Allen?
I’m not. He’s a free man now, he’s out of prison but nobody has been in touch with him. Hopefully he finds me, he knows were I live, he knows were my brother lives and hopefully he reaches out to us.
Why didn’t he find the motivation to let the other shit go and focus on the band?
He’s not available to play guitar, he’s not fit for touring anymore, this is why he left the band. He doesn’t have the organization and the commitment it takes. Being on stage is easy, being on a tour bus and in a hotel room is not, you have to be organized and ready or you’ll drive your other band members crazy, which is what happened on our last tour with Allen. His unprofessionalism and unorganization drove us crazy.
Did you try to push him so he could be able to stay in the band?
Of course we did but it will never work, we do not even look in that direction. I knew Allen for half my life and he would never work.
Frank Watkins’ departure was weirder, from a fan’s perspective. He was the quiet one with the corporate look and now he’s playing with Gorgoroth with all the corpse paint and stuff. I wish him the best and hope he’s having fun but, you know, it has been weird.
With Frank there were problems on the business side. A couple of things did not work for him and that was the reason for his departure. I also hope he’s having fun and, most of all, I hope he’s healthy, this is is the main thing.
Was he ill?
He had some health issues I don’t want to discuss because I don’t know the facts. My main concern is that he’s having a healthy life because he has children. Now we’ve Terry Butler as a bass player, he has been in the band for a few years, a friend of ours for over 25 years, one of the kindest guy you would ever meet, he’s a huge part of this band and we’re really proud to say that.
Any chance to listen to a new Tardy Brothers record?
We have some songs but the Obituary thing has been so constant and we have been so busy. I love Tardy Brothers because I love playing guitar and writing songs on my own and my brother feels the same way. The new stuff will be even further from death metal, more appealing to old heavy metal fans than to old death metal fans. We have some songs written and in the future there will be definitely a new Tardy Brothers release.
“This will be the band forever”, you said before, talking about Kenny. How long do you think Obituary are gonna last? All the great death metal bands from the 90’s are still around kicking ass and it’s no longer uncommon to see bands of sixty-somethings delivering great shows. Black Sabbath is the most obvious example. Is metal something for life?
For me music is life. We’ll go as far as we can, we’re having more fun than we ever had. Music is everything, music keeps you young, keeps you in a good mood, lets you forget about the rest of the world. Playing drums live keeps me in shape and keeps me happy and being happy is the most important part of being healthy. There is nothing better than playing the music you love on stage and this is what I do.