Whether they’re barbecuing out of old kegs, buying vans in hotel parking lots, or just writing some of the sludgiest music to recently come out of Savannah, Black Tusk have been turning heads all over the metal realm. Labelled “Mastodon’s backwater brethren,” Black Tusk have establishing their own identity as one of this year’s bands to watch with their Relapse debut Taste The Sin. Metal Insider recently talked with drummer/vocalist James to get a better idea of who Black Tusk are and what’s in the water down in Savannah to foster the scene you’d be crazy to ignore.
The one thing that kept popping up was looking at bios for you guys was ‘swamp metal.’ What is swamp metal like, in your words?
Well, everyone always asks you to describe your music and we listen to all kinds of things. You know, we don’t just listen to metal and we didn’t really know how to describe it. It’s usually just a lot easier for other people to describe your band than you. So it just came out one day— swamp metal—it was just kind of a play off of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s swamp music and we thought it kind of described it cuz it’s heavy. You know, the sound just makes you sweat. It just came out one day and it followed us. It went from one interview and then it just spun out of control. And then we made patches that said it so after that, you know.
Do you guys mind being lumped together with all the other Savannah “Swamp Metal” sound or do you think it kind of hinders you a little bit?
I mean, every band, being Black Tusk, Baroness, Kylesa, those being the main ones coming from Savannah, we all take pride in Savannah. We all don’t mind being lumped into a Savannah sound category. We’re like a big family out there. We all hang out. I mean aside from all being in a band, we’re all friends. So that doesn’t really bother us but everyone has their own interpretation of it. You can’t compare Black Tusk to Baroness or Kylesa and the same for them. Everyone has their interpretation of that Savannah sound.
Do you think it’s like a marketing thing or are there other bands we can expect to hear that you guys are friends with?
Well, you know, this sound didn’t just start with us. There were other bands before us that were in Savannah, older guys that we used to pal around with when we were younger. They’ve all moved on with the bands and have families and stuff now. They kind of taught us what was up. Like Damage, Das Criminal, Hank 18—these are all bands that no one might have heard of but they were around before we were. Homage is really paid to them and they deserve a lot of respect as far as musically.
So listening to Taste the Sin, it’s so bassy and it’s so heavy. A lot of the imagery that goes along with it kind of reflects that too. I know you know John Baizley.
Oh yeah, we’re good friends.
I was looking at the artwork and I was looking at the artwork for other albums and there’s always a girl/pig theme in all of them. Is that your guys’ idea or is that him?
All Black Tusk artwork is always Black Tusk’s idea. We always give John an idea of what we want on it and it never looks how we think it’s going to look. We let him run with it. We give him the idea and we let him run with it. It’s always funny though cuz we always have this picture in our heads and then when it comes back it’s never like it is, but it’s always awesome. As far as the girl, her name is Agatha.
Oh, there is a girl?
Yeah. It’s kind of a kickback of the old school— Anthrax with the Not Man, Motley Crue with Allister Fiend, Vic Rattlehead from Megadeth, Eddie from Iron Maiden. We wanted our own character so we kind of introduced her more and more. Lately she started to change nationalities. We don’t really know what’s going on with that (laughing).
She looks kind of Asian in this new one.
Yeah, she looks Asian. I think the next one on the album she’s gonna look kinda Cajun. Like a Cajun voodoo girl is what I think is gonna be on the next one. We’ll see. If you look at it, you see more and more of her. The first one was just her face. Like all this stuff was thought of and we never started introducing her to her name to everyone until recently. We wanted to wait until everyone was catching on and it is cool. It’s a recurring theme in our artwork. Everyone’s starting to catch on it and we’re starting to tell everyone what it is.
Do you think that it’s necessary to be on a label at all these days or do you think you can achieve just as much success by yourself?
I think that doing it yourself is fine, but it’s nice to have a label. You can only give yourself so much exposure and that’s really what a label does for you. They just make sure that everyone knows about you. You can be an amazing band and if no one’s getting your stuff— I mean there’s resources that we just don’t have and that a DIY scene just wouldn’t have. It’s really more about exposure than anything else with a label. I mean there’re other quirks to it too and there’s other rewards of it, but that would probably be a really big one.
What was it about Relapse that really made you say “I wanna go with these guys”?
We really like the bands that came out of Relapse and we grew up listening to some of the bands that Relapse put out. Baroness signed over to Relapse before us and they just seemed like they were treating those guys so great and they were always happy with them. The Fight Amp Split was actually done with one of the guys from Relapse. He’s got his own label called Brutal Panda. He was so cool and he kinda introduced us to everyone and we really liked them and there were a few labels that might have been kinda looking around and made an offer but we really wanted to wait around for Relapse. We felt that it was coming and when it did we were happy about it and we’ve been happy with them ever since. No complaints there.
Since being on Relapse, you guys have played SXSW, Scion Fest, and lots of other big shows. Have you guys noticed a difference in the types of fans that have been coming to your shows now?
It’s definitely not the same from back in the day (laughing). You’re not going to get the older people and young kids coming to a basement show as coming to a venue. It’s about getting more exposure. I think our sound’s progressed and I think the new album would appeal to a lot more people than our older stuff would. We were coming out of a lot of punk rock roots when Black Tusk first started. The old stuff’s way faster. The lyrics would be about different topics.
Yeah, I noticed the punk sound definitely. It’s still in the new album but it was definitely in the old ones.
The punk roots are always gonna live in us. We grew up on punk music. I was listening to metal ever since I can remember and when I got older I found out about punk. A lot of people start out with punk and get into metal later on as they grow up. I was the opposite. Metal has lived in me ever since I can emember.
I caught ‘Cooking Contaminated’ on Metal Sucks not too long ago and thought the stuffed blue cheese burger sounded delicious. What was filming that like for you guys and do you have anything else we should check out?
Here in Savannah we do a lot of BBQing. Backyard BBQs are very common there. We know how to make some killer ribs and Athon, the bass player, is pretty much a master on the grill. He actually makes grills out of kegs and smokers out of kegs so he’s handy with that. A lot of times we get together at his house and have BBQs on Sunday. You know, just sit around and drink beer, hang out, eat some good food. A: We actually thought of that in the van in about fifteen minutes.
That was a spur of the moment thing?
Yeah, Eli was like we gotta know. Eli’s one of the other guys over at Relapse and he’s really cool so we didn’t mind doing it for him. It was hectic, it was hard to get in cuz we were on tour, we were making long drives. But we made sure we squeezed that in for him. We thought of the recipe in like fifteen minutes.
After Zoroaster, what do you guys have lined up and what can we expect?
A lot of touring. We should be doing a month long Fu Manchu tour in August and September. Then we’ll probably chill out from touring for a few months. We’ll probably have some one-out shows, maybe do a loop here and there but no more month long touring so we can start writing for the new album. We already have material for it so we wanna start making that happen. Then probably some European stuff in the beginning of next year.