Split Interview & Stream: Black Tusk and Dead Yet?
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Here at Invisible Oranges, we pride ourselves on our willingness to try new things; after all, is that not what life, and metal, for that matter, is all about? Thus, when we got word of the upcoming split 7-inch between Savannah sludge veterans Black Tusk and up-and-coming sludge punks Dead Yet?, we leapt at the opportunity to try a new form of interview: a split interview for a split 7-inch. Staffers Joseph Schafer and Rhys Williams devised a similar set of questions, with specifics tailored to touch upon the unique aspects of each band, and let each band respond independently, with the result hopefully being two fresh perspectives on the same set of questions. Did it work? We’re not entirely sure, as the process of compiling this was laborious. However, the questions were good, the bands enthusiastic and responsive, and at the end of the day, what more could one ask? Thus, Invisible Oranges presents: the Split Interview: Black Tusk vs. Dead Yet?
Side 1: Andrew Fidler (guitar) of Black Tusk
Do you consider yourself a fundamentally “southern” band, or simply a metal band that happens to originate in the south?
We are a metal band that originates in the south. We are southern in our ways, we say maam and sir and eat grits and drink sweet tea and BBQ every chance we get, but we don’t necessarily worship the south with our lyrics. We have had an EP and a 7-inch that deal with southern history, specifically the Civil War. The split we did with ASG deals with the subject of brother vs brother in “Rift of Men” and Sherman’s burning of Georgia, our home state in “Death March”. The line “pearl by the sea”, in that song is a reference to our hometown of Savannah, which was saved from Sherman’s torch. The song “Iron Giants” on the split with Dead Yet?, is about blockade runners and smashers in the Confederate navy. Savannah was home to several of the first ironclad “floating batteries”. Our home is full of American history, southern history, so we like to write about it from time to time. So yeah, we originate from the south, but our music isn’t strictly southern.
I saw that you all were featured in Slow Southern Steel. Have you seen that doc? If so, what are your feelings on it, and what is your relationship to the oeuvre of “southern metal”?
CT, the director and singer of Rwake, is a good bud of ours. When he told us he was doing this project and that he wanted us to be a part of it, we were so stoked! So, we were interviewed for Slow Southern Steel, we were in the trailer for Slow Southern Steel and we were in the actual film for about 5 seconds. Not sure what happened there, haha! Oh well. The tour with Hail! Hornet didn’t come to Savannah so we weren’t able to see it on the “big screen”. We were staying with Erik Larson, ATP, and Hail! Hornet, one night and he had a copy of it and we were able to see it then. I thought it was great. It did justice to bands from the south without making us look ignorant. To me the film is more about living in the south, growing up in the south, and then having a metal band in the south. It’s about those experiences, not necessarily being “southern metal”. I think that’s just a term slapped on metal bands from the south, ’cause you know, everything has to have a label in the metal world or people won’t know what bands they should listen to.
The southern sludge sound seemed to have a few big years in the limelight. How was it navigating that burst in popularity?
Everything moves in cycles. Sludge metal had its turn in the light I would say about the time we put out Taste the Sin. So that was our first big indie release, it got us a lot of attention and a lot of new fans. For us, it wasn’t that hard to navigate, we were just like “Hell yeah! There are more people at our shows now!” And on the business end of that popularity burst, we started to make a enough money to stop paying out of pocket to tour and then because of that, we toured as much as we could and lost our jobs, so now it’s Black Tusk or nothing, all in at this point!
Your music seems fundamentally based on syncretization. Do you all have any plans on where you see your music developing, or where is a direction in which you find yourselves growing?
Black Tusk isn’t reinventing the wheel in the metal/rock world. We want to make music that makes that wheel rock! Make sense? We want our music to be something you listen to, rather on LP or at a show, and you just groove and rock out the whole time. We are having fun playing it, you should have fun listening to it. We don’t want to write music where the listener is struggling to follow along because the parts are so technical and intricate. We just strip it down and make it big and loud. Everybody can appreciate that right?
What’s the Savannah scene like? In previous interviews you stated that it had dropped off in recent years. Has this trend continued?
The Savannah scene? Well, the Savannah scene that the rest of the world perceives—Baroness, Kylesa, Black Tusk—is dead. People think you just come to town, I guess, and we are all playing at the bar that weekend or something, I dunno. Black Tusk are more like visitors to Savannah. We spend a little more than half the year away from home and when we are home we try to get in at least two shows a year, sometimes it’s only one though. Baroness moved away years ago, and haven’t played a show since then. I’m sure they want to, but given the last 2 years they had, I understand. Kylesa is split between Savannah and Columbia, and they are on tour as much as we are, so they are never home either. They usually try to get in at least one Savannah show a year. As far as the actual scene in Savannah now, there is one spot to play: The Jinx, our home base, and there are heavy shows every couple weeks maybe. Savannah is like a 3rd tier stop for touring bands, and we have a 125-person cap. So bigger acts don’t usually stop here because we can’t make the giant guarantee with such a small room. We get a bunch of smaller and mid level bands though. You have to come recommended to get a show here. There is more of an indie rock scene in Savannah because of SCAD [Savannah College of Art and Design], so lots of indie rock, alt country, psyco-billy, punk-a-billy stuff comes through. Which is cool with me, cause I see heavy shows almost every night of my life. We lost our house show space, but some DIY punk stuff has been making its way through again. It comes in waves, depending on who the young punk kids are at SCAD for the next few years.
You guys are currently on tour. What’s the touring schedule like for a band like Black Tusk? Does this reflect your current position within the industry?
In the words of our good buddies Red Fang, “tour to live”. That’s what we do, and that’s what we got to do. People know who we are, but at this level, if we take to long a break, take to long to put out something new people might start to forget about us. But at the same time, if we tour too much and put out too many things, people might not be so excited and make the effort to see us when we come to town because “they play here all the time, I’ll catch it again real soon”. So it’s tough to find that balance, and we don’t necessarily control when the tours get offered to us. Sometimes they go back to back, like now with the TITD tour and the Kvelertak tours. Whatever, life’s short. Lets party and have a good time playing rock n’ roll.
What sort of tone do you desire your music to have? Dark? Tongue-in-cheek? Masculine?
Masculine, no. Save that for the tough guy bands. I’d say we are a mixture of dark, tongue-in-cheek, and have a good time.
I hear a lot of similar musical motifs repeated from song to song. Are there any chord progressions/motifs that you feel define the “Black Tusk sound”, or is it entirely coincidental?
It’s coincidental. It’s linked to the way that we write music. All the songs for each release are written at the same time, they are written as kind of a continuous song so that the album flows together as a whole piece, not just a collection of songs.
Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?
Maybe complaining about being 40, but definitely still playing shows and recording records!
What is the origin of the name Black Tusk? Just a cool sounding name, or something more?
A little from column A and a little from column B. We wanted a name that was somehow based on some aspect of our world, not too tough, but strong sounding, and cool sounding and memorable at the same time, and not a whole bunch of words long. Black Tusk is what we landed on.
I know that John Dyer Baizley has designed much of your artwork. What is your personal/artistic relationship with the other seminal Savannah sludge/post-metal band, Baroness?
Back in 2006 we did a tour with Baroness, it was a ton of fun. But back then our bands were more similar than they are now. John is still doing album artwork for us. He is currently working on something for a Japanese release, and I can’t wait to see it! Its funny that we still get compared to them. Stylistically, our bands are nothing alike now. They are talented musicians and amazing people and some of our best friends, but I’m not so sure the comparison is still valid. On another note, I’m getting married on April 12th, and the Baroness camp will be in attendance!
What are you listening to nowadays? Does that influence you, or are your influences culled from something deeper, something more immutable?
I don’t know, lots of stuff. I’m putting together a music diary for this tour, hopefully that will answer the question of what does Black Tusk listen to, cause its all over the place.
What kind of scene in Savannah did you grow out of? Metal, or hardcore?
I grew out of a punk rock scene. We had bands like DAMAD, Tank 18, The Mugshots, DasKriminal and Institute playing shows around town. Then because all those bands were here, we had El Dopa, Mastodon, Social Infestation, Tragedy, From Ashes Rise and others. Did you know I was the original bass player for the Unpersons? We did our first out of town show when we were 16 years old. We drove all the way across Georgia in a mini-van to play one show! I didn’t listen to metal until I was in college, and I never got into hardcore.
How is it dealing with Relapse records, and what have you noticed about the shape of the music industry over the last 10 years or so?
Dealing with Relapse is fine. They get us the money we need to keep making records, now let’s get them to get some of our old LPs back in print! Having a record label is tough, that Relapse has weathered the storm says a lot about them. My label, Hyperrealist, hasn’t done anything that hasn’t been Baroness or Black Tusk in about a year. Everything is digital, postal rates are out of control, thanks to the Republicans who want to privatize mail delivery and go big business. I mean, for me to send a 7-inch to the EU, it costs about $15. $15 on a $5 record. Who wants to pay that? So it’s tough to be a small label, or a large indie label like Relapse, we are all adapting to the new environment that the music industry finds itself in.
What sort of messages do you hope your music conveys? A lot of the songs seem fairly abstract, and the covers feature surrealist pictures of women. What, if anything, is your “message”?
A lot of our music deals with the shortcomings of our fellow man, or ourselves. Some of it’s about religion, some of it’s about control, some of it’s about partying, partying in an apocalyptic sense that is. It is abstract, our songs are more about an idea or subject, than on one specific thing I guess. As far as the cover art goes, That’s all Athon and James and John. Athon and John have all this art history stuff going on in each cover, and James has a bunch of great “metal” ideas that go into each cover. I’m more of the day-to-day routine and writing music and lyrics guy. You could do a whole interview with Athon about each album cover, and what’s going on behind the scenes and how that relays to the lyrical and music theme of that particular album.
Final words are yours . . .
Black Tusk / Dead Yet? split 7-inch out now, and look for our new EP coming out on July 23. Thanks for taking the time to do this!
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Flip the record, aka move on to the second part of the interview (and stream) with Dead Yet? on the following page.
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