Obituary is one of the most consistent death metal bands who are still releasing quality albums. Initially starting out as Xecutioner, Obituary was born in 1988 in Tampa Bay, Florida and were part of the burgeoning Floridian death metal explosion with bands such as Atheist, Deicide, Death, Morbid Angel and others. The band — featuring the Tardy brothers; vocalist John and drummer Donald, bassist Terry Butler, and guitarists Trevor Peres and Kenny Andrews — possesses a distinctive sound that’s unmistakably known as the quintessential Obituary sound, and they’ve been honing their style for 30-plus years.

On their upcoming album Dying of Everything — its first in six years — the band has never sounded better. The 10 tracks are loaded with groove, that awesome Obituary guitar tone, those monstrous drum patterns, and of course, John Tardy’s insane vocals. At the time of this interview with drummer Donald Tardy, the band was on the road in Madison, Wisconsin opening for Swedish Viking horde Amon Amarth, with Carcass and Cattle Decapitation. Tardy spoke about the band’s early days, the bond and friendship between its members, the band’s incredible new album, and its future plans.

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As the founder of Obituary, along with your brother, what do you remember the most about first forming the band?

I was so young, but I was also so driven; head down, pushing forward, not really wondering or caring what's going on around me. We knew there was some shit going down in Central Florida, but we were also just super focused on what we were doing, finding our style, believing in what we think is a killer way to approach being a band. Just doing it right, doing it professionally, doing it balls out. I would be lying if I said that I was really checking out the scene and really soaking it all in. I was just a drummer that was going for my own style and focusing on my songs and writing an album. You would think that everybody would have realized what was going on, but it was like the heat of the moment. You really didn't realize it until later.

Obituary had a six-year absence between 1997-2003, and during that time you were playing in Andrew W.K.'s band. What actually led to the hiatus and then the reformation?

There was never a point where we said we were taking a break, or we're breaking up. All we did was come home from whatever tour we were coming home from. I think it just was the amount of years being on the road, being in a band dealing with the relationships of each other, having to live out of backpacks and hotels and airplanes and being on a record label that you weren’t happy with. All of that culminated into a break that was one month, and then the next thing you know, it was a year. I didn't know what we were doing or what else to do except just keep practicing my drums. And that led to when Andrew wrote me a letter. I was completely intrigued with the style of music he was writing because I would have not started a death metal band again. I have my death metal band; I knew we were taking a break. And so when he approached me, I was like, this is awesome. This is a complete 100%, 360 (degree) difference of what kind of style I've been playing with my band. He was getting ready to sign to Geffen Records, and I knew it was going to be something huge. And so I jumped with him and I asked him if he needed me to put a band together, which he did. So, I put that band together for him and with him. And it was pretty incredible that it lasted… I think I was with Andrew for almost five years. And I watched it go from a concept and a little demo tape to almost to the moon; a gold record, playing on Ozzfest and Warped tours and playing on Conan O'Brien and playing Saturday Night Live, opening for Aerosmith in America in arenas. It was just unbelievable that I happened to be available when this young guy wrote me and said, “I love your drumming, I love your band. Will you be my drummer?” And I'm glad that I didn't ignore his request.

That is so cool, man. It's just so different that you wouldn't expect it; a death metal drummer and he's playing with Andrew W.K. I think it shows your flexibility and your style of being a musician.

Thank you. That is an accurate way to put it. And yes, I’d just been playing death metal or heavy metal since I was 11 years old. At 12 years old, I was already learning fucking Slayer songs and Metallica songs and Venom. So, all the way until I was 27, I was playing death metal. So when we took a break, when I heard Andrew’s songs, I'm like, this is fucking weird; it’s killer. This dude plays amazing piano. He's a killer guitar player; he’s actually a really great drummer. And it was a challenge for me because it was a different style of music. I was gonna be playing with backing tracks, which means on stage with in-ears playing to a cowbell. And that was a challenge that I've never done. So of course, it was all intriguing to me because I am a student; I love to learn and I love to push myself. And that's exactly what it did. I learned how to really run the show on stage playing with backtracks and running DAT tapes and kind of being the conductor for his band when he was going absolutely mad on stage, if anyone's seen Andrew live. And just super proud that those were all my friends in the band that came right from my hometown. Besides my very good friend, Jimmy Coup, who Andrew recruited at the same time as me. So it was a cool experience and a lifetime of memories for all those guys. Some of those dudes would have never left Tampa, Florida, and instead they went and they did 40 different countries with me. Nearly, probably a thousand shows, maybe more than that in the four years that I was with Andrew. Andrew’s still a good friend of mine. He's a genius songwriter, a really cool dude, and a lifetime friend now.

With your second album Cause of Death’s cover art by Michael Whelan, Sepultura initially wanted it for Beneath the Remains. However, Nightmare in Red was ultimately picked by Roadrunner’s A&R guy Monte Conner’s boss Doug Keogh but Monte was blamed by Max Cavalera for the mixup. What do you remember about this album cover controversy? Do you recall anything about picking that cover?

Yeah, I can set the record straight. So anyone that's read things over the years and wonders this and that, it’s very simple. The record label sent an album cover artwork to the two bands at the same time. This was before the internet, this was before smartphones. We probably both received the artwork and it just so happened that Obituary must have dialed the phone quicker than Sepultura. For them unfortunately; for us, we got lucky. That's as simple as it is. A record label did a dumb ass move. Why would you send two of your most upcoming badass bands the same cover? That's such an amazing cover that you don't think we're both gonna freak out on it. And we got lucky that we dialed Roadrunner a split second faster and said, “We love it, we want it.”

Another connection with Sepultura is Scott Burns, who also produced Slowly We Rot produced Beneath… What do you remember about the recording session for this album?

Slowly… was actually an eight song album. We weren't even signed to a record label yet, and Roadrunner was interested in us. And when they found out there was only eight songs, they asked us to write four more songs to make a full-length album. So that's an interesting history that a lot of people know, but a lot of people don't know that. We recorded eight songs, we didn't just have them in our back pockets. We had already gone to Morrissound and recorded it. And it was a finished product; we were ready for it to be our album. And Roadrunner told us that they're interested, but it's not a long enough album and if we want them to be our record label, we're gonna have to go back into the studio. And this wasn't like one weekend to the other, you're talking about a year difference. So the interesting thing with that is you can only imagine a different setup in the studio. It’s obviously going to be different sounds because you move an amplifier or you change a cymbal compared to the cymbal you used last year, because that was broken now and you change my placements on the cabinet, you're gonna get a different production. What a lot of people don't know about Slowly We Rot is we deliberately put the last four songs on that record, the newest songs that we had to write. So the first eight songs are the ones that we had written unsigned, and then when we got signed, we had to do four more. So the last four songs on Slowly We Rot are a completely different studio session at Morrissound that we had to go in and try and manipulate and make sound as close as we could to make it sound like one recording.

It’s been six years since 2017’s self-titled album, what took so long till now? I’m sure Covid-19 had a little bit to do with it.

Covid had everything to do with it. We've been sitting on this album for two years; we started writing it five years ago. When we did the Slayer tour in Europe, we were hell bound to get home and write an album. The plans were to obviously ride the coattails and get back to Europe on a headlining tour and talk about a new album. But then Covid took everything out. So we realized that we had a fucking awesome start to an album, so what are you gonna do when you realize you're gonna be home for more than just months? We were home, so we just really focused on the songs that we had; wrote some more songs and really focused on how can you make them killer. And then the recording process… we really took our time because we knew that we were not going to put an album out when we're sitting on our couches because of Covid. So a lot of bands released records when they were sitting at home. I'm not 20 years old anymore, and there's not that many more albums coming out of Obituary. This was the 11th one; this was the one we knew was super important. And so we've been sitting on it for two years. It’s been finished and in our back pockets waiting for the world to open up, especially Europe. Because Europe hadn't seen us since 2016. So it's time to put this album out, and we're super stoked about that.

Lead single “The Wrong Time” is my favorite track. The groove is stellar and it’s a catchy death metal song. Lyrically, what’s John talking about? His lyrics can be cryptic at times.

I'm not going to act like I can answer for my brother, but I think everyone knows that John's got his own style. He doesn't necessarily write gigantic paragraphs that's going to preach to people or tell people what to do. He pretty much puts himself in the mood and in the moment when he hears us writing the songs. When Trevor and I have a riff, John's in the room, and he immediately knows where and what he wants to do on a song. He's just putting out statements and sentences and things that you're going to remember when you’re walking down the street if you heard the song; catchy phrases and shit. He really just uses his voice more than he uses his words. He's not going to bring the band a paragraph and say, “Hey, let's write a song around these lyrics I just wrote.” Instead, we're writing albums and songs, and he's just right there to put that voice on top of some of these songs.

It's a formula that still works. Drumming wise, you know how to just lay into the groove, and your double kick patterns are fluid; your style is distinctive. For a death metal band, you don’t do blast beats, which is refreshing. What were you trying to achieve with these songs?

I'm not just a drummer; I’m a songwriter. Obituary songs require certain things and the drums specifically. Could I have done something more fancy and more technical and faster or whatever you want to call it on some of the songs? Maybe. But would it have made it any better? I don't think so. I think what I did on this record was let the song tell me what is needed drumming wise to make it a classic Obituary fucking song. I allowed myself to just put the drums down that were begging me to put down on tape. And I could not be more proud of the drumming on this album. It's super solid, but it is basic and very in the pocket, and it's just what the songs need.

I agree. The Dying of Everything album cover art by the late Mariusz Lewandowski (R.I.P. 2022), I assume you already contacted him way before his passing? Was it a hand-made commissioned piece or already an existing piece?

It was a conversation that I had with him to give him a very small idea of what we were looking for when it came to an album cover. When you're working with someone like him, you know that his talent is way beyond your brain. He was a master at what he did. I had multiple email conversations with him to give him an idea of what we kind of wanted. Of course, when you're working with a genius, you ask him, what do you want? And he made it very specific. He said, “I would love to have maybe some lyrics, maybe even just some sentences, maybe some song titles.” And we had that conversation like I told you, just kind of what I was hoping for. And then he also asked for a copy of the album, which was awesome. This was quite a long time ago, and the record label allowed him to get a copy long before any other human. And right when we were giving him the songs, he said, “I just want to listen to the songs and let my brain absorb it and let me feel what it's asking me to do.” And then at that same time, we came up with the title of the album. And when we told him that the album's going to be called Dying of Everything, he (said), “I know what I want.” And that's what he did. And that is an original piece for the Obituary album cover. It's sad that we didn't get to meet him in person. It's a real bummer. I was looking forward to working with him in the future and using such an amazing artist in our future. But at the very least, he did finish the piece and he did deliver it to the band. And the band was able to see it and express our gratitude to him, and just how absolutely blown away we were with his artwork, and that we were proud to call that an Obituary album cover.

You’re signed to Relapse Records and this is the third record. How has the relationship been going?

Relapse is awesome. They are a dream record label for Obituary. Obituary has been around a long time, and we started at a very young age. So we learned our lessons very well at a young age. So we are not signed to a record label, we are business partners with Relapse. And this is a mutual agreement. And as long as we are happy at the end of the cycle of an album sales, and as long as they're happy, it's a simple handshake. And we move forward until somebody's not happy. They are one of the only record labels that knew that had they put pressure on a band like ourselves of trying to sign some kind of multi-album contract, we would have simply said thanks, but no thanks, which we did to other record labels. So it's a magical, beautiful thing to have with a record label. Because, again, we're not just a band on the record label, we’re business partners with them. So they're just as invested in the album as we are. And that's very reassuring to a veteran band like ourselves, knowing that they have a lot to invest in as well and we want to push this thing as hard as we possibly can. It makes us proud to deliver such a killer record for that record label because we care about those dudes and they could not be any nicer of people.

The album was recorded at the band’s home studio "RedNeck Studios" and mixed by Joe Cincotta at Full Force Studio in Long Island, NY. What were you wanting to achieve sound wise?

This is our fifth album that we've recorded at our studio, so we've learned a lot over the years. With this one, we knew that we had great songs. We had plenty of time to hone our skills on them and to make sure they were exactly what we want before I even hit record. Drum wise, I knew everything I wanted. I knew every accent, cymbal punch, fills, small fills, little stops, endings of songs. I knew everything that I wanted. I just wanted to go in there and play it clean. So to answer your question, that's exactly what I asked Joe is, I know that when I recorded it, which we record ourselves, when we handed the files over to Joe, we hired him because we trust him because he's a master at what he does. All I asked him to do was, I'm proud of my snare drum sound, I love the sound of my drum kit, just keep it as real as you possibly can and do your magic. I didn't want everything sound replaced. There's no reason to do that with Obituary. We play our instruments well, we play them clean, especially the drums. And I tried to keep it as real sounding as a drum kit can sound.

Obituary is synonymous with quality death metal and have been true to yourselves for three-plus decades. What has kept you together and creating great tunes for years? What do you enjoy the most about creating with Obituary?

My brother says it a lot of interviews, and I don't often repeat him, but we’re doing something that we're having a good time doing. And if we don't have a good time doing it, we'll find something else to do. I think that's a great way to put it. My brother and I moved to Tampa, Florida from Miami, Florida in 1980. Within minutes, I met Trevor (Peres) and I was only a 10 year old kid. And by the time we were 12 years old, we already had the bug and we knew what we wanted; we wanted to be a band. And we've been best friends for 40 something years. And the longevity of the career with this band is simply that we're all brothers, we kind of get along, beyond just bandmates. We're lifetime friends, and genuinely, we have a good time together. We're fortunate that we found each other in life, and we're good friends. And that's the success plan that kept Obituary together now for going on 35 years.

What's your plans for 2023?

It's been six years since the last album, we've been sitting on an album that we've been dying for the world to hear for two years now. We haven't been to Europe since the Slayer tour, which was 2016 or 2017. So you can only imagine how many people around the planet are eagerly awaiting the release of this album. And so for us to get to the 30 or 40 different countries that are going to be waiting for us, we’ll stay extremely busy for the next three and a half, four years on this album. That's the basic, long story short kind of answer. But to directly answer you, this tour ends in Los Angeles on December 17. We fly home for three and a half weeks and then we jump right on an airplane and head to Europe for a 29 day tour with Heaven Shall Burn, Trivium and Malevolence. And then we'll make it home to take just a breather and then of course America is going to be a big focus with the new album. We are working on a lot of plans for North America, South America, and Australia. The festivals have been begging Obituary to be a part of it. We haven't been to Europe in six years, so it's a long time coming. We’re gonna be a very busy band for many years.

Dying of Everything will release this Friday, January 13th, 2023 via Relapse Records.

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