Obituary: Slowly They Rot
When it comes to death metal veterans, it’s hard to find a band who’ve been doing it for as long as Obituary. The Florida five-piece pioneered the genre, taking the hugely popular thrash metal scene to deeper, darker more aggressive places.
As well as working on a new album, Obituary recently decided to go back to where it all began by going on tour with songs from their first three albums. They’ll be bringing the classics to Australia in a few weeks time, but getting those tracks up to scratch hasn’t been easy according to frontman John Tardy.
In a few weeks you’ll be heading back to Australia, only this time you’re going to play a classic set from your first three albums. What made you want to do this tour?
We had some promoters who came to us with the idea while we were doing that European run. We hadn’t put a new album out in a while, and we’d done quite a bit of touring for the last album that we did do. So once they asked if we’d be interested in doing something like that, we sat back, we thought about it, like maybe we should do the whole Slowly We Rot record or something like that… After we started listening to the [early stuff], we thought let’s just do the first three albums, and it really worked out well. It was funny watching us sit down and listening to the albums because some of the songs, we haven’t played them for years, and some of them we’ve never even played live before. So it was a re-learning process for us to start with, but once we got going on it, it was a lot of fun.
Was it difficult playing some of those songs you hadn’t played in a while?
It was hilarious actually! Me and Donald [Tardy, drums] sat down and said, ‘Let’s put Slowly Rot on.’ It’s not like we sit around listening to all our albums all the time, so we put that thing in, we hadn’t listened to it for years, and we’re sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t even remember this song!’ [laughs]. Some of them were in different tuning so Trevor [Peres, guitar] had to sit there and kind of pick out some of the notes. It was a challenge, but it was cool.
How did you determine what songs you were going to play?
Me and Donald pretty much sat down, put the first record on and listened to it. After every song we were like, ‘Okay, we gotta play that one, and we gotta play that one’ and we pretty much wound up having almost every song off the first three albums, which was a little bit too much to do. We kinda had to go back and scratch some off the list. There were tough decisions, but I think we wound up being able to play like six songs off each album so it covers them pretty well. We took a lot of time to put the set together, to really make the songs flow, starting and stopping, and getting through the set nice and smooth. It’s pretty much the same set we do every night.
When some bands do these classic shows, they’re drawing a line in the sand and giving the fans a last hurrah with the early tunes. Will this be the last time we hear some of these tracks from Obituary?
[Pause] Well, I don’t know. I haven’t really thought that far ahead. We did some shows in the States with it and then we did a pretty good tour through Europe, so we’ll be doing some more shows like this. But once the new album comes out, I think we’ll want to play a lot of it when we get back on the road. We’ll mix it up a little bit and move things around; we usually try to put a set list together with something off every album. You can never make everybody happy, everybody always comes up to you after and says, ‘How come you didn’t play this and how come you didn’t play that’, but it’s a good problem to have when you have as much music as we have out there. It makes it challenging for us, but we try to cover a little bit of everything.
When you decided to do the classic shows, did you consider asking some of your former members like Allen West and Frank Watkins to join you?
You’ve got Terry Butler playing bass these days, but he’s not really a new guy anymore. In some respects he’s been with you guys since the beginning. Is that what made him such a natural fit when a new bassist was needed?
We’ve known Terry for so long. We’ve known him since before we were probably playing music, and we knew him when we were kinda starting up. We’ve known him for so long that it’s hard to imagine him not being in the band at this time. It’s been so ideal for us, so great, he’s so cool. It’s funny cause we’ll be sitting there doing an interview or sitting around and somebody asks a question about Obituary, and he’ll more than likely know the answer faster than me or Donald would, even though he wasn’t in the band at the time. He’s like an encyclopedia of music, so it’s always good to have him around. Someone will ask, ‘Do you remember this one band?’ and he’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s so and so’ and he’ll know every name, every album and stuff. It’s crazy man, he’s really into it.
When he plays the older tunes does he retain the classic sound? Or has he brought his own distinct sound into the mix.
He’s got a bit of a different style, he uses a little bit of distortion on his bass that Frank never used, so he’s got his own sound but he just plays very steady, very straightforward and very tight so you know performance-wise it’s awesome. Like I said, he’s really just like a brother of ours with how long we’ve known him, so it’s been awesome.
Next year you’ve got a bit of a double anniversary happening. It’s been 30 years since the band formed and it’s the 25th anniversary of Slowly We Rot. Is there a celebration on the cards?
Well now that you mention it, sure, I’ll start celebrating right now [laughs]. Sooner or later those types of celebrations don’t sound so good anymore [laughs], well the numbers anyway, but it’s cool. When the first album came out I don’t think we really expected to do a second album, we really didn’t even expect to do the first album. So the fact that it’s been this many years, this many albums and this many tours and the whole nine yards, and we’re still doing what we do, it’s pretty cool. We really don’t have anything planned right now but we’ve got plenty of time to work on that, think about it, and maybe do something.
These days it’s quite popular for bands to get behind the idea of reissues. Do you have any material floating around that could be used for something like that?
No there’s not, I know that because pretty much every song we’ve ever written has been released on an album. There’s not really any hidden music around or anything like that. We’ve kind of been kicking around the possibility of re-recording some of the old songs, kind of like we did with Slowly We Rot that one time. You listen back to some of those albums and you wish you could redo them with some of the stuff you know now. A lot of the time you write songs, but you don’t play them enough [before recording]; it’s not like you’ve had three tours and five or six years of playing the songs. Then you listen back and think, ‘Man I could destroy that fill I just did on that album.’ You always look back and wish you could make a better sound, like you listen to the snare drum and think, ‘What the hell happened to that?’ We sometimes think about maybe going back and re-recording some songs just for the hell of it. But we don’t really have anything planned at the moment, we’ve just been elbow deep in the new album that we’re working on.
On that note, there’s been lots of talk about the new album over the past few years and supposedly it’ll be released this year. What’s the progress report on that?
Yeah, it probably wont be this year [laughs]. Last year we took several months off just to sit back and write the album, but I think we spent more time out in the boat going fishing than writing. But we’re okay with that, we really don’t care, we’re working at our own pace and we’ll get it done when we get it done. But I can tell you that we’ve got a significant amount done, there’s three songs that are ready to record at any given time, but talking to the guys, and this is kind of what I hit on earlier, we really want to give ourselves the opportunity to get the songs and just play them over and over again. We like to invite some friends over, have a few beers and just let them sit and listen to the new songs. It puts a little bit of pressure on you, and we just want to give ourselves the opportunity to play the songs a significant amount of times, really work it out, really feel it and really get the tempo where we want it. We’re taking our time, we’re having a lot of fun with it and we really love the new stuff we’ve been doing. So it’ll be recorded this year, but will probably be released more like the beginning of next year.
Has working at your own pace had a particular effect on the band and the music?
I think it’s a good thing for the music because we find that we’ll write a few songs, then four or five months might go by, and then we come back and start to write new songs again. It gives you four or five months with different things to think about, so I think you wind up having songs that have a lot of different feeling, and they sound a lot different from each other. I think you’re more likely to have songs that sound a little bit more similar if you start writing them all at the same time, you know? If you give yourself the time in between those things, where we take off, go on tour and come back three months later to try and write some new music, you’ve had a lot of things that have happened since then. For us it seems to work out good that way. We know we’re not in any hurry, we’ll get it done when we get it done, and that’s the way it’s gonna be [laughs].
So after 30 years, do you ever think about taking a break and hanging up the mic?
Well we do that, we’ve done that, we’ve done it three times or so. I think before Frozen In Time, it’d been six or seven years since we did an album. Before Back From The Dead there was four or five years, so there’s been several times that we did that. It always seems like we come back after a lot of touring and we plan to have maybe a few months off. That earlier one where we had seven years, that wasn’t planned to be seven years but it was just one of those things where we sat back and a year went by, then two years went by and there just wasn’t a lot happening. Even the whole death metal scene kinda took a dive down, it wasn’t like people were calling us every week saying, ‘Hey do you guys wanna do this?’ or ‘Do you wanna do that?’ We all got busy doing other things and I think that’s important. It’s healthy for the band to take that step back, so we’re not afraid to take time off. If we feel like doing an album, whether it’s this year, next year or four or five years in between, that’s just the way it works out and we seem to work pretty good like that.
What makes you want to keep coming back after each break?
[Laughs] We have fun man! We just get together and we have a ball. That last tour we did in Europe, that was one of the best tours that I’ve ever done. We had such a blast with the current line-up. Everything was just so smooth, we finally got things oiled down. We really know what we like, we really know what we need, and it doesn’t take us a lot of effort to get tours together and to make things happen; it’s not a big process for us nowadays. It leaves you open to have a good time, have good shows and the fans have really been respondent, so that’s a bonus on top.
I guess at the end of the day, someone needs to show these new death metal kids where it all began.
[Laughs] At the end of the day yeah, the older guys have to come up and slap somebody down.
Obituary will be whipping out the classics in Sydney and Melbourne this May, with a set taken from Slowly We Rot, Cause Of Death and The End Complete. Check out the dates below!
Obituary Tour Dates
Fri May 3rd – The Espy, Melbourne (18+)
with Denouncement Pyre and King Parrot
Sat May 4th – Manning Bar, Sydney (18+)
with Daemon Foetal Harvest and Sanctium