Steve Austin started Today Is The Day in Nashville, Tennessee in 1992. Over the course of nearly three decades and 10 full-length albums, Austin has established himself as an underground hero. Not only did he sing on and co-produce Lamb of God’s debut album, Burn the Priest, he has also performed with Brutal Truth, Napalm Death, and Sick Of It All. Oh yeah, Bill Kelliher and Brann Dailor served as the rhythm section for Today Is the Day’s 1999 LP In the Eyes of God, prior to starting a little band called Mastodon. Along the way, Today Is The Day has also toured with such titans as Motorhead, Morbid Angel, Neurosis, and the Melvins, to name just a few.
Today Is The Day has been called post-hardcore, avant garde metal, and experimental noise-rock. Those genres are fine reference points, but listening to the upcoming release, No Good To Anyone, it soon becomes clear that this album challenges all the categories we have come to find comfortable. Amidst the extreme moments, Austin brings things down a notch and explores softer territory, without sacrificing heaviness. Indeed, No Good To Anyone is a winding road through emotional and physical anguish.
Throughout 2014 and 2015, Austin dealt with an inhuman share of challenges. A brutal car crash, the death of his beloved dog, and a bout of Lyme disease challenged the basic quality of life we all take for granted on a daily basis. But, Austin has come out on the other side with an album that ranks among his finest work. Over the course of the albums 14 songs, Austin’s vulnerability transforms into strength and reveals a relentless desire to push life to its limits.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Austin to chat about the new album. Below, he breaks down each track, providing insights on his inspiration and the process of putting it all together. No Good To Anyone is out on February 29th. You can pre-order the LP here.
“No Good To Anyone”
Well, I guess a couple things about that one. This goes for all of them that are coming up, it’s like a stream of consciousness. And when I put that one musically all together and then went about setting about writing the vocals and all that…I didn’t really know what it meant, like meaning I was kind of streaming consciousness jotting things down almost diary-like, whether it’s about reality or fantasy or whatever it was. And the idea was to put the feeling and emotion of what that was, at that moment, in each one of those parts.
It is like if it was a movie, it’s the intro of the movie which drops you right down into the burning molten lava and you are the character in the song talking to himself about the situation that’s going on at the moment. To me, when I think of that song, I think of milk jugs that are empty, full of piss, sitting by the door to be thrown out. I can’t go up the stairs and I’m crawling on all fours when it’s the number two time and just being in a place where no thought really exist of anything else other than trying to somehow figure out how to stop pain from happening.
There’s a point to where the person that’s talking there at the front end can’t take it anymore. And now it turns into an epic violent outburst. And then the words of everything they’re saying just get to a point where the fucking pain is driving you so insane that you just fucking hate everyone, including yourself.
“Attacked by an Angel”
This is like a Quentin Tarantino or a David Lynch movie where now we’re gonna go back in time and we’re gonna pick up from an earlier day. But, it’s another daydream while it’s going on. And that daydream was again another vibe of laying on my back and being pretty immobile, with it being like a blue sky outside and a beautiful day and me alone, because my wife’s working and my kids are in school. And so I’m dealing with battling with this by myself at home. And it just felt like I was sitting by like a spectator watching to let the rest of life go by.
And then the end of that, when it goes into the mechanistic disruption and whatnot of mental disruption, during that part with the cowboy singing over the top of it, that’s me after I’m dead and singing after my ashes are spread over the top of Hutchins Mountain in Penobscot, which is a big mountain area where we go deer hunting, but again, this is stuff that you’re just daydreaming and thinking while there’s no nothing else you can do.
“Son of Man”
I felt like my body was worn out. I was used up, but yet I’m still…the car’s still running with gas, even though it’s probably going to run out in a minute. It’s like the beginning part of it, “Let me tell you a story about a thing or two, a real good story about me and you.” It’s about people that also suck the life out of you and take from you without thought…meaning just almost like a consumption of some kind that people have no problem with doing. And I guess it addresses people who feel like they’re entitled to take what is yours.
And then it shifts off at the end into this nightmarish, almost like it reminds me of you’re in a cemetery, an arm comes up through the ground reaching out and then there’s voices that are kind of like Medusa talking you into death, like a ghost’s presence coming and stealing your life and whatnot. And that part of that song I was really, really proud of because as an art project I thought that was some pretty wild shit as far as like shit that I’d never heard before.
“Burn in Hell”
It’s funny because “Burn in Hell” is an exercise in contrast. When I started playing that, it certainly reminded me of like “If 6 Was 9” by Jimi Hendrix with the white collar conservative flashing down the street on it. Well this isn’t exactly like that, but maybe I’ll fuck around with my trip like that and see what happens and so I started doing that and then it came to a stop and right then the contrast, because then it goes from that part to a futuristic grind or whatever.
The beginning is supposed to be telling a tale of the life of a person who plays in a band in general, not just me. It’s supposed to be broad…meaning about just the life of the rockers. All the people that I’ve ever known, from Lemmy (Kilmister of Motorhead) to whoever it is. And so it’s like all I’ve seen as far as the lifestyle goes is that rock and roll is set up and designed to turn you into an alcoholic or drug addict and a broken home within whatever amount of time that it takes.
Every single place that you go to, there’s free alcohol and every single place that you go to there’s free drugs. And a lot of people go out on the road and they lose their fucking mind. They’re way too drunk, way too high, their lives fall apart. And before you know it, this beautiful thing called music turns in to the thing that can destroy their life if they don’t have control over it.
“You’re All Gonna Die”
“You’re All Gonna Die” ties in with our earlier “Son of Man” theme about people who want to take things from you and don’t either deserve them or haven’t earned them or whatever it is. And I feel like, “You’re All Gonna Die,” kind of is like a reflection on people in life again that kind of expects you to just give away everything that you’ve worked for or everything that you care about to them with really no reason. So, that song kind of goes out to people who are lecherous and they basically will drive a person to go postal and explode.
I heard Willy, my son who is about to be 16 in a few days, upstairs playing his piano and for some reason all of a sudden in the silence it seemed like his piano was almost going through our sound system in the house, where I could really hear it, but it was very, very quiet.
And again, visually with the music, when I heard that I could see his image in my mind when I was laying here on the couch feeling like I was gonna die. And so this angel is upstairs playing and it’s just about broke my heart when I heard it because it reminded me in the midst of me wanting to die and hating everything and just so sickened by everything going on. When I heard him doing that, it was like a reminder for a minute of there is good in this world and you’re hearing it right now. I ended up asking him to play it and let me record it.
“Cocobolo” is kind of talking about dogged out boredom and the monotony of life and being bored the fuck out of your mind. And that song reminded me of me feeling like that and then the chorus when it’s saying, “I’m so excited, I’ve lost all control,” it’s like that part right there is being sarcastic as in…almost like if somebody was asking you, “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you happy?” I say, “I’m so excited. I’ve I’ve lost all control.”
“Agate” is almost like in the movie with that dark song going on before it is you find yourself waking up in a hospital and hooked up to a machine. And in that there’s a beat that sounds like a heart monitor beep and it’s repeating at about the same cadence that a heart rate would.
But, then there’s this other shit that’s going on, like these drums and stuff that represents the mechanical machine just clocking right down the road and basically you’re inside that heart rate. That heartbeat is like you’re inside that. And it just keeps going on and on and on. And you as a functioning machine, you keep going forward. And then at some point that machine stops and you hear that heart monitor beat like two more times and then it doesn’t beep again. It was another fascination with the fact that I’m probably going to die.
And this is where the album starts sinking into more depression. “Callie” was a rough song because it’s like, all right, I’ll be honest, I was so fucking insanely out of my mind when all of that pain shit and stuff was going on. I don’t even know when, how, what way I even played that shit on guitar, as far as making it up…like the chordal stuff in the middle of it. And I think I remember doing the intro and the outro, but the part where I’m singing, I don’t even know and it’s like I ended up writing that music and putting that together and I don’t know why I felt like it, but I was just like, “Damn it, this is really important to me for some reason. I like the direction of where this is going. And it seems really simple in a lot of ways.”
It’s like this is a very simple musical structure. And then I feel it and listen to it and then I started thinking about what she meant to me and what it really meant to me was tripping on the loss of my dog named Callie. Because while I was sick all those days she would lay right next to where I was laying down and she, as any good, loyal dog would, never left my side. And she gave me a buddy to hang out with, besides just the fact that I just loved that dog.
And then one day she got sick and died and it was right in the middle while I was sick. And then the vet turned around and looked at me and said, “Are you okay? Have you ever been checked for Lyme disease?” And at this point, I’d went to the doctor 30 times trying to find out what was wrong with me. And they were experimenting on me. I felt like a human guinea pig and nothing was the answer. All of it equal, we don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you. And then I walked in and this veterinarian looked at me after the dog dropped dead the next day and he said that and I went to the doctor.
And so I wouldn’t have known that if it wasn’t for Callie dying. And almost giving her life with that information be known to me, because I didn’t know, I had no idea. And it’s like I felt like I owed that dog more than anything in the world, because she probably saved my life about me finding out about that.
I drove myself crazy about that one in a way that wasn’t even necessary, really. I sing it the first time and then because of the self-doubt of my illness, I decided that I wasn’t at a physically good enough of a state to do it at that time, so I surely could do better if I did it again. I ended up probably re-recording the vocals like seven or eight times on different occasions. I finally said, “fuck it.” It’s like the first one I did was when I was probably the most disturbed about this shit, so I’ll just keep that one.
“OJ Kush” is a fun song. I was fucking around and suddenly started playing something that reminded me of the band Blue Cheer and I always liked them because it sounded like that their shit was gonna blow up and stop working any minute because they had this shit turned up way too loud and so fuzzy and distorted and terrible crazy sounding. And I just liked it a whole lot. And then my guitar and where I was sitting listening to it, it was all gnarly sounding, playing some shit like that. And so I just went with it and kept messing around and it drops out of that beginning attacking part into a slower bluesier kind of part.
And it’s like that one’s kind of almost like a governmental sector contemplating the way that you’re being watched and how you have no privacy and it kind of all started with 9/11. All of our freedoms going up in flames, because the minute that happened, it enabled many people who wanted to be able to look into every single person in this country and build a database to start doing things like that. And the bottom line is nobody should even be fucking around in that shit unless you are a definite hard suspect of something with a warrant for you to be looked at. So that song “OJ Kush” is just talking about the craziness of the NSA and all that stuff.
“Mercy” is like this…the idea, again, is another demonstration in the tension of the monotony of the daily process and the daily grind and then taking a look at all the people that conform to everything and just how that premise of conforming always leads to self destruction.
“Born in Blood”
I like “Born in Blood” a whole lot. It reminds me of that movie, The Witch that came out in the last couple years, because in that movie there’s some pretty tricked out graphic imagery that looks pretty real. It’s kind of a song about betrayal. It’s talking about where people are manipulative and try to lead you in things, but then there’s another side of that. If you take the wrong person about doing stuff like that, then bad things might come back for you. Meaning you can try to take advantage of me, but I could kill you and then it goes on, it’s like I could cut off all your hair. So, this is kind of going back and forth between the contrast of when somebody keeps continually trying your fine line of what’s acceptable and then finally it’s like there’s got to be an understanding that’s going on here that, “I’m aware of what you’re doing to me, but just know that I’m more evil than you and you might have bad things happen to you.”
I like “Mexico.” It’s like a road song. When I would be stuck here in the house and thinking about dreams of traveling and my life when I would be doing things on the road or whatever. It’s like there’s a certain appeal to the loneliness in some ways, when you’re gone and you’re out there and you’re looking out the window and it’s dark at night and you don’t have anyone with you that’s family or friends or whatever, that’s like, say, some lifelong friend or something. You’re with your buddies that play in your band and stuff like that. You’re all good buds and stuff, but for all intents and purposes, each man is out there in the world on his own and I’ll be looking out the window and just seeing the scene in the cities and the towns and the countryside go by.
“Rockets & Dreams”
If there was a condensed version of the album you could put, “No Good To Anyone,” followed by “Rockets and Dreams” and then that’s the abridged version. And the reason why is because the beginning, which is the intro, starts this by dropping you right into the problem of what’s going on and what’s being experienced, then song number two to song number 13 are nightmares, daydreams, wild thoughts and things going on that are in random sequence. And then when it gets to that last song it’s almost like if there was a choir of angels singing to you or a choir of spirits singing to you, almost as if you were all holding hands and walking to the light with them.
But, once all that shit occurred and then the post of it, I really came out of all that feeling completely reborn in a way, because it really didn’t put some kind of a stereotypical thing on life about like, “Oh yeah, I’ve got to be thankful every day because life is precious and blah, blah, blah.” It’s more like you got to be thankful about the quality of the life that you live, the life that you lead every single day. It’s not just being alive, it’s what you do with it. And so by the end of that, on the very ends, it’s like we got the mood riding it out and then that pulse of that just keeps going and then it feeds into a sonic peace that my buddy John Morris contributed with me. He made up a sonic noise piece and then I went and layered a bunch of different things inside of it.
No Good To Anyone is out on February 29th. You can pre-order the LP here.