AFTER THE tragic death of bassist Jonathan Athon in November, Black Tusk's Andrew Fidler and James May decided to honor their bandmate and friend in the best way they knew how: by continuing the sludge-dripped power trio they created together.
With the addition of Corey Barhorst (Formerly of Kylesa, currently of Niche), Savannah's "Best Local Metal Band" is back on the road, hitting major European festivals and finalizing all the details for their forthcoming LP, recorded with Athon, on Relapse Records.
But first, they'll play their first show on their hometown stage with the new lineup. We chatted with the trio about the addition of Barhorst, the new record, and life on the road.
What was this last European tour like?
Andrew Fidler: It was different. It was a new experience with Corey with us, but it was still cool. The fans were still there.
James May: I mean, that's what it was going to be. It was going to be weird anyway, regardless. You know what I mean?
Andrew: Playing-wise, it was like we never missed a stride. Corey's crushing it.
Corey, did you ever think you'd be back out playing like this after Kylesa?
Corey Barhorst: I don't know. I mean, I didn't think I would as in, I didn't have anything planned, but I didn't think I was finished. Not on that larger, metal thing—I never thought I'd do that again. I think actually, when I left the old band, I said I was never going to do that again!
Andrew: Now you're going to do it a lot!
Corey: Yeah, now I'm going to do it just as much, and probably even more. So, be careful what you say!
Corey was y'all's first choice, right?
James: Yeah. So it made it easier, he's the first person we considered saying anything to.
Corey: It was pretty much, they were at a party and said, 'What, out of all of our friends who plays bass, could probably do it and has nothing going for him, some poor, helpless person?' And they said—
Andrew & James: That guy! [laughs]
Are you playing the parts pretty straight from the albums or are you putting your own spin on it?
Corey: I'm not changing anything. I'm playing everything from what—I mean, Athon wrote out tablature for all his songs.
Andrew: He was very anal about that.
Corey: Yeah, so there are very detailed things about what to do. But yeah, sure, especially from playing the songs from rehearsals and the tour, I tried to keep everything the same.
Andrew: But you're different people. Everybody has their own different style. And one thing we don't want, that we told Corey, we don't want you to copy everything that Athon did, you know? Black Tusk is its own thing, so now you're a part of this band, so you put your input.
James: Yeah, don't go be a robot. Don't just be like, a fill-in. cause you're not a fill-in—you're a new member.
Corey: There are little things that I might have changed that are so small to where I doubt anyone would notice. And it's even just like, those things are just what I would have done anyway. It was more playing it like a second nature.
I didn't change any of his lyrics or anything like that. You know, and obviously the vocals sound different because I can't copy someone's vocals.
James: It's close enough. It still sounds like Black Tusk.
(A.M. Rodriguez, whose band, Prone, will join Black Tusk at the Jinx show, approaches us with the last oyster from his Sorry Charlie's supper. May dives in. The verdict: delicious.)
Talking about the European tour—from following y'all online, I saw you were scattering ashes along the way.
Andrew: We did. In Europe, pretty much in every country we went to. We didn't do it in every city, but we definitely hit every country.
Because Athon lived his life traveling on the road—constantly improving, constantly doing stuff. So you know, we talked with his mom and we had the idea. He was cremated, I was like, 'What should we do with the ashes?'
I told her, 'We can take them on tour, we can spread them around the world.' She thought that was a great idea, so we did it. We have a bunch more for when we tour the U.S.—we'll take them when we go to Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Is this new record a change stylistically? Is it stuff you've been working on for a while?
James: I know on this one, for a few albums we had said, 'This song isn't long enough,' 'This song is too long.' On this album, whenever we felt like a song was done, it was done. Even if it was two minutes long. We hadn't done that in a long time—just wrote some short, banger songs. And on this one, there's those, which I like, because it gets a little old when you're monitoring yourself: 'This isn't quite long enough, so we need to write another part.' Even if you think the song's fine. So we didn't do that with this, and I think it came out better that way.
Andrew: We recorded it at Audioseige with Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust. Black Tusk had done a tour in Europe with Toxic. Our label and management told us, 'Joel's doing records now.' The new Toxic recorded sounded amazing—and he had done it. We talked while we were on tour, and he said he'd love to do the project.
Are you excited to be home, playing back here?
Andrew: Yes; the last time we played here was Halloween. It'll be bittersweet, but it's going to be really cool at the same time.
It's gonna be awesome. Prone's gonna play, too, little A.M.'s punk band. And we pulled Bottled Violence out of retirement, so they're gonna play, too.
What are you looking forward to on these next tours?
James: Playing shows! And getting out of Savannah for a little while.
Corey: The European festivals are always a blast to play at. They're fun, but you also get to run into friends who are also in traveling bands. You get to play to a bunch of people who actually care, then hang out and drink beers with your friends.
Andrew: I'm excited for the record to come out so we can tour the U.S. again. It's been way too long since we toured the U.S. properly.
We've been at this ten years now—this is ten years of Black Tusk.
And no signs of stopping.
James: Yeah. Might as well keep going if you've made it ten years! CS