Interview with Frank Watkins from Obituary on Touring, Recording, and Being Pioneers
Band Photo: Obituary (?)
Pioneers in death metal and a huge part of the Tampa death metal scene, Obituary has been keeping it fierce for nearly twenty years. Despite a seven year hiatus, Obituary has proven that they are as important to the scene now as they were when it first began. Now with release of “Xecutioner’s Return” and their tour with Unleashed and Carnifex to support it, there is no slowing down. With plans for their next album and tour already in the works, Obituary proves why they have been so important to death metal and why they have reached death metal legendary status. I recently caught up with Frank Watkins, bass, at the House of Blues in New Orleans on the second night of their tour.
The Harpy: So, this is day two of the tour?
Frank Watkins: Yes, tonight’s our second night of the tour with Carnifex and Unleashed.
The Harpy: How did the tour come about with the supporting acts?
Frank: We starting working with a new booking agent and he suggested a few bands and said we should get something exotic from Europe and make it a little different for the kids over here in America. We actually booked this tour in April and when we booked it, there was nothing else really going so we thought it would keep things under control. Next thing you know, Carcass is back together touring. Children of Bodem is out and, I mean, everything toppled out. So when we got with this guy we said we wanted to get something different and a little exotic style to the tour and Unleashed are good friends of ours and are from the era when Obituary started. We did shows with them in 1990, 1989. So we figured unleashed would be perfect with us. Carnifex came about because they were really heavy and made a big buzz on MySpace and had a lot of really good stuff on the underground. They consider themselves true death metal and we approved. They are a Victory band and we are good friends with the people at Victory. We wanted to do something like that, put it together and mix it up.
The Harpy: How does it feel twenty years into this still touring?
Frank: It’s crazy. It’s has been nuts. I think more now than I did years ago when I was a kid going on tour, not caring about anything and just doing what we did. We think about it a little bit more now. We are handling the business end a little more than we did in the past. I don’t even know how much we made back in the 1990’s. Now I know every dollar that is going out. Back then we didn’t have any cares but now we look at that more. We deal with the business end more now. I guess we kind of grew up about it.
The Harpy: In twenty years, you are as fierce as you were back in the early 90’s and have really stayed true to the Obituary sound.
Frank: It would kill me when I was a kid – one Metallica record just destroyed me – when bands changed their sound. I think it was ‘And Justice for All’ and I was thinking, ‘What the hell? What direction are you going to? It wasn’t what I remember Metallica being and records after that just turned me off. As musicians we want to stay true to Obituary and our sound and name.
I play hardcore and I play punk, but I play in other bands that do that. And for us to change our style up, because people have said that if we changed our vocals we could probably get more mainstream, and we are like we did what we did based on what we did right now and we aren’t going to change it because we have fans, hard core fans, that love what we do because we stick to what we do. Kind of like Slayer where every record just destroys and sound the same and you know what to expect when you buy a Slayer record. I always hated to buy a record of the band and when I heard it I was just shocked.
To us it is so important to stay true and we have always had the ideology of trying to make a record heavier than the last one and in that mindset, we are always going to be in the realm of what we do. I don’t think anyone has ever complained about our records that we have softened up. We have always stuck to what we do. We do some crazy shit, like add some industrial type of tones and we have had some rappers do some stuff on our albums, but that is just because of how we are as individuals in a band. We listen to metal but it isn’t like all we listen to is death metal. Like one of my favorite artists is Hank Williams, Jr. People would trip if they knew I liked that kind of stuff, but I think that makes me more unique of a musician.
The Harpy: What do you think of Hank 3?
Frank: I love Hank 3. Closest thing to Hank Sr. I’ve never gotten to see him. I’ve seen him on a Grand Ole Opry show they had or something and he did one or two country songs. One of my favorite artists. The last album he put out is one of the greatest country records ever made and that says a lot for what has been out there through country music. It is really good. It’s a really good record.
The Harpy: Have you changed the process you record as you have been together longer?
Frank: We used to go to Morris Sound. It is a studio in Tampa. Everybody recorded there. We took a hiatus in 1997, 1998. We didn’t break up but we didn’t play any shows, we didn’t really talk much. Six or seven years later we all got back together and we all clicked in our heads that we have a business sense now let’s figure out ways we can progress in this music and take advantage. There is money to be made in death metal but we aren’t millionaires. If you are smart enough, you can make things happen. We got an advance from our record label and we ended up buying our own studio. We put it in our garage and started reading instruction manuals and going on YouTube to learn how to do that shit. Friends of ours that had studios kind of helped us out.
The first record we did when we got back, ‘Frozen in Time’ we did that pretty much ourselves in the garage. To us a lot of times the best place we sound is in our garage. We have done gigs where it sounds great but in our garage there are no amps, no nothing. Actually when we rehearse, John doesn’t even have a microphone. For us to be in that environment is a way to go. Our next record ‘Xecutioner’s Return’ we did with no problem in like two months. We will take it to someone to master it and all but now it is such an easier process. John gets up at 5:00 am and will sing some songs. That has totally changed us. And with the ‘Xecutioner’s Return’ coming out, we were writing a plethora and were jamming in the garage and we decided to do an EP. So we did two new songs and we always love to do Celtic Frost songs. So we were like we will do the ‘Dethroned Emperor’. We did ‘Circle of the Tyrant’ years ago and when we toured for it, we didn’t play it live we always played ‘Dethroned Emperor’ and people would be like what? Then we re- recorded ‘Slowly We Rot’ because we recorded that album in the standard E and we decided to do it in the dropped D tuning - that it would sound cool in that tuning and made a new version of it.
The Harpy: How do you balance Obituary with the other groups you are in?
Frank: I manage bands now. What I do with Obituary, the beauty of the internet and cell phones. I mean I was on Bourbon St. today at a bar drinking and closing a record deal. With the tech today if you are resourceful you can do a lot of stuff and that definitely gives you so much stuff time to deal your business and all that kind of stuff. And playing with Obituary, we do our tour and then we don’t see each other. We don’t rehearse. We aren’t a rehearsal kind of band. We are always a spur of the moment type of thing. Actually when we reformed in 2004, we hadn’t played in seven years. We had a show on a Saturday and we jammed on Friday and did the show. And to us it’s better because it’s more real. It’s not like we are sitting there practicing and know every little part. To me that’s not a true artist and what we play comes from our heart. You have got to feel it in our music.
The Harpy: You can definitely tell that mentality and what bands have it and what bands don’t.
Frank: We thought of doing things different and changing and decided we should just do a different band. Like John and Dan Tardy have a group called the Tardy Brothers and they recorded Bloodlines. It keeps our mentality right. It is crazy because we did some festivals this summer, when we got home we had a month before we started this tour and they recorded their record and I did a bunch of stuff with other things I have.
The Harpy: What are you looking forward to with this tour?
Frank: I love doing the shows and the daily events of being on tour. To be in New Orleans today is amazing. It is a beautiful city and I just walked outside here. Tomorrow we are going to be in the desert. We were at the Masquerade last night and it was a bad part of neighborhood and every time I walked up the street to the liquor store, I got busted by bums for money and people trying to rob me. The one hour we have on stage every night is the highlight of it all. One of the other highlights is doing a show with Possessed in San Francisco. It is a band before I was even in Obituary that I bought records of. It’s a bit honor for us.
The Harpy: Of your albums, which are your favorites?
Frank: ‘Xecutioner’s Return’ I love. And ‘Slowly We Rot’ my favorite because I wasn’t on it. I joined the band just when we were started touring for that. I was turned on because someone told me they needed a bass player so I bought the record in the store and I was like whoa this is hard. It’s like punk. It’s like metal, but it’s like more than that shit. I was into DOA, DRI, and Celtic Frost and all that kind of stuff so I had a lot of different bands I listened to and to put it in one package and in a way I thought music should be played. It is what I thought brutal should be.
The Harpy: How does it feel a new generation of metal fans coming and you are one of the pioneers of the death scene?
Frank: It is crazy. I was talking to a kid last night that was 13 and his older brother turned him on to us. He was in awe he was meeting us. It was crazy. You don’t really look at it too much because I feel like I am just a normal guy and I do what I do and I try to make people happy in my life and try not to spread too much bad shit and bad karma. But if you look back at what we did we are kind of a legendary band and it’s kind of surreal.
We did a gig in Sweden with Ted Nugent and since I was a kid I was a huge Ted Nugent fan. He was in the dressing room and was standing there with his cowboy hat on and all the shit and I was shaking and I was going, ‘Man, this is crazy!’ And I didn’t even go up to him and I didn’t even talk to him and I have seen kids do that to me. You kind of look at people in bands like they are another entity, but seriously out of anyone I have ever met, they are just people.
The Harpy: Is there anything else you would like us to know?
Frank: We are writing a new record when we get off of this tour. We get back home to Florida in October, and then fly to Japan to do a show with Slipknot and a bunch of other bands at a festival. That is going to be our last show for 2008. Then we are going to go home and bury ourselves in our studio and just record. Although we have a hundred different riffs in our computer system, which back in the day we would write a song, get stoned, and come back to play and we would forget it. But now we go there and we record and everything is on record so we don’t forget shit now. It is like a whole other level to our writing. In the past we would write shit we were blown away by and the next day go to the jam room and be like, ‘What was that part? Oh fuck!’ and we would totally forget.
I am hoping by January or February to have it delivered to our record company and it would be out in March or April. So far I just booked a tour with Amon Amarth in March. That is going to be one of the first tours Obituary is not headlining. We feel there is a lot of room out there with other bands and we want to capture different audience. The Amoth guys are huge Obituary fans and we have no problem opening up for them.
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