TESTAMENT - interview with Chuck Billy, March 2010
If you've never heard or even heard of Testament, what the hell is wrong with you? If you wrote 'em off as being influenced too much by Metallica early on, shame on you. If you didn't know they were still a viable force in the thrash metal scene today, what hole have you been living in and under which rock? Testament has had a series of high profile tours the past few years in support of their masterful 2008 album, The Formation of Damnation, and their relentlessness is ever more evident as they're hitting the road again on yet another pair of massive tours. I'll mention no names here because maybe you already know about all of this. If not, the answers you seek are below. If you missed out on TFOD, there's even a special "Deluxe Tour Edition" of said record with bonus features that's just been released in time for said killer tours. Read on as our American Editor, Tony Belcher, finds out how Chuck Billy's formed his special brand of damnation.
First off, let me say that it's an honor to speak with you.... I've been a fan for over 20 years now and I apologize beforehand should I get a little too "fanboy”"at times.... Let me start by saying I've tried to do my homework and checked out as many interviews with you as I could find going back about a decade. I didn't want to ask you stuff you've been asked a million times before, though some of the questions may turn out to be similar anyway because they're still relevant, but I wanted to hopefully make this interview a little different for you.
That said, obviously there have been some line-up changes but you and Eric [Peterson] have been in the band forever. So how do you account for the longevity of Testament, the pause for your personal health notwithstanding?
The music is something that Eric and I both believe in fully. Just because some of the dudes may have left and the lineup may have changed, we would never give up our dream. After all the changes and everything, here we are today with the classic Testament lineup.
I think you guys are certainly as relevant today as in the 1980s. What do you think about thrash, in general, some 20+ years later? How does "the scene" today compare to the '80s?
I don't know if it is as much of a scene now as it was in the Bay Area [back then]. [Thrash metal] seems more like a movement. There are thrash bands all over the world now. They are playing brutal stuff, the whole thrash movement is larger, and people all over are getting into it. Before we traveled the world on tour, all we knew was the Bay Area scene, when in all actuality there is so much more.
Speaking of thrash, we can't really escape the Big Four [Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax], certainly with all the buzz about those European festival dates on the horizon, but going back to the beginning of the band Testament has toured with all of 'em but Metallica. I remember an old interview with you where you said "every time [you] see James Hetfield, [you] keep asking him when is Testament gonna open up for them?" And he never really gives you an answer. What do you have to do to make that happen?
I don't know, hopefully our music will spark a nerve and they will want to take us out with them.
Perhaps related to the notion of the Big Four, but who, if anyone, do you consider to be your true peers in Metal? Five years ago Blitz from Overkill said his peers were you guys, end of list.
Exodus for sure, back in the day. Death Angel, Forbidden, Heathen -- pretty much all of the Bay Area bands.
This might go back to the longevity question a bit, but what do you think are Metal's greatest strengths and weaknesses? How does Testament focus on the strengths?
We have stuck with a brand of metal that we have been playing since the beginning. That is definitely one of our strengths. Another strength is the strength of the unit, having all of the original guys in the band makes us as strong as ever. I consider Paul Bostaph an original as well, as he was there right after Louie [Clemente left].
As a lifer, what's been your favorite tour? You've definitely got a lot of highlights to choose from -- Priest, Sabbath, Motorhead... Priest, Megadeth... The upcoming Megadeth/Exodus and Slayer/Megadeth tours.... And that's all from just the past year or so....
We had a lot of fun on the Metal Masters tour with Judas Priest, Motorhead and Heaven & Hell. It was a great summer tour, and we will always remember all the barbecuing and summer days that we spent with all of our metal brothers.
Do you have a favorite place to tour -- are European festivals still "it" for you?
Festivals in Europe are still probably always going to be my favoirte. Over the last 20-25 years European festivals have become a lot more organized. The bands that are playing these fests are amazing and it is always a good time. It is great to be able to go and play for an hour or longer and then get to see some amazing music and have a little vacation while at it.
Switching gears a little bit, tell the fans something they wouldn't know about Chuck Billy....
I have three attack dachshunds.
How do you maintain your vocal cords over the long weeks on tour? How do you warm up? What's the secret for sounding like Chuck Billy every night?
I definitely do vocal warm-ups now for about an hour and a half before we take the stage. I also like to sit around and relax, smoke a little pot, and have a shot of whiskey or something along those lines.
What's the status of your side project with Steve DiGiorgio and Darren Travis [both of Sadus]?
We have not done anything in a long time. So right now, I really don't know.
We know about Soilwork and The Haunted in terms of newer bands you dig, but what are some of your favorite records of recent times?
I have been listening to the new Throwdown album Deathless a lot. They have great production and I really dig the songs. Right now since we are in writing mode, I am not listening to as much music as I usually do when we aren't writing. I want to focus on the writing on the new record. I also thought that Dillinger Escape Plan were sick when we played with them last year.
I read this in an older interview, but are Exodus, Forbidden, Slayer, Witchfinder General, and Vio-Lence still your favorite Thrash bands?
Yeah, definitely for me, because when I listen to music it takes me places. When I listen to music from those bands, it takes me back to the old days, back to the beginning. Definitely good memories.
How's the new record coming and can we still hope to have it out in 2010? How much writing and recording will be done on the 'bus studio' during the coming tour?
I don't think we plan on doing too much writing on this tour. This is like a 30 day break where we are going out on the road tearing shit up with Megadeth and Exodus. When we get home we are getting right back to work on the record. Our goal is to have it out and finished by the end of the year.
Well that's all the questions I have for you. That said, do you have any final words for our readers and your fans?
I promise you will definitely not be waiting nine years again for new Testament music.
Thanks so much, Chuck. This has been awesome for me.
And with that, Chuck Billy was off.... So do yourself a favor, friends, and catch Testament on their current U.S. tour with Megadeth and Exodus if you can, where they will be playing the entirety of their debut album, The Legacy and then again when they hit the road with Slayer and Megadeth. Many, many thanks to Jon Freeman at Adrenaline PR for setting up this interview, "running interference," and so much more. Not unlike Chuck Billy, he's the man.
- Tony Belcher