Obituary’s John Tardy on touring, record sales, and side projects

The frontman manages to tear himself away from his garage studio long enough to answer some questions...

The phone crackles to life and on the other end is John Tardy, frontman of legendary death metallers Obituary, who tells me he’s ‘doing good’ at his home in Tampa, Florida. Obituary have just wrapped up a US tour with a whole bunch of really great bands, including Goatwhore, Krisiun, Warbringer and Australia’s own The Berzerker. John seems happy with how it went – but then, he seemed like a pretty easy-going guy in general.

‘I’ll be honest with you, some of the bands I hadn’t really heard or heard much about, but just everybody was great. I mean the tour went really well, we put in a lot of miles through the country  and up through Canada, and we had no cancelled shows and everybody got along great, and I thought the shows went real well.’

My Australian pride leads me to press John on his opinion of The Berzerker.

‘They were really good. You know, it was interesting. Sometimes we get put on tours and we try and mix it up a bit, maybe some hardcore kind of bands and things like that, but this time around everyone was pretty much straight on death metal, so it was pretty cool.’

Speaking of cool, I ask John about the Halloween show in Mexico that the band were scheduled to play. Knowing how fanatical South Americans typically are with both their religion and their metal, I figure this would be a pretty kick-arse experience. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

‘Actually that show just got cancelled. I’m not even sure what happened. We’re getting kinda lined up to go down there and our management has been trying to contact the promoter over there for a week and he’s just not answering back anybody. So that show unfortunately has been cancelled. But that just leaves us with more time to get ready to come to Australia.’

I wonder if this kind of thing – dodgy promoters, cancelled shows – happens very often. John explains that luckily, it’s not often the case.

‘Most of the time in the States and Europe we have a standard set of promoters that we use, but it just seems like trying to get that solid type of promoter in these other countries is a little more difficult. So sometimes we get people that we don’t really know that contact us about putting together a show, and everything seems to be going good, and just when you come down to it and it’s time to send deposits, things sometimes fall apart.’

Obituary are embarking on an Australian tour in November – only their second visit down under. On their previous visit, the band played without a lead guitarist at all, due to long time lead Allen West being incarcerated for drink driving offences. This time around, the line-up includes Ralph Santolla on lead guitar, in a permanent role.

Frank Watkins, Obituary’s bassist, mentioned in his Metal As Fuck interview a few months ago that the Australian shows in 2007 were, in his memory, some of the tightest and heaviest show the band had ever played, despite (or perhaps as a consequence) of West’s absence. I wondered what John recalled about that difficult time in the band’s history.

‘Well yeah, it was one of those things. It was our first time in Australia, so we were all excited about that, and we certainly didn’t want to not make the trip, even with Allen not being available to us. But unfortunately because of some of the stuff he got himself into, that just wasn’t gonna happen and we didn’t have enough time to get somebody else lined up, and ready to go do some shows, and we were stuck doing ‘em without anybody. It’ll be nice to have a full line up this time that’s for sure.’

I mentioned that since the addition of Ralph Santolla, the band seems to have been going crazy – two albums and an EP in just over two years? John laughingly suggests that there may be other factors as well.

‘Yeah we have been. I’m not sure if it has as much to do with Ralph as it does with the fact that we’ve built our own studio out the back of my house. We’ve been having so much fun out there in the studio and recording things that we just can’t get enough of it. So probably a bit of both; it’s good to have Ralph around, and it’s good to have our own studio here, and we’ve just been going crazy. It’s hard to keep us out of there these days. When we’re not on the road we’re sitting locked in the garage out there playing.’

The five Australian dates – Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Perth – are on five consecutive days. Considering the long flight from the US, and then the not inconsiderable domestic flights between cities, that’s a pretty brutal schedule. I ask John if the band perhaps does not believe in having days off, and again get a big chuckle from down the line.

‘Yeah, it’s actually quite torturous. I guess the promoters that bring us over, because they’re responsible for us once we get over there, if they give us days off it’s kinda on their tab and I guess they don’t want to see those bar bills!’

It gets worse. ‘Not only that, but after the last show it’s not like we get a few days, after the last show we’re heading straight to an airport and heading back home. I imagine by the time I do get home I’m gonna fall over and collapse. It’ll be worth it, it should be some fun times.’

After the Australian tour, Obituary are planning a South American tour, and then a European tour with fellow Florida death metallers – and good friends of the band - Six Feet Under and Deicide. Then there are the European festivals – Obituary have already been confirmed for Bloodstock Open Air in the UK in August 2010. I ask if there are any more European festivals in the band’s schedule.

‘Yeah, next summer, they’re slowly starting to come in. We didn’t do a whole bunch of European festivals this year, we did some smaller ones, poked around a little bit here and there. But next year we’re looking at running the game and doing some of those bigger festivals. I’m definitely looking forward to Bloodstock, we haven’t played that one before.’

Darkest Day, the band’s eighth studio album, has been out a few months now. I mention that all the reviews I’ve seen have been very positive, but wonder how the album is doing compared to previous effort Xecutioner’s Return?

‘I think it’s selling better. Sales are just a tough thing to kinda judge nowadays. We don’t sell as many records as we used to, but when we tour we have bigger crowds than we ever did. It’s kinda obvious that most people just download stuff without paying for it, which is just the nature of the beast.’

It seems that success is no longer measured in chart positions or sales reports. ‘As far as the album itself goes, we’re all really thrilled with it and the way it came out. It’s really heavy and we’ve been getting lots of good press and news and all the fans’ emails we get. Everyone seems to be enjoying it, so as far as I’m concerned everything’s going well with the new record.’

John teamed up with his brother, drummer Donald Tardy, to release a side-project album titled Bloodline earlier this year. I ask if the siblings get sick of each other’s company, with all the time they spend together recording with Obituary and then on the road. Laughingly, John responds with a ‘not yet!’.

‘I guess we’ve just been so busy out in the garage, learning ProTools and really getting into recording and stuff like that, that he and I just... I mean there’s some songs that he just started picking out on guitar, a long, long time ago, and songs that we’ve talked about for a long time, and Obituary’s just been so busy, we just hadn’t had time to sit down and do it.’

So again, the home studio provided the necessary inspiration. ‘You know if we didn’t have the studio here, it still wouldn’t have gotten done. But once we got it built, it’s given us the time and resource to just finally get that thing put together and done.’

The album is in some ways sounds very much like Obituary, yet in others is quite a departure. ‘I think it’s a fun album to listen to,' Tardy said. 'It’s got a lot of cool stuff. Maybe because it is he and I, and we’re so much into what Obituary does, it has its moments where it will sound kinda like Obituary. But to me the guitar riffs and all the fills and leads are really different, with five different guitarists.’

I slip in a question from a Metal As Fuck reader: Does John think there will be further Tardy Brothers releases? The answer is a resounding yes – and with a possibility of live shows as well.

‘Oh yeah, I mean we got  a handful of formal ideas, but once again we’ve just been away from here for so long and I’m right in the middle of remodelling the studio now, putting in some new wood and tiled floors, so with all that it’s kinda hard to find the time to sit down and record it. But we definitely do want to do some more and if Obituary gets to a point where it’s taking a little bit of a break, we’d like to go out and try to do some live shows too.’

As a massive Obituary fan, I have long been fascinated with John’s voice – it’s certainly one of the most distinctive voices in extreme metal. I ask how he discovered his talent - did he start singing in another style? Again my question is greeted with a laugh.

‘No, um, I think early on when we started – I mean, we were like in tenth grade or so – kinda sorta jamming, not that any of us at the time – it was me, Don and Trevor getting together back then – we didn’t know what we were doing.’

Being in Tampa, a hotbed of metal activity in the 1980s, meant there were some strong local thrash influences. ‘We had the guys from Nasty Savage and Savatage right in our neighbourhood, so we’d be walking down the street and hear them in their garages at the time making demo tapes – so I think just by the nature of being influenced by what they were doing, we would come back to the garage and start jamming ourselves, and maybe we were trying to sound like either one of them sounded.’

The Obituary sound eventually evolved from some heavier influences. ‘As soon as we were introduced to Slayer and Venom and stuff like that, it kinda opened our eyes and turned us in a direction that we really wanted to do. So that’s when it kinda started turning, and I started getting heavier and heavier, and just enjoyed doing that.’

Extreme metal vocalists often push their voices to the limit. John reveals that he’s never had any formal technique training, but that he has never really had any issues with his voice.

‘I’ve been pretty fortunate, knock on wood. I can only remember one or two shows ever cancelling, and that’s more ‘cos I was just so sick and there was no way I could possibly sing like that. I can’t remember the last time we had to cancel a show because of me. We just did 26 shows in 31 days here in the States, and the shows all went good, and my voice held up well.’

Given that John was in pretty good humour, I thought I’d throw in a silly question. Long hair is common in metal and especially exteme metal, but John’s extra-long blond locks are pretty amazing nonetheless. I was curious if he found that chicks got jealous. Yet again, this elicited a big laugh.

‘I don’t know...’

They don’t come up and ask for hair care tips?

Modestly, John finds an escape from this line of questioning. ‘Heh, you know that’s just good pictures. We must’ve hired a good photographer or something.’

Finally, John provides some final words for Aussie fans.

‘You know, this is gonna be our second time coming over there, and the first time around we kinda had one arm behind our back because of the situation we were put in with Al. It will be nice to come back and have a full lineup, and be nice to have three new albums to pick songs from, so this time around we’re gonna have a better idea of what we’re doing. We’re just looking forward to getting over there; there’s a busy schedule, but we’re going to be looking forward to it.’

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Obituary Australian tour dates:

18/11/09 – The Hifi  Brisbane
19/11/09 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
20/11/09 – Manning Bar, Sydney
21/11/09 – Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide
22/11/09 – Amplifier Bar, Perth