BLACK TUSK : “Basically, we hustle.”

Written by Interview

Black Tusk 2013

There’s no other band in the world quite like BLACK TUSK. Not only these three blend punk, hardcore and sludge metal like no one else, spreading a greasy and corrosive material over you ears and driving you nuts in less than two minutes, but most importantly : YOU HAVE TO SEE THEM ON STAGE TO UNDERSTAND. “Understand what?”, you say. Understand why on each of their records, they reveal that visceral need to bombard you with their fury. Black Tusk are the epitome of fury. And seeing them live will make you understand that this inextinguishable energy of theirs actually stems from a strong desire to make us party like crazy and create mayhem, like the true bon-vivants they are. I met bassist Jonathan Athon and drummer James May before their overheated gig at Glazart in Paris, who opened up on their projects and their vision on this business, but most of all on where they really come from. Gotta love those hyperactive super rockers.



How are you, guys ? 

James (drums & vocals): Last night, we partied pretty hard, so we’re a little hangover…
Athon (bass & vocals): It was our first time in Antwerp, it really was an awesome show, we had a blast.

First things first. Could you tell me in a few words what would make a Black Tusk fan want your new EP more than any other record out there?

J: We usually tend to change up each record, and this one you can definitely hear the change. The tempo got slowed down a little bit, because we made a six songs EP, we didn’t make it a whole album.
A: It’s very angry, it’s a hateful album.

Come on, you guys are always angry!

J: (laughs) Aaah, we got a few party songs, you know… But we party angry!

I was positively surprised by the violin intro on “The Weak & The Wise”, it’s one of the things that grabbed my attention the most on this record for it adds a brand new dimension to your sound. How did the idea of bringing in a classic instrument – for the first time ever in Black Tusk’s history – come up?

A: I just kind of heard that in my head and when I mentioned it, James told me he was thinking the same thing. We didn’t even talk about it, we both felt that it should go there. One of our friends in Savannah is a violin player for the Symphony, he played the violin and he put an effect on it where it made sound like a cello as well. We just wanted something somber and creepy, and I think he nailed it.

It sounds great!

A: I was really happy the way it turned out. He came over at a friend’s house while we were recording that, he heard the song once before, I tried to describe him what I heard in my head… He played it twice, then it was perfect.

So why didn’t you use more of that kind of soft/metal duality in the EP?

A: We’re only three people, so if we did it more, we’d have to have more people on the road to do it…
J: We won’t play that live.

Because of the technical aspect? You don’t want to try using a sampler on stage?

A: We have a sampler, but it’s too robotic feeling, it’s not organic. It kind of loses the soul for us the way that we play. Every now and then we did things like that, when we overdub the guitar or some drums but we’re trying to keep the songs as true to playing live as possible.
J: When we write songs, we automatically know why we’re doing it. We know when we’re not going to play a song live.

“We got a few party songs, you know… But we party angry!”

In a recent interview, Andrew told that you and Relapse Records see eye to eye on many things. However, who makes decisions when it comes to putting records out?

J: It depends on the situation. They’ve told us “you should release something here, because this is a good opportunity time for you”. And then, we went “we’re going to release this” but also “okay, if you don’t want us to release it here, we’ll release it here”.
A: When we first signed with them, we liked to do 7″ EPs, compilations, rare small releases. Our agreement with them is that we’re allowed to do those sort of things, and not just put out full albums. It keeps things new for us, we’re able to put out more artwork, cool packaging and collectible things… It keeps the fans happy. We’re also able to change the sound a little bit, match up the splits with bands that we like… You know, living in a van for nine months out of here, you don’t want to play the same songs every single night.
J: Right now, we’ve got two new songs that we’re putting out with Converse.
A: We recorded for two days in Brooklyn at Converse Rubber Tracks (Converse’s studios in New York). It’s gonna be a very sought-after artwork and songs, we’re trying to make it pretty limited and rare, something cool for collectors.

John Baizley has been responsible for the artwork of all your full-length records. As far as the “Tend No Wounds” EP is concerned, you choose to work with Brian Mercer. How did you come to call on his services?

A: He has done a lot of posters for us before. We choose artists that are all our friends.
J: Our split 7″ with Dead Yet was done by Jamie Hush, our first EP was done by Chris Farey…
A: We give them an outline of what we want, because the artwork matches the theme and the feel of the album. Each time we have one central character for all the full-lengths.

This spring, you went on tour with Kvelertak and Cancer Bats in the U.S. When I first saw that your three bands were put together on a lineup, I was like “man, the Earth is going to blow up”. How did this tour go?

A: It was NUTS. Every single show was crazy. They were really cool guys, all down-to-earth solid dudes. We got along with them very well. There’s no sense in going on the road for months with people you’re not going to like.
J: Everybody likes them, they’re great dudes, so it’s always a relief. And they’re great musicians too!

And awesome live performers as well!

A: Yeah! Every single night, all three bands were trying to one up each other… By the end of the tour, we were all just going apeshit on stage, because we were feeding off everybody else’s energy in the crowd. It was perfect.

Any highlights to share about this tour?

J: At one point, Marvin (Kvelertak’s bassist) skateboarded around with his pants off, I remember that… (laughs)
A: Some crazy things happened to Cancer Bats, they loaded up their gear in Canada for the first day of tour, but the motor blew up. So they had to rent another van, and halfway through the tour, the motor stopped working. They had to leave their merch guy, two of them jumped in our van and the two others jumped in the van with Kvelertak… There was no room in anyone’s vehicle! Their merch guy had to drive 20 hours straight to meet back up with us. Their van broke down again the last day before they drove home.
J: Van problems don’t affect us anymore, we’ve had every bad van problem you can imagine. So we went like “ah, I guess it’s your turn!” (laughs)
A: Yeah, from flat tires to catching on fire! We’ve been broken into, and while on tour with Valient Thorr our transmission went out five times…

“We like to have fun when we’re playing our music, why wouldn’t we do a video that conveys that?”

What was the concept behind the “Truth Untold” video? I think it has this Valient Thorr-ish offbeat spirit, it’s really funny as shit.

A: Live videos are just so fucking boring, so simple and rudimentary… You’re playing in a warehouse or you’re walking into a fucking cemetery, who fucking cares? (laughs) We like to have fun when we’re playing our music, why wouldn’t we do a video that conveys that, you know ? Fuck a live video when you just can go see the band live and get the whole experience!
J: It’s funny because people see this video too and they’re like “oh yeah, they did it like a funny video, finally!”. Dude, the first video we did was a spoof funny video.
A: We’re actually talking about recording another video with the same people, and have it be like a continuance of that one. They were really cool dudes, they donated their time because we didn’t have any money. And I think we recorded the whole thing in sixteen hours.

It certainly means that you’re good actors…

J: Probably three of the best I’ve ever seen.
A: The three best looking. But God, you didn’t see the outtakes ! (laughs)

I was wondering if you got sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon for this video, because those beers cans are everywhere!

A: No, but my roommate does the rock’n’roll bingo at The Jinx in Savannah, and he gives away PBR prizes, so my house is literally full of nothing but PBR. It’s also the cheapest thing we drink when we’re home.
J: The local bar serves a shot of Wild Turkey and a Pabst for $7, that’s the bar I work at when I’m at home. All of us kind of work at this bar: Athon does maintenance and construction when anything is fucked up there, Andrew flyers and I bartender.
A: We get weird PBR shit like hammocks and canoe paddles.
J: I broke down my toaster the other day, it burnt PBR into your bread.

I don’t believe you…

A: You should try the Pabst-tart, it’s like a Pop-Tart, except that Pabst is burnt onto the icing. (laughs)

“Basically, we hustle. (…) Black Tusk will pay your bills, but not when you’re going to stay home for months writing a new record.”

You were just talking about what your respective jobs. So James, you’re a bartender… What about you, Athon?

A: I’m trying to get out of the building houses and things like that, I’m trying to start building drums and guitar cabinets from scratch. Andrew is picking up carpentry work and doing landscaping. Basically, we hustle. We pick up any jobs that are available and we have the time for.
J: Whether it’ll be legal or illegal. I gotta get that money! (laughs) You know, if we stay on a regular tour schedule, Black Tusk will pay our bills. But when we’re going to stay home for months writing a new record, money starts to get thin.
A: Or we get bored and we need to find something to do before we get physically self-deteriorating.
J: Even if I had a million dollars, I’d have to do something.

Once they’d make enough money to put some of it aside, many musicians start their own business in the music field, such as creating their own music label or recording studio. Haven’t you ever considered doing that?

A: In Savannah, there’s not a market for that type of things, for it’s so small. There’s one recording studio and that’s it. There’s a lot of country, new rock, old school surf rock type of stuff, but the town is too small, so…
J: Phillip from Kylesa started his own label called Retro Futurist, so he had to move to Columbia. He’s always recording either Kylesa or other records.
A: Being in such a small town is double-edged. It’s fun, but if you go on tour for months, when you come home everything is the exact same. You have to get creative in ways to keep yourself occupied. That’s one of of the reasons why we decided to tour so much.


Last modified: 11 February 2015