First of all: what an incredibly powerful and awesome record. It took me a couple of spins to really get into it, but once I did, I did not want to get out of it anymore. Seeing that Lords Of Metal has already done some reviews and an interview with you before this, I don't think you need any further introduction. Still, if you want to, feel free to do so.
Thank you, I’m glad it made a lasting impression, that's definitely what we set out to do. Well we are Black Tusk from Savannah, GA. We are now a four piece, we’ve added a second guitar player, but wrote and recorded this album as a three piece. Interesting fact, the guy who recorded and mixed this album, Chris Adams, is now the second guitar player.
Let's start with 'A Perfect View Of Absolutely Nothing'. One of the things I like about it is the way that one voice repeats the other and in the end, without really realizing it, the voices have switched and the first voice has become the second. How do you come up with something so simple yet so effective?
Well, this is James’ idea and its his voice that you hear. There’s actually three tracks, the third one is a whisper. Then he got with Corey and Corey laid down the key/synth tracks behind it and Chris mixed it all together. The idea was to get your attention immediately by not playing music, but by repeating a message and then once we’ve gotten your attention, slam you with the first track and then never let up.
I think it is pretty clear when you listen to it, but what is the message you are trying to get across here?
The idea here is that we’ve always seen the same thing, but as you get older, which we have, your perception of things change, the world is still full of bullshit and maybe there's something to be said for not seeing it, but to truly see everything, you need to look within and see who you really are and what you stand for.
Speaking of which, listening to the entire album I hear a lot of talk about death and loss, which makes a lot of sense knowing your history (I will go into that a little deeper later on), and I cannot help but get the impression that this is almost a concept album. If this is the case, can you tell us in some detail what the theme is?
Naahhh, I wouldn’t say that this is a concept album, if anything the lyrical content of older albums like 'Taste The Sin' and 'Set The Dial', followed more of a concept. This album does talk a lot about death and loss, because there is a lot of that going on in our lives. As we get older, death becomes more of a tangible thing than it did when we were younger. We aren’t invincible and we’ve been watching as people close to us have their timelines hit zero. If anything I would say the theme of this album would be frustration. Frustration at losing loved ones, frustration at social injustices, and frustration at the behavior of our fellow man, and frustration of being let down and handling things yourself.
When I hear about the third eye and being blind, I am also reminded of the movie 'The Matrix'. Even though this is science fiction I think there is a lot of truth in the message about the blue and the red pill. I mean, I do think there is a lot more going on in the world than what every day Joe Average knows, and that once you realize this and inform yourself there is no way back to oblivion and you will from then on always perceive the world from that new perspective. What is your opinion on that?
Well yeah, thats the idea. Open your mind to what's truly going on around you, don’t believe everything you hear and not be complacent about wrongs that are being committed. Don’t sit idly by while a ship of fools runs your country. Wake up. That and I know Kung Fu. (Read that line in your best Keanu Reeves voice.)
When 'Closed Eye' begins there is an immediate energy evident. I do not know if I should call it anger or just energy. I know a song called 'Throwing Cars At People' (by Thor/Seth Putnam), and the title of that song instantly comes to mind when I listen to 'Closed Eye', not because the songs are alike, they are not at all, but because the energy you put out there inspires a kind of invincibility that makes me feel I can actually throw cars. And you manage to maintain this energy throughout the entire album. That is quite a feat, a lot of albums by a lot of bands seem to wind down at one point. How do you do that?
We wanted the first song on this album to come out swinging, no musical build ups, no intros, just BOOM! Song! And full throttle like a drag car burning out away from the line. And then like drag race, accelerate to the very end, and never let up, then deploy the chute and hope you don’t run out of road, haha! We set out to write a heavy punk record and I feel that's what we did.
Your music has a very full sound. I like that a lot. Listening to 'TCBT' I think it is evident that your roots lie in the punk/hardcore scene, but you have clearly managed to evolve that sound into something far more powerful, unique and impossible to put into just one genre. You call this swamp metal, a term I think is appropriate. If I am correct in saying your roots are punk/hardcore, in what way and how did you decide to take this sound and make it into what you have made it? Speaking of genres and labels and all that, how do you feel about that at all?
That is correct, we all started out playing in punk bands 100 years ago, haha! James was drummer in a street punk band! The rest of us were more in the crusty punk/hardcore scene. Yep we did call it swamp metal, maybe not so much anymore. Seemed fitting back in the day. I think we would prefer more of a “punk metal” or “sludge punk” label these days. Or call it Swamp Metal, it's all the same and it's all good with us. Really the labels are just there for people to quickly and tersely identify types of music within a genre of music. We play, and have always played, sludgey punk metal. 'TCBT' is more punk than it is metal I think, but it's still got metal parts in it because that is who we are. We have always wanted each record to be different, but sound like Black Tusk. That way we aren’t recycling the same thing over and over again, but when you listen to a BT record, you know it's us, whether it's from early in our career or late in our career.
One of the things that struck me is the sparing but effective use of the synthesizer. I notice whenever I hear synths it seems to serve a purpose and actually make the music better at that point. Was that the idea? And who comes up with those parts?
Corey is an exceptionally talented musician. When he joined the band, he brought with him the ability to play keys. And we totally put those skills to use on the new record. It helps fill out the songs and bring power and melody to parts. It helps with arrangements of sets and with the record. He writes all the samples that we use live and everything on the record.
Or any of the parts, for that matter? I mean, the songs are all really great and it sounds like you just got together and started jamming and churning out riffs, solos and anger. How DOES your songwriting go?
That is exactly what happened. Black Tusk is the result of all of our efforts. There is no one main song writer, or band leader. I feel like that would create tension, not creativity. We all have a hand in writing, we are all just as equally invested in performing the songs, not just three other people simply rehearsing one person's songs. I wouldn’t want to be in a band like that. There's no huge personality here, just friends and brothers writing and making music together.
As for the vocals, I love what you are doing, dividing the vocal duties. It all sounds very natural. How do you decide who sings what part?
James and I tend to write most of the vocals. We all have different voice ranges, so the placement of who sings where just kinda works itself out. You listen to the song and you think of what tone would go best where, whose two vocals would sound best as a call and response on a certain part, and where does a gang vocal have the most power. The vocals are another instrument in the band and having all three of us, and now four of us singing adds tremendously to the fullness of the band. I would like to think that you won’t get bored of hearing the same voice over and over again song after song, record after record. That works for some bands, but I don’t think it does for us.
About your looks... This may be an odd question, but looking at your pictures and listening to the music made me realize that your appearance quite matches your sound. It made me think about other bands and actually, a lot of them have this going on. What I'm wondering is, is that a conscious effort or just a coincidence? Or maybe something in between?
Ha! I guess it’s just a coincidence man. We've got tattoos and long hair, well I'm the only one now who does haha, and we just look for music how we look in everyday life. Working dudes with families living outside of social norms.
Another question about aesthetics: many of your album covers show art by John Baizley, particularly in the shape of Agatha. 'TCBT's cover is clearly a lot more sober and different from what we are used to. Who is Agatha and what made you decide to do a more simple cover for this album?
John Baizley is a good friend of ours and he’s done many of our covers. Him and Athon and James came up with a character, Agatha, to adorn all the records we would put out. She represents beauty and disgust. But that was another band. This album is about resetting, we have new members, we have a new label, we aren’t working with John on this project. Our good friend Brian Mercer did the illustrations for this record, while he is capable, and has produced for us, beautifully designed covers, we and him felt that this record is gritty and angry and the artwork should reflect it. It's stripped down and to the point.
In 2014 you lost your very good friend and band member Athon. First of all, my belated condolences. I cannot even imagine how you must have felt and still feel after such a loss. Some of my musical heroes died and even though I knew none of them personally, it still makes me sad and sometimes angry thinking about it. For you, this must be many times worse. How are you dealing with this at this moment?
Athon died. It's something that we live with everyday, but not something that we live everyday. This band will always carry on in his memory, but this project is ours as well as it was his and we will constantly keep moving forward.
'TCBT' to me sounds like a very angry, very heavy record. Listening to it and hearing the lyrics makes me think this is, above all things, a way for you guys to deal with what has happened. To what degree is this album a way for you to process this loss, and to what degree is this a way for you to pay tribute to Athon?
Honestly this album is not just about Athon. We’ve all made some sort of peace with his passing in the last few years. One thing it's about is loss. We lost our dear friends Jake and Victoria to cancer this year. We've lost family members, we’ve watched our country mourn, we’ve watched injustices being done to the disaffected and poor. It's about the generally fucked up society that we live in.
Since this is such a sensitive topic, please feel free to say anything you need to say that I did not ask about.
It's life man. Shit happens, we talk about it, we move on.
In 2012 you played at Roadburn. How did you experience this festival, and did it open up any chances for you that would otherwise have remained closed?
Wow, that was six years ago. Walter, if you are reading this we’d love to come back and play, haha! We had a great time playing. We were on tour with Red Fang when they were rising to the popularity that they have now. Such an amazing tour. But I remember that we played a smaller room at the venue and it was so full people were in the hallway trying to look in the door, and we couldn’t get off the stage after we line checked because the room was too jammed with people, so the sound crew gave us their beer to drink while we played! Such camaraderie! It was our first foray into the festival circuit, so thank you guys!
A lot of musicians come to visit Roadburn not just as performers but also as fans. Did you experience Roadburn more as an artist or as a visitor?
We were only there for the day we played and were gone early in the morning. So I guess unfortunately we were mainly there as artists, which is the case in every city and country that we play.
I want to end this interview by saying that I really have the utmost of respect for you guys creating such a very strong, great album in the face of your loss. There are various ways to cope with loss and you decided to charge headlong into the future and made a very positive album (that is how it feels to me) dealing with very negative and heavy topics. Thank you so much for that.
Thank you! We put a lot of hard work into this record and I’m glad that people are enjoying it. There's always hope in this life man, we get to yell about the negatives on record, but celebrate the energy and community of the live shows!
Thanks for your time and effort, and I really hope to see you soon sometime, somewhere in Europe.
It's gonna be 2019 before we make it to Europe, but we can’t wait! Thank you again!