By Aaron Von Lupton
Crawling out of the Florida swamps over thirty years ago, OBITUARY are death metal legends, creating a disgusting, pulverizing sound that crushes skulls to this day. When brothers Donald (drums) and John Tardy (vocals) formed the band with guitarist Trevor Peres they never dreamed they will help change the face of metal forever with their debut album Slowly We Rot in 1989. Well over three decades since they initially formed as teenagers, the band continues to release albums and play live with the same cement mixer fury as they did in their parents’ basements. Rue Morgue caught up with Don Tardy before a headlining show with Skeletonwitch and Pallbearer in Toronto to revisit the past and discuss death metal’s unusually kind disposition.
RM: It’s been nearly thirty years since Slowly We Rot. What are your own thoughts on that album this many years later?
DT: It was three decades ago so you can imagine how young we were as a band. I was literally just a teenager. No matter how good you are or how good you think you are as a musician, when it matters and you know the record light is on or you know you are playing in front of a crowd, nerves are always a factor in how good you play or how well you wish you played. With that record i just remember being so nervous as a kid, I listen to it now and I am playing things too fast. I didn’t do half the things I thought I was going to do because I was so nervous that I just got through the song. That was long before triggering and replacing sounds. It was when you played well or you started the song over. That’s the way studios were back in the ’80s. So that’s what I remember. How young I was and how the recording came out vs. how I wish it would have, at least as far as the performance of my drums.
RM: I read once that you weren’t really planning on even putting out a record, so how did you end up doing just that?
DT: I think that’s a misquote of whoever tried to write that article. I’ve said it many times, we were just so excited because we loved music so much. We loved the idea of being in a band so much – me and my brother and Trevor – that when we recorded Slowly, I couldn’t even think of a second record, because we couldn’t believe we were holding an album. Like “dude, check it out we have an album.” I never would have guessed it would be a thirty year career and ten albums.
RM: When Slowly We Rot came out, it was so extreme, the sound seemed to come out of nowhere. How did you guys come up with it?
DT: Everyone was listening to the same stuff in the metal world. We were all children of Metallica. We loved it. That Kill Em All album, unbelievable. Before that it was Black Sabbath and Slayer. But for us when we got our hands on Hellhammer, before they became Celtic Frost, the Hellhammer record changed me and Trevor and my brother overnight. It’s so much heavier and more basic. It’s just groove, but it’s guttural. I think that just guided us. This is the direction I could tell we were about to start heading in. We always loved Venom and all that shit, but Tom Warrior in Hellhammer, it changed us. As a drummer I was already on course to what I wanted to be, I had John Bonham in my life and Vinny Appice but when we heard Hellhammer it really was the lightbulb in the top of the head kind of thing.
RM: What lead to your disbanding in 1997, and what brought you back together?
DT: When we took a break we didn’t know why we did it, but it’s tough being in the music industry and being on the road all the time and trying to make a living so we just went home and were normal for a little while. We got houses and wives and girlfriends and everyone started families. I didn’t. I immediately jumped back into music and started doing the Andrew WK thing and toured for about three years and was super busy with him. That was a blast, it was totally different from death metal. He’s a really good friend of mine but now that we have been back together it seems like it was the blink of an eye. It’s hard to believe we were off for six or seven years because it’s already been ten years since then.
RM: How did you get together with Andrew WK and what do you think is the reason for his popularity?
DT: He wrote me a letter in the mail. This was 1999. He was probably 19 years old. I was 29. He just said “I love death metal and you are one of my favourite drummers”, and he sent me a tape and said “I would love to see if you would do this with me, I want a killer drummer, and I am getting signed to a record label”. It was something huge like Atlantic or something. Obituary wasn’t doing anything. I didn’t want another death metal band, I had a my death metal band and I liked his music. I knew it would be challenge for me as a drummer because it’s way basic for me but it’s also way out of my league where I didn’t ever play this style. We became really good friends and it just exploded. It went from this concept and he didn’t even have a band. I said I could help him put his band together and sure enough everyone who was in that band came from me, people who were just friends. “Party Hard”, that song alone was what was going to skyrocket him. He’s very clever, he’s very intelligent he’s super business oriented and he’s super nice and kind and I think people like that about him. They like super positive vibes when they’re reading and listening and talking to someone and Andrew is all of that. He’s pretty smart, when the world’s eyes were on him he knew how to act. He did some crazy things and purposefully made people remember who he was. There is some great song writing on those first two albums that you just can’t deny. I don’t care if you love him or you hate him. When you hear “Party Hard” or “She Is Beautiful”, you can’t deny them. They’re just really good, classic, really rememberable songs.
RM: I heard you run a cat rescue in Florida.
DT: In Florida there’s no winter time so the whole year long cats just breed and the cat population is just ridiculous. Very sad for people who care about animals which most people do. I was just tired of seeing cats getting run over by cars, kittens getting born in parking lots. Right there in my backyard I see them so I just learned what the Humane Society does and how I can help. It’s called Trap, Neuter, Return. If there’s cats hanging around in your backyard you can borrow traps from the Humane Society, you trap them, bring them in, they get fixed, you release them where you trapped them so they know where they are and can live their lives but you stop the breeding process and you cut the population. My girlfriend and I took it to the extreme and we take care of a little over 30 colonies because cats live in colonies. A dog will roam and keep walking and walking and walking. A cat finds where it wants to be and it builds a colony and keeps breeding. Over the last decade I just make sure that where I live in my neighborhood that I can take care of getting them fixed. I have a big heart. They know who I am and I have been feeding them for 15 years. When the sun goes down I go out and it takes me about two hours and I just make sure they have fresh water and food. There’s probably a little over 100 cats that live behind a Taco Bell or a McDonalds, near a church over here, near an apartment complex over here, behind that school. I just constantly monitor them so any new ones that come in I get them fixed, and young ones that we didn’t see before we get them off the streets, we socialize them in my bathroom or something and once they are friendly enough they get their vaccination and they go through an adoption program through one my rescue programs that help me out.
RM: That’s funny, it reminds of something a friend said to me once, that death metal is the angriest form of music with the nicest fans.
DT: I’ve noticed it and I’ve been in the industry long enough where I’ve either had friends who noticed that or I’ve worked with companies that work with other genres of music and that comment comes out. It’s always these big dudes with big leather jackets that are the kindest. They are the smartest and the most down to earth people. Then you get the guys who are trying to do hip hop shows and they say it’s completely opposite. These metalheads who are getting dressed up and painting their faces like raccoons. The mosh pits look all brutal but if you really study what happens it’s just a dance and we are all out there helping each other. We’re not out there punching each other in the face. If someone falls down we pick them back up. As metal heads we know that’s what happens but the world doesn’t see that often enough and when they do notice they say “wow I can’t believe how kind you are to each other and to the rest of the businesses.” Most bands we meet and most people are cool as shit.
You can still catch OBITUARY with Skeletonwitch and Pallbearer on tour now, so check out the dates below!