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Interview: Steve Austin of Today Is The Day

Steve Austin is the best kind of metal institution: someone who’s stuck it out for over two decades through multiple musical climates in a unflagging pursuit of one very specific muse. His long-standing musical concern, Today Is The Day (of which he’s the founder, chief visionary, and only original member) is at once artistically fixed and constantly evolving. Their bilious mystical tirades thrash about in the murk that sits at the base of spiritual enlightenment, occasionally managing to wipe the dreck away long enough for glimpses of holy light. For all their diversity, I can’t say that their artistic trajectory is the most logical one. Why, for example, does the angry, crusty immediacy of Axis Of Eden come a full five years after the sprawling neo-classical and prog-y excursions of 2002’s Sadness Will Prevail (aka, extreme metal’s Physical Graffiti)?

I had a chance to speak with Austin recently and though I didn’t ask him this specific question, I kinda already know the answer. As unhinged and raw as the man can get, he’s a very simple person. When asked about anything regarding his artistic intentions with Today Is The Day, he lets loose with a barely condensed biography of his musical career. That’s because Today Is The Day is perhaps the most personal metal band ever; he’s plumbing his depths from every conceivable angle, taking all the shit and joy that makes up existence and forming it into a new long player.

Their new release Pain Is A Warning is their best-sounding record in forever. That’s partly thanks to a clean and burly production by Kurt Ballou but also attributable to a general aesthetic of Steve Austin learning to lighten his burden during the recording process. “I used to do everything myself,” says Austin from his secluded home in rural Maine, “I’d write all the music and all the lyrics, I’d engineer it myself, I’d release it myself. But this time I let some of that go and had people help me with that stuff”. What results is an album that is unmistakably Today Is The Day–bleak, morbid, excoriating–yet perforated by some straightforward, fist-pumping rock that nods to the primitive chordal slashes of Pete Townshend and Malcolm Young.

The title is a “kids say the darndest things” moment from Austin’s 10-year-old son, Hank, who observed that “pain is a warning” to the human mind after watching Martin Scorsese’s psychological nightmare Shutter Island. Austin is as kind and generous of an interviewee as I could have hoped for, and in spite of occasional Skype dropouts, we covered a lot of ground in our hour long conversation. Below is most of the audio of our conversation in three parts. (Photos by James Robinson, Karen Novak, Patrick Kennedy and Fred Pessaro.)

— Alee Karim

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Steve Austin Interview: Part 1

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Steve Austin Interview: Part 2

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Steve Austin Interview: Part 3

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