Black Tusk hit off their tour in February to promote their new album Pillars of Ash. Alongside Holy Grail, they will be playing more than 30 shows from the East to the West Coast. They touched down in Montreal on March 2nd to play a show at Foufounes Electriques. The previous night, they had to cancel the show in Quebec City due to the storm, which would have delayed their tour by two days had they played. As I rounded the corner of the backstage area of Foufs, I saw the three Southern-born men shivering around a case of beer. They were not used to this cold, telling me it’s presently summer time in their home town of Savannah, Georgia. More than a year ago, their bassist Jonathan Athon passed away after a deadly motorcycle accident, but it didn’t stop guitarist Andrew Fidler and drummer James May from relentlessly touring the world, with their friend Corey Barhorst filling in Athon’s void.
Chris Aitkens (CA): How many tours has Corey done with you?
Andrew Fidler (AF): I think this is his fifth tour with us.
CA: Is this the longest tour you’ve done so far?
AF: No, we once had a tour where we toured for five weeks in the US, then immediately flew out to Europe to tour for another five weeks.
James May (JM): Most of the time, we’re only home for a week. Which really isn’t long enough.
AF: It’s pretty hard for me because I have a kid at home.
CA: How do you check in at home? Do you Skype?
AF: No, I use the wonders of technology (points to his iPhone). I use Facetime. My kid is only nine months old, so he thinks daddy lives inside a little box.
CA: You worked with Joel Grind on this new record. And you also toured with Toxic Holocaust before. Did your relationship with Joel change going from the road to the studio?
JM: If anything, it got better. We met him a few times before Black Tusk went on tour with Toxic Holocaust. Working with him was great. We were able to finish recording in just 10 days.
CA: I read somewhere that Tend No Wounds only took two days to record.
AF: Tend No Wounds took a lot longer than that.
JM: I think Passage Through Purgatory was the shortest to record. We did it in just three days.
CA: Speaking of your discography, I noticed there’s a reoccurring character in your album art. I believe her name is Agatha?
CA: What’s her backstory?
JM: We were inspired by characters like Eddie from Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Pushead’s artwork, stuff like that. We wanted to have a character that you would instantly recognize without seeing the band name. For me, Agatha represents the beauty and ugliness of the band. There’s something very sexual about her, even if she’s put in these disgusting settings.
CA: Did all of you grow up in Savannah?
JM: I’m the only one in the band now who was born and raised in Savannah. Andrew and Corey were born elsewhere and moved to Savannah.
CA: New Noise Magazine put Savannah in their top 10 list of metal cities. How would you describe the scene in Savannah?
AF: Savannah is like a small family, with members of Kylesa coming and going. It’s always evolving.
CA: Before Black Tusk, you played in punk bands. Was it hard going from straight-up punk to playing metal?
JM: The transition wasn’t hard at all. I grew up on metal way before I got into punk, so it came naturally.
CA: I also read somewhere that you used to sneak into Damad shows when you were teenagers.
JM: Yeah, we were 16-17 at the time. We knew the guys who ran the bars, and they didn’t make a big deal of it. When we finally did turn 21, there was nothing they could really do about it.
AF: Damad was one of the first bands we got into. They had everything, they played punk, metal, doom, sludge. And the shows were great.
CA: How does Savannah differentiate from Atlanta?
Corey Barhorst (CB): Atlanta is a lot bigger, you know, it’s a metropolis. It’s got a lot different styles of music. That’s where bands like Mastodon are from. The metal there is a lot more technical. Bands who want to make it big usually travel to Atlanta. In Savannah, the sound is lot more punk, sludgy and crusty.
CA: I want to talk about Jonathan Athon. What motivated you to move on after his death?
AF: Black Tusk has taken up a decade of our lives. It didn’t make sense just to stop. Black Tusk has become something bigger than all of us and we wanted to continue in Athon’s memory.
JM: We had a full album recorded and a bunch of tours lined up. It may have been the end of an era for Black Tusk, but we needed to march forward. If it had been me, I would have wanted the band to keep going.
CA: Listening to the record now, what comes to mind when you hear Jonathan’s vocals?
AF: I remember him trying to write lyrics ten minutes before going into the booth. For some reason, a lot of it was last minute. But overall we’re really proud of how it turned out.
CA: Did you all write the lyrics separately?
JM: Some separately, some together. We sometimes divide songs up then meet back up to discuss different parts.
CA: I understand that you have been spreading Jonathan’s ashes in every city you travel to. May I ask why?
AF: Jonathan was a travelling person. He lived on the road, like the rest of us. We want to leave a piece of him in every city that meant something to him. We still have some ashes left, we might even spread some in Montreal. We’ve been dealing with this for about a year, so it’s no longer difficult for us to talk about.
CB: it also gives a chance for friends in other cities to say goodbye. They weren’t able to make the funeral in Savannah, so this makes it more simple.
CA: Do you have any fond memories of Athon? Any traditions you used to have?
AF: All three of us used to dress up in these penguin costumes every Halloween show. We did that for about five years. The last year we did it, I remember Jonathan being passed out on the train, still in his penguin costume.
CA: Athon customized instruments as a job. Have you kept anything he made?
JM: I have two snares that he made that I bring on tour. Each one is unique, neither of them sound the same.
AF: I have one of his custom basses at home. His parents also have his handmade guitars. His mom has one and his dad has the other.
CB: What makes them special is the craftsmanship. He really knew what kinds of wood to use. It really depended on who he was making the instrument for, too. Each piece has its own personality.
Black Tusk played in Montreal on March 2.