An Interview With : Chuck Billy (Testament)
17th May 2016, 13:38
Posted by Tristan
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Pillars of our civilisation, ranging from the prehistoric times to the modern day symbolism has been ever present. Highlighting different ideologies uniting people in both good causes or  sadly truly horrific principles Having released their last album in 2012 the devastating Dark Roots of Earth, Testament are set to return this year. Cementing bassist extraordinaire Steve DiGiorgio on bass in the band’s new line up the band have entered the studio to record their follow up The Brotherhood of The Snake. Just days before entering the studio to record their new album we spoke to vocalist Chuck Billy. Walking us through the album’s fascinating concept centred around religion and symbolism, the band’s plans for Europe with a little known Viking band later this year and Billy’s opinion on the current state of Thrash. Welcome to The Brotherhood of The Snake oh and bowling! The Dude most certainly abides. 

Listen to the full unedited interview or read the entire transcript below 

 

Today we have with us the legendary Chuck Billy of Testament, how are you today?

I’m doing wonderful! How about yourself?

Not too bad, not too bad!

Good!

Whats the weather like in the states well today its actually sunny and they’re looking like they might get a little bit of rain this week but for the most part its beautiful in the seventies and eighties!

I wish I could say that same for London!

What have Testament been up to so far, from the beginning of the year up until now?

Well we’ve been working on the record for quite some time now and you know in the middle of it we got offered to do the Slayer, Carcass tour. We went and did that tour and we finished that up last month then we’re going to actually go into the studio starting Wednesday (April 27th) then we start tracking the new record by Wednesday. Hopefully have it done by June, we go over to Europe in June. We hope to have the record delivered by the time we’re over in Europe so lots going on! Touring, writing, recording trying to get it all done before we hit Europe.

That’s the line in the sand that you guys have set?

Yes, you know we’ve been working on it for quite some time and for one reason or another shows come up or tunes that aren’t quite there yet. I think we’re at that place now that we are feeling pretty good about what we have so its time.

Do you think that the fact that you went out and did various different tours and then came back, do you think that may have added a different perspective on the record?

I believe it did because when we were just writing, pounding our heads against the wall trying to come up with the material its nice to get away from it go and take a break and just play, have fun. We got back and a lot more progress on the songs started happening, I dunno there’s just the energy of being on tour, of playing and having your chops down. Its a little easier to get some more progress on the record.

Have you got themes in mind for the new record?

Well the new record is going to be called The Brotherhood of The Snake and its basically about a lot of the early secret societies that started taking over power, trying to control the society and spawned off into illuminati’s and stuff like that so its kind of going back to a lot of that. A lot of human control and religions, the similarities between religions and alien beings and stuff like that. I’ve been fascinated a lot by a lot of programs that show a lot of different religions and all the writings or hieroglyphics always have the same type beings with all of these religions.

It makes you think, wow so long ago these people didn’t know people on the other side of the ocean yet they have these common sightings in the religions that they talk about and reference. It was just really interesting to me opening my eyes more to religion, I was raised a catholic but growing up and just seeing these connections makes me think about all of the religions you know? The connection between the human race and aliens, its just really fascinating to me. So we started spotting a lot of ideas for songs off of that.

Is the snake meant to be a metaphor? Classicaly they”re always portrayed as something that is deceitful…

Well if you look at the snake, the reference of the snake , doctors have it, there’s also the eye of Horus on the dollar bill, Adam and Eve. There’s all kinds of history that snakes are within religions or special things that we see that we don’t really even notice. When people point it out it makes it kind of like woah! Oh thats true! Haha! Its interesting, the fascination has spawned a bunch of songs from it.

You’re spot on, when you said about medecine I was like, oh yeah you’re right!

Yeah, its really interesting. Like I said I was born and raised a catholic and what I learned about our religion, you learn it one way but then I grew up and started looking at other religions and other stories and there were just so many other connections that make you think a little bit more.

Its especially pertinent recently with everything that has been going on in the world, was that somewhat of an influence as well?

Not really, it is a crazy world and you never know whats going to happen today or tomorrow. With the craziness that is going on in the world, especially for us, for the kind of thing that we do. We make our living travelling, entertaining. Some band members, even our band members think maybe we shouldn’t go to certain places and watch where we go and do this but its almost like we can’t stop our lives, stop what we do because of what is going to happen. I mean if something’s going to happen to us its going to happen. The show just has to go on and we kind of take it day by day. Everyone who has tried to intimidate us is not going to get to that point, where were not going to travel the world and stop what we do. What we love to do!

Steve DiGiorgio is going to be on the record, has he brought a new dynamic that Testament didn’t have before at all?

Well Steve, I mean he played on The Gathering record and his style of playing, because he plays fretless definitely adds a whole new feel to the band but hes just a monster bass player. Anything he is going to do on the record is going to be great! There’s definitely a new dimension with having him in the rhythm section, with Gene they go way back, they played together for a long time. Very tight rhythm section!

Will the songs be longer or shorter?

Well, they’re about average five minutes. We don’t go for long epic songs, we just like to get straight to the point of the song.

Alex Skolnick is in a fair amount of bands now, has that ever been a bit of a logistical nightmare for the band?

Well it always is because Alex, Steve and Gene all do other things. When Testament are not touring they’re either playing in Death or Gene’s doing some Dark Angel stuff coming up and Alex has a bunch of projects. It really is a juggling act but we try to get Testament books in order before everybody else has a chance. Lay out the year and say OK this is the whole of our schedule so fill up what you can if you want haha! Thats usually what happens, we get something and they just fill it in but we do run into problems every now and then.

Like the Slayer tour, Death was planning to go to Europe a little sooner we got this Slayer offer and it overlapped… So it almost came to the point where we’re going to have to find replacement musicians or Death is going to have to move some shows. In the end it worked out and we got some shows moved and it worked out but it is a juggling act for sure!

You’ve just got to keep your head above water!

Yeah and you’ve just got to make your plans way in advance and give everybody plenty of time to know whats going on.

You toured last year with Exodus, is that right?

Yeah we toured the US with Exodus last year, some shows in Europe as well!

What was it like touring with Exodus again?

It was good! The first US one we had never did a tour together our whole career! The only time we did it was supporting Megadeth a few years back so it was kind of good you know. We have a lot of history, we go way back and we both have our own unique style of Bay Area Thrash so it was fun it was a great tour. The fans seemed to get their monies worth out of that tour, it was definitely a night of thrashing haha!

Haha! You mentioned that you’re coming over to Europe in June, you’ve got some small club shows almost?

Well there’s some! We’re coming over in three trips mostly to do the festivals and then during the week we play the club shows, just to stay busy. Its tough to do that because everybody is spending their money on festivals and everybody is planning on the festival weekend. Its tough to tour and do shows on your own in the week. We’re going over three times this summer back and forth, we’re going in June, back over in July and then back in August. So we’re making three trips of it and then October / November we’re going to be doing the Amon Amarth tour supporting them.

Is that going to be a European tour?

That is a European tour yes, that is going to be a great tour for us and we should have our record out by then. It should be good timing!

Definitely something to look forward to in the future, one of the dates is at the Brooklyn Bowl.

Yeah, thats my birthday actually! When they asked us about it, I thought that would be a great birthday night. Go and do some bowling and bowl with fans and have some fun with it!

That’s such a cool idea, especially that whole fan interaction!

Those things are always good and I mean we haven’t played London in a proper tour through the UK in a long time so its nice that we are getting over there and able to play a few shows, that we haven’t done in a long time. Its going to be fun! Lately we’ve been going over there and just doing London its nice to get out and play some other markets!

Did you want to kind of get a bit more intimate with the fans and thats why they are smaller shows?

Well that and again its harder to tour in that time of season. You have play it safe and just play the smaller clubs and if people show and make it into a bigger show then wonderful! You don’t want to show into a bigger room and then its not as crowded, its not as fun!

I know the Big Four is almost sensationalist from journalists but do you ever think that there would ever be another Big Four?

Not like that, times are different. What the Big Four meant for me was a real true statement because those four bands, that they called The Big Four at that time when they were coming up they were the Big Four all those bands were platinum acts for our genre. Everbody coming up right after them, there were a lot of bands but the scene was changing, the climate of the music was changing and all the other bands that followed up didn’t hit that platinum success or gold record. The scene changed for Metal, so when they say The Big Four, it is the Big Four because at that time they were the big four bands that had platinum act albums and hit that mark.

I spoke to Joey Belladonna from Anthrax and he said he doesn’t really like that term “The Big Four” and I wasn’t sure if it was something that someone had coined…

Well like you said it was a kind of journalist thing looking for the story but the way I see it, it is The Big Four. People always ask me don’t you think that you are part of The Big Four, well no because we just came right after that. The scene changed and we didn’t hit the mark like those guys had. Those guys are the Big Four.

You don’t think that there would be any others not necesarily in the Thrash movement but maybe in Metal itself?

Well its so tough! Look at the great bands like Lamb of God or Slipknot, its tough to get to that platinum stage the way the climate is today. Unless you’re Adele or something like that hahaha!

What about the Thrash scene at the moment, whats your opinion on that?

Well I think its getting healthier, I see a new generation of younger fans attending more Metal shows which is great! I see the fathers bringing the sons, turning them onto what they listened to when they were growing up. Its good to see that.

Do you think its harder for bands to play Thrash now in this era?

It is but there is a different style, there is a few that are coming out straight up Thrash but theres a lot of them thrashing with different elements of down tuned guitars and stuff like that. Where more of the Thrash was straight ahead tuning, it wasn’t locked down stuff.

On one of Skolnick’s side projects Metal Allegiance, you were also on “Can’t Kill The Devil”. What was that experience like, what was it like working outside of Testament?

Well it all started really when we venture down to the NAMM show here in LA every year. First it started with all these musicians are all going to be at the NAMM show, why don’t we put together and all star jam, they called it Metal something back then. Thats kind of how it started, they did a couple of years of the NAMM show and then after that they decided that they were going to write some songs.

Most of them were just doing covers, so they decided to write some originals. Alex, Dave Ellefsson and Mike Portnoy, so they wrote all of the material and then they brought in guest singers to sing on each track. It was different but you know Alex wrote some of the songs so it was a little more familiar for me working with Alex on it. They put a lot of work into it, they wrote all the music and all the lyrics and it was a really good record! Its mostly just getting together and having fun! I just did a week’s worth of shows with them last week. We did the East Coast, it was fun, we just go out there and have a good time.

Do they bring all of the guest singers with them?

Well not on that, when we did that it was me, Mark Osegueda, Chris Jericho from the band Fozzy, he’s a WWE wrestler. We’re the singers and then Bumblefoot was on guitar and Alex was on guitar, Mike Portnoy was on drums and then Mark Menghi, he plays bass but he was the one who put the whole thing together from the beginning. Its fun you know we get up there we trade off songs, its good!

To finish up what would you say is an album that you have been listening to over the past six months to a year? Something that has really grabbed your attention.

For me its been the Lamb of God record. I love the tone of it the songs are great, some of the best stuff they have done. Randy sounds amazing on it, he’s done some stuff that has gone beyond his comfort zone that he did a great job on. That and then the new Megadeth has hit me pretty good too!

Two very good shouts! Its been a pleasure talking to you today Chuck and thank you ever so much.

Alright!