CVLT Nation Interviews – Steve Austin (Today Is The Day)
Hey Steve, thanks so much for taking the time to do this. First off, you recently just returned from touring with Lazer/Wulf. How was that?
Steve: I am blown away by the amazing musicianship that Lazer/Wulf possesses. The tour was a blast and it was great to see our fans after nearly being killed in an accident last fall.
From what I’ve gathered, 2014 seemed like it was a pretty trying and dark year for you. On top of the car accident, you suffered the loss of your mother, which was reflected in your last record “Animal Mother.” With all that behind you and the album being out for out, how are you holding up these days?
Steve: Time is the great healer. Sometimes shit just rains down on you and it’s never-ending. The darkness really started when my mom was taken into custody by the Dept. of Human Services in Tennessee. It was the most disturbing thing to have your mother, who was a little old lady who wore Jesus Crosses, be picked up and locked up in a place very similar to the ward in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. The roles got reversed and suddenly I became the parent trying to get my mother out of trouble. She had made several trips to the emergency room in her town and unluckily was witnessed doing this by a do good-er from the DHS. I got a call and then it began. Shortly after she was hospitalized, they had her strung out on Thorazine and heavy psychotropic drugs. Her frail 100 pound, 83 year old body was in really bad condition and I had to drop serious money to hire a law firm to get her out. After she was out, she was so fucked up on drugs that they had given her, she needed to be in the regular hospital.
Days later she tried to escape from her bed and fell and broke her hip and nearly died. For the next five years, I was dealing with this on a day to day basis with no help from any family at all. No one else wanted to “deal” with her, and I couldn’t help but do it. Because she needed me. It was hard managing a life with a wife and two kids, home and work. Taking care of what was going on with my mom was close to a full time job. She died and that sent me into a super bad place.
On the outside, I wanted to move forward and “get over it”; on the inside, it was tearing me apart. I stayed busy and recorded three records that I played on. TITD Animal Mother, LAE Break The Clasp and UXO UXO. I tried to use up every waking minute by working or doing something in an effort to keep it off my mind. When “Animal Mother” was completed and our 1st tour was set to kick off, I felt relieved. Being on the road made me wake up. Made me understand that life was truly moving forward and I was alive again. 2nd Tour was with my friends in Eyehategod and it was totally out of control awesome. We went home after tour #2 for a 3 day break during Thanksgiving. The day after, on Black Friday, I was on my way to NYC to pick up our drummer and 3 hours later our van was struck by an out of control driver, flipping it upside down on its roof and backwards. The crash broke my ribs in my back and on my left side. It was the most terrifying thing I have ever lived through. It was as if time literally stopped. Tour #3 had to be cancelled and it was right before Christmas with two young sons to care for. The next few months were insane. The ribs prevented sleep and I was barely hanging on to my sanity. With no sleep and constant pain, I became an inmate in my own house. Eventually, the ribs healed up and I was able to get around and start doing normal things. Five months after the crash, I stepped back in a van and headed off for tour. It was extremely hard for the first two weeks, my body just wasn’t used to the intense aggression being played on stage. But, I was able to get through and perform, and again it was a feeling of being reborn. The feeling that I had not lost everything, I still had the ability to rock and give my all.
You mentioned last year in a Facebook post that the last record “… was like being in a house of horrors having an exorcism performed on me.” Now that all is said and done with it and you’ve had the album in your hands, how does it feel to have it out and to a degree, finally behind you? Also, where does this album stand in terms of how personal and important this record is compared to your previous releases?
Steve: Animal Mother is one of my favorite things I have ever made. That’s not bragging or saying how good it is, it just means that I relate with it and feel like the message of the music is dead on with how I feel. In a lot of ways, the evolution of the band is very evident with this piece. I never set out to make a “Kind” of record. We don’t belong to any Genre and we don’t care about fitting in. It all starts with a blank slate and then the creative process of making riffs and writing words and putting ideas starts flowing. In 2014, I really feel that for people that don’t think music is dangerous anymore or takes chances, this record smashes all of that. I simply do not give a fuck.
You recently also did the soundtracks for the movies “Dynamite: A Cautionary Tale” and “The Sadist.” How did this experience differ from crafting a Today Is The Day record? In terms of composing it, were there any adjustments or drastic changes in your creative process that needed to by tweaked in order to complete this?
Steve: Dynamite just debuted at Cannes Film Festival and stars Evanna Lynch and Chad Sexton. I didn’t want to make a typical score that was just me being me playing guitar and singing. Doing film scores allows you to step outside yourself and your ego and truly create. No expectations and truly about making an atmosphere or vibe. Dynamite is set in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I was feeling a dirty jazz vibe, a psychedelic vibe and so a lot of the pieces have fret-less stand up bass and electric piano and older keyboards on it. The story of Dynamite really moved me and I got deeply involved with it. I was able to share my own fears and pain with this piece. The Sadist is in production right now and it takes a totally different turn. The Sadist is a hardcore film that involves a lot of rough sex and S&M. The score for this piece is electro violence. Once again enabling me to do things I have never done before musically.
The concept and reality of growing older while involved in the underground music scene is a hard balancing act for some people. Just the rigors and conditions of touring are enough to deter some people from continuing down this path. With the demands of Today is The Day and your studio, how have you had to adapted your life in order to juggle these demands as you’ve grown older?
Steve: Well, you just have to take care of your self. Getting super drunk all the time or high doesn’t help anyone physically, young or old. I do not drink during the day or before I play on stage. I try to eat food that is good for me, even though I am a meat eater and enjoy real food. When you are not playing, trying to Rest and Take it Easy is the most important thing. Burnout is a real issue and every fucking day can’t be some end all party. You play your cards that way and you set yourself up to burnout.
This next one ties into the last question a bit. As a father, how has raising a child shaped your opinion now towards the world, your music and more importantly yourself?
Steve: The hatred I have in my heart for the things that bring me down will never ever die. Having two sons that I love and care for more than anything has shown me the meaning of life. Love and Kindness are elements in what I do, just as much as violence and pain is. Being a dad has made me balanced. More real than I ever have been. I think musically it is really important to reflect everything, both dark and light, hate and love and everything in between.
Today Is The Day has always had a constant rotating line up. A changing of the guard if you will. With this ever changing line up, does this force you to alter and adapt your own style and process when writing and practicing material with new members?
Steve: Not really. I try to choose guys to jam with that have the skills and ability to play all TITD Material, new or older.
Also, have there been any lessons you’ve learned as a result of working with so many talented, but different people throughout the years?
Steve: Yes – that everyone is very different from each other. No two people are exactly like. No two people care about the same things equally. I have learned a lot about what not to do from others around me as much as I have gained their wisdom. The most admirable trait of anyone I have played with is how they treat other people.
You’ve been at this creating sonic hatred and venom thing for awhile now. Which has branched out into your own recording studio and label. Outside of the paycheck, what really makes your mouth water lately when you start working with a band? Is there a characteristic or trait that you really look for when you start the process of working with them?
Steve: I NEED originality from anything artistically I get into. The whole process of making music is about making something brand new, that you have never heard before. To connect with people and make them feel something. People are so jaded and hardened by the world that making someone feel something is not an easy thing to do. Making someone really love something is also not easy to do. You have to be yourself. It is your individual human fingerprint that can provide the originality that it takes to make something that will stand the test of time. It makes me happy to know, that after I am dead and gone, somewhere out there someone will listen to Willpower or Temple of The Morning Star and possibly find hop in their heart from it. Because in the end, that is really the only reason I exist.
Finally, you’ve made it no secret for your love of the Do It Yourself work ethic and dislike (which is putting it mildly) corporatization of extreme music. That being said, with the power of the internet, where do you see underground music going from here on out?
Steve: I think we are on doorstep of a new future, both style-wise and business-wise for musicians. CD’s are dead, Vinyl is in for the moment and streaming is where everything is headed. Heavy or Underground musicians now have the ability to forego being on a record label. They can self produce better than ever, they can make their own works from beginning to end and they can market themselves easier than ever. What I am hoping to see is that this new found freedom that everyone is able to take advantage of is used. We DO NOT Need any more Retro Anything. I am sick of it. If you can’t make something new, then get the fuck out. I don’t give a shit about reliving the past. Underground Music is still literally an Infant. It has only really been going on since the 1960’s and the world is millions of years old. Today, most of what I see by new artists is some kind of Re-Tread of some shit that some one did 10 Years ago, 20 Years Ago and they do this to fit in. Humans are funny like that. It’s like this with food. If you offer someone a cheeseburger they will take it without thinking about it, because it is familiar to them. If ask them if they want to eat Squid or Some other exotic food, they have to stop and think about it. They have nothing to comfort them in the decision from previous experience. In Music, it is the Curse of all things bad in music. There are so many notes and sounds and instruments and ideas that the possibilities are limitless. But 95% of Artists don’t even go there. They wanna make music that “Everyone” Likes and they want to fit in easily. The Danger in Rock N’ Roll was about the Unknown. Like a scary ride at an amusement park, it’s what is in the shadows as you go around the corner that keeps you on edge. Keeps you thinking. You don’t already know the punchline. Reach out, throw down your best jams, reach inside your self. Don’t be afraid if it’s embarrassing. You don’t always have to look cool. Say things you shouldn’t say, play shit you shouldn’t play and do it with all your might.