Over nearly three decades and 11 albums, extreme-metal experimentalists Today Is the Day have made some of the gnarliest, darkest, most twisted heavy music to ever shake the underground. But even by main man Steve Austin's own standards, the band's new full-length, No Good to Anyone, is particularly terrifying. There's no mystery as to why: Austin has been through hell and back over the last few years, and he channeled his real-life pain into the LP's 14 raw, cathartic tracks. His streak of misfortune began with a horrific bus crash in late 2014 and continued through a miserable struggle with Lyme's disease, which Austin contracted at the same time as his beloved dog, Callie, who sadly had to be euthanized. (The ninth song on the album bears her name.)
We caught up with Austin in the midst of Today Is the Day's ongoing tour supporting No Good to Anyone to discuss the album and his recent trials and tribulations. We also talked about his relationship to his art, his feelings about playing such intense music live, and his history with both Lamb of God (he produced the band's debut album, New American Gospel, and co-produced the first LP they released under the name Burn the Priest) and Mastodon (the Atlanta band's Bill Kelliher and Brann Dailor played on TITD's 1999 full-length, In the Eyes of God). Forged in his recent hardships, Austin feels much stronger now, even indomitable. "Nothing can stop me," he told us. "Not even death."
THE NEW TODAY IS THE DAY ALBUM IS ONE OF YOUR HEAVIEST AND MOST DISTURBING YET, WHICH IS SAYING A LOT. DO YOU THINK THAT'S A DIRECT RESULT OF SOME OF THE TOUGH TIMES YOU'VE DEALT WITH OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS, OR IS IT MORE OF A CONTINUATION OF YOUR OVERALL VISION?
STEVE AUSTIN Thank you! Every album I make, is me trying to do something brand new. Something that's never done before. To create a new kind of music. I'll be honest. It's a natural thing. No Good to Anyone is a life diary. Most of it is pure reality, some fantasy. Using your imagination to create different worlds, different environments. So that the listener can virtual reality, experience the record on a deeper, spiritual level. Every album is seeking to find self-understanding and trying to make sense of this fucked-up world that we live in. You're born and there is no instruction manual. The last few years — during the making of No Good to Anyone — had been horrific, cruel and insane.
I wanted to die so bad, but I just couldn't be that weak to leave my family behind. Tons of self hate. Life-long self hate had now turned into vengeance. There's a point where you know that it can be the end any day. Looking in the mirror and coming to terms with yourself can be a heavy ordeal. It was terrible and insane and I am so thankful I made it through it. I jotted it all down and called it No Good to Anyone.
SPEAKING OF THOSE TOUGH TIMES, TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT THE VAN ACCIDENT IN 2014. DO YOU STILL DEAL WITH THE EFFECTS OF THAT?
Out of nowhere, off to start a tour. One scream of "Oh shit!" from my friend, and suddenly we are tumbling at 65 miles per hour, turned around backwards and sliding on the highway 120 yards. It was the scariest moment of my life. During the sliding, fire and sparks was blasting in through our windows from the scraping. Hot transmission fluid was pouring down onto us as we laid on the ceiling of van, upside down and sliding. When it came to a stop, I screamed, "We need to get the fuck out of here — now." The roof was smashed down and there was a small hole through the driver and passenger doors that I crawled out onto the highway. I waited for impact as I thought I would now get struck by an oncoming car. I was transported to a hospital and, from there, my life was about to change in a really bad way for a really long time.
WAS HARD TO GET BACK IN A VAN AND RETURN TO THE ROAD AFTERWARDS?
Yes. If you have ever been in a high speed rollover, that feeling — a loss of space and time — will stay with you for a while. I just have to not look out the windows, if I am not driving. It's too fucking scary. I've gotten back to normal, since doing tours and shows after that. But, yeah. Getting in a Sprinter or Van and being on the highway in fast-paced traffic can really terrify you sometimes.
THEN YOU CONTRACTED LYME. HOW SERIOUS DID THAT GET? AND DID YOU EVER THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE TO GIVE UP THE BAND, OR AT LEAST TOURING?
Yep, because just when everything is going about as fucking bad as it can get, there's always one more thing to remind you that you are human. With my right hip socket fully shattered and left hip dislocated. I was fucked over by the medical community for three to four years. The doctors misdiagnosed the degradation of my walking. Thinking it was knee-related. The whole time I was out on tour with bands like Nailbomb, killing motherfuckers every day onstage, but feeling like I wanted to die all of the rest of the day. Each step I made was like a knife through your heart and head.
Lyme just made it so much worse. Already having the shattered hip triggering my immune system, Lyme is auto-immune disease in which your body attacks itself. Any slight injury, or serious one like my hips, causes the immune system to go into red alert. Your body literally attempts to heal you, all the while it is really destroying you.
Yes, when I was at my worst point, confronting the possibility of no more Today Is the Day was very real. There was something inside that kept telling me to not give up. I think it was the love I have for my wife and sons that enabled me to believe and not give in.
Being honest, I don't think anyone else could have done what I did. Touring for three records — Animal [Mother and] Temple [of the Morning Star and In the] Eyes [of God], reissues — over that time, being in the 24/7 chronic pain situation.
It was fucking insane and a weird form of torture. But one that I asked for and endured because I love Today Is the Day so much. I love my fans/friends so much. You will have to fucking kill me to make me stop doing this. I made a commitment to this music. I have never ever quit. I have never ever walked away — in 30 years. No matter how broke, hurt, shit on, blackballed, whatever. In life you gotta take a stand. Today Is the Day is my church, and me and my followers will not be denied the music and the experience. I simply don't give a fuck about myself. I am part of something with many people all around the world and I am here to give and serve to them my life experiences and visions.
I'VE HEARD THAT YOU ALSO LOST YOUR DOG AROUND THE SAME TIME. TELL US ABOUT YOUR DOG AND WHAT THAT WAS LIKE.
Callie stayed with me every day all day throughout the dark times. I spent a lot of time in isolation. Kids at school, wife at work. Alone drooling all over the couch with tears involuntarily bursting from my eyes. Holding on for dear life. Callie loved me and she sadly gave her life to let me know what was wrong with me. One day during all of this, Callie got extremely ill and we rushed to the vet. He said she had a bad case of Lyme and that we needed to put here down right then and there. He looked at me and asked if I had been checked for Lyme. I said, "No, I've just been being treated like a human guinea pig by the doctors who can't seem to find the source of the problem." Before she died, I thought I had ALS. I truly believe that some weird supernatural shit was going on with this. That dog saved my life.
WAS MAKING THIS ALBUM AND FACING THESE EMOTIONS AND EXPERIENCES A CATHARTIC EXPERIENCE OR A PAINFUL ONE OR BOTH?
I wanted to delete this record after a while. It was perfect yet terrible to me. Perfect because my vision seemed to be all captured in the details. Terrible because looking at yourself in the mirror can be a hard reality. Seeing yourself so fucked and just wishing you could wake up and everything will be OK.
CONSIDERING HOW RAW TODAY IS THE DAY'S SONGS ARE, BOTH ON THIS ALBUM AND IN GENERAL, WHAT IS IT LIKE PLAYING THEM LIVE? DO YOU EVER DREAD PLAYING THEM, OR IS IT ALWAYS A WELCOME RELEASE?
I love playing any of the Today Is the Day songs. It turns the music fully into an experience. An experience that extremely powerful to my soul and being. It is the one thing that I do that makes me feel whole.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST SONG ON THE NEW ALBUM TO WRITE AND WHY?
"Callie." She gave her life for me and she was my best friend.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE SONG ON THE NEW ALBUM TO WRITE AND WHY?
"No Good to Anyone." It sums up the whole situation. Feeling worthless, hopeless and that you are a burden to everyone around. The cruel looks and sensations of people who you thought were your friends or brothers. They treat you like shit because now you're not the perfect human that they want you to be. Treating you like shit for throwing up from Lyme medicine. Treating you like shit because your little band makes little money. Treating you like shit because they can't come home and lay around like a bloated rock star with no job. That is fucking disgusting and is the lower form of character I can think of. I would truly die for my family or friends. No Good to Anyone taught me a lot about not trusting people. What I experienced added self-hate and I finally woke up and realized. Friendship, love and respect is earned, through time. It should not and cannot be freely given. Fuck everyone. I love my wife and kids. My best friends, I've known and loved them for 20, 30 years. After what I went through, I will never trust anyone outside my family, fully, ever again. You got you and your own drive and willpower and that is the only shit you can count on. No one can save you, but you. As long as you have something attractive that someone wants, they will say or do anything to get to be a part of it. But when real life comes down, they're also the first to make it clear that if you're not able to be the way they want you to be, then you are suddenly back to stranger level. It's sad, but it's true.
YOUR HISTORY IS INTERTWINED WITH TWO OF THE BIGGEST HEAVY BANDS OF THE DAY: LAMB OF GOD AND MASTODON. DO YOU EVER WISH YOU HAD COMMERCIAL SUCCESS LIKE THEIRS, OR ARE YOU AT PEACE WITH YOUR PLACE IN THE UNDERGROUND?
I don't see the word "commercial" as any kind of success. My wife of 22 years and my sons, 16 and 18, make me as rich and fortunate as anyone. You pay a price for said "commercial" success. I would rather die cool and innovative than to have some extra material possessions and be thought of as "sold out." I'm very happy in my life. I play music that I stand behind. I don't care if you or music business people like it. It's simple as that. I refuse to alter or change my shit just to make money. Eleven albums later, all of them uniquely different. Eleven albums that made an impact that is lasting. Getting to the top by truly being yourself is where it's at. Spawning shit loads of undergrounds bands and trends for 30 years. You tell me, who's more successful? Money equals shit. Respect equals everything. Bloated rock stars are boring.