It is not too often that the 2500+ capacity MacEwan Hall gets completely sold out for Metal shows, but Slayer, who have performed at this same venue a few times before, managed to do just that on their most recent stop in Calgary, Alta. Slayer is riding high on what many people are saying is their best album in years (REPENTLESS [Nuclear Blast, 2015]) and the legions of Metal were out in force! Managing crowds and traffic flow is a complicated endeavor at the best of times and it was a bit of a struggle on Monday night.
Metal Allegiance have released the first lyric video from the upcoming self–titled release available worldwide on September 18th via Nuclear Blast Entertainment. “Can’t Kill The Devil” features Chuck Billy on vocals; Alex Skolnick, Phil Demmel & Andreas Kisser on guitars; David Ellefson on bass; and Mike Portnoy on drums. The lyric video for the song impacting radio today can be seen here: https://youtu.be/zjXEXx-mIdc.
“I am very honored to be a part of the Metal Allegiance record. The track ‘Can’t Kill The Devil’ was fun and challenging for me,” states vocalist Chuck Billy. “Working outside of Testament lets me try different things with my voice. I think the fans are going to be singing along to this track for sure.”
Caleb ‘Sick’ Smith of Heavy Metal Thrash, The Sickroom Podcast recently conducted a 2 part interview with legendary Testament bass player Steve DiGiorgio talking about the bands up and coming studio album and his near miss on rejoining Testament. You can now listen to the chat below:
Interviewed on November 30, 2014 at the Death to All show in New York City
Renowned metal bassist Steve DiGiorgio is one of the very best in the genre. Currently a member of Testament, Steve also had stints in Death and Sadus and is currently on tour with Death To All. At the New York City Death to All show I was lucky enough to interview him and ask a few questions about Chuck Schuldiner, Death To All, and the differences between the bands Steve has played in.
Metal, beer and bratwurst are the unholy alliance at German metal festivals. Those festivals are those things that every banger has to experiment once in lifetime. Even though festivals are packed by those obvious and quaranteed bands on the bill, but missing the true metal feeling is something. Summer Breeze has grown tremendously and gained the monumental status amongst several other metal festivals in Germany. The main headliner of this year was without any doubts Machine Head. The Summer Breeze festival is the well organized metal festival in Southern Germany. Even though most of bands appeal to the metal public, but some strange German acts such as JBO were on the bill. However, Summer Breeze was a great success, despite the horrible weather. Here is the brief article of the fest.
REVIEW AND PHOTOS BY ARTO LEHTINEN AND MARKO SYRJALA
The mighty Jalometalli Open Air Metal festival strikes with an outstanding awesome killer line-up to maintain its true metal status on the Finnish festival map. The festival is known for relying on old school metal to offer everything from traditional metal to extreme metal. Above all, it is also the classic names who have never ever visited Finland before that make this special. The legendary Teatria club is now history as it was torn down. Fortunately the organization of the Jalometalli festival managed to find a new location to arrange a true ass kicking festival. If having Slayer headline last year was a real dream come, then getting King Diamond to headline this year’s event was another jackpot for Jalometalli indeed. Of course getting both Dark Angel and Loudness booked for Jalometalli was also killer. The place was packed. When the second day arrived a merciless rain storm hit the area drowning everything. Unfortunately, Testament suffered from the rain.
Once again the Metal Rules team hit the ground of Oulu to witness several absolutely killer bands. The whole Jalometalli festival is so unique and one of a kind that anyone reading this article should take a glance at the offering of the festival. Here is a brief article on the fest. So the time had come all of us to leave bitter sweet farewells to the old venue where we have enjoyed great music and great company throughout the years.Read the rest of this entry »
Steve DiGiorgio is known his excellent bass playing on several metal albums. He recently made a return to Testament, replacing long time bassist Greg Christian. Steve has also been extremely busy with the Death To All tribute. Metal-Rules.com had the enormous pleasure to talk with the bass legend after a Death-To-All set.
Legendary Bay Area thrashers TESTAMENT have released the following statement:
“It is with much respect that we announce our mutual parting with bassist Greg Christian. Metal fretless bass pioneer Steve Di Giorgio will be returning to TESTAMENT. Steve previously was a member of TESTAMENT on The Gathering (1999) as well as First Strike Still Deadly (2001). He will be joining TESTAMENT on their upcoming shows in Australia on the Soundwave Festival, Japan and Mexico City. Steve will also be taking part in the new TESTAMENT album. We are looking forward to continuing the momentum you, the fans, have made possible.”
John Dette is a recognizable name amongst the metal fans. For the first time his name popped up in the mid of the 90’s when he was playing in Slayer. Later on he has sat behind the battery for such bands as Testament, Anthrax, Heathen and now he is on tour with Iced Earth. It was about time to sit down with John Dette to talk about his works in various bands and his current jobs with Iced Earth and Animetal USA.
INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA AND ARTO LEHTINEN
Metal-Rules.com: First of all, welcome to Finland.
Jon Dette: Thank you. Yes. I believe this is my first time to Finland.
Metal-Rules.com: It is.
Jon Dette: Yeah. I was just thinking of that, the other day I was like, I have been Oslo and Kristiansand, Norway, but never to Finland. I think. Yeah, this is definitely my first time.
WORKING WITH ICED EARTH
Metal-Rules.com: Let’s start with this most current thing, the Iced Earth tour. This was another last minute call tour for you, right?
Jon Dette: Definitely last call; it’s just kind of been the theme of my year it seems like. But it’s great, Iced Earth contacted me. I believe it was about two weeks before this run started and asked me if I could do this arena run with Volbeat. And I was introduced to them through our mutual friend Rob Caggiano who is now playing guitar for Volbeat. And so, that’s how that connection started. So, yeah. They contacted me. I spoke to Jon Schaffer and they gave me 12 songs to learn on a very short amount of time. So, it’s where you get into a room you start wood shedding and go, “Okay. Just take a song a day or two songs a day burn it into my brain.” It’s memory retention really. So, and it’s been going great. Everybody seems to be enjoying themselves having a great time, we are definitely drinking buddies. But I think for the fans that are watching Iced Earth on stage, the reaction I get is that and just from the reaction also from the crew and people that are also watching from the side of the stage that they seem to think that it feels like a unit and it seems very solid. So, the response that I’ve gotten has been really positive. So, I guess that means I’m doing my job.
Metal-Rules.com: So, how familiar you were with Iced Earth’s material before this gig?
Jon Dette: Honestly, I am not familiar with the older stuff. I’ve known about Iced Earth and I’ve heard a few songs over the years, but I’ve never heard an album that I could remember from its entirety.
Metal-Rules.com: Were there any songs you could name, you know?
Jon Dette: Honestly as I said, there were songs I knew. The one song that I actually really liked was the song called, “The Reckoning Day” and I believe that was when Ripper Owens came into the band, he was singing on it. And so, yeah. I’m somewhat familiar with that, but as far as the back catalog not so much. So, it was literally learning material from scratch. Where the thing about, Slayer and Anthrax is that I’ve been fans of those bands since I was 13 years old. And so I’ve not only, I knew all of the songs that I was playing for those bands before even played in those bands, just because that’s how I played when I was growing up as a teenager. So this is, with bands like Heathen and Iced Earth, it’s a different situation for me, because I haven’t had their back catalog. So, it’s a lot of stuff to learn in a short amount of time.
Metal-Rules.com: Actually I was about to ask, it must be one hell of a job for you to start learning the songs that you are not familiar with and you have to learn them very quickly before going out to tour?
Jon Dette: Yeah. Well, and again it just goes down to, you’ve got so many songs to learn and you have so many days to learn it. So, as opposed to going bombarding myself with all 12 songs or… Monday I’m going to do this song and this song. And I’m not even listening to anything else. So, I guess it’s almost calculating it out and figuring out the parts. I can hear everything that’s going on. So, it’s really again just a question of memory retention. It’s like cramming, studying for a test. So, where you just play the song over and over and over again until it gets burned into the brain. And I know when I have the song, well I’m happy with it because I can play the song completely from memory with where I’m not playing to tracks or I’m not playing to a guitar player. I can actually just sit in a room with the drum set and nothing else and I can play the songs. And I made a couple of videos for John as well; that I played from once I had them to memory played them. Just so, they could see. Okay, “Is he hitting the parts right?” I think they wanted to make sure as well. So, yeah. I did the song, “Pure Evil” which is a pretty intricate song. And then a couple of songs off the new record, which were actually much more straight forward and laid back. But I think they wanted to see how I could perform both the extreme side and then the more laid back side. So, I played with clique tracks, but that’s it. There was no guitar or anything in my head, but once I get it to that point then I move forward to the next one. So, yeah. And it was definitely a long days, so I will say. And yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: It wasn’t the first time?
Jon Dette: Yeah. It’s not the first time, but this is one of the few times where again I’m listening to something completely new and green for the first time. So, that presented its own challenge. The other bands that I have played for surely its challenging music, but the last thing that I needed to do was listen to the song for memory retention. So, if I had to listen to, I don’t know, an Anthrax song that I had never heard before or Slayer song I had never heard before and it was like for all of them it probably be a much different situation going to those bands.
Metal-Rules.com: You said that you made a deal with the band to make this tour but do you have plans to carry on with the band in the future?
Jon Dette: Well, that’s being discussed right now. Right now the band is set up to; they’ve got a lot of touring ahead of them. Their record is going to be released in January; I think it’s going to the first or second week of January depending on what country you are in. So, the next step from here is actually Iced Earth is coming back to do their own tour in Europe, January and February. I believe that ends in Moscow, March and then they go to Australia, in New Zealand, then head down to South America and then straight to the States. I believe then it will be the festival runs in summer of 2014. So, we are discussing that right now and my point is open right now. So, as I said I’m getting along, great with the guys and we seem to be enjoying ourselves on stage. So, if it’s something that they want to move forward with, then I would definitely do it for them.
Iced Earth 2013
Metal-Rules.com: One of the bands you have been working in the past is Testament. What is your opinion about the fact that Gene Hoglan is now back in the band?
Jon Dette: Gene is a phenomenal drummer. I actually aside from when I was growing up as a kid listening to Anthrax and Slayer and Metalica and those were my main influences. Gene Hoglan, Dark Angel, DARKEST DESCENDS. I mean, “Perish in Flames” and “Burning of Sodom”. And it was just like those, he was going so fast… He was like, he was doing fast stuff back then and it was so precise and so amazing. And every time I see Gene I’m like, “Perish in Flames”. I’m like, “So fucking awesome.” He’s like, “Thanks.”
Metal-Rules.com: Dark Angel are doing shows together again with LEAVE SCARS line-up.
Jon Dette: I didn’t know, awesome. Yeah, Gene is an amazing drummer and he is a perfect fit for Testament. I think they sound great together musically, I think they click as people. Gene has been in and out of Testament. I remember Gene did an amazing record with Testament back in ’97 called DEMONIC, which I wind up doing a tour. Because Gene had just started that band, Strapping Young Lad, but as it turned out Strapping Young Lad was actually the support band on that Demonic -tour. So, was awesome to be able to watch Gene jam every night still. But I think it’s great that he’s in Testament and I wish nothing but the best for Gene and Testament.
Metal-Rules.com: Did you ever have a chance to make recordings with the band with exception of the LIVE AT FILLMORE album?
Jon Dette: We actually, we started… I started jamming with Eric at the end of the Demonic -tour, on songs that he was starting to come up with ideas for the next record. And there was a couple of songs that we had worked on. It was more ideas at that point that wound up on what sounds like the GATHERING record now. But I want to say, the last song on the GATHERING record, “Fall of Sipledome”, is that the name of the song? Yeah. I definitely remember working on parts of that song with Eric, but we never as far as recording stuff. The only stuff that we recorded was the live record and then the actual acoustic tracks that were a bonus to that record. Which is, “Return of Serenity”, “The Legacy” and “Trail Of Tears”. So, those I actually went into the studio and recorded with them. But I’ve never had a chance to record original material with Testament.
WORKING IN BUSINESS
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, it is funny that it was Dave Lombardo who finished the GATHERING album. So it seems that there are always the same names popping up everywhere?
Jon Dette: Well, it’s like the little… I don’t know. I think because those bands have toured together for so long over the years that they know each other. They know each other skills; they know each other’s people. So, things happen in bands as they normally do. And they are looking for somebody. You have to feel comfortable with someone; it’s not just the skill. A lot of people, it’s really easy for the public to make that assumption. Like get this person to play for your band, this person. Because all they know is they skill, and they don’t realize like, you guys are traveling on a bus together. It’s not a 9:00 to 5:00 job; you don’t see this person for four hours in the morning and go to lunch, and then four hours later. And then everybody leaves for the weekend. You are with people constantly. It is like, it’s like a relationship. And so, and that said it’s a very important factor when bands are looking for people or artists are coming together to do this. So, it’s not. I always tell people, it’s about who is the best person for that particular thing and it’s like having a relationship with the girl. You could see the most physically beautiful woman with the biggest tits and the nicest ass. But somebody that’s married, could look at that woman and think if his wife as physically beautiful. But there is something more way beyond. What I’m getting there is a lot of things involved to make it work in a band rather, not just the skill set. Bad analogy, big tits and ass. “Laughs” Sorry.
Metal-Rules.com: Right, many guys who we have interviewed have said that being in band is like a marriage.
Jon Dette: Absolutely, and it can be the littlest things. You could have four guys in a band that are chain smokers, and one guy who has the most amazing skill set in the world, but he hates cigarettes. Or vice versa, you’ve got four guys that don’t smoke or don’t drink and then you got one guy that just loves to party his ass off. Who is right and who is wrong? There is no right and there is no wrong, it’s only what’s right for that situation. But if you have people that have habits that are conflicting each other, social habits, whatever it is. It’s not going to work out in the long term.
Testament: Live at Fillmore
Animetal USA: W
Metal-Rules.com: About Slayer, a little bit more about that… I remember when I saw this video, “I Hate You’ where you were playing on. I remember thinking; “Hold on that not Bostaph, who’s that guy?” But how did you get the job with Slayer, replacing Paul Bostaph in ’95?
Jon Dette: That was in November. I started talking to Slayer, September ’95, is when they originally contacted me. And I was actually contacted by a mutual friend of the band. And they had mentioned that Paul was going to be leaving the band, and they were going to start auditions. And that I should audition for the band, which of course I would love to. So, as it turned out, my attorney was also Slayer’s attorney at the time. So, my attorney handles contracts and all that stuff for bands, entertainment Attorney. And so, I called him, I said, “Hey! So, I heard Paul is leaving the band and I’d like to audition.” And he said, “Well, you know I can’t talk about my other clients, Jon.” So, I said, “Okay. Well, I’m sending down an audition tape. If they are looking for somebody, consider myself available.” And I got a call the next day from their management, and that’s how I went down to audition. And actually they had heard my name from a couple of different sources, and I think they wanted to try everyone else out and then try me out last, or second to last. Actually Gene Hoglan was the last person they tried out after me. And they sent me a list of songs, and they said learn side one of DECADE OF AGGRESSION, which I already knew all those songs because I’ve been playing them my entire since I have been drumming basically. And then they said learn DIVINE INTERVENTION, and I was like, “Oh man.” Because I hadn’t really listened to DIVINE INTERVENTION too much. And Bostaph is just like psychotic on that record. And at the time when we were talking, I was going to be auditioning with them in two weeks. So, I’m like, “Okay. One song a day. Let me just dissect this thing.” And that’s what I did, I started with “Killing Fields”, “Sex Murder Art”, “Fictional Reality”. I just boom, boom. I was just going through all the songs. Two weeks came, “Well they are not going to be ready quite yet. It’s probably going to be another two weeks.” “Okay, great.” Now I get another two weeks to polish this up even more. And so, when it finally turned out for me to audition, and the management called me the day before and they said, “So, you learned the song “Divine Intervention”. Right?” And I said, “The song?” I’m like, “No, I learned the album, DIVINE INTERVENTION.” “No, no. You don’t need to learn the album, just that one song.” That information would have been helpful. But as it turned out that was one of the great things about the audition, because when I set up and I was warming up. I warmed up to the entire DIVINE INTERVENTION record, and they were in the room next door listening to me while I was warming up. And after I went through I think the fourth song, my drum tech told me later on because he was in the front, Jeff Hanneman. They are playing with their guitars and playing along with me and they said, “We don’t need to try this guy. Already knows all the songs, let’s just go to the bar now.” But they did come in and jam and again it felt great, we jammed for two days and Kerry took me to the bar at the end… We went to a bar after the second night, and he said absolutely nothing about joining the band. It was all just small talk and then, the bar is getting ready to close and I said, “Well, I guess I’ll just wait to hear from you guys.” And he said, “No. We already decided you are the guy. You will get a call next week and will go roll the details, see you later.”
Metal-Rules.com: And that was it?
Jon Dette: Yeah, literary two sentences and that was it. So, that’s how that went down. And then my first show with them was actually, we did a small club in Miami for American Records. But my first show with them was actually Dynamo in ’96. I think so.
THE FUTURE AND ANIMETAL USA
Metal-Rules.com: The year has been really hectic for you; first you toured with Anthrax, then Slayer, then Heathen and now Iced Earth. But you also have your own things, music and bands, going on at the same time I believe so?
Jon Dette: Well, as you said. This last year has been, this is my fourth time to Europe in one year. I was here this time last year with Anthrax. And then I was back here again with Heathen in May and June, then I was back here with Anthrax in July and August and now I’m here with Iced Earth. I really, honestly I haven’t had time to do anything else, it just been those bands have been keeping me pretty busy. And I actually started working with Slayer after we had gotten back from Australia. We started working for demo and music for their new record. And then obviously what happened with Jeff passing away, that changed some things. But it was definitely moving in that direction for me to be working with Slayer. But as I said there are just some things that changed with that once Jeff passed away, and I think ultimately they felt more comfortable with Paul Bostaph, just because Paul have been in the band for longer. I think it was not going to be as much of a shock to their fans, because first Dave is gone and now Jeff has gone the band it’s now down to two original members. And who have clearly dealt with a lot of it, closely over the last couple of years. So, if Paul makes them feel more comfortable and at home, then more respect to him and I wish them the best with that. But that’s the only other thing that I was potentially moving forward to working on, aside from the Animetal USA project which I have been involved with Chris Impelitteri, Rudy Sarzo and Mike Vescera. So, they’ve been talking about doing a record and they are wrapping up a deal now with Warner Brothers. So, if I’m available to do that then I’ll do it. But as I said, it’s if I’m doing the Iced Earth things then I’m going to commit to them. Then it’s just going to be keeping me busy for quite some time now.
Metal-Rules.com: The Animetal thing, it’s not too well known here in Europe. But it’s known it’s a huge thing in Japan.
Jon Dette: Well, the Animetal thing has really been specific towards Japan and the Asian market because it’s completely based on Japanese anime, the costumes that everybody wears. They are not necessarily based off of; they are not actual figures from an anime cartoon. But the songs are all anime cover songs, every one that they’ve just, they’ve heavy metalized into songs. The songs are actually legitimate, they are well structured songs. It’s challenging to play, but as far as the whole costume thing and all that, I think it’s something that maybe North America, maybe Europe aren’t ready for something like that. I don’t know. My thought is to keep it specific to Japan just because they get it, they understand that’s their music, they know the songs. I played with Animetal at Loud Park Festival in 2011, and Animetal was the opening band at the Saitama Arena that day. And the Arena was completely full, and everybody in the Arena was singing the songs like we were a headline band that had been around for years, because they are Japanese covers songs. Well, the songs are sung in English, there are certain parts that are still Japanese vocals.
Metal-Rules.com: Yes, because Mike can sing in Japanese.
Jon Dette: He can because he used to be in Loudness, right. So, it’s pretty crazy. There is some footage of it on online. You can just see the whole crowd singing with us. It was like; “This is the first show ever that this band had played at that point?”
Metal-Rules.com: The first Animetal album was released in The States as well. How well it was received in there?
Jon Dette: It came out later in the States, yeah. But I don’t know how it did in the States, how well received it was.
Metal-Rules.com: But again, it would be amazing to see you guys doing shows in Europe as well. I think that there would be a great demand for bands like Animetal USA?
Jon Dette: Yeah but as I said, if Europe is ready for it. I mean, there is just certain logistic things that need to happen with Animetal, because of the costumes and the make-up, there is more of a production that goes into that show. I don’t know, will just have to see. Either way, if it’s something that can happen if Europe wants it, if they are looking forward to something like that then it will happen. The other thing that was discussed was the possibility of Mike, Rudy, Chris and myself doing an all original band. Where, yes we are an Animetal but just us, as an original band. Just completely different band. But us, just an original band but that’s something that we’ve been discussing and it’s still in thought process right now at this point.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, you’re really busy guys. I know.
Jon Dette: Rudy has been really busy. He’s been doing the Queensryche thing and Dio Disciples and… I don’t know what Mike has been doing but I know that he is really busy producing. He actually does a lot of producing of records. So, and Chris is just, Chris is Chris. He’s like the Mr. Business mind always doing something business related, really intelligent guy and he’s always busy and something. But yeah, as I said if it’s something that will happen great. But my personal thought is it would be better served to be specific to Japan and the Asian market, just because even though it’s a little more boutique that way. It’s, I think just the way that it’s been marketed. That’s going to be the best outcome for Animetal USA. But that’s just my opinion.
Metal-Rules.com: Okay Jon, our time is up now. Al the best with tonight’s gig with Iced Earth and see you there.
New ‘Otherworld’ EP Available via iTunes, Amazon and More!
Testament/Dragonlord‘s Eric Peterson has just entered a new realm, combining brutal death vocals and dramatic singing with Celtic-metal vocalist/composer LEAH on her new track ‘Dreamland’. The track is cut from LEAH’s new EP Otherworld. The EP is available now via iTunes, Spotify, Amazon MP3, Google Play, Rdio and several other digital retailers. Take a listen to ‘Dreamland’ now at LEAH’s official Bandcamp page.
The cinematic character vocals from Eric Peterson on ‘Dreamland’, a beautiful, symphonic progressive track with a fantasy twist, leave the listener electrified in his wake with “…an echo’s breath, a romance death!”
“It was a real treat to have Eric’s unique vocals on this track,” states LEAH. “My original demo went from having a mellow, Clannad-type feel to now almost dancing on the line of black-metal. I hope this is the first of many collaborations to come!”
“I’ve known LEAH for about 12 years, we’ve been friends since 2001. I jammed with her about eight years ago in Vancouver, and at the time it didn’t work out because I was busy with Testament and Dragonlord, but we stayed in contact,” adds Eric Peterson. “This time around, LEAH contacted me to play on her new record and I thought she wanted me to play guitar. But when she told me she wanted me to sing, I was honored because LEAH is the kind of person that will sing right in the middle of a store and sound amazing, she’s that kind of vocalist. She sent me the song and right away I knew exactly what I needed to do. She took my pattern, wrote some lyrics for me, we went into the studio and it was done! It was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. It’s really great to finally be able to work together with LEAH and put out this great track. I can hear this song in a movie! A couple of people I’ve let hear thought it was the soundtrack to the new Snow White movie! Ha!” Read the rest of this entry »
I realize Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick was the subject of an interview for Metal Rules two months ago, but I was originally set to speak with guitarist Eric Peterson about their new CD/DVD Dark Roots of Thrash and the current state and future plans of the band. But our scheduled interview didn’t happen – as sometimes, well, happens. Two subsequently rescheduled interviews with vocalist Chuck Billy ended up being re-rescheduled because of, well, scheduling difficulties. So, eventually, the ball fell into the lap of Skolnick, but this time things went off at the appointed time – albeit it 7:30 on a Friday night – and without any hitches. Whew!
Since Skolnick’s recent interview here focused primarily on his new book, Geek To Guitar Hero, I largely steered clear of that subject and stuck to things Testament – as well as some of the other projects the busy guitarist has on his plate, notably his jazz trio. And, despite a cold that sounded a lot worse than he let on, Skolnick, on the phone from Brooklyn, N.Y., was able to provide some fresh perspective on Testament, who marked the 30th anniversary of their formation as Legacy this year, where things might be headed after this and offer a few words on the recent passing of one his thrash guitar contemporaries, Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman.
So how is everything? Sorry to you got stuck doing this when you should be settling into the weekend.
ALEX SKOLNICK: Oh, no worries at all. I just got back from a trip and I have a slight cold, so I’m laying low and taking it easy. I’m doing a lot of “green drinks” right now (laughs).
If you don’t mind my asking, where did you travel to?
SKOLNICK: I was just in London, that’s where I traveled back from. I did a short tour of Dublin, London, Scotland and Northern England with my jazz trio.
Eric and Chuck did a DVD preview event out in California, are you doing anything like that back East?
SKOLNICK: Not that I’m aware of. I guess the tour is really what’s gonna hype it up.
Will you be doing any more trio stuff between now and then, or is it time to get back into Testament mode, since the band hasn’t played that many recent shows?
SKOLNICK: The Testament tour is coming up pretty quick, I’m just gonna rest up and get ready for that. I leave for that Oct. 20 and the first show is Oct. 22, so it’s really right around the corner and it’s definitely time to get back in Testament shape. But I think everybody is gonna be on the top of their game. That’s the thing about touring with bands you respect, everybody’s gonna be really up for it.
Your relationship with Lamb of God goes back a ways, but have you encountered Killswitch that much over the years. Are you that familiar with them?
SKOLNICK: I’ve bumped in them. I’m not nearly as familiar with them as I am with Lamb of God because we’ve played a lot of festivals with them and I did a guest solo for one of their albums [the title track of Ashes of the Wake] and their drummer [Chris Adler] – (sneezes), excuse me! – did a guest appearance on one of our [Dark Roots of the Earth] bonus tracks [the iTunes version of “A Day In The Death”], so yeah, we have a pretty good relationship with them. But I’m looking forward to getting familiar with Killswitch. They’re one of the “new faces of metal,” even though they’re not that new anymore, so I’ll be interested seeing what they are all about.
Most of the tours you’ve done over the last few years were with contemporaries from back in the day – Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Death Angel, Overkill – are you excited to go out with the so-called “new breed” this time for a change of pace?
SKOLNICK: Absolutely. It’s been great. We’ve toured with bands from earlier generations, like Heaven & Hell, Judas Priest and Motorhead, bands whowere a few years of ahead of us like Slayer and Megadeth, so yeah, getting to tour with these bands who came later is great. I think it’s gonna open up a whole new fan base. I think many fans of those bands know the name Testament, and some of them will no doubt be familiar with us, but not all of them. So it will be great for them to get a chance to see what we’re all about and hopefully we’ll win some of them over. This seems to be the tour of the fall, from what I’m hearing.
The last time you toured with Slayer, was Jeff Hanneman still with the band?
SKOLNICK: The last time we toured with them I think it must have been one of the last tours that Jeff did, of course no one knew that at the time. He hadn’t developed his health issues so Gary [Holt] wasn’t there yet, he was still going full-time with Exodus, who we also toured with. You couldn’t have known what was going to happen. That was 2010, and it was only 2011 when the Big Four shows happened and he [Hanneman] couldn’t do those, which was such a shame.
You wrote a very eloquent and well-circulated tribute to Hanneman after his death, Testament toured with Slayer many times, but did you really know him that well or was that more to show respect for his talents?
SKOLNICK: I never really knew him well at all. He was very difficult to get to know, actually. And I don’t say that disrespectfully. Even close friends of his said it would take a long time to get to know him. Robb Flynn, a friend of ours from Machine Head, wrote that he’d toured with them like eight times and he still felt like he barely knew him. He kept to himself more. I don’t think he related to many people, that was just the way he was, but he was a towering presence, no question.
I wrote about him more from his reputation, which is tremendous. When you think about the music, the music is great and he is such a part of it. With all due respect to Kerry [King], when you take a look at the iconic Slayer tunes, its Hanneman’s riffs all over it.
I haven’t seen anything about Chuck’s health in a long time, so I’m assuming no news is good news there and his health is good? How’s the rest of the band holding up, since none of you are kids anymore?
SKOLNICK: Yeah, thankfully that’s worked out really well. Chuck’s been much better [after a battle with rare form of cancer in 2001], he’s been in great shape. Everybody in this band, knock on wood, is in relatively good health. I think as time goes on and you realize that you don’t have as much free time as you once had, your perspective changes.
Fortunately, most of us realize that and take better care of ourselves. I was always a lightweight when it came to alcohol and never really developed a taste for other substances, so I think that worked to my benefit. I was taking care of myself early on, and I would get a lot of funny looks, but it seems like now many people are catching up to me.
Testament’s been pretty busy, especially over the last few years, and just about everyone has at least one other band going on the side – notably Gene [Hoglan, drummer] with Dethklok and now, apparently, with Dark Angel again. Are you all finding you are able to balance Testament with the other things you want to do?
SKOLNICK: That’s been the toughest, I think, with Gene. I used to be the thorn in the side, with my trio shows and I was doing Trans-Siberian Orchestra for a long time. I narrowed it down to Testament, my trio and a world music project I’m working on. But I have control over those, so I am able to let the chips fall where they may with Testament, because usually their shows are booked well in advance. Occasionally, there are some curveballs where we get last-minute things like festivals or something. I’m mostly able to work my activities around the Testament schedule.
Eric and Chuck do their side projects [Dragonlord and Dublin Death Patrol, respectively] so sporadically that it never poses scheduling problems. With Gene, it got a little bit easier when he wasn’t playing in Fear Factory anymore, which happened last year. And the Dethklok shows are usually booked far in advance, so we can work around those.
Occasionally, he’ll have to miss a few dates, a friend of ours, Mark Hernandez from Forbidden was able to fill in and it worked out. But with all of us, [bassist Greg Christian rounds out the Testament roster] we really feel like the core lineup and we do everything that we can so the fans get to see this lineup.
If you were still doing TSO, you probably wouldn’t be playing this tour because you’d be out on the road with them, since they tour around the holidays.
SKOLNICK: Oh yeah, I’d have to miss that tour. I would have had to miss a tour with Anthrax the year before, I wouldn’t have been able to do a tour my trio did with Rodrigo y Gabriela the year before that in Europe. It was a great experience, I definitely valued the experience, but it got to the point where the sacrifice was too much. I couldn’t imagine missing this or any of those other tours I mentioned.
Still, being part of that TSO spectacle must have been pretty cool?
SKOLNICK: It’s a spectacle to be sure (laughs). It’s definitely something else. On the other hand, that’s one of the reasons why, for me, I felt it was time to focus on projects that were about music and the musicians. It’s fun to be part of a huge production like that, but sometimes it feels like it’s more about the production and the wow factor it can give the audience than the music itself.
Was the band tempted to go a little overboard with the production for the show you filmed for the DVD, or did you want it just to represent what a genuine Testament show is like?
SKOLNICK: Yeah. We just wanted to capture the show we were doing and the tunes that we were doing, at that time. Who knows, it would be nice if things build and maybe we can do a little bit more production that’s on a level that can compete with some of the bigger shows, but we also didn’t feel the need for it. The music speaks for itself. The crowd is a big part of the show, and the crowd speaks for itself, and the whole experience is captured. So I think that works out well.
Compared to the last DVD, Live in London, which was filmed in a pretty small place and really had no stage production whatsoever, you can certainly get a feel for how things have grown for the band since then?
SKOLNICK: Sure. That first DVD was meant to capture a moment in time that might not ever happen again – the classic lineup from the first couple albums with Louie [Clemente] playing drums, even though it was only for part of the show [John Tempesta played for the other half of the show]. And we weren’t real sure where things were going to be headed afterward as far as the band goes. This one captures us at the height of our second life, if you want to call it that. And there’s new material in there, and stuff from the albums that came after the classic lineup started to fragment, so it captures the entire history of the band. I think the first one was a little more to celebrate the old days, this one’s more about where we are now.
You had a decent break for the summer, have you started doing any writing for new Testament material, or will that come in the new year after this tour?
SKOLNICK: I think that is something we’ll focus on next year. There’s always ideas popping up, any time you pick up the instruments to warm up there’s a chance some random part might come out that just might find its way to an album. I always try to keep the “cassette player” handy (laughs). Nowadays it’s the iPhone or the MP3 recorder, but it’s always there and there are a few ideas on there. I think we’re so focused on the tour and next year will be the time to set aside the time to go through those ideas and see what works and develop them from there and try to get into a routine of coming up with more ideas.
You mentioned the band’s second life, since things seem to be going pretty well are you concerned at all about maintaining the momentum you’ve built over the past couple years, or are you just taking things as they come, given that you’ve also seen the downside over the years as well?
SKOLNICK: You can’t think too much, you can’t overthink and you can’t try to micromanage. You can drive yourself crazy. We’ve already been through this with Formation [of Damnation]. With it having been so long since the band had done an album, could we get together and do an album that people can say they value? And we did.
And also there were questions, I would read about myself online, “Oh, he’s a jazz guitarist now. He can’t play metal.” And I’m not hearing any of those comments now (laughs). OK, so we shut up a lot of people with that, and then the next time it was “well, they’ve done one record can they do another record?” And we come out with Dark Roots [of the Earth] and it was almost in a Top 10 album. So I think it’s safe to say we’re doing something of value.
It is a hard process and there are disagreements along they way and it always takes longer than you think it’s gonna take. It’s a really big endeavor, the process of the first riff being written to having a full musical composition and putting vocals on top of that. The creative process takes a while. But we focus on what we like and we find enough common ground where we can create music that overall, the big picture, we all like it. And that’s the test, otherwise you can go crazy.
I really think we suffered in the early days because there were all these questions where we started out one way maybe we should just be like the old days and not develop. I always thought we should develop because what’s going to set us apart are melodies and hooks, so there were disagreements about direction, what are people going to think? What are the critics going to think? What are the old fans going to think? Now, we don’t concern ourselves with what people are going to think.
Metal fans are very vocal, and more power to ’em, that’s part of it. There’s a Woody Allen movie, I can’t remember which one, but he meets this space alien who says “Why don’t you make the funny films anymore, like you used to?” And I think anyone who’s gained some level of popularity deals with that, and you just have to push it aside and do what satisfies you first. Because if you try to please everyone else, it ends up driving you crazy or leaves you feeling empty. And if people end up not liking it, well that’s the way it is sometimes. At least you, yourself, can feel good about what you’ve done.
Alex Skolnick with his new signature guitar by ESP Guitars. Photo by Tom Couture Photography
You’re arguably in the position where you could just go out there and play the old classics and people would be happy with it. I don’t know if you’d be happy with that, however?
SKOLNICK: No. I wouldn’t do it. I could never do anything that’s like the nostalgia thing. It’s one thing to do a classic album thing, we’ve done that and a lot of other bands have as a celebration of a significant achievement, and it can be pretty cool. But groups I used to hear on the radio and I see them really doing the nostalgia thing without doing anything new, that doesn’t seem fun to me.
Didn’t you miss the tour where Testament did the whole first album, I think it was when the band played with Megadeth. Glenn Drover filled in because you were out with your trio?
SKOLNICK: Yeah, I was on tour with my trio and Rodrigo y Gabriela, and that had been booked for like half a year, and it was all booked around the original American Carnage tour, Slayer, Megadeth and us. And there was so much craziness because that got postponed because of [Slayer frontman] Tom Araya’s back surgery, but [Megadeth mainman] Dave Mustaine decided he wanted to tour anyway and that’s why Testament did that tour, along with Exodus. That was just one of those things. And it was funny because the tour I did with Rodrigo y Gabriela ended up playing some of the same venues, so we almost criss-crossed a few times. I felt bad about missing that, it was unfortunate, but the Rodrigo y Gabriela tour was amazing.
With all the other stuff you have going, did you ever end up doing any kind of book tour for “Geek to Guitar Hero?”
SKOLNICK: No, I didn’t and I would like to. Like you said, I’ve been so busy with the music tours that it’s been hard to get a book tour together. I would definitely like to. I may, on the upcoming tour, do some appearances. We’re working on that. And then after [February Soundwave Festival dates in] Australia, there’s talk that we may visit a couple other countries out in that direction. Once that’s done, that will be the end of the album cycle. We’ll be going out with a bang.
And then I’ll be busy with some other things. I have a lot of activity coming up at the NAMM show. I have a signature guitar that’s coming out form ESP. We’ll officially be launching it at NAMM, and I’ll be doing some other events for Budda amps and D’addario strings. So that doesn’t leave a lot of time. But I think it would be interesting and worthwhile. It would definitely be something different. So we’ll see what we can do.