Floridapojkarna i Obituary passerade nyligen huvudstaden med Deathcrusher-paketet. Vi slog oss ned backstage med trummisen Donald och stämde av läget. Det blev ett samtal om bl a floridascenen, deras kickstarterkampanj för “Inked in blood” och det där med att inte ta sig själv på så stort allvar, trots den seriösa och brutala musiken:
“Music is supposed to move you and even though Obituary is heavy and evil for some people the way they perceive it, we have a good time. We´re not afraid to have a little bit of fun on stage and we don´t take it too seriously, because we´re Florida dudes wearing shorts with white socks. I mean, how serious can I take myself?”
With the passing of Frank Watkins (1968-2015) at a young age, does that kinda make you reflect on your own life in a way?
Donald: In a way, yeah. To be human, you kinda have to take a step back and realize we´re only on this planet a certain amount of days and there´s no guarantee how many there are. But you also can´t live in fear of what is gonna happen tomorrow or the next day. Anyone that knows Obituary, especially when it comes to our music and us on stage and as people on tour, we´re easy going good guys. We have a good time and we´re not afraid to smile on stage and we stay true to that. We´re very fortunate to be in the rock and roll business. Not many bands can do it as long as we have and do it as well as we do. We´re very lucky to even just be a part of it and we take that very seriously, along with enjoying it. When I was in my 20´s and even in my 30´s, I didn´t really focus on how much fun it is and the show itself, I was so focused on the song that by the end of the day or the end of the show or at the end of the tour, I kinda forgot about how much fun it was on stage or someone would say “Hey, remember playing Stockholm?” and I wouldn´t remember one thing about it. I think now, I´ve at least learned how to accept it and take a step back and actually enjoy it as it´s happening in real time and that´s sometimes tough as a musician because you get caught up thinking too much and end up screwing the song up on stage. But I´m ok with that, because I wanna enjoy it and I wanna feel it and soak it in as it´s happening, which I could not do in my 20´s and 30´s.
Was there a lot of partying when you were younger and then that kinda made you not stop and think about it?
Donald: I´m a drummer and drummers keep themselves in check. You´re about to run a marathon on stage, so it´s not like you´re drinking 20 beers during the daytime. It always keeps me in check and I´m not a huge partier anyway. I enjoy beer and I enjoy drinking beer, but I keep myself grounded on this. This is a profession and this is our job and my job is to be a solid drummer every night for every beat and every song. I want it to be as perfect as I can get it and drugs and alcohol are not the way to go. But again, we´re normal people and we definitely enjoy having a good time and partying is just a term. It doesn´t mean 30 beers in your system is partying. Three beers in your system and you can still have a pretty good time.
Any fond memories of Frank?
Donald: Frank was a clown, like we all were. He was the first one to do something completely out of hand, just because we were bored and just because you have nothing better to do. Just becaue Frank is bored, someone´s pants are gonna get pulled down right in front of everybody, when they´re in line getting their dinner with plats in their hand and are completely defenceless. Or more personal stuff like doing something fucked up on the bus to make the band laugh, because we are in bad moods because it´s a long travel. Shit like that. He was the first one to try to enjoy it and make you laugh and he was pretty good at that.
As you get older, you read about drummers having all kinds of problems with their hands and wrists. How´s that for you?
Donald: I guess I´m lucky. My arms and hands are fine. Sometimes my back gives me problems and travelling does not help. A 17 hour plane ride to Japan to play a 35 minute show was a nightmare for us last month. In general, I´m healthy and I feel great. I´m faster than ever with my feet when it comes to playing and for what my friends and fans are telling me, I´m more solid than I´ve ever been, so life´s good right now.
Stockholm is your 16th gig so far on this European run. Any show so far that kinda stands out more than others?
Donald: Every show because of this package, this monumental package, it´s like four headliners on stage. To put this line up together and allow the fans to come in for a pretty cheap ticket price, has been a knockout, a homerun. The places are absolutely slam packed and if they´re not sold out they are near capacity. As a musician you can´t ask for anything more than that. The fans are showing up and they´re eager and excited. The highlights are every night. London was sick because it was like a 1500 presale, so well over 2000 people in that place and it was mad. Just being on this tour, it´s great seeing the bands and literally watching the bands. It´s a great package.
You´ve been around for so long, even if you guys had a break for a few years. What´s made Obituary last when a lot of other bands have disappeared?
Donald: That question has been asked a lot, because we´re on year 30. It´s because we´re friends and we get along. If we´re not on tour, the weekend we get home and there´s a sports event, we´re together. It´s not like “Oh God, I´ll pack my bags and grab my passport and I´m gonna hang out with Trevor, Kenny, Terry and my brother (John) and when I go home, I don´t see them again until the next tour, thank God.” We´re just really good friends and we enjoy each other’s company and we have a good time together. That has to be the answer, it´s gotta be the key, because there are a lot of bands that make enough money on the band side of it, to deal with each other on tour and some bands tour a lot, but they are not necessarily having a blast. We´re kinda the opposite. We´re barely breaking even on a lot of the tours, but having more fun than we should.
Being on tour, you´re stuck with each other, so you really need to be good friends?
Donald: We´re jailmates really. When you go to prison or jail, they tell you when you´re gonna eat, they tell you when to go to bed and they tell you when you can use the bathroom and that is being on tour. We call it jail with beer and that´s really what it is. You are told when you can use the bathroom, when to get on the plane, when to get on stage. But again, we´ve been doing this since 1989 and it´s just part of our lives. We are built and designed for it. We´re very good on stage, but we´re even better at packing our backpacks and gathering our belongings and keeping track of our passports. We´re professional backpackers.
Are there any plans for a new album?
Donald: We always think about it and work on stuff, but for God’s sake don´t even use the word new album yet! (laughs) “Inked in blood” (2014) is still just an infant and we have a lot of touring to do. This world is very big when it comes to getting on airplanes and go and let the fans see the “Inked in blood” songs. We´re gonna push this album as well as we can and we´re having a good time doing it. Our lineup is great right now, the band members are as tight as can be and the album came out as well as we hoped it could. When we´re in the studio, we´re always throwing riffs around and always remembering those and putting them in our back pockets, so there is no question that we have some new stuff and we´re always sitting on some ideas that we will work on, bur right now we´re focused on “Inked”.
After all these years, have you found it becoming easier or harder coming up with new stuff and writing songs?
Donald: I thought it was gonna be harder, but it was actually way more fun and easier on this album. It´s the ninth album of ours and you would think you´d run out of ideas or you already played that riff seven years ago or “Oh, I forgot I already wrote that song before.” You know what? There´s a million riffs and a million ideas and it´s all about the state of mind and if you´re in a good mood and you´re having a blast or if you´re in a bad mood and feeling dark, songs come out of you. We don´t try too hard. It´s not like we´re gonna lock the door in the studio and say “We´re not coming out until we have this song finished.” It either happens like within 15 minutes or we just start jamming and don´t worry about it and the next day something´s gonna come up. That´s really how we approached “Inked in blood”. And we´re not that band to really grind and just say “We spent six hours on a riff today, trying to find the essence of it.” That is not me and Trevor. Trevor and I get in a room together, we have a beer and go to work. If it happens it happens and most of the time it happens and that´s it. You put it to bed for the night and you listen to it the next day. For God´s sake, it´s music and music is supposed to be enjoyed, including while writing it. Again, in my 20´s I did not understand that concept. The studio was terrifying, just like it is for most young drummers or young musicians. When that red light turns on and you know they´re recording, it´s a nightmare and you forget everything. You play too hard, you play too loud or you grip your sticks too much and when the songs done, you´re driving home listening to it and going “Ah, I could´ve done this better.” I just learn to enjoy every process of it because it is fun and it is what I do well and it´s what I really love doing, man. Creating music, grinding on the songs we´re thinking about and then getting in the studio and trying to perfect it. Studios are very tough, especially for a metal drummer. It´s one of those things… you can pull it off, but you didn´t knock it out of the ballpark and most of the time it´s that whole “It´s good enough, we gotta keep moving, we´re spending money.” and now days I don´t like thinking that way. I wanted it to be the way I wanted it to be.
You´re also lucky, in the way that you get to work with what you probably love the most and a lot of people really don´t get to do that.
Donald: That´s right and most people when they go home from their job that they accept and that they are good at, they still come home and they relax and unwind with music and we all do that and we do that, even though we´re on tour listening to 13 bands a night. When I go and lie down for a little bit and get away and just relax, I find myself putting on headphones and putting on an old Alice in Chains album and listen to Layne Staley (1967-2002), because it absolutely unwinds me. Same thing getting ready for the show, I´ll put on “Holy diver” (1983) and there´s nothing more exciting to me than listening to Vinny Appice´s drumming and gets me pumped up and I´m ready for the show. Music is a part of everyone´s world, no matter what you do for a living, you still go to music and that´s why, like you said, we´re very lucky that music is our career and I´m learning to enjoy just that idea. Music is supposed to move you and even though Obituary is heavy and evil for some people the way they perceive it, we have a good time. We´re not afraid to have a little bit of fun on stage and we don´t take it too seriously, because we´re Florida dudes wearing shorts with white socks. I mean, how serious can I take myself?
You used Kickstarter to finance “Inked in blood”. Do you think that´s the way to go these days?
Donald: We raised a lot of money, but it was an absolute punishing chore because once we were finished, we realized we had 927 orders to fill. It wasn´t just that they all got a sticker. Instead it was “This dude from Texas is getting the medium shirt and a signed cd.” We were still trying to finish the “Inked in blood” album and we were working on the promotion for the upcoming US tour for the album. To finish it all and trying to mix the album at the same time, it was a nightmare for us, but we did it. We busted our asses, we didn´t ask for any outside help, didn´t bring in friends, didn´t bring in a third party to pack it for us – we stayed on our hands and knees for months packing it. Most in general, everyone got their shit and some people got it and it was damaged, but we were happy to send it again. We spent way more money than we thought on the shipping cost, so what was raised really did pay for the album and the actual product, like the shirts and the hats and everything. It paid for that and it was a cool experience, but I don´t know if I wanna do it again? (laughs) I don´t think I ever wanna do that again, man. I would rather ask people to just pre order the album digitally on the Obituary site and give them the digital copy before anyone gets their hands on it. It was part our fault, letting everyone choose this size, pick this stick or Trevor´s pick. It was a nightmare.
Any good Spinal Tap moments from any tour?
Donald: I don´t know? We´re not the band that are jokesters. We´re just easy going dudes, we´re practical and we wear the clothes that we wear in Florida because if I wore a leather jacket, leather pants and boots, walking around my neighbourhood, I´d be laughed at and beat up at the same time. I don´t have those stories because we´re not that kinda band. We´re on stage throwing down death metal and we´re wearing white socks and shorts. Actually, there is on that was just recently. We played a Mexican festival with KISS and it was huge. Any time you´re out of your country and the first band members ask when they get off the plane is “How far of a van ride to the hotel?” and when we go from the hotel to the venue, you ask. It was just 30 minutes to the festival, but once we got there we kept going around in a circle for 45 minutes. It was them stopping and asking one guard and we didn´t understand anything of what they were saying and then he would do a U-turn and go that way. It was literally 25 minutes to make it to the front gate and then we drove inside this arena for 45 minutes. We were just like “We just passed this guy again. Don´t ask him.” It was unbelievable. You could see the driver was just making things up. First we giggled, then we got kinda pissed off and then hysterically laughing. Then the jokes started coming out. “We can´t be your first band? This is the third day! You wouldn´t be doing this to Gene Simmons!”
The scene in Florida? Do you have any idea what happened that made all these bands come out? Did it have anything to do with the “climate”?
Donald: That question´s been asked since we were teenagers. Everybody´s waiting for me to say it was the swamp water. We were all doing shots of swamp water and it was the humidity and the mushrooms we were all eating. I don´t know, man. There´s no answer to it. Complete coincidence, but also very talented individuals that made bands that happened to be in the same part of Florida and it really weaned out all the shit. If you weren´t gonna hang with the big dogs, you weren´t gonna stay a band very long. Deicide and Morbid Angel and Death, of course… Chuck (Schuldiner) was the one who showed us all. Once Chuck (1967-2001) started writing those songs and the “Scream bloody gore” (1987) album, that was it. You were either gonna rise to the top or you were just gonna fall apart and not even be considered kind of a good band. There were really good bands. Atheist was one of the first where you were just watching them live and going “Goddamn!” and listening to the records going “These dudes are fucking throwing down.” It started before death metal, it started when we were really young and it was Nasty Savage and Savatage that were already killer. Riding my bicycle to listen to them in their garage. I think it was pure coincidence, a lot of talent and then the competition was there. You had to be good. If you were gonna play a show with Chuck, you´d better be ready to play well.
And then Chuck being another one that left earth way too soon.
Donald: Yeah, a lot of people that didn´t know Chuck… they read the stories or about an attitude he had or this and that. Chuck was one of the most kind individuals and an animal lover, a cat lover and just a cool dude. He was very outspoken and he wasn´t afraid to tell you how he thinks and that´s where all the stories come from, but he was also a super nice guy, intelligent, cool as shit and very non-metal when it came to life. He was just a normal dude.
A final thing. When you finally leave this beautiful earth, what will your obituary say?
Donald: Solid ass drummer.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Josefin Wahlstedt