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In the late ‘80s, the death-metal genre was first forged in the heat ‘n’ humidity of Tampa, Florida. After three of metal’s most durable records’including their 1989 debut Slowly We Rot and 1990 follow-up Cause of Death’the venerable Obituary seemingly peaked with 1994’s World Demise. After managing to squeeze out the tired Back from the Dead three years later, they went into permanent hibernation, and fans thought it was indeed the end complete. Excitement started to build in early 2004, however, when the band reconvened for a one-off hometown show, and the following year brought more gigs plus a new studio album, Frozen in Time, and Obituary sound like they haven’t aged a day. At the Hartford, Connecticut stop on their autumn East coast tour, frontman John Tardy was happy to talk about the band’s colorful history, his collaboration with rap artist Necro, and what the guys have been doing for the past seven years between albums.

In a time when many older metal bands are reuniting, why did Obituary choose to get back together now?
We never got apart from each other; we went to take a break and didn’t realize it’d be six or seven years. But there just really wasn’t a whole lot coming our way. It wasn’t like people were calling me every day saying, ‘Hey, do you guys want to do this or that?’ So we just sat there and waited until it felt like they wanted us back. We got a couple of offers: Andrew WK was playing Ozzfest, and you know Donald [Tardy, Obituary drummer] was drumming for him, and he asked us if we wanted to do a couple of songs. Frank [Watkins, Obituary bassist] was already down there, so I went down and we played three or four songs. After that, the Florida Metalfest happened, and we got one offer up in New Jersey. In the course of practicing for those gigs, when we were all in the same room together, music just started happening, and a new album appeared’zap!’out of thin air.

The last time I saw you live, you weren’t even with the band’it was Keith DeVito from Pyrexia/Catastrophic taking your place.
Once again, we never broke up. We’d booked a whole bunch of shows, and basically what happened was Trevor [Peres, Obituary guitarist] never told me about the last handful of shows. I already had things that I had to do. But it was no big deal; I was just like, ‘Hey, I can’t do it. If people would’ve told me beforehand, I could’ve done something.’ Trevor knew Keith from jamming with him in Catastrophic, so he did those left over at the end of that tour.

Did you feel it was a good time to get back together–especially with classic ‘90s-style death metal on the upswing again and a whole new generation of Obie fans waiting in the wings?
As it turned out, it couldn’t’ve worked out better for us. It wasn’t like we broke up or planned it or anything, we just got away from it, busy doing our own things, and nothing really caught our attention and made us come back to do more stuff. It seems like the whole metal scene took a dive down, which all music does’country, rap, it comes and it goes. So it worked out well for us; it got quiet for a while, and now we’re coming back into it. Kids are getting more interested in lots of metal bands, and the timing’s good for us. We’re real, real happy with the new record.

Was it difficult getting everyone back together again? Was anyone reluctant to rejoin after several years of inactivity?
Not at all. It was like turning the lights on: it was so easy, so effortless, so painless that it just went so smoothly all the way through. We recorded the new album in literally four days; these guys just blew through it, and it was great.

How’s everything going with Obituary guitarist Allen West? I understand that he had alcohol-related problems on your tour of Norway and had actually quit the band before this U.S. tour.
The bottom line was that we had a handful of festivals that were scheduled, and Big Al was taking his party a little bit earlier in the day than he should’ve been. So there were some shows where he was not in the condition that we would like to see him in to perform. Was he the first guitarist and band member ever to do that? No, and it happens. It was getting to us, so we talked to him and worked with him but it got to a point when we had to say, ‘Look man, we’re going to have to roll without you,’ and we literally rolled the bus out and left him. Then he called us up and said, ‘I promise you guys that if you fly me in, I won’t drink anything before the show.’ Tonight’s the fourth show, and he has yet to have one drop of alcohol before the show. When it’s over, he cracks ‘em open and drinks all night long, which is fine, go for it. That was all it was: kinda blew it up, which, I guess, is what they’re there for. But it really wasn’t anything more than that.

I know that touring takes lots of commitment to go smoothly. Being away from family is tough, plus your day jobs are on hold. What jobs do you have back home, and were they cool with your leaving?
Actually, for the entire existence of Obituary prior to our break, I did have a job the whole time. After we got this stuff back together again and we started this touring, I put what I was doing on hold. This is really all I’m doing right now, just concentrating fully on this, which has kept us extremely busy. Frank maintains his interests at home in his business, but for the rest of us, we’re all concentrating on what we’re doing right now. But it’s hard, and I was fortunate for many years to work for a company that I got along with so well and they liked what I did for them so well that they’d let me go for 4-5 months and then come back and work.

How does it feel now to be the pioneers of the death-metal genre and to have younger bands citing you as major influences?
A lot has changed in the 6-7 years that we were off, and when we came back, it seems that all of a sudden, these younger bands were coming up to us and saying that. I never really thought about it back then, but when I look back at what we accomplished and the things that we did, it’s good to see. It’s real flattering for those younger bands to appreciate what we’ve done, especially when certain musicians tell us that.

Do you feel comfortable musically in the Obituary mold and in not taking any major risks to change your classic style?
It’s not something we think about. We don’t sit down and say, ‘A lot of bands are doing this and getting popular, so maybe we should try this.’ You can probably find pictures of me dressed the same exact way I was ten years ago, and the rest of the band is the same way. We’re really just locked into what we do, when we play, whatever comes out is what comes out, and that’s how it is. We don’t try to force anything, but we’re fortunate that we found and developed our own sound early on, and have kept that the whole time.

I’m so glad that you got Andreas Marschall to design the new album cover to coincide with the art from The End Complete and Anthology. Is the frozen dragon the same from the Obituary logo from those two albums?
When we sat down for the new album, it wasn’t even in the discussions that Andreas Marschall was going to do the cover; Mark Prator and Scott Burns were going to produce it; we were going to go to Redroom and Morrisound Studios’we already knew what was going to happen. That’s what made everything so easy; it wasn’t one person saying, ‘I really think we should have this guy doing that.’ A couple of artists got kicked around’because you never close the door on any idea. We had a lot of information coming our way, but it always just seemed like everyone knew what was going to happen. Donald and I had an idea for artwork about the creature in our logo being unearthed or uncovered, and Andreas just took it to a new level’putting it in a frozen scene and how awesome he made it. The album was originally going to be self-titled, because it sounded like Obituary, so it was just going to be Obituary, you know? But after seeing the artwork and listening to the song ‘On the Floor’ where I sing the words ‘Frozen in time,’ one and one just came together and worked out.

Producer Scott Burns has always been a major force in your career and in death metal. How has his role changed to your ‘executive producer’ this time around?
Well, I don’t really even know what an executive producer is, but I know that Scott Burns is a very good friend of mine, and he always has been. He’s not doing producing anymore, but I still talk to him all the time, e-mail him, and see him. So when I told him, ‘Hey Scotty, we’re actually going to go in the studio,’ he said, ‘Alright cool, when am I coming down?’ He was down there while we were setting up, and he was there while we were laying down tracks. He was there while we were mixing, though he wasn’t like the major role in that’Donald and I, along with Mark Prator, did all the producing. Mark does all the engineering, but it was really DT and I sitting there the entire time working really hard. But it was nice when Scott walks in, and you’re sitting there working on something, and he’s got a fresh set of ears that we work well with. We can listen to the same song for hours and hours, and after a while you don’t know what you’re listening to anymore. Then Scott can walk in and instantly say, ‘That snare’s too loud’ or whatever, so it was nice having him around to do those things.

How do you feel about being the only pioneering death-metal group still on Roadrunner?
It doesn’t mean anything to me. The record label, it’s just a professional relationship. It wouldn’t matter what label it is, we still have to do what we have to do, and make the record company do what they do to get things going, whether it’s Roadrunner or another record label, or maybe next time we’ll do something on our own. We did it with Roadrunner because we had one more album left with them. We did have an album left open with them, and they’ve been good and bad to us over the years, like all record labels, I’m sure. Bands are probably never happy with their labels, but you have to take everything with a grain of salt.

Does Roadrunner still own your back catalog?
Yeah, they own it for ‘x’ amount of years. I don’t know what that point in time is, but Slowly We Rot is probably getting to the point where it’s likely to come back to us. But they would own it, which is why they did the 2-for-1 releases. They didn’t consult us or ask us about whether we cared or not, nor did they even come to us’which I thought we would have the right to do, and we probably do’to at least design our own album cover for it. They just did it all on their own, and I didn’t even know about it until I saw in stores. All those reissues with the bonus tracks, they just throw all that shit out there, which is a little aggravating. I know they have the right to do it, but it’s still our music and our image, so for them to do that kind of stuff, it’s a little frustrating.

That seems to be a big point of contention between metal bands and their labels, especially with these remastered releases in which the bands don’t have any say.
They do, and it’s all so cheesy, too. I mean, you throw up the EQ and all of a sudden they’re going to reissue it and sell it again to make kids, who already bought it once, feel like because they did something so small to it, buy it again. Buyer beware, but whatever’to me, it’s just a cheap way to sell more records.

Regarding the new album, why did you start off with an instrumental? Did it ever have actual lyrics?
No reason. That was one of the first songs we wrote, and with every song, I usually sit down with Donald, Allen, or Trevor, and we put the songs together. I have a clipboard, and I start to think of what I’m going to say, and write down ideas. It got a working title, as all our songs start with, of whatever comes to mind; this one happened to be ‘Redneck Stomp,’ and the title stuck. But I never wrote the first word for it; I could see Donald, and he kept looking at me, waiting for me to start singing. I’m like, ‘I don’t think it needs anything,’ and he said alright. To put it first on the record was once again Donald’s and my decision. Then Frank, Scott Burns, and the people at the record company said, ‘You can’t start off with that! You gotta start with ‘On the Floor’ or something,’ but we said no. It really could only go first or last on the album, and if it were last, it would’ve lost all its momentum. Since it’s first, though, it sets the entire mood for the rest of the record. So many things went the way they just happened; it worked out without a lot of thought, which is why, I think, the album came out so well. It wasn’t like it was overthought or overproduced’no bells and whistles.

When I first heard your voice in ‘On the Floor,’ I was amazed that you still sound as incredible as you did on past albums. Do you have to prepare your voice so that you can perform consistently on tour?
I don’t drink and smoke as much as I do when I’m at home. It’s a lot of strain of your voice night after night, but I rest during the day, trying not to have too many interviews [laughs], but there’s not really more to do. Your vocal cords are muscles like anything else, and you gotta warm up. I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s just second nature.

Why did you record at Red Room Studio instead of Morrisound as always?

And Mark Prator works at both places?
He does. He’s probably moving towards his own studio because that now, so I think that keeps him busy most of the time. But he went down to Morrisound with us; he still has keys to the building; and he still goes in there and runs the place when he’s there. He’s obviously integrated with that, but he’s got his own studio and his own gig, and the bottom line is that’s just the way music has gone. It’s a little unfortunate for some of the big studios; Morrisound has millions of dollars invested in these huge, beautiful rooms. Could we have set up Donald’s drumset in that huge room and maybe got a better sound? Possibly, but it’s death metal, and by the time it’s on a CD and in some guy’s car, are you going to hear that? Probably not. It saved us a lot of money by doing it there; we took advantage of the big mixing console and the nice rooms for referencing our sound’and mastered it there, which Marky doesn’t have the capability to do yet.

You’re still not printing lyrics sheets with the albums, keeping your lyrics a mystery to fans. I believe that you’re one of the only death-metal vocalists who uses his voice as an instrument without the need of actual lyrics. How many of your songs have contained grunts and noises instead of real words?
It is a mystery, but honestly the first album had so little lyrics that there was no way I could just sit down and write it out. It would look like a bunch of aaahs and whatever. Through the years, I’ve had more and more lyrics that I actually sit down and write; for this new record, it’s almost all lyrics. There’s still little things here and there that I do, but for the most part they’re all written. They’re just such a group of individual thoughts instead of whole meanings that’re kinda strange. I don’t know if anybody would get it if I did try to write them out. They’re kinda personal and just weird.

The drums in ‘Slow Death’ recall World Demise. Was that intentional?
Probably not intentional, but there are some songs that sound like they could’ve come off of Slowly… Some people say that song came right off of The End Complete or World Demise, which leads us back to why we were going to self-title the new record. It seems like we covered almost an anthology of ourselves but in new songs. There are songs like ‘On the Floor’ and even ‘Stand Alone’ that’re new and different and taking us in kinda new directions. Anytime we do something like that, it’s not intentional, but when we start jamming, that’s what comes out, you know?

How did you get involved with the Necro project [John and Trevor guested on Brooklyn metal rapper Necro’s The Pre-Fix For Death on Psycho-Logical Records]?
Trevor somehow knew Necro, so he was already involved. Jamey from Hatebreed was supposed to do the vocals that I did, but there was a conflict’I guess his stuff with MTV, plus Necro wanted to do a video. So in the course of doing it, Trevor calls up and says, ‘Hey, do you want to do this?’ I said sure, and that’s how it happened. He flew the tracks down to Tampa, and I did all the recording down there. But Necro did fly us up to New York and we shot a video there for ‘Empowered,’ but that was pretty much it.

Do you see your fan base getting older? Do you see a lot of younger fans who’re new to the band?
It’s a mixed bag, for sure. It’s kinda nice that a lot of the people who used to come and see us are coming back, and a lot of times we have kids coming up and saying, ‘The last time you guys came through, I was 13 and I couldn’t go to the show,’ which is good to see, too. But I’d say it’s about half and half, really. Some nights, the crowd’s older, other nights, it’s younger, it just depends on where we’re at.

Do you feel that the metal-band lifestyle is getting too old for you? Or are you getting too old for it?
You know what, all those European festivals we just did? That was getting bad. We did it to ourselves, but we knew back before it all started. We said, ‘Look, are we going to do this, because this is what’s going to happen to us?’ We knew it, and we said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ We were literally flying in, playing a show, getting offstage at 2:00 in the morning, getting on our buses at 6:00 in the morning, driving, 2-3 flights, flying in, van rides for 6 hours to get to the next show, set up and play, and literally do that for the course of those 4-5 festivals, and then fly back home, and then a week later fly back again. Last week, we flew to Norway; I was in the country for literally 20 hours, played one show, and flew home again. And that’s going from Tampa to Philly, Philly to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Bergen, and back again. It’s a lot, but you know those things beforehand, and that’s just the way it goes. But it is somewhat refreshing to have a bus because we haven’t had one in so long, so at least I can go find my bunk, close my curtain, and nobody bothers me, you know? That’s my little coffin of peace in there!

How have you seen Tampa change since you started back as Xecutioner?
Other than walking around with cinder blocks to build our own stages? (laughing) A lot of times we play at the Ritz Theater or the Masquerade in Ybor City; because we’ve played there so many times, we told Arfin that we wanted to play to play someplace different, so it’s going to be cool to go back to Januus Landing. We played once before a long, long time ago, but Januus Landing is just cool. Hopefully the weather will cooperate with a clear night because it’s outdoors, but it’s a lot of fun.

Is Ace’s Records in Tampa still a huge place for metal?
I don’t believe Ace’s Records is there anymore. I’m not positive about that, but I’m almost sure it’s not there. It’s hard for little places like that to stay afloat with Best Buy; they just can’t compete. There’s still a Vinyl Exchange, or Record Exchange, and they buy CDs…but I don’t think that Ace’s is even there anymore. [Ace’s has since gone to online-only sales at]

Remembering your pre-Internet days of mail-order fan clubs and tape trading in this age of downloading and sharing music, do you think the Internet is good or bad for your record sales?
It’s hard because it seems like the record company has such a different view on it. They’ve totally given up trying to keep any music from getting on the Internet. I know that there’s nothing you can do as soon as your album’s released, because kids copy it and it gets on the Internet. But our promo CDs came out, and they took the entire CD and just gave to absolutely anybody who asked for it, literally 4-5 months before the album was due out. So it was out on the Internet for free for months and months before it was even released’so how that doesn’t affect your record sales, they’ll argue ‘till the cows come home that it doesn’t, instead of putting 2-3 songs on there with maybe some clips from the other ones to give out to writers and people to preview. It’d be great for people like you, for instance, to get a free copy so you can write about it and do articles so you have a good insight of what’s happening. A lot of people who’re writers are fans of the music also, or they wouldn’t do it. So when Slayer’s got a new album coming out, then you can listen to the promo ahead of time, then when it does come out, you can listen to it like everyone else, be excited, and somewhat surprised. But there’s not much you can do about it, because you’re at a point that once the music’s out, it’s going to be out there for free. Packaging is your only savior, offering something interesting for kids who want to go out and buy it.

What does the future hold for Obituary?
Well, we got some songs written, and we’re going to go home and take a winter break from touring. We’re going to get this music we’ve been working on finished up. I hope we put out another record next year [2006], and I know in January we’ll be back in Europe doing a string of shows of our own, not festivals. But we still have to get the West coast done and then up to Canada. We got a lot to do still!


  1. Commented by: Greg

    I can’t wait to see them in concert live streaming Saturday June 8th with new guitarist Kenny Phillips.

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