INTERVIEW WITH STEVE DI GIORGIO
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.
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
You recently rejoined Testament, how did this come about?
Chuck Billy contacted me directly, asked if I was interested, and I had a meeting with him and Tiffany. I would say I was asked when the spot was open.
Yeah, that’s the idea. Chuck said that he would welcome ideas. We’re testing it. You can’t just come in there and it’s not like you just give them a Sadus song. Testament has their own sound. I was invited to participate in coming up with new stuff. So if it fits, if anything that I contribute fits the sound and they like it, then they’ll use it. But I don’t really imagine taking the writing complete – “Hey, I’m making Testament out of sound of stuff that, you know” – and I think Gene’s been invited to contribute too. I think they want to not only utilize ideas of people in the line-up, but also kind of expedite the writing process. We try to get the album out without too much delay. I read Chuck’s interview from October, so that’s a little bit of time ago, but he was saying that the new album was going to come out this summer. He thinks the summer’s far enough away that it’s going to happen. And now, a few months away from the middle of summer and I don’t even know if there’s song number one yet. The idea is to just really try to get it out quick and not have to be years and years of delay. We Just keep it going while it’s hot.
You have never ever worked with Alex Skolnick before?
We played on the album that has the old Testament songs that we did FIRST STRIKE STILL DEADLY, we played on that, but not at the same time. So we appear on an album together, but we didn’t really like work on anything together. I met him a million times and we’ve done and we’ve shared the stage, but this will be the first time we’re like band members together.
Is it a little bit strange for you because there’s three original members in the band and Gene Hoglan – and you used to play with Testament on tour with Chuck, Eric, Steve Smyth and was it John Tempesta on the drums?
There’s a lot of different drummers in that period of time.
So the whole thing is a little bit different now.
That was the reason I left or I didn’t leave or get kicked out – they moved on to do the reunion line up. That went a long time and it’s still pretty much there up until – I mean, because Louis didn’t last very long and Alex is still there. There’s three original guys, but Gene did a period of time with them for DEMONIC and now he’s returned. I did a period of time for THE GATHERING – six years of touring with those guys. So now I’m returning. Me and Gene are not original, but we do have some history with these guys. It’s a big family – we’re still in the family. That’s why I respect Greg. He’s the original guy. He’s a really, really good bass player, but he’s not there. So I feel pretty comfortable as a replacement, because it’s not a new band, it’s not something unknown to me. They know what they’re getting with me. So I’m sure they considered that when they asked me back, hopefully.
THE GATHERING ERA
The GATHERING album is considered to be a killer Testament album because the songs are really crushing and heavy.
Just nothing to really change the direction that they already had going. Eric had written a lot of stuff when I was brought in. Him and Dave were working on the stuff in the rehearsal room in their studio that they have in Oakland and I would come in and just rehearse with them. Maybe those little suggestions here and there but nothing into the level that would be composing or arranging or anything, I don’t think. Since I was there working with them in the early stages, if I had an idea for the bass, that was totally welcome. But the songs were pretty much set. I had creative freedom with my instrument, but the songs were pretty much in place. I have never really written something for this band and I’m going to try and, if my ideas don’t work, that’s cool. I mean, they’re pretty good at it. You can see. Eric and Chuck have been pretty good song writers for a long, long time. But it’s a nice invitation, because that shows to me that I’m not just getting paid to play on stage. I mean, they want me there part of their group. And so that’s cool. I mean, they’re a lot bigger now. They’re a lot more busier than when I was there in the late ’90s.
They’re much bigger nowadays indeed. Does it bring some kind of a pressure because they’re far, far bigger now than when THE GATHERING came out, then you were playing in small clubs?
Yeah, we were doing 400, 600, 800 clubs. Now they’re playing huge. Their stage set’s cool. It’s almost like Iron Maiden or something. Well, they have ramps and all this and it’s cool. It’s a bona fide heavy metal mainstream band. It’s cool. Pressure? No, I mean there’s pressure there to live up to expectations, but like I said, they knew what they were getting when they asked me to come back and I rocked the big stage before, so I think …
Yeah, I remember Wacken in 2003.
Oh yeah, that was a big one. That was amazing. I don’t know, if we’ll play shows like that constantly. We’re getting ready to go to the Soundwave festivals, it’s in Australia and I heard those are really, really big. I mean, there’s like 100 bands on it.
It’s a big one.
And it’s more than just one location. Like European style, there are many festivals, but they’re all individual. This is a festival circuit that goes around to different cities and stuff. So that’ll be interesting. I have never even been to Australia before. We’ll be starting the year with my first concert cruise, the first time in Australia, the first time in Indonesia. We got shows planned everywhere.
Very, very busy year. There’s still plans for the Death tours too. We’re coming back to Europe. Not going to Scandinavia or Finland. But we have those shows, because we’re playing like Hellfest and Graspop, so we’ll be down that area. Death has some plans and Testament has a lot of plans. I think at my age it’s the pressure is not to perform well. The pressure is to stay healthy and complete it all.
And not suffering the biggest jetlag.
Uh, we’re going to be doing a lot of flying.
The last two albums, DARK ROOTS and THE FORMATION, have really cool songs which have really catchy riffs. How do you learn these so-called new songs, do you practice on your own or because they are main part of the setlist in any way for Testament?
Yeah. Chuck’s already given me the heads up what the set list will be. They’ll be variations like in Australia. We’ll probably play a very condensed set, because of the festival nature. Then we go to Japan, we’re going to be headlining three shows, so then they’ll expand and have a lot more songs. So I have an idea what it is, I don’t have to learn the whole album fortunately. Maybe eventually I’ll get around to knowing all the songs. he’s just already told me just and he handed me a list and said learn these. It’s funny because except for those two albums you just mentioned, everything else on the set I played with them before. Not to really show the hand. But it’s pretty obvious. Testament has a classic set. They play the ones people like every time. I think it’s been about nine years since I left. So it’s a pretty good chunk of time, but it’s kind of a refresher just going over – Disciples of the Watch and Burnt Offerings.
Yes. Into the Pit.
Into the Pit, all those are there, so those will come to me real fast. Then we’re playing a pretty good selection of THE GATHERING. There’s a good batch of songs off that. That’ll be fun to relearn those. It then just leaves to new albums of new stuff that I never did, but I’ll try my best.
INTO THE NEW CHALLENGES
Testament reunited with the classic line-up in 2005 as requested by the Dynamo fest organization for some shows, right ?
I believe that’s how the whole idea started. I think Dynamo just wanted to do this exclusive “if you get the guys together”. Of course when they did it, they’re like, “well we’re not going to just stop at one show. Let’s keep this thing going because people really liked it.” I was told officially by a band management. Like with Sadus, we’re almost more friends than band mates. I would have appreciated a heads up from one of the guys that I would consider close friends in the band. I guess they wanted to approach it professionally. And, you know, sometimes I guess in a way it was a negative thing to say. I fully understood. There was no negative feelings from me. But maybe they anticipated.
Oh I went right – I went right into a Skid Row singer band …
So I’ve been. I barely had time to unpack from the Testament to when I was off playing with Sebastian Bach and the guys for a couple of years. I’ve been pretty fortunate. I have some good connections, so like I managed to keep going. After that, I kind of took a break from the public eye. I went out and I filled in for some bands here and there – Obscura, Obituary. I mean, I still got around and did stuff. It seemed like in that period of years I did a lot of session recording. I just locked myself in my own studio and kept busy that way. So now it’s going to change back to going out.
Tell me about your studio as you’re working there a lot. How did you start in the first place?
I have a lot of friends that have their own setups. It was about time for me to get my own because a lot of the session work I do are new bands doing the first album – not a new band but a band putting out their first album or a solo artist putting out like an instrumental album or something. Those budgets are very, very small. If I start throwing all these studio costs into it, it’s even there’s a lot more demand on the budget. So now I’ve eliminated the price of studio time, because now I have my own access to record my bass tracks. And, oh yeah, as a professional level, it’s good stuff. I actually enjoy the studio. I prefer the studio. I like having an engineer who knows what he’s doing getting the sound and helping me to finish my tracks because working alone, you have to kind of multitask. You have to have your instrument, operate the computer. So it’s not the best. A lot of times, I’m alone which alone is cool because you could fuck up 50 times and you’re not embarrassed because you’re by yourself. When you get that good take and that’s the magic take, there’s no one to high five. There’s no one like “Yeah we did it, man, that’s cool”. And I miss that. I’d rather have the personal interaction. But it’s cool. I mean, because now I have the ability to record myself for whatever situation.
Did you record the bass tracks for Soen in your own studio?
No, I traveled to Stockholm. We recorded everything for that album in Stockholm.
What’s up with Soen ?
Well, those three guys live very close to each other. They’re very close friends as well. It was a great time, to meet them and work on material. I did contribute musically. There’s my ideas are on the album. Martin had finished 90 something percent of the stuff but he was receptive to stuff that I had input. The recording was good and then we came back and did the festival in Helsinki and went on to Gothenburg and recorded a couple of videos. It was a good experience, but the reality is you have three guys that live five minutes from each other and the other guy is a 16-hour flight away. It just didn’t make sense to keep going. I missed out on a lot of shows. They did a whole tour of Paradise Lost and I couldn’t go. We gave it a try and it just logically seems that they should have someone close to them where they can be a unit and go out and do stuff together. So no problem, it makes sense.
How is it supposed to describe the material of Soen? In my opinion it has a lot of similarities to Opeth…
Yeah, I’ve heard comparisons to Opeth and Tool and there’s a whole bunch of band like Katatonia a little bit, Karnivool, that type – Yeah, it’s kind of a newer type of wave, not super new but it’s progressive but not overly progressive. It’s melodic but still heavy. I liked it a lot. Martin’s a great guy, a great drummer. And Joel has an amazing voice. And it was awesome. My time went to those guys was great. They’re nice guys and hanging out was fun, especially Joel, he’s a lot of fun. So I liked it and I enjoyed it while I was there. I think when we were getting ready to do some new songs, I think Martin was ready to have another child with his wife and he juggles his times as all of us have our life and our music life and everything. It couldn’t work out all the way in California to be in a band that practices in downtown Stockholm. It just didn’t make sense anymore. It was too expensive.
AND FUTURES END?
The metal band which I really like is Futures End, I really like the album. I guess, the existence of the Futures End is a little bit big question mark because you are living in different places?
We actually have the second album, I would say fully written, because when we left off, we were demoing new vocal ideas. That’s usually the last step. The singer comes in last.
And I don’t know. We just got away from it. Christian joined Circle II Circle and that took up a lot of his time. John has now moved to Texas, and which is not really a bad thing because coincidentally, as he actually moved to Houston and that’s where the singer Fred has lived for a while. That’s not a big, big deal. I don’t know, we just kind of got away from it. We don’t really have label support. The fan base is small because we haven’t really gone out and pushed the material and got new fans. So it’s kind of like, eh, when we get around to it.
Is it more like a hobby band?
Totally. It’s exactly a hobby band.
You are not making any money with Futures End.
No, we had to pitch in to make a lot of that stuff happen. Christian financed almost all of it, pretty much. That’s hard because the return is slow if not nothing. But we enjoy playing musically to each other. And the new songs have a cool progression from the first album, very similar, but kind of a new sound. Unfortunately, even the newest song is probably about two or three years by now, because we got busy. I mean right after the album was done and we started playing shows, we got busy and started writing new stuff. We were really into coming right out with a second album. But we just left off. I was talking to Christian at the NAMM Expo the other day and we think it’s time. I think it’s time to really start pushing each other to make time to do it. Because the hard part is done. I mean we have a full album’s worth of songs. We just need to finish it and just put it out. So it might have been a digital only release. That might be the most reasonable of the two. No production cost. I mean at least once the mixing is done. There will be no physical CDs, no distribution. I mean, just make it available for download and then if it picks up, then maybe we’ll have some money to make cool CD products. But if not, then we’ve only tried.
It reminds me.. okay.. Nevermore might be a little bit too aggressive because Futures End has a lot of traditional metal influences I guess. I’m not sure if it’s Watchtower, Fates Warning something like that came up to my mind, but I didn’t find that much Nevermore influences on Futures End.
No. It’s hard to say because we write together and everybody has their own unique influences. There is some common bands that we like together. But for the most part, everyone is pretty different in that group. So when we come together and write for it and we write not just based on influence, but we write for the idea of the band. And a lot of that is based around Fred’s vocals and he’s an amazing singer. So we want to write songs that showcase his range in style, you know. So that’s why I’m looking forward to the next stuff. I hope we stop doing nothing and start doing something because it’s a good follow up to the album, some good stuff.
DEATH TO ….ALL
Let’s talk a bit about this Death to All. I am going to refer to the interview with Gene Hoglan’s interview (released in metal-rules.com July 30th, 2013) as he said that, “Death To All should play all the way from SCREAM BLOODY GORE to THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE. Otherwise if they don’t and then it’s like ripping off the fans”. But do you think that it’s complicated to create a set list for Death To All because Death’s catalogue is huge and the songs are really immortal – If I can say that?
It is. That is pretty hard. With this line up we have now, we can play songs off every album. I wouldn’t consider it – I wouldn’t say that if we don’t play something off here, we’re not ripping off the fans. That’s a little bit harsh. I don’t think we’re ripping them off. But obviously, the ideal set is to play something from the every album. That way,everyone was happy. When we first went out with this current line up, basically me – the HUMAN line up, we really really wanted to just focus on the album we did together. We filled in some older songs, very similar to the Human Tour, which at that time, HUMAN was the newest album and then they went back and played some old ones. So we did that at first and we’ve been expanding since then. What happened on this cruise is we played our first show on Tuesday and we didn’t get set up in time. We started late. They made us stop at the proper time, so we had to cut some songs and so the songs that we cut ended up being a couple of the new ones. And well, in HUMAN, we cut a song off Human too. And then today, as you could see with the weather, we lost a whole stage.
Yeah. Well, I mean I know. It’s not like some kind of crazy rain or anything, but maybe being on a ship, maybe if the wind picks up, and there’s a lot of stuff above the stage, the lights and the cover and I think they’re just doing it to be safe.
Yeah that’s true.
That stuff could tear right down and crush people or who knows. I don’t know, but the point is they lost the stage, they put everything in the one room there. They wanted cooperation from the bands to shorten the sets so that they could get all the bands playing that need to play. So we had to chop like five songs out of what we had prepared. So now THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE, SYMBOLIC, a couple of songs of HUMAN, a couple of old ones, they all got cut right out. We could only play what we’re allowed, but you know the time-wise. It has to be a community choice. Some guys feel different about certain songs than others. Like you could tell already Gene feels very strongly about the newer songs and possibly some other guys don’t.
So it’s a community decision. We all have input on what we’re doing. We definitely decided unanimously that no matter how many songs we have to cut, we’re going to show the movie because that’s the cool thing about his line up, because we play the memorial film. That’s very important because we want to show people that, we’re trying to keep Chuck part of it as much as we can. So it’s hard – you try to play something everybody likes, but you just don’t have time and you have to make this choice and you cut, cut, cut. Go, just do it. And try to do it as good as you can.
I was not available as Chuck wanted from me. He wanted, because even though for Individual me and Gene went to stay with Chuck for the end of the song writing and the recording and stuff, for SYMBOLIC, he wanted more time. Gene was able to go stay there for a long time but I was having… That’s when my daughter was born. So I just told them “I’m making a family here, I don’t have time to just go hang out and practice every day”. So he decided, because I did the pre-production and because the timing of when they had to go in the studio and when my daughter was born was around the same period and it just made sense to have somebody that was really available and free. I was having a brand new baby. So it just wasn’t time.
You didn’t record the INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERNS album together. Andy LaRocque came from Denmark and recorded his parts and went back to Denmark. Then you came in and recorded the rest of the thing, right?
Pretty much. I was there for the last couple days of rehearsal to learn the songs and went in the studio together. And they’re called guide tracks or bed tracks where we’re going for a good drum take and me and Chuck were playing along with Gene. We did play as a group as far as me, Chuck, and Gene. And then I left when the drums were done. And then so that gave Chuck his time to put his guitar. When I came back, I started over and did all the bass tracks to the finished guitar tracks. So then it was very solid guitar part to put bass on it to, because you hear the bass and then it does its own thing a lot. So it was good to have Chuck’s parts done to see what kind of experimentation I could do with the bass. When I was done with bass, Andy came and I got to hang out with him for a little while. So even though Gene wasn’t there, me and Chuck and Andy worked together. So we started the three of us, me, Chuck and Gene and then when I came back, there was me, Chuck and Andy. So yeah, maybe we weren’t all a total group, but there was a lot more group participation than it appears.
Gene told that he didn’t meet Andy until last summer at Graspop.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s true. Andy was there for a very brief time and all he played was a few solos. That’s it. He didn’t even play a solo on every song. It was only a few songs, quick solos and didn’t do any rhythm tracks, never meant to look like a member or anything. – Just came in and put his solos and went back home. And, yeah, like I said, I was there when he was there. I tried to get him to go to a hockey game with me one night but he was tired or something. So we could’ve done some hanging out but he was working in the studio as well. It was fine. But I met him years later when I was with Testament and we went through Copenhagen and he came out and totally different, because the album had changed so much. Like back then, it was like unknown and especially Andy didn’t really know too much about Death – I imagine – and then sure enough the album comes out and, ah, people come up to him and like “Man, you did a good job on Death”. He’s like “Wow, I didn’t know it was so important”. So when I met him when I came through with Testament, he was so happy to see me and wanted to tell me how much that album changed him and just his perspective and stuff. He was so glad that he ended up doing it. It was cool. So we got to kind of hang out and talk a little bit.
It’s very interesting that half of the INDIVIDUAL line-up is in Testament now.
Yeah. Gene’s the man. He’s a superstar. I don’t really compare myself. But there are some similarities between me and Gene. We like to work. We like to play. We like to go out and we both perform with many different bands. And we have Death and Testament in common. So when you really look at it, it kind of makes sense. You know, we’re both returning to Testament, we’ve both worked in Death before. And even in the old, old days, Dark Angel requested Sadus as a support in San Francisco every time. So we go back before Death. We’re super close friends and quite an amazing rhythm section. So it makes sense.
Otherwise, Testament has a really close relationship with Death because you and Gene, and then James Murphy, have been in both bands as well.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, one day someone’s going to make a giant family tree graph of all this stuff and keep track of all of it, so.
Before concluding the interview, name the three most important albums that you have made, which are close to your heart, and why.
Only three? Oh, I don’t know. Obviously INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERNS, even though I played on HUMAN, I mean, INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERN has kind of given me an identity. I would say Vintersorg, possibly Visions from Spiral Generator. To me, and the one I did after it, FOCUSING BLUR, to me, both of those albums are like some of my favorite work I’ve ever done. I don’t know. I suppose THE GATHERING because of the way the album is talked about by people. Like it’s a pretty important album in the whole history of metal I guess. So to be part of that is pretty important even though the bass isn’t that – not my usual crazy self on it. So I don’t know, I mean, there’s three good ones. I could go on and on. Control Denied was great. Scariot – that turned out really great. That’s a cool metal album. I don’t know, I’d need a list in front of me. But I think I gave you some good ones. I’m sure I left off some other good ones. I’m sure someone reading will go, hey, why didn’t he say that? Well, I can’t remember.
All right, thanks for your time.