The Death Metal Blueprint: Obituary vocalist John Tardy discusses New Album

By Andrew Bansal

Tampa, Florida death metal legends Obituary began their quest for global domination in the mid-’80s, and in the year 2017, are not only still going, but going stronger than ever, as proven by their tenth full-length album, the self-titled effort released via Relapse Records on March 17th. A band that has retained their legacy, reputation and style throughout the years, and in the unpredictable, bizarre world we live in, one thing is for sure, Obituary delivers the goods every time. A few days before the release date, vocalist John Tardy spoke to Metal Assault about the making of the newest album and much more. Enjoy the conversation below, along with a good chunk of the new music, and North American readers, make sure you catch Obituary on the Decibel tour!

John, it’s good to have you on Metal Assault. Your tenth studio album is coming out on March 17th. First of all, how long did it take you guys to write these songs and how has the process been this time?

I think it’s just been status quo for us. We started writing some of these songs a year-and-a-half ago or something, then we kind of got busy, did a couple of tours here and there, took a break from the writing and then got back home and did some more writing. So, I think that little break made some of the songs sound quite a bit different from the others. When you go through the album, it feels like the songs have a bit of a separation. So, in that sense it was cool to have a break in between, and I thought it worked out pretty good.

That’s interesting. As you said, you went on tour, and you guys do so much touring as do a lot of bands these days. I think it’s necessary to be on the road more than it was in the past. How does that affect your writing? Is it taking longer to write albums because of that?

Yeah, like you said, a lot of bands are touring and that’s just the nature of the beast right now. Bands aren’t selling albums like they used to, and they do not make the income off their album sales like in the past. So things have changed an awful lot and bands do have to get out there and tour more, relying on merch sales and getting out there to reach fans directly. It’s near impossible to sit at home and write music and take your time with it and be on the road at the same time. So, you’ve got to be kind of careful with that, because some bands think they can write songs on tour and it only works for some people. I think we’re the kind of band that really relies a lot on each other when we write. We like to get together when we write. Sure, Trevor likes to pick out some rhythms here and there. Heck, we could be at a soundcheck and he comes up with rhythms. But we rely on us getting together, getting some beers going and then relax, jam and come up with new stuff. That’s what works best for us. We just find ourselves having to set aside time when we’re not on tour. But even then, we might go a couple of years without releasing an album because we just don’t feel like doing one. Sometimes we set aside a month for writing and we end up not doing it (laughs). But we don’t fight it, we like to have fun with what we do, and if we don’t feel like doing it, we don’t do it. We move on and do something else. But whatever works for you. I’m sure it works out differently for other bands. We’re a close band, we like being together, writing together, hanging out together, and that’s just the way we roll.

Right, and you guys have been around for so many years, people obviously have an expectation in terms of the Obituary sound on a new album. When you’re trying to write new music, does that make it easier in a way, because you know what you want to play, and you know what the people like?

(Laughs) I don’t know if we really have much control over what we do. We try not to overthink anything. We don’t go in to say, “OK, we’re going to do an album and it’s going to have this concept, and we want to do a little bit more of this.” We don’t talk that much about it, we just kind of get together and jam, and whatever comes out is what comes out. We’ve been fortunate over the years that we got on a roll. We keep our style and sound but wind up sounding a little different here and there, adding a little something we hadn’t done before to make things new and interesting. But we don’t put too much pressure on ourselves. At the back of our minds, we know that we just can’t change styles completely. We’re kind of like cavemen in the way we go about things. If you’ve heard the record you would have noticed some of the rhythms on there, and it shows that sometimes the simpler the better for us.

Yes, I did listen to it a few times, and I think I agree with you. May be it’s more straightforward and more to-the-point? Is that a fair assessment?

Yeah! Some songs are super simple, like, if you listen to ‘Ten Thousand Ways to Die’, for example. Sometimes I even make fun of Trevor a little bit, because I’m like, come on dude, you wrote such a simple rhythm (laughs). But when it kicks in, it’s like the AC/DC thing, they’ve got so many songs where the rhythm is just the simplest thing. I’m not even a guitar player, and they have rhythms that I can play. It’s just three notes. But for us, it just works out to come up with those simple rhythms, because once it all gets going and blends and moulds together, it comes out just heavy as balls, and that’s just what we thrive on doing.

When the rhythm or the core riff of a song is that simple, how does it affect your vocal lines? Does that make it more challenging to come up with vocal parts?

It can vary, but there’s a lot of times Trevor comes up with a rhythm, and as soon as D.T. kicks in with some sort of drum beat, I can almost immediately get that hook or chorus. It just comes to mind. There’s a few songs, like ‘Inked in Blood’, the very first time I heard that rhythm, the chorus just came to me. My ears are so in tune with Trevor’s tone and his guitar, I think that’s just where my voice gravitates to. As soon as I hear that, I like to dive right in and get in tune with that guitar, if you will. But there’s other rhythms where it doesn’t come so fast, and that’s a whole different challenge which makes if fun. At first you have no idea what to do with it, but then you walk away, listen to it for a couple of minutes, you walk back and forth from it, and you eventually get to things. Or sometimes you don’t! I remember when they wrote ‘Redneck Stomp’, they started writing the song and kept jamming, and I was like, “Dude, I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do with this!” And it came to a point where I told them that the song wasn’t going to have any singing on it (laughs), so we just left it as it is. So, you know, there’s no rule for us, let’s put it that way.

You had a couple of major lineup changes a few years ago but it has been more than five years since the current lineup has been together, and this is the second album with this group of five. As you said, you guys are a close unit, and now you must be feeling close with this particular group now, right?

We’re really feeling like we’re firing on all cylinders right now, man, specially live. We’re crushing it, we’re having such a good time. I’ve known Terry (Butler, bassist) since before Obituary, so it feels like he’s been there all along. He’s just so much like us, and it’s like having another brother in the band, for sure. Kenny (Andrews, guitar) too, we’ve known for a long time. He was our guitar tech for a while, then he filled in on bass guitar for a few months. We just couldn’t be happier right now. We’re having a ball, we get along, we all communicate great. We could be on a six-week tour in Europe or something, we have a day off and we’ll still go out and eat together. In some bands, the last thing they want to do is see another band member on their night off, but we enjoy each other and we just have a good time.

That’s awesome, man. As we were talking earlier, you guys tour a lot, but when it comes to an actual recording of an album and you come back from tour to finish an album, it must be helpful to already be in that groove of playing, right?

It does help! There’s definitely a difference in us between the first night of the tour and let’s say ten shows into a tour. Everybody’s on top of it and we’ve got things going by that point. Recording can be the same way. It’s a challenge, specially for me. It’s one thing to walk out on stage at a festival and sing in front of 80,000 people screaming. That’s easy. Almost anybody can get out and do that. But trying to walk into a studio by yourself, the sun’s out, the birds are chirping, there’s all this other stuff you could be doing, and try to focus and get yourself intense and sing on an album, it’s just a big challenge. But hey, it’s what makes this stuff fun, you know.

Exactly. So, this is a self-titled album, and your tenth overall. What took you guys ten albums to finally self-title one and why is it this time?

(Laughs) I think any band that’s been around for a little while, you get to throw an album out there where you don’t have to worry about putting a title on it. But I don’t know, there wasn’t really any one main reason. Like I said, we don’t find ourselves talking about this type of stuff very much. Some bands sit and fret and argue over song titles and this and that, but not us. Everybody just says what they want and it just kind of falls in place together. We easily agree with each other. There were a couple of things behind self-titling this one, though. We saw the artwork, the simplicity of Andreas Marschall’s new retake on an older logo. It just looked so killer on a solid black background that we just kind of fell in love with it. And also, there’s so many good songs on this album, it was hard for anybody to pinpoint one song we wanted to title the album off of. So, you could say those were the main reasons behind it but just little things and no huge meaning. In fact, I didn’t quite know it’s our tenth album until I did a couple of interviews and people started pointing it out. Now with that said, it makes it even nicer to have it be self-titled.

After the album release, you guys are getting on another touring cycle soon, the whole nine yards!

Yeah man, and we’re looking forward to it! It feels like we’ve been done with this album for a while now, so I’m ready to get it out, getting it in our fans’ hands, and letting them jam the thing. It releases the same day we start the tour with Kreator. They’re a great band that’s been around for a long time. I really admire a lot what Kreator does, they put out good quality product, they’re not one of those bands you see on tour day after day every year. They remind me a lot of ourselves. They like to put their albums out, they like to work them, and they like to go ahead and step back from it, and let it breathe and do its work. So, it’s going to be fun, we’ve never toured with Kreator, but we’re really looking forward to it and I think it’s going to be a great tour.

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Related MA link: Album Review: Obituary – Self-Titled

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Decibel Tour featuring Kreator, Obituary, Midnight & Horrendous (remaining dates):
03/22/2017 – Dallas, TX @ House of Blues
03/24/2017 – Phoenix, AZ @ Club Red
03/25/2017 – Santa Ana, CA @ Observatory
03/26/2017 – San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
03/27/2017 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
03/28/2017 – Seattle, WA @ Neptune
03/29/2017 – Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw
03/31/2017 – Calgary, AB @ MacEwan Ballroom
04/01/2017 – Edmonton, AB @ Union Hall
04/04/2017 – Denver, CO @ Summit Music Hall
04/06/2017 – Minneapolis, MN @ Cabooze
04/07/2017 – Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
04/08/2017 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue
04/09/2017 – Cleveland, OH @ House Of Blues
04/11/2017 – Toronto, ON @ Opera House
04/12/2017 – Montreal, QC @ Club Soda
04/13/2017 – Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
04/14/2017 – New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
04/15/2017 – Philadelphia, PA @ TLA