WITH A new member, a new label, a new Orange amplifier sponsorship, and a new record on the way, Savannah’s Black Tusk is practically a brand-new band.
After years of building a reputation as an ironclad power trio, the group has expanded its sound on a forthcoming album, recorded at The Garage Savannah and due in August via Season of Mist.
Andrew Fidler, James May, and Corey Barhorst have thickened their signature swamp-metal tone thanks to a fourth member, Chris “Scary” Adams.
Adams, who’s produced numerous Black Tusk records over the years, joins the band at their Sulfur Studios show this weekend.
It’s the second time Black Tusk has played at the Starland arts space, and their second performing with Lies in Stone. The Savannah band was fronted by Victoria Scalisi, who tragically passed away last year; members Ben Maher and drummer Scott Cooper now handle vocals.
Though illness, death, and a tumultuous time in America, Black Tusk continues to be an unstoppable force, adapting and changing to, as its members profess, achieve their best sound yet.
We caught up with Andrew, Corey, and Scary before their Sulfur Studios show.
The new album’s coming out in August. How’s working with a new label?
Andrew Fidler: We’re very happy so far. Relapse [Records] was great to us for many years, but our deal was up, and we decided to split ways. The guy who runs Season of Mist actually signed us to Relapse and jumped ship a long time ago...he’s super-excited to have us back and hype it up like back in the beginning. Which is cool, because it’s like we’re a new band again—new lineup, new record. It’s everything new again.
Corey, you wrote on this last record. What was that like?
Corey Barhorst: James and Andrew had their way of writing, which was the norm for the band. When [Black Tusk’s founding bassist Jonathan] Athon passed, that changed. When I joined, it was the three of us learning how to [write] together. It was a learning process.
AF: It was throwing riffs at the wall to see what sticks. We figured out how Corey plays, and he figured out how James and I write together. James and I have been doing it for ten years—we walk in and know what the other person is thinking. Between tours, we learned to write together as a unit.
How does a normal writing session go?
AF: It could be three hours on one riff or twenty minutes for one song.
CB: As it got closer to recording, we got very productive with our time demoing our stuff out.
AF: Scary recorded the record...we sent him the demos so we could get his ideas. And keeping it local was super-helpful...Corey and I have kids now, and this way we could still maintain a home life, go in, and work through the night. If we had an idea, the studio is down the street.
Scary, what was your transition process from recording to playing in the band?
Scary Adams: I did some guest vocals on one song one night when we were pretty drunk! Other than that, I didn’t play on the record, but when they asked me to play with them, I was already really familiar with the new songs and the back catalog. I’ve been recording Black Tusk since 2006, doing preproduction and demos.
What brought you back to Savannah?
CB: The Savannah whip! Anyone who tries to leave gets brought back in!
SA: Everyone’s asking if I moved back to be in Black Tusk, but that came months after. It worked out really well...I love the sound of the record and I’m really happy with the product.
How has having four members changed the sound?
AF: I can goof off more and Scary can hold it down!
CB: It was more to fill in the gaps we foresaw that we couldn’t do live. We want to make sure when we play this record live it’s actually how it sounds instead of us relearning how to do something and doing it half-assed.
AF: Some of the back catalog we’ve changed, too...to us, those songs are a lot more fun.
SA: You know when you go see a band that’s had a song out forever that you’ve listened to for years, and they change something little and it’s even better than it used to be? To me, that’s adds excitement to the live show.
Black Tusk has been known as this lean, mean machine for so long...how do you think people are going to react?
CB: We played a couple shows out of town with Scary and it’s gone over really well. I think the sound is better overall.
What was the lyric-writing process like for this album?
AF: Me and James write a lot of the lyrics, and Corey wrote a couple songs. Most lyrics get done in the studio.
CB: We talked about some of the themes before the lyrics were written.
What were you thinking thematically?
CB: Dark...when I say dark, not like dark and evil but like what we’ve had going on for the last year and a half: Andrew’s life with his wife battling cancer. Two of our closest friends—our idols—Victoria [Scalisi] and Jake [Trout] battling disease and losing. I almost feel like most of our lives are actually not that bad...but those things weigh in. Throw in an asshole in government, and there’s not much to be stoked about. We didn’t do anything political, by any means, but there are definitely jabs. It’s dark, but we tried to make it not too apparent.
AF: Think about it: if we wrote a song that was like, “Fuck Trump! Fuck government!”...that’s cool for the next four years, but that’s not going to stick around. This political environment will change. We wanted to make a timeless album.
CB: Even songs that are centered around loss, it’s a poetic way of getting that feeling to come across without saying, “Woe is me, woe is everyone.” You draw on that feeling lyrically and musically. I know a lot of the riffs I came up with had that theme in it. And I know for myself—I’m going to assume the same with Andrew and James—I can’t really write a happy song!
AF: It would sound like fuckin’ circus music.
Before Sulfur, when’s the last time you played an all-ages show in Savannah?
AF: We played The Pony Pen a couple times...we played Woody’s Skate Park with Kylesa and Baroness...
CB: It’s unfortunate with this town...there are places that pop up, but with a band like ours, it’s not easy. Last time we did it, it was a blast.
AF: We were done by 11, it was awesome! I know a lot of people are bringing their kids. I hope there are more kids at this one.