Interview with Steve DiGiorgio of Testament
April 30, 2015 in Philadelphia
at the Dark Roots of Thrash 2 Tour
Interview by InfamousButcher, Photos by SheWolf
Sublime metal bassist Steve DiGiorgio is a master of his craft, contributing his unique style to beloved metal bands such as Death, Sadus, and Testament. Testament is finishing up the US Dark Roots of Thrash Tour 2 with Exodus. Steve was kind enough to meet up with us again to discuss all things Testament and more.
InfamousButcher: How long have you known the guys in Testament?
Steve DiGiorgio: I was invited in the band in 1998. I got to know them then, but being from the same area, and playing in Sadus that was in the same local scene as them, once in a while we paired up at shows. I knew of them and they knew us by band names way back to ‘86,’ 87. Back in those days all us Bay Area bands kind of mixed around and played different shows together. When Eric (Peterson) called me to see if I was interested in joining the band in ’98, that was a no brainer man. He showed me a cassette of just raw songs ideas, just guitar and drums, and the drummer was Dave Lombardo, I was like someone wants me to put bass with this, I was down with it. I was lucky to play with the big boys.
IB: So the first time they reached out to you was for THE GATHERING?
SDG: Yeah, Eric and Dave had worked together for a while and a lot of song ideas were there but fortunately I came in at a pretty good early stage, and I was part of kind of watching the songs grow and everything. Sometimes I go to record or tour with a band and I have to learn stuff right beforehand. It was cool on this album because I really knew the stuff when we recorded it. It was cool. We did a lot of touring for that. Years of touring. It was good. A lot of different drummers came and went.
IB: How did you join Testament again after Greg Christian left the band?
SDG: I was in Testament for THE GATHERING and then we did a remake of the old songs called FIRST STRIKE STILL DEADLY. That was at the tail end of Chuck (Billy)’s health battle that he went through. He got better. He felt good. He wanted to start working again. So we toured a lot after that and it was 2004 they got the idea to do the reunion. To get all the original guys back together and Greg stuck with it up until the end of 2013. Chuck got a hold of me at some point and I don’t even know how he said it, it was just real quick like, Greg is out and we’d like you to come back. We actually had some pretty cool talks. I was working full time and it didn’t seem possible really. But when Chuck Billy comes calling, and I was sitting there freaking stacking pallets, and I’m looking at this and I’m like, at my age with that guy calling me like that. I would say it was a no brainer to want to for sure. 100% wanted to. But I worked there for so long it’s like hard to give up on that kind of security. But I realized from high school up until the time I got this job I was doing this for primary income. I was a real musician when I was young. My kids are grown up now. I just said fuck it. What’s the worst that could happen? So if it doesn’t work out, I go home and I look for a job. That’s the rest of the world. It’s not a big deal. I wasn’t gonna feel sorry for myself. I just fucking did it. That was the end of ’13. And right at the start of ’14 we went out and did Australia, we were going everywhere man. Just part way through the year I had already made what I was used to making annually. So I was like alright, cool, so far. But fortunately, and I hate to jinx it, the schedule looks so packed, fuck it man, I’m happy. I’m glad that I jumped back into music, because I can meet people like you guys again, and sit in a place called Philadelphia, Pennsylvania instead of my same old town day after day, measuring time between coffee breaks. But I gave up the security because I was kind of miserably locked in a pattern. I know we all get that wherever we are but at that personal time, it was my time to just be like I don’t like what’s going on right now. Just everything around me. It just felt like every day was just fighting it. It kind of helped me make the decision to just say fuck it. And like I say my kids grew up so your responsibility level changes. It doesn’t go away but it changes. That’s the really long way of saying how I came back. They needed a bass player and they came after me because I was in the band before. Personally I get along great with Greg. The whole thing about his issues with band is that we never have to be a band together so we are not going to have personal problems because we play the same position. He’s always been a super sweet guy when I met him. We always have good conversations and stuff. His reason for leaving is his business but they just told me there was an opening that needed to be filled and I knew the guys from before so it was easy. I hope the best for Greg whatever he is doing.
IB: How is the Dark Roots Of Thrash 2 Tour going so far? After North America, will this tour hit other countries?
SDG: The tour is going great. Even the idea before the tour, Exodus and Testament. Man, I don’t know why they didn’t do that all the time. Cause it’s working! It’s just as powerful as it would have been back in the Bay Area heyday. It’s killer. Fans are loving it. These places are packed. The bands’ perspective on the whole thing is that it’s gonna be killer because we like each other and we like each other’s music. The crowds are showing that it’s the right decision. Because they are digging it man. Packing all these places. We played an outdoor festival in Jacksonville and it was huge man. It was a sea of people. Especially like in Florida or the U.S. in general to have a huge thing like that just supporting our kind of music. And like Zetro says on stage every night, because they are on the 30th year of BONDED BY BLOOD being out, he always talks about that. 30 fucking years and you guys are bringing your kids to the shows now. It’s cool to see the support for just the style of music in general. Plus the two bands together is killer. It’s been going great. This is a cool venue. Some of the places we hit are just so not appropriate man. We have a major production we bring with us. We don’t have trailers. We have a big 53 foot semi outside. This is so scaled down tonight. There is a lot of stuff missing from our production. I would not say this is a bad place, but because of the actual size of it, that’s just what it is. But when we bring our production into some big places, I’m in awe of it. I am standing on stage and have to remind myself to do my job. I’m like, this is killer man. When I first came back to it and we went to Australia and I first walked on stage I felt like I was in Iron Maiden Junior. Not as grandiose but kind of in that flavor and I’m looking around like, oh yeah I better perform man. I was ready to just head bang and be like, these guys rule! Oh shit I’m in the band! The tour’s been going great. Shows, reviews, comments, fan response, hanging out with the bands, the whole checklist, everything is great. We conclude this run and we go home for about a week and both bands get on a plane and we are starting in, I think the Netherlands. We are going to do about a 40 day tour of Europe. I’m not sure how many shows exactly but the band usually operates with no more than one day off a week. If it’s 40 days, probably at least 35 shows. We are hitting a lot of countries over there. Tons of them. All of the Scandinavian countries, all over Germany, Czech Republic. I’m not sure if Exodus is doing every show with us. I know we break off for different festivals but like the scaled down headlining shows I think are the Testament and Exodus package. I can’t advertise like that but that is in my head as to how it goes.
IB: Darks Roots Of Thrash 2 Tour features THE LEGACY and THE NEW ORDER played in their entirety. Do you enjoy playing full albums live?
SDG: Yeah I mean with bands that play 90 minutes or more you are playing way more material than even one album. So I guess playing a full album live is not so much different time wise. I guess it’s more conceptual. A lot of young bands only have one album. I don’t really look at it as; it’s good or bad playing the album. The first album, I think we are doing every single song on that album, but the second one we left a few off. And then they said it was select songs from PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH, the third album, and we are only doing the title track. So there were more. So the flier kind of went out way before the tour, but right before when we rehearsed it, we had this big, huge list of songs and we had to scale it back to 90. So even a full 90 minutes which is a good set, we had way more prepared. And the ones that got cut all had different reasons. Oh maybe this song is not as good as the others, or maybe it was strictly a matter of time, so flip a coin and pick one. I’m pretty sure we are playing all the songs off the first album. It feels like it. I mean it’s cool but they could have thought of a cooler name for the tour to really highlight THE LEGACY or THE NEW ORDER. Because we are not playing a single song from the DARK ROOTS OF EARTH album. When we go to Europe though, I heard we are starting to bring back some of the newer songs. So I think a lot of the older songs will survive tonight’s set list. And people will be like; oh I forgot how cool that song was. Now that we brought them back it gives them new life. But I know for Europe we are going to have a more regular set, then it’s starting to make more sense to call it the Dark Roots Of Thrash tour. But it’s fun to play the old songs. Especially the ones they never did back in the day or they haven’t got to in so many years. Literally the first two or three songs are classics and everybody goes sick. Lights hit, sound hits, Testament starts, and everybody starts going sick. And then we pop in one of the gems from the old days that hasn’t ever been played and you just see ‘em , they stop and they’re like just listening. One time I was like, did we lose them, are they tired? But then another classic came up and they were right back to it. It’s trippy to watch that. I didn’t see that coming. A band like Testament is already in the classic category. Have you heard the first couple of albums? You’ll see. With me and Gene in there….
IB: I want to hear Gene play “First Strike Is Deadly”! Are you guys playing that one? Because the drums are awesome on that one. I am also looking forward to “Curse Of The Legions Of Death” and “Raging Waters”.
SDG: Yes, we are. Yeah, that one is kind of fun. “Curse Of The Legions Of Death” I think is one of the rarer ones that they are not used to playing. “Raging Waters”, I don’t know the entire history of how much they play that. But back in my other stint with the band, we had broke that one out for a little while. I recognize that one. There were some of them I had to kind of, definitely, relearn. But I recognized certain ones, and then some of them was like, whoa. I didn’t come from the super thrash side of things. I was a latecomer to Testament. I wasn’t part of the early part of the catalog.
IB: Do you have favorite Testament songs you like to play?
SDG: In general, I prefer the last four albums. DARK ROOTS, FORMATION, GATHERING, and DEMONIC. And even LOW. That’s what I lean to. Obviously one of them I played on, but that whole era.
IB: That’s the heavier era. That’s when they started to delve into death metal.
SDG: Yeah, I prefer that stuff. That’s more my stuff so songs off any of that. I don’t just favor the album I played on, although I’m invested in it. But these albums all have really fun songs. The style as you said is more death, the heavier side; it’s more fun for me to play that.
IB: Does playing old songs on tour help get the creative juices flowing for the new album?
SDG: Yeah, I think but indirectly. The old songs aren’t inspiring us to play new ones. The fact that we are playing old ones, makes us can’t wait to play new ones. Because the new ones are just cool and new, and so much more evil than the old stuff. Coming out of the gate flying, like that skeleton on the chopper with the flames everywhere. I have that image in my head. It’s fucking evil and fast. The old ones are rocking and you can sing along to the chorus and stuff and that’s good. That’s Testament. But the new ones are just gonna crush. For old men. For 40 and 50 year old thrash guys, this is gonna destroy the youth.
IB: You recently toured Europe as part of Death To All. How were those shows received?
SDG: Amazing. It’s not a typical concert man. I mean the fans are enjoying the songs, but it’s like for brief moments, with the crowd it’s almost like a memorial service all over again. Like we said goodbye a thousand times in a fucking cheery “fuck yeah”, this is why we’re here kind of way. It’s really cool man. Awesome fans. They understand why we took that band out. It’s a chance to dive in and play songs we were part of and just have fun with them. Once again those songs are fun to play as a musician. It’s some kind of cult level stuff since Chuck has died. It happens a lot when musicians die. We were able to just kind of bring it to life for an hour and a half each night and enjoy it man. Because there is no new album. Just up there playing songs and having fun. It’s special man. All the different countries we played. No matter where we played, what continent we were on, it was a complete unified being of people. It’s trippy. People speak different languages and have different lives, but during that show you feel like you are all in the same place. It’s cool. People get it. And it’s fun. We have a few more plans, but I think it’s kind of winding down. There’s a couple of small things that have been booked for a while. We are going back to Europe for some festivals. There’s still a couple of holes where the promoter said, hey don’t forget about us. We’ve had some conversation with a Japanese promoter for a while. Over there you have to have a better package deal. It’s expensive to travel. The way they connect the shows over there it’s a little bit different and it takes a little more money. After that, it’s pretty much at the end. Of course we’ll leave the door open because it’s the one unique band that only comes when we’re called. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and I think Dubai are on the list for possible places we can go. Japan is a fucking metal country. We can’t close this story until we play there.
IB: Is Sadus currently active?
SDG: No. We haven’t played in years. I’ve seen with a lot of bands where the musicians only hang out when they are doing band stuff. Sadus is the opposite. We’ve been friends since high school. All our kids think they’re cousins. So Sadus is kind of like buddies who once in a while play in a band. No, we are not active. No, there are no plans. Being around each other we don’t kind of feel the urge. The answer is kind of a lazy thing. Because we are already hanging out. We don’t need the band as an excuse. We kind of forget that we play music. Sadus is kind of a really underground, acquired kind of taste.
IB: If the 70,000 Tons Of Metal Cruise came calling for Sadus, would you do it?
SDG: They did. Besides just being lazy buddies, we also had other legitimate stuff. Well the drummer, Jon, moved to Texas. There was one year where Darren was buying a house and he was kind of busy. Something came up. We got offered that. I talked to Andy and let him know if there is ever a sign of life in the future, I’ll nudge him and see if he still wants us. But I said thanks, but we got the tarp over the car and the battery’s disconnected. It’s in the shed but ya know it’s gonna need some WD-40 here and there.
IB: Thanks very much for the amazing interview Steve!
SDG: No problem, good to meet up with both of you again.