Steve DiGiorgio Interview
Interview by InfamousButcher
Photos by SheWolf
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.
InfamousButcher: You’ve participated in several Death To All tours. Which Death albums are being featured for this particular tour?
Steve DiGiorgio: We’re playing songs off all the records. There’s seven Death records. We’re doing about two or three songs off every record. Except for the last album, I think we only have one or two. That’s already fourteen to twenty songs, so you play two songs off every record you’ve got a full set. We normally play a full set, sometimes 90 minutes. So this lineup has kind of changed around and kind of cram packed giving people more to check out.
IB: How did you meet Chuck Schuldiner?
SD: I always try to give kind of a condensed version. It’s a long story. I’m from the Bay Area in California and the original band I was in is a thrash band called Sadus. When we released our first demo tape our guitar player put his phone number on the label. This was for bookings and stuff. This was 1986. We had just finished rehearsing and we went out into the other room to take a break and the phone rings. This band from a couple of towns over said they got our demo tape and they really like it and they’re in a band called Death. We were like, yeah right who would name their band that. He said they really like our band and they want to meet us and hang out. We figure what have we got to lose. We just hooked up with them. A bunch of 17 and 18 year olds got together and we’d watch each other jam. We got to know each other and listen to records together. We did other kinds of against the law type things hanging out on a Friday and Saturday night at parks or school grounds where it’s nice and dark drinking and whatever. We just really got to befriend each other. They were only two guys. It was just Chuck and Chris in the band. Sadus was four guys. We just became like a group. A friend group. And we started sharing rehearsal space. The drummers shared a kit. We traded off rehearsal sets. It was a big difference going from a band of four to a band of two. I really liked their band so I just kind of crash coursed and learned all the riffs and started joining in to give their practice a fuller sound. We decided to kind of keep that and I came about one inch from being in the band at that point. I felt like their bass player and we were gonna book shows where I was going to play both sets, but Chuck ended up leaving California before anything really happened. So basically they found us because they were Sadus fans. Especially Chuck was a Sadus fan to the end. You will see many pictures throughout time where he was wearing a Sadus shirt. He was an honest to goodness Sadus fan. That was more advertising than we could ever pay for. That was our man right there. But he was also our buddy. It was cool. We just really got to know each other. And I think if there was an opening in the band on any other instrument other than bass one of the Sadus guys would have filled in. I was just the guy because the bass spot was open. Because of that you could see he kept me. I worked in some capacity more or less on seven out of the nine records. Eight and nine being Control Denied that came out and Control Denied that wasn’t finished. We had a pretty good relationship from when we were kids all the way to the end days.
IB: You actually played on all of the Death albums?
SD: I had something to do with each of them, yes. Back in our 17 year old days, one night hanging out at a park Chuck said, hey guys were gonna take off to L.A. for a week or so. We were like, alright cool. We didn’t ask why. A week or whatever goes by, they come back, we hook up again. We were kind of curious like, what did you guys go to L.A. for? He was all, oh we recorded our album for Combat. You recorded your album? Wait. Man I’ve been jamming with these guys so I go, who played bass on the album? And Chuck goes, Oh God I did and it was awful because I had to do all these guitar tracks, all these vocal tracks, and the bass. And he was like ya know that was too much work. And I said, oh crap I would have loved to do it. I never played on an album before. He turns to Chris and goes, I told you we should have asked him! That close to being asked. They didn’t say what they were doing, otherwise I would have definitely butted in and said, me, me, me, pick me! Imagine from my point of view being on SCREAM BLOODY GORE. Holy crap. But it didn’t work. Chuck was the bass player. The next two albums I wasn’t in good contact with them, for LEPROSY and SPIRITUAL HEALING. Terry played on those and then he called me in for HUMAN and INDIVIDUAL, which are back to back. And then I stayed in for SYMBOLIC. I went to Florida and I was part of the early song writing period and pre-production recording. I was there for that, but then I started a family. That’s when my daughter was born so I didn’t have the time to go finish it so they got someone for the studio and to do the tour. But then he called me back for THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE. Same thing. I went there actually two separate times. Once to do the song writing and pre-production. I didn’t end up doing the studio album. Something else came up. I don’t remember what it was. I remember me and Chuck talked on the phone a lot. So it was an agreed thing and I didn’t follow through. But when he finished his touring cycle for THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE, he called me back again for the Control Denied, and I went in and did that record and stayed in as one of the last current members of the lineup he left behind. So yeah you can see there is a long span of time even though only two albums pop up. I was behind the scenes a lot. I didn’t picture it like a long history together. Back then it just felt like he was my buddy. Because we did a lot of stuff besides music. When he was in California we would go hiking in the hills all the time. In Florida we would go canoeing in the swamps. We were both outdoor kinda guys. We hung out a lot. So to do all this musical stuff with him seemed kind of logical because we kept in close contact.
IB: How is Death’s music different than Testament and Sadus?
SD: That’s three big differences right there. Sadus is like a three man acrobatic act. If one guy doesn’t catch grip the whole thing falls. It’s all three guys very much involved in the whole picture. Testament is very formulated. The instruments have more of a role. Some instruments are in the foreground. There is no improvising. You are set in your role. But clearly it works. The band has massive success. It’s no knock on their style. That’s just the way it is. You always hear the rhythm section. Bass and drums are the foundation and they are just put in their pocket and everything dances on top of that. With Death it’s reversed. The guitar is locked into a solid part. It creates kind of this brick wall, and the drums and bass are floating around on top. We are doing poly rhythms and trading off licks and fills. We keep it busy. And it makes the song sound busier without sounding too technical because the guitars are nice and locked in tight. The similarities between Sadus and Death are that I am a very kind of busy and adventurous bass player so it always fit my style. And Chuck being a big Sadus fan and a friend of mine welcomed that. He always wanted that coloration in his band from the bass department.
IB: You play a three string bass sometimes. What type of bass is it and why do you prefer that?
SD: It’s a Thor bass. It’s an American. A lot of people refer to this level as boutique. It’s not a company. The guy has his brand name but he’s not mass producing, he does custom orders only. He’s up in New Hampshire. I have a pair of Thor basses. And the first one he made me was a five string. And then the second one is a six string. I have the five string with me. A few years ago when I was working with Obituary, they had actually called me out to do a quick little tour. They dumped a big ole set on me, boom learn this in a couple of days. It was challenging because Obituary has kind of an AC/DC approach to death metal. Trust me I am saying it with all my heart I love that fucking band. What I’m saying is there’s a very limited vocabulary in the core patterns. And for them the guys that have lived with those songs for 20-25 years, they recognize those songs as individuals. But when I had their entire catalog dumped on me and I had to learn this 90 minute set, it was a lot of the same kind of stuff to me. And I remember looking down at this five string bass, I went to Belgium a day early, and I looked down at the bass and I said, man there’s just too many strings for me to look at. There’s too many letters in the alphabet. I wanted to throw out all the letters that didn’t belong in their vocabulary. So I just start taking strings off my bass to limit the visual aspect of learning the songs. But of course if you just take the strings off, directly off, you change the tension of the neck and it was weird. So I ended up with the three strings and I spaced them out. So it’s a five string bass with the strings in the one, three, and five hole. So it’s the low three strings of a normal bass, E, A, D, even though we down tune. But they’re spread out over the five spaces. And that was out of necessity to help me focus and play their songs. And I learned the songs and I thought now that I have the songs I should put the bass back together, but ya know what I don’t want to screw it up. So I just put it in the case as it was and modified to the three strings and showed up to the first show. As soon as I lifted it out of the case Trevor was like, whoa that looks like a trident! Because the body shape of the Thor bass is kind of a very radical, medieval weapon design, and when you spread the strings out you see so much wood in between them. It just looked odd right off the bat. And I said okay well that reaction right there I’m locked, I’m keepin it. So I played the whole tour, did it fine, ya know did the Obituary thing. I thought maybe I’d go back to normal but oh man I started missing it so I just kept it strung that way. It’s become a novelty. It’s a little bit show off because it’s bare minimum and there’s no real point in it except that we’re kind of creating some kind of challenge for myself, and we’re creating a visual like, oooh what’s that. Other than that, there is no advantage to it but I like it. It’s actually kind of a disadvantage because the string spacing is so wide. You’re not used to that kind of interval. I’ll say it keeps me focused a little bit but like I said it’s pretty aesthetic. That Obituary thing where it started was in 2010 and I’ve been playing it ever since. I bring the same two Thors with me on the Testament tour. I swtich off. And the other bass is a six string so I know what songs I can handle the range of notes in and when I need more I just grab that six. I’ve got nine strings to choose from all night. The notes are covered. It’s bare minimum for only some songs. That’s the whole story there. Once again a not short version!
IB: What does DTA mean to you?
SD: Our formulated answer is that it is a tribute memorializing the memory of Chuck. To me it means getting back with buddies. And you’ve seen their lineup change a little bit here, we had Paul and Sean from Cynic. We had Shannon Hamm in for a while. And now Gene and Bobby. I’ve jammed with all these guys over the years. They’re pretty much some of the best musicians in the world. At least in my opinion. We did those albums back in the day and when our cycle was over, and when whoever lasted however long we went our own ways. Now we’re back together again and it’s cool from my point of view to do music with some of the best, amazing musicians/guys in the world. It’s awesome. And we have a lot of fun every night man because we all realize that not only did we make a statement 20-something years ago, but here we are 20-something years later in our mid-40s playing that stuff as we did as young men. It’s kind of like, yay us. Because we are only just a few years off of 50 and we’re playing this music we did just turning the corner into 20 and we’re doing it pretty good. And that’s not a brag. The reason is we push each other. Somebody falls a little bit behind and this guy’s right behind him. You don’t want to let your guard down because everybody’s really good at what they do. And that’s what it means to me man. It means to carry on what we did back then with no idea where we’d be in the future and here we are doing it with conviction.
IB: This is the third iteration of DTA. Do you think this will be an annual tour?
SD: I don’t think so. We just approached it as kind of supplying the demand. As long as fans really want to see us, as long as there is some interest in watching us mid-40 guys play what we did in our mid-20s, we are of course willing to do it. But as soon as the interest wanes, we’re done. Because we’re just a tribute. There’s no material products. There’s no future. We’re just going back for an hour and a half. Nostalgia. Rocking out. Letting people bash each other. There’s a window. It’ll run its course. I personally think it’s gone a little longer than we thought; which is killer. It’s awesome. It’s a good thing. We are realistic. Eventually it will burn out. The attendance has been a little lower each time. Because people have kind of seen it. So we always try to bring something new. So if someone feels 50/50 about showing up, not with this lineup, or this song, or this is some real over the top stuff, or this set list is a little more powerful. You can only recycle members or albums so many times before people go, I saw it. There’s nothing new ever. It won’t be annual. It feels like it’s kind of winding down. We’ll see how the public feels about it.
IB: I am happy it is the third time we are catching it.
SD: Irving Plaza?
IB: Yes we went to the Irving Plaza show that was hot as hell.
SD: I felt like a tater tot standing up there. You breathed the air in and it was so much hotter than your natural body temperature it felt like it was just burning you up. Just fighting for your oxygen. Everybody was just like faucets full on pouring sweat.
IB: You played with DTA on 70000 Tons. You played with Testament on the Motorboat. How would you compare the two?
SD: You can’t compare anything to 70000 tons. That’s freaking huge. That’s a lot of bands. That’s an established thing. And this was a Motorhead sponsored thing so it was a little more tailored down ya know specifically Motorhead, Megadeth, Anthrax, Testament. Megadeth ended up cancelling but some of the guys from the band made like an all-star lineup. I mean to compare them, they’re metal concerts on a cruise ship. In fact we took the same exact path really across Key West. But I mean it’s a big difference. On the 70000 tons they had like three or four bands playing at all times. On this Motorhead one it was like one or two bands alternating. And 70000 tons you couldn’t even walk through the halls or the stairways man it was just packed. This one was pretty open. Which was cool because you could get your food or your drink so much quicker and get to where you’re going quicker. We did fine. Testament does pretty good. Just throw their name out there and people enjoy it. It was easy. I just showed up and played. The spirit of the band just keeps everybody up. It was good. I liked them both. But obviously 70000 tons is the big one. I heard that they changed ships now. It’s a bigger ship. I think it’s ready to expand. Which is a good thing. It’s expensive ya know. You gotta fly to Miami, buy your cruise fare. Fans really invest in that. It’s a major investment. But to fill it up every year, it’s awesome. Because it’s a great time. No responsibilities. You don’t have to drive anywhere. You don’t have to be home at any time. There’s stuff going on on these ships 24 hours a day. I love it.
IB: Thanks very much for the interview Steve. It was great to meet you.
SD: Thanks man, good to meet you too. Enjoy the show!