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Interviews Obituary

Interview with bassist Terry Butler

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: August 30, 2015

Interview and live pictures by Sami Vesanto

Floridian Death Metal institution Obituary havs kept their engines going for more than 30 years (they started out as Executioner in 1984 then became Xecutioner from 1986-88 and eventually changed to Obituary in 1988) and has become one of the most important Death Metal bands through their determination and hard work. With nine studio albums already behind them Obituary shows no signs of slowing down. On the contrary, the band's motor has been tuned up since the days of the not-so-successful album Darkest Day. Longtime bassist Frank Watkins left in 2010 making room for Terry Butler, who had previously enjoyed a long career in Six Feet Under, and guitarist Kenny Andrews replaced Ralph Santolla in 2012.

Inked in Blood, the band's latest album, was released in the fall of 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign funded by fans and using Relapse Records' network for distribution. Obituary's 9th album turned into a mega-success selling 5-6 more copies than Darkest Day and even landed on the Billboard Top 100 list at #75. The band is on fire again.

Currently Obituary is on a long tour crisscrossing continents. When the Floridian Death Metal masters made a stop at Jalometalli festival in Oulu, Finland, on August 7th, The Metal Crypt was there to welcome the band to Finland and had a nice conversation with Terry Butler about things related to Inked in Blood, tour commitments, the reasons behind Terry's departure from Six Feet Under and some other "hot" topics.

Luxi: First off, welcome to Finland Terry. I have to ask if you can still remember your first time in Finland. Was it on the "Torture Over Europe" tour with Kreator when you came over without Chuck and played both Helsinki and Tampere in November 1990?

Terry: Thank you. Yeah that was my first time coming to Finland. It was a great show and I remember there was a lot of snow as it was winter when we came over. But yeah, it was a great show from us, definitely!

Luxi: Okay, let's talk about this latest Obituary album Inked in Blood, which was funded by a Kickstarter campaign. This was your first album since you joined the band in 2010. How did you decide to join Obituary?

Terry: Frank (Watkins) was out of the band and they asked if I would help out, so I said "of course"! Some things happened with Six Feet Under that I could not overlook so I quit that band, along with the drummer, and told the Obituary guys "hey, if you want me, I am available full time". And they said "yeah, absolutely!" So that's what happened. I actually joined Obituary in 2011 officially and I was sort of helping them in 2010.

Luxi: When Inked in Blood was released it did really well all around the world and even climbed to #75 on the Billboard charts. It's been selling at least 5 or 6 times better than Obituary's previous album, Darkest Day, which was released in 2009.

Terry: It's got some better distribution and is getting to the fans better. Also I think it kind of goes back to the Cause of Death era with the riffs and stuff. I think that helped the album become more successful among the fans, you know.

Luxi: What makes it such a good album in your opinion?

Terry: It has tons of killer riffs. To me, it starts with the riffs. Trevor (Peres) churned out some killer riffs for this record and that's the foundation. It's like a puzzle where you put on all the pieces together. Donald comes up with some killer drum patterns, John (Tardy) adds his amazing voice and Kenny (Andrews) did killer on the leads. And, you know, some of my influence is there too. It's just a good, solid record. It was a team effort from everyone and there was a lot of excitement when we were recording and writing it. There was a lot of energy and I think it shows in the music, you know. The purpose was to make the album sound catchy with killer riffs that you'll remember. If you are a fan leaving the show you are going to remember those riffs. That's what we wanted to do and that's what we are all about.

Luxi: How did you end up choosing such a gruesome and grotesque album cover for Inked in Blood with the human torso? Weren't you afraid of censorship issues?

Terry: To us, the album cover reflects society nowadays but we gave the concept to the artist and that's what he came up with. We loved the cover when we saw it. We thought the cover was amazing. It's a violent world in this day and age and that is portrayed by our album cover. I know Inked in Blood is a bit different than the last few Obituary albums in terms of artwork. We wanted to shock people and tell them "hey, we are back... better than ever!!"

Luxi: You have an animated video out for the song "Violence" from this new album. What made you choose to present one of your songs off Inked in Blood in an animated format? Did you feel like it would be funny to do a more unusual Death Metal video this time rather than presenting the whole band on stage or something?

Terry: We have all done videos where we have been playing on stage or there's an actual plot to the video. It's dark and evil and mellow and all that but we wanted to try something different this time around. We are very funny and humorous people. You can't be serious all the time. So, we thought "hey, let's make a killer cartoonish video for one of our new songs..." And the guy who wanted to do it gave us a 20-second clip of what he can do and we said "go for it..." And every time we went see installments of the cartoon, we loved it. We thought it was a fun, cool thing.

Luxi: Balázs Gróf is the Hungarian director and animator responsible for creating the animation for the "Violence" video and he's been a fan of Obituary since the early days of the band, which is cool. He did a great job with the video so do you think you might use his services in the future?

Terry: Oh yeah, I think we'll definitely have him doing another video for us - definitely yeah...!

Luxi: How did you get in touch with Balázs?

Terry: Well, he actually contacted us, I think. And as you said already he's been a big fan of Obituary for many years and he said that he'd like to do a video for us. So we told him let's see what you can do. We think the video turned out great.

Luxi: It is a funny video, really well made all in all...

Terry: Thanks.

Luxi: You did the first leg of your European tour at the beginning of this year with M-Pire of Evil and Dustbolt and now you have the second leg going on, ending around the end of November. That's a lot of touring and travelling. How will you cope with all of these touring commitments?

Terry: The worst part of it all is flying. Airlines suck (*laughs*)! It's a pain in the ass to go through the airport just to find the right tickets and there's delays, security checks and the flight is crammed and bla-bla-blaa. That's the worst part of it. I mean, leaving home, leaving your family is tough but we are playing the shows and the whole atmosphere is great. I love it and it never gets old for me.

Luxi: Do you still enjoy touring as much as in the old days, like when you toured with Death or Six Feet Under?

Terry: Yeah, absolutely. It feels even better now because Obituary is full of such great guys. It makes it easier.

Luxi: Nailing down a set list for shows isn't necessarily easy especially for a band like Obituary with so many albums and songs to choose from. I notice that you have been playing 4-5 songs off the new album and the rest have been taken from some older albums. Do you think you've created the optimal Obituary live set?

Terry: Sometimes you need to make some compromises as far as a set list is concerned because you get a set time on stage. At Wacken we had 45 minutes and tonight we have 1 hour and 15 minutes. We can do a full set tonight and we area going to play five new songs. You have to promote the new album and then we are going to play a good mix of the first three albums. It's going to be a classic set mixed with some new stuff.

Luxi: I noticed that you have been ending your sets with the classic Obituary song "Slowly We Rot". Was it easy to vote for "Slowly We Rot" and leave it as the encore as it's probably one of the most well-known Obituary songs ever?

Terry: Well, it's been the encore pretty much the last 30 years or whatever, ha ha!!

Luxi: The fans always insist that you to play that song, right?

Terry: On the first tour they ever did that's what they did. It has become a stage fave. It's always in the set. Maybe one day we will freak them out and do something different.

Luxi: Are there specific Obituary songs that are important to you personally that you'd always like to play for one reason or another?

Terry: Yes, definitely! There are a lot of them on the new Obituary album. I just love the new album. But from the older stuff some of my favorites are songs like "Intoxicated", "'Til Death", "Back to One" and a few others. They are all fun to play because they are still fresh to me, you know.

Luxi: Are there some songs that you feel are missing from the set that you'd love to play?

Terry: There are always songs that you wish could be in there. You just have to take into account your set time and what you are doing.

Luxi: Yeah, I know you mean. What are the biggest differences touring with these guys in Obituary than with some of your previous bands? Do you think there's more respect between the band members in Obituary than there was in Six Feet Under for example?

Terry: Yeah, I mean the thing with Six Feet Under was that in the beginning it was Allen West, Greg Gall, myself and Chris and we all started at the same time. But throughout the years Chris Barnes took the control of the band and ruined it, in my opinion. It just got too difficult to be in the band. You kind of overlooked a lot of things because you hoped the next album would catch on and sell a lot but they never did. One thing led to another and eventually Greg Gall and I quit the band. It's sad but Six Feet Under is under a lot of stress, created by one certain person.

In Obituary it's totally different. Everyone has an opinion, everyone has a say, everyone's asked their opinion, you know. I grew up with them; I have known them since 1985, so...

Luxi: Yeah, they were originally called Executioner from 1984-86 and then Xecutioner. As for you, you played in Six Feet Under for about 18 years which is a long time to stick with one band. When did you feel like you had enough and needed to say goodbye move on with your life?

Terry: When we were on tour it was cool because my bother-in-law, a couple of our roadies and I were keeping each other company. But it got to the point where we were touring less and less and the production of the albums was so bad. Chris wanted to produce a couple of albums alone and they turned out really bad. The writing was on the wall, but you always tell yourself "ok, weigh my options, maybe one of these album will catch on and people will like it and they will sell a lot" but it never happened. Then something happened that Greg and I could not overlook and we just quit, unfortunately. The writing had been on the wall for a few years saying "hey, you are not having fun, you have been doing this longer than anyone else in the band and you shouldn't be treated this way". I told myself "it's enough; respect yourself enough to let it go". And I did.

Luxi: What did all of those years spent with Six Feet Under teach you about band chemistry and how to be a friend to your fellow musicians? I guess it came to the point when there was not much room for you to breathe when someone else was dictating the band so heavily.

Terry: Yeah, exactly. The right chemistry was not there. Chris has an agenda and that's for himself basically. The last five years in the band was when it really got worse and worse. The band was kind of a vehicle for him to promote himself and set up four dudes working together to make up something good, you know. Like I said, it started to be too much stress to deal with. I respect myself too much to put up with that anymore, so that was it.

Luxi: Massacre's comeback was also short-lived and Back from Beyond was a very good comeback album in my opinion. Are you sorry that Massacre ended so soon?

Terry: Well, you know, things were going great. We set up a tour with Death To All last year and then it seems like maybe the drummer and guitar player wanted to go in a different direction. They had a different agenda and they started acting a bit weird in my opinion. The tour was stressful to them. There was an incident in New York with our manager/lawyer that Rick posted on the internet that almost got us kicked off the tour. That was very stressful and it got us kicked off the European tour that we were supposed to do, I think it was March this year opening for Death To All. And there was an incident down in Florida where it all came to a head. My wife was verbally assaulted by Mikey (Mazzonetto) and Rick (Rozz DeLillo) and I said that's it, you know. It just really happened fast. It seems like that tour was just too stressful for them. I told those guys when we first started doing Massacre "Look! It is gonna be a while before we can get to where we wanna be because the band has been nonexistent for like 17 years. So it's gonna take a lot of work for people to trust us and get out on these tours and do this stuff. I mean, Back from Beyond is a great record, I thought and we actually started writing songs for the next record. But that tour seems to have been so stressful and stuff happened and those guys just tore the band apart in my opinion. It sucks, you know, because it's embarrassing the way they acted. Maybe Rick was out of the scene for so long that he just really didn't know how to get back into it, you know. But then again, it's not gonna happen to you overnight because you played in Death and wrote songs on Leprosy and you wrote "From Beyond" way back in the day. You are not gonna get an instant pass saying "okay, you guys can headline all these fests and you can headline these tours and stuff". You gotta build it up, you know. I don't think that he was ready to do that. I think he wanted it all right then and it sucks.

Luxi: So Massacre is over for good?

Terry: Yeah, it's never gonna happen again. It sucks of course. When we first started up I talked to Bill Andrews, the drummer, because it's his band and said "hey, what do you think? Rick and I want to do this" He said "go for it!" When I told him what happened with everything toward the end of that tour and how that tour ended up he said "dude, you cannot do that yourself." So I shut the band down, basically. It had to be done. We were severely crippled by what Rick did on the internet and the things he said. It really made us look bad and things were going south quick. There's a lot of more internal shit that I really cannot even tell you right now but it just became apparent and I got the feeling that this is not gonna happen. It was too stressful at that time. So that was it. It sucks, but you know...

Luxi: What can you do, really...

Terry: Yeah, true.

Luxi: 27-28 years ago you joined Death right after the debut album Scream Bloody Gore was released. What are some of your greatest memories playing in Death and are any bittersweet when it comes to the recording of the Leprosy album?

Terry: Yeah, for lack of a better term, I had an anxiety attack in the studio. We were running out of time and it was time for me to do the bass and I just started feeling sick because I felt like I was on display. I've got Scott Burns, Chuck, Rick, Bill and the producer; they are all looking at me and time is running out. So I just started feeling sick, you know, really obnoxious and stuff. I actually recorded a couple of songs but it didn't sound quite right so I told Chuck "dude, we are running out of time. Do you mind playing the bass?" He said "no problem, I understand..." I have had a few panic and anxiety attacks over the years but nothing like that. It was really stressful being my first time in the studio, you know. I have talked to other musicians, well-known musicians, and they have said the same thing has happened to them. It sucks but I have to live with it. It is something that I think about every day. But I was a part of the band then, I could play and we'd toured for Scream Bloody Gore. It sounds like I couldn't play bass but I had a panic attack in the studio, you know. It sucks. I mean, I've recorded 35 albums since then, so...

Luxi: At least you got to tour a lot with Death especially after Leprosy was released in November 1988.

Terry: Yeah, I toured with them quite a lot especially for Spiritual Healing. I actually wrote four songs and recorded the bass for that album. That's a known fact. But yeah, that's something I deal with. It's a horrible, black and dark part of my memory, but whatever, you know.

Luxi: When Chuck passed away on December 13th, 2001, it was a huge blow to the whole Metal community. How important was he to you on a personal level?

Terry: Very important. I mean, he welcomed me in his band and he gave me an opportunity to get into a bigger market. I was in Massacre but Death has already signed to a label. Chuck also told me a lot about songwriting, song structuring and stuff and that was his best attribute in my opinion; writing songs, structuring songs, his lyrics and vocals. It was all great. Plus, we loved the same kind of music and talking about the same kinds of bands that we liked and everything. It was great.

Luxi: To continue speaking of Death related things, Death To All (Max Phelps, Bobby Kóeble, Steve DiGiorgio and Gene Hoglan) is active again for a series of concerts here in Europe this August. They did a festival in Spain yesterday and today they will play at Brutal Assault festival in the Czech Republic. If you get an invitation to play in the DTA line-up some day do you believe the main emphasis would be on Death's first three albums?

Terry: Yeah, definitely! I have actually been asked to do it. I wanted to play with them on the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise already but at the last minutes Steve DiGiorgio was able to do it. He had a prior commitment so they asked me to do it and I said "yes". But at the very last minute Steve was able to do it. But maybe in the future they'll ask to do an early set that is mostly the first two or three albums. That would be cool.

Luxi: Are there specific guys that you'd like to play with in the DTA line-up?

Terry: It would be great if James Murphy, for the Spiritual stuff, and Bill Andrews could do it but James is too sick and Bill does not play drums anymore. So that's probably never gonna happen, you know.

Luxi: I am curious to know what you think of Morbid Angel's messy situation with who's in the band and who's not and what on earth they are up to regarding the band's future.

Terry: Maybe Trey finally realized "hey, Morbid Angel has been a joke all the years. Let me get back to doing something and kick David Vincent out" because in our reality their last album was a complete joke! And that's being nice, ha ha!! I saw Morbid Angel from the beginning in Tampa when Richard Brunelle sang then Mike Browning sang, you know. To me, that was Morbid Angel. The best thing Morbid Angel ever did was Abominations of Desolation; that's true Morbid Angel to me. Hopefully Trey wakes up and gets back into the scene to see what's going, gets some new dudes into the band and put out a good record. Try to save the name of Morbid Angel because right now it's a total joke.

Luxi: Let's get back to Obituary for the last couple of questions, shall we? What will Obituary be up to in 2016? Will you concentrate on writing new songs for the next studio album or is there something else in your plans?

Terry: Well, we have lots of plans for the next year. We have a tour in the States that we are setting up for February 2016 with Cannibal Corpse. The opening bands are yet to be determined. Then we are gonna do the festival circuit again and maybe in the fall put out an EP or something, you know. We have two songs from the Inked in Blood sessions that we haven't released yet so we are gonna stay busy, musically.

Luxi: Have you talked about when it would be the right time to record a new full-length studio album?

Terry: Well, we are gonna start writing during some of the down time. At the earliest we would have an album out maybe a year from now, maybe a little later.

Luxi: The Kickstarter campaign for Inked in Blood went well for the band. Do you think you might fund your next album that way?

Terry: Hmmm, I am not sure. There was a lot of work as far as mailing everything out to people. It was a huge amount of work but it was worth it. Maybe.

Luxi: Thank you for your time Terry. All the best to you in the future with Obituary.

Terry: Thank you. It was nice talking to you.

Other information about Obituary on this site
Review: Cause of Death
Review: Slowly We Rot
Review: Xecutioner's Return
Review: Darkest Day
Review: Obituary

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