Today is the Day's Steve Austin The Exclaim! Questionnaire
Published Aug 22, 2011For nearly 20 years, Today is the Day have been making completely insane experimental metal. The band's front-man Steve Austin is known for a few things: he's a legend of extreme metal; he's Today is the Day's only consistent member in a band known for frequent line-up changes (more than 15 members over 20 years); and he's also a well-respected producer, having worked with bands like Lamb of God and Converge. With the release of TDITD's ninth album, Pain is a Warning, Austin has taken stock of heavy music and returned to metal's roots: heavy, uncluttered riffs. "We tried to strip down songwriting in the sense of just letting whatever naturally happens happen," says Austin of the band's approach on Pain is a Warning. "The riffs are really super hard rocking and really primitive…I think the end result is a really furious, fast, hard rocking album."
Austin says he approached Pain is a Warning with an intention to create something honest and raw, both musically and lyrically. "There's been a trend in music that's been going on in the last few years that's worn itself out. All these bands that feel like the only value to anything is if it's terribly technical and complicated and complex. And it turned into a trend of complexity for the same of being complex, rather than a real honest riff." He promises an album with the sonic and psychic depth that TDITD is known for. "I think the end result is a really furious, fast, hard rocking album that has moods to it that are up and down, that are speedy and slow."
What are you up to?
I'm currently more or less getting my new house organized and put together because I ended up moving from where I was living, which was on a farm out in Monroe, Maine, to what's known as "down east" Maine in a town called Orland. You know, we just finished doing a European tour with Soilent Green that hit Iceland, the UK, Europe and Greece. And then today I came home, and walked in and got to see and hold in my hand Pain is a Warning the CD for the first time today. Of late, I've been competing in off-road, professional competition races with my Suzuki Samurai. I just won first place in the Blue Hill Mudrun!
What are your current fixations?
I definitely like films by Darren Aronofsky a whole lot. I just recently watched Black Swan and just feel like that is another gem in that guy's repertoire of movies. Really, really amazing. In music itself, I haven't really been listening to a lot of music by anyone in general. Just the other day I was tooling around in my CDs and pulled out Red by King Crimson and listened it because I hadn't heard that for a long time. And I told my wife that when I die, I want her to play "Starless and Bible Black" at my funeral. Other than that, I actually listening to Rwake's album that was on Relapse [Records], I think it's Omens or something like that [Voices of Omens], I'm not good with titles and stuff like that. But like, that album is really, really sick. Like, I've listened to it several times, just driving and so forth, and I'm like, man, I really like a lot of the different melodies and music parts that they put to that. Other than that, I'm diggin' on Ke$ha and Rihanna and you know, some stuff that I would somewhat consider garbage music. But I like it anyway.
Why do you live where you do?
Because I hate people and I want to be as far away from them as possible, so I ended up moving to the last state in the United States where you can actually live and do your own thing. Up here I go black bear hunting, I go dear hunting, I shoot guns, I shoot guns with silencers, I can climb mountains with a rock crawler, I can run through forests with a jeep or a Suzuki Samurai. I can pretty much do whatever the hell I want to. There's not any kind of government oppression, or whatever, going on up here, because basically the whole state is sparsely populated. Plus I really kind of dig the balance of summer and winter. We have hellish winters that are like Alaska, but at the same time, the summers are pretty awesome. So we do a lot of swimming and we have a cabin on a pond. Overall it's just like, if you want to be free in the United States, probably only here and Alaska are the last two places you could be that would be somewhat you're living your own life on your own terms.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
God, you'll have to give me a minute to think about that; I don't really think about mind-altering things all the time! Well, I'd say one of the mind-altering things I saw recently was in Greece where I saw the ruins of ancient Greece. That was pretty awesome. When I think of mind-altering I think of different music that just blows my mind. Like Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and any early Pink Floyd music and stuff like that.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
I could name a few. When we played Inferno Festival on our last tour, in Norway — which is a black metal festival — that was one of the most powerful, insane shows we've ever played. And then playing at Roadburn Festival, also on this last tour, absolutely blew my mind! And then I think of playing in Japan with Motörhead and Slayer and a bunch of bands like that. That was really fun. If I took it back a long time ago, probably the most inspirational one would a long time ago, when TDITD played at CBGB's for the first time. We fuckin' played so hard and so insane! And there like seven people that were there. But those seven people happened to be like Mike Gitter, who was a writer for many different metal magazines, Jon Weiderhorn, and all these different dudes. We played so fuckin' insane and freaked out so bad that at one point my pants got hung on a nail on the wall, and the fuckin' nail ripped the outer seam of my pant leg all the way from my belt down past the cuff. And it wound up making me look like some man stranded on an island because my fuckin' pant leg was ripped wide open. I just remember thinking after I played that show, being a kid from Tennessee that's never really done anything that cool, like wow, this is exactly what the fuck I want to do.
And I will include, if there was another moment that was important to me: I played the Amphetamine Reptile reunion show this last year. We played with the Melvins and the Unsane and all these other bands, and it made me really, really happy that Buzz came up to me, and Dale and the guys from the Melvins. And Buzz was like, "You guys were one of the best bands of the day." And I wouldn't have cared what he said, but it just kind of brought things to full circle where all of a sudden I realized, shit's pretty cool, you know! I looked up to, and still do, bands like the Melvins and the Unsane when I was first starting out playing. For them to sit and watch us play and think that it was really great, it blew my mind.
What have been your career highs and lows?
The highs would be when I was on tour with Eyehategod and I met my wife Hannah. And I wouldn't have met her and that would not have happened if I had not been on tour with my band. I was in Boston with them on tour and that changed my life. My life sucked completely before I met her. And now it sucks more…just kidding! Haha.
Another personal awesomeness was, a couple of years ago when I was in Belgium, I got to go to the FN [Fabrique Nationale] military factory in Liege, Belgium. I was one of the only civilians that got to see the inside of the factory. They only let, like, five people a year in the factory. I got to handle 20mm Vulcan cannons and shit that's mounted on helicopters and every machine gun imaginable. And related to music, I would not have gotten to do that if I had not been in my band and out touring.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
I think of more people throwing shit at me. I've been hit in the head with a quarter at high speed. And it hit me in the bone behind the ear and almost knocked me out when I was on tour with Napalm Death. And I had some big fat bitch throw beer on me because the movie that was playing to our music she found to be sexist. All because there was a vagina on the screen for about ten minutes with a cross and a pentagram blasting over the top of it. I can't really think of any one individual incident of anyone saying anything, it's mostly doing things!
Probably the most nuts thing that happened to me on stage was some psychopath in Rome, Italy was so excited about us playing and had this fixation of thinking that I loved to feel pain. So he grabbed my leg when I was on stage and almost like a dog biting into a bone, he bit my leg real bad. And then I kicked him. Then he came back and did it one more time! Then I kicked him again and dropped my guitar and dove off the stage and ran after him. When I finally caught up with him the bouncers barricaded around him so that I wouldn't tear his head off. And he said, "But Steve Austin, I love you. I love your music." And I said, "Why did you do that?" And he said, "Because you love to feel pain." I said, "I don't really love to feel pain in that way, and I want to kill you!" Then they ended up taking him away and that sucked because I wished I could have killed him.
What should everyone shut up about?
I don't know man. I think, like, my number one thing that people need to shut up about and actually do something is just that, in our country we have a lot of bickering political bullshit going back and forth between Democrats, Republicans, pro-Obama, hate Obama. All this shit all the time, it's just shit spilling all over the place. All the fuckin' time. But nobody does anything about it. Nobody is proactive. Nobody is an activist in either direction. Americans just continue to keep consuming and consuming above and beyond their means. All that is adds up to is just a bunch of noise and a bunch of shit that I don't want to hear. That's half of why I don't have cable TV. I've got Netflix and no TV as far as news or anything like that. And part of me is kind of glad, because when I did have it all I heard was some fucker trying to say why this is that way and why this is that way. I just blows my mind. Revolution is a hard thing to get organized in our Big Brother state where every cell phone and email and everything you do is somehow monitored. It's no wonder that there really isn't some form of revolution in America, because I think that everybody is pretty much just scared to speak openly or act out openly about what they really feel.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
Probably the trait that I like most about myself is that I'm a handsome man. No, I'm just kidding! It's that I feel I'm a very loving, loyal, caring father and husband, who's dedicated beyond personal self. Like that I'm here for my family and I give all that I can to them in every way that I can. I feel like it shows because my two little boys are happy and they smile and laugh, and they have good times. And my wife is happy with her life, and things are going well and shit's cool.
On the downside, I think the anxiousness that I have for perfection is probably a downfall. Because I sometimes don't want go for the car ride, I just want to arrive at where I'm going. And life isn't like that. Life is all about the journey. You've got to enjoy the journey, even if the journey sucks a big dick from beginning to end. For me that anxiousness of always wanting to get to the final destination is something that I try to work on all the time, because it causes a lot of frustration and confusion for me. It's like a weakness that I need to overcome. And it's hard because I'm an intense dude. My mind thinks at about a million miles a second and the rest of the world might not do that. I have to work on trying to understand that, the road you're on, even if it's long, every single inch and every single step that you take can be a beautiful thing if you'll just recognize it.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
A perfect Sunday for me is getting up in the morning, being with my woman, and then going with my kids and my wife and getting out and about with the top off in my Suzuki Samurai, driving down to the lake, jumping in the lake and going swimming, going fishing, getting in the four-wheel jeep, taking off on a trail, driving all over the place up in the hills and up in the mountains. And coming back later on and picking out a film that's pretty awesome or mind-blowing and sitting down and taking it easy. And all four of us sitting close and watching and laughing and being together.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
I think along the way I had people give me advice that like, even if you're right about something, there are certain people that if you fuck them off they can ruin your world by having influential power about the type of things that they can do. And because I don't back down to people, especially when it's about something that I deeply believe in or care about or feel that somebody else is extremely wrong, I didn't listen to that advice and I ended up getting supremely fucked out of not doing that or listening to that advice.
Now granted, to every negative that you do there's always a positive about something that comes out of it. And the positive was that I kind of woke up from being part of the game, part of the record industry game and falling into the trappings of what I think a lot of young artists do, where their gratitude and appreciation for the record label is way more than what is necessary in not protecting oneself about being manipulated or taking advantage of is easily done to someone like that, because you're so thankful and so excited that someone likes your music that you miss all the details of things that might really affect you, and that you're being taken advantage of.
When I did not listen and did not take that advice I kind of woke up and realized that the only person that gives a fuck, who has control over what happens, should be me. That goes for your wife and your kids and your family and anybody else. Because at the end of the day, you're you and if you broke down in the middle of the fuckin desert, the only person that's going to save your ass is you. You break down in the desert in life many, many times, and if you put all your faith and belief in thinking that somebody is picking you up or trying to help you, you might just find yourself in the middle of the desert, fucked and not knowing what to do.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
If somebody fuckin outright lies to me and absolutely fucks me over than that is enough for it to happen. Because you choose to be in a band with people or people in your life because you like them and you trust them and you care about them. When someone betrays your trust greatly, it's kind of one of those things, almost like a girlfriend cheating, you will be able to live and go forward, but it's like a glass that gets broken: when it gets broken you can glue it all back together and make it look like a glass, but it's not the original glass that it was. That's probably my fine line with something like that.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
When I think of Canada I think of several things. For one, I think of Montreal and the fact that it's a pretty damn cool city, it's a pretty European city. I of course think of Geddy Lee and Rush, because I love the band Rush a whole lot. Then I also think of other suck bands, like Triumph, that tried to be like Rush. And then I of course think of Bob and Doug, the beer drinking fools that had the movie a long time ago. Then I also think that Canada, in a lot of ways, doesn't get the credibility that it deserves, because it's north of the United States and connected to the United States, it seems like a pretty hearty, friendly lot of people. A lot of the values that the general society seems to be into are a lot more open-minded than a lot of other places around the world. But for some reason, Canada is like the step-sister of the United States, where it's not that it doesn't count, it's just not really appreciated by the rest of the world in a way that it probably should be.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
The first album I ever bought that was a rock album was AC/DC Back in Black. My neighbour that lived down the street whipped out that album and played it one day, I was probably around 12 years old and I had never heard hard rock music in my life, and totally, absolutely, 100 percent blew my mind the minute it started playing! And then the kid whipped out a guitar and started playing along to it. It made me think right then: oh my god, if you can do this shit, I can probably do this shit too. Then I ended up getting an electric guitar.
Back then they had these Columbia House records and tapes things where you could get like 13 albums for a penny. So I got about ten of those and I ordered every single AC/DC album, every single Black Sabbath album, every single Led Zeppelin, every single Judas Priest album, every single Deep Purple album, every single Dio album. Everything that I could think of that I had missed out on. I started with AC/DC and learned how to play every song on Back in Black. It really all comes back to AC/DC Back in Black.
What was your most memorable day job?
Probably when I think of different jobs that I've done during the day, I think of when I decided I wanted to play music, I worked in a Greek restaurant in Detroit to save money and get money together to buy gear and equipment. I worked with a bunch of insane Armenian people and Greek people. I remember the cook one day said something like, "Go fuck your mother" to me. And I said, "That's cool. Go fuck your sister." And he ended up trying to jump over the top of the counter with a big butcher knife and threatened to kill me with it. He told me after I got out of work he was going to kill me. That was pretty memorable.
How do you spoil yourself?
To tell you the truth I spoil myself by building and working on my four-wheel drive vehicle. Anytime that I'm able to upgrade or put different parts on it that make it beefier or more insane or perform better, that's pretty much the way I do it.
If I wasn't playing music I would be...
I don't know. I'd like to be a hit man and get paid millions of dollars to kill people, because I'd be really good at that. I could basically snipe anybody from at least 500 yards away to 1000 yards away. I'd probably be really great as a hit man.
What do you fear most?
It's not that I fear it, but it's what I don't want to happen the most is, I don't want to die because I want to be around my two sons, Willie and Hank, and see them grow up and see them do all the things that I know that they can do. It's not fearing dying because I think it's going to hurt or something like that, it's more like a fear of loss of relationships with my family.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
Just looking at my wife. I think my wife is super hot! There's always been something about her that's absolutely super hot. And the times that we've had, adding super heavy music and a little drinking and a little smoking, and just being together and being around each other, that's pretty much it right there.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
One was Mark from American Movie, it's a film from a few years ago. It's a really really cool movie about this guy trying to make films. He came to see us at the Milwaukee Metalfest, and I thought that was pretty bizarre and insane. Then, probably running into Bobby from Pentagram on this last tour. There's something so weird and so strange about being around him, because that dude is one of the most cryptic, walking skeletons that I've ever met in my entire life. When I met him it just really freaked me out.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
If I could have a few of them over at one time, I'd like to have Adolph Hitler and Jesus and Satan all at the same table for two or three hours. I could kick around ideas on all the shit I haven't thought up yet.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
I think my mom would have probably wished that I had become a doctor or something like that. Or some kind of computer science freak or something like that. She always wanted me to do something like that. But at the same time, I was never opposed at all — if anything I was encouraged to go ahead and play music and become a recording engineer.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
Without a doubt King Crimson's "Starless and Bible Black," because that song is melodically sombre and depressing, and yet at the same time, there's a certain beauty in the sorrow of the song that it just somehow reaches right inside and kind of makes you connect with the darkness really well. I think that's a good one that can be played when I die.