By Rod Hunt
Unbelievably Bad Contributor
“Swamp metal” trio Black Tusk start their first NZ and Australia today (August 3).
UB spoke to James May (drums/vocals) live down the phone from Savannah, Georgia just before they jetted.
Got anything interesting planned for tonight?
Going down to the bar (The Jinx). I work there when I’m in town; it’s the rock ’n’ roll bar that all the bands want to play at when they come through town. If you know what’s going on you’re gonna wanna play there. It’s a landmark in Savannah. It used to be called the Velvet Elvis and that was a popular rock and metal bar. Then the new owners took over. I’ve been going there since I was 15.
Is that the place where Black Tusk played your first shows?
Yeah, if we play in Savannah, that’s pretty much where we play. My old band played that bar when it opened as The Jinx. That band was called The Bricks and it was a street punk band.
And the two other guys in the band also came from punk bands?
When Jonathan [Athon, bass] was still alive [he died in a motorcycle accident in late 2014], him and Andrew [Fidler, guitar/vocals] were in the same punk band, Hammered Shit. But mine was better and bigger! [Laughs]
So you played shows together?
Yeah, there was a few shows. They were saying, “We’re gonna be the big punk band in Savannah,” and we said, “You ain’t takin’ over shit, The Bricks have got this punk thing locked around here, fuck your band.” [Laughs] Then years later I ended up in a band with them.
So it was a friendly rivalry?
Yeah, we’ve all been buddies since we were younger. It was mostly their old drummer who really started the shit talking. I was like, “Fuck you, I’m a better drummer!”
How did the more metal sound of Black Tusk emerge following the end of those two bands?
I didn’t want to do the same shit I had just done; I was done with it. When you’re in a street punk band, that’s when you’re young, you’re a teenager. I grew up listening to metal and then I got into punk in high school. I wanted to do a metal band and they wanted to do the same thing, too. But even still, with Black Tusk there’s a lot of punk influence. Even our attitudes towards stuff and the way we do things, is very punk orientated. Especially on the newer album.
Was that intentional?
When we started the band we were experimenting. We wanted to do different stuff, maybe not play so fast all the time. But with the new album (Pillars Of Ash), we had written a few albums and it kind of felt like it was becoming a formula – like, we’re only at three and a half minutes, we have to have at least a four-minute song. When we started writing stuff for the new album we were like, “Fuck that, if the fucking song is two minutes, it’s two minutes. Who cares?” I kind of felt like we were pigeonholing ourselves by making these rules. You know, when we were adding parts because the song isn’t long enough. We were like, “Let’s stop with that shit, dude.”
As a local, how would describe Savannah to someone like me, who’s never been there before?
As far as being local, Corey [Barhorst, bass] is from Kentucky and Andrew’s from Tennessee. As far as Andrew’s concerned, he came here when he was eight, so he’s pretty much from here, but I’m actually the only Savannah native. And the way I would describe the place is that it’s like a family. Living in this city for 35 years, I can go out and pretty much know everyone. It’s really hot here, like super hot and humid. But it’s a great place to live – it’s got the whole haunted culture around it, and we get to drink on the street; there’s not a lot of places where you can walk out of the bar and drink on the street. If you’re an alcoholic, you probably shouldn’t move here. I’ve seen Savannah destroy people! Cause the place promotes drinking. If you’re looking for a party, Savannah will show you one – all you need to do is go to the central network called The Jinx, and go from there.
Sample the delights:
Black Tusk NZ/Australian tour dates:
Aug 3 – Kings Arms, Auckland
Aug 4 – Reverence Hotel, Melbourne
Aug 5 – Ding Dong, Melbourne
Aug 6 – Bald Faced Stag, Sydney
Aug 7 – Crowbar, Brisbane