The origins of death metal can be found across many locations around the globe, but the undeniable epicenter was in the U.S. state of Florida in the late 80's...
From the heat fed humidity arose a pioneering band which would change the face of metal as we knew it forever; when they first appeared in '84 they were known as Executioner, soon the band would metamorphosize into one of the greatest metal acts to have emerged from the golden era of heavy metal...they were the harbingers of death, they were Obituary...
ThrashHead: How's the tour been so far?
Donald Tardy: It's going great. We started on the east coast, went up into Canada and dropped back down into America, then went back up and did another three shows in Canada and now we're back down here with a few more dates left.
ThrashHead: Your first three albums, Slowly We Rot (1989), Cause Of Death (1990) and The End Complete (1992) are considered landmarks in death metal from when the genre was still coming into it's own. What do you think it is about the music on those albums that contributes to that lasting legacy?
DT: I think we just found our niche early on, at a pretty young age as a band so we stuck with that. We never worried about what was going on around us or around the world. We always just played the music that we like and I think that's what the fans believe in. They trust us that an Obituary album is going to be an Obituary album. That and we're still great friends, that's what's cool about it. I'm the youngest at 42 and we're still great friends having a great time doing this so I think that's a testament to how things could run smoothly for a band.
ThrashHead: Awesome. What was it like to work with Scott Burns at Morrisound in those days?
DT: Well, Scott's first album was Slowly We Rot. He was actually a helper in the studio at the time, he would patch cables, change garbage cans and stuff like that. So we met him at a super young age and we just clicked, he did half our career with us, along with Morrisound. He brought that studio a lot of work in that decade. He's a super cool guy and we still stay in touch with him.
ThrashHead: He worked with a lot of great bands from the Florida scene as well.
DT: Yeah, in central Florida at the time that studio was exactly what we needed. It was a great studio for young musicians who couldn't afford to work at bigger studios down in Miami.
ThrashHead: Great. So what did you do differently when you worked with Burns again on 2005's Frozen In Time as opposed to your first four albums?
DT: We never really changed our set up or thought patterns whenever we approach a studio. We still use the same gear literally, Trevor [Peres] still plays a Fender Strat with a Marshall stack and a RAT pedal. Same with my drumming, I've been on Yamahas since '87. So it didn't really change all that much with the Frozen In Time album, except I think we were a little more experienced when it came to executing the songs and getting them tracked quickly and properly. But the studio isn't really that much fun man, people always think it's so much fun to be on an album but it's really nerve racking. When the record light turns on it can really put on the pressure and make the experience not that much fun.
ThrashHead: I know exactly what you mean. So do you have a lot more fun on tour then?
DT: I find everything more fun now. Now I can actually soak it in. After so many years doing this I can finally appreciate everything: recording albums, live performances, everything. Now we have a game plan, where as in the early days it was just about playing as hard as I could instead of backing off on certain parts and using volume as a tool. So it just comes down to experience, it's been two decades of figuring it out. [Laughs] I'm still figuring it out.
ThrashHead: There is a notable shift in themes from The End Complete to World Demise (1994). I was curious as to what sparked that shift at the time?
DT: Nothing really man. As you know, there are no huge Obituary lyrics. We're not going to tell the world that we're falling apart because of human beings. We did it with a simple album cover and a couple of cool titles. Obituary is about the music and my brother [John Tardy] would be the first to say that it's not about what he's singing, it's how he's singing it. The music fits the voice and the voice fits the music.
ThrashHead: Right, and speaking of the music at the end of that album you guys sample some tribal beats and sounds and I was wondering where that idea came from?
DT: That was Trevor man, I think he was just diggin' the whole theme of "Don't Care" and a lot of that was his idea. Just doing something different than typical death metal. He also found that soundbite when he was watching some crazy National Geographic thing he found about some tribe that had never had contact with anyone else and it literally came off of a VHS tape.
ThrashHead: Wow that's really cool. So how have things changed from then to now with your previous two albums Xecutioner's Return (2007) and Darkest Day (2009)?
DT: We own our studio now. So we tracked both of those records and once we were happy with the recordings we would take it outside of our studio and bring it to Mark Prator, who is our engineer at Morrisound. He now has his own studio, so we wanted to bring in some fresh ears and cool ideas from a real producer/engineer. That's the main difference is that we can track albums pretty comfortably nowadays on our own. That's a lot of fun and it takes the nervousness, we were just discussing, right out of the whole process. I could be in my studio at 10am drinking coffee or 10pm having a beer and it's not like we've got to be in at noon and out by 6 because we're paying $100 an hour. If something isn't quite working it's no problem because there's always tomorrow. And it's a very small place, just a two car garage that we converted into a studio down in Gibsontown, Florida.
ThrashHead: So what would you have done differently with your life had you not chosen to play music?
DT: I don't know man. Music and animals is all I really care about.
ThrashHead: Tell me about the Metal Meowlisha.
DT: I started Meowlisha because where I live there is a terrible overpopulation of homeless animals, especially cats. There's no winter time in Florida to stop the breeding or to, obviously and sadly, kill them off. So the breeding goes on all year round so we step in and we do a thing called T-N-R which stands for "Trap, Neuter and Return." We get them fixed and sterilized and we return them right back to where we trapped them so they live their lives but they're not reproducing anymore. It's easy until you take it to the level that Heather and I took it. Now it's 22 colonies of cats that rely on us and I've been doing this over 7 years now so I'm pretty quick and efficient at how I take care of my gangs every evening. She's got a full time job so to go to work all day and come out to feed 140 cats before the sun goes down is near impossible so we have about 2 or 3 volunteers that help her out when I'm gone.
ThrashHead: What gave you the initial idea to start doing this?
DT: Just seeing too many dead kittens in parking lots dude, it was killing me.
ThrashHead: Wow, I rescued my cat from a parking lot.
DT: Yeah man, and in Florida when it starts getting bad people start doing terrible things to them because for some reason people are really cruel to cats as opposed to other animals like dogs. So that's why we got into it and we love what we do. We're really deep into it because we're that passionate about it.
ThrashHead: That's amazing, I really commend you for that. You also make a barbecue sauce with your brother?
DT: No, that's Trevor. Trevor's got T-Bone's Famous Original Bar-B-Que Sauce which he developed and bottled. He's got a lot of people talkin' about it and he's a barbecue fool, he loves cookin' so he was excited about his sauce.
ThrashHead: Cool. I was just curious if you had a favorite movie or genre of film?
DT: No, I don't actually. I'm a sports nut and the only time I really watch movies is like on an airplane or something.
ThrashHead: So what teams do you like?
DT: Miami Dolphins. I was born in Miami so that's why we're Dolphin fans but I've been in Tampa for 30 years so now that there's the Tampa Bay Rays we all worship and follow them. We're sports nuts man anything from Nascar to golf. It's one of those things you either love it or you don't and we love it.
ThrashHead: What did you gain from the experience of drumming for Andrew W.K.?
DT: It was the complete opposite. Death metal has been around me since I was 13 when we started this. So with Andrew it was not metal, it was rock beats but playing to a click track and backing tracks. So that was the difference, being on stage playing to a cowbell. Of course Obituary has never even attempted that but I picked up on it easy. I've been drumming for quite a long time so it was not that hard to keep in time with the cowbell and keep the band on track.
ThrashHead: How did you end up playing for Andrew W.K.?
DT: He wrote me a letter! He was 19 years old and said "I love your drumming and I'm gonna get signed to a label, here's my music." I wasn't doing anything, Obituary wasn't doing anything at the time. I wasn't about to do more death metal, I mean why? I just did it with my brother and I knew we were going to do something again. It was the complete opposite of what I thought I'd do but he was a very intelligent, cool [makes quotes with his fingers] kid, who is a grown man now but he was definitely a cool teenager when I met him. Super intelligent and super motivated and that's really why I was glad to help him put the band together and I helped him with his first two albums.
ThrashHead: That's so cool that you weren't above doing that, being so regarded as such a great drummer. I'm sure Neil Peart wouldn't have helped him out.
DT: Nor would like a Cannibal drummer or somebody. Most people would probably be worried about their egos or something. I'm sure if he would've asked the guys in Deicide they would've been like, "No thanks man, I'm not into cotton candy stuff." I know who I am and I know what style drumming I have in me so to practice that kind of mainstream rock feel it actually improved me as a drummer.
ThrashHead: Yeah, it's good to be versatile. What can you tell me about the upcoming Obituary record?
DT: We already have new songs written, we're going to go home and record some of them and prepare for the beginning of the new year with an EP and summer time release of our new album.
ThrashHead: Any artwork or album titles set?
DT: Nah, that'll be the last thing that we do. We don't have artwork and not one song titled yet. We don't care about that shit, our important thing is that the music comes first. The album cover could be anything and I'd be cool with it as long as the songs rage.
ThrashHead: The songs always rage with Obituary!
DT: Yeah man, and the new ones are coming out cool. We have three or four ready to record and they sound pretty classic.
ThrashHead: That's awesome, are you going to be playing any new ones tonight?
DT: No, no, this tour is the classic set. We're only playing songs off the first three albums. Shit we have not even played on stage in 18 years. It was a challenge man, let me tell ya, relearning songs that you wrote when you were 16. That was not easy.
ThrashHead: Excellent! So is the new album going to be put out by Candlelight again?
DT: No, no, no. We're free agents man but at this point Century Media is really, really eager to have Obituary and we like their business orientated mindset and how organized that company seems to be. We handed Candlelight two great albums and they didn't really care or do anything for them. American kids don't even know what Darkest Day is because it's not in stores. So we changed that real quick.
ThrashHead: I can attest to that because I was working at a record store when Darkest Day came out and we only ever had like one copy.
DT: Right, that's what they did around America. They gave each Best Buy like two and all my friends were like, "Dude, it was out yesterday and I went there but it's gone." As a band, it's easy to become disgruntled with your label but that is just ridiculous.
ThrashHead: Especially for a band like Obituary, given your reputation.
ThrashHead: Well Donald, thanks a lot for doing this! Have fun with the rest of the tour!
DT: Cool man, no problem!
Remaining Obituary tour dates for September: