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Interview: Steve Tucker

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The modern world might be moving past Steve Tucker ― but maybe that’s the way he likes it. His tenure as bassist/vocalist in Morbid Angel remains under-appreciated even by longtime fans of the band. Life seldom shines on the second lead singer of any band, especially when the first vocalist is still alive, but absent. Tucker released two excellent albums (and one kinda dud) with Morbid Angel before more-or-less vanishing from the public eye. In 2011, he sang lead on the Nader Sadek album, In The Flesh, and apparently that project gave Tucker the inspiration and opportunity to make a second attempt at professional musicianship: Tucker released his first album as guitarist and vocalist in Warfather earlier this year.

Tucker spoke to us from his home, tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, less than a five-minute drive from our mutual home state of Ohio (“Ohio is a heavy rock to carry,” we agreed in one of several tangents excised from this interview). But Tucker’s geographical proximity belies his solitude. The man came across as an absolute gentleman, but one with few kind words for the America he lives in. One gets the sense from speaking with the man ― and from the bizarre Walking Dead-esque promotional photographs that accompany his album ― that Tucker might welcome a widespread collapse of society with open arms. At the very least, the man seems prepared for just such an event: he’s got a trained attack dog and an acoustic guitar, the necessities of life.

— Joseph Schafer

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So why have you been away from us for so long?

After Morbid Angel I had a lot of stuff to take care of personally and I didn’t have the time to dedicate to a full-time band, committing to a contract and committing to live shows. It’s a lot of commitment that you don’t want to not follow through on. So, I had other things to focus on. The time just wasn’t right. I wasn’t until 2011, when I did the Nader Sadek record, that things started to change, and I found time to put together a band. I was always writing music, so I just had to piece together the songs and a band and record the album.

So the Nader Sadek was a sea change?

As far as timing-wise, it was. My time was opening up. When I did it, I had a great time. It was great to be playing with people and creating something cool. That was when I decided that I had the time and the ability. So I decided to put together Warfather.

And in that project you’re playing guitar.

I’ve been playing guitar since I was seven years old. I played bass really by default. There were always good guitar players around, but it was hard to find a really good bass player; they were either playing too crazy or weren’t really good enough. So that’s how it wound up that in Ceremony and Morbid Angel I was playing bass and singing. The whole time I played guitar. I’ve never written a single song on bass. Everything I write is on guitar. Usually I write on acoustic guitar, actually, and when I get an idea there I plug in an amp and work with it. But the riffs come on acoustic. Both Warfather and my acoustic guitar are tuned to D, the way a piano would be tuned. That’s also the way a classical guitar would be tuned.

Lyrically, Warfather is pretty focused on doomsday. If you’re living up in the mountains of West Virginia, you might not want too much contact with modern society.

All of that is true, but when you say doomsday, I don’t really know what that would mean. I think times are changing, tensions are rising and people are getting very much on edge. Part of where I live is because there’s security where I live. I don’t think society right now is sitting very pretty, but it’s not like I think if I went into a city I would be attacked. I feel most people in cities are probably empty heads following what everyone else is doing and wearing, following in line and making sure they blend in, but that’s not really something I want to do. I grew up in a city, I moved to the Irish countryside and stayed there for a while back. I just decided that I didn’t want to deal with the city anymore. I didn’t want to hear sirens all the time, and deal with gunshots and all that shit.

Ireland?!

Yeah, I lived in County Cork, Ireland. I have a daughter there. I moved over there with my wife and daughter, lived there for a few years, wound up getting a divorce and left. I kinda had a rough time in Ireland if you want to know the truth. Beautiful country, but not a place I would want to live. I came back, lived in Cincinnati for a while ― I’m an Ohio boy ― but I came back and it just didn’t feel right. It’s just too damn crazy, too many people acting foolish.

Where have you been outside of the United States that was the biggest surprise to you?

Prague, man. The first time I went to Prague I could not believe that it was such an amazingly beautiful city, architecturally. I didn’t know anything about Prague, but after going there I think it’s the most beautiful city in the world.

I didn’t realize that you were so worldly.

Before I toured with Morbid Angel I never went out of the country. When I started seeing more of the world it really changed my views. I started to see how the rest of the world sees America from the outside ― first of all, that was drastically different from anything the news had shown me. Then when I was in other countries, I would watch their news and it was shocking how drastically different the story lines were, how things were portrayed. It really opened my mind. I already thought society was pretty dirty, nasty and materialistic, but after seeing the way most of America is manipulated by popular media, not only was it shocking, but it was a bit scary. It’s frightening that so many people just believe anything they’re told. They’d kill for it if needed.

It’s more than just television and radio, now. It’s the internet, too.

If you post something on Facebook and it gets a thousand likes, people just think that it’s true. I’m a person who has read a lot of books. When I was a kid, my mother was totally addicted to books, so I started reading when I was really young. I read a lot of Stephen King books. I especially remember a collection of short novels he wrote under a pseudonym [Richard Bachman] that all revolved around games, including The Running Man ― honestly I think the Hunger Games was a take-off of that. I found it frightening in those books, the concept of these people’s lives becoming a game, and here I am, 42 years old, and I watch reality TV and see this shit actually happen around me. The United States has become more or less a police state, and we’re fed the same stories over and over again until we accept it, and then people will argue you to death with no information except anything they found off Facebook.

But look, you mentioned the Hunger Games, which is a popular piece of pop culture and literature right now, and It’s about living in a police state, and the struggle for personal freedom. Doesn’t that mean people are aware of this in some way?

I think they are, yeah. I just think the media sort of grays people, and what I mean is that it slides things in. You’re bombarded with so much stuff to the point where it becomes dull, and you hear something but you don’t pay any attention to it, but you can figure things out if you really want to. If you look at cable television, and flip through channels, you’ll see shows about doomsday prepping, or survival ― for example even the Weather Channel has a show about the deadliest storms. I think they’re telling people to prepare for things to go wrong, but people don’t listen. I think for most of America’s history, we’ve been prepared, and then in the last 50 years we’ve gotten to be lazy, television-watching, computer-screen-staring-at people, when we used to be people that went out and did things. Now we just consume. But up until WWII we were very prepared, as far as industry goes.

There’s an air of that prepared-for-anything vibe in the Warfather photo shoot.

I wanted to put across a vibe of community. It’s a group of people with like minds. It’s our guitar player’s property that we did the shoot on. He live in the hills and has dogs. I’m likewise very into dogs and training dogs. In this band, we’re on a wavelength, we see things coming, and it’s not like we’re trying to make anything happen, but we all kind of see that things aren’t great, and we’re prepared to do what is necessary. If shit went downhill, I would go stay with these people. If shit hit the fan I would want to be with these people in the photograph. I would want them with me to help protect, live with, and continue with.

What are your surviving-the-revolution skills?

Well, first of all, where I live, I don’t need a grocery store. I don’t live 100 percent off the land, but I would if I had to. I have tons of creeks full of fresh water, I have deer in my yard, and I have a pit bull who is trained to take down a large animal. I would not starve. Where I live does not flood, and wouldn’t be touched by, say, a tidal wave, so my strategy would be to pretty much stay where I am at, and secure the place. A couple years back, we were hit by this big storm called a derecho. I’d never heard of one in my life, but the thing hit in five minutes. We had 85 mile-per-hour winds. It took out my power for 10 days, and when that happened I realized that having water in my garage was a good thing. I gave some of that water in my garage to my neighbors. So it’s all about improvisation and just being ready.

The scarier thought is what do individual groups of people do after society breaks down.

It would become tribal. That’s the first thing that happens. People will go be with their families, with people they know, trust and think will protect them. Personally I think people will realize they need to get out of cities. They will travel to places like where I live, and ask people like me to help, I think. So the question you need to answer is: who can you trust? It’s the same scenario you come across every day ― can I do business with this person? Can I tell this person a secret? ― but survival would be the consequence.

There’s this idea that metalheads have a tribal mindset.

Absolutely. I would agree with that. First of all, metalheads are kind of a select group. And let’s be honest. For some people, it’s kind of a phase. Some people are a metalhead at 16, and then at 19 they used to be. Personally, I was a metalhead when I was a kid ― the first thing I heard from my mother was AC/DC. Now, at 42, I think of metal as a legitimate form of art, and that a lot of intelligent things come out of it. Iron Maiden got me interested in history. I do believe there is a tribal mentality, people want to be around like minds. They realize, “I’m not like everyone else, I don’t want to be like everyone else,” and then find safety in numbers. You meet people all around the world, groups of 12 that aren’t family but are one another’s closest people.

Do you identify yourself as conservative, politically?

I have certain views, but it’s changed since I was young. I mean, I used to be a registered Republican, but they changed too. The party has changed, and what their goals are has changed. I wouldn’t call myself a super liberal though. But, being an artist, I need to have somewhat liberal views. I deal with people that are very different. To me, to judge people and think this is wrong or that is wrong, is not something I am worried about. I’m more concerned with, “Is this person a good person or not?”

I would think that would be everyone’s concern.

It should be. Every day you need to evaluate who you can and cannot tell things. Everyone wants dirt. For example, in a lot of interviews people try to get me to talk bad about Morbid Angel. But I won’t. I played with those guys for years, we had a great time. I have nothing bad to say. That may be because, in my family history, genetically, I come from a family of gossipers. Sisters gossiped about brothers, mothers, cousins, and not really in a mean way, it was just the way they communicated. So growing up around that, I’ve gotten pretty immune to rumors.

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