Vocalist Chuck Billy
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
On/offstage pictures by Terhi Pihlaja
Thanks to Silke from Tough Enough Promotion for setting up the interview and Laura Thiessen for the transcription
Testament has undergone quite an eventful history (both in good and bad) within all those 24 years they have existed under the Testament name. The band´s existence was seriously at stake in early 2002 when the band´s vocalist Chuck Billy was diagnosed with a rare kind of cancer. Luckily, after undergoing numerous treatments, he finally managed to fully recover.
THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION, Testament´s highly acclaimed comeback album in 11 years, came out in 2008 – and since then the band has spent long periods on tours of which taking a part of Megadeth´s "Rust in Peace 20th Anniversary Tour" around the U.S.A. in March 2009 together with Exodus, was undoubtedly one of the highlights for the Testament team.
Testament has also become a regular visitor for the Finnish metal fans over the recent years; the band has visited Finland for the last 4 years in a row, playing at some of the precious Finnish summer (metal) festivals. This year, they made their 2nd appearance at Tuska festival where they played in 2005 for the 1st time. Everyone who has seen Testament playing live within the last 2 years since they released their strong comeback record THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION in 2008 (which was also chosen as "The Best Metal Album of 2008" by the Metal-Rules.com staff), can subscribe the fact the live chemistry between each band member in Testament, is on a phenomenal level; so well they have welded together as a band over the years.
Chuck Billy talked to Metal-Rules.com again about some of the most current Testament-related things – like including naturally band´s hard touring in general, a slow song writing process for their follow-up album to T.F.O.D., etc. – and the 2nd album from Dublin Death Patrol, kind of "all-star jam band", was talked about a little bit, too.
(NOTE: This interview was done on June 7th 2010)
(*before the interview there was one lady at the backstage of Tuska festival, advertising sort of Ronnie James Dio tribute night to Chuck of Testament as well that would have taken place at one of the Tuska aftershow parties at Tavastia Club*)
It’s gonna be a cool thing, I am pretty sure of that. Uh, first off… Thank you for the great show this afternoon.
Actually, what I was just wondering, why you played so early this afternoon…
Uh, I don’t know.
Maybe they tried to get some people in for the venue?
Probably get people in earlier – and sell more beer. I don’t know, it’s fine, we don’t mind it. Sometimes it’s nice to play in the day. Especially, we are jet-lagged a little because we flew so it’s different times of the day so the morning’s even better. Because the later at night, to us, it’s late at night. So it’s ok.
Actually, you guys played at Ankkarock festival last year hear in Finland. What kind of memories do you have from that show?
Oh, so which one was it?
It was this Ankkarock Festival.
Oh, that was a good one!
The whole place was really crowded when Testament entered the stage…
Yeah, that was a good festival, I remember we had a good show that day. And it sounded nice that day. It was a good crowd.
After this show you have like one more show to do, at some festival in Czechs, I think – and then you are going to have this tour with Slayer and Megadeth, the North American Carnage Tour…
Yeah, it´s gonna be a cool tour for sure.
REUNION OF CLASH OF THE TITANS
… and having 25 dates, or something like this. If you look at this touring lineup, it’s actually pretty killer - having Testament, Slayer and Megadeth in the very same touring lineup. I think most likely many of your shows are going to be very crowded so I think it’s very special for you to be on this tour.
Yeah, I think. Well, it’s actually like a 20-year reunion because we did Clash of the Titans, in 1990. So it’s kind of like of a reunion Clash of the Titans show for us. And uh, I think it’s gonna be really good because I mean hey, look at us, we’ve been around 25 years all of us and still doing good music and metal bands are doing pretty well in America now, you know, it’s pretty healthy. So it’s good.
Are there gonna be some special venues on this tour especially that you look forward to playing?
Well, LA is always gonna be fun. Hollywood’s always off the hook you know, so that’ll be good. Um, Canada will be really good shows. Those are gonna be the bigger shows.
In January you are gonna have this metal cruise from Miami, Florida all the way to Mexico. Four days of, you know, playing metal, meeting fans and just basically having a good time. Have you ever done anything like this special before?
No, but when they said if we wanted to do it I’m like yeah, that sounds crazy and wild so let’s do it, you know.
Your friends from bands like Death Angel, Exodus, etc., they are all there as well…
It’s gonna be a big party.
So this is the first time ever they – the organizers, have done anything like this before, getting so many bands for that kind of metal cruise on the sea?
Well, they’ve been doing that thing with like Mötley Crües and all those pop hair bands. They’ve been doing that cruise so I think somebody finally said let’s do a metal one. And it’s not a lot of tickets, I think it’s 2,000 tickets they sell, so it’s not a lot of people really but it’ll be a lot of fun, lot of bands.
Have you ever done anything like this before? Like the Sweden Rock Cruise, they have same kind of cruises also.
But I’ve heard about the other ones because we’re friends with the guys in Tesla. So they tell us you know, they do the cruises and all those things and they said it’s fun. So, I thought, you know, why not.
Yeah, actually four days cruising in the sea is gonna be quite a blast, I think. You know, 40 bands and it’s definitely gonna be so much fun. Two thousand people – the whole ship packed with true metalheads there.
Yeah, can’t get away, just partying, music and a good time.
Yeah, if we just talk about playing live a little bit more. As you know some bands have played some of their most known, sort of trademark-ish in its entirety over the recent years. Slayer did REIGN IN BLOOD from start to finish and Judas Priest did the BRITISH STEEL album from start to finish a while ago. Have you ever been thinking of doing the same kind of thing with Testament?
We already did it.
You did? Uh, when exactly?
We did it in the last tour. It was us, Megadeth and Exodus. We did the whole THE LEGACY record.
Ah, I see. What about doing the same thing here in Europe some day?
We did it once in Holland, at our friends in the Dynamo, we did it once there, and we did it in Japan. And in Japan we did THE LEGACY and THE NEW ORDER, back to back. One show – just straight. That was pretty cool.
Let´s move on and talk about your new stuff a bit. You have been writing for the last three months. How would you say how it’s coming together right now?
Very slowly… yeah. Uh, we don’t have any pressure so we want to get a record out fast, I just, Eric just has to get some songs going, you know. We’re all kinda bugging Eric, saying “Come on, come on, let’s go, let’s go.” It’ll happen when it happens.
THE GATHERED DAMNATION
Can you tell anything about the new material what we could even carefully expect from your next record?
Well, what we want to be is like THE FORMATION and THE GATHERING, somewhere in the middle. Little more of the thrash blast beat stuff in it. Uh, little more real fast guitar in it, you know. Combination because a lot of THE GATHERING had more thrash blast beats and then the new record was to me, was more thrash. So we can get a combination or something, you know.
So… eh, have you written any songs yet?
No, we got a bunch of music. Just haven’t…
In other words it’s basically all about a bunch of riffs right now as we speak…
Yeah, like when we wrote THE FORMATION record, the songs came together like that. Once they played the song… I heard it, I heard the vocals. I’d sing it, and it was quick. So this one, it’s not there yet. I don’t hear the vocals yet. So, it’s not there yet, you know, so once that happens…
So you haven’t been talking about any time schedule for when you might enter a studio?
We want to get it finished by the end of the year. That’s the goal.
Oh, ok. But don´t you still have quite a lot of touring to do so…
Uh, not really. After this, we go home and then we do the American Carnage. And then we’re done. We won’t go on tour until we have a record.
You produced your previous album together with Andy Sneap. Do you think there´s a chance that he will produce your next album too because in my opinion production wise he did a killer job on TFOD, both you and Eric giving your own share in the production of this record, too. He seems to know what kind of sound Testament needs in order to sound like Testament; a heavy, crunchy but still melodic sound at the same time.
We’ll stick with Andy because it works, you know. It works and why switch if you’re still happy. No reason.
Basically when you work with your new songs, do you try to finish them completely before entering the studio to record them? I mean, some bands tend to finalize their half-finished songs in the studio – and that naturally costs more money to them. It´s kind of pointless…
I agree. Everything’s finished before we enter the studio to record our stuff. We do about three or four demos before we do the record. So…
So you want to make sure all´s done before the actual recordings…
… and the songs are right. Make sure every part is there. The drums, guitars, make sure all the parts are right. Then we’ll go record, you know.
I happen to know, that actually, you have your birthday on the 23rd this month (June that is). So, congratulations (*handshaking Chuck*)!
Are you going to celebrate your B-day any special way, or did you already celebrate it?
I just went out with the family and just had some dinner. That was it, mellow.
Like they say, you’re never too old to thrash…
Ha-ha… no, no!
Aging naturally affects some things when you get older. I mean, the older you become, the more one needs to think a little bit at least how to take care of your physical shape ands stuff, especially if you are a musician and do long tours all the time, you know.
I think our band, we’ve gotten I think better with being older. When we were younger, we drank too much, partied too much, no sleep. And it hurts your performance, especially when you tour a lot. Now, it’s, you know, we’re more relaxed, and I think we perform better, you know.
How do you take care of your voice then? Again, this aging thing, I think even aging may change some people’s outcome of vocals. Like if one was once able to reach high registers in a vocal style some twenty-thirty years ago, today he/or she may not be able to do so anymore…
Uh, well, I quit drinking, you know, so I don’t drink anymore so that helps my voice a lot. Yeah, and more exercising and conditioning you know, for my lungs. That’s it, you know. So, I think I’m more concerned about doing that now so I think I could sing better.
Death-wise, this year has been actually been quite sad. You know, Ronnie James Dio passed away – Peter Steele passed away – Debbie Abono passed away. It’s been kind of a bad year due to all these deaths of loved persons. How did you actually feel when you heard about when you heard first time that Ronnie James Dio has passed away, or about death of Debbie Abono?
Well, we were playing a show in Holland at the Dynamo club. And actually before the show, because we heard rumors all day about Ronnie and we heard they weren’t true. So that night I said, “Oh, it’s not true.” And then we came offstage and found out that it was true. And he had passed, you know, earlier. And then Debbie had just passed away while we were on stage. So, when we got offstage it was even sadder for us, you know, we’re like “Oh, man,” you know. Such a great show and then just to have that, you know.
What does Ronnie mean to you personally?
He’s a classic, Ronnie. He’s a true gentleman; great singer – great person.
NOT AS BIG FOUR
Then the “Big Four”, i.e. Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. They are actually coming together for the first time, to play a concert under this moniker, the "Big Four." This event already took place on June 16th in Warsaw, Poland – and they were broadcasting the whole event live at some movie theatres all around the world via satellite. You know, I was interviewing one of your friends Mark (Osegueda) from Death Angel – like two weeks ago or so, at one festival here in Finland, and he was kind of sarcastically yet so funnily saying to me, like, “Not-As-Big-Four (-Yet)” of thrash would be like Death Angel, Exodus, Forbidden and Testament.
Yeah, ha-ha-hah. That´s cool one.
You should consider doing a tour like that, even under a concept “Not-As-Big-Four.”
Ha-ha-hah… Well, we’ve talked and we want to do a tour like that. We’ve talked – me and Gary already talked about it, just it needs to be organized. So, maybe early next year, some time next year.
So it’s all about how you get your timing schedules matching together to organize something like that, I guess…
Yeah, but if we plan it far enough in advance, you know.
Just make sure that you’re gonna bring this whole tour to Europe as well.
Well, if we do it, we would. We’d do a world tour with it.
NEW DDP STUFF IN THE WORKS
What about Dublin Death Patrol. Have you any new stuff in the works?
We got a new album we’re recording. Yeah, probably next month we start recording.
Even with the same lineup?
Same line-up, yup. And, uh, we just did a show Saturday.
I heard about this. It was this Hidetide benefit show, having quite many bands on the bill. What was this show all about anyway?
Well, there was a studio in San Francisco that shut down 500 studio rooms, so they moved across the Bay Area to our friend where our friend Al, the owner of our studio. He got involved with them and had some legal issues. So, we´ve been with Al for 25 years, so all the advance they have been with us, we decided to help him out and raise money for legal ties.
Back to DDP now though. Could you say the band´s new stuff is pretty much into the same way what you did on your debut?
Yeah, pretty much. A lot of it is same, kind of rock, you know.
I think a cool thing about DDP is when you play live, you can draw a mixed crowd to your shows. People like who like more traditional rock sound, then people who are more into metal stuff and everything in between really.
Yeah, it´s cool – it´s fine. That´s what the whole thing was supposed to be. It´s just having fun with all of our friends – and that´s it basically.
Have you already talked about a possible release date of DDP´s follow-up record?
Hopefully by the end of the year, you know. Besides it will come out on Mascot Records on Holland.
Okay, I think my time is up and you have some other interviews coming up after me, so I wanna thank you Chuck for your time and wish all the best for the remaining tour dates with Testament this year, so thank you!
Thank you. Still got like 4 more interviews scheduled for today, ha-hah!
Luxi & Chuck at the Tuska backstage on June 7th 2010