Obituary's Donald Tardy on the Power of Not Borrowing Money From a Record Label

Obituary's John Tardy (far left) and his brother Donald Tardy (second from right)
Obituary's John Tardy (far left) and his brother Donald Tardy (second from right)
Photo by Ester Segarra / obituary.cc

Super-long hair? ✔ Bushy beards? ✔ Gory song titles? ("Internal Bleeding," "Slowly We Rot") ✔ Gruesome band names? (Xecutioner, then Obituary) ✔ ✔ Decapitated bloody body artwork? ✔ Rescuing tiny adorable kitties? ✔

Donald Tardy, drummer of death metal pioneers Obituary, founded Metal Meowlisha, and when not executing blast-beats and growling lyrics, the band helps trap, neuter, and release ("TNR" is the shorthand) fuzzy four-footed friends in Florida, caring for 28 feral colonies totaling more than 200 cats.

Tardy, who formed Obituary with his brother John, spoke with the Voice from the band's Las Vegas soundcheck, revealing the kinder, gentler side of death metal, and recalled Obituary's first show in New York, ahead of its November 30 return with Death, Massacre, and Rivers of Nihil at the Best Buy Theater.

"I think it was L'Amour or Sundance in the mid '80s," says Tardy. "It was quite the experience for an 18- or 19-year-old Florida boy to come and see just how violent crowds could be. I also remember coming from Florida into New York City going, 'Oh, my God, it's cool to look at, but I would not last here. There are just too many people.' "

Tardy and his brother -- joined by rhythm guitarist Trevor Peres, bassist Terry Butler, and guitarist Kenny Andrews -- remain, like AC/DC, a no-frills, blue-collar band that sticks to what it does best.

Teenagers when they formed, Obituary created a lyrical style based on naïveté, as Donald explains: "The first two albums, we were so young, and my brother was learning the vocals, but he literally was making up syllables. That first album [1989's Slowly We Rot], he had no idea what he was doing. I think he was more concerned with making sure the voice matched the music, more than the lyrics. Now after 30 years together he still does not show his lyrics to anybody; he has never printed a lyric sheet. Once we started touring and there were no real lyrics, I have no idea how he did it, but he would still be singing exactly the same stuff, and I guess it became John Tardy's language. I don't know," laughs Donald, "if that's true art or true weirdness."

One thing has changed over the years, and that's the music business, which drove Obituary to Kickstarter for their most recent album, the recently released Inked in Blood (October 27). "I mean, 25 years on a record label, and the band members knew that we did not want to sign a typical record deal again," Donald relates. "We knew that we wanted to look out for ourselves and the licensing of our music, which did not happen for us in 1986 when we signed our lives away as children."

Obituary initially asked for $10,000, which was raised overnight. "That would have updated the computer at the studio, bought a few microphones to track the album." They figured they'd have to borrow money for editing, mixing, and artwork, but the fans ponied up enough for all, and the band was beyond grateful. "We had the final product in our hands before we need to ask for any help from any labels if they were interested," Donald explains. (The band eventually signed to Relapse.) "It was a very powerful and very self-gratifying feeling that the fans helped us do it, not just borrowing money from a record label, which is what bands have done since the history of music."

In that history, Obituary's place is assured. In fact, Inked in Blood hit the Billboard Top 100 at no. 75, its highest chart number to date, and sold almost five times as many copies as 2009's Darkest Day. How do they account for that success? "I think it's the world spinning at the right time for us to drop a record. We took five years, we didn't mean to, but it seems like the perfect time," Donald says.

"The fans have been waiting a long time, and they know we did this album with them backing the record. It was an army of people pushing us to have a good record, and I think we delivered."

Obituary play the Best Buy Theater November 30, 7 p.m. Tickets, $25.

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