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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Obituary

By: Justin Donnelly

It may have taken six long years for Florida based death metal legends Obituary to get back together and create music, but in the four years they’ve been back, they’ve more than made up for their absence with a sting of releases, and plenty of touring across the globe. Two years after the release of their highly acclaimed second post reformation release ‘Xecutioner’s Return’ (2007), the five piece act are back with their latest effort ‘Darkest Day’. With the album having only just been released, and the band preparing to head out on the road once again, I caught up with vocalist John Tardy at home to talk about the band’s prolific output over the last few years, their recent revisit on a past classic, their upcoming in the works projects and their latest release ‘Darkest Day’.

“You know, a lot of people seem to be really digging ‘Darkest Day’, and that’s always a good thing! (laughs) I think the album is great, so it makes me feel good to hear people are really enjoying it. We worked really hard on this album, and we’re really happy with the way it came out. I mean, we just pretty much do what we do. We just get together and start jamming. We approached ‘Darkest Day’ in the same way we have done for all of our albums. It’s not like we did anything out of the ordinary this time around. We do have our own studio (RedNeck Studios) here at my house these days, and that’s made a difference in the way we do things I guess. But that’s more a case of the ease at which we can record our ideas now, and keep things arranged. When we start recording, at any given time, we can keep anything we want. It’s just been awesome to have that at our fingertips. In terms of sitting down and writing this album, it’s been the same old thing. We just sat down and started jamming, and out came the songs for ‘Darkest Day’.”

Not wanting to fool around too much with what was obviously a winning formula for the band on ‘Xecutioner’s Return’, Santolla was once again involved in the making of ‘Darkest Day’, providing lead guitar solos throughout the album’s thirteen tracks.

“We just treat Santolla like we would do ourselves. He’s been a big part of what we’ve been doing for a while now. He hasn’t been contributing to the songs as far as writing the songs. But don’t get me wrong, he’s been contributing on the guitar leads, and that’s a big part of our songs. So far, it’s been working out great. We learned during the making of our last album that Allen (West) wasn’t going to be able to help out, seeing as he went to jail and wasn’t able to record with us. So we got in touch with Santolla, not only because he lives fairly close to us, but also because he had just finished with Deicide at the time. For the making of ‘Darkest Day’, it just made sense to bring him in for that as well. On this album, I think he’s starting to get a feel of what we do a lot more, and his leads really have come a long way for us. And being a part of Obituary has been great for him as well.”

Much like ‘Xecutioner’s Return’, ‘Darkest Day’ has plenty of stand out tracks, most of which will no doubt become a large part of the band’s live set on tour in the coming weeks. But if there’s one track that’s sure to become a live favourite, it’s ‘Blood To Give’ with its huge tribal drum sound.

“I think we’re going to play that live when we do these next run of shows! (laughs) We start rehearsals next weekend actually, and I think that’s one of those songs we’re planning to play when we play these festivals at the beginning of next week. In terms of being custom built to be played live, I think that goes for a lot of our songs. I would go as far as to say that our live shows are better than our CDs. The different types of tempos that we do with our music, whether it’s the groovy, the fast or the slow; everything we do works really well live. It’s a real struggle these days to come up with a set list of songs, because we now have so many to choose from! (laughs) And to try and cover everything that everybody wants to hear is near impossible these days. But it’s a lot of fun at the same time, so it’s a good problem to have. But in terms of new songs in the set list, ‘Blood To Give’ is sure to be on there somewhere.”

Despite the overwhelming success of ‘Xecutioner’s Return’, Tardy insists that the band felt they were under no pressure while making ‘Darkest Day’.

“To be honest with you, it’s been a long time that we felt any real pressure to do anything. We just kind of go about what we do. We’re not the kind of band that feels like we have to make a new album every other year, and have any particular timetable that needs to be stuck to. I think the only time we may have felt a little pressure was while making the ‘Frozen In Time’ (2005) album. And even then, I wouldn’t call it pressure, but more our own anticipation in terms of what we would sound like. Before making that album, we hadn’t even been together for six years. So before we headed into the studio, I found myself asking, ‘What am I going to sound like?’ I mean, it wasn’t like I was jamming with other bands or doing anything like that. But once we got back into it, it was kind of interesting to see what we all sounded like together. So when we made that album, things were a little weird. But I think in the last few years, we’ve put out so much in terms of music that we really haven’t thought that much about it. So really there wasn’t any pressure. Now that we have the studio, it’s just so easy to write and record. And it’s even a pleasure just to hang out, because everything is there at your fingertips. It’s just so relaxing. You don’t have to worry about calling somebody up and scheduling time in the studio, or anything like that. It’s just one of those things that makes life so much easier.”

In the lead up to the release of ‘Darker Day’, the band put together a taster EP entitled ‘Left To Die’ in September 2008. But while many would assume that the release’s purpose was to test the waters, Tardy insists it was simply put out for the fun of it.

“The reason behind that release was after ‘Xecutioner’s Return’ came out, and after so much touring, we felt like we wanted to release something else, in a way, to bridge the gap between the things that we might do in the future. It just goes to show just how much fun we’re having in our studio here! (laughs) We’ll just keep pumping things out, because we also had the Tardy Brothers album (the collaboration between John and Donald Tardy, and released in April 2009) recorded during that time too. It’s been like three albums, an EP and a DVD in such a short span of time. That says something. Plus we have another DVD coming out soon too. So it’s just been one thing after another. It’s just been so much fun. I’m not sure there’s much more to it than that. We did have people asking us if we though the new album was coming out too soon, especially given that we had just released the EP last year and the Tardy Brothers album recently released. We’re just like ‘Whatever!’ It’s all good, and we’re just having fun. We’ll keep recording and pumping stuff out while we’re having a good time.”

One of the more interesting tracks on the ‘Left To Die’ EP was the band’s re-recording of ‘Slowly We Rot’ from their classic debut full-length album in 1989.

“We’ve had a couple of new albums out at the time, and we wanted to do something that was a little fun for ourselves. And doing that song was an easy choice, especially given that we’ve been playing that song for so long. We’ve been playing that song ever since we first started jamming together in my parent’s garage. And it’s something that we play from time to time in the rehearsal room. So that song was fun. We were kind of sitting back and thinking about the twenty year mark of our recording career, and the album ‘Slowly We Rot’ is very much a defining album for us, and still is to this day. And that song also is one of those songs that people expect us to play every night. And out of all the songs that we do, we play that one every single night. So I think we all thought that it would be interesting to play. The original was recorded using eight tracks, and that was twenty years ago. So we thought it would be interesting to re-record it, and to see what we would sound like twenty years apart from each other. When we first thought about doing it, I thought that we were really going to take our time with it and make it really sound good. And then it turned out that we were jamming the song one day, and we actually recorded Donald and Trevor together at the same time, while we were practicing. Now Ralph and Frank were in there playing as well, but they weren’t miked up. You’ll never hear it, but if you actually heard all the bleed through in that recording, you can literally hear them playing at the same time, as well as talking to one another in the background. But after they all did it, we all sort of looked at each other and knew that it sounded cool. So we just left it as it was. So it’s almost a semi-live recording as it came out. We just thought that it would be fun and an interesting song to do, and I think most people accept it for what it is. We haven’t got too much of those people saying, ‘Leave it alone!’ It’s pretty similar to the original, and it’s really only been changed a little bit. It’s actually closer to the way we do it live these days.”

As mentioned earlier, Obituary has a new live DVD slated for release in the near future.

“It was recorded at the Party-Sans festival in Germany that we did last year. It was at the end of our festival run, and we were all kind of ready to get home. It was one of those nights where we were a little more aware that it was the last night of the tour before heading home, so we were all having a little better time than usual, if you know what I’m talking about! (laughs) So when they first came to us when they told us they had us filmed, and would really like to release the show on DVD, my initial thought was, ‘Oh boy! I can’t wait to hear this thing!’ (laughs) But it came out great. Everybody played really good. There are some really good and bad things about filming the last show of the tour. On the bad side of things, everybody is kind of worn out and tired. Especially me, because your voice tends to get worn out after you’ve been out on tour for that long. But the good thing is that you’ve played the songs a whole bunch of times, and things are sounding pretty tight, despite the fact that you’re really tired! (laughs) And when you combine that with a few drinks in the daytime, you never know what you’re going to come up with. But everyone played really good. We didn’t have to overdub or change anything in the studio. All we did was give it a quick mix. And even that didn’t take that long to get together. It’s just a very typical Obituary show - Nothing more, nothing less, nothing staged and nothing planned. But it’s really great footage in front of a really great crowd, and just a lot of good songs. That should be out before the end of the year. We have to be one of the last bands on the planet to be around as long as we have to put together a DVD for the first time (2006’s ‘Frozen Alive’). And I think everyone enjoyed that. It came out really good too, and actually better than I thought it would. So it’s just nice to add a little more to that. I think about all the places we have been, and there have been a lot of them. But then I think of all the places we haven’t been, and the people that haven’t seen us before. And it feels good to give them the opportunity to see what they’ve been maybe hearing or reading about year after year. So DVDs are kind of cool in that respect.”

Given the band’s lengthy twenty year recording history, and their recent anniversary, it’s surprising to find that Obituary hasn’t seized the opportunity to put together a documentary of their influential past. But although one has yet to appear, that’s not to say that one isn’t already in its planning stages.

“We have talked about doing one. We have footage that we’ve been taking since day one, and for about the last two years, I’ve been capturing and digitising all of those videos. And let me tell you, there’s a mountain of it here! But transferring that footage has been a whole lot more time consuming than I expected it to be. Especially given how I’m not here all the time to keeping messing with it. So yeah, we all thought it would be a good time now given that it’s our twentieth anniversary thing to put something out, but we just got so busy with all these other things. It looks like we’ll only have it ready in time for our twenty-fifth anniversary! (laughs) But we would definitely like to put together a documentary at one point in time. We need to gather up all this old footage and put it together. I think it would be fun. I would like to sit down and watch all this stuff, looking at the past and seeing all the things that we did, and marvel at how young and skinny we once were! (laughs) So I want to put together something that I would like to sit down and watch, and of course give all our fans a crash course history of what Obituary has been up to.”

It would seem that Obituary is gearing up for yet another massive tour around the world, with the first stop being Europe.

“We’re playing a couple of shows in Finland, Germany, Estonia and Spain, or something like that. And then we come back home for a couple of weeks, and then we have to fly back to Portugal. I don’t think we’ve ever played there before, so that should be really cool. It’s a shame that we’re only flying over there for one show, but then that’s how it goes I guess. As soon as we get back, we’re straight on the bus, and starting the U.S. tour, which as it stands will run for six weeks starting in September. But looking further ahead, it looks like we’ll be back in Australia in November. I just got the e-mail today. Rest assured, as soon as it’s confirmed, it’ll be up on the website.”

I would like to personally thank John Tardy for his generous time. I would also like to thank Jeanna Sims at Stomp Records Distribution for making the interview possible.

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