originally written by Juho Mikkonen
Our 80s interview train makes it next stop at somewhere in Florida, where we invested a considerable chunk of the Last Rites pension fund in securing a very nice piece of real estate for our staff members who should take the subtle hint and fucking retire already (Mikkonen, seriously, you’re dead weight).
More importantly, we got to talk to one of death metal’s most important voices, John Tardy, who has growled his way into the hearts and minds of every single person who’s ever heard the opening seconds of “Internal Bleeding” and held the office of the singer of Obituary, a band that should need no introduction, since the Xecutioner days. As always, Mr. Tardy had some interesting things to say about Obituary’s benchmark-setting debut full-length, Slowly We Rot (which was justly featured in Volume Six of the Last Rites 80s feast), and the beginnings of the career of one very special waste disposal guy.
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When compiling our list of the 100 most essential metal albums of the 1980s, Slowly We Rot as one of the ultimate death metal classics – irrespective of decades – was obviously a no-brainer. Knowing how important the record is considered in terms of historical significance and, more importantly, as a measuring stick for quality, it’s not a surprise that for many it is also the Obituary album. Having released seven full-lengths after Slowly We Rot, how do you rank your debut when stacked up against the rest of your discography?
This is hard for me to answer. Each album represents such different time in our lives and brings back so many different memories. For me, Slowly We Rot does have special meaning. Being that it was our first album and I can still remember where I was standing when I got that first album in my hand. Pretty cool and still crazy to think it was recorded on only 8 tracks. At that time we were so happy just jamming in the garage that recording and releasing a album was not that much on our minds. When a record company came to us it was kind of a surprise and then it all started…what did I do?
Earlier you had released demo material under the name Xecutioner. What led you to change the band’s name for the debut full-length?
Like I said earlier, at the time, we were very young and did not put much thought in actually releasing an album. When that became a possibility we did put some thought in our name and did not take long to realize that Executioner (Xecutioner) was not very original and we were pretty sure there were lots of other bands with that name. Obituary was born.
For the release of Slowly We Rot, you managed to ink a deal with Roadrunner Records with whom you then stayed until your comeback album, Frozen in Time. How did you originally hook up with the label and what was it like to work with them during the time they were still releasing killer record after killer record?
We had some songs recorded and a couple of them wound up on a compilation album called Raging Death. Roadrunner heard it and that is what did it. Early on it was a lot of fun, but in hindsight I wish we would have left sooner.
Slowly We Rot is also one of the first big death metal albums recorded in the to-be legendary Morrisound studios with the future household name Scott Burns, and, because of that, the album has become one of the most well-known examples of the Florida death metal sound. As somebody who was there in the beginning of this unholy communion, can you tell us a bit about the production process back in the beginning of the learning curve? Any crazy stories from the recording sessions that you would care to share with us?
We recorded Slowly We Rot at the old Morrisound. The first day in the studio, the engineer we were scheduled with had to leave on an emergency and the guy emptying the garbage cans was put with us. It was Scott Burns.
To this day I talk with SB all the time and we remain good friends. For a bunch of teenagers, a new engineer and only 8 tracks, it is not a bad recording. To this day, I still don’t know how he edited things together with a razor blade and taping the tape back together. Crazy. Using Pro-Tools now it is just amazing to think about. We went on to record several more albums at Morrisound and remain good friends with Jim and Tom Morrisound. They are awesome and the “new” Morrisound is state of the art. We just recently set up and filmed ourselves live at Morrisound. We invited a bunch of friends over, had a few coolers going and had a blast going over some of our earlier songs. Keep an eye out for that. We are still putting it together.
The Florida scene was the first of its kind in death metal. As one of the pioneers of the scene – and therefore death metal – how do you remember its beginning in the late 80s? Did you draw influence from any other bands coming from the Florida death metal scene?
The two bands that got us wanting to start a band were Savatage and Nasty Savage. Not exactly death metal, but they got us going. When we heard Hellhammer and Venom for the first time, that is what got us wanting to be as heavy as we could. Early on the music was quickly misunderstood and we were looked at as Satanic, which anyone who knows us know that is not the case. It is a fictional world to us.
Indeed, instead of adhering to the genre’s Satanic paradigm, you chose to concentrate on different themes in your lyrics straight from the beginning. What inspired you to ditch Satan in favor of other topics?
It just isn’t us. We are a bunch of rednecks and always have been. We like fishing, NASCAR, football…not candles or altars. Nothing against anyone that might but it just isn’t us and never was.
Music wise, Slowly We Rot was a very extreme and raw album at the time of its release, and, up to this day, it hasn’t really lost any of its leveling impact. Coupled with your trademark, spine-chilling vocal style the record must’ve been quite an exceptional experience even for the extreme metal audience. How was the album received by the press and the fans back then?
We did not start it. That goes back to someone like Black Sabbath. But, I like to think we turned it up a little and touch on something new. It also caught a lot of people off guard. The start of that album, when “Internal Bleeding” kicks in…it just makes you turn up your nose and start banging your head.
When compared to many of your fellow outfits – like, for example, Death or Morbid Angel – who broke out during the same time with Obituary, you’ve pretty much stayed true to the style that you introduced on your debut album. You’ve also had quite a steady lineup throughout the years. What’s the secret behind this consistency and devotion to old school death metal?
Death, Deicide, Morbid, Atheist…there were a bunch of us and good to still see a lot of them around. Good friends with all of them. Donald, Trevor and I started the band and continue together today. It has been a great run. We have gone through a few members for a variety of reasons but are very happy where we are right now. I think the reason we have not changed very much, musically, is because we really love what we do and we do not have to try very hard to write new songs. We just jam and it comes out. Still having fun.
Finally, what’s your favorite Slowly We Rot song to perform live and why?
It is hard not to say “Slowly.” We have to play it every show and usually the pit is no sicker. But to me, “Internal Bleeding” is something else. I love my vocals in that song. From the pause at the beginning when the vocals first start…just sick!
Sorry…I have to ask one more question. You guys are recording a new album and decided to take the Kickstarter route. Some people in the Internet forums have criticized this approach and its supporters, so why did you choose to take this option? And yeah…what can we expect from Obituary full-length number nine?
It was weird to me at first too. But if you look at it, we have come up with a lot of cool things for our fans and we are not taking anything for free. Our fans’ support has been awesome and I think a lot of them realize how hard it is for bands today to try to get anything out of a new release. It is hard for record companies too. We just want to try to release an album on our own. Years ago this would not be possible, but today with the internet and so many digital sales we think it is. And if it does not go well, at least we’ll go down fighting.