March 26, 2015 Interview – Steve “Zetro” Souza of Exodus
When one thinks of American Thrash Metal, chances are one of the first to come to mind are Northern California’s Exodus. Initially formed back in 1980, Exodus are one of the pioneers of Thrash Metal, and perhaps one of their most recognized vocalist over the course of the years has been Steve “Zetro” Souza. Taking over vocals for the late Paul Baloff in 1986, Souza spent seven years with Exodus and was a key component in the legendary 1989 album Fabulous Disaster. Returning to the fold back in 2002, Souza again was on the right side of the band’s history, being part of their 2004 comeback album Tempo of the Damned. A decade following his second departure, Souza returned home in 2014, regaining the band’s glory on their latest release Blood In, Blood Out. Pleasing fans to see the vocalist back in the fold, Exodus now look to dominate yet another decade of Metal in a fashion they only can. Recently we had the chance to speak with this extremely busy Thrash Metal icon about reuniting with Exodus after ten years, what he has been doing with himself in the meantime, their new album, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Exodus has quite an amazing career in Metal that has spanned over thirty-five years. Many would consider the band one of the quintessential Thrash Metal bands of all-time. What were those early years like for the band?
Steve “Zetro” Souza – In the early years, I do not think we really knew what we were doing. We loved the sound of the heavier and the Hard Rock bands, anything from UFO, Ted Nugent, to Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest, but some of us also liked Punk music and the ferocity and rawness that it brought . In the initial time when I was doing Legacy and Exodus, everybody was starting those types of bands; Dave had started Megadeth, then there were the guys from Anthrax, Slayer, Dark Angel, and Death Angel. There were a million bands that were in that era. I think we kind of took the Punk attitude with the intricacies of the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal guitar at that point. If you listen to any of the stuff from any one of the bands in this genre, you could hear Iron Maiden through it, you can listen to parts of Judas Priest in our influence, and Richie Blackmore. I think that was the mentality at the time of Thrash Metal, and Glam Metal. We felt that we would let the music do the talking.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, there certainly were a lot of great bands coming out during those early days of Thrash that set the groundwork for the future. Like any band, Exodus has had its ups and downs. You returned to the line-up back in 2001 and recorded the Exodus comeback 2004 album Tempo of the Damned, but exited shortly after. Now a decade later you are back. Did you ever think you would find yourself back in Exodus for a third time?
Steve “Zetro” Souza – You never say never, and people around me always thought that maybe at some point… but Exodus never looked at it like that. I felt that they were doing fine the way they were, and the way I left them. What had happened at that point, I did not blame them for giving me the call and trying to bring me back, regardless of what the fans thought. Although, I was kind shocked a little bit, out of the blue I was given the call to try to audition the songs and see what I could do with them, and then it just went from there. It was a little bit of a surprise, but you never say that you cannot go home, when you are the originator, or the original one of that sound, everybody goes for that in any type of music. How great is it that Dave Lee Roth is back in Van Halen, or how great would it be if Slash and Axl got together again; it is just the magic that they created. I think Tom Hunting, myself, and Gary Holt have created that as well. I was in that band when I was twenty-two years old, I recently turned fifty-one. I have spent a great part of my life being the singer of Exodus, regardless if I was in or out, if that makes any sense.
CrypticRock.com – That makes perfect sense. It is always great to be able to go back to the foundation of where you started. In your absence from Exodus you have been involved in a variety of other projects. Do you feel the experience in those other bands has altered your approach to working with Exodus again?
Steve “Zetro” Souza – I think it has a little bit, but I think more of it was me stepping outside of the box, looking at myself, and starting there first. It made me think, “OK, what is it about you that you need to change to make all of your bands, the other ones that you do as well as the mother ship, if you were to get that chance, different for yourself.” I think that is what I did and that is why Exodus was reluctant to go in that direction again because of what we had in the past. It is no secret. You can go on the internet over the last ten years and just watch the mud slinging go back and forth. We are not naive to that. Believe me, we get it. That is the greatest thing that we talk about, is that we moved through this and we all work, function, and get along killer now, the third time around. I think all of those elements involved have a lot to do with it.
CrypticRock.com – Well that is a positive thing. Hopefully third time is the charm for yourself and Exodus. Many bands would love to see this be an extensive reunion. Since your return, in 2014 the band put out Blood In, Blood Out. Many would consider this one of Exodus best releases in years. What was the creative process like this time around?
Steve “Zetro” Souza – I did not have much time to go with the creative process. I joined the band on June 6th and the music was already done, the only song I got to really pen was “Body Harvest” because I guess that was a song that Rob Dukes had written the lyrics for, and they just wanted to have new lyrics for that. They just wanted to start fresh, so that is why I was thrown into that. They said the only one that really needs lyrics to it is “Body Harvest,” we have the name, we have the song, we have the premise of what we wanted to write about. Actually, one day when I was doing my vocal tracks, Jack Gibson, myself, and Lee Altus were in the studio, and we actually penned it in about forty-five minutes. It worked out really great. I remember seeing Gary when he was writing it in February of 2014, he told me, “You know man, I am up every night, I am writing the new Exodus, it is heavy, and it is crushing shit!” I told him, “I am sure it is,” I had no doubt in that. I feel everything he does is really good. I mean, there is great, honestly, brutal, heavy shit on those last three records, so I knew he was going to deliver again. To me, when I came in and listened to it, I said, “Wow, I get to sing on this ? How fucking awesome is that?”
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was an exciting experience. You sound spectacular on the record. According to your own personal standards, how do you think you did?
Steve “Zetro” Souza – Not to be a pompous Rock star asshole, but, I hit it out of the park. Honestly, it is the best I have ever sung. If you go listen to Fabulous Disaster (1989) or Pleasures of the Flesh (1987), you are not getting the vocal that you get now! You are not getting the range, the power, or the ferocity, not even near it. In my eyes, those are classic records, but to be honest, when I look back, I was still figuring myself out at that point. You listen to 2004’s Tempo of the Dammed, or the Hatriot record, and Tenet, it is the same thing. I think I delivered there. On the Dublin Death Patrol record, Chuck Billy and I both delivered. I do not enter a project not delivering. I am going to make it the best vocal I can make it. I am not going to go in and say, “Oh OK, I am good with that, yeah stamp it.” That is not it, I am going to go in there and make sure that it is the shit when it rolls through. Of course Gary was listening, the whole band was listening, they wanted my vocals to be the best that they could be. Coming in after ten years, they were not going to just sit and say, “Oh yeah, this is good enough,” of course not. Eyes were on me, definitely. The whole room was looking at me while I was doing this, so I knew what I was up against. It was cool though. As stated, I have been in this band since I was twenty-two years old, I know what to do, I know how to do my job.
CrypticRock.com – Ten years is a long time away from anything. Besides the pressure you put on yourself, was the work on Blood In, Blood Out a relaxed situation, or did it take some time to get comfortable with the band and the Exodus style again?
Steve “Zetro” Souza – It was not relaxed from the get go. I knew I had no fucking time to do that. The world found out I was back in Exodus on Sunday June 6th. I started recording vocals on Wednesday June 9th. I did not have time, I had to cram a record and three covers into two and half weeks to make all the dates that they had put out in the press and said that they would make as far as the album release. I went in there and I listened to it and I studied, and fucking ate it, drank it, slept it, puked it, shit it. It was awesome, and what you got was what you got. I was really happy with it. It was not like I got up off of the couch with a fucking beer and a bowl of chips and they said, “Exodus called, they want me to see if I can do this” and I could say, “Sorry guys, I just drank a couple of beers, hold on let me see if I can do it.” I just had done two Hatriot records over the past two years and I have been writing and performing with that. Chuck and I did Dublin Death Patrol and I am very confident about what I do vocally. It was not like, “Holy shit, I am going to lose it.” Fuck that, I knew I could fucking rock this shit. Bring it, bring it on, here it comes, and watch what I can do with it.
CrypticRock.com – That confidence certainly bleeds through on each track off Blood In, Blood Out, thus why the record came out so well. The band really has partaken in a lot of great tours of recent, including the tour with Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies. Now you are set to hit the road with Testament in 2015. How excited are you for this upcoming tour?
Steve “Zetro” Souza – I was the original singer when Testament was called Legacy, and they are playing 1987’s The Legacy in its entirety and 1988’s The New Order. I think I wrote nine or ten songs on The Legacy album, so I am sure there are going to be a couple of surprises for the crowds that deserve it. I cannot guarantee anything, because I am not in Testament’s camp. I can tell you that Exodus gets sixty minutes, it won’t be like on Slayer/Suicidal Tendencies where we got thirty, and we were very thankful to have that. It was a great tour, I had more fun on that tour than I had in years doing anything, even more than going for the second time around for Exodus, which was also a blast. It was great to get together with the guys in Slayer, and the guys in Suicidal Tendencies, every night, seeing and hanging with Tom Araya and Mike (Muir) talking about the old times, what is going on with family, dogs, and everything else that came up. It was just so fucking cool.
CrypticRock.com – That certainly sounds like it was an amazing tour. The upcoming tour should be fantastic as well, and fans are really looking forward to it. It really is quite interesting because the classic Thrash Metal scene really never has gone away. It seems in recent years the mainstream has a greater deal of respect for those who paved the way such as yourselves, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Overkill. Why do you feel there has been this resurgence of interest in Thrash Metal?
Steve “Zetro” Souza – When Grunge came in and stepped on it, killed it, and every record label in the world dropped it, it looked like dirty laundry. I am talking 1993-1994, when everybody that came along either sang, “rrreeyeah (imitating the classic grunge vocal),” or they were shit. Honestly, I think a turning point was the 2001 gig for Chuck when he got sick, Thrash of the Titans in San Francisco, when all those bands came together and reformed to do that one gig. I even sang with Legacy that night, it was the actual Legacy playing, and it was Exodus, Anthrax, S.O.D., Death Angel, Vio-Lence, and Forbidden Evil. These guys had not played in years. I think bands felt, “Yeah, we could do this.” That kind of got us back together in 2002 and we did Tempo of the Damned over the next two years. Then people started to say, “Yeah, lead guitar, I remember this, I loved this, where did this go?” I also think that bands deliver now.
Think of one shitty record that a classic Thrash Metal band has put out. I can go ten deep and tell you that every band that has put out a record since this whole thing, and I’ll start with Tempo of the Damned. Megadeth did not put one out. Fucking Anthrax had 2011’s Worship Music, which was fucking awesome. Overkill put out a record last year, their record fucking kills. Death Angel put out The Dream Calls for Blood in 2013, which is a killer record. Going on, the last two Testament records and the last Slayer record, and probably the new Slayer record, I would assume is fucking awesome because everything they do is just heavy as shit. I just think that the bands are delivering, and everybody’s making good stuff. No one is going, “Oh well, I get paid to do it so I might as well put out records and go on tour because I am who I am and I have been in the business for so long.” I don’t think that is the mentality, they are still big fans. I am a big fan of what I do and music, period. I think everybody in the Thrash genre is bringing it.
CrypticRock.com – Very well said, and totally true. There really does seem to be a high quality of classic Thrash Metal coming out. Seeing you are so passionate about music, what are some of your musical influences?
Steve “Zetro” Souza – Obviously Bon Scott, that is going to be a big one. My first record I bought was Led Zeppelin IV (1971) when I was eight. Everything from Ted Nugent, to Ritchie Blackmore, to UFO, to anything that was hard and heavy in the ’70s early ’80s molded me. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, the Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, that is what molded me. Definitely the Plasmatics and Wendy O. Williams. From 1980 to 1982, the Plasmatics were my favorite band in the fucking world. I just loved them, I loved the attitude, the mentality, the songs, the lyrics, everything, I loved it all.
CrypticRock.com – All great bands mentioned there, and Wendy O. Williams is certainly a legend. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers all areas of music and Horror films. If you are fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorites?
Steve “Zetro” Souza – My favorite interview that I have done all through this year, and I have probably done a thousand of them, was with Fangoria. Are you kidding me ? I am tattooed in classic Horror. I have the Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein, Linda Blair, Living Dead Girl, The Leprechaun, and Jonathan Frid from Dark Shadows. I have tons of Horror all over, I love it. I just got a present from a fan, the original Nosferatu (1922) poster, from the movie. Our fans do that shit all of the time. I am so jealous of Kirk Hammet, so yes I am a Horror fanatic.
CrypticRock.com – That is fantastic to hear. What are your all time favorite Horror films?
Steve “Zetro” Souza – The Exorcist (1973) is number one. Dracula (1931) is number two, Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) right after that. Then you can go with Lon Chaney’s Wolfman (1941), you can go with all of the originals, the original The Mummy with Boris Karloff (1932), and then all of the ’80s. I loved all of the A Nightmare on Elm Street’s, especially the first three, I loved the first three Friday the 13th’s, and loved the first two Halloween’s; amazing, wild, scary flicks. I am not into that stop motion camera to make you scared shit now. I thought that Annabelle (2014) and The Conjuring (2013) were both probably the most scariest movies that I had seen recently. I also saw Babadook (2014), that was pretty scary too.
CrypticRock.com – The classics are still some of the best ever, that is why they are classics. The scene in The Exorcist when Linda Blair’s head is spinning sent many kids out of the room terrified.
Steve “Zetro” Souza – Of course it did. It was not even the makeup, it was the sense of the dialog, the premise of the whole movie, the way it starts. I mean everything involved in it, the way the guy who directed the movie, that the mother was in, has a quarrel with the German servants, and they get in a huge fight, and then that guy ends up dead, it is just fucking wild if you really analyze the movie. William Friedkin did an amazing fucking job on that flick. Linda Blair’s acting and the things that came out of her fucking mouth in 1973, are you kidding me, come on, that was horrific on its own.