By David E. Gehlke
The cold snap that hit the United States over the 2022 holidays — including Florida — meant that OBITUARY drummer Donald Tardy would be pulling overtime to care for his numerous cat colonies in the Tampa area. ("It was the coldest Christmas we had in 70 years," he said.) The colder weather brought heavy rainfall to Florida, which soaked the trees and bushes, the primary hiding places for outdoor and feral cats. Instead of resting and gearing up for his band's upcoming tour schedule, Tardy spent his holiday break looking for cardboard boxes and straw to protect his felines. Thankfully, they all survived.
Tardy's passion for cats is matched by his love for OBITUARY. His vocalist brother John may be the undisputed face of OBITUARY, but Donald is its mouthpiece and number one cheerleader. And he has plenty to be excited about considering the top-to-bottom strength of the band's new studio album, "Dying Of Everything". OBITUARY's sound has long been established, but "Dying Of Everything" hurls some of the band's fastest compositions to date ("Barely Alive") along with the ungodly heavy grooves that have made OBITUARY death metal legends. With some European dates rapidly approaching, BLABBERMOUTH.NET caught up with Tardy to talk about the new album and what their legacy means as OBITUARY approaches 40 years of existence.
Blabbermouth: You just wrapped up the AMON AMARTH North American tour and you'll soon be going out with HEAVEN SHALL BURN in Europe. You took the middle slot for both. Do you find that advantageous or wish you were higher on the bills?
Donald: "It's kind of a love/hate thing. OBITUARY has 11 albums and 120-something songs, so picking a setlist, in general, is tough when you're trying to pick 15 or 16 songs for a good show. With these support slots, you're getting 35 or 40 minutes. That means nine or ten songs. That is a challenge because you got more albums than you do songs onstage. That's the tough part of it, but the good part is the middle slot. With my brother and the time we have been doing this, he will not complain about not having to sing 17 songs a night. [Laughs] The support slot is awesome because this is a very deliberate choice with TRIVIUM and HEAVEN SHALL BURN. These are metalheads, but the majority, some of them, are not OBITUARY fans. We'll get a lot of people walking into the venues, 'I know this band. I've heard of them, but I've never seen them live and I don't own an album.' OBITUARY, live, we tend to gain fans. We have a good, tight set. We are a tight-knit band. We're known for our killer sound live, so it's a challenge but a very accepted challenge for us."
Blabbermouth: I talked to Trevor (Peres, guitar) on the bus a month ago and he had almost this mischievous grin about the new album. He said, "Every song is a winner. I dig all of them." Do you share that sentiment?
Donald: "We can pat ourselves on the back or whatever you want to say, but if somebody stepped into the room and said, 'I haven't heard any new OBITUARY songs. Play me something.' If there were a dartboard on the wall with every song on the album, I would ask that person to throw the dart and whatever they land on, we'll play it. That's how confident and excited I am about every song on this record. We can thank — and I hate to say it — the pandemic. It gave us plenty of time, knowing we were stuck at home, handcuffed for not being able to tour. What can you do other than dissect the songs? Lord knows OBITUARY songs are not the most technical songs, but we took that time to take a step back and listen to them after we wrote and recorded them. Then we'd say, 'This is killer!' Then we tucked it away for two weeks and came back to it. Very minute things, like changing a rhythm or chorus, or simple things, a drum thing—I'm talking to myself, 'Man, a cool little punch, simple thing right here would be cool.' We did that. We dissected it a little bit. I think that helped. I think that's why these songs went from really good to great."
Blabbermouth: You never had this time before. Think of the deadlines you had in the '90s.
Donald: "That is right. And not to mention, with age comes experience. With studio sessions come experience and putting yourself under that pressure in trying to write a song and being super-excited when you're practicing, but when you get into the studio, the minute you get there, the tension, the pressure, the people looking at you through the window in the control booth, you're not loose. You're a little tense and your performance shows that. I cringe with the first three OBITUARY albums because of that. On this album, I can proudly say that at 53 years of age and 11 albums into it, I am absolutely, one-hundred percent not just proud, but finally satisfied with my drum performance."
Blabbermouth: Speaking of which, is "Barely Alive" the fastest OBITUARY song in terms of BPM? I couldn't think of anything that tops it.
Donald: "It is. And what the hell am I thinking at my age? [Laughs] That was fun in the studio. I was excited — my feet are the fastest in my career for whatever reason. Maybe it's muscle memory or playing drums for 40 years. I hope to get better. During the writing process and just jamming and the pandemic and being home, I felt how fast my feet felt. I'm a fast-talking, fast-thinking, hyper-annoying kind of guy in general. My band would attest to that. [Laughs] I knew it. I told Trevor, 'I don't know what [SLAYER's] 'Angel Of Death' or 'Raining Blood' BPMs are. Lord knows [original SLAYER drummer Dave] Lombardo is flying.' Two-hundred BPM is what 'Barely Alive' is. For me, that is full-throttle, all cylinders firing. I'm a caveman behind the drumkit. Someone like Dave [Haley, drums] from PSYCROPTIC reads this interview laughing, 'I can do this with one foot.' I was proud of it when I accomplished it in the studio. The minute I walked out of the studio and shut the Pro Tools rig down, I thought, 'Now what? Live, every night, whether I'm feeling great or bad or 17 shows into a 29-date tour and I'm getting fatigued and my diet isn't great, I'm going to have to play this.' You know how tour life is — long, weird days and not eating well, but I'm still going to have to pull off 'Barely Alive' because the fans will be waiting for that song."
Blabbermouth: Maybe it's something you play halfway through the set, so you are warmed up.
Donald: "That is the smart thing to do. But, sometimes, the setlist and overall logic of what your setlist needs to be when you step on that stage and those fans are waiting after six years in Europe might need to be first. What do you do? You have to be backstage, warming up your body, getting prepared and start busting a sweat before you get onstage. It's like an MMA fighter or boxer. You can't go, 'By the third round, I'll probably be feeling good and I'll try my one-two punch.' Then you'll get clocked and knocked out in the first round. You have to step into the ring one hundred percent ready to go. And I look at it that way. I'm prepared for that. We're fortunate we have [longtime OBITUARY set opener] 'Redneck Stomp' in our arsenal. My brother usually demands it because he likes to be on the side of the stage, pacing and warming his voice up in the background while we have that three minutes of groove going on. Hopefully, I'll have 'Redneck Stomp' before we jump into a 200 BPM song for this old guy."
Blabbermouth: Injuries for extreme metal drummers your age are becoming increasingly common. You've managed to stay pretty healthy, though. What can you attribute it to?
Donald: "It's luck…if people saw what I do on a daily basis with life here in Tampa when I'm taking care of my [cat] colonies, rescuing, trapping cats. I am helping injured cats because not all will easily get into a trap. Sometimes when there's injury or sickness, you're going to throw a net over them. That means, calmly but very precisely, having to catch them and get them into a carrier or trap. That's been going on for 17 years now. I was bitten by my own cat before we did the live DVD in Poland [2006's 'Frozen Alive']. Four days before we left, one of my cats got out. Our cats are not the friendliest in the world, which is why we do rescue. They're the ones who don't get adopted and need assistance. Anyway, instead of doing what I do now, which is a simple net, I tried to grab her by her scruff quickly and she bit both hands. She bit one hand three times and the other once. It was like, 'Uh-oh. Holy shit.' Both hands the next morning swelled up. I was looking at my hands, going, 'Oh my god.' It was painful. If a dog or cat has bitten anyone, it doesn't matter. When they're scared and sink those teeth in, it's a painful thing. I'll never forget flying to Poland, looking at my fingers on the plane, going, 'Wow, they're still purple!'
"But I am very lucky to still be healthy as a drummer and human being. I've had the same chiropractor since I was 24. When I throw out my back, like many people, it doesn't matter if you're a musician or athlete. It's really bad. It seemed worse in my '30s and '40s than it is now. I'm looking for a piece of wood to knock because I don't know why I don't have a recurring issue as much anymore. But knock on wood, my hands, fingers, wrist, feet, brain — I'm ready to go. I'm faster than ever with my feet, although that doesn't mean anything with OBITUARY. I'm not a fast drummer, but I feel good about my playing."
Blabbermouth: Ever since Allen West (lead guitar) left, you and Trevor have held down the songwriting fort. Ralph Santolla did a great job with solos but never wrote anything. This is now the second album in a row where Ken (Andrews, lead guitar) has songwriting credits. Can you speak to his contributions?
Donald: "Ralph was definitely and could contribute if we wanted him to. He was not the dude to try and beg to contribute. On those two albums he did with us, Ralph quickly gave opinions when we asked. That shows what a veteran Ralph was. There were probably a lot of bands who snapped at him when he tried to contribute. Hats off to Ralph. Rest his soul. But with Ken, he rules. He is a student of music and trying to learn OBITUARY and what OBITUARY fans want. Knowing what Allen West did at such a young age on 'Slowly We Rot' and 'The End Complete' for those solos and divebombs with the Jackson V, the squealers and horse screams, Ken definitely was studying what was going on. The same with [James] Murphy. Ken was the first to say 'Cause Of Death' is his favorite OBITUARY album. It was genius what Murphy did with his solos.
"Ken is such a good band member. He's so willing to try. He knows OBITUARY fans are expecting OBITUARY-style music. Ken and I wrote two songs on the new album. When we wrote, he tried to keep it simple and heavy, but his thrash background still came out, which I encouraged. I said, 'Dude, let's not fight against it. Let's use it and let my brother tell us what is good and what he dislikes.' That's what we did. Ken came to the studio and we'd work on riffs. He'd go home and be texting me in the middle of the night, so excited. The title track is a perfect Ken song with his SLAYER background. He just brought it. It's a cool riff from the beginning and he had the vision. And the song title came from a poem my girlfriend, Heather, wrote five or seven years ago. Some thought the title was from the pandemic, but she's had this for a while."
Blabbermouth: John has often said you'll keep going as long as it's fun. You're coming up on 40 years of doing the band. Has that been the secret ingredient regardless of what you've been through?
Donald: "I can go on and on about these new songs. The passion is still there. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's in my blood because I've been drumming since I was seven. I knew for a fact that's what I wanted to do then. I didn't want to go to college; I didn't care more about sports than drumming. It was always a snare drum and drumbeat. It is still the most exciting thing to me. I've said it before: It doesn't matter. I can go to the studio, be by myself with my drum kit and have more fun than most humans in a day. Then you turn that into what I am as a drummer. I'm a live drummer that loves to perform OBITUARY songs for our fans. I love the idea of creating music for people that are not in my town or not even in my state or country, that is not just waiting for us but rooting us on. It's bigger than us. OBITUARY is part of people's lives. People are getting tattoos of the logo and album covers. That's more commitment—I don't have an OBITUARY tattoo! We are a part of something that is a heavy metal family and it's worldwide. I've been to 40 countries and it doesn't change. They support the bands they love."