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Black Tusk Interview

A Conversation with Drummer/Vocalist James May

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Black Tusk

Black Tusk

Hyperrealist Records
Updated January 30, 2013
Black Tusk just might be the quintessential Savannah band. Their brand of sludgy, slightly crusty swamp metal is raw, hot and fearsome, like the Georgia city that spawned them. The band, which consists of drummer/singer James May, guitarist/singer Andrew Fidler and bass player/singer Jonathan Athon, pays tribute to their hometown on their latest release, a split 7-inch with fellow Savannah band Dead Yet?.

On the split, both bands debut a new song, and cover a song by the other band. Dead Yet? covers Black Tusk’s “Facedriver” and Black Tusk covers Dead Yet?’s “Fearing Your Mind.” Making the 7-inch a true Savannah effort, the bands employed noted artist Jeremy Hush to create the visuals, and local label Hyperrealist Records to release it. James May took time to talk to About.com Heavy Metal about the split and about Black Tusk’s plans for recording and touring in 2013.

Karen A. Mann: I wanted to talk a bit about the new split with Savannah’s Dead Yet? on Hyperrealist Records. How did that release come about?
James May: Yeah actually Savannah likes to intertwine with all kinds of side projects and cover bands and stuff so everyone played with everyone in each of these bands at some point. The singer for Dead Yet? used to be in a band with me when I was like, 19 or 20 called The Bricks, it was like a punk band. We’ve always kind of kept close and it was cool to work with him again.

They’ve been trying to get out there and get some stuff going on with them so we figured why not do, it would be fun to do a split with them, make it all Savannah, the guy that did the artwork used to live in Savannah, Hyperrealist is out of Savannah, it was another band that we were really into, that was from here that we kind of wanted to get out there so that was the reason to do a split with them.

How did Black Tusk and Dead Yet decide which of the band’s songs to use?
I don’t know how they chose, I guess they just like "Facedriver." It’s really simple it was easy for them to pull off, I guess. With us we just listened to and picked the one that we thought Black Tusk would do the best with, then we added the little breakdown part to it that wasn’t in there to make it more like what we would do. We just listened to the CD and each of us were going, well, we all had ideas about which one would be the best, and took a vote on it basically and that’s the one that we ended up doing.

Do they have more than one vocalist?
They have one, and there’s two other guys that do some backups, but it’s pretty much just a front man vocalist.

So you sort of had to arrange it in a way to decide who was going to sing what part.
Yeah, well we’re so used to that because we’ve been doing that for like eight years now, it’s kind of easy. We kind of know who’s going to do it. Rarely do we have any disputes on who’s going to sing what part.

What’s your songwriting process like, since you have three distinct vocalists who sing almost equally?
With me sometimes I’ll be like, “I can’t sing right here, somebody else is going to have to do it because I’m doing something on the drums and it’s going to be really weird for me to try and play and sing at the same time, so sometimes that’ll be the reason I’ll want them to do it. Most of the times the reason is like, with a change in the songs higher or lower we’ll match the voice to that, and that’s kind of been the Black Tusk formula for deciding who’s going to sing what.

Tell me about the new song, "Iron Giants." Are you working on a new full-length release? It’s been a while since Set the Dial came out.
We are actually on Sunday headed to the studio to record a new EP. It’s going to be six songs and we just decided we didn’t want to do another full-length yet. We wanted something to come out that’s going to come out this summer, that we can tour on for a little bit cause we all know that Set the Dial has been exhausted to us as well at this point, we’ve toured on it for like two years, extensively.

So we wanted to put something new out, but we like to put out splits and EPs and stuff it keeps it interesting rather than just a full length, a full length, a full length. None of us really like to do that. So it won’t be a full length but it will be a six-song EP coming out this summer.

Where are you recording it?
We’re going to the Jam Room, in South Carolina. It’s where the split was done with Dead Yet? If we do anything that’s like a project that’s not a full length … a full length we might would go there, we’ve done albums there before but we’re up to finding something else for a full length. EPs and splits, we usually just go to the Jam Room.

Is that coming out on Relapse as well?
Yes, it’s on Relapse. Phillip Cope from Kylesa is going to be producing on this EP too. He’s done stuff with us before and we’re bringing him back for this one.

Are you on tour right now or are you hanging out in Savannah today?
We’re in Savannah. We’ve got a flyout festival at the end of February. We’re recording at the beginning of February. Starting in March we’re going to be pretty much on tour, with little bits of time at home, till July.

You mentioned that Jeremy Hush did the artwork, and he’s from Savannah. Is this the first time you’ve used someone other than John Baizley to do your artwork?
No, our very first EP that came out, not a lot of people have it, didn’t have John’s artwork on it. But other than that, I’m pretty sure that’s the only other thing that hasn’t had John Baizley’s artwork on it.

What made you decide to go with someone else this time?
John had moved away, and it was just a split, it wasn’t a big deal, and like I said, we wanted to keep it all Savannah. Baroness is from Savannah and out of here but those guys aren’t from here so we wanted to take it all Savannah, all the way. Savannah bands, Savannah artist, and a Savannah label to put it out.

I wondered if it was because of the accident and perhaps he wasn’t in a position to do it.
That was before the accident, right before, but yes, that would have been something where we would have had to go scurrying somewhere else to find another artist because after that, it’s pretty much self-explanatory why someone couldn’t get something done for you!

The cover art by Jeremy Hush looks great. It features two skulls, vultures and a gun. Given the national gun debate, did you consider not using this particular artwork?
No, even if you want to debate it. If you don’t want to listen to it because it has a gun on it, to us that’s your problem not ours. Something like that, I don’t know. Everyone has their own outlook on guns and it’s just not something that would ruin the music for me.

There’s plenty of things that have guns on it for an image. To take it to that level, to be like, I won’t listen to this because it has a gun on it, I think it’s ridiculous but everyone has their own point of view on everything. I mean you wouldn’t listen to Eyehategod because they have guns on their stuff.

What is Savannah like now since it’s been getting all this publicity for being a great metal town? How has it changed?
To me it hasn’t changed, or maybe it’s because I’m always here. I’m sure things have changed. I know Savannah is definitely getting bigger. A lot of historic stuff is getting bought up. A lot of the history, they’re trying to preserve the history around here but they’re also trying to industrialize it at the same time. I can see those changes.

As far as the music scene, we’re gone a lot. I can’t keep up with it as much as I would like to, with like the younger kids, I hope they’ve got something boiling going on and are going to do the same thing that we did. When you get to a certain age you really don’t meet that many new people as friends! To me it’s still the same we all still hang out with the same crowd that we’ve grown up with forever. We’re all getting married and having kids. That’s the big change.

Are you from Savannah?
Yeah, I’m from Savannah. Me and Athon are both from Savannah. Andrew’s originally from Tennessee. He moved here when he was eight, which pretty much makes you from Savannah as well because you were eight years old when you moved here, and he’s 31 now.

Is there anything else you want to add?
Just that we will be doing a tour with Today Is the Day, U.S. and Canada. We’re going to be doing the Kvelertak tour in April and we’re going to be doing a Skeletonwitch tour in May and June, so we’re going everywhere in the U.S. Skeletonwitch in particular is going to all these obscure cities and we’ll go wherever it goes to. So anyone who wants to come and check us out should be able to do so because we’re going to be playing everywhere.

You guys have a long association with Skeletonwitch. You’ve toured with them quite a bit.
Yeah, we came up together, really. We were doing house shows with Skeletonwitch. We just happened to run into that band. Clicked with them even though we’re completely different. I think that’s why people like to come see us when we tour together because you’re getting, it’s both metal bands, but it’s completely different metal bands. It’s like when we went on tour with Municipal Waste, it was two completely different kinds, but it was a great tour. It kept it interesting. We always stayed in touch with those guys and they hit us up on a personal level and asked us to come out so we were good with it.

Anything else?
The new EP will be out in June or July. It’s going to have Brian Mercer of Mercerrock’s artwork on it, which is killer artwork. We just started seeing that come in. It’s not going to be John Baizley on it, but he will be on the album. When the album comes out, no doubt it will be John, but we just got to let John get caught up on what he’s getting caught up on because of that wreck. That’s pretty much it. Thanks for coming to see us and thanks for supporting us.

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