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Interview: Black Tusk

Interview: Black Tusk

Tuesday 2nd August, 2016 4:49PM

Sludge metal three-piece Black Tusk are bringing their thundering live show to the Kings Arms Tavern tomorrow night for their only New Zealand appearance before they start on a tour of Australia. The trio's antipodean jaunt comes on the coattails of their fifth studio album, Pillars Of Ash, which was completed just one month before the sudden death of their bassist and childhood friend Jonathan Athon. Despite the devastating loss of their friend and bandmate, remaining founding members Andrew Fidlar and James May see the record as a celebration of Athon's life, as well as a kind of closing of the circle that took them back to their punk roots, as May explained when we spoke to him last week from his home in Gerogia...

UTR: Hey James, so I wanted to talk to you about your album Pillars Of Ash. Obviously it's the last record you guys recorded with Jonathan [aka Athon], and what I liked is that there was a Pitchfork review and the writer called  it "a joyous wake, not a somber funeral", and I wonder if that reflects how you feel about it?

JM: Absolutely. Of course the situation sucked, but you know, Athon died about a month after we got back from recording, and I was just really happy that he made it. That we got to do the whole album. He's on all of it. Because to have to have someone else come in to finish it up, you know, I'm just really glad that that album is all him on it. He finished the whole thing with us. It's bittersweet.

At the time you were writing and recording the album, what were you guys hoping it would convey?

Um, with this one... I dunno it seemed for some reason to remind me of some of our earlier stuff - just like as better musicians down the line. It just came out as this huge punk-influenced type album which we hadn't really done since the early days. So we were really excited to do it because it was becoming something new again. And it was a lot of fun recording it. And then doing it with Joel, you know, from Toxic Holocaust, this album was right up his alley.

Yeah, so how did that working relationship with Joel come about?

Well, we ran into him on tour in Europe. We were on tour with them for about a week, and we were just talking about how we were going to record an album and he said he was recording some stuff, and we said "well we've got a little bit of it, do you want to hear it?" and we let him hear it. So the next show when we met back up with him he was like "I would fucking love to do this".

He doesn't live near you guys either, you guys are in Georgia, where is he.... Portland?

Yeah, he lives about as far away from us as you can get.

So where did you guys end up recording, did he come to you or vice versa?

We went to Portland.

Oh right, does he have a studio there?

No, it was done in two different studios. But, you know, everybody knows Joel around there so everybody was cool with letting him use their studios.

So what did he bring to the table? Did he take on a production type role as well?

Yes, definitely. There was a few parts on the album where he made suggestions, like I remember this one part that has a solo that he suggested which came out great. There was a lyrical timing on one of the songs where he was like "you don't have to write a whole new verse, but it would be really cool if here you kinda uptempoed with the lyrics" and it ended up sounding great. Just stuff like that, little things.

So the three of you - you, Andrew and Athon - grew up together. So when Athon died so suddenly did you think about packing it in after this album?

Alright, this is pretty much how that went.... we thought about it briefly. Because I'm the type of person who loves it when bands have the same members the whole time, because you can just see them grow as a band. And it's just really cool. I've always been a big fan of that, instead of when a band changes members like underwear, you know. And we'd had this kind of pact that was like we were going to be the same three, we were going to be that band that was the same three members for the whole ride. But, you can't do anything about someone dying. You don't expect it, you can't help it. And if it was me I would want them to keep going, because what the hell have we been doing this for 10 years for?? And we also just had the album done, so we needed to tour on that. And we had two really big tours that would booked, that we needed to decide if we were going to call off, or if we were going to keep going. So it kinda just left us no choice but to keep going, and I'm really glad that's what we decided to do.

So you guys have got Corey on bass now, who also played with Kylesa and Niche. Is he is an old friend of yours too?

Yeah, he was at the first Black Tusk show.

Oh really?!?

Yeah, haha. He hasn't been in Kylesa since, I think, the second album. But he was a good fit for us because we had known him for a long time, his style worked, he knew Athon really well - and he had toured before. You know, somebody might be able to play, but that does NOT mean they can tour. So, we put him on a kind of trial period, and he played the songs well and performed, you know, under a lot of stress of taking the place of a member that had been in the band for 10 years that everyone knew. So trying to fill those shoes, I mean no one will ever replace Athon, but you know what I mean - do the job. And he came through. So he wanted to be a full-time member, and we were like "why not".

Can I ask you one last question before I let you get on with the rest of your day. Can you tell me your favourite song on Pillars Of Ash?

Hmmm. I don't wanna say 'God's On Vacation' because it's the video song and everything, but that was one of the ones that I wrote the lyrics for, and I really thought it was catchy and I really liked it from the beginning - that was even before we knew it was going to be the video song - and everyone seems to love that one. I had actually called the song something different, and "god's on vacation" was just in the lyric and I thought calling it that was a little offensive, haha, but the other guys were like "fuck that, we love that name, we're calling it that. I can't believe you just said that shit", hahaha. So that one has the story behind it for me.

Black Tusk

Wednesday 3rd August, Kings Arms Tavern, Auckland

Tickets available HERE at UTR


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