April 7, 2015 Interview – Chuck Billy of Testament
One cannot describe the impact of the Bay Area Thrash scene without mentioning the mighty Testament. The band has long been a staple of the genre’s movement for over three decades, and now, the legendary band takes to the road for one of the most anticipated tours of the Spring Season; The Dark Roots of Thrash II Tour. Joining Testament on the road are fellow Bay Area veterans Exodus, and the newly rising Texas based band, Shattered Sun. Vocalist Chuck Billy has been an advocate for the Thrash genre for more than thirty years and has managed to keep the band together despite the various mood swings of the Metal music fan masses. Die hard thrashers continue to clamor for more new Testament music, so the band is not only securing their place in Metal touring history by offering up the songs from their first three renowned albums; 1987’s The Legacy, 1988’s The New Order, and 1989’s Practice What You Preach, they will also have the opportunity to work together and brainstorm for their next musical offering. With new music in the works, the band hopes to whip the fan base into a frenzy with a trip down nostalgia lane until time for their latest release to hit the market. Along for the ride with Billy are guitarists Eric Peterson alongside Alex Skolnick, bassist Steve DiGiorgio, and drummer Gene Hoglan. Recently we had the chance to sit down with Billy for a look at the years gone by, their latest tour, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Testament has been one of the leaders in Thrash Metal for over three decades now. Looking back on the early years of the band, briefly tell us what it was like for yourself and Testament?
Chuck Billy – Now that we look at it and say it out loud, we think time flew by very quickly. Where did thirty years go? However, this is a good thing for a band like us because of where Metal went in the late ’80s, ’90s, and throughout all the changes; we survived it. We are still doing records we are proud of so it is quite an accomplishment for bands to stay together this long and still be putting out material in this genre. There are so many bands like us that are still out there as well and that still have careers.
CrypticRock.com – It is amazing that there are so many bands that have stood the test of time and are still touring. Touring packages seem to be the trend and Testament has put together one of the biggest tours of the season. The band is set to hit the road with Exodus in 2015. How excited are you for this upcoming tour?
Chuck Billy – We are so excited because we have been talking about this a lot and hoping for a tour like this for a long time. We have a lot of history with Zetro (Exodus vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza) because he was originally in the band. We also did some collaboration on their new music. I did the background vocals on the new Exodus record, so who knows, the audience may be in for some surprises. I may get a chance to pop out and sing on some of their set and, in return, Zetro may pop out during our set, so you never know!
For us, I think that going back and revisiting the older songs will be great because we have not done some of those songs in such a long time. You get to relearn, refresh, and replay them; it takes you back in time and brings back great memories. It is fun and enjoyable. It also may be the last time we do this because every time we start talking about doing a “special record” show we start making it bigger and bigger because of all the other records that we have out there. There are so many new fans that have found the band and that really have discovered us. Then we also have the fans that have been coming to the shows for years and they bring their kids to check out what they were into. I think we will get a lot of those die-hards that come out and bring the family out to see the show and introduce them to this music because, for them, it is their idea of classic. We began the tour on April 1st and I think it is going to be an awesome tour.
CrypticRock.com – Word has it there have been sold out pre-sales and that the VIP option has been popular because so many people are exited to see this line-up of the band. Through the years you and Eric Peterson have been the band’s longest standing members. What do you think has been the key to the band sustaining all the line-up changes?
Chuck Billy – I think that it has to be the music that has kept us together. Eric is the leader in the writing department. Most of the songs are written by him, and I think that we have worked together so long that we know where we are going to go with writing together. That is also what has kept a lot of fans tuned in, in my opinion.
The familiarity of our working together has been obvious in the writing and delivery of the music. We have a certain style and have grown as songwriters over the years. We are staying on track with what we started with years ago. Steve DiGiorgio is joining us on bass again and it really is a good time for him to come back. He will be on the tour and this all meshes well together.
CrypticRock.com – This particular line-up seems to be the most solidly backed line-up, and fans are ecstatic about the return of Steve on bass, but Alex Skolnick returned to the fold after a lengthy absence. His being back in the band and playing these particular songs is a popular notion. Did his return interject excitement into Testament?
Chuck Billy – Totally! Anyone likes to see a band’s original lineup get back together. There is just something about it. Alex brings his playing style back to the band, and while there have been other guitarists who have replaced him over the years in other versions of the band, it did not always feel the same. When he first came back for the 2005 reunion and we held some of the first rehearsals, it immediately took me back to when we were jamming before. I was like, “That is it! Right there!” It was instantly like we had not been apart for a number of years.
It felt so natural and it is special to have him back and it brings that sound back to Testament; especially on this tour because we are doing The Legacy and The New Order. Those are the songs that started it all and solidified us as a band in this genre.
CrypticRock.com – Testament has always been so fluid. It seems as if this process is effortless for you now. The band certainly has kept busy through the years releasing ten studio records and touring regularly. Historically, Testament likes to take their time writing a record. With that said, how is the process going for the new material?
Chuck Billy – We are actually working on the new record so Eric and I have been doing a lot of the work ourselves. This tour will actually be the first tour where we are all together in one place for an extended period of time. This will be a chance to not only talk about the music and mess around with new ideas, I have been thinking that being on the road and playing all the songs from our beginning may allow us to channel those songs toward something new, be inspired, and get ourselves into the right mentality to work together as a unit.
We are more than halfway done with the new songs, but we keep tweaking it. I think that when we all get together and play it, it will start molding into something workable, maybe even change a bit. Eric really does not write a lot of extra songs; he focuses on exactly what we need to work on for the record and they have to mesh together. We get started and get the work done. I think that is the beauty of our records. They are recognizable as Testament but they do not all sound the same. There is no rehashed material and it is good to keep it fresh with every new record.
CrypticRock.com – This is true, each of your albums has a different sound and offers something new to the listener. One of the standout elements of Testament from album to album has been consistency. For example, The Gathering back in 1999 was really an eye-opening release in the genre. How does that particular record hold up to your own personal standards sixteen years later?
Chuck Billy – It can be a challenge for me because I may not hear the songs the same way that Eric does, but once I record and perform the songs, the more it grows on me. We have all gotten to that place where we are comfortable working with each other. Steve did The Gathering with us and if we had not done the reunion shows he may not have left the band. His involvement with that record made it natural for us to choose him to return for this tour and recording process.
CrypticRock.com – That is excellent news. Our last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com provides full coverage of music and Horror films. We are interested, if you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Chuck Billy – I think that sometimes Horror ties into the music. Look what it did for Black Sabbath. When I was younger I liked the creature features on weekend nights. I loved Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and it always freaked me out getting into the water. You just do not want to go near lakes or anything! It was always one of my favorites. I also loved The Thing (1982), it was always pretty epic. New Horror is different and I do not like it as much. The classics are where it is at.